What I read in January

Here are some books I read this past month and a few thoughts about them:

# Breath by James Nestor

This is a book about breathing and how most people have lost the art of proper breathing leading to a whole range of problems from snoring to poor respiratory illnesses.

The author touches on various breathing techniques of 'pulmonauts', those who have mastered the art of breathing - drawing knowledge from ancient Yogis and mystics like Patanjali to the moderns such as Ram Dass, and from the ancient Chinese masters to modern athletes.

The key takeaways I got from it are:

  • The nose is to be used to breathe at all times. Mouth breathing is a NO.
  • Breathing should be slow and deep
  • Exhales should be slow

I was already familiar with some of the techniques from meditating and exercising, especially running, but the book was still quite informative. I occasionally find myself timing my breathing cycles to my strides when I walk.

Breathing slow, less, and through the nose balances the levels of respiratory gases in the body and sends the maximum amount of oxygen to the maximum amount of tissues so that our cells have the maximum amount of electron reactivity.

Great book, highly recommended.

# Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadows

This is one of the best and most useful books I have ever read. Thinking in Systems does exactly what it promises - it teaches the systems way of thinking and once you see it you see it in all things. It is as Musashi Miyamoto said, "to see the Way broadly is to see it in all things".

I really need to consolidate my notes but here are some takeaways:

  • Systems are dynamic, just knowing the constituent parts of a system is not sufficient to understand it. Systems are more than the sum of their parts.
  • Key features of a system are the stock, the flow and the feedback loops
  • A system's stated goals often differ from its true goals. The true goals are what you see when you look at the system.
  • Systems have delays. For better or worse (for example things don't just collapse all at once, allowing for correction, but conversely, a harmful disease or addiction may only show its harmful effects after a long time)
  • There are some common system archetypes - the tragedy of commons, escalation, addiction, policy resistance e.t.c.
  • Systems exhibit resilience, self-organization and hierachies. These three things are important in designing systems.
  • To understand systems (and most things are systems) look beyond events - look at behaviour, look at structure, look at stocks, flow and feedback loops
  • The "real world" as we perceive it is itself a model, and like all models it is incomplete and inaccurate. Our understanding of the world is low resolution.
  • Things are interconnected. There are rarely single causes. The boundaries we see are not real and are malleable. (Unless you are a journalist)
  • Rational individual actors can result in destructive collective behavior (i.e tragedy of commons, politics e.tc) . Hard to see, esp if you are trained to think like an economist.
  • To get a better picture of systems requires shifting perspective, stepping away, looking at history, honesty. Information is sacred. This is the 11th commandment, "thou shall not distort, delay or withhold information"
  • Having skin in the game is a powerful feedback mechanism in systems design.
  • Change your paradigm, change your life
  • Master paradigms and become enlightened.
  • Language matters, use it precisely, and with care.
  • Life is interdisciplinary.
I had learned about dancing with great powers from whitewater kayaking, from gardening, from playing music, from skiing. All those endeavors require one to stay wide awake, pay close attention, participate flat out, and respond to feedback.

This book rewired my brain. Loved it.

# Covenant of Steel Series (Book 1 & 2) by Anthony Ryan

Oh, and I also read some fiction from one of my favorite fantasy authors Anthony Ryan. Good books, both. Thoroughly enjoyed them.

# Ashes of the Unhewn Throne (Book 1) by Brian Staveley

And lastly this excellent first book of the new series by Staveley. Stayed up past midnight for this one.