Welcome to 2022! Here is what I’ve been up to:
Last week, I published my review of 2021. It has been a fantastic year – I’ve become a father, went on an RV road trip throughout Europe (photos here), and spent some quality time with my daughter. Despite COVID, it has been a good year, and I hope it was for you as well.
In November, I took a break from writing to try out Twitter and frankly survive the complexities of parenting. The experiment was a mixed success:
- one one hand I met more amazing people (and was invited to lunch by an inspiring couple from San Jose just yesterday),
- on the other – I just didn’t spend enough time on the platform. Demands of life have “eaten up” the time I freed by giving up writing, and I found threads to be less conducive to deep reflection than I do blog posts.
Writing helps me discover what I’m thinking, and Twitter does not replace it for me. I will try to continue both, and I’ll share my best threads in the future issues of this newsletter.
I also explored “web3” and came out quite intrigued – to the point of writing a WordPress plugin connecting your site to the Ethereum sign-in system.
Best things I’ve read in 2021
This year, I feel like I’ve read less and discovered fewer pieces of exceptional content. While I had to decide what to cut out of the 2020 roundup, I had trouble finding ten links that would be valuable enough to share with you, so I decided to settle on 5, as I wouldn’t want to bloat the list.
Overall, my feeling about intellectualism was decidedly meh. Maybe that was an effect of a decline in critical thinking in the western world, me becoming older, or rediscovering other joys in life.
The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf was by far my biggest intellectual influence of the year. This biography of Alexander von Humboldt and his successors inspired me to change my blog’s focus (more Nature and Solarpunk, less self-improvement), spiked my interest in the Romantic Science period (early 19th century, think Jules Verne), and fueled my piece about Alexander von Humboldt that trended on Hacker News.
Noah Smith’s introductory piece about Solarpunk was the first one I have read that clarified this term for me. Furthermore, Noah is an excellent columnist and one of the very few career journalists (a Bloomberg Opinion contributor) that produce deep pieces explaining the modern world. He has deep thoughts about China, climate, and degrowth.
The most precious resource is Agency
The Most Precious Resource Is Agency eloquently phrases many criticisms of the formal educational system that I couldn’t quite put on paper.
“You don’t have to wait for professionals to tell you how to make stuff, you can just make stuff. Start typing “
David’s blog was a discovery of 2021 and a site I always wished deliber.at to be. Pieces like “How to enjoy life“, “Don’t Forget How Strange This All Is“, and “Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed” are full of compassionate, deep, and brief advice reminding us how to live life on your own terms.
Book reviews by Slate Star Codex: The Secret of Our Success and Scout Mindset
Originality is an overrated illusion. Book reviews are an excellent form of looking at an idea presented in a book through the lens of another writer – have a look at Tiago Forte’s book summarization process to see how much value he adds to the original content. Another such writer is Slate Star Codex, and I enjoyed his reviews tremendously.
The Secret of Our Success presents arguments against progressive-rationalist abandonment of tradition. As it turns out, a lot of cultural dogma is an effect of evolutionary change and provides a valuable adaptation still relevant today. The world is a very complex system, and rationalist thought hasn’t been around long enough to pierce through layers of complexity.
My first instinct is always to question dogma, and I have made it my career. However, this piece made me rethink my whole approach to intellectualism, and I intend to read this book in 2022.
(on relying on divination in battle)
War is a classic example of when a random strategy can be useful. If you’re deciding whether to attack the enemy’s right vs. left flank, it’s important that the enemy can’t predict your decision and send his best defenders there. If you’re generally predictable – and Scott Aaronson says you are – then outsourcing your decision to weird birds might be the best way to go.
The Scout Mindset matches my observations on approaching complicated ideas: You can always try them on for size. Furthermore, you don’t have to treat everyone thinking of something else as an enemy.
Galef’s preferred dichotomy is “soldier mindset” vs. “scout mindset”. Soldiers think of intellectual inquiry as a battle; their job is to support their “side”. Soldiers are the people who give us all the military and fortress-related language we use to describe debate.
I wish more people would adopt the scout mindset.