Scene: The Comedy Cellar in NYC watching a comedian pacing on stage with the famous brick wall behind him.
I cannot recall the current-events-themed joke he told, but I distinctly remember how the comic followed up when no one laughed. "You have to know shit to get jokes! C'mon people!" I agreed with him on this latter point, and noted that while knowing shit may be a prerequisite for understanding comedy, it was not sufficient to create comedy.
Moonwalking with Einstein, a book you can judge by its title (because it is awesome), caused this anecdote to flash from memory. The hook that retrieved it from the back of my mind was the author's description of the following paradox: "it takes knowledge to gain knowledge".
"This paradox - it takes knowledge to gain knowledge - is captured in a study in which researchers wrote up a detailed description of a half inning of baseball and gave it to a group of baseball fanatics ... and a group of less avid fans to read. The baseball fanatics structured their recollections around important game-related events, like runners advancing and runs scoring. They were able to reconstruct the half inning in sharp detail. One almost got the impression they were reading off an internal scorecard. The less avid fans remembered fewer important facts about the game and were more likely to recount superficial details like the weather. ... Without a conceptual framework in which to embed what they were learning, they were effectively amnesics."*
Personally, I know nothing of baseball. If I was asked to recount half an inning my superficial details might include "I think everyone was wearing pants" and "balls were involved, maybe." But the argument is sound, and the benefit perfectly captured by Foer (author): "The more we remember, the better we are at processing the world. And the better we are at processing the world, the more we can remember about it."*
What's more, the book posits that the brains of our 30,000 year old (and now deceased) ancestors were not very different from our own. With respect to size and sophistication, our brains were nearly the same. What separates us are the recorded memories available to babies today. A baby born today may have already been exposed to Beethoven in the womb, whereas our ancestor babies were born part of the food chain. This lends itself to accelerated baby development.
Because my mind was on comedians, and because I had previously read parts of Steve Martin's biography Born Standing Up, I found myself thinking about the recorded memories he was exposed to growing up.
I was five years old when television entered the Martin household. A plastic black box wired to a rooftop antenna sat in our living room, and on it appeared what had to be the world's longest continuous showing of B Westerns. I had never seen anything with a plot, so even the corniest, most predictable stories were new to me, and I rode the Wild West by sitting astride a blanket I had placed on the back of an overstuffed chair and galloped along with the posse.*
What if it had been Blazing Saddles instead? And what if Martin had grown up with the interwebs? And finally, why shouldn't that apply to me?
Coincidentally this thought process developed out of an interest in learning more about the science of learning. The objective had the same outcome as any pursuit of knowledge, purchasing copious books on Amazon. Once received I needed an approach to work through them. So I committed to a simple daily routine: In addition to periodicals, I read a minimum of twenty pages a day from a book. And to make it easy, if I miss a day there is no compounding effect. Twenty pages a day works out to 7,300 pages per year. If you assume each book is approximately 250 pages it works out to nearly 30 books a year.
Should you follow suit, imagine what you will know a year from now. Even if you think only 10 pages a day is possible, why not try it? Worse case scenario, you'll just be a little nerdier.
Post script: paraphrased and abridged, this post could be reduced to "Read more."
Title Inspiration: Super Troopers Liter of Cola (link to video)
Footnotes denoted by asterisk and listed in order: