In an interview many years ago, the erudite Argentinian writer and literary critic Jorge Luis Borges once remarked that individuals should own two libraries — one containing the books that they have read, the other containing the books that they plan to read. It is that second type of library that interests essayist Nassim Taleb; in fact, he even gave it a name: the antilibrary: the books you plan to read. In his discussion of knowledge in his book, The Black Swan, Taleb cites another great writer and scholar, Umberto Eco, who very much like Borges, was passionate about books and learning:
“The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have. How many of these books have you read?” and the others—a very small minority—who get the point is that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendages but a research tool. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market alow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.
We tend to treat our knowledge as personal property to be protected and defended. It is an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order. So this tendency to offend Eco’s library sensibility by focusing on the known is a human bias that extends to our mental operations. People don’t walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it’s the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did. Just as we need to stand library logic on its head, we will work on standing knowledge itself on its head.”
Naturally, the antilibrary gives rise to its dutiful steward, the antischolar. According to Taleb, the antischolar is “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.” Perhaps the greatest antischolar was Socrates who said, “”The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” This sentiment is echoed by a famous quote often attributed to Albert Einstein: “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” Amen, brother.
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Read related posts: Exploring Carl Sandburg’s Library of 11,000 Books
The Lord of the Books: Creating A Library From Discarded
A Tale of Two Donkeys and a Mobile Library
Lacuna: The Library Made Out of Books
I Am What Libraries Have Made Me
If You Love a Book, Set it Free
The Library without Books
The Library is the DNA of Our Civilization
For further reading: The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb