Truth and the privilege of wasting time

Page 220-221 in “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari:

If you want to go deeply into any subject, you need a lot of time, and in particular you need the privilege of wasting time. You need to experiment with unproductive paths, to explore dead ends, to make space for doubts and boredom, and to allow little seeds of insight to slowly grow and blossom. If you cannot afford to waste time — you will never find the truth.

Apropos allowing little seeds of insight to slowly grow and blossom, compare: “What Gregor Mendel tells us about thinking.

9 thoughts on “Truth and the privilege of wasting time

  1. Lovely, both Harari and Mendel. I think sometimes time “wasted” under the imperative “hurry up or else” can also be time gained, provided one knows the difference between procrastination and thinking about thinking.

  2. “Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’
    ‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

    • “So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.”
      ― Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

  3. There seem to be some, though, who can see immediately and directly through the clouds that engulf the rest of us.

    Also, is it not paradoxical that some who go deeply into a subject have a prodigious output of completed works e.g Mozart, Leonhard Euler, Shakespeare, perhaps (certainly in the density of his output), Beethoven, often within what would normally be an impossible time frame? I would say it is normal to waste time, not so normal to strain every ligament to think and reflect, still produce results and meet the demands of life – consider Beethoven, the litigation over his nephew Karl and the watch he kept on his business affairs.

    I would not have said Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, say, was simple exactly! Apparently, not only does he devise a most complex logical structure, he also reduces it to ordinary language (“paramathematics”) to reveal his famous inconsistencies. Try it, if you will, then explain it to me, please.

    • On prolific production of work, don’t forget Franz Schubert. If we were to hand-copy all his works (>600 secular vocal works, 7 complete symphonies, and in addition, sacred music, opera, incidental music, and a large body of piano and chamger music, we cannot finish the copying in the same length of life he lived (31 minus 6 = 25 years, assuming he started composing at age 6).
      Also, I personally think some folks have brains that strain every ligament to think and reflect, as a matter of course. It is not as if they push themselves to do so. Indeed, they would have to push themselves the other way if their natural way is a crime. A great example is Samuel Johnson (reference source: Boswell’s biography of Johnson).

  4. I have been thinking about this (intermittently) for days. I even went back and read what Mr. C. had to say about Mendel. Wow, what a guy (Mr. C., not Mendel).

    This topic is about privilege and what I (one) can afford. Innit? Being a Monk is a cushy job. It’s also a boring job (probably). Let’s go out on a limb and say, you will never find the Truth. Full stop. You will become tired or bored and then *decide* on the Truth. If you are a special Monk (the other kind), however, consensus is not needed for the truth. You will keep acquiring data and come to some conclusion without need for consensus. This is why we love science. So I wonder, are we talking about truth (diploid zygotes)? Or Truth (flowers are beautiful)?

    I haven’t read the Harari book. In the past, Mr. Kluth advised against books of lists.

    The great Jimmy Don Cohen, having spent many hours smoking weed and hanging out at the Eldorado Springs Pool, observed: “there is a leisure class at both ends of the economic spectrum.” What if I am a good sort of American. I shall not be privileged or poor. I shall work for my ideas. . But wait. Maybe I can work harder at being bored and therefore have great thoughts. You know the old chestnut: less more.

    I used to have a theory that the moment you discover the Truth is when you die. This is how I would explain unexpected (“unexplainable” and tragic) deaths. You’re driving down the road, listening to the radio. You figure out the secret to life. Then, WHAM. Dead. If you figure out the Truth and keep on living (and you start telling people), the entire match is thrown. God’s job is to kill you instantly to avoid letting the cat out of the bag. If you drag things out, there will be no end of drama. There’s the walking on water, fishes and loaves, the nailing to the cross, the rising from the dead, and so on.

    So let’s just head for the pool. “Going deeply,” and the truth are unrelated. What do we need to know? Maybe the truth is a Beatles song written in an afternoon. Maybe the Truth is E-mc2.

    “It’s bad enough wasting time without killing it.” (more Phantom Tollbooth)

  5. I am thinking thinking is a kind of exercise of the mind, for which regularity is desirable. If the thinking leads to some kind of “discovery”, great. If not, it’s fine too. What is wasteful of time is time dedicated to forgetting how to think.

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