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The Four Psychological Functions of Great Literature & 8 Ways to Test and Transform Your Ideas

Resource: What Books Do for the Human Spirit: The Four Psychological Functions of Great Literature
Description: Reflections from Alain de Botton on what literature is for


Literature widens our circle of empathy and allows us to look at life through eyes other than our own.

Literature does not judge us as harshly as the people-filled world. Literature allows us to say and see things about ourselves that we don’t feel entirely free to express and explore in everyday conversation.

Literature allows us to experience failure and learn from failure indirectly.

Reading literature is not a time-waster, it’s a time-saver. It saves us time by affording us the opportunity to gain wisdom and experience through other characters. Through literature, we take on a million lives in a single lifetime.


“It looks like it’s wasting time, but literature is actually the ultimate time-saver — because it gives us access to a range of emotions and events that it would take you years, decades, millennia to try to experience directly. Literature is the greatest reality simulator — a machine that puts you through infinitely more situations than you can ever directly witness.”

“Literature performs the basic magic of what things look like though someone else’s point of view; it allows us to consider the consequences of our actions on others in a way we otherwise wouldn’t; and it shows us examples of kindly, generous, sympathetic people.”

“We’re weirder than we like to admit. We often can’t say what’s really on our minds. But in books we find descriptions of who we genuinely are and what events, described with an honesty quite different from what ordinary conversation allows for. In the best books, it’s as if the writer knows us better than we know ourselves — they find the words to describe the fragile, weird, special experiences of our inner lives… Writers open our hearts and minds, and give us maps to our own selves, so that we can travel in them more reliably and with less of a feeling of paranoia or persecution…”

“All of our lives, one of our greatest fears is of failure, of messing up, of becoming, as the tabloids put it, “a loser.” Every day, the media takes us into stories of failure. Interestingly, a lot of literature is also about failure — in one way or another, a great many novels, plays, poems are about people who messed up… Great books don’t judge as harshly or as one-dimensionally as the media…”

“Literature deserves its prestige for one reason above all others — because it’s a tool to help us live and die with a little bit more wisdom, goodness, and sanity.”

Resource: The Rhetoric Of Reperception — 8 Ways to Test and Transform Your Ideas
Description: Douglas Toft summarizes insights from Charles Kay Smith on the concept of rhetorical reperception


Language isn’t merely a tool that expresses existing thoughts, it’s also a tool that paves the way for new thoughts.

Rhetorical reperception is the process of changing the way you observe or think about the world by deliberately altering and rearranging your words.

The simple practice of writing things down, looking at what we’ve written, rearranging the words in our sentences, and contemplating the new implications that arise can pave the way for profound new insights.

When our words grow static and stale, it’s because our thinking habits have grown static and stale.


“Patterns of writing enact patterns of thinking…by finding and practicing ways of writing we can literally think different things.” -Charles Kay Smith

“the rhetoric of reperception — using language in systematic ways to see the world anew.” – Doug Toft

“…using worn words is probably only a symptom of a much more pervasive and larger problem—the difficulty of reperceiving a world that has been blunted by our habitual perceptions…. as long as assumptions persist unquestioned, perceptions are not likely to freshen.” -Charles Kay Smith

“Reperception is seldom spontaneous. It’s more likely to happen when we state our assumptions, transform them, and evaluate the results. This is something that any of us can learn to do.” -Charles Kay Smith

“As an example, Smith starts with this conventional assumption: ‘The Middle Ages was a repressive and intellectually stagnant period, whereas the Renaissance flowered into a time of great creativity. ‘ He then transforms this statement in eight specific ways.” -Doug Toft

Resource: Getting Things Done by David Allen
Description: The Basics of Organization

Organization is the process that follows capturing and clarifying. Once you’ve gotten ahold of something, defined what it is, and decided what needs to be done with it, you organize it by placing it in a file, or in a folder, or on a list that’s appropriate for that kind of resource or activity.

To be organized simply means that the things you want/need are where you want/need them to be so that you can retrieve them when you want/need them in order to do what you want/need to do with them.

Make each list, file, or folder specific enough to serve the function it’s there to serve and keep the edges between categories hard. If you have a folder for things to be read, don’t let that bleed into your folder for things that you’re waiting on others to do. If something belongs on your next actions list, don’t put it on your calendar. When your categories bleed into each other, you start to lose trust in your system and you’ll eventually sink back into the amorphous blog of undoability.

Being organized is all about eliminating or minimizing the need for thinking at lower levels in order to free up mental space/energy to think at higher levels.


“Airtight organization is required for your focus to remain on the broader horizon and eliminate the constant pressure to remember or be reminded. ”

“HAVING A TOTAL and seamless system of organization in place gives you tremendous power because it allows your mind to let go of lower-level thinking and graduate to intuitive focusing, undistracted by matters that haven’t been dealt with appropriately. But your physical organization system must be better than your mental one in order for that to happen. ”

“Being organized means nothing more or less than where something is matches what it means to you. If you decide you want to keep something as reference and you put it where your reference material needs to be, that’s organized. If you think you need a reminder about a call you need to make, as long as you put that reminder where you want reminders of phone calls to make, you’re organized. As simple as that sounds, it begs a very big question: What does something mean to you? It turns out that much of what people are trying to organize has not been clarified, ”

“As you initially process “in,” you’ll create lists and groupings of things you want to organize and you’ll invariably think of additional items to include. In other words, your organization system is not something that you’ll necessarily create all at once, in a vacuum. It will evolve as you process your stuff and test out whether you have put everything in the best place for you. It should and will evolve, as you do. ”

“The core distinctions of what things mean to you will be true forever, but the best structure for you to manage them a year from now may look different than what you come up with dealing with your world today. ”

“It’s critical that all of these categories be kept pristinely distinct from one another. They each represent a discrete type of agreement we make with ourselves, to be reminded of at a specific time and in a specific way, and if they lose their edges and begin to blend, much of the value of organizing will be lost. ”

“Most people try to create more control in their world by just “getting organized,” and they wind up rearranging incomplete inventories of still unclear things. ”

“The categories must be kept visually, physically, and psychologically separate, to promote clarity. ”

“If you neglect this categorization, and allow things of different meanings into the same visual or mental grouping, you will tend to go psychologically numb to the contents. If you put reference materials in the same pile as things you still want to read, for example, you’ll go unconscious to the stack. If you put items on your Next Actions lists that really need to go on the calendar, because they have to occur on specific days, then you won’t trust your calendar and you’ll continually have to reassess your action lists. If you have projects that you’re not going to be doing anything about for some time, they must go on your Someday/Maybe list so you can relate to the Projects list with the rigorous action-generating focus it needs. And if something you’re Waiting For is included on one of your action lists, nonproductive rethinking will continually bog you down. ”

“All You Really Need Are Lists and Folders . Once you know what you need to keep track of (covered in the previous chapter, “Clarifying”), all you really need are lists and folders—totally sufficient tools for reminders, reference, and support materials. Your lists (which, as I’ve indicated, could also be items in folders) will keep track of projects and someday/maybes, as well as the actions you’ll need to take on your active open loops. Folders (digital or paper based) will be required to hold your reference material and the support information for active projects. ”

“most list makers haven’t put the appropriate things on their lists, or have left them incomplete, which has kept the lists themselves from being very functional for keeping your head clear. Once you know what goes on the lists, however, things get much easier; then you just need a way to manage them. ”

“you shouldn’t bother to create some external structuring of the priorities on your lists that you’ll then have to rearrange or rewrite as things change. Attempting to impose such scaffolding has been a big source of frustration in many people’s organizing. You’ll be prioritizing more intuitively as you see the whole list against quite a number of shifting variables. The list is just a way for you to keep track of the total inventory of active things to which you have made a commitment, and to have that inventory available for review. ”

“When I refer to a “list,” keep in mind that I mean nothing more than a grouping of items with some similar characteristic. A list could look like one of at least three things: (1) a file folder or container with separate paper notes for the items within the category; (2) an actual list on a titled piece of paper (often within a loose-leaf organizer or planner); or (3) an inventory of items on a list in a software program or in a digital mobile device. “

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