One of the books I’m reading at the moment is The Black Swan — The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I’ve almost finished it, and I consider it already one of the best works I’ve read so far. One of those books that not only are thought-provoking, but perspective-changing if you let your mind open (easier if you’re an open-minded fellow already).
Reading through Taleb’s online notebook, I’ve stumbled onto this fragment (#66), which is serendipitously related to what I was talking about in the previous post — the bond between printed books and memory, their importance as real objects versus anything digital.
66 — Real Books vs Digital Words: Memory & Aesthetics
Fools do not want to accept that the real thing is better than the electronic. In other words, a text does not simplify a book. A book is so much real than a PDF on my hard disk. The experience of reading something you hold in your hands is more aesthetically rewarding: a book is better looking than a flat screen — it has an extra dimension. But to me, the main advantage is that I remember far, far better what I read in a book. My memory solidifies around hard objects, specific books, parts of my library. The classical mnemotechnic originates with the Greeks method of the loci: it consists in attaching memories to physical objects, a stone in a wall, a specific part of a ceiling, etc. You imagine a building & invest some of the locations with things to remember. In Luria’s account of the synesthete who could remember everything in great detail, there is a striking scene. Sh. [the patient-protagonist], has his memory failing him on a small detail because there is a cloud hiding the object to which the memory was attached.
I do the same when I read a book: the ideas are incarnations in specific objects of my library. [A rendering on a computer screen is not permanent, a book is.] I remember specific pages & get in a state of rage when someone tries to help “organize” or “alphabetize” my books. I also remember the physical notes I jot down on the front of a book, and, five years later, looking at them triggers a chain of remembrances… In the picture above I took notes on the book & just glancing at the front pages allows me to remember the ideas of the book & the conditions under which I read them. The book above it is very comprehensive, very deep, & covers the main ideas in social science, so I do not want to miss anything & would like to retain most of its contents decades from now (I am still on page 300).