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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Contraries: creativity and the news

1. Two contrarians 

For many good reasons, I thought of Dobelli and Thoreau this week. Dobelli's essay is worth a read, and if you don't want to read the whole thing, you can look at this summary, which discusses news as toxic, misleading, irrelevant, a source of errors (via confirmation bias), and more.

Dobelli and Thoreau go so far as to reject paying any attention to the news. They're both well worth reading in an age that runs after the news night and day.

2. Rolf Dobelli, "The Art of Thinking Clearly"

Finally, things we already know limit our creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative works at a young age. Their brains enjoy a wide, uninhabited space that emboldens them to come up with and pursue novel ideas. I don't know a single truly creative mind who is a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. On the other hand, I know a bunch of viciously uncreative minds who consume news like drugs. If you want to come up with old solutions, read news. If you are looking for new solutions, don't.

Society needs journalism – but in a different way. Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth. But important findings don't have to arrive in the form of news. Long journal articles and in-depth books are good, too.

3. Thoreau, Walden and Life Without Principle

And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, we need never read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?

Hardly a man takes a half-hour's nap after dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, "What's the news?" as if the rest of mankind had stood his sentinels... After a night's sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast.

I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself, than this incessant business.

* * *
Marly, elsewhere:
  • Thaliad's wild epic adventure in verse here and here 
  • (Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing, 2012)
  • The Foliate Head's collection of poems from Stanza Press (UK) here
  • A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage from Mercer University Press (ForeWord 2013 finalist, The Ferrol Sams Award, 2012) here
  • The Throne of Psyche, collection of poetry from Mercer, 2011, here
  • Excerpts from my three 2012 books at Scribd.


  1. I can never quite give up on the news, but I have given up on much news-related chatter. Last Monday, a terrific 25-year-old colleague asked me, "So, have you been following the news from Boston?" I told him I went out to work in my garden, and that events would still unfold even if I weren't getting minute-by-minute updates. He was befuddled; at that point, I must have seemed very old.

  2. Hi Jeff...

    I think that I'm similar--it's impossible to wholly throw over news (particularly if you live with other people), but a less frequent encounters are good. Decades ago I watched t.v.; now I hardly listen to NPR, and rarely read the paper. If I want to k now about something, I'll research it, though.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.