DRMacIver's Notebook

Supersaturation of knowledge

Supersaturation of knowledge

There's something interesting that happens when you read at the rate that I do.

You might expect that the amount of knowledge you get out of reading scales linearly with the rate you read, and in some sense this is true, but there is a major qualitative change that happens to me once I start reading fast enough (multiple books a week, ideally related), and the metaphor I use for this is supersaturation.

Supersaturation is when you have more solute dissolved in a solution than is strictly supposed to be there at the current temperature. It's a very unstable state - if you add a bit more of the dissolved substance, give it a sharp tap, or sometimes just look at it funny, suddenly you get a huge crystal formation. It's pretty cool, and yet for some reason all the youtube videos about it are incredibly bad, so I can't link you to a demo. Take my word for it though.

Anyway, the thing about reading at a high rate is that it feels like it creates supersaturation in my brain. Knowledge is coming in faster than it is getting banked into longer term memory and I'm still thinking about them, so I have all of these ideas that are still floating around in easy reach of each other, until my brain feels "full" and there are too many related concepts that I'm thinking about.

And what happens then sometimes is that the right event or piece of information triggers a thought and suddenly everything connects up together and my brain fills up with new and exciting thoughts as I realise that everything is connected.

Things like the model described in emotional reactions as legacy code are the type of thing that come out of this, as are a number of recent helpful therapeutic realisations reading about discomfort tolerance and similar that I may write about in a future notebook post.