Reading with Purpose

Erica and I discuss reading with purpose and the relative merits of reading non-fiction and fiction. We also discuss different types of reading, including reading a book as if you were preparing to interview the author.


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18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently

Here’s another article on creativity. You see these popping up everyday, but this one stuck out as it’s two years old and was the impetus for a forthcoming book.

Creativity works in mysterious and often paradoxical ways. Creative thinking is a stable, defining characteristic in some personalities, but it may also change based on situation and context.

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Organ and Trinity Hymnal, Revised

Unsung Hymns

I try to select a wide variety of hymns from the Trinity Hymnal, Revised Edition. You may know it as “the red Trinity hymnal.” Well, our copies are green. Ever since I became pastor at Hope, I have been recording the hymn selections each week into a database. Each week, I query the database to make sure I don’t select hymns we just sang, etc. This week, I decided to compile a report of all the hymns we have not yet sung in worship in my tenure. It turns out we have sung roughly half the hymnal in under three years. I’d say that’s diversity.

Creative People are Explorers

Pentland, Social PhysicsCreativity is a romantic notion. Many people think of it as an elusive inspiration. Writers wait for the moment when a muse might speak to them, sending a new idea out of the ether. I believe we can de-mystify creativity; it is much more mundane than that. Sandy Pentland shares an oft-referenced quotation from Steve Jobs:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty, because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. (George Beahm, ed. I, Steve: Steve Jobs in His Own Words, 2011; quoted in Alex Pentland, Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread—The Lessons from a New Science, 26)

Humans don’t create ex nihilo. Everyone must work with building materials. We gather them through personal experience, reading, and listening to others. From that milieu our subconscious begins to work. I lack hard scientific evidence for this, but I believe our brains are “connection machines.” They naturally search for patterns and order in the raw data they receive. We don’t need to follow Kant to recognize there’s something to this. If that’s true, then we can jumpstart creativity through exploration.

Study different fields. Study different thinkers and traditions. Compare and contrast. Look for connections. Interact with many other creative people. Start your own salon or informal symposium, especially with those espousing diverse views. Gather together to hash out ideas. I’ve lost count of research ideas that sprang to mind while discussing ideas on either Lane Tipton’s or Jonathan Brack’s front porch. The more exposure you have to different ideas and so-called problems, the more grist you provide for your creativity mill.

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Commonplace Book

The Commonplace Book

Several years ago, Steven Berlin Johnson gave an address titled, “The Glass Box and the Commonplace Book” in which he discussed two different paths for the future of text. One was the glass box, the concept that a text is something of a museum piece. It’s meant to be looked at, but not touched or manipulated. The other path was the commonplace book:

Scholars, amateur scientists, aspiring men of letters—just about anyone with intellectual ambition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was likely to keep a commonplace book. In its most customary form, “commonplacing,” as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations. It was a kind of solitary version of the original web logs: an archive of interesting tidbits that one encountered during one’s textual browsing. The great minds of the period—Milton, Bacon, Locke—were zealous believers in the memory-enhancing powers of the commonplace book. There is a distinct self-help quality to the early descriptions of commonplacing’s virtues: in the words of one advocate, maintaining the books enabled one to “lay up a fund of knowledge, from which we may at all times select what is useful in the several pursuits of life.”

I love the idea of a commonplace book as a tool for idea formation. I’ve hacked together a similar system myself using physical notebooks and Evernote. As I’ve mentioned, creativity occurs by collecting seemingly disparate material and searching for connection. Keeping a commonplace book is a time-tested method for organizing thoughts and stimulating ideas.

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Polarity: A Board Game Unlike Anything You’ve Ever Played

I bought a copy of Polarity from ThinkGeek about ten years ago. It was unlike anything I had ever played before. Two players alternate placing magnets onto a canvas game board, floating each successive magnet against others lying on the board. The goal is to use all your pieces by placing and balancing each of your magnets without causing a chain reaction. If you happen to disrupt the magnetic balance and pieces snap together, your opponent gets credit for those pieces. If you cause anything to connect with the center red piece, your opponent automatically wins. You’ll get a better idea of the gameplay by watching one of the videos below.

This review is even weirder than the game itself:

Skull and Crossbones

Research Pirates of the Dark Web

Academic publishing is a mess. A massive amount of the world’s top recent is locked up, thus restricting the free exchange of ideas. I’m intrigued by the open access movement, but until that catches on and the economic incentives are right, we’re stuck needing access to an exorbitant subscription or waiting several years until the cutting edge has become blunt. Some people are seeking to accelerate change. Kaveh Waddell writes about the actions of some pirates seeking to alter the landscape using the dark web.

Headphones and smartphone

Send Audio from the Web to Your Own Personal Podcast Using Huffduffer

Have you ever stumbled across a piece of audio online that you’d like to listen to later? Perhaps a friend messaged a podcast episode or news report to you, but you weren’t in a position to listen to it at the moment. You need Huffduffer.

Huffduffer lets you bookmark an audio file and thereby send it to a personalized podcast feed. All you need to do is subscribe to your personalized feed using your podcast app of choice. Whatever you bookmark will automagically arrive on your device.

I’ve been using this service for years. It’s great for those one-off podcast episodes you want to hear, but don’t want to subscribe to the entire feed. Or perhaps it’s a lecture posted with no accompanying feed. Whatever the case, Huffduffer solves the problem.

About a year ago, I learned of Huffduff video, does the same thing, but strips the audio from YouTube videos. Say you found a riveting video interview, but you’d rather listen to it while out on your long run. Just open the YouTube video, and hit the bookmarklet. It will extract the audio and allow you to add it to your Huffduffer feed. Brilliant.


The God of the Mathematicians

This was a wonderful article on Gödel’s work in mathematics and physics and its intersection with the ontological argument.

Kurt Gödel was a believer—or, at least, a knower—whose engagement with God included a reworking of the ontological proof of God’s existence. Born in 1906, Gödel was arguably the great mathematician of his time.

Read at First Things

Duhigg, The Power of Habit

The Habit Loop: How to Hack Your Behavior

As the saying goes, human beings are creatures of habit. Charles Duhigg describes “the habit loop” in his intriguing book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. He identifies three essential components of any loop. There must be a cue that triggers a particular behavior, an actual routine that is performed, and then a reward that reinforces the behavior and makes it worthwhile. For any behavior to become a habit—something that sticks—it must contain all three elements of the habit loop.

The Habit Loop

Habits are powerful tools in our everyday lives, because they allow us to accomplish tasks without spending valuable cognitive energy or exhausting our self-control. In Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human StrengthRoy Baumeister and John Tierney argue that humans possess something akin to a willpower reserve. We only have so much energy on hand. When it’s gone we need to recharge. The good news is that willpower is also like a muscle. With repeated stress, we can gain strength and endurance through adaptation.

Duhigg builds upon similar research with a discussion of “keystone habits.” Interestingly, some small and basic habits can trigger a chain reaction that leads to massive behavioral change. He recounts a study in which subjects were asked to take one day out of each week and record everything they ate during that day. They weren’t asked to do anything else. However, researchers found that this simple activity led to significant behavioral change throughout the week and subsequent weight loss. This one little activity had a ripple effect throughout people’s lives that led them to make other health-conscious decisions such as eating less, eating better, and exercising. Another interesting keystone habit is making the bed in the morning, something the military has long known. Just making the bed in the morning can make you more productive throughout the day. Once these habits become part of our daily lives, we effectively go on autopilot, and our willpower is conserved for other activities.

You can already see how harnessing your habits can be a desirable skill. Adopting new habits—especially those of the keystone variety—can lead to greater personal effectiveness. That’s the positive side of things. What about the negative? What can we do about our existing bad habits?

This is where Duhigg’s book becomes really interesting. He argues that it’s possible to hack existing habits by interrupting their existing loops. You can use the same cue and reward but replace the routine. I’ve done this with my morning routine. Previously, when my alarm went off, I’d hit the snooze three or four times, then I’d get out of bed and scan RSS feeds, Twitter, and process emails. This proved to be a terrible way to start the day. It short circuited my mind and promoted a short attention span. So I interrupted the habit loop. Now when the alarm sounds, I get out of bed, change into my workout clothes, and head downstairs immediately to begin writing in my journal. I then get everything to together and jump on the bike trainer in the basement, or head to the gym for a swim, run, and/or weight lifting session.

I think you’ll be interested in Duhigg’s findings. He’s written a more detailed description of how habits work on his website. Read it and then dive into the book.

Colossians 1:28–29

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.


No Uncertain Sound
Lamentations, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah: A 12-Week Study