The interconnected mess of it all

Monism

“The Heart of the Andes” by Frederic Edwin Church aimed to present the interconnectedness of the ecosystem, with everything interacting with everything else.

While reading “The Invention of Nature” (a book I’ll definitely reference later), I stumbled upon the concept of Monism.

In a Monistic worldview, there is no difference between organic and inorganic life because they are deeply connected. There is no hard boundary between humans and animals because we’re all part of nature. There is no division into different drawers of sciences just because of some obscure taxonomy. Monism stands in opposition to Dualism, first popularized by Plato, and later embedded in the western culture.

The perils of dismantling the world into even smaller parts and declaring them separate sciences seems to underline many of my talking points. While studying Computer Science and Psychology simultaneously, I couldn’t help but notice how interconnected and similar those seemingly disparate areas can be, but how ignorant experts are to anything outside their precious labels.

The last 2 years (!) of the pandemic have shown how dangerous this mindset can be. Organizations like CDC, FDA, WHO, US Army, and countless other acronym holders did everything according to their own procedures. Still, it ended as an utter fiasco costing millions of lives because everyone focused on their own little slice of reality and missed the big picture.

Samuel Coleridge (a British poet) called the early 1800s an ‘epoch of division and separation,’ of fragmentation and the loss of unity. He was lamenting the loss of what he called the ‘connective powers of the understanding.’ He had no idea.

I’ll read up on Monism some more and report back the findings to you.

Deliberate work

In “Your lifestyle has already been designed,” David takes a closer look at the default workforce lifestyle, observing that it definitely is not aimed at helping the little guy:

For the economy to be “healthy”, America has to remain unhealthy. Healthy, happy people don’t feel like they need much they don’t already have, and that means they don’t buy a lot of junk, don’t need to be entertained as much, and they don’t end up watching a lot of commercials.

He also makes an excellent point about the 8-hour workdays:

But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.

But it all has to be worth it in the end, right? Few decades of slogging through, and you’ll be able to retire happily! Philip, who has reached the Nirvana of early retirement, is documenting his “struggles”:

Americans cannot imagine stopping work before they’ve either (1) purchased everything that they could conceivably want, or (2) collapsed from physical exhaustion

He recommends shifting the mindset before retirement because jumping from worker mentality straight to empty days can be more than a little disorienting:

Suppose that you are retired. At this point, your one job is the pursuit of happiness. If you are not happy, therefore you are a failure at your job and in your life. But how can you be happy 24/7?

Retirement forces you to stop thinking that it is your job that holds you back. For most people the depressing truth is that they aren’t that organized, disciplined, or motivated.

“Worried Denizen” argues that Leisure is the end in itself, and we have to learn to “waste it”:

In the long run, wasted time is indistinguishable from time well spent.

The only viable strategy to make the most out of your time is to make sure that it’s fun

Climate Tales to inspire

Companies like Heimdal are working carbon-negative cement – it means that they suck out CO2 to produce the material, in opposition to the traditional manner, which is a huge contributor to climate change.

Concrete is responsible for 8% of global CO2 emissions. Cement is usually made from mined limestone, which is one of the largest natural stores of carbon dioxide. Using that to make cement is a bit like burning oil. The world is addicted to concrete, so this problem is not going away. We make synthetic limestone using atmospheric CO2, such that when it is used to make cement, the process is carbon neutral.

This essay is a fantastic resource on the economics and chemistry of carbon-negative concrete.

PS: Yes, this issue of my newsletter is sent late. We are finally on the road, giving our RV a spin, and so far – so good!

Compound Interest on your curiosity

Patrick Collison, CEO of Stripe published a list of questions occupying his mind when he’s not running a 40B+ payments startup. These are very specific, diverse areas of interest, where he noticed the world should be working better than it is.

Why do there seem to be more examples of rapidly-completed major projects in the past than the present?, Why are so many things so much nicer in Switzerland and Japan? Will end-user applications ever be truly programmable? If so, how? What does religion cause?

See the full list on Patrick’s site

People are born curious learning machines – just look at any child! They can find a rock fascinating and worthy of all sorts of experiments to the dismay of their parents trying to make it on time.

Grown-ups are quite curious too. What will happen in the next season of The Mandalorian? Did the politician really say THAT? I wonder what’s for dinner…

All in all, the child’s curiosity is more valuable – it serves them to build the model of the world to use later in life. Somehow the society has managed to direct this innate curiosity to the things that serve this or another media organization. Even in school, being a curious explorer is frowned upon, because it does not fit the curriculum.

There is good news: you can set a rough direction of your explorations! By being more explicit about what you are interested in, you can have a purposeful direction. By being consistent in your pursuits, you can build knowledge over time and focus your effort on what matters to you.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s to-do lists

In Leonardo Da Vinci’s biography by Walter Isaacson, we can learn the curiosity lists of the original polymath:

‘Observe the goose’s foot: if it were always open or always closed the creature would not be able to make any kind of movement.’ (…) ‘Why is the fish in the water swifter than the bird in the air when it ought to be the contrary since the water is heavier and thicker than the air?’ (…). ‘Describe the tongue of the woodpecker,’ he instructs himself.

We tend to think of curiosity as an unbridled, raw, and passionate act of pursuing immediate urges. But as both successful artists and long-married couples can tell you: raw and passionate acts of pursuing immediate urges do not constitute a great long-term strategy. By having a research plan, you benefit from compound interest on your curiosity.

Feynman’s 12 Favourite Problems

“Richard Feynman was fond of giving the following advice on how to be a genius. You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say, ‘How did he do it? He must be a genius!”

Gian-Carlo Rota, Ten Lessons I Wish I Had Been Taught

By having specific areas of interest, Feynman could integrate new learnings with his prior knowledge. More than that, he primed his attention to be alert to anything regarding those problems. He had only 12 of them – instead of doing frantic research „just in case,” he would have only 12 specific angles to consider. He could harness both the power of specificity and diversity because a dozen is not a tiny number.

My Bucketlist

List-making powers of guiding serendipity are not limited to intellectual pursuits. Years ago, I published a bucket list on my blog – partly to brag a little, but mainly to motivate myself to do stuff I knew I love, but somehow neglect to pursue.

When I land in a new country, and there’s no pandemic, the first thing I consult is my bucket list – it nudged me to attend The Grand Tea Ceremony in Tokyo or try a croissant-making class in Paris. Without it, I’d just Google „things to do in…” and just tick off the usual attractions with the crowds.

But the real power of intentional lists is their serendipity potential. When my wife and I were traveling through Thailand, the company we work for needed support for a conference in India. My friend Rahul spotted on my blog that I always wanted to drive a Royal Enfield – an Indian Harley-Davidson through the mountains.

When I landed in Udaipur, he handed me the keys with a big smile on his face. But… He did not expect that I’ve never driven a motorcycle before.

Well, now I have.

Having a long-running list of questions, goals, and dreams will nudge you during those idle moments towards the outcome of your choice. Instead of random browsing, you can become an expert on the topics that are relevant to you.

Tomorrow is my first Wind Surfing lesson, bucketlist Item #63. This is what Deliberate life is all about.