Saturday, September 12, 2009

does that road end?

Sometime over the last few weeks there was some discussion of speed reading; I had flashbacks to infomercials from the 1970s touting Evelyn Woods' course meant to increase my speed and get me closer to the year 2000 and the floating cars; that comes from the mind of a ten year-old. I always thought, when sitting at home in front of the three-channel capable TV, that being able to speed read would make me well impressive. But when it came up at work I tried to think of a need for speed reading in my life. The only area that would be remotely suited to speed reading for me might be the Sunday paper and even that's a reach. Beyond that possibility I got nothing. It seems to me that you read for two reasons: academics and leisure. In either case, I think you're better off reading either for comprehension or enjoyment and not pure acceleration. It certainly isn't going to help me out to rip through any type of textbook or technical publication that requires some thinking and fairly deep comprehension. If I'm reading for leisure then I'm probably reading for enjoyment and there are few that posit pleasure being achieved in the quickest possible time (no jokes, please.) I don't want to be done with East of Eden quicker because I want to soak in the language and enjoy the story; it's the same with the history I read. I make my decisions about books, and whether I'll finish them, in the first 20 or 30 pages - the writing manner is key, not the subject matter. My method of speed reading is not read stuff I don't like or appreciate. One of the questions that came up when were talking was this: Do you have the ability was to put down a leisure reading project if it doesn't grab your attention pretty quickly? For me, yes; I simply stop reading but I don't think everyone is like that; there must be people who feel the need to slog through to the final page and notch up accomplishment. I'm not sure if using a library for your books or if buying them has any effect on that need but maybe I can look into a $1m government grant to conduct a formal study.

There was a link at (from?) Andrew Sullivan today that fell right into my thinking...and into some parallel universe so hold on tight. The premise of the post is, "How much stuff are you really going to get through in the grand scheme of things"? Are you missing something? What are your odds of getting through all the good stuff? It reminds me of Fermat's Last Theorem and the misread logic of us normal folk. This last theorem (last being the last we were able to prove) is an easily comprehended mathematical problem / statement for most us, unlike some other deep and disturbing theorems. What Fermat, a career math hobbyist, put forth was based on the well known Pythagorean theorem, A2 + B2 = C2. He said, as a proven theorem, that this equation cannot be true for any positive whole number (the same whole number) greater than 2 in the exponential position. Unfortunatly, all Fermat left behind was his statement and not his notes. (Is this more than you want to know? Too bad, my blog, my typing.) As an example, he said that A3 + B3 = C3 will never be true. Of course, by "understandable" I meant you could comprehend what he was saying not how to prove the theorem to be correct. (By the way, if you want some good math reading here's the link to the book. Simon Singh's other book The Code Book is also very good.) Don't fret, I'm getting to the full circle part, at least in my mind. As one begins to try to prove this theorem you'd begin to think, as Singh describes, some methodology where if you could eliminate either all the even or all the odd whole integers then you'd be cutting your work by half. Funny that; it's just what I was thinking when I was reading the book. (Or course, I also thought the Caesar Role of encryption was uncrackable...I'm very gullible.) After you turn the page and keep reading Singh hits you with the more than obvious problem with this odd and even number tomfoolery: infinity is sort of infinite and your idea hasn't actually done anything to limit your work. Now, we circle. The speed reading thing ties into this idea in my little head. If all your speed reading, day and night, helped you get through 8/1000ths of 1% of all the books in the World (if I did my percent conversion to words correctly) have you really gotten anywhere? It doesn't seem like much to me and doesn't honestly add much to the art of reading for learning or reading for enjoyment.

I know, someone has some response about the need to read faster if you have to get through loads of coursework; but, my position on that is you do become a faster reader the more you read but it's not necessarily speed reading. I had to at least throw in that disclaimer.

Carry on with your weekend.

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