The Swerve

8th July 2021

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt. One of the things we love about reading is that it allows us to discover how much we don’t know.  We had no clue, for example, about how the works of ancient Roman writers were able to make their way through two thousand years of mold, mildew, bookworms (the real kind), fire, and purposeful destruction. Greenblatt allows us to follow in the footsteps of Italian politician and humanist Poggio Braccilioni who, in the early 1400s, undertook journeys to northern Europe to seek out such ancient manuscripts as he could find hidden away in monasteries.  By leaning in to Poggio’s methods, we learn how and why manuscripts survived—often under the care of monks who were utterly opposed to the ideas contained in those ancient, heretical documents.  One of Poggio’s discoveries was epic. It was, in fact, Lucretius’s De rerum natura: On the Nature of Things, a poem that spelled out a shockingly prescient worldview of a world derived only of atoms that swerve—not the divine intervention of the traditional Roman deities.  

Greenblatt explores the nature of the Italian world of the middle ages, and also shows how important free thought, shocking though it may be, has been for the development of the modern world. The Swerve is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Non-fiction—highly recommended, and an excellent book for audio listening. [Hat tip, Sadegh Nabavi]

Nelson’s Everest Memory Masterclass 

Last week we mentioned memory expert Nelson Dellis’s return trip to Everest (one day, he’ll summit!) This week, we’d like to bring to your attention Nelson’s masterclass on memory, which saw great success during his last two cohorts this year—his students have loved it! 

 Due to popular demand, Nelson is re-opening the class for a limited time (July 8th-11th). It’s a great class that teaches the basics of memory techniques all the way to the more complex—from how to remember your life, where you put your keys, people’s names and faces, to remembering numbers, speeches, and passwords, Nelson’s class has it all!  

Here is the link (which will be live until Sunday July 11th).  Don’t forget to go for it! 

The Cultural Implications Of Silence Around The World

Here’s a fascinating article by Carrie Shearer on the cultural implications of silence. One key graf (of many!): 

“In many Asian countries, it is considered polite to pause for a few seconds before answering a question to show that you have reflected upon the question and your response, thus demonstrating sufficient gravitas. Contrasting to this are many Western countries where silence is viewed as a void that must be filled. In these cultures, if they cannot answer a question immediately, people are concerned that the speaker may think that they do not know the answer. 

“Imagine the confusion this could cause in a conversation between a Malaysian and an American. When the Malaysian doesn’t respond immediately, the American says something else, hoping to elicit a response from the Malaysian; while the Malaysian is waiting for silence so that they may rejoin the discussion.” [Hat tip: Gemma Herbertson of Neurofrontiers.]

The Absurdity of Today’s Online World

We’ve become fans of Lubalin, who chronicles and brings to life the weird conversations that take place online. His “Is This Available” will give solace to all who have encountered internet trolls.  As one commenter notes: “The character changes, facial expressions and literal reading of misspelled words is priceless.” Not to mention the music.  

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

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