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In many ways, we are all slaves to silicon and semiconductors; to those devices that ping, bing, and buzz at all hours of the day and night.
Hooked on an intermittent dopamine drip of ephemeral news cycles, Cancel Culture casualties, and infinite scrolling, we live in what my friend David Perell has aptly termed the Never-Ending Now.
The constant connectivity of the Never-Ending Now undermines our ability to learn from the enduring lessons of the past. Without these, we face an unknown future neither equipped nor prepared. We resemble chefs without ingredients, skippers without vessels, carpenters without lumber.
Because of this collective simultaneity, I fear that we are fast approaching the world George Orwell forewarned of in 1984:
Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.
When I mentioned this to a close friend of mine, she shared a sage quote with me. It aptly summarizes my thoughts on the Information Age:
We are drowning in information while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.
— E. O. Wilson
To visualize this mammoth deluge of data, this inundation of information, look no further than the below infographic:
The above begs a few questions:
How is any sane individual able to keep up?
How do I separate the precious digital wheat from the copious amounts of pixelated chaff?
Is it possible to divine signal amidst this cacophony of noise?
How am I “able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely”?
Simply put, how do I keep from drowning?
Enter the Liberal Arts.
If you have been with White Noise from the start, you know that I am the quintessential Liberal Arts nerd. I spent my four years of college in the intense, intimate seminars that make up Notre Dame’s Program of Liberal Studies.
Per its website, “The Program of Liberal Studies is not just a major. It’s a community. In seminars guided by some of the most influential thinkers of the last three millennia of Western history and in tutorials spanning the arts, history, literature, natural science, philosophy, politics, and theology, we continue a conversation about what it means to be human. In the tradition of the Liberal Arts, we read widely, think rigorously, write persuasively, communicate clearly, argue civilly, and live freely.”
In all seriousness, the Liberal Arts allow one to mine the past for resources that will help him/her construct a better future.
Why study this past?
History is a tremendous source of fundamental knowledge.
History tends to repeat itself, so the dilemmas and decisions you face today often have historical antecedents.
Per the Book of Ecclesiastes: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
Put more simply, studying the rich intellectual and cultural history of past peoples and civilizations helps us know how to respond to the uncertainties of the future.
Ironically, timeless ideas are powerful because of their age and durability. Tried and tested through the years, they have stood firm against the test of competing ideologies and fervent iconoclasts.
In short, these ideas benefit from the Lindy Effect.
The Lindy effect theorizes that the future life expectancy of an idea is proportional to its current age, so that every additional period of survival implies a longer remaining life expectancy. Where the Lindy effect applies, mortality rate decreases with time.
Viewed through this lens, the age of these ideas, tomes, philosophies, theories is an asset, rather than any sort of liability.
The staying power of the Liberal Arts lies not within dust-ridden libraries or highfalutin verbiage, but rather in its vivacious, multi-faceted interpretation of timeless ideas.
Take the below:
Hellenistic schools of thought
The Age of Enlightenment
Each of these watershed moments in time sought to answer the question of “what truly matters” with its own ideas, thoughts, and input.
In this way, the Liberal Arts are a prism that refract our common human experience into many different directions, ideas, and colors.
Above: A common source, uncommon interpretations/directions.
Far from obfuscating, this intellectual prism elucidates and allows multifaceted interpretations to color intellectual history.
These colored analyses force one to grapple with ideas and theories to master the art form that is critical thinking. This practice fosters a mental rigor that stretches one’s intellectual limits and comprehension of what is true.
To me, there is nothing more indispensable than the resulting latticework of mental models. It offers me the ability to deconstruct complexities, to communicate clearly and eloquently, and to synthesize information in a succinct, lucid manner.
What could be more important than that?
If I can’t convince you, take it from none other than Elon Musk:
So fire up your coffee pot and find a cozy chair.
Crack open that dormant copy of Plato’s Republic.
In doing so, know that you contribute something essential to your own personal growth and that of civilization as a whole.
For more book ideas and page-turners, check out my bookshelf!
The Best of the Rest
🧠A useful mental model:
Per my about page, White Noise is a work of experimentation. I view it as a sort of thinking aloud, a stress testing of my nascent ideas. Through it, I hope to sharpen my opinions against the whetstone of other people’s feedback, commentary, and input.
If you want to discuss any of the ideas or musings mentioned above or have any books, papers, or links that you think would be interesting to share on a future edition of White Noise, please reach out to me by replying to this email.
With sincere gratitude,