Impregnated by interesting

Venkatesh Rao—amongst others—has been quite vocal about the downside of the “Deep Work” philosophy. Specifically, he argues that severe limitation of inputs leads, not to deep work, but to derp work, work that is, at best, out of touch with current culture and its problems and opportunities, and at worst, completely irrelevant to all but its producer. The more I think about this argument, the more persuaded of it I become. 

Consider a particular part of the human reproduction process: a male’s sperm racing towards a female’s egg. There’s millions of sperm but only one egg. Thus, a lot of those sperm are making a futile journey. But the one that succeeds goes on to grow into a new being. Our minds work in a similar way. We’re exposed to millions of sensory impressions and fragments of information and narrative. Most don’t make it through. But a few penetrate into the deepest, darkest recesses of our grey matter. A few get through, fertilising the mind and spurning obsessions, questions and interests that commandeer decades.

Those who limit inputs are limiting the ways in which they can be fertilised. They are closing their mind off to possibility. They are pursuing a “designer baby” strategy of the mind, operating on the assumption that they know what they want, what is valuable and what is worth optimising for. I have little faith in the sustainability of such strategies. We don’t know what is good for us, what will matter, what will be important. Consider that even those motivated by the purest motives of self-interest still steer themselves into pain and suffering. So what makes us think that we can identify the informational inputs we need? No, better that we open our minds, unthrottle our sources of input, and hope we get impregnated by interesting.