Read Like a Mad Man


A friend asks me for an advice. If I have been through a similar situation, I tell them this is what I do. If it is about something I don’t know much about, I tell them exactly that.

In any case if the question is not a simple one, e.g., about any big question life poses you at different stages, I always tell them: the solution is to read like a mad man. Although it seems that such a general answer cannot comfort a person in a bad emotional state, it actually can.

The first truth to realize is that we humans know very little about everything. Nobody has figured it all out. There are two kinds of universes in this universe.

  1. The actual physical universe that is reality. It does not bend to our wishes nor operate according to our opinions. According to one of my favourite stories The Cold Equations,

    Existence required order, and there was order; the laws of nature, irrevocable and immutable. Men could learn to use them, but men could not change them. The circumference of a circle was always pi times the diameter, and no science of man would ever make it otherwise. The combination of chemical A with chemical B under condition C invariably produced reaction D. The law of gravitation was a rigid equation, and it made no distinction between the fall of a leaf and the ponderous circling of a binary star system. The nuclear conversion process powered the cruisers that carried men to the stars; the same process in the form of a nova would destroy a world with equal efficiency. The laws were, and the universe moved in obedience to them. Along the frontier were arrayed all the forces of nature, and sometimes they destroyed those who were fighting their way outward from Earth. The men of the frontier had long ago learned the bitter futility of cursing the forces that would destroy them, for the forces were blind and deaf; the futility of looking to the heavens for mercy, for the stars of the galaxy swung in their long, long sweep of two hundred million years, as inexorably controlled as they by the laws that knew neither hatred nor compassion.

    Moreover, we might know only about 5% of our universe, according to the scientists in the extremely well written book We Have No Idea.

  2. Then, there are imaginary universes that exist in our heads. In the heads of all humans who think they know how the universe works. Unfortunately, each and every one of them is right only to some extent.

The question is what to do then. Now when I ask people to read like a mad man, what I want them to do is to peek into the imaginary universes that exist/existed in the heads of brilliant people, who not only had the curiosity and courage to know more but they also conveyed their findings to us in some manner, say books. While their maps of the universe might not be all correct, I believe that they might be more correct than the ones the questioner already has.

Knowing more about those unknown universes, or never known realities and concepts, is like actually travelling to distant places on this planet or even beyond. The more you travel, the more your thought horizon expands. You visit the (imaginary) places you never knew existed. This is a very fascinating, eye opening and life transforming journey.

When you read like a mad man, only then you raise to a level where you can judge your own questions and see how their answers are not unique. In fact, you come to realize the part of the equations that are in your control! Ask a child who has never played a sport: do you like cricket or football? He will look at you with bland expressions. This is the guy asking the question. Read enough and you will rise to a level where you will see that the life is all about asking the right questions, not finding the right answers.

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