Of Rabbit Holes & ‘Forked’ Rabbit Holes

Often the problem is when our interest spans different areas (though shallow!), one rabbit hole soon turns out to be a network of rabbit holes, says the author

Getting lost in a rabbit hole is easier these days. We get introduced to a new concept or subject. And if there is a desire to get to know more about it, there are enough pathways, thanks to the internet. From tweets to short reads, long reads, videos, podcasts, and books themselves, it’s all out there.

However, often the problem is when our interest spans different areas (though shallow!), one rabbit hole soon turns out to be a network of rabbit holes. Like those networks of underground hideouts and pathways, the Vietnamese fighters built during the war.

In an incredibly complex world, everything is connected. Trying to make sense of one thing often requires understanding many other things that are connected. Interdisciplinarity is no more a choice. And then the rabbit hole gets ‘forked’ (‘forked’ – staying with times!).

Traversing rabbit holes is excitement and fear in equal measure. Excitement, because of knowing something one didn’t know. Fear, because knowing is a realisation that there is far too much of unknown exists. Excitement also comes from making connections of different things we learned (at different times), and often, these connections give clarity.

Sometimes, asking the question ‘why am I doing this’ might help us pause and take a step back. But that’s tough. Trying to understand cryptocurrency with the intention of not wanting to lose out on the gold rush is one thing. But trying to understand what it means to have a cryptocurrency can send one to a wild mesh of rabbit holes, involving notions of money, nation-state, Hayekian philosophies, cyberpunks, decentralisation, mathematical principles, economic theories, computer science (not coding) and much more. Footnotes can turn epics by themselves.

Is there a way out? While I am yet to make up my mind, three different things I read recently in a short span of time, seem to say something.

The first is to try to differentiate ‘diversive curiosity’ and ‘epistemic curiosity.’ Diversive curiosity is temporary, short term and shallow. Epistemic curiosity is about going deeper, focused to study it in depth. That’s one question we can ask ourselves. I learned this from the book Curious: The Desire to Know and How Your Future Depends on It by Ian Leslie.

Second is a quote from Naval Ravikant, an angel investor, philosopher, entrepreneur and who is probably one of the most celebrated intellectual entrepreneurs. “Pick one desire and one desire only. The universe will help you get it to let go of everything else.”

And the third is a Harvard Commencement Lecture by Pete Davis, author and public policy specialist, about ‘Dedication.’ His forthcoming book is titled Dedicated – The Case for Commitment in an Age of Infinite Browsing. The title says it all. The need to stay focussed on one thing, going all out, dedicated, deeper and all guns blazing.

Choosing one’s rabbit holes to stay focussed is perhaps the only way. And that’s easier said than done.


The author is Unny Radhakrishnan, CEO of Digitas India

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