ZMT

World peace has been achieved. In 2050, world leaders engaged in a mutual spiritual summit where they each took several doses of a newly discovered compound ‘ZMT’. A close derivative of the molecule DMT. Their individual ego’s were seen through. A unity like no other was established. A collective consciousness with the single goal of unification. The virtuality of the world was seen through. Emptiness, suchness, void. These terms suddenly became tangible and real. Thus world leaders were suddenly driven to action.

The most obvious problems were listed. Global nuclear war. Climate change. Artificial intelligence and biotechnological races. These problems were previously overlooked as there was no local solution to them. These were problems that could only be solved at a global level. Thus the engine of change was put into motion.

All countries simultaneously signed the global nuclear dearmanation treaty. All nuclear weapons were made obsolete. Top level physicists shared the same molecular enlightenment refused to build any further weapons thus making them impossible to manufacture. Any manufacturing plants were shut down. Thus global nuclear war became an impossibility.

In terms of climate change, world leaders realised that they had to act fast. The delays of the previous generations had meant that the time limit was dire. This required drastic solutions. Top level scientists were overclocked with new biological compounds to rapidly increase the rate of scientific discoveries. Funding that was previously designated for war and production of weapons was suddenly diverted to science and education. In a mere span of 7 years, new breakthroughs in nuclear fusion and waste disposal meant that we had an access to an abundance of energy. Energy production from coal and gas were switched with the economic incentives shifting to the use of nuclear fusion. Excess energy was distributed globally to developing nations as leaders realised they were all on the same sinking boat. India and China, previously the largest environmental polluters, switched to being the most environmentally conscious. The money diverted into education meant that the best teachers were economically incentivised to teach. Teaching became one of the top professions with the worlds best teachers offering online courses to the millions connected via the internet. The next generation of children were being educated at levels previously unimaginable. Education became less about credentialing and socialisation, and more about learning. Children became driven by curiosity. About solving problems rather than signalling intelligence and knowledge. Children could learn what they wanted to learn.
A new generation of scientists were born tackling issues such as the creation of a benevolent artificial intelligence and ethical use of biotechnology.

Previously menial jobs such as driving and repetitive tasks were automated by specific AI’s. Fortunately the global cooperation meant that a true universal basic income was established. Universal in the sense that it was global. Every citizen received a stipend that allowed for comfortable living in the area that they were in. This was established through a new global cryptocurrency. The ubiquity of technology meant that all 7 billion of the worlds citizens were connected to the internet. Cheap portable tablets were airdropped onto developing countries. Education suddenly became abundant and free. The citizens of the developing countries often became the worlds best scientists and problems solvers as survival was a necessity for them. Better ways of water filtration and food production were developed. The global inequity and inequality gap was eliminated in only 20 years.

In 2070, scientists had a breakthrough in the field of artificial general intelligence. An AGI was created that could iteratively improve itself until it became Godlike. Fortunately the previous decades had solved the alignment problem. This AI worked solely towards the good of humanity. White collar intellectual jobs were made redundant. Instead a new economy of caring emerged. Caring for others whether it be a child, parent, patient, someone in your community became rewarded. It became a respectable profession. Doctors could now focus on meaningful face to face interaction instead of being bound in bureaucracy. Those who were previously useless in the eyes of the economy could now take meaningful roles in the community. The epidemic of meaningless seen in the early 21st century was diminishing.
With more time abundance, people spent more time developing relationships and fostering a sense of community and purpose. Deep human needs which were largely ignored by masses of the human race, became a priority. Money and economic incentives no longer dictated meaning. The edifice of consumerism came tumbling down and out of that sprung the seeds of purpose, contentment and peace. Children were taught relevant information in schools. How to be happy. How to keep a fit body, a calm mind. Meditation and methods of attentional training became common. A major part of the curriculum became about self understanding. Understanding the human race through biology, sociology, history, physics, chemistry and introspection. Philosophical traditions bloomed in this period with a new found mental stability common to all human denizens. People spent less time ruled by their evolutionary biological mechanisms and instead devoted time to overcoming biases and improving character. As a consequence, healthcare burdens were significantly reduced. Problems such as obesity which had previously not been seen as psychological disruptions in a maladaptive environment were altogether solved. People simply could not be obese. The environment didn’t allow for it.

Cities were re-engineering to focus on optimising human flourishing. Previously they had paradoxically been one of the loneliest places with no shared social spaces. People would drift through like passengers on a ghost train. Now engineers and architects developed ‘third spaces’. Areas where people could congregate and perform social activities. More people could engage in this due to the time abundance. As a result, relationships between humans flourished. It became hard to become lonely.

Of course people still worked. But the focus became more on following your genuine intellectual curiosity rather than economic incentives. Thus children with a particular inclination towards the arts/sciences/management could become masters of their craft. The quality of all professionals far exceeded those seen in any previous human generation. Those previously from poor socioeconomic backgrounds had fewer limitations now with the access to free educational courses online. A more egalitarian meritocracy emerged. True equality of opportunity. People no longer felt work to be work. It became play.

Human began to understand themselves and the universe around them better. Neuroscience research showed concepts such as free will and ‘self’ to be illusory. Questions of ‘what is mind’, ‘what is consciousness’ became serious rigorous quests. A basic appreciation of the fact that humans are animals became the norm. We understand so little. We are small. And in that realisation a part of the universe observing itself suddenly began to understand.

Notes : This was my brief attempt at a positive spin on Sci-Fi. Most of Sci-Fi today can be seen as extolling the dangers of technology. People want to go back to ‘simpler’ times. The two can mutually exist. Technology can be used to foster human wellbeing. I think currently we are just in an adjustment period with fake news, social media etc. I think in 20-30 years time, the internet will be a nicer place. Already so many smart people learning from the internet. High schoolers today are much much on the ball than I was…

Focus on Your Strengths

My sister is getting grief from parents, relatives, friends about ‘future career’. People are pushing education, as if a degree means something.

This is intended to be some advice towards others, and also a reminder for myself

Education is not the same as learning.

For example : I think we all know some variation of this person. He/She was terrible academically at school. But seemed to possess other skills like physical fitness, leadership, persuasion, sales skills etc.

They completely failed in school. Yet through educating themselves in their strengths, they became wildly more successful (than you).

What people seem to think is that having a degree means something. In fact it means almost nothing. What it might mean is that you can pursue goals…This isn’t great. Pursuing goals doesn’t mean that they are the right goals

The downsides of a degree

  • Entitlement
  • Leading to lack of learning. If you feel like you are intelligent and already know, you cease to learn
  • You forget most of what you ‘learn’
  • Most of what you learn to get the degree is useless
  • That time could have been spent on useful ‘life’ skills. How to be happy, how to manage money, how to find good relationships, how to be creative etc.
  • Jumping through hoops
  • Bankrupt your self/parents. Especially if doing a non vocational degree.

Not saying that degrees are bad. But if you are not academically inclined, there are better ways you can spend your time and money.

Choose Fields that you find easy

I’ll talk a bit about my experience. I wish I had this advice in school.

I have particular strengths. I can focus single handedly on task, I can learn independently, I work well alone, I like to create and solve problems. Combined with the fact that I pretty much spent my childhood on computers, the logical option was to do Computer Science. A field that I actually find intuitive and ‘easy’.

That didn’t happen. I studied something that maybe didn’t suit my personality or inclination at the time. Didn’t get in to medical school the first time round. Barely got in the second time round.

I didn’t focus on my strengths.

Luckily, medicine is a broad field and I also realised the importance of educating yourself. I read widely outside of medicine, realising that most of what I was learning was minutiae. There were other important things to learn too.

And now, deciding on specialty applications, what you spent the next 25-30 years of your life to make a living : I’ve chosen based on my strengths and interests rather than any outside expectation or coercion.

Interest alone is not enough too. You have to be good at it. I am fascinated by psychology and the mind. Psychiatry seems interesting, yet I know that I would be a terrible psychiatrist. It doesn’t suit my strengths.

So find what you are good at. What you naturally find easy, and are also good at. Something that feels less like work and more like play.

TLDR: Advice

What everyone needs to do is :

  1. Identify your strengths.
  2. Invest in your strengths

In identifying your strengths, read widely, do lots of different things till you find them. Pick up things that you naturally find easy and are also good at.

Once you’ve found some of your strengths, invest in your them. Improve and refine those skills.

Directives

These are distilled down aphorisms in various domains. Make specific sense to me. A lot of them require explanation. Most verified from first principles. Not telling anyone what to do. No one knows what to do. These are reminders for myself.

They are a way of abstracting ‘ways of living’ into bitesized pithy reminders.

Will continue to add to this list and remove/revise as I change my mind. These are a couple I’ve taken off the top of my head.

Money and Wealth

  • You want to be rich and anonymous. Not poor and famous
  • Assets > Expenses
  • Compound interest is 8th wonder of the world
  • Keep a budget.
  • Don’t fall into lifestyle inflation / upgrading. Living below your means holds a freedom those who don’t can’t fathom
  • Time is non renewable.
  • Trade money for time and experiences.
  • You need very little to survive
  • Don’t play status games
  • Watch your desires. Don’t impulse buy. Hedonic treadmill

Communication

  • Simplicity > Complexity
  • If you can’t explain it to a 5 year old, you don’t really understand
  • Understanding > Memorisation
  • If you have nothing to say. Be silent
  • Be curious. Ask questions.
  • Don’t force learning. Learn when you are into it.
  • When people give you unwarranted advice, it is a reflection of their desires
  • Praise specifically, criticise generally
  • Don’t give advice unless it’s asked for. No-one likes being preached to. It gives the idea that you understand better’ (which you don’t)
  • Ask other people for advice

Nutrition and Exercise

  • Nutrition and exercise have huge impact physically and mentally. Overwhelming evidence. Few rules:
  • Don’t eat processed food
  • Eat food, mostly plants, not too much
  • Eat some meat, fish, not too much
  • Avoid seed oils
  • Lift weights
  • Nutrition > ‘Diet’

Modern Day Problems

  • Abundance of information. Information overload
  • You have a limited bandwidth
  • Don’t consume news. It has become entertainment. Not evolved to be constantly switched on worrying about the troubles in distant parts of the globe
  • As with junk food, you have junk information. Don’t read junk
  • Use social media judiciously

Learning

  • Reading books and information is a superpower. Most people don’t read. Therefore find it hard to learn
  • Every problem you have faced, much smarter people have written down
  • Any person can learn from experience. Better to learn from the experience of others too
  • Be into it. Don’t force. Curiosity is the driver
  • Doing > Reading > Watching
  • Reason from first principles. Chef rather than Cook in domains that are important to you

Habits

  • We are habitual creatures
  • Every intention, thought, action is born out of habit
  • Unconscious habitual processes can cause harm
  • Examples of habits : exercise, nutrition, outlook on life, peace, reading, creativity, your emotional disposition
  • Do it every day.
  • Motivation is overrated. Habit is underrated
  • Compound interest is the 8th wonder of the world
  • Have something that keeps you fit, something that makes you money and something that keeps you creative

Mental Models

  • ()

Life

  • Be honest. Then you have nothing to remember.
  • Even white lies. Lying is more prevalent than one thinks. Deeply harmful.
  • Temper honesty with kindness
  • Observe your thoughts and processes.
  • Meditation is a way to transcend thought
  • Reflection and introspection (e.g through journalling) is a way to create adaptive thoughts/stories.
  • Use both meditation and reflection.
  • Kind > Smart

Time

  • Psychological time is an illusion
  • Just thoughts about the past or the future being projected into the present
  • Literally the only moment that exists it the present.
  • All else is just projected into the present
  • It is possible to be present and also plan for the future.
  • Being present is about being aware of the mind in each moment.

Identity

  • Identifying with any sect/tradition/teacher is the start of unawareness
  • We go round creating identities and cling to them e.g. I am a doctor/lawyer/, I am ugly/smart/stupid/funny/ I’m Hindu/Christian/Jew etc ‘I am an unchanging entity’
  • Without realising it is all illusory. A story we tell ourselves.
  • Then when the ‘image’ is not congruent with reality. You are hurt. The image is not reality
  • The self is just an internal model.
  • The illusory nature of the self can be seen through.

Science

  • Science and ‘Meditation/Introspection’ are the two sides of the same coin
  • Science is an exploration of the physical world through observation
  • Meditation/Spirituality is an exploration of the internal world through observation
  • Both non -dogmatic
  • Both require no ‘a priori belief structures’
  • Both require a sceptical but curious mind
  • Spirituality is sadly misunderstood, confused with religion or ‘mysticism’.
  • What is spirituality? : observe your mind

Jealously, Comparison and the Rat Race

  • We all admire people who ‘march to their own drum’
  • What this means is ‘internal validation > external validation
  • Comparison is the thief of joy
  • Jealously disappears when one is playing against an internal scorecard
  • Jealously : would you swap 100% your life with the other person? No
  • It is no measure of sanity to be well adjusted to a sick society (paraphrasing)
  • It all goes to zero in the end.
  • Desire is suffering. Striving for the sake of accumulation is madness
  • Enjoy the process rather than striving for the outcome

Relationships

  • Quality > quantity
  • Core values have to match up. Then all the small idiosyncrasies and differences don’t matter
  • You react to an image of the other person that you have created, rather than reacting to the person themselves
  • Empty your expectations and images.
  • Love and attachment are different.
  • Attachment is reacting to an image of the other person. It is expecting them to conform to this image, as a non changing entity
  • Love is unconditional. Reacting to reality
  • Don’t give advice, unless it’s asked for. No-one likes being told what to do
  • When you tell others what to do, its more a reflection of your own desires
  • When you don’t hold any images, all judgement ceases

Regret

  • Top regrets of the old
  • “I wish I didn’t work so much”
  • “I wish I didn’t conform to others expectations”
  • “I wish I spent more time cultivating relationships”
  • Keep these in mind.

Thinking About Grief and Loss

I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life”

Orson Welles

On 6th October 2019, I lost my mother, aged 51. Completely unexpected, sudden death. I want to reflect on grief. I’m not going to talk about her life, because ultimately words can’t convey the whole of reality. They are simply concepts, ‘placeholders’, maps, that point to reality, not the actual thing itself. No word can truly explain a persons life, full of joy, compassion, suffering and the range of experiences possible within conscious experience.

I’m not going to say how to grieve. This is not a prescription. Everyone has their own way of understanding this process. This is simply a reflection, on how I understand the process at a fundamental level at this age. Maybe it won’t make sense, maybe it will.


Impermanence

But when I know that the glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious

Ajahn Chah

This is a fundamental truth that we go throughout life ignoring. That everything fades. The sun will fade, the planet will fade, galaxies will fade, people will fade, experiences fade, memories and thoughts fade, emotions fade, each breath ends. There is only a river of experience. Change is the only constant and “This too shall pass”. Understanding this conceptually and seeing it an experiential level, are different.

Conceptually, when I was in my late teens, I started reading the stoic philosophers : Seneca, Marcus Aurelius. One letter by Seneca talks about imagining that one has lost something or someone in daily life. Therefore when one loses, it is expected. And in daily life, one appreciates what you have. Because its on loan. You don’t own anything. Everything is on loan. And this to me is a beautiful truth. Isn’t the difference between a plastic flower and a real flower, the fact that the real flower ends?

Similarly, impermanence is an essential truth pointed to in Buddhist philosophy. The problem arises when we cling to inherently impermanent states. We delude ourselves with the illusion of stability. We think that there is security. The truth is there is only a flux of experience. One can see this experientially, the fading of each moment at a deep visceral level. As Alan Watts, eastern philosopher said : “the only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance“.

We build castles in the sand, without realising that the tide will come in. We cling to it, make it part of our identity. “This is mine”, and this causes tremendous suffering. The other option is to ‘do and let go’. This is what Eastern philosophers mean by ‘non attachment’, another misunderstood concept. Non attachment is realising that it will change, and one must appreciate it in the present without clinging to the idea or thought of it.

But we forget this, thinking we are building towards something stable when in reality it is just scaffolding. We look towards some satisfaction in the future. Once I get ‘X’, I will be happy. This is the fundamental human delusion. One is simply reacting to a thought of the future, and missing out on an incredible experience found in the present moment.


On death and the present moment

Have you ever thought of making a cup of tea. Suppose you are washing the dishes, not particularly enjoying it. Instead thinking, “ah, once I get some tea, then I can finally relax”. Then you make your tea, and then whilst drinking the tea, you are simply lost in thought thinking about the next thing “need to do X work”. It’s always the next thing. Maybe one doesn’t realise this, but if one looks at the mind, seriously with curiosity and without judgement, you’ll see that it constantly projects into the future or the past. Once I get “X” I can finally relax. One has sacrificed an ‘idea’ of the future, for the real thing.

There is a constant trail of discursive thought that we just don’t notice. When one looks at a sunset for example, there is a narrator that is judging, comparing to the past or the future. Every moment of my life, until about age 20. I was lost in discursive thought. I’m still lost in discursive thought, but now punctuated with moments of real awareness. This is a world of difference. It is possible to see without judgement, or expectation, and just experience it without clinging to any concepts or completely without being beholden to an inner monolgue,. This is real internal peace.

Evolution and natural selection have not selected for contentment. We are driven by the forces of desire and aversion. But is there another way?

It’s as if everyone is on a beach, running towards the tide when it goes in, and running away from the tide when it comes out. Constantly running back and forth, driven by desire and aversion. But as some traditions have extolled : it is possible to simply lie down and enjoy the waves as they go in and out.

This is again misunderstood as ‘not thinking about the future, and being a hippy and just sacrificing the future and making terrible decisions in the present’. No. It is to be aware that one is thinking about the future without being lost in it. Thought is an incredible tool but it without being reigned in, it can cause harm. It is a useful servant but a horrible master.

Is it possible to relax without any external conditions? This is a serious topic requiring tremendous attention. Is it possible to be content without being driven by the tyrants of desire and aversion? This is something that words cannot tell you. It’s experiential and one must go into it themselves. No guru or religion or dogma can tell you. They are all just concepts pointing to experiential truth.


Acceptance of reality

Death and life, success and failure, pain and pleasure, wealth and poverty, all these happen to good and bad alike, and they are neither noble nor shameful – and hence neither good nor bad

Marcus Aurelius

Grief is painful because there is a disconnect between what we want (desire), and reality as it is. We want reality to conform to our desire, and this causes pain.

Ultimately, grief is selfish. We grieve for ourselves, because “I have lost”. It’s the difference between love and attachment. Attachment is where you cling to an idea of the thing. Where there is love, there is appreciation of reality, there is no self referential thought. I noticed with grief : I “want” came up a lot. I want this to be different. This is where the problem starts. It’s a thought, not the reality.

I noticed when watching the mind, that is was painful when thought would project into the future. “What could have been”. But that’s just a fiction, a story. It’s an internal model, that one then clings to, and causes misery.

Similarly with regret. Regret is just a thought projecting back into the past. Particularly painful was “maybe I could have prevented it. Maybe if I’d just done X or whatever, I would have stopped it“. This is a story one can get lost in. But its just a fiction. Not the reality. And being lost in this without realising it is a thought, can cause real suffering.

The place then to come to is radical acceptance. This is not a directive, that you must do this. It’s an observation. I can’t tell anyone how to grieve. But it seems the rational response is deep acceptance of reality, not a ‘thought about reality’.

Reality has no notion of good or bad. It simply is. There is nothing good or bad to a tree. It is only in our mind that such notions arise. As Shakespeare said in Hamlet, there is neither good nor bad, only thinking makes it so.


Gratitude and Compassion

There is only this conscious experience and it exists on a scale or ‘human misery/suffering’ and ‘human joy/flourishing’. The rational response is to move towards human flourishing/ eudomonia as the Greek philosophers called it.

Really understanding that time is limited, you naturally develop compassion. How can one be cruel or say cruel things, when you realise that we are all on the same boat heading towards void? Death is the great leveller. Obviously you can forget in the moment, but once you remember, the only sane response is kindness.


Dependent Origination

There is this concept of dependent origination in Buddhism. Which ultimately boils down to ’cause and effect’. It’s something I accept as an axiomatic truth. There are causes, and they lead to effects.

This is profound, because ultimately its just a chain of cause and effect from the Big Bang till now; a series of particle collisions from the Big Bang till present. Each cause leads to an effect, and each effect is itself a cause, etc. It’s a complex web of interaction, all interdependent and connected. As Carl Sagan said ‘To first bake an apple pie, you have to make a universe’.

Realising this truth, should inspire awe. We are literally made from stardust and our every intention, thought, action contributes to this vast complex web of information exchange. As the old adage goes : intention leads to thought leads to action leads to habit leads to character leads to fate. When we pass, we leave behind a chain of effects(which are also causes, and they lead to more effects etc). It’s the old flap of a Butterfly’s wings causing changes elsewhere.

We are part of this cosmic web of interaction interconnected via millions of invisible threads. Death is a part of this chain and when one passes, they leave behind all the chains of cause and effect they have contributed to. There is some legacy, they live on through the people they impact. This is not to espouse an afterlife, as from an evidence based point, its a non verifiable claim and therefore moot. But it brings some level of awe to realise that existence is mysterious and there is a level of interconnectedness in the universe.


Self Awareness

The more you know yourself, the more clarity there is. Self-knowledge has no end – you don’t come to an achievement, you don’t come to a conclusion. It is an endless river.

J. Krishnamurti

It’s easy to ignore and distract oneself. But with grief, as with any experience. You have to observe it. Don’t have any preconceived notions of how it should be, but observe without judgement. Not even to get rid of it. But just with curiosity.

Maybe this made sense. I write this for myself, to see how one has processed it at this moment in time. But again this is all individual, all conceptual. It’s different to understand theory and to really understand it at a fundamental level.You have to continue to observe the mind without judgment.


Conclusion

I think grief comes in three parts. Loss, losing and loosening as Frank Ostaseski says in his book.

The initial loss is agony. It’s hard to keep up with all the thoughts the mind generates. You push against reality. “I want this to be different”. Desire is suffering.

Maybe after some time, you can come to a place of partial acceptance. But still, in those moments, you lose them. When I want to talk about my day or when I come back home expecting someone to love me unconditionally, make food, someone I can make jokes with, I lose again. It is the small things that one realises they have lost.

Then eventually, there is loosening. You take it less personally, less seriously. Life becomes lighter. You still carry the burden, but it is simpler. At least for me, it is understanding the ‘truths’ I’ve verified for myself above.

We will all lose. There is no security. And that is beautiful. It makes you realise that every moment is precious, and it is possible to find joy, purpose and tranquility. It is all on loan.

Now go spend time with people you love.

Message my mum sent me and my sister on her 50th birthday:

Thinking about Thinking

💕

This is going to be meta. But I want to outline how present me currently thinks about thinking, belief formation and the value of changing your mind based on evidence.

Let’s start with the fundamentals

Scientific Method

Science is not about finding evidence to support a claim. It is not a body of knowledge.

Science is a methodology to seek truth. Veritas.

  1. Start with a question.
  2. Explore possible stories that could answer said question : coming up with a hypothesis. Which is essentially an idea, it requires intense creativity.
  3. In fact you come up with multiple hypotheses. Multiple stories that may explain whatever one wants to explain.
  4. Then you go out and gather evidence that seeks to disprove the hypothesis (falsifiability)
  5. And you shift your confidences around based on the weight of the evidence (Bayesian thinking)
  6. Crucial step : you never truly discard any hypothesis, its just the probability of it being true is severely diminished if there is no supporting evidence
  7. Constantly reassess.

This is all too theoretical. Let’s look at an example of how it can be applied. I remember ever since my early teens was deeply concerned about religion, I was a pretty militant atheist. I’ve changed my view on this, I’m neither a theist, agnostic or atheist. More of what David Eagleman calls a ‘Possibilian’ 😎.

Applied to Religion

There are multiple religious stories. The Judea-Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Greek, Roman, African tree spirits etc. They seek to answer the question of ‘creation’. In fact physics is essentially a creation story as well.

The problem is these stories don’t really value evidence, apart from the story created by modern physics. They are non-falsifiable, you can’t disprove the existence of God. Therefore they fall out of the domain of evidence, and into the domain of belief.

The most harmful aspect is this. It requires dogmatic certainty. How can you be 100% certain that this story is true.

This is the crux : please don’t hold onto anything dogmatically. You have to reassess the evidence, and then shift your views.

As a human you are already prone to countless biases documented in psychology. The way you think is so flawed. As Feynman said “you are the easiest person to fool”. It’s very easy to lie to oneself.

“We know too little to commit to strict atheism, and too little to commit to any religious ideology”. So… say “I don’t know” or the more accurately : the best evidence disproves a lot of the claims made in many religious stories.

All the Big Questions…

What happens after we die. Is there a God. What is love (baby don’t hurt me).

Start from a point of I don’t know, rather than any conditioned stories that society has consciously or unconsciously implanted. Empty your cup.

Explore the question, disprove certain claims.

Then come to a best guess, and realise that for most of these questions, we don’t know.

(Actually for a lot of the big questions, I don’t think there is an answer. But the question, and the process of searching for the truth is valuable)

That’s all I want. I think a little intellectual humility goes a long way. And future Abhishek, if you ever ‘believe’ in anything 100%, something has gone wrong.

Peace.

Thinking About Digital vs Analog

Paper > Screen

I’ve been thinking a lot about the resurgence of analog technologies : Vinyl, deadtree books, magazines, paper journals/notebooks etc. This is accompanied by a rise in ‘physical hobbies’ : woodworking, film cameras and crafts. Similarly with spiritual activities : Yoga, meditation etc. 

Why now? I want to explore a few reasons why this is the case.

Romanticism

It’s sexy. Owning books, vinyl. Taking film photographs. Writing in fountain pen (I have a fountain pen addiction). 

Let’s take the example of books. I have about 400 books on my kindle. Obviously I love reading, but lately I’ve found myself coming back to physical paper books. Why?

Nostalgia. I vividly recall reading copious amounts of books in my schooldays. I would often spend the lunchtime in the library with my nose deep in either a young adult fiction or whatever interested me at the time (science, philosophy etc). During my one hour bus journey back home, I would find an empty part of the bus and enter the world of Sherlock Holmes or Harry Potter. It was like crack cocaine for the mind. I would often stop reading only to start thinking deeply about the characters I read about. Their flaws, strengths and idiosyncrasies that made them so captivating and inspiring. I would use that as a basis to try and understand the world. I would try and embody the virtues that I read about. To be kind, honest, witty, charming, intelligent, brave, hard working, there were no shortage of adjectives. This was all in the paper form. No distractions. No facebook. No twitter.

Similar sentiments are found in people who listen to vinyl, do film photography and those who write by hand. It’s romantic. A throwback to ‘simpler times’. 


The World is moving faster

Many people want to go back to ‘simpler times’, at least ideologically. Technology however favours constant motion and innovation. There is no time to stop and reflect. Atleast that seems to be the zeitgeist of this era. “Move fast and break things”.  Analog technologies on the other hand, bring a slower meditative feel to life. The process is more important than the outcome. 

We live in the ‘attention economy’. Large corporations are vying for attention with supercomputers pointed at your brain with Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram etc. They are all ‘free’ services in the sense that you are the product. They are trying to maximise time on site so that they can sell more ads and they are specifically designed to be addictive. Attention manipulation machines. See Tristan Harris’s work.

Therefore attention has become scarce. A resource to be valued and used sparingly and analog technologies are all about single pointed attention. Losing yourself in an activity. Surprisingly, they also seem to be more effective in terms of retention. 

Studies show that there is poorer  comprehension when reading on screens vs paper. I can relate to this. When reading digitally, I tend to read less deeply. I skim, summarise, skip to the TLDR. In doing this, I miss the context. I’ve since switched to consuming any news (NY times, new scientist, national geographic) to magazine format and then really reading properly. So far so good.  

Reading on paper promotes active reading, making marginalia and notes in the sidelines. For example I recently read a book about Evolution and Natural selection : The Ape that Understood the Universe. Instead of just reading, at the end of chapters I would try explain the concepts in my own words : kin selection, reciprocal altruism, sexual selection etc. These are fundamental concepts I understand at a deeper levels all thanks to reading ‘on a physical book’ and taking notes. 

Similarly with writing by hand. Studies show that students who write by hand retain more than those who type. Anecdotally I agree. The exams I have done the ‘best’ in have been when writing physically in a notebook. (N=1 ) A point to keep in mind when moving forward. 

Digital Burnout

I love technology. I am a real nerd. My childhood was basically video games, computers and science. I learnt C++ and made basic games when I was 14-15 as a hobby. But back then there was a divide. The computer didn’t follow me round in my pocket. There was no centralised force in the internet. It was a tool.

Now its become so much more. A black rectangle has become an access point for limitless consumption of media. You can consume mental junk food. You can check your ‘social life’ (i.e. social worth for many) at the click of button. You can look at others (heavily curated) digital lives. It’s become a race to the bottom of the brain stem. Click bait, attention seeking and novel stimuli over thoughtful delayed gratification.

Society is fundamentally being changed by these forces. One question I think about is :

‘Is social media uncovering tendencies that were already there e.g. outrage, self absorption etc

Or

‘Is social media the cause of these new behaviours’

I don’t have an answer. But what I do advocate is slowing down. Switching off your phone. Talking face to face. Getting together without being beholden to a screen. Maybe its time we prioritise human well-being and flourishing over efficiency. This is at the root of the return to digital I think. The desire to unplug, unwind and slow down.

Stole the topic of this rambling post from a book I read called : The Revenge of Analog : Read things and Why They Matter.

How to Speak Well

I’ve compiled a list of heuristics and directives in speaking well. By speaking well, I mean : ‘the ability to articulate your opinion/argument/point in a manner that is easily understood by the other person’.

Speaking is a meta skill. It is incredibly valuable but rarely taught. All human endeavours are cooperative efforts and speech is the medium for transmitting ideas. Ideas are how civilisation advances.

These are heuristics that can be used when talking to friends at the pub or when giving a speech in front of hundreds. I think the rules are the same, at least for me!

1. Know the subject stone cold then speak naturally.

It’s best never to memorise any speech. You want to be able to speak spontaneously without any self conscious thought. You want to speak without a sense of self. At best you can memorise your structure or plan if doing a formal speech, but ad libbing is vital. By doing this, it comes across as natural, uncoerced and authentic.

2. Have something valuable to say, otherwise keep silent

Often the most uninformed are the most vociferous in speaking about it. This is called the Dunning Kruger effect in psychology. It’s a human tendency to pretend we understand more than we do and to overrate our knowledge on a topic. You have to catch yourself. If you have nothing valuable to add (which is likely for many topics!) then do not speak. Just listen. If interested, go read more about it and formulate your own opinions. Or don’t. Just don’t pretend to know about the topic. As Feynman said “You must never fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool”

3. Speak 3 S’s

This is a mnemonic tool you can bring to mind when speaking. Speak in a manner that is

• Simple

• Structured

• ConverSational

Simple because speech should be far simpler than writing. It is much easier to risk pretension when writing than speaking.

Structured because if you want to lead the listeners through a logical argument to the conclusion that you have made. If you simply unleash a barrage of unconnected points without elaboration, it is far less persuasive.

ConverSational because this is simply easier. We can’t all talk like Martin Luther King Jr. That would be strange. Imagine if the person across from you at a dinner party suddenly started talking with the phraseology of MLJ. You would think they are slightly off their rocker.

4. Anecdotes and Stories > Data

Anecdotes and stories trump data. Humans are just big story telling monkeys. We live in a world of stories (go read Sapiens for a further exploration of this thesis).

We make sense of the world through stories. We can be moved to tears or moved to elation by a well told story. Most great story tellers have been telling stories since they were young. It is a skill that is hard to master. I don’t think I’m particularly well informed about how to best do this. But observe friends/acquaintances that are good story tellers. They captivate and move their listeners. It’s a powerful device.

5. Record yourself

You have a particular speech pattern that has been baked into you since you were a child, reinforced in your teenage years and now its hard set. This may involve:

• Using filler words (like, um)

• Using a limited set of words (I say ‘cool’ a lot!)

• Speaking in a monotone voice

• Speaking too fast

• Lack of eye contact etc

• Hesitancy or unconfident speech

These are hard patterns to overcome. They are like deep grooves that have form in stone over years of rivers running over mountains.

The first thing to do is to be aware of them. Unfortunately this involves recording yourself. Becoming aware of your idiosyncrasies and bringing them to mind on a regular basis.

Then when you speak day to day, simply catch yourself. Overtime a transformation should occur.

6. Read, Write, Listen

All the best artists steal. Nothing under the sun is original. But when you steal it is your imperative to improve upon it and to make it your own. So

• Read good books. Make a note of any beautiful language (BL as Maria Popova uses) and overtime you may find yourself using some of the same language in your speech

• Write : writing and speaking are inextricably linked. They are both reflections of the process of thought. They are a marker of clear thought. So write. Write whatever you feel like. Articles, journals, fiction, non fiction. What is important is the habit of writing.

• Listen to good audio : podcasts and audiobooks have literally changed my life. So many smart and amazing people are on audio. A common theme is that many of them are excellent speakers! If you want a list of podcasts I absolutely love, follow this link.

Overtime, whatever you consume, you will become. Whatever you consume is weaved together in your mind unconsciously into a tapestry of phrases and words that will seep into your daily speech and writing.

Conclusion

This list is not exhaustive. I will hopefully add to it as I learn to improve my speaking.

I can’t emphasise how important communication is. I’ve improved leaps and bounds in medical school where you are judged on heavily on your ability to communicate. It’s a skill that will take a lifetime to master.

Hopefully these rules have been useful! Thanks