Friday, October 19, 2012

How Fast Can You Read ?

Reading a book was always an elaborate thing for me. I had to find a nice corner, adjust the covers and cushions around and then get fully immersed inside the pages. Some pre-ritual involved smelling the book. It was heavenly.

The first time, I got a different meaning of reading, is when I had to get through some competitive exams. A key common factor behind success in those exams was the ability to read fast. Of course, I knew the speed in which great minds could accomplish readings. A diversional story here.

Once Swami Vivekananda was reading the volumes of 'Encyclopedia Britannica'. One of his disciples, seeing those twenty-four volumes, remarked, "It is difficult to master the contents of so many volumes in one life." He did not know at the time that the Swamiji had already finished ten volumes and was reading the eleventh. "What do you mean?" said Swamiji. "Ask me whatever you like from those ten volumes and I can tell you all about it." The disciple, out of curiosity, brought down the books and asked Swamiji many questions on difficult and varied topics/subjects, selecting one or two from different volumes. Swami Vivekananda not only replied each correctly, but in many instances he quoted the very language of the books!

At an other time, Swami Vivekananda happened to turn the pages of a book in quick succession just by looking at them once. The disciple asked as to what Swamiji was doing. Swami Vivekananda replied, "Why, I am reading the book." The fellow was utterly surprised to see such an odd method of reading the book! Then Swami Vivekananda explained just as a child reads every letter of a word, most of adults read a cluster of words or a full sentence, "I can read paragraph to paragraph"! Thus, three glances and the whole page used to be read! 

Well, fast as much as I wanted to read like him, I kept on missing the lazy read. And then, at one point of time - I recognized how slow reader have I become. How ?
I opened an website for an evening news reading. Even before finishing the reading of few articles, the memory of first article faded away. I was reading fast but, when the reading needs more and more repeats - it eventually slows me down. This shallowness of reading was apparent in many places. I understood the information, not the content. I understood the pictures, not the words. I found that I have too little time to read and the information is huge. To top that, the information is biased and highly contradictory. You never know who is speaking the truth - Arvind Kejriwal or Nitin Gadkari (see here). As a normal, thinking, truthful human being, you will be continuously feeding multiple information to your brain, seeking to stabilize it to an opinion by doing background processing - until you fall asleep !

Luckily, there are some tricks, which I also discovered - to escape this fast-reading-world. To look for patterns. Namely, you know that the ministers are corrupt. You know that they will never agree to any accusation. You know that there is always a truth and a conspiracy. You know that there is a message that any information wants to deliver. 

Then, always read the core messages and forget about any information whatsoever, you may argue. 

Yes, one can do that. But, the world at large does not take your knowledge unless you feed the eye with avalanche of information. So, for the support of your knowledge, you have to find the information and keep that ready to provide. Much like a theory and a set of experiments. However, like a true scientist, one must be prepared to dump the theories when new information is uncovered. Like - existence of an original movie script in Bollywood.

If you have reached this line within a minute, I congratulate you for the speed. At the same time, I feel sad that you had so little time to stop in between sentences to dwell on your thoughts. A nice afternoon, which could be spent juggling arguments and reaching higher planes of knowledge, is possibly lost.

Never mind.

The advertisement is shamelessly borrowed from here.


  1. The Pursuit of Truth has become difficult like never before and all the information read demands heavy scrutiny before accepting it. That is the world we live in :)

    lol @ shamelessly borrowed :P


  2. @Sarvo,

    The "increasing difficulty" is reflected in the count of comments - always 2, one from you and one from me. May be I should write something about Bollywood.


  3. I am not sure about the Swami Vivekananda incident - as you know, I am not a believer. But I have nothing to disprove it either. However, this reminds me of this entirely true story about a World Chess champion (either Bobby Fischer, or Kasparov).

    A standard middle-of-the-game position was shown to three players for 10 seconds - a club player (rating ~1900), an International Master (rating ~2250) and the champion (rating ~2750) and then they were asked to reproduce the position from memory. The club player made mistake on 6 pieces out of 24. The IM made 2 mistakes. The champion made none.

    As a control experiment, an weird, that-can-never-arise position was shown (imagine something like 4 queens in either side or 5 knights) to the same three people. This time, all three performed equally.

    Subsequently, the champion said - when I look at a position, I don't see the king or the rook as an individual pieces. I see a block of pieces and their strengths and weaknesses. I am not a computer - I cannot remember where each piece stands if they do not form a few logically coherent blocks.

    Sounds familiar?

  4. @Somdev,
    A good but, loosely connected analogy. The weakest connection is that content of a book cannot be logically coherent as much as the pieces in a standard middle-game can be. Also, one would probably need higher abstractions of logical reasoning to find a connection. These kind of stories of magic-like approach to reading/problem-solving are so abundant in academic world (forget religion/spirituality) that you have to be really puzzled to disbelieve all of them. Just read about Feynman and Von Neumann. I agree with your viewpoint that - what cannot be explained, should not be believed. The question is whether you are working hard enough to seek the explanation or trying hard enough to stay disbelieved.