Zettelkasten Forum


The Barbell Method of Reading

imageThe Barbell Method

The Zettelkasten note-taking method has made book writing and writing scientific papers easy for hundreds of years already.

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Comments

  • I s there any difference in how you would read and also take notes in reading a a hardback edition of a book and a digital version of that book. Do you prefer to read a hardback versus a digital version or does that matter in regards to the area of retention. There has been studies supporting the notion that reading e book are not as effective as hardback books in regard to retention. Your thoughts?

  • No. I don't make any differences. But I never read digital books. I spend a lot of time in front of the screen and reading. Yes, there is an efficiency thing you mentioned: Physical beats digital when it comes to retention.

    But there are many other factors to include: Counterbalance over-digitalisation for example. I don't want suboptimization in my life. I don't want blue light overload. etc.

  • @sfast I like paper books too. But AFAIK there's no blue light issue with Kindle.
    Also as I see it, it's not really a matter of "suboptimization"; it's a matter of compromises. With six physical books in your bag for summer reading, you are sub-optimizing for space and weight compared to a Kindle. You can quickly highlight text on a Kindle for later processing. And pages have entry ids so you have a reference when you write notes on paper. So it's a different workflow, but not much different.

  • @System when reading this article I had a hard time understanding WHY you call it a barbell strategy. Here is how Nassim explains it:

    "If you know that you are vulnerable to prediction errors, and … accept that most “risk measures” are flawed, then your strategy is to be as hyperconservative and hyperaggressive as you can be instead of being mildly aggressive or conservative."

    In other words, put your eggs in two baskets. One basket holds extremely safe investments, while the other holds nothing but leverage and speculation.

    But what's that have to do with reading a book twice? I'd call it a "two-phase" strategy, or a "dual-pass" or "fast-slow" approach. I think the references to investment strategy distract from the article more than it helps. You could just cut that out entirely and it would be greatly improved.

  • Sorry, but this article is pure garbage. It is just pointing out that there are other animals that behave differently. It doesn't address the approach Peterson is using (Consilience of Knowledge) or any of its arguments.

    @maxhodges said:
    @sfast I like paper books too. But AFAIK there's no blue light issue with Kindle.
    Also as I see it, it's not really a matter of "suboptimization"; it's a matter of compromises. With six physical books in your bag for summer reading, you are sub-optimizing for space and weight compared to a Kindle. You can quickly highlight text on a Kindle for later processing. And pages have entry ids so you have a reference when you write notes on paper. So it's a different workflow, but not much different.

    There is a blue light issue. :smile:

    I am not talking about using a kindle as a tool for vacation. If you travel for six weeks and want to read 10 books a kindle is great. But I could also argue that if you have a problem to carry six books you should work on your back strength. :smile:

    The difference comes into play when it comes to to processing depth. The haptics, the act of making notes with a pen etc. increase the processing depth in you brain. Numbers for example are partly processed in your motor cortex. It make a difference how you take notes. Making notes or drawing on paper is a very different from doing it digital from he brains perspective. The workflow should train your brain accordingly. Additionally, you behave differently when you work digitally. There are many factors to consider. The non-physicality, the light, the lack of optical change when you turn a page, the possibility of clicking links etc.

    I see your point but there are hidden costs of the digital world. You could do a simple experiment: Read for four weeks kindle only. Then switch to physical only four additional four weeks. I believe that you would be surprised how different you will feel. :smile:

    @maxhodges said:
    @System when reading this article I had a hard time understanding WHY you call it a barbell strategy. Here is how Nassim explains it:

    "If you know that you are vulnerable to prediction errors, and … accept that most “risk measures” are flawed, then your strategy is to be as hyperconservative and hyperaggressive as you can be instead of being mildly aggressive or conservative."

    In other words, put your eggs in two baskets. One basket holds extremely safe investments, while the other holds nothing but leverage and speculation.

    But what's that have to do with reading a book twice? I'd call it a "two-phase" strategy, or a "dual-pass" or "fast-slow" approach. I think the references to investment strategy distract from the article more than it helps. You could just cut that out entirely and it would be greatly improved.

    1. You are investing time when you read.
    2. Processing depth adds to risk and to reward. (In the form of reading very slow or twice)

    So you have to types of investment: Reading fast and gaining much of the knowledge (safe investment of time because you can process a lot per unit of time) and reading carefully and gaining (possibly) less information but occasionally get a big surprise. (Sometimes valuable knowledge is hard to digest).

    Reading all the time with the same "mode" means to not adapt to the circumstances. So you put your eggs in two baskets:

    1. Read new books fast and mark all the paragraphs with interesting or promising content. (safe investment of time)
    2. Read the marked paragraphs again. (risky investment of time with big surprises).

    Reading most of the time with a small risk of wasting time. Reading a small proportion of your reading time with a high risk of wasting time (but possibly big reward).

    Therefore: Barbell Method.

  • Therefore: Barbell Method.

    Still makes no sense to name it this way IMHO. Just stick with slow/fast. Otherwise, great article.

  • @vvcorto said:

    Therefore: Barbell Method.

    Still makes no sense to name it this way IMHO. Just stick with slow/fast. Otherwise, great article.

    Please use arguments. I am open to them but you'll still have to make them.

  • edited August 17

    Interesting post. I am still struggling with how I like to read books and papers, and often go in too deep too quickly.

    I had not heard of the Barbell Method before. It comes close to the method from the book How To Read A Book by Mortimer Adler (which is summarised nicely here ). The second part of his Inspectional Reading, which is superficial reading, corroborates the first step of the Barbell Method. I miss his first part, the Systematic Skimming, which should be the first selectional filter: check back, ToC, etc. to get an idea of the book and decide whether it is worth your time. But HTRAB does not suggest highlighting interesting parts. Rather, he suggests, if a book is deemed interesting after an Inspectional Read, to go into Analytical Reading, so to read thoroughly and make comments. But that would mean reading the whole thing again.

    I also had to think about Take Smarter Notes, whose author suggests to always read with pen in hand. That corroborates to some extent with the Barbell Method, but takes much more effort even if something is not interesting at the end. Another method (no ref atm) is to write a brief summary at the end of each chapter (I think Luhmann did that for papers he wrote). To me that goes somewhere in the middle.

    I will now make a Zettel of the Barbell Method linking to this post. That would be shallow reading/note-taking, because it is a cross-reference. I am under the impression that is fine as long as you know it is, and do the deep reading once you really need the material. I frequently find citations in books I read interesting so I makes notes of them as citations of citations. I frequently never come back to them, so I decide not to take too much time. If they come back in my mind, I look up the original reference.

  • Addendum: Ahrens, the author of Taking Smarter Notes, is very much against just highlighting text, for instance saying it removes context and does not lead to understanding. So I guess the highlighting as with the Barbell Method is about sections rather than single lines?

  • @vvcorto said:

    Therefore: Barbell Method.

    Still makes no sense to name it this way IMHO. Just stick with slow/fast. Otherwise, great article.

    I can chip in with my 2 cents: to me the name 'barbell' refers to the two equally 'weighty' methods being used in tandem, the slow and the fast reading methods are both necessary when balanced. It is like how in vipassana meditation you need both awareness and equanimity, or how like a bird's two wings enable it to fly. This concept is found in many places: both the width and the breadth of a rectangle contribute to its area, for example, or try putting up a tent without two forces pulling tension in two diametrically opposed areas.

    But yeah, otherwise just a snappy name and who cares

  • @Garwyx wrote:
    I had not heard of the Barbell Method before.

    I'd be suprised because I came up with this name.

    I think every appraoch has something in common: Repetition.

    And there is always a thing going on with setting the frame. I would not regard skimming the book or reviewing its chapter headings as part of reading but rather normal evaluating if you should read the book alltogether.

  • @sfast said:

    @Garwyx wrote:
    I had not heard of the Barbell Method before.

    I'd be suprised because I came up with this name.

    I think every appraoch has something in common: Repetition.

    And there is always a thing going on with setting the frame. I would not regard skimming the book or reviewing its chapter headings as part of reading but rather normal evaluating if you should read the book alltogether.

    Yeah I figured that on a second read. You threw me off guard with "The Barbell Method is a phrase coined by Nassim Taleb". I thought he coined it in regards to reading.
    Regarding considering skimming not to be part of reading, I can see where you are coming from, but I prefer to include it, the way Adler suggests. Just semantics more or less.

  • edited September 1

    Jap. It is semantics. Nothing really important. Though, -- of course -- I think mine are correct. :smiley:

    I'll write a piece on how to evaluate books before you read (the Barbell Method).

  • I think it's a bit hilarious, @sfast, that you boast about your command of the nuanced meaning of words, and then, in the same post, you accidentally call @Garwyx either a (filthy) Japanese person or a spoiled Jewish girl. :smiley:

    If you like The Archive's "PrettyFunctional (Basic)" theme, consider upgrading to the "PrettyFunctional (Regular)" theme.

  • Lol. Busted. :smile:

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