The Two Types of Readers

There are two styles of reading, each of which will influence our sight of the world. There is, on the one hand, the applied method, and on the other, the pure method. Too few of us know about the applied method, and too many know the pure method. But what are the differences, you might ask.

Map Constructors: Reading for Application

With the applied method, we read for the moment. We all encumber problems throughout our day-to-day activities and month-to-month goals, and more than a few of these problems may stump us; they may aggravate and frustrate us. Here, the applied method thrives. The applied reader seeks to digest an idea that can help them surmount the current road-block. To read about a product before investing, to read about personality before dating, to read about life before living; these are all actions taken by those who read for life. In a sense, the applied reader is the one who develops a map before traveling.

The benefits of having a map before traveling are enormous. When we know the route ahead of time, we can optimize our strategic decisions, for instance. Suppose we read about certain personality types as we are currently looking for a partner, and we come across some fact about someone’s level of commitment and number of previous partners; that is, those who have had fewer relationship partners over their life-span have higher success rates in marriage. This fact, once we come across it, will allow us to think tactically about people. For example, if someone confesses a yearning for a serious relationship, and they say that their previous 2 partners were to blame for their romantic failures to date, we can be justified in our skepticism towards their claim. We will have a reference point to more accurately identify the person whom we get into a relationship with.

Better yet, suppose we were seeking to open a business, though we had no clue where to locate. Instead of taking a leap of faith, we can take a trip of insight to the library; that is, we can read sociology books about which areas within a given city have high-rates of crime, a lot of young, or a lot of old. We can develop a map of the environment to find the best fit for our business. What a benefit to be gained from applied reading.

Applied reading, in a nutshell, allows us to harness the power of planning by granting us vision of the obstacles ahead which would have otherwise remained hidden behind a heavy fog.  It allows us to apply the magical powers of the frontal lobes in a far more efficient manner.

However, the applied reader, though as glorious as their method sounds, is far from perfection, it must be said. How misleading it would be to say nothing of their downfalls. A peculiar feature of human perception, we misunderstand the weight something bears until we witness the proper context to which it belongs. A failing grade seems like the end of the world until we see the student who flunked every course this semester. By the same token, applied reading seems oh-so-wonderful until we see its downfalls.

If we look into the shady past of applied reading, the treacherous dangers become apparent. That is, applied readers run the risk of picking up a book, let us say, on psychology, and only after finishing the book do they come to the realization that the book had nothing to do with their problem. Like talking to an ex-relationship partner, the applied reader wasted their time. Even furthermore, the applied reader encumbers the risk of reading the wrong book entirely, which sets-up a misleading expectation about the future in front of them. This is like traveling Canada while using a map for Europe. No doubt, reading in an applied manner can be rather dangerous.

So, then, applied reading has both pros and cons. We would clearly be fools to assume applied reading is all that and a bag of po-ta-to chips, and we would equally be fools to assume that applied reading has no advantages. But applied reading is only half the picture, let us talk about pure reading.

Design All The Obstacles: Reading for Pure Reason

The pure reader is someone who reads to amass facts for the sake of having facts. Like a university student that spends countless hours memorizing concepts for an exam, these readers are reading to learn about something, not to solve a problem. To give a comparison, if the applied reader is attempting to perceive the road ahead so as to optimize their decision, then the pure reader is learning about all the possible types of roads on a given map.

The benefits of knowing all the obstacles beforehand are many. But to name a few, all without over-stepping the boundary of necessity, we will consider the benefits of a quicker start. To read in a pure fashion can allow us to start something quicker upon arrival.

Spend two months studying relationships and the next problem which you face in the domain of relationships will reveal its self immediately to you. That is, the applied reader must go back to the library and study up on the problem, though the pure reader, having amassed facts about relationships, is already familiarized with the problem at hand. Thus, they can start to solve the problem sooner than the applied reader. By the same token, the pure reader is better equipped to solve problems in the domain of relationships, assuming they amassed facts in this domain, because they will ultimately have more knowledge on the topic. The applied reader has yet to invest their time into studying relationships, whereas the pure reader has already spent many hours studying the topic.

Pure reading certainly has its benefits, but like with applied reading, there are dangers inextricably linked to this method of reading. And so, to provide our oh-so-wonderful perspective, so as to adequately assess pure reading, let us ponder these dangers of pure reading.

The first danger is the generality of life. Life requires more than specialized expertise, especially when working without a team. Some problems will fall outside the domain of specialty, and we will have to either find a helping hand or become an applied reader to solve the problem.

The second danger is the high-investment into specific domains, all without knowing whether these domains will be entered or not. For example, there are those who have spent years studying physics only to enter into business. Now, certainly, physics can teach one a great deal about problem-solving, though the types of problems faced in business are more akin to psychology and statistics problems rather than physics problems. And so, pure readers run the risk of investing too much time into the wrong area.

So, we can then see, pure reading has both pros and cons, like with applied reading. Pure readers, if they make the right judgment call, can save time by pre-reading for a specific problem and start quicker; however, the consequence of a bad judgment call means an inefficient expense of the worlds most valuable resource: time.

Should We Build Maps or Study Sets of Obstacles?

Should we build maps with applied reading, or do we study sets of obstacles with pure reading? The question has no black-and-white answer, unfortunately. Like with all dichotomies, the answer usually depends on context. Should we take the high-time investment to learn the obstacles, or do we invest time as needed to develop real-time maps?

Context will be the key deciding factor here. If we know that some domain of life will constantly reoccur for us, like social interactions, then perhaps the benefit favors greatly the person who reads 5 books, consecutively, in the domain of psychology. However, if we know that, our lives, being sometimes chaotic, will vary greatly in the following days, months, or years, then to be adaptive and responsive to the demands placed upon us by immediate change will benefit us far more; thus, to read like an applied reader would be wise.

The context of life makes decisions of absolute value far too complicated, the pros and cons fluctuate in accordance with the context. Therefore, context should determine one’s decision. If one properly predicts the context that surrounds their life, then the choice to be applied or pure will become obvious.

And with that, I thank you, my dear reader, for your sustained interest,


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Ideasinhat is a business development analyst and longtime reader of academic literature. He writes books and essays on science and philosophy, and posts them to this website. The essays, as with the books, cover topics from psychology, philosophy, and cognitive science to economics, politics, and law.

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