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The Shortcomings of Note-taking, Seth Godin on the Two Extremes, Knowing Beyond Remembering, & 100 Years of Crypto-Anarchy (Reading/Study Notes 5.20.18)

Resource: Stop Trying To Memorize — A Good Book Will Change You


“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity. ”— The Alchemist

On how his obsession with taking notes led to less reading:

“Following Ryan’s advice, I started copying paragraphs and quotes I found insightful when I finished each book. It went well for a while. The guilt of “wasted” reading went away and I felt I was building this incredible personal database of knowledge. Then something curious happened. Reading started to feel like a chore. Finishing a book now meant having to take notes so I started to read less.”

On the power of focusing less on memory and more on personal transformation:

“Recently, I stopped taking notes. I dreaded doing it and wasn’t noticing much benefit. Reading stopped feeling like a chore and became something to look forward to again. Yet, I felt a bit queasy, like if I didn’t take notes then everything would go in one ear and out the other. I’ve since done a 180 on my thoughts on reading and remembering. Here’s where I stand now: There’s no need to memorize. Good books will change you.”

Paul Graham’s insight on how reading transforms us even when we don’t memorize:

“Reading and experience train your model of the world. And even if you forget the experience or what you read, its effect on your model of the world persists. Your mind is like a compiled program you’ve lost the source of. It works, but you don’t know why.” — Paul Graham, in his essay, How You Know.

Naval on reading affects us at a subconscious level:

“I don’t know about you, but I have very poor attention. I skim. I speed read. I jump around. I could not tell you specific passages or quotes from books. At some deep level, you do absorb them and they become part of the threads of the tapestry of your psyche. They do kind of weave in there.” — Naval Ravikant

On how books get inside the soul:

“Books I’ve read have combined and morphed to give me my own personal Jiminy Cricket. Every book I read adds to his knowledge and makes him a better conscience.”

Seth Godin on how a book changed his life even though he doesn’t remember much of the content.

“Twenty years ago, I read a book that changed my life. It was called The Magic of Thinking Big. I actually don’t remember anything about the book at all. What I do remember is that in one quick moment, it changed the way I thought about success.” — Seth Godin in his book, The Dip


A good book will find its way into your soul and transform you from the inside out. Whether you memorize specific content or not, the purpose of reading to engage the text in a way that leads to increased self-awareness and self-efficacy.

Taking notes shouldn’t be demonized, but it also shouldn’t be deified. If taking notes, or employing any kind of study technique, is making you want to read less and getting in the way of playfully experimenting with new ideas, then you’re doing it wrong.

Mortimer Adler once wrote ““In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”

This also reminds me of a theme I’ve read and written about before: build an inner library.

Don’t engage in note taking merely for the sake of accumulating impressive notes. It’s better to read deeply without notetaking than it is to take notes and lose sight of the point.

Resource: Everyone and no one


“Two things are always not true: Everyone likes this. No one likes this. Sorry. If you try to please everyone, the few you don’t delight will either ruin your day or ruin your sense of what sort of product you should make. And if you believe the critic who insists that no one is going to like what you made, you will walk away from a useful niche.”


Generally speaking, there’s no idea that’s so bad that it completely lacks a audience. Conversely, there’s no idea so amazing that it lacks a single critic. Everything has an enemy and everything had an ally. Avoid these two extremes when doing marketing research for your product.

Trying to please everyone will just make you a confused person who’s always trying to appease every random unhappy person. And listening to the cynic who tells you your idea is a complete waste of time will alienate you from an opportunity to reach overlooked audiences.

Resource: How You Know

On the experience of not remembering what has been read:

“I’ve read Villehardouin’s chronicle of the Fourth Crusade at least two times, maybe three. And yet if I had to write down everything I remember from it, I doubt it would amount to much more than a page. Multiply this times several hundred, and I get an uneasy feeling when I look at my bookshelves. What use is it to read all these books if I remember so little from them?”

On where your true “memory” of a book lies:

“Reading and experience train your model of the world. And even if you forget the experience or what you read, its effect on your model of the world persists. Your mind is like a compiled program you’ve lost the source of. It works, but you don’t know why.”

On why remembering so little of what you’ve read isn’t such a bad thing:

“The place to look for what I learned from Villehardouin’s chronicle is not what I remember from it, but my mental models of the crusades, Venice, medieval culture, siege warfare, and so on. Which doesn’t mean I couldn’t have read more attentively, but at least the harvest of reading is not so miserably small as it might seem. This is one of those things that seem obvious in retrospect. But it was a surprise to me and presumably would be to anyone else who felt uneasy about (apparently) forgetting so much they’d read.”

On why it’s ill-informed to dismiss re-reading on the basis of having already done it:

“…reading and experience are usually “compiled” at the time they happen, using the state of your brain at that time. The same book would get compiled differently at different points in your life. Which means it is very much worth reading important books multiple times. I always used to feel some misgivings about rereading books. I unconsciously lumped reading together with work like carpentry, where having to do something again is a sign you did it wrong the first time. Whereas now the phrase “already read” seems almost ill-formed.”


We stipulate a distinction between two kinds of memory: Factual memory and Philosophical memory. Factual memory refers to your ability to recall specific facts from what you’ve read. It’s an indicator of how much detail you’ve retained. Philosophical memory refers to your ability to employ conceptual tools and patterns of thinking you’ve picked up from what you’ve read. It’s an indicator of how much of a book’s logic or character you’ve retained. While we often get discouraged at little we retain in terms of factual memory, we tend to underestimate how much we retain in terms of philosophical memory.

If you’re taking standardized tests or trying to demonstrate your knowledge in a “prove to me you actually read the book” sense, factual memory tends to have a heightened sense of importance. When it comes to the complex decisions we have to make in business, family, and everyday life, it’s far more important to remember mental models, abstract ideas, rules of inference, fundamental principles, and patterns of thinking.

One way of thinking about how we retain ideas is comparing it to the process of putting fruits and vegetables into a blender. After you pour a bunch of different items into the blender and mix them up into a smoothie, you can lose your ability to trace the taste of the smoothing back to each of the individual pieces of fruit. You may have forgotten that you put an apple in there or you may be unsure if you included avocado. But whether you remember the details or not, the essence of all the things you put in are contained in the smoothie and your body is still nourished by those things. Your subconscious mind is like that blender. Everything you pour into your mind goes there and gets mixed up with all the other things you’ve put in there over time. And although you may forget the specifics regarding what you’ve put there, the essence of it is still there.

Don’t underestimate the value of re-reading a great book at various stages in your life. In a certain sense, it’s impossible to re-read a book once you understand the way your present-moment knowledge/experiences affects the way you process what you read and vice versa. Just as “you never step into the same river twice”, you never read the same book twice. If a book makes a big difference in your life, it may be worth the time to see how it affects you at a later stage now that you’ve acquired different experiences and insights.

Resource: A Hundred Years of Crypto Anarchy


On how crytpo-anarchy is less about overthrowing and more about outsourcing:

“Crypto Anarchy has gotten a bad rap. Something about the whole idea of anarchy. We’re not trying to overthrow the establishment and collapse the nation-state here. The government actually has a pretty important job. It creates and enforces rules that make civilization possible. Without rules we’d be a bunch of little tribes fighting each other, and life would be nasty brutish and short. In the absence of a central authority, we can use technology to enforce rules. That’s all crypto anarchy is: Create self-enforcing rules without involving the government. They should thank us for easing their workload.”

The fact that it is more expensive to defend than to attack in the physical world is reversed in the digital world:

“This isn’t true for the digital world. Encryption is cheap to defend and expensive to attack. To brute force a 128-bit RSA key would take a million billion years with a supercomputer. Threats of violence are useless here.”

How the technological reduction of violence is a win for free markets:

“Without coercive threats, we can interact and transact as we choose.”

How crypto black markets (aka darknet) reduces the violence associated with illicit activity:

“Street drugs involve a lot of violence and extortion because they don’t have a central authority to keep things in order. Darknet markets provide a way for adversaries to compete without murdering each other. Technology doesn’t change what people want in the world, it just removes the use of violence to get there.”

How public key cryptography changes the way we build and maintain trust:

“Public Key cryptography isn’t just for encrypting private messages. It also provides proof that the sender is who they say they are. When buyers and sellers conduct transactions, they sign messages with their private keys. The signatures become digital identifiers.”

On how users matter more than platforms:

“Every time a market shuts down, three new ones spring up in its place. For the past few years, the biggest hidden market was AlphaBay. The day after Alphabay disappeared, vendors were posting signed messages on Reddit to prove that they were still available, and to announce that they had moved to the next market. So here’s the thing with darknet markets. The platforms don’t matter. Users expect sites to eventually disappear, because no market admins have lasted 3 years without an exit scam or a raid. What matters is the users. Even if a site goes down, the reputation and relationships remain.”

How technologies are making identities non-local:

“For most of existence, identities were local. People could selectively reveal information depending on where they were…Keypairs aren’t social security numbers. We can have more than one digital identity…Reputation is collateral. No one knows who darknet market admins are, but they’re entrusted as escrow…Don’t trust anyone with more money than their reputation is worth…True names are a barbarous relic. The most valuable blockchain to date was created under a pseudonym.”

The change is inevitable:

“We now have the technology to create and enforce our own rules, and this knowledge cannot be stopped. We can either rail against the inevitable, or use these tools to build the world we want.”


Crypto-anarchy isn’t about overthrowing the state. It’s about outsourcing the state’s responsibilities to decentralized applications of technology. This approach is not grounded in a direct attack on government, but rather on a subtle effort to gradually render government irrelevant by creating alternative systems of trust and rule-enforcement.

The crytpo-anarchist is free to acknowledge that governments play a necessary and useful role while being rigorously involved in the process of developing technologies that will do a better job of serving that function.

We’re headed towards a world where we will be able to buy/sell things anonymously. Moreover, we will be able to validate transactions, rate users, and enforce rules without relying on a central authority. This can reduce violence in certain areas as well as reduce the size of the state since the need for its role as a central authority will be reduced.

Technology will give us the ability to have multiple virtual identities. Instead of relying on our social security numbers, we will proof our identity through public key cryptography.

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