Evading Mind Control

A couple days ago I surveyed readers for deviant beliefs. The results were funny, hateful, boring and bonkers. One of the submissions might even be useful.

If you care a lot about your mind, it is not unreasonable to avoid advertisements like plague rats, up to and including muting your speakers and averting your gaze.

This extremist position caught my eye because humans have a tendency to underestimate the effect advertising[1] has on us. I never realized how much advertising affected me until I got rid of it.

For nearly a year I have been avoiding junk media. I thought this would make me happier, healthier and more productive—which it has—but the most surprising effect is how much the reduction in advertising affects my behavior.

When I give up junk media, I stop thinking about politics, videogames and celebrities. I think less about products in general. Important things eventually expand to fill this void. But for the first week or so, my head just feels empty.

Tim Ferris doesn’t just avoid news, television and social media. He even avoids reading books—especially nonfiction. When I first read that, I thought he was an Eloi. Having blogged regularly for the past year myself, I now sympathize with him.

If you are young then you should read lots of books because you need to amass information. Eventually you hit diminishing returns. Reading more books fills fewer conceptual holes per unit time invested.

You cannot discover new knowledge for humanity by reading a book written by a human.

But there is a bigger problem. It is easy to look up answers to common questions in a book. It is harder to look up answers to esoteric questions. It is impossible to look up answers to open problems. The difficulty of looking up important things you don’t know answers to increases the more low-hanging fruit you pick from the Tree of Knowledge.

As your power waxes, it becomes easier to invent answers to your own questions. Eventually the trajectories cross. It becomes easier to figure things out yourself than to look up the answer. The comparative value of reading books goes negative. Books, once guides, become reference material. It is more efficient to write your own book than to read someone else’s.

I used to read a lot of books. I finished 18 books in the first 4.5 months of 2020.

Date Title Author Page Count
January 1 The Trouble with Physics Lee Smolin 392
January 17 My Side of the Street Jason DeSena Trennert 224
January 19 Saints & Sinners William L. Hamilton 145
January 20 The Quants Scott Patterson 352
February 21 Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality Eliezer Yudkowsky N/​A
February 22 The Vital Question Nick Lane 368
February 24 The Last Leonardo Ben Lewis 384
March 4 Mastering Manga with Mark Crilley Mark Crilley 128
March 22 World War Z Max Brooks 342
March 29 The Nature of Plants Craig Huegel 228
March 31 Built not Born Tom Golisano, Mike Wicks 224
April 13 A First-Class Catastrophe Diana B. Henriques 416
April 21 The Plant Messiah Carlos Magdalena 238
April 22 The 4-Hour Workweek Tim Ferris 308
April 27 The War on Normal People Andrew Yang 304
May 1 Seeing Like a State James C. Scott 445
May 5 Botany for Gardeners 3rd Edition Brian Capon 240
May 15 The $12 Million Stuffed Shark Don Thompson 272

Then I…stopped. In the 6.3 months since mid-May I finished only 3 books.

Date Title Author Page Count
July 2 Human Diversity Charles Murray 528
August 4 The Actor’s Life Jeanna Fischer 252
November 2 Lost Connections Johann Hari 322

May of this year appears to be when I hit my inflection point where writing became more useful than reading.

When I started writing, I thought it was a substitute for socializing. I now realize it is a substitute for reading. Writing is to reading what entrepreneurship is to having a job. Reading too much (compared to what you write) turns you into a sheep.

  1. ↩︎

    In this sense, “advertising” includes not only paid adverts like banner ads but also self-replicating propaganda (“we should raise awareness of…”), grassroots advertising (videogame streamers, artificial communities) and all information derived from a press release. I care about whether an interest group is getting a message into my head. Neither I nor the interest group cares how it gets there.