Monday, May 26, 2014

Reading - Borrowing somebody else's brains

I was reading an article about Kurt Vonnegut, who talked in a very gruff and straightforward way about the importance of reading. I couldn't help smiling at his approach. Whenever people tell me they aren't readers, I usually say polite things while thinking to myself, Suit yourself, but I'm glad I'm not missing out on all the extra life experience I get through reading, while those people possibly look at me and think, I'm glad I'm not missing out on living because I'm too busy reading about it. I can see both sides for sure.

Kurt Vonnegut said something like this. Here is my paraphrase. 'You'd be mad not to read. Do you know all that it does for you? You get to ponder the words and ideas of people who are (or were) smarter and deeper than you. Then you get to meditate on them and benefit from someone else's smartness. You can choose to stay limited in your own dumbness if you want to, but I don't know why you'd choose that.'

That's telling 'em. After a good laugh, I started thinking how true it may be. I've written hundreds of blog posts, and many have been sparked by something I've read. Scrolling down through the entries of my 'Just Occurred to Me' blog, it's evident how many reflections were triggered that way. I've benefited by thinking about something which somebody else's brain has placed into my head. This post itself is a good example.

It's a ripple effect, I think. Many of my 'Wow, yeah' moments of reading might well be the result of that particular writer coming to grips with something another person had written in their own way. And then, just maybe, somebody may read one of my blog posts or books which will strike something in them. They may feel led to jot it down in writing somewhere, and on it will go.

What if Kurt was right, and we dummies can take on board something written by a smarty which might not have occurred to us otherwise? As we reflect on it, it may come to be part of us, as if we'd thought of it ourselves. If you add enough 'a-ha' or 'I like that!' thoughts from your reading list to a dumb brain, that brain has no choice but to expand, to hold them all. Even if it never becomes the brain of an intellectual, it still has to become smarter and sharper than it would have been, if we'd never read things.

I, for one, am happy to keep reading, getting ideas which are bigger than I could have comprehended on my own. When you think about it, that's what scholarly learning is all about, anyway. Our celebrated smart people study lots of text books, think further ideas based on what they've read, then gradually become smarter. I'm glad to think the same thing can also happen when we kick back with a good novel to relax. I think to think I'm always getting little brain-changes for the better through reading fiction. Maybe it's not always our intellect which is being stimulated, but our empathy and the broadness of our outlook. It's a wonderful thing that even the wisdom in novels can do this for us. We think we're just enjoying ourselves, and as a bonus, we're taking on things which can change our lives for the better.

Something serendipitous happened. Just a day after jotting down my original thoughts for this reflection, I chanced upon this ancient quote by Confucius, who said, "No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance." So the thought turns out to be far older than Kurt Vonnegut, but the wisest thoughts last longest.

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