Although I don’t endorse the concept of New Year’s resolutions as generally practiced, I have formed a plan to read more books. It happened to occur right as 2017 gave way and died, so it’s a superficially-similar-to-but-substantively-distinct-from New Year’s resolution for 2018.

The specifics are that I will read at least 50 books during 2018, but that’s a floor, not a ceiling. Ideally I read more, but we’ll see what happens. Since there are 52 weeks in the year, that works out to just under one book a week.

Why am I doing this?

In conjunction with other learning and knowledge reinforcement methods, reading books is the surest way for me to:

  • heap up knowledge,
  • integrate my acquired knowledge in various discrete subdomains together, thereby making the whole greater than the sum of its parts, and
  • learn and study methods to improve the way that I think, not just the contents of my mind. The aforementioned integration goes more smoothly and correctly with a more rational cognitive apparatus.

Assuming that I’m not half asleep or otherwise mentally inhibited (sleep-deprived, possessed of cognitive biases, &c) when I do it, reading books acts exactly like compound interest acts on money. The more book reading you do, the more knowledge you gain and are able to successfully integrate; the more money you have, the more money compound interest returns to you.

Gaining more knowledge in specific subdomains allows you to access increasingly complex knowledge in those domains, and gaining more knowledge across many subdomains gives you the polymathematic ability to access similarly complex knowledge in interdisciplinary domains—furthermore, you will also have the ability to bring the concepts and frameworks of one domain to bear on another.

(Good and easily accessible examples of this kind of analysis are Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics, which applies the conceptual frameworks of economics to a variety of personal and social issues, and Richard Posner’s Sex and Reason, which does the same with sexuality.)

For the same reason that it makes sense for me (or anyone) to take advantage of compound interest to earn money, it makes sense to read more books. But not all books are the same, just as all investment portfolios are not the same.

For my purposes, reading vampire/werewolf pseudo-porn, while enjoyable, is not helpful. Those books are not counted toward my total of 50. Similarly, books that are part of a series will only collectively count as one book, unless they are sufficiently distinct to generate the kind of thought that would have occurred by otherwise reading two unrelated books. As to what counts as distinct or some kind of pseudo-porn, I will be employing the same standard that Justice Potter Stewart used for identifying “hard-core pornography” in 1964’s Jacobellis v. Ohio:

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…”

Ideally, my targeted pursuit of knowledge and resultant cognitive development will be greater in 2018 than ever before. I guess we’ll see.

This post is part of my project to write one essay every day of February 2018. The essay topics will vary, but they’ll all be something I’m interested in. All essays can be found here.