On Interestingness

“There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.”

– G.K. Chesterton

You Already Have Everything You Need

The most interesting thing you have is you: your instincts, your curiosity, and your own ignorance. But the great paradox is that, in order to be most yourself, you have to shut up about how much you know.

The great American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote that the greatest poets carry ‘us to such a lofty strain of intelligent activity, as to suggest a wealth which beggars his own’. We all have this lofty strain; we just have to find our frequency.

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” – Daniel J. Boorstin, The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself

See other: Philosophy of Interestingness

Walk Towards The Sounds Of Gunfire

Fear is what stops us, everywhere in our lives, particularly the pointless fear of what other people will think. We know when something isn’t right. We should trust our instincts and risk saying so. It’s surprising how often things turn out for the best, when you do.

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

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Take Your Time

The interesting stuff doesn’t just roll over and ask to have its tummy tickled. We reckon it takes three hours of reading, thinking and researching to get into the right mood, when you might notice the unseen link, the mind-altering fact, the life- changing insight, lurking in the fireplace.

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write: a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” – Samuel Johnson

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Digressions Are The Point

Interestingness isn’t about lists of trivial facts, as we’ve said, it’s about making connections. We’re burrowers not grazers. What might start out as a question from the back seat of the car: why do pigeons not fly away sooner might lead to an investigation into how the brain processes visual information; the truth about carrots and night vision; the history of pigeons as a communication device; the Dickin Medal for Animal Bravery; how migratory animals navigate; the chemical constitution of bird dung; the design and ornamentation of medieval dovecotes.

“Digression is the soul of wit. Take the philosophic asides away from Dante, Milton or Hamlet’s father’s ghost and what stays is dry bones.”
– Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

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What You Leave Out Is As Important As What You Leave In

Too many of our knowledge institutions base their authority on spurious claims of ‘comprehensiveness’. We prefer storytellers to panels of faceless academics.

“The more you leave out, the more you highlight what you leave in.”
– Henry Green

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If It’s Worth Writing Down, It’s Worth Writing Down Clearly

Technical terms, jargon and mumbo jumbo might give you the fleeting warmth of belonging to an exclusive club, but they are the enemies of truth. As the anthropologist Margaret Mead once wrote, if you can’t explain yourself to a twelve-year-old child, stay inside the university or lab until you have a better grasp of your subject matter.

“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.”
– Jacques Barzun

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Look For New Connections

Always write down things you do not already know. People find this hard, because formal education is all about recycling and repeating other people’s knowledge (some wag once defined education as the process by which the notes of the professor appear in the notebooks of the student, without passing through the mind of either). Interestingness is a lot like humour – it can’t be defined or taught, it’s a spark which arcs between two previously unconnected things.

“Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are showing a new road.” – Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary

See other: Philosophy of Interestingness