Vertical Thinking

by Nathan Cheever


There I was, a programmer and data scientist, who, though I enjoyed code and working with data (and making money) had repressed a passion for reading and learning about history and philosophy for over a decade.

I just landed my first data science job and bought a home. Friends and family told me “you’ve made it” but I still felt an intellectual hunger inside I couldn’t quite place at the time.

I found myself really struggling with thinking deeply, holding meaningful conversations, and feeling like I constantly had to “study up” on the latest events in order to have anything to say.

Honestly, here was the main problem: I had gotten used to a method of reading and writing from college that was ‘skim and scan’, especially at work, hunting for answers to programming problems. This skillset was entirely inadequate for my yearning for expressing deeper questions and ideas.

This meant I felt overwhelmed trying to write out essays, short or long, and had no system or approach for holding my thoughts together across reading. Yet I felt a calling to write, if only to develop my own mind.

While this was unfortunate, it went even deeper than that. You see, it really meant giving up on a hope to gain clarity, to formulate organized thoughts on subjects I thought were important.

At that very moment, some divine force from the universe intervened. I began reading two books that turned me around: How to Read a Book and How to Take Smart Notes. The first established the goal to read for understanding, not for speed, and the second showed me the beginnings of what I could do with that understanding, following the methods of a crazy prolific sociologist, notetaker, and writer named Niklas Luhmann.

It revolves around the idea that using mental tools for unlocking meaning and understanding from great books so that not only do we become better readers, but we grow to better understand ourselves, human nature and the world. Able to hang onto this wisdom, I could follow Luhmann’s method for keeping my thoughts organized and living, growing as I learned.

In that moment, it became crystal clear to me how to connect my love of learning from books to my desire to write (which was previously a daunting task).

It seemed to make sense how Luhmann could could write a fantastic book that connects concepts across many disciplinary fields together (without experiencing the pain of writer’s block, or having it take years to write). In fact, the knowledge created can be combined to produce many more books over decades!

At this time, I grew excited and decided to devise a ‘master plan’. It started with building out my own Antinet knowledge system in order to explore if it would encourage more understanding, deeper thought, and ease of transition into written pieces.

I decided to do this by following my long self-repressed curiosities around questions of free-will, metaphysics, stoicism, education, scientism, and societal/community rebuilding.

I then used my Antinet as a source of multiple essays and points of discussion to continue my learning. My brain felt more alive than ever before.

After that, I decided to write a book that would bring together the common threads of my thinking.

Building on this experience, I decided to publish essays to practice writing, improve my thinking, and hopefully find an audience of like-minded people whom I could serve.

I decided to name it, Vertical Thinking.

I call it this to poke at all the ways of thinking that degrade life; the philosophies that strip life of its qualitative aspects and beauty, where “the world is flat” (Of course not in a literal sense, but in the sense that we’ve moved beyond the qualitative (higher or lower) into just differences on a horizontal / flat plane of materialism).

With Vertical Thinking I can now think and write in a way I thought I could never do, sharing my enthusiasm and work at my vocation of writing about things that are deeply fulfilling and satisfying, while knowing I’m growing in self-reliance: not using other’s opinions as default.

Episode 1: Kierkegaards Two Ages with Tyler Calder

Many more on the way!