The random thoughts of a nash.
annotated books simulate intelligence
Published on March 22, 2005 By Gene Nash In Books

As research for an upcoming article, I'm reading Leonard Wolf's The Annotated Dracula. It's a facsimile of the first edition of Bram Stoker's classic novel with copious sidebar notations. (Highly recommended, by the way.)

I like to read the notes for the upcoming chapter, then go back and read the novel's text. I realized while doing so that this simulates having knowledge I lack. During everyday reading, when we come upon a reference or allusion, our brains fill in the knowledge, thereby adding depth to the text and expanding our understanding of it. People who are ignorant about the references either have a poorer experience or don't understand the text at all.

Take, for instance, this reference from my article on my 100th blog:

...and most go by without even a notice (100th Big Mac eaten, 100th sunset stopped and watched, 100th time you kissed someone special) unless you're OCD.

You either know that OCD stands for "obsessive compulsive disorder" and have some understanding of what that disorder entails, or that entire piece of text sails right by you in a haze of misunderstanding.

Well, what's a 22nd century American boy supposed to do reading a 19th century British novel? Where would I have acquired the tidbit, " Stoker's day transfusion needles were larger than they are now and induced considerable pain," had a 100 year-old crusty sailor's yabblins, kirk-garth, bacca-box dialogue translated for me, obtained the background on John Sheppard's escapes, or read the original advertisement for and contemporary medical reference on a popular remedy of the day? What would I make of "...such books of reference as... the'Red' and 'Blue' books..." or " the simple style of the London cat's-meat..." or "I had the honour of seconding your father at Windham"?

Enter the annotated text. By reading the notes ahead of the text, I now have a point of reference for and understanding of the allusions. My brain is able to fill in the knowledge as if I'd had it all along. I get the same effects of added depth and expanded understanding as a highly knowledgeable person reading the first printing in 1897. It's "simulated intelligence" turned into real knowledge.

What a marvelous thing it is to be so enriched and made smarter than I should be by reading a few notations.

No one has commented on this article. Be the first!