Hello everyone and welcome to the second edition of Theory & Practice—a weekly newsletter which brings together interesting writings, ideas and other content on various topics I’ve recently enjoyed or been thinking about.
“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.”
Ultralearning by Scott H. Young was a great read about how to become an ‘Ultralearner’—somebody who is able to acquire hard skills efficiently. Though the book gives a number of interesting and fun examples of successful learners, the most valuable parts of the books are the nine principles Scott outlines in order to achieve incredible feats like learning 4 years of MIT curriculum in 12 months. My favourite insight here was that of ‘Metalearning’—not learning about the object of your inquiry itself but learning about how knowledge is structured and acquired within this subject.
Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport outlines a few ways we can reduce or re-invent our interactions with technology, to be more mindful and to embrace a philisophy of technology use based on your deeply-held values. The three principles of digital minimalism are:
- Clutter is costly
- Optimisation is important
- Intentionality is satisfying
“…after a few years of independent work, rather than read entire books, you will very often read parts of many books from the point of view of some particular theme or topic in which you are interested and concerning which you have plans in your file. Therefore, you will take notes which do not fairly represent the books you read. You are using this particular idea, this particular fact, for the realization of your own projects.” —On Intellectual Craftsmanship by C. Wright Mills
“You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say: ‘How did he do it? He must be a genius!’” —Richard Feynman from Gian-Carlo Rota
Setting up a productive digital environment
Creating a digital environment where you have all the tools you need, but absolutely no more, is a difficult task and one that I think requires a few steps. I have attempted to implement step one by reformatting my copy of Windows and removing the bloatware that comes with the OS. I installed Firefox for browsing, Telegram for managing the newsletter channel, Visual Studio Code for writing markdown and code for this site and GitHub desktop for managing the code. I will slowly re-introduce software back into my workflow as needed but will be doing so with much more intentionality. I am shifting from using any tool I can identify as having a positive benefit to adopting a tool only if its positive impacts on my success and happiness substantially outweigh its negative impacts.
My next challenge will be deciding on a note-taking program and project management software. Wherever possible, I like to install desktop applications as opposed to web apps—I have solid computer hardware and it makes sense to take advantage of that (plus there are never any compatibility issues when using native Windows software). I have tried a huge number of note-taking and PM software but haven’t found ones that have really stuck. I’ll report back with my findings next week.
Get in touch
Theory & Practice is run by Will Darwin—To get regular updates you can join the official Telegram Channel and take part in the discussion in the associated Telegram Group. I’m always open to conversations on Twitter if you would rather contact me through there but I am currently trying to build a like-minded community on the Telegram platform at the moment.