Cats and Theories
a blog by coticheque
a blog by coticheque

2021 in books & other things

I’ve spent most part of this year lying on a sofa and reading books. No jokes – I even got a few wrinkles on my neck from lying in the same pose every day. Alright, I also took daily strolls through the same route along the park, river bank and a water treatment plant – a lifestyle more suitable for someone who’s 78 years old, not 28, huh?

In 2021, I’ve read around 24 books (21 logged on Goodreads, and a few more books about art which are always too hectic to quantify). Not too many, but I would say 2 books per month is a reasonable pace, when you mostly read hard-to-digest non-fiction. Fiction books are clearly overrated (unless it’s science fiction, which is always great). Reading fiction is not substantially better than watching Netflix series – at least in terms of the amount of knowledge retained afterwards (the value of daily consumption of made-up stories seems dubious to me). When someone brags about reading 100 books per year, be sure that it’s mostly fiction, so any marathons are pointless here.

In my experience, the most reasonable pace is reading around 20 pages per day. Doesn’t sound too impressive (unless it’s a textbook on Kant!), but that’s already almost 300 pages in two weeks – the length of an average book. And the most crucial thing in reading is to always write notes – footnotes on the page margins, main points summarized in iPhone Notes, or even full-featured reviews of Goodreads. Human brain can only transfer information from short-term operational memory into a long-term one, when the information is repeated a few times, so revising the book content by compiling a review is the best way to retain knowledge.

December mental update

Life is freakin’ rough. This wave of anxiety persistently comes every December. Am I wasting my time? The clock is ticking, the past increases. Future recedes, opportunities decreasing, regrets mounting. Am I supposed to acknowledge or remain ignorant? And look at everyone around being so accomplished. Staying sane requires an insane effort. Just in order to be in one place, you have to run as fast as you can.

On the first sight, this anxiety seems to be driven by external factors. Psychologically speaking, it’s important to keep up with penultimate level of the Maslow pyramid – the inherent human need for social recognition. We tend to compare ourselves to our immediate social circle. The problem is that this circle is dynamic, and people are busy with doing stuff. So at one moment, you find yourself surrounded by entrepreneurs with funded startups in the area of AI, real estate moguls with a massive property portfolio, crypto-millionaires with stakes in a dozen of digital projects (it’s horrifying to learn that apparently you can do venture capital investments through such a shady thing as ICOs, and even be profitable if you do it full-time). To keep up with such a social circle, you have to run, as fast as you can. After all, our sanity depends on the Maslow pyramid, and mental machinery is a merciless tool.

Fun, chatter and Heidegger

So I’ve been thinking of falsification of speech recently. The chatter. Gerede, to express it in Heideggerian terms. There’s no way out of Heideggerian interpretation of life once you step in, as it’s just way too relatable (applied Heideggerianism as a way of living!).

Does it merely come with age that at one point you no longer get amused by fun, but superfluous conversations dominated by random entertaining facts and supposedly fun stories? When the path of a conversation is nothing else but a random walk driven by unrelated facts: not thought-through, not linked to any abstract concepts, not fitted into one’s mental model. Under the facade of entertainment, such conversations are hollow, draining. They ‘take away one’s solitude without giving one company’. Because there’s no way how someone else can relate to a random entertaining fact, if it’s not generalized to the level of something a bit more generic, the level of abstract ideas, relevant to everyone regardless of circumstances of one’s particular life. And what’s the value of something that doesn’t even have an innate capacity to resonate. Does the intolerance for fun merely come with age?

Strange forms of life

Now he’s a bit more differentiated, a bit less an uncarved block, a bit less hidden in the fog.

It’s quite demeaning to think that your life may have been influenced by someone else, to think that other people left an impact so deep that your life had forever turned its course. Even though the idea of blaming others for your own misfortunes and assuming status of a victim is quite a widespread thing to do these days, it has never appealed to me – after all, what could potentially be appealing in delegating one’s own agency to external circumstances and someone else’s will? For the same reasons, I have always had a particular disdain for those schools of psychology that blame one’s parents for every trauma of their child, claiming that any slightest flaw in parents’ behaviour has an impact so damaging, that it leaves them forever to contemn, forever to blame.

Last week I stumbled across the following quote from Jordan Peterson, that challenged that belief:

On personal eschatology

What’s the perceived direction of your life? It it a downhill slope or an upward ascend? Do you believe in progress (regardless of how widely its concept is being criticized) or do you envisage your personal eschatology?

Judging from my own background, perception of life as a route in downward direction is just something more natural. Whether it’s your mother saying you should enjoy school, as afterwards it’s only going to be an eternal torture: 40 years of having to work full-time, 5 days per week. Maybe it’s your younger self looking at adults around, thinking there’s no life after the age of 25, but only despair, office job, marriage and mortgage. You may object that this attitude is only familiar to people prone to depression, but antidepressant prescriptions are growing worldwide, so apparently it’s not just me who has a problem.

You need to possess a certain privilege to perceive life’s course in the opposite way. Sometimes it takes a dozen years to attain such privilege.

So… what’s the story of your life? Here’s the story of mine.

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