In praise of the anti-scholar

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss an article written by Maria Popova….

I’m always impressed by the depth and sophistication that writer Maria Popova (pictured above) devotes to Brain Pickings. She describes her blog as a “subjective lens on what matters in the world and why” but I find she frequently writes about writers.

Recently, she wrote about the value of becoming an “anti scholar” citing, principally, Lebanese-American scholar, statistician, and essayist Nassim Nicholas Taleb. But along the way she also mentions, Umberto Eco, E.F. Schumacher, Marcelo Gleiser, Hannah Arendt, Marilynne Robinson and Plato.

Describing Taleb’s “Black Swan theory,” Popova writes:

Noting that his Black Swan theory centers on “our misunderstanding of the likelihood of surprises” because we underestimate the value of what we don’t know and take what we do know “a little to seriously,” Taleb envisions the perfect dancer in the tango with knowledge.

Then, she quotes Taleb:

Let us call this an antischolar — someone who focuses on the unread books, and makes an attempt not to treat his knowledge as a treasure, or even a possession, or even a self-esteem enhancement device — a skeptical empiricist.

As a writer, and as someone who is reasonably well-read, I find the concept of “anti-scholars” to be fascinating.  I think I’m going to have to take myself down a peg or two… Meanwhile, do yourself a favour and check out the Brain Pickings blog.

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