I probably would’ve sent something else this week, but I also came across this excellent presentation by Benedict Evans: Standing on the shoulders of giants. There’s a reason it’s just the slides: you don’t need the video to understand what’s going on.
Together, they helped me understand how to make an interesting presentation.
This is a wonderfully written introduction to Rene Girard and his ideas surrounding memetic theory. I found his books inaccessible, so reading this gave me a lot of context to his ideas.
And now, I understand Peter Thiel better, too.
P.s: The first things I did in the middle of this long introduction was to google the criticisms to Mimetic theory. Sure enough, there are quite a few. So, I need to be wary of where I try and apply this. But that will come with practice and becoming intimately familiar with this idea.
Brace yourself for some arcane mathematics.
I’ve tried to wrestle with Godel, Escher, Bach before, but it seemed to unwieldy. I didn’t get anything. It was a slog, and I stopped reading.
This video by the author looks at Godel’s incompleteness theorem, and what it means for maths.
My favourite generalised insight: A system with self-referencing statements can never be complete. That is, if you believe if something is true for a system, it must be provable - including claims the system can make about itself.
Godel proves that isn’t possible. There will some things that are true, but UNPROVABLE. This blows my mind. And now I understand why this is such a big deal for maths.
I deliberately use system instead of “math”. Where else can this apply?
This is an interesting explorable explanation of how connections between people affect crowds.
The most surprising insight: In a world with 33% of drinkers (minority), you can convince everyone that majority of their friends are drinkers.
There’s more nuances to it, but I’d let you figure that out via the link!
I’ve long been trying to formulate why specific fiction is great for learning. This does it extremely well:
Most “soft skills” books are not trying to add explicit statements to your store of “trusted explicit/verbal statements”. Instead, they are trying to evoke experiments to try out in your inner simulator – bits that you can then keep, or not, according to whether they feel promising when you imagine trying them out.
As promised, here are the best things I learned in 2019. I had lots of fun writing this - it’s an artefact putting together everything I learned in 2019. Tell me what you think about this :)
I’d recommend doing your own, there are how-to tips sprinkled everywhere, and in the end!
I spent the entire week reading and mulling over this. I’m sending this email a day late, because I wanted to say: “It keeps getting better”, and indeed it does.
This is a series of ten posts (more probably to come) that Tim Urban spent the last 3 years researching. There’s proof of work right there. Books are information dense and great because they are hard - they take much longer to write than a simple blog post.
This is on the same level.
A beautiful look at how network systems interact. Why are cities a cultural hub compared to villages? Why is Silicon Valley the hub for tech? Why fashion takes root in high school students vs parents?
Yep, it covers all those cases. I loved reading this.
If you’re engrossed by systems after that, pair it up with this: How to see Systems
It’s an interesting take on what all your idea management system needs to have. I’ve been looking for an alternative to Evernote, since the 1000s of ideas I’ve captured over the past year have now become .. unwieldy.
But, Roam Research seems promising. I hopped on a call with the founder this week, and I’m excited where things will go with this app. So far, I love it!
It’s a new LessWrong sequence that explores a superpower - being specific. The part I link to above is the best.
Warning: This video can be scary. It involves a live dissection, and I was debating whether I should send this around or not.
But in the end, this newsletter is about things I find remarkably interesting, and this is without a doubt one of them. It’s one of four videos in a series exploring movement, circulation, digestion, and reproduction. All the videos blew me away.
Did you know there are blood vessels inside our bones? And when you make a claw with your hands, the “lines” that show up on the back aren’t bones, but tendons. Or that a muscle always connects two different bones. There will be no movement if it’s connected to the same bone. And finally, muscles only work in one direction, which is why you always need a corresponding pair on the other side to bring your bones back in position (e.g: biceps and triceps)
This is beautiful.
PG is back to writing essays, which is awesome.
Key takeaway for me here: If this theory is true, we can cultivate genius by cultivating interest.
There’s two important components to things -
- Learning to see what matters (what Joel calls clean)
- Learning to make it clean / make it look unclean so you can then clean it.
It’s exciting because it doesn’t just apply to code, or a bakery, but something much more powerful: your habits.
Triggers for habits come from your environment. If you’ve never paid attention to what triggers you (for ex: couch and TV in direct line of sight when entering your home) - you can’t distinguish a “clean” from an “unclean” environment.
But once you do, you can think about how to clean it, or how to make it look unclean so you know you have to clean it sometime.
This seems an interesting thread to pull on. Where else can you apply this idea?
“The fact that we are still discovering biology doesn’t mean that we can’t design. We can engineer the tools we use to manage biology.”
This is a really exciting piece about how we can figure out a Moore’s law for Biology.
“When you are solving a difficult problem re-ask the problem so that your solution helps you learn faster. Find a faster way to fail, recover, and try again. If the problem you are trying to solve involves creating a magnum opus, you are solving the wrong problem.”
I love this. It’s a fun rehash on my belief that “accelerating feedback loops is a cheat code”
An executives’ job is not to set the strategy, but to get the people one level lower to figure it out and implement it. What they do get to set are the values which then drive the appropriate strategy.
There’s probably more nuance to it, but I loved getting this insight into what people above me really do.
This is an exciting exploration of putting mental models to practice. I haven’t yet made up my mind about whether it’s accurate, but as Cedric says, it’s a helpful framework for thinking about mental models and their application.
Here’s a particularly frightful example: Driver’s education courses, particularly those aimed at handling emergency maneuvers, tend to increase, rather than decrease, accident rates. They do so because training people to handle, say, snow and ice leaves them with the lasting impression that they’re permanent experts on the subject. In fact, their skills usually erode rapidly after they leave the course. And so, months or even decades later, they have confidence but little leftover competence when their wheels begin to spin.
I uncovered this as a result of research for this article: Everything about the Dunning Kruger effect.
There’s this genius who has been working on a theory for human-agents. A theory that might just make Isaac Asimov’s Psychohistory possible. Reading this gave me goosebumps.
This article, although a super interesting introduction, doesn’t really go into the nitty gritty. The Wikipedia page was too daunting, too. So, I’ve settled with digesting Scott Alexander’s notes on the same!
Life advice from Sam Altman.
- Have clear goals for yourself every day, year and decade.
- One of the benefits of working hard is that good opportunities will come along, but it’s still up to you to jump on them when they do.
- Ask for what you want. (I can never do enough of this)
- Go out of your way to be around smart, interesting, ambitious people.
#4 is my main focus this year and I haven’t been doing great. Are you someone smart, interesting, or ambitious? Do you know someone smart, interesting, or ambitious? Are you in London? Please reach out, I’d love to talk / meet you.
(Did you see what I did there? I used #3 to get #4.)
I love Patrick’s blog - guiding people from leveraging their time to leveraging their assets. This is step 1: At the end of the week, what do you have to show for your work?
.. It took me seven tries over 2 years to read this. Everyone told me it was great, but I just couldn’t get myself past the poem in the beginning. It’s just like Season 1, episode 1 of Game of Thrones. Took me a while to get started, but once I did, I just couldn’t stop reading! I hope this serves as one of many pushes you might need.
Why is Prisoner’s Dilemma a dilemma? This essay provides intuition about that, then goes on to list several multipolar traps, which finally end with Nature’s god - and why our project as a civilization must necessarily be to control it.
If you get lost in the weeds, learning about Gnon, here’s a primer (the link in the original article is broken) : Capturing Gnon. However, come here only after reading about Moloch.
If you do end up reading this rollercoaster, let me know!
What if going against tradition isn’t as smart as you thought? This piece by Scott Alexander ruffled too many feathers for me. When there are really good arguments for both sides, which side do you follow?
This essay poses the question, and the following essays in the sequence answer it. Reading this has given me newfound respect for culture. I need to be much more cautious when I go against it.
This is by me.
It’s surprising how misinformed I was about climate change. This one’s to disperse some of those ideas.
Morgan Housel explores laws from diverse fields that hold universal truth. My favourite is Dollo’s law: In evolution, organisms can’t re-evolve to a former state because the path that led to its former state was so complicated that the odds of retracing that exact path round to zero.
This fits into my model of how dinosaurs didn’t evolve again after the asteroid hit. Or how, who we call homo sapiens won’t come back if we mess up this time.
Slack’s story about understanding their product. When building something people don’t know they want, you need to execute to perfection.
When a definition encompasses 100% of the people in the world, the word stops being useful. Makes sense, right? This piece by Scott Alexander goes into where we (un)knowingly do this in everyday life.
It’s a Paul Graham classic ( Don’t know how I never saw this before! ). 3 small paragraphs that make perfect sense. I was blown away by the elegant framing.
In other news, here’s what I wrote this week: Where do analogies break down? It’s an exploration of how to understand concepts better by leveraging analogies, and their breaking point. Further, “blunders” in the business world that happened because of taking an analogy too far.
It’s an explanation of Simpson’s Paradox - making a point using a new media. Our maps ought to aid our intuition.
It’s an interesting idea of how organisations evolve - it ties in nicely with last weeks idea! Taking together the “hacks”, a new model emerges which this essay portrays.
In other news, here’s an interactive summary of Sapiens I wrote this week - Sapiens. I’m really happy how this turned out.
It’s an interesting idea of how complex organisations fail - and how can we keep the current one (us), alive.
It’s a behind the scenes look of how Amazon Prime came to be. Very revealing. I wonder what gave Jeff Bezos the confidence that he was right?
It’s a brilliant look into Bezos mindset.
“I’m going to change the psychology of people not looking at the pennies differences between buying on Amazon versus buying somewhere else.” Golden.
It’s a guide to Bayesian Thinking.
I learnt Bayes Theorem in school. After reading this ( and working through a few examples from my life ), I realised, I never really understood it. All I had was a formula. I never generated the intuition needed to use it in everyday life.
This solves that, and it blew me away.
Sadly, the website is very janky. (Wait a few minutes for it to load. It made me cry too). My highlights are on the “deep learning” path - it changes the url, hence Highly doesn’t show highlights on all the pages.
Here’s an alternate that works well.
It’s about building an interactive medium to drive intuition and creativity when trying to understand a system.
“There are often multiple ways of abstracting over a parameter, and the more ways we can abstract things out, the more ways we can find of looking at the system.”
The father of information theory, Claude Shannon on how he solves problems.
“If you don’t have questions, you won’t find the answers.”
“Everytime we get into deep flow, we adapt. It gets easier the next time.”
It’s an interesting deep dive into biohacking. It’s not about drugs (mostly), but everything else you can do to hack intelligence.
I found some sections helpful - and I’ve begun an experiment to see if it works for me.
Regarding Highly, I made a noob mistake here: Highlighting on the parametrized link instead of the original. That’s why you’ll notice an extra parameter in the url. Ugh!
Do you have a biohacking system? I’ve written about mine earlier.
“When you have an infinite amount of money, you can enslave a population with no violence at all.”
I recommend the sub link as well. It explains how rare, big stones were this tribes money - and how they developed a credit system around them, instead of lifting and moving those big stones.
It reminds me of how similar fiat and crypto ( and the stones) are.
It has a lot of gems - Compounding knowledge through a multidisciplinary framework is an individual’s greatest enduring advantage. Most geniuses—especially those who lead others—prosper not by deconstructing intricate complexities but by exploiting unrecognized simplicities.