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[theory of maximum taste] says that each person’s mind is defined by its upper limit—the best that it habitually consumes and is capable of consuming

[theory of maximum taste] says that each person’s mind is defined by its upper limit—the best that it habitually consumes and is capable of consuming [theory of maximum taste] says that each person’s mind is defined by its upper limit—the best that it habitually consumes and is capable of consuming
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I’m talking about your mental diet.

What are you putting into your mind? Our culture spends a lot less time worrying about this, and when it does, it goes about it all wrong. When people do worry about your mental diet, they tend to fret about the junk you’re pouring into your brain—the trashy videos, the cheap horror movies, the degrading reality TV, and all the hours of Tiger King and Love Is Blind you binge-watched when this pandemic started. I’m not so worried about the dangers of mental junk food. That’s because I’ve found that many of the true intellectuals I’ve met take pleasure in mental junk food too. Having a taste for trashy rom-coms hasn’t rotted their brain or made them incapable of writing great history or doing deep physics.

No, my worry is that, especially now that you’re out of college, you won’t put enough really excellent stuff into your brain. I’m talking about what you might call the “theory of maximum taste.” This theory is based on the idea that exposure to genius has the power to expand your consciousness. If you spend a lot of time with genius, your mind will end up bigger and broader than if you spend your time only with run-of-the-mill stuff. The theory of maximum taste says that each person’s mind is defined by its upper limit—the best that it habitually consumes and is capable of consuming. […]

Here’s what I can’t say to you in front of your face: I’m worried about the future of your maximum taste. People in my and earlier generations, at least those lucky enough to get a college education, got some exposure to the classics, which lit a fire that gets rekindled every time we sit down to read something really excellent. I worry that it’s possible to grow up now not even aware that those upper registers of human feeling and thought exist. I wonder if you will sense what many of your elders do—that the whole culture is eroding the skill the UCLA scholar Maryanne Wolf calls “deep literacy,” the ability to deeply engage in a dialectical way with a text or piece of philosophy, literature, or art. Or as the neurologist Richard Cytowic put it to Adam Garfinkle, “To the extent that you cannot perceive the world in its fullness, to the same extent you will fall back into mindless, repetitive, self-reinforcing behavior, unable to escape."

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