April 02, 2017
Why do we read?
609 words, 3 minutes to read.
I was a teenager when I was first learned of the classification of knowledge into “know that”, “know how” and “knowledge by acquaintance”. It was using that knowledge that I could, for the first time, convincingly answer to myself that “…we can never know if the ‘red’ color I see is the same as another person since that knowledge is gained by a previous acquaintance with ‘red’. We both agree on what ‘red’ is, even though we may never know ‘how’ the other perceives that ‘red’”. Subsequently, I have always been fascinated by Epistemology, the study of nature and theory of knowledge and knowledge acquisition.
Going through one of my old notebooks, I found some thoughts on the question, “Why do we read?”. I noted that while reading is arguably one of the dominant forms of knowledge acquisition since the invention of the printing press, knowledge acquisition cannot be the only reason why we read. Apparently, the goal of the exercise was to list 10 reasons for the question. The way I went about the task was by taking a list of reading sources that I used frequently and identifying the reason I personally was drawn to the source. I decided to revisit the question and here is the list of reasons I could come up with:
To be informed - We read to keep ourselves informed about the revolutionary things happening around us, from what’s going on in the world in general to the latest developments in the fields of our choice.
Example sources: Newspapers, press releases
To be part of our world - We read to be knowledgeable enough to be able to engage with our peers and the world at large on issues of interest.
Example sources: Newspapers
Out of curiosity - Sometimes, we simply read to satisfy the insatiable curiosity that defines human nature.
Example sources: All readable sources
To discover fresh ideas and different opinions - We read to discover ideas and opinions that are new, innovative or just different from our own. Sometimes, when we don’t know enough to have an opinion of our own, reading someone else’s opinion provides the necessary foundation.
Example sources: Opinions, blogs, scientific literature
To learn something new - We read to expand our personal capabilities by acquiring new skills.
Example sources: Textbooks, course materials
For mental stimulation - We read cutting edge literature to stimulate our own mental processes.
Example sources: Research papers, science fiction
To discover the truth - We read to distinguish truth from rumor and speculation and to understand the context around a particular piece of information.
Example sources: Investigative reports, historical accounts, peer reviews
To explore the world - We read to learn about the world, its cultures, and history without ever having to leave our physical sanctuary. Reading provides us a way to overcome any physical or economic challenges and transport ourselves to anywhere in the world.
Example sources: Travel and exploration reports, Newspapers
To travel back in time - We read to learn about people, places, and events that existed a long time ago.
Example sources: Biographies, historical accounts
To escape reality - Sometimes, we read to explore alternate realities and universes which are remotely plausible at best.
Example sources: Science fiction
To learn at our own pace - Reading is one effort where we are in complete control over the rate of assimilation.
Example sources: All readable sources
When there is no other choice - Some knowledge is currently only available as the written word.
Example sources: Books on non-mainstream research topics
Entertainment - Sometimes, we read for our own entertainment, because we are bored.
Example sources: Comics, poetry, novels