The Invention of Nature – Andrea Wulf

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World – by Andrea Wulf
Date read: 8/18/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

The story of one of the most profound polymaths you've probably never heard of. Humboldt was a Prussian explorer, writer, geographer, and naturalist born in 1769. He revolutionized the way we view the natural world by making connections and framing nature as a unified whole. He viewed everything as reciprocal and interwoven, challenging the human-centered perspective that ruled up until that point in time (i.e. 'nature is made for the sake of man'). Humboldt's fascination with nature brought together art and science, combining exact observation with painterly descriptions, which helped make science far more popular and accessible. His work also influenced generations of scientists and writers including the likes of Charles Darwin, John Muir, and Henry David Thoreau. It's easy to see why Humboldt was so influential–the stories Wulf tells of his expeditions and adventures well into old age, are both fascinating and inspiring. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

Born in 1769 into a wealthy Prussian aristocratic family, discarded a life of privilege to discover for himself how the world worked.

A multidisciplinary approach:
Humboldt revolutionized the way we see the natural world by making connections everywhere. He shaped our modern understanding of nature through his comprehensive/multidisciplined approach. "In this great chain of causes and effects, no single fact can be considered in isolation." AVH

In nature (and in our individual lives) getting the overall conditions right is essential if we want to thrive.
-Neither our lives nor the forces of the natural world are siloed, independent components. Everything is interwoven.

Childhood tendencies:
-Escaped the classroom whenever he could to ramble through the countryside, collecting and sketching plants/animals/rocks.
-Would come back with pockets full of insects and plants, nicknamed 'the little apothecary'

Republic of Letters:
-During the new Age of Enlightenment, scientists around the world started an intellectual community that transcended national boundaries, religion, language. Used letters to pass along new ideas and scientific discoveries. Ruled by reason, not by monarchs.

Relationship with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
-Despite Humboldt being 20 years younger, they became scientific sparring partners.
-Not a traditional master/apprentice relationship. One based on mutual respect, admiration, collaboration, and reciprocity.
-Goethe worked more intensely than he had in years after he met Humboldt.
-Goethe encouraged Humboldt to combine art and science.
-Goethe said that a single day with Humboldt brought him further than years on his isolated path.

"Nature everywhere speaks to man in a voice familiar to his soul." -AVH

Humboldt challenged the human-centered perspective that had ruled humankind's approach to nature for millennia (i.e. Aristotle: "Nature has made all things specifically for the sake of man.") He viewed everything as reciprocal.

Journey through Venezuela in 1800 would change the course of his life. This is where his fascination with the natural world married science and art.

No scientist had referred to nature like this (thanks to Goethe's influence)
Rapids of Orinoco: "Coloured bows shine, vanish, and reappear." Always measured and recorded, but brought the scene to life.

"What speaks to the soul escapes our measurements" AVH

Chimborazo Expedition:
-Snowcapped volcano in Ecuador, 21k feet (believed to be highest mountain in world)
-2,500 mile journey from Cartagena to Lima through harsh landscapes pushed their physical limits
-They were supposed to return home from Quito, but the ship that was supposed to come took a different route than they expected. Rather than despair, became an opportunity with Humboldt's perspective. Allowed them to set out for the volcanoes. 
-"Mountains held a spell over Humboldt. It wasn't just the physical demands or the promise of new knowledge. There was also something more transcendental. Whenever he stood on a summit or a high ridge, he felt so moved by the scenery that his imagination carried him even higher. This imagination, he said, soothed the 'deep wounds' that pure 'reason' sometimes created."

Naturgemälde, a lesson in the importance of the way you present/depict information;
-Drawing of Chimborazo that illustrated nature as a web in which everything was connected.
-By picking a particular height of the mountain, you could trace connections across the table to see temperature, humidity, species of plants/animals at different altitudes.
-No one had shown such data visually before, showed for the first time that nature was a global force with corresponding climate zones across continents. 

Unified Whole:
-He wasn't interested in finding new isolated facts but in connecting them. Less concerned with classifying the world into taxonomic units with a strict hierarchy and categories, like the scientists before him.
-To prove this, he couldn't look at it just as a botanist, geologist, or zoologist. Had to take a multidisciplinary approach and leverage each.

Racial Equality - Reflected his expanded worldview from being well traveled, greater empathy and greater tolerance when you've interacted with different people/societies/cultures. 
-Humboldt believed slavery was a disgrace and the greatest evil.
-All members of the human race were equal, from the same family (much like plants). Humankind just one small part. But nature itself is a republic of freedom (where he differed from Thomas Jefferson).

Location matters:
Returning to Europe after his adventures he chose Paris. Hub of like-minded thinkers, scientific societies, and Europe's publishing center (for fast distribution so he could share his new ideas). 

Broad appeal, reaching new audiences:
Scientists and thinkers were impressed by his publications and lectures, fellow writers adored his adventurous stories, while the fashionable world of Parisian society was delighted by his charm and wit.

Personal Narrative:
-Humboldt's book that followed his voyage chronologically to South America.
-First travel book to ever combine exact observation with a painterly description of landscape.
-Previous writers only measured, or collected plants, or gathered economic data from trading centers.
-Took readers onto the crowded streets of Caracas, across the dusty plains of the Llanos, and deep into rainforest along the Orinoco. Capturing imaginations along the way.
-Influenced British literature and poetry with his depictions of South America (Frankenstein, Don Juan).
-This was the book that inspired Charles Darwin to join the Beagle, and he knew it by heart.

Berlin Lectures:
-1827 arrived back to Berlin (reluctantly) after leaving Paris.
-Gave 76 free lectures over the course of 6 months that were unlike anything Berlin had ever seen. 
-Exhilarating, utterly new. By not charging an entry fee, packed audiences ranged from royal family to students, servants, scholars, bricklayers, and half of those attending were women. Democratized science.
-Took his audience on a journey - talked about poetry, astronomy, geology, landscape painting.
-One of his greatest achievements was making science accessible and popular.

Relishing adventure into old age:
-At age 59 on his journey through Russia, rarely showed signs of fatigue. He would walk for hours, crawl into deep shafts, chisel off rocks, scramble up mountains, then set up instruments at night for astronomical observations. *Similar to Ben Franklin, thriving on adventures in old age.

Humboldt's influence on Darwin:
-Showed Darwin how to investigate the natural world from within and without, not just from isolated approach of zoologist, etc.
-Both had the rare ability to focus on smallest detail then pull back to examine global patterns. Flexibility in perspective allowed them both to understand the world in a completely new way.
-Laid the groundwork for his theory of evolution.

Launch point for Darwin:
-Voyage of the Beagle by far the most important event of his life and determined his whole career, as he acknowledged.

Years of dedication:
-Voyage of the Beagle took five years. Much like Humboldt's voyages, these were years of painstaking work. 

Self-awareness:
-When Humboldt began work on his most influential book, Cosmos, he was aware that he didn't and couldn't know everything. Recruited an army of expert scientists, classicists, and historians to help.

Black coffee = "concentrated sunshine" AVH

Cosmos:
-Three sections: 1) Celestial phenomena, 2) Earth (geomagnetism, oceans, earthquakes, geography, meteorology), 3) Organic life (plants, animals, humans).
-Brought together a far greater range of subjects than any other previous book.
-Shaped two generations of American scientists, artists, writers, and poets.

Humboldt's last words at age 89: 
"How glorious these sunbeams are! They seem to call Earth to the Heavens!"

"Voyages on foot, Humboldt said, taught him the poetry of nature. He was feeling nature by moving through it."

"Not only was his life colorful and packed with adventure, but his story gives meaning to why we see nature the way we see it today. In a world where we tend to draw a sharp line between sciences and the arts, between the subjective and the objective, Humboldt's insight that we can only truly understand nature by using our imagination makes him a visionary." 

Rework – Jason Fried and David Heinemeier

Rework – by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier
Date read: 8/4/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Relevant to anyone building, running, or growing a business. Fried and Heinemeier offer valuable first-hand experience that goes against conventional, mediocre business advice. They discuss the approach and tactics they've used to grow their own software company, Basecamp, to reach over 3 million people around the world. Much of their advice centers around remaining small, frugal, and profitable. They caution against business plans, workaholics, and ramping up as an end goal. Instead favoring adaptability, hiring people who have lives outside of work, and simplicity. They even encourage letting your customers outgrow you, rather than altering your product to add complexity. Keep it simple and build something that makes it as easy as possible for new people to get on board (that's where the continued growth lies).

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

Plans let the past drive the future. They put blinders on you. "This is where we're going because, well, that's where we said we were going." And that's the problem: Plans are inconsistent with improvisation.

The timing of long-range plans creates problems because you're making decisions before you've begun, "You have the most information when you're doing something, not before you've done it."

Following a plan that has no relationship with reality is worse than having no plan at all. 

Ramping up doesn't have to be your goal. Don't be insecure about running a small, fulfilling business. 

Workaholics:
-Try to make up for intellectual laziness with brute force = inelegant solutions
-"Workaholics aren't heroes. They don't save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a  faster way to get things done."
-"When people have something to do at home, they get down to business. They get their work done at the office because they have somewhere else to be."
-You want people who have a life outside of work and care about more than one thing -- shouldn't expect the job to be someone's entire life if you want to keep them around for the foreseeable future.

"The easiest, most straightforward way to create a great product or service is to make something you want to use."
-Make hundreds of tiny decisions a day when you're building a product or service. If it's someone else's problem you're stabbing in dark. When you solve your own problem, the light comes on and you know what the right answer is.

"The original pitch idea is such a small part of a business that it's almost negligible. The real question is how well you execute."

"When you want something bad enough, you make the time–regardless of your other obligations. The truth is that most people just don't want it bad enough. Then they protect their ego with the excuse of time."

At Basecamp, they design their product to be as simple as possible because they believe software is too complex with too many features/buttons/confusion. They're comfortable with alienating certain people because the product from competition does more (but at the cost of being less intuitive). 

Basecamp focuses on timeless desires (not trends): speed, simplicity, ease of use, clarity.

After their first product had been around for a while, a few early customers said they were growing out of the application and wanted them to change the product to mirror additional complexities and requirements. They said no. Justification: "We'd rather our customers grow out of our products eventually than never be able to grow into them in the first place."

There are always more people who are not using your product than people who are. Make it as easy as possible for those people to get on board. That's where your continued growth potential lies.

"Do less than your competitors to beat them. Solve the simple problems and leave the hairy, difficult, nasty problems to the competition."

Find the epicenter, ask yourself: "If I took this away, would what I'm selling still exist?" i.e. hot dog from a hot dog stand.

When things aren't working, don't throw more at the problem. Do less. Will force you to make tough calls and sort out what actually matters.

Content and putting in the work >  tools
-Equipment is often a crutch for people who are desperate for shortcuts.

"Momentum fuels motivation." (and the same goes for inspiration)
-Get it out there, get feedback, don't squander your momentum/inspiration.

Inject what's unique about the way you think into what you sell - i.e. Zappos, customer service.
-Competitors can attempt to copy your product, but they can't copy how you sell it, support it, explain it, deliver it.

Enthusiasm for a new idea is not an accurate indicator of worth or priority. Let it marinate.

Build an audience/platform:
-Share information that's valuable to build a loyal audience. That way when you launch and need to build traction, the right people will already be listening.

"Instead of trying to outspend, outsell, or outsponsor competitors, try to out-teach them. Teaching probably isn't something your competitors are even thinking about."
-Forms a bond unlike traditional marketing tactics
-Teaching = loyalty, respect, trust.
-Share everything you know.

"Imperfections are real and people respond to real."
-Don't worry how you're supposed to sound, be real.
-Pare things down to their essence, but don't remove the poetry (too polished sounds robotic).
-Talk to customers the way you would to friends (explain things like you're sitting with them in person).

Give some away for free (free trials). You should be confident that the product/service is so great that people will come back for more. 

"Trade the dream of overnight success for slow, measured growth. It's hard but you have to be patient. You have to grind it out. You have to do it for a long time before the right people notice."

Don't hire someone for a position until you've tried it first.
-Better understand the nature of the work, what a job well done looks like, know which questions to ask, and you'll be a much better manager.

"Don't hire for pleasure; hire to kill pain."
-Pass on hiring people you don't need, even if that person's a great catch. Worse problem to have smart people on board who aren't engaged/doing meaningful work.

"How long someone's been doing it is overrated. What matters is how well they've been doing it."

With a small team, you need people who are going to do work, not delegate. Delegators are deadweight. They love to pull people into meetings where they get to seem important.

Hire managers of one - people who come up with their own goals and execute.
-Look at background, have they run something on their own or launched their own projects?
-Great product advice: find someone who's capable of building something from scratch and seeing it through.

"Writing is today's currency for good ideas."

"Write to be read, don't write just to write."
-Think of one person then write for that person (not a mob). 

"When something goes wrong, someone is going to tell the story. You'll be better off if it's you."

"When everything constantly needs approval, you create a culture of nonthinkers."

Benjamin Franklin – Walter Isaacson

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life – by Walter Isaacson
Date read: 8/1/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

Brilliant look at the multi-disciplinary life of Benjamin Franklin. As a scientist, inventor, diplomat, writer, business strategist, and political thinker, it's fascinating how many pivotal moments of early American history he was involved in. In each aspect of his life, he prided himself in practical solutions that served the common good. As Isaacson suggests, Franklin was the first great American exemplar of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason–as defined by an emphasis on reason, education, and a distrust of arbitrary authority. He was unapologetically self-taught and self-made. Isaacson doesn't shy away from Franklin's complexities and does a great job explaining how his legacy has shifted over time, reflecting the values of different eras. There's a reason he's held in such high-esteem by some of the most brilliant minds of our time.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

Multidisciplinary life: scientist, inventor, diplomat, writer, business strategist, practical political thinker

But the most interesting thing that Franklin invented, and continually reinvented, was himself.

Franklin's most important vision: an American identity based on the virtues and values of its middle class.
-How does one live a life that is useful, virtuous, worthy, moral and spiritually meaningful?
-Questions are just as vital for a self-satisfied age as they were for a revolutionary one.

Early American settlers were pursuing both religious freedom AND economic opportunity.

"Industry and frugality are the means of procuring wealth and thereby securing virtue." -BF

Maxims from his almanacs:
"Fish and visitors stink in three days."
"Little strokes fell great oaks."
"Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead."
"Diligence is the mother of good luck."
"Love your enemies, for they will tell you your faults."

Franklin excelled in writing, but failed math. Still became one of the most ingenious scientists of his era, but did not transcend into a profound theorist (i.e. Newton). 

"From a child I was fond of reading, and all the little money that came into my hands was ever laid out in books." -BF
*Books most important formative influence in his life. He would sneak books from apprentices who worked for booksellers as long as he returned them clean. Was a vegetarian early in life so he could save more money for books.

His writing lacked poetic flourish, but was powerful in its directness.

His most notable trait was a personal magnetism; he attracted people who wanted to help him.

American individualists sometimes boast of not worrying about what others think of them. Frankin, more typically nurtured his reputation, as a matter of both pride and utility. 
*An apostle of being, and appearing, studious. 

Lesson he learned early: people are more likely to admire your work if you're able to keep them from feeling jealous of you. Indulge their vanity (give them opportunities to demonstrate their abilities), they will praise you in turn.

Franklin easily made friends and intellectual companions, but was less good at nurturing lasting bonds that involved deep personal commitments or emotional relationships, even within his own family. 

On deciding whether or not to take a customer's money and run a defamatory article that violated his principles:
-Paused to make the decision, went home and slept on it.
-Practiced voluntary hardship, slept on the floor, ate plainly.
-Determined that he could live this way, was not worth corrupting his values for a more comfortable subsistence. 

Writing to discover: Franklin began to clarify his religious beliefs through a series of essays and letters.

Moral Perfection Project:
-Made a list of 13 virtues he aspired to master
-Focused on improving one virtue each week (related it to weeding a garden, not all at once, but one bed at a time)

First great American exemplar of the Enlightenment and its Age of Reason. Born in Europe in the late 17th century, defined by an emphasis on reason and observable experience, a distrust of religious orthodoxy and traditional authority, and an optimism about education and progress.

"The general foible of mankind is in the pursuit of wealth to no end." BF

Franklin's subscription library (The Library Company of Philadelphia), first of its type in America. Subscribers pay dues to borrow books. Improved the intelligence of common tradesmen and farmers, as local subscription libraries caught on.

His work focused on lightning and electricity led to his first becoming a popular hero.
-Believed science should be pursued initially for pure fascination and curiosity, then practical uses would eventually flow.

Self-made: Thirst for knowledge made him the best self-taught writer and scientist of his times.

Pride for practical solutions:
Crossing the Atlantic in the summer of 1757, nearly wrecked on the Scilly Isles. "Were I a Roman Catholic, perhaps I should on this occasion vow to build a chapel to some saint. But as I am not, if I were to vow at all, it should be to build a lighthouse." BF

Traveling: Franklin's summer travels were the source of great joy
-Deborah didn't share his love for travel and curiosity for the world.
-She was as independent in her own way as he was in his.
-Spent 15 of the last 17 years of their marriage an ocean away.
-Throughout his life, had few emotional bonds tying him to any one place, glided through the world the way he glided through relationships.

Modern election campaigns are often criticized for being negative, and today's press is slammed for being scurrilous. But the most brutal of modern attack ads pale in comparison to the barrage of pamphlets in the 1764 Assembly election. 

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin:
-His goal was to describe how he rose from obscurity to prominence and to provide some useful hints about how he succeeded, for others to imitate.
-If he found himself writing with too much pride about an event, he would revise it by adding a self-deprecating comment.
-Autobiographies existed, but this was the first masterpiece by a self-made man.

Second continental congress:
-Franklin, nearing 70, was by far the oldest of the 62 participants
-Many of the younger, hotter-tempered delegates had never witnessed Franklin's artifice of silence, his trick of seeming sage by saying nothing (oratory did not come naturally to him).
-No one had a clue where he stood on the question of independence. He was biding his time to convert key figures close to him to the rebel cause.

Distaste for established elites, arbitrary authority, nepotism:
-Chafed at authority, why he ran away from his brother's print shop in Boston.
-Was not awed by established elites – Mathers, Penns, peers in the house of lords.
-Opposed unfair tax policies by Penns, even though they would have served his personal advantage.
-Stressed is all his letters that America should not replicate rigid ruling hierarchies of Old World based on birth rather than merit, virtue, and hard work. 
-Groundless and absurd to honor a worthy person's descendants (should instead honor the person's parents since they had some role in it, like Chinese do).
-Rose up social ladder, but did so in a way that resisted taking on elitist pretensions (fur-capped persona). 

At 70, he was continuing to embark on missions for Congress:
-Cambridge, MA to help Washington with disciplining the militia that would form the nucleus of a true continental army.
-Quebec to support American forces focused on preventing Britain from splitting colonies via Hudson River.
-Showed his eagerness to be involved in practical details, rather than detached theorizing.
-He was also, both as a teen and as an old man, revitalized by travel.

Declaration of Independence:
-Jefferson asked Franklin to help edit. Most important change was to Jefferson's phrase, "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable" to "We hold these truths to be self-evident."
-Changed this phrase from an assertion of religion to an assertion of rationality.

Fate of the Revolution placed into Franklin's hands, just as much as those of Washington and others. He needed to secure support of France–its aid, its recognition, its navy. Displayed dexterity that would make him one of the greatest American diplomats.
-He was instrumental in shaping the three great documents of the war: the Declaration of Independence, the alliance with France, and the treaty with England.

"Moderate your desire of victory over your adversary, and be pleased with the one over yourself." BF

The Constitutional Convention of 1787:
-He was by far the most traveled of all the delegates, and knew not only the nations of Europe but the thirteens states (franchised printing operations, time as postmaster, etc.). More receptive to needs of each state and open to diversity of opinions.

Sensibility, willingness to change mind, and humility to be open to different opinions:
-On crafting the constitution, Franklin realized that they had succeeded not because they were self-assured, but because they were willing to concede that they might be fallible.
-"We are making experiments in politics. We must not expect that a new government may be formed as a game of chess may be played, by a skillful hand, without a fault." BF
-"For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise." BF

Legacy:
-During the three centuries since his birth, the changing assessments of Franklin have tended to reveal less about him than about the values of the people judging him. Reflect, or refract, the attitudes of each succeeding era.
-His reputation was elevated by the emergence of distinctly American philosophy known as pragmatism - holds that truth of any proposition (whether scientific, moral, theological, or social) is based on how well it correlates with experimental results and produces a practical outcome.
-Unfairly attacked over the years by romantics whose real targets were capitalism and middle-class morality. 

In most of the endeavors of his soul and mind, his greatness sprang more from his practicality than from profundity or poetry.

His guiding principle was a "dislike of everything that tended to debase the spirit of the common people."

The Geometry of Wealth – Brian Portnoy

The Geometry of Wealth – by Brian Portnoy
Date read: 7/4/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

A look into the relationship between money and meaning. Portnoy suggests that wealth and investing are about funding contentment and underwriting a meaningful life, as defined by you. Not about getting rich, having "more," and losing yourself on the hedonic treadmill. He explains that simplification is the path towards effectively managing expectations in money and life–and the trajectory of a happy life is shaped by expectations. The Geometry of Wealth is as practical as it is philosophical. À la Charlie Munger, Portnoy emphasizes individual behavior, mainly self-control and self-awareness, as the most important factor in investment success. He suggests we focus on being "less wrong" over being "more right," in the sense that asset allocation is far more important than security selection and market timing. But he also takes a deeper look at experienced happiness, reflective happiness, expectations, and human nature, which adds an entire extra dimension to this fascinating book.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

"Do not hurry; do not rest." -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Examines the relationship between money and meaning, and how wealth figures into a joyful life.

Difference between rich and wealthy
-Rich is having "more" - hedonic treadmill on which satisfaction is fleeting
-Wealth is funded contentment, ability to underwrite a meaningful life, as defined by you
-Wealth is only achievable when purpose and practice are calibrated

Simplification is the smart path toward effectively managing expectations. In general terms, met expectations lead to temporary happiness and unmet ones lead to temporary sadness.

A "good" investment is one that meets expectations. And when expectations of the future don't match reality, we end up with dismal outcomes–not only financially, but emotionally. 

Dual Process Theory: "System 1" versus "System 2" (as popularized by Daniel Kahneman)
System 1: Fast brain loves consistency, biased to confirm beliefs and see patterns even when they don't exist. Avoid ambiguity and doubt.
System 2: Specializes in effortful mental activities, slow brain requires significantly more energy (glucose and other chemicals)

Three factors which determine lifelong happiness:
-Genetic disposition ~ 40%. This is your set point, return to this level (features and attitudes you're born with).

-Circumstance ~ 10%. Only a slight impact (and these are the attributes many of us define ourselves by). Where you live, what type of house you have, physical appearance, family dynamic, job, etc.
How can these have such a small impact? The brain is wired with an ability to adapt to whatever situation we find ourselves in, and it does it so much more quickly than we anticipate. It's a remarkable defense mechanism, for it allows us to transcend most setbacks in life. 

-Intention ~ 40%. Conscious decision-making and deliberate actions have significant impact on our quality of life experiences. Empowering, while you can't get around biological set point, still have capacity to make a big difference through personal drive and self-improvement.

"[Those who far better in life] have better coping strategies in the face of adversity–they confront problems rather than avoid them, plan better for the future, focus on what they can control and change, and persist when they encounter obstacles instead of giving up." -Timothy Wilson

Prepared mind = better life outcomes

When it comes to money, simplicity means having a limited number of clearly articulated concepts that both make sense of a noisy world and drive sharp, reasonable decisions.

Experienced Happiness: Maximize pleasure, narrower in scope, shorter in duration, hedonic, daily mood.
*Impact of money on experienced happiness caps out around $75k/year. Life's basic comforts met (which we become quickly accustomed to). Good and bad moods come at same pace for someone making $100k vs. $1m.

Reflective Happiness: Maximize contentment, broader in scope, longer in duration, eudaimonic (human flourishing), purpose, deeper sense of fulfillment.
*Reflective happiness does not cap out a specific income level. Does not diminish, keeps growing. But it always remains relative to your current position ($1000 raise for new college grad has larger impact than it would for CEO). When money is spent to underwrite sources of contentment, money buys happiness. 

Contentment = control (afford better nutrition, healthcare, more independence, time, flexibility), competence (invest in skills, potential), connection (sociality of experience, networks, memberships, access), context (time to find purpose). 

The "good life" is not the tweak of ephemeral pleasure, but the engagement with more meaningful, virtuous pursuits. Momentary pleasures are distinct from the enduring gravity of meaningful experience. 

"[Success stems not from] beating others at their game. It's about controlling yourself at your own game." -Jason Zweig
*Your own behavior far most important factor in investment success.

Much of what humans are good at does not center on weighing consequences of a possibility many years in the future.

Getting the restaurant right is more important than picking the right dish. Choosing investments works similarly. Big choice at hand is asset classes. Don't fetishize precision. Get it roughly right. Save yourself time and mental energy.

Asset allocation = far more influential than security selection and market timing. 
*90% of performance differences among investors are explained by asset allocation

Prioritize being "less wrong" over being "more right."

Only a handful of basic principles needed to achieve good investment results (but we crave complexity so we fail to execute):
-Buy low and sell high
-Diversify
-Stick to your plan

Crave complexity because we crave choice, which is a proxy for the control we perceive to have over our lives. More choice translates into a greater sense of safety (however false it might be).

A "good" decision is one that leads to a reasonable and appropriate outcome, not one that achieves other arbitrary goals like beating the market or trumping others. A "bad" decision starts with either vague or unrealistic expectations.

Accept the uncertainty of this game, remain humble in the pursuit of better things, and there's a decent chance that things will be okay.

"To achieve satisfactory investment results is easier than most realize; to achieve superior results is harder than it looks." -Benjamin Graham

The trajectory of a happy life is shaped by expectations. When the future meets or exceeds our expectations, we tend to be happy' when it doesn't, we're not.

Assessing annualized returns -- the longer the time frame, the narrower the range of outcomes (+/-10%). Shorter time frame, large (and more erratic) range of outcomes (170 to -70%). 

When we say that stocks make about 10% per year, it would be a mistake to assign the outcome of the entire group to any one member. Individual stock can be a dud or rocket ship. Best bet is to own a broad swath of the market.

With true diversification, there will always be something in your portfolio that sucks (and that's okay).

Compounding is the quiet protagonist in more tales of progress than nearly any of us has considered. Einstein supposedly called it the most powerful force in the universe.

Charlie Munger: "The first rule of compounding: Never interrupt it unnecessarily."

"Approximately 99% of the time, the single most important thing investors should do is absolutely nothing." -Jason Zweig

"The authentic individual is neither an end nor a beginning but a link between ages, both memory and expectation. Every moment is a new beginning with a continuum of history. It is fallacious to segregate a moment and not to sense its involvement in both the past and future." -Abraham Heschel

Our ability to think through time and see our future selves has limitations. Most profoundly, we discount the future: we value today more than tomorrow. Time discounting is an evolutionary instinct. We didn't pass on killing the small animal right in front of us in hopes of maintaining our energy to attack a larger herd of fatter animals that may or may not come later. We tend to live in the now because it seems the safer thing to do.

"Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they're finished." -Daniel Gilbert

Narrative of the book: Stoic playbook for navigating money life, moving from perception to action to will. Self-awareness and self-control are key principles. Embrace adaptive simplicity. 

The Four Tendencies – Gretchen Rubin

The Four Tendencies – by Gretchen Rubin
Date read: 5/29/18. Recommendation 7/10.

Rubin details four main personality tendencies–upholder, questioner, obliger, rebel–that we all gravitate towards based on how we handle internal and external expectations. It's an interesting look into human nature and quite valuable when considering how we should motivate, persuade, or navigate conflict with ourselves and others. There's no one-size-fits-all. She details each of the four tendencies in depth, while conceding that there are an enormous range of personalities, even among people with the same tendency. This dramatically influences how each of the tendencies are expressed. The goal of the book is to help us better understand ourselves and those around us by building greater self-awareness and acknowledging our differences. That way we can leverage our strengths, navigate our weaknesses, and build lives that work better for us.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

My great interest is human nature, and I constantly search for patterns to identify what we do and why we do it.

Upholder (19%): Meets outer expectations, meets inner expectations
Questioner (24%): Resists outer expectations, meets inner expectations
Obliger (41%): Meets outer expectations, resists inner expectations
Rebel (17%): Resists outer expectations, resists inner expectations

When we consider the four tendencies, we're better able to understand ourselves. This self-knowledge is crucial because we can build a happy life only on the foundation of our own nature, our own interests, and our own values.

There's an enormous range of personalities, even among people who share the same tendency...These qualities dramatically influence how they express their tendencies.

There's no best or worst tendency. The happiest, healthiest, most productive people aren't those from a particular tendency, but rather they're the people who have figured out how to harness the strengths of their Tendency, counteract the weaknesses, and build the lives that work for them.

Knowing other people's tendencies also makes it much easier to persuade them, to encourage them, and to avoid conflict.

"Of all the tasks which are set before man in life, the education and management of his character is the most important." -William Edward Hartpole Lecky, The Map of Life

Upholder:
-Find it easy to decide to act and then to follow through, easily form habits
-Independent and reliable, high degree of self-mastery
-Discipline may make them appear rigid to others, but they feel free, effective, and independent

Weaknesses include delegating (doubt others ability to follow through), holding others accountable (since they don't need outer accountability, not sympathetic towards those that do).

Upholders value self-command, so they tend to pay a lot of attention to getting enough sleep, exercising, having fun, keeping gas in the car, and so on. Upholders also least likely to struggle with addiction. 

Although upholders can indeed reject outer expectations in order to meet inner expectations, they don't always have a clear sense of what they expect from themselves. For an inner expectation to be met, it must be clearly articulated. Therefore, upholders must take care to define for themselves what they want and what they value–that clarity is essential.

For me, once I'd clearly heard the voice of my own inner expectation, doing the work wasn't hard. But it took me a long time to hear that voice.

Upholders want people to do things for their own reasons–which is a big demand.

Questioner:
-Deep commitment to information, logic, and efficiency
-Gather their own facts and decide for themselves, object to anything arbitrary, ill-reasoned, or ineffective
-Almost never unquestioningly meet an expectation

Least distinctive tendency, other three tendencies recognize how they're different from other people. Questioners view their questioning not as evidence of a pattern but as merely the logical, universal response to life.

Upholders and questioners are self-centered and self-ish, in the sense that the aims of the "self," which are inner expectations, are at the core of what they do.

Obliger:
-Meets inner expectations by creating outer accountability (must create structures of outer accountability)
-Gain the most from learning about their tendency (and the largest tendency for both men and women)
-Get along most easily with the other three tendencies

Obligers must pick the right kind of accountability for them...vary dramatically in what makes them feel accountable.

Obliger rebellion - obliger keeps meeting expectations that seem unreasonable until the "snap" which is almost always abrupt.

Rebel:
-Resist all expectations, want to do what they want to do, in their own way and in their own time
-Wake up and think "what do I feel like doing right now?"
-Enjoy challenges and defying people's expectations
-High value on authenticity and self-determination (lives should be a true expression of their values)

Rebel/questioners: "I do whatever I choose." Rebel/obligers: "I refuse to do what anyone tells me to do."

For information-consequences-choice to work, it's crucial that rebels do indeed suffer unpleasant consequences. 

Information, consequences, choice. Without lectures or micro-management or rescue.

Rebels become dependent. Their freedom from the mundane responsibilities of life is often possible because someone else handles the duties of daily existence for them.

Rebels respond much better when an action is framed in terms of choice, freedom, and self-expression instead of constraint and duty.

It's all too easy to assume that what persuades us will persuade others–which isn't true. One of my secrets of Adulthood is that we're more like other people than we suppose and less like other people than we suppose.

Upholders want to know what should be done. Questioners want justifications. Obligers need accountability. Rebels want freedom to do something their own way.

Upholders value self-command and performance. Questioners value justification and purpose. Obligers value teamwork and duty. Rebels value freedom and self-identity. 

"Just as coffee can grow...under 7,000 [feet] and cedar over 7,000. I think that every human being requires a certain type of soil, temperature, and altitude, very narrowly defined for some, almost universal for others–in order to feel free and happy, that is to say, free to develop his nature to the utmost of which it is capable. I believe that one can feel completely free both in a Trappist monastery or at the court in Berlin; but I think it would have to be an unusual and an unusually gracious personality that would feel free in both places." -Isak Dinesen

Real Artists Don't Starve – Jeff Goins

Real Artists Don't Starve – by Jeff Goins
Date read: 6/8/18. Recommendation 7/10.

Practical and refreshing resource for smart creatives and entrepreneurs. Goins picks apart the myths surrounding the Starving Artist and offers an improved alternative of the Thriving Artist. There are dozens of useful rules of thumb you can apply to your own position, no matter where you are in the journey. Thriving Artists build their creative dreams step by step (not overnight). They focus on rearrangement and building upon the work of those who have influenced them (not obsessing over originality). They leverage their existing jobs for resources (not quitting too early and without reason). They recognize the value of a multidisciplinary approach and multiple revenue streams (not mastering a single skill and risking it all on a single bet). Goins follows this same pattern throughout the book, detailing the difference in mindsets, how to position yourself in the market, and how to make a living. It's a modern-day guide for living a better, more creative life, without struggling for the sake of struggling. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

Adrian Cardenas left MLB to pursue writing. To begin a new journey, he had to let go of what was expected of him.

Before you can create great art, you first have to create yourself.

The reason many of us never self-actualize is because it's easier to play a role in life than it is to become our true selves. It's easier to conform to what people expect than it is to stand out. But this is not the way great art is made, nor is it the way real artists are made.

Eventually, you have to decide who you are. You have to choose your role and own that identity. 

Creative dreams aren't launched overnight They are built gradually.

Study of 5,000 American entrepreneurs
-In the end, the more cautious entrepreneurs ended up being the more successful ones, whereas the risk takers who quit their jobs early were 33 percent more likely to fail.

The creative life is a series of small steps more than any single giant leap.

"Nothing is new except arrangement." -Will Durant

Creativity is not about being original; it's about learning to rearrange what has already been in a way that brings fresh insight to old material. Innovation is really iteration.

The Starving Artist worries about being original, whereas the Thriving Artist knows that stealing from your influences is how you make great art. (but you have to carefully study your influences before you steal)

Rule of Creative Theft: Greatness doesn't come from a single great idea or eureka moment. It comes from borrowing other people's work and building on it. We steal our way to greatness.

Such discipline is all but lost in our world today. We are far too impatient, too eager to show the world what we have to offer, too unwilling to take the time to learn the fundamentals of a craft. 

For generations, writers have done something similar in copying the words of their favorite authors verbatim. Hunter S. Thompson did this with the work of his idol, F. Scott Fitzgerald, when he wrote out the pages of The Great Gatsby to get a feel for "what it was like to write that way."

The marks of a good apprentice are patience, perseverance, and humility. 
-If you put in the work you will eventually see results.
-If you keep going, you will outlast the majority who quit at the first few signs of trouble.
-And always remember how far you still have to go.

The moment we begin to believe we deserve success is the very moment it will elude us.

Opportunities may come and go, but in the end, hard work is all we can measure.

"Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon, his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course." –Angela Duckworth

An artist's job is not to be perfect but to be creating.

Jeff Bezos: We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details.

Gradatim Ferociter: step by step, ferociously.

Can you stick around long enough to see your work succeed? Do you have enough grit to take a few critical hits and keep going? Or will you get discouraged at the first sign of failure?

If you are going to create work that matters, you are going to need an advocate–a person who sees your potential and believes in your work. This isn't just about money. You need someone to give you a chance, maybe even connect you to the right people.

Any job can be a means to making your art, if you have the right perspective. Employers become patrons when we begin to see them not as obstacles to the work we want to do but as a way of funding it.

One of the most important issues for a member of the Creative Class is location.

You must earn the attention of those already established in the scene. How do you do this? Serve them somehow. Use your gifts and talents to help others succeed.

Put your work where it has the greatest potential to succeed.

Study the people who already are where you want to go.

Rule of the Portfolio: Starving Artists believes she must master a single skill, whereas the Thriving Artist builds a diverse body of work.

In the Renaissance, people embraced this intersection of different disciplines, and those who blended them best were rightly called "masters."

Thriving Artists don't just live off their art. Like good investors, they keep diverse portfolios, relying on multiple income streams to make a living...The challenge, then, is knowing what investments to make and when.

Ability to hold multiple conflicting ideas in tension with each other in a way that they can build upon each other.

Every artist must fight for margin to create.

This is what most of us want: not to get rich off our creations but to have enough time and freedom to create what we want. We want to have the means to focus on what matters to us.

We often live out the stories we've been told, sometimes without questioning the truthfulness of them.

First master the mindset. Then the market. Then the money. 

How to Change Your Mind – Michael Pollan

How to Change Your Mind – by Michael Pollan
Date Read: 5/25/18. Recommendation 9/10.

A look into the renaissance of psychedelics and how a new generation of scientists are testing their potential to improve mental health, including depression, anxiety, trauma, and addiction. Pollan is a brilliant writer, offering a healthy dose of skepticism throughout the book, which helps add a voice of reason to an often fanciful topic. He acknowledges the provocative, often uncomfortable frontier of psychedelic therapy, which sits somewhere between science and spirituality. True to form, his deep interest in the natural world comes through, specifically as it relates to psilocybin (mushrooms). He also digs into the broader cultural and historical significance, detailing the stories of each influential character involved. But the best parts of the book are moments when Pollan examines ambiguous, difficult concepts such as consciousness, spirituality, ego dissolution, and the ineffability of his own psychedelic experiences. Whether you're interested in better understanding the science, potential benefits to mental health, or a new lens through which to view the world and your own experience, this book makes significant contributions to furthering each. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

Psychedelics are having a renaissance. A new generation of scientists are testing their potential to heal mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, trauma, and addiction.

LSD appears to disable such conventionalized, shorthand modes of perception, and, by doing so restores a childlike immediacy, and sense of wonder, to our experience of reality, as if we were seeing everything for the first time.

What is striking about this whole line of clinical research is the premise that it is not the pharmacological effect of the drug itself but the kind of mental experience it occasions – involving the temporary dissolution of one's ego – that may be the key to changing one's mind.

It is virtually impossible to die from an overdose of LSD or psilocybin (remarkably little toxicity), and neither drug is addictive (animals will not self-administer a psychedelic more than once). But they can create terrifying experiences (most of which turn out to be short-lived panic attacks) and people can be liable to do stupid and dangerous things on them.

Habits are undeniably useful tools, relieving us of the need to run a complex mental operation every time we're confronted with a new task or situation. Yet they also relieve us of the need to stay awake to the world: to attend, feel, think, and then act in a deliberate manner...If you need to be reminded how completely mental habit blinds us to experience, just take a trip to an unfamiliar country. Suddenly you wake up!

Many researchers also focusing on the spiritual effects of psychedelic experiences on healthy normals. Early psilocybin studies show lasting changes to personalities (openness to experience, one of the five traits psychologists use to assess personality) and improvements in well-being.

Two hallmarks of the mystical experience: ineffability and the conviction that some profound objective truth has been disclosed to you. (Noetic quality: the conviction that you have been let in on a deep secret of the universe)

Descriptions of such experiences always sound a little thing. Imagine a caveman transported to Manhattan. Then zap him back to his cave. What does he say? Does he have the vocabulary for planes, skyscraper, cell phone? There are words we need that don't yet exist.

Negative capability: the ability to exist amid uncertainties, mysteries, and doubt without reaching for absolutes (whether science or spirituality) - concept proposed by John Keats.

"Spiritual revival is our best defense against not only soullessness, but against religious fanaticism." -Huston Smith

Somehow, for some reason, these remarkable mushrooms produce, in addition to spores, meanings in human minds.

Mycelia in a forest link the trees in it, root to root, not only supplying them with nutrients, but serving as a medium that conveys information about environmental threats and allows trees to selectively send nutrients to other trees in the forest.

Stoned Ape Theory: Theory that ingestion of psilocybin caused rapid development in the hominid brain for analytical thinking and societal bonding. Epitome of all mycocentric speculation (not really susceptible to proof or disproof, no way to trace consumption). According to Terrence McKenna, Psilocybes gave our hominid ancestors "access to realms of supernatural power," "catalyzed the emergence of human self-reflection," and "brought us out of the animal mind and into the world of articulated speech and imagination."

Why in the world would a fungus go to the trouble of producing a chemical compound that has such a radical effect on the minds of the animals that eat it?

"Nature everywhere speaks to man in a voice that is familiar to his soul." -Alexander von Humboldt

As long as it works, as long as it heals people, why should anyone care? (This is the same discomfort scientists feel about using placebos. It suggests an interesting way to think about psychedelics: as a kind of "active placebo." As Stanislav Grof put it, psychedelics are "nonspecific amplifiers" of mental processes. 

1965, media in full panic mode, urban legends about the perils of LSD spread more rapidly than the facts. Narrative of LSD as a threat took on a life of its own.
-False: LSD could damage chromosomes, cause birth defects
-More people did end up in emergency rooms with paranoia/anxiety attacks, but full-blown psychosis extremely rare unless at risk of schizophrenia. M.D. Andrew Weil saw a lot of bad trips in the 60s, his solution was to tell the patient having an anxiety attack to excuse him as the person in the next room is having a serious problem. They would immediately begin to feel much better

Importance of set and setting: Shamans have understood for millennia that a person in the depths of a trance or under the influence of a powerful plant medicine can be readily manipulated with the help of certain words, special objects, or the right kind of music. Suggestibility of human mind during an altered state can be harnessed as an important resource for healing.

Great lesson of the 1960s experiment with psychedelics: the importance of finding the proper context, or container (steadying set of rituals and rules), for these powerful chemicals and experiences. 

For some people, the privilege of having had a mystical experience tends to massively inflate the ego, convincing them they've been granted sole possession of a key to the universe. This is an excellent recipe for creating a guru. The certitude and condescension for mere mortals that usually come with that key can render these people insufferable.

LSD trip: Ego did not completely dissolve, instead reached pleasantly bizarre mental space between being awake and falling asleep (hypnagogic consciousness). For a few days after, afterglow casted a pleasantly theatrical light over everything, italicizing the ordinary in such a way as to make Pollan feel uncommonly appreciative.

Psilocybin trip: The sovereign ego, with all its armaments and fears, its backward-looking resentments and forward-looking worries, was simply no more, and there was no one left to mourn its passing. Yet something had succeeded it: this bare disembodied awareness, which gazed upon the sense of the self's dissolution with benign indifference.

For me, "spiritual" is a good name for some of the powerful mental phenomena that arise when the voice of the ego is muted or silenced.

The journeys have shown me what the Buddhists try to tell us but I have never really understood: that there is much more to consciousness than the ego, as we would see if it would just shut up...there is a whole world of souls and spirits out there, by which I simply mean subjectivities other than our own...allows us to feel less separate and more connected, "part and particle" of some larger entity. Whether we call that entity Nature, the Mind at Large, or God hardly matters.

Some scientists have raised the possibility that consciousness may pervade the universe, suggesting we think of it the same way we do electromagnetism or gravity, as one of the fundamental building blocks of reality.

The idea that psychedelic drugs might shed some light on the problems of consciousness makes a certain sense. A psychedelic drug is powerful enough to disrupt the system we call normal waking consciousness in ways that may force some of its fundamental properties into view.

"Predictive coding" - model suggests that our perceptions of the world offer us not a literal transcription of reality but rather a seamless illusion woven from both the data of our senses and the models in our memories.
-If you were able to experience another person's mental state, it would probably feel more like a psychedelic state than a 'normal state' because of its massive disparity with whatever mental state is habitual with you.

When the brain operates on psilocybin, thousands of new connections form, linking far-flung brain regions that during normal waking consciousness don't exchange much information...The brain appears to become less specialized and more globally interconnected, with considerably more intercourse, or "cross talk," among its various neighborhoods.

Even a temporary rewiring of the brain is potentially valuable, especially for people suffering from disorders characterized by mental rigidity. A high-dose psychedelic experience has the power to shake the snow globe, disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility–entropy–in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly resettles.

Entropy is often associated with expansion–as in the expansion of a gas when it is heated or freed from the constraints of a container. It becomes harder to predict the location of any given one; the uncertainty of the system thus increases.

Alison Gopnik on similarities between the phenomenology of the LSD experience and her understanding of the consciousness of children: hotter searches, diffused attention, more mental noise (entropy), magical thinking, and little sense of a self that is continuous over time. 

Psychedelic therapy - operating on a frontier between spirituality and science that is as provocative as it is uncomfortable.

Existential distress, few tools available to address this, especially common in those confronting a terminal diagnosis. Obsessive self-reflection and an inability to jump the deepening grooves of negative thinking.

"A high-dose psychedelic experience is death practice. You're losing everything you know to be real, letting go of your ego and your body, and that process can feel like dying." -Katherine MacLean

Results of Johns Hopkins and NYU psilocybin cancer studies:
-80% of cancer patients showed reduced anxiety and depression that lasted for at least 6 months after session
-80 patient study (must be repeated on larger scale)

Key themes of psilocybin experience/trials:
-Powerful feelings of connection to loved ones
-Shift from feelings of separateness to interconnectedness
-Powerful emotions - joy, bliss, love
-Egolytic effect - ability to silence or muffle the voice of the ego
-Achieve a new distance on their lives, a vantage from which matters that had once seemed daunting now seemed smaller and more manageable, including their addictions.

Psilocybin studies with addiction (smokers):
-Six months after, 80% were abstinent
-12 months after, 67% were abstinent (much better rate of success than the best treatment currently available)
-Simplicity of feedback: "Smoking became irrelevant, so I stopped." "The universe was so great and there were so many things you could do and see in it that killing yourself seemed like a dumb idea."

"Duh moments" - Under the influence of psilocybin, "insights become more compelling, stickier, and harder to avoid thinking about. Deprive people of the luxury of mindlessness." -Matt Johnson

Countless people have taken psilocybin and continued to smoke. If it does happen, it's because breaking the habit is the avowed intention of the session.

"Psychedelic therapy" is not simply treatment with a psychedelic drug but rather a form of "psychedelic-assisted therapy," as many of the researchers take pains to emphasize.

Dying, depression, obsession, eating disorders–all are exacerbated by the tyranny of an ego and the fixed narratives it constructs about our relationship to the world.

Rat study with drug addiction:
-Well-known study that rats will quickly addict themselves to drugs, in preference to food.
-Less-known aspect is that if the cage is enriched with opportunities for play, interaction with other rats, and exposure to nature, the same rats will ignore the drugs and never become addicted.
-Lends support to the idea that propensity to addiction might have less to do with genes or chemistry than with one's personal history and environment. "Do you see the world as a prison or a playground?"

Peter Hendricks: "Awe promotes a sense of the 'small self' that directs our attention away from the individual to the group and the greater good." An experience of awe appears to be an excellent antidote for egotism. "We now have a pharmacological intervention that can occasion truly profound experiences of awe" (awe in a pill).

Psilocybin studies with depression:
-After 1 week, 8/12 were depression-free
-After 3 months, 7/12 still showed significant benefits
-After 1 year, 6/20 remained in remission
-More than half eventually saw clouds of depression return, so not necessarily a one-time intervention. 

Mendel Kaelen, a Dutch postdoc in the Imperial lab, snow metaphor:
"Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficult to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction. Think of psychedelics as temporarily flattening the snow. The deeply worn trails disappear, and suddenly the sled can go in other directions, exploring new landscapes and, literally, creating new pathways."

A happy brain is a supple and flexible brain...depression, anxiety, obsession, and the cravings of addiction are how it feels to have a brain that has become excessively rigid or fixed in its pathways and linkages–a brain with more order than is good for it.

Mental time travel is constantly taking us off the frontier of the present moment. This can be highly adaptive; it allows us to learn from the past and plan for the future. But when time travel turns obsessive, it fosters the backward-looking gaze of depression and the forward pitch of anxiety.

For me, the psychedelic experience opened up...a space where you can entertain all sorts of thoughts and scenarios without reaching for any kind of resolution...occasionally I have emerged from the state with usable ideas, images, or metaphors.

I still tend to think that consciousness must be confined to brains, but I am less certain of this belief now than I was before I embarked on this journey. Maybe it too has slipped out from between the bars of that cage.

The Inner Game of Tennis – W. Timothy Gallwey

The Inner Game of Tennis

The Inner Game of Tennis – by W. Timothy Gallwey
Date read: 5/1/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

I'm usually skeptical of anything that remotely resembles using sports as a metaphor for life, but this a tremendous read. It's less a book about tennis (although there are a few sections) and more about the art of relaxed concentration. It's a simple but profound concept that suggests the secret to performing your best is in developing a quiet confidence, and most importantly, not trying too hard. Gallwey draws a line between Self 1–the conscious teller, and Self 2–the doer. He advocates developing greater trust in Self 2, which helps to cultivate effortless concentration (flow), instead of a more tense, overly controlled approach which creates an unnecessary obstacle. Gallwey also offers an insightful perspective as he digs deeper into concepts including judgement, awareness, ego, and mindfulness, which adds another dimension to the book. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

The inner game: This is the game that takes place in the mind of the player, and it is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt and self-condemnation.

The player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills; he discovers a true basis for self-confidence; and he learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard. He aims at the kind of spontaneous performance which occurs only when the mind is calm and seems at once with the body, which finds its own surprising ways to surpass its own limits again and again.

The concentrated mind has no room for thinking how well the body is doing, much less the how-to's of the doing.

The skill of mastering the art of effortless concentration is invaluable in whatever you set your mind to. 

Self 1 – the conscious teller (does not trust self 2)
Self 2 – the doer, natural capabilities

It is the constant "thinking" activity of Self 1, the ego-mind, which causes the interference with the natural capabilities of Self 2. Harmony between the two selves exists when the mind is quiet and focused.

Effortlessly alert – cat stalking a bird, effortlessly alert, gathering his relaxed muscle for the spring.

Judgments are our personal, ego reactions to the sights, sounds, feelings and thoughts within our experience....it is the initial act of judgment which provokes a thinking process.

In its process of developing, our tennis game gains a great deal from errors.
Bottom line: there is no substitute for learning from experience.

*Student/teacher reciprocal relationship: I had learned and he had learned, but there was no one there to take credit.

Ending judgment means you neither add nor subtract from the facts before your eyes. Things appear as they are–undistorted. In this way, the mind becomes more calm. 

Acknowledgment of and respect for one's capabilities support trust in Self 2 (*and self-confidence). Self 1's judgments, on the other hand, attempt to manipulate and undermine that trust.

Native language of Self 2 is not words, but imagery. Avoid how-to instructions.

It is as if we would like to think of ourselves more as an obedient computer than as a human being. As a consequence, we are apt to lose access to the direct pathway to the muscle memory that carries a more complete knowledge of the desired action.

In short, there is no need to fight old habits. Start new ones. It is the resisting of an old habit that puts you in that trench. Starting a new pattern is easy when done with childlike disregard for imagined difficulties. 

Awareness of what is, without judgment, is relaxing, and is the best precondition for change.

Relaxation happens only when it is allowed, not as a result of "trying" or "making."

As one achieves focus, the mind quiets. As the mind is kept in the present, it becomes calm. Focus means keeping the mind now and here. Relaxed concentration is the supreme art because no art can be achieved without it.

The most effective way to deepen concentration through sight is to focus on something subtle...notice the exact pattern made by its seams as it spins. *Effortless and relaxed, not tense and overly controlled.

When the mind is fastened to the rhythm of breathing, it tends to become absorbed and calm. Whether on or off the court.

It is perplexing to wonder why we ever leave the here and now. Here and now are the only place and time when one ever enjoys himself or accomplishes anything. Most of our suffering takes place when we allow our minds to imagine the future or mull over the past. Nonetheless, few people are ever satisfied with what is before them at the moment.

The need to prove yourself is based on insecurity and self-doubt. Only to the extent that one is unsure about who and what he is does he need to prove himself to himself or to others.

It is only against the big waves that he is required to use all his skill, all his courage and concentration to overcome; only then can he realize the true limits of his capacities.

Stability grows as I learn to accept what I cannot control and take control of what I can.
 

Enlightenment Now – Steven Pinker

Enlightenment Now – by Steven Pinker
Date read: 4/28/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

As the title suggests, Pinker makes the argument for reason, science, humanism and progress–the four themes that tie together thinkers of the enlightenment. He focuses on all the ways the world is improving, stating the case for optimism in a similar vein as The Rational Optimist (Matt Ridley) and The Moral Arc (Michael Shermer). It's a refreshing dose of perspective in a world that seems increasingly convinced that the end is near. Using statistics to back his position, Pinker tackles a range of subjects including inequality, political ideology, wealth, happiness, morality, and religion, to name a few. All this is not to suggest that progress is utopia, we should always strive to improve, but we should also appreciate how far we've come. The only drawback to the book is its density, which makes its ideas less accessible than I had hoped.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

As a sentient being, you have the potential to flourish. You can refine your faculty of reason itself by learning and debating. You can seek explanations of the natural world through science, and insight into the human condition through the arts and humanities. You can make the most of your capacity for pleasure and satisfaction, which allowed your ancestors to thrive and thereby allowed you to exist. You can appreciate the beauty and richness of the natural and cultural world.

Obliviousness to the scope of human progress can lead to symptoms that are worse than existential angst. *Cynicism that institutions of modernity have failed and every aspect of life is in a deepening crisis turns us toward atavistic alternatives.

"Optimism is the theory that all failures–all evils–are due to insufficient knowledge." -David Deutsch

Thinkers of the enlightenment sought a new understanding of the human. Four themes tie them together: reason, science, humanism, and progress.

"If triangles had a god they would give him three sides." -Montesquieu

[Enlightement] was an escape not just from ignorance but from terror. The sociologist Robert Scott notes that in the Middle Ages "the belief that an external force controlled daily life contributed to a kind of collective paranoia."

The invention of farming around ten thousand years ago multiplied the availability of calories from cultivated plants and domesticated animals, freed a portion of the population from the demands of hunting and gathering, and eventually gave them the luxury of writing, thinking, and accumulating their ideas.

Axial Age: Around 500 BCE, several widely separated cultures pivoted from systems of ritual and sacrifice that merely warded off misfortune to systems of philosophical and religious belief...It was not an aura of spirituality that descended on the planet but something more prosaic: energy capture. *Agricultural and economic advances provided more calories per person and shifted focus from short-term survival to long-term harmony. 

To take something on faith means to believe it without good reason, so by definition a faith in the existence of supernatural entities clashes with reason.

Political ideology undermines reason and science. It scrambles people's judgment, inflames a primitive tribal mindset, and distracts them from a sounder understanding of how to improve the world.

Availability heuristic: people estimate the probability of an event or the frequency of a kind of thing by the ease with which instances come to mind. *Why news distorts people's view of the world.

Two other illusions mislead us into thinking that things ain't what they used to be: we mistake the growing burdens of maturity and parenthood for a less innocent world, and we mistake a decline in our own faculties for a decline in the times. As the columnist Franklin Pierce Adams pointed out, "Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory."

*American journalism defines "serious news" as "what's going wrong" which has led millions to quit believing in incremental system change and instead seek revolutionary, smash-the-machine change.

In the mid-18th century, life expectancy in Europe and the Americas was around 35, where it had been parked for the 225 previous years...By 1950, it had grown to around 60 in Europe and the Americas.

For an American woman, being pregnant a century ago was almost as dangerous as having breast cancer today.

For most of human history, the strongest force of death was infectious disease...but starting in the late 18th century with the invention of vaccination and accelerating in the 19th with the acceptance of germ theory of disease, the tide of the battle began to turn. Handwashing, midwifery, mosquito control, and especially the protection of drinking water by public sewerage and chlorinated tap water would come to save billions of lives.

"We are led to forget the dominating misery of other times in part by the grace of literature, poetry, romance, and legend, which celebrate those who lived well and forget those who lived in the silence of poverty. The eras of misery have been mythologized and may even be remembered as golden ages of pastoral simplicity. They were not." -Nathan Rosenberg

In two hundred years the rate of extreme poverty in the world has tanked from 90 percent to 10, with almost half that decline occurring in the last thirty-five years.

National income correlates with every indicator of human flourishing...*longevity, health, nutrition, peace, freedom, human rights, and tolerance.

Not surprisingly, as countries get richer they get happier; more surprisingly, as countries get richer they get smarter.

"From the point of view of morality, it is not important everyone should have the same. What is morally important is that each should have enough." -Harry Frankfurt

The confusion of inequality with poverty comes straight out of the lump fallacy–the mindset in which wealth is a finite resource...which has to be divided up in zero-sum fashion. [But] since the Industrial Revolution, it has expanded exponentially. That means when the rich get richer, the poor can get richer too.

In 2011, more than 95 percent of American households below the poverty line had electricity, running water, flush toilets, a refrigerator, a stove, and a color TV. (A century and a half before, the Rothschilds, Astors, and Vanderbilts had none of these things.) *50% had a dishwasher, 60% computer, 66% washing machine, 80% air conditioner and cell phone.

Inequality is not the same as poverty, and it is not a fundamental dimension of human flourishing. In comparisons of well-being across countries, it pales in importance next to overall wealth.

In some ways the world has become less equal, but in more ways the world's people have become better off.

Ecomodernism:
-Some degree of pollution is an inescapable consequence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. When people use energy...they must increase entropy somewhere in the environment in the form of waste, pollution, and other forms of disorder.
-Industrialization has been good for humanity. It has fed billions, doubled life spans, slashed extreme poverty.
-The tradeoff that pits human well-being against environmental damage can be renegotiated by technology. 

Dematerialization: Progress in technology allows us to do more with less...forty consumer products replaced by a single smartphone...the sharing economy.

Half of the world's homicides are committed in just twenty-three countries containing about a tenth of humanity, and a quarter are committed in just four: Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela...The lopsidedness continues down the fractal scale. Within a country, most of the homicides cluster in a few cities...Within cities, the homicides cluster in a few neighborhoods; within neighborhoods, they cluster in a few blocks; and within blocks, many are carried out by a few individuals. 

Horse-drawn era: The engine of city mayhem was the horse....hose-associated fatality rate was ten times the car-associated rate of modern times.

As indefensible or unworkable ideas fall by the wayside, they are removed from the pool of thinkable options, the political fringe is dragged forward despite itself. That's why even in the most regressive political movement in recent American history there were no calls for reinstating Jim Crow laws, ending women's suffrage, or recriminalizing homosexuality. 

Although the world remains highly unequal, every region has been improving, and the worst-off parts of the world are better off than the best-off parts not long ago.

"The entire concept of retirement is unique to the last five decades. It wasn't long ago that the average American man had two stages of life: work and death...Think of it this way: The average American now retires at age 62. One hundred years ago, the average American died at age 51." -Morgan Housel

Mindless consumerism? Not when you remember that food, clothing, and shelter are the three necessities of life, that entropy degrades all three, and that the time it takes to keep them usable is time that could be devoted to other pursuits. 
*Housework fell almost fourfold from 58 hours a week in 1900 to 15.5 hours in 2011. Laundry alone fell from 11.5 hours in 1920 to 1.5 in 2015.

In 1929 Americans spent more than 60 percent of their disposable income on necessities; by 2016 that had fallen to a third.

Happiness is the output of an ancient biological feedback system that tracks our progress in pursuing auspicious signs of fitness in a natural environment. We are happier, in general, when we are healthy, comfortable, safe, provisioned, socially connected, sexual, and loved.

Goal of progress cannot be to increase happiness indefinitely...but there is plenty of unhappiness that can be reduced, and no limit as to how meaningful our lives can become. 

We now know that richer people within a country are happier, that richer countries are happier, and that people get happier as their countries get richer. 
*But none of us are as happy as we ought to be, given how amazing our world has become.

Not every problem is a crisis, a plague, or an epidemic, and among the things that happen in the world is that people solve the problems confronting them.

[AI] advances have not come from a better understanding of the workings of intelligence but from the brute-force power of faster chips and bigger data, which allow the programs to be trained on millions of examples and generalize to similar new ones. 

Progress it not utopia...there is room–indeed, an imperative–for us to continue that progress.

"We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all before us, and with just as much apparent reason...On what principle is it, that when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?" -Thomas Macaulay, 1830

Populism comes in left-wing and right-wing varieties, which share a folk theory of economics as a zero-sum competition: between economic classes in the case of the left, between nations or ethnic groups in the case of the right. Problems are seen not as challenges that are inevitable in an indifferent universe but as the malevolent designs of insidious elites, minorities, or foreigners. 

Education instills a respect for vetted fact and reasoned argument, and so inoculates people against conspiracy theories, reasoning by anecdotes, and emotional demagoguery. 

We are a cognitive species that depends on explanations of the world. Since the world is the way it is regardless of what people believe about it, there is a strong selection pressure for an ability to develop explanations that are true. Reasoning thus has deep evolutionary roots. 

Certain beliefs (i.e. climate change) become symbols of cultural allegiance. People affirm or deny these beliefs to express not what they know but who they are. We all identify with particular tribes or subcultures...make an enormous difference to the respect the person commands in his or her social circle.

Engagement with politics is like sports fandom in another way: people seek and consume news to enhance the fan experience, not to make their opinions more accurate.

A challenge of our era is how to foster intellectual and political culture that is driven by reason rather than tribalism and mutual reaction.

Philosophy grows out of the recognition that clarity and logic don't come easily to us and that we're better off when our thinking is refined and deepened. The arts are one of the things that make life worth living, enriching human experience with beauty and insight.

Historical scholarship has amply demonstrated that holy scriptures are all-too-human products of their historical eras, including internal contradictions, factual errors, plagiarism from neighboring civilizations, and scientific absurdities.

Today, of course, enlightened believers cherry-pick the humane injunctions while allegorizing, spin-doctoring, or ignoring the vicious ones, and that's just the point: they read the Bible through the lens of Enlightenment humanism.

Atheism is not a moral system. It's just the absence of a supernatural belief, like an unwillingness to believe in Zeus or Vishnu. The moral alternative to theism is humanism.

People are vulnerable to cognitive illusions that lead to supernatural beliefs, and they certainly need to belong to a community.

The problem begins with the fact that many of the precepts of Islamic doctrine, taken literally, are floridly antihumanistic...Of course many of the passages in the Bible are floridly antihumanistic too. One needn't debate which is worse; what matters is how literally the adherents take them.

The stranglehold of the Islamic religion over governmental institutions and civil society in Muslim countries has impeded their economic, political, and social progress.

Islam is not a race...Religions are just ideas and don't have rights. Criticizing the ideas of Islam is no more bigoted than criticizing the ideas of neoliberalism or the Republican Party platform.

Remember your math: an anecdote is not a trend. Remember your history: the fact that something is bad today doesn't mean it was better in the past. Remember your philosophy: one cannot reason that there's no such thing as reason, or that something is true or good because God said it is. And remember your psychology: much of what we know isn't so, especially when our comrades know it too.

Keep some perspective. Not every problem is a Crisis, Plague, Epidemic, or Existential Threat, and not every change is the End of this, the Death of That, or the Dawn of a Post-Something Era. 

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

The War of Art – by Steven Pressfield
Date read: 4/15/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Worth the investment for any creative. It's a short read and a manifesto that many hold dear. Pressfield cuts through excuses which embody what he defines as Resistance. He offers blunt advice to eliminate distractions and get on with the work you should be doing. The only thing that matters is sitting down and putting in the effort, every single day. The more you're able to remove your ego from that equation, the less interference there will be. We've all struggled with Resistance in some form–procrastination, fear, low self-confidence, rationalization. The War of Art is a call to overcome that and move yourself into a higher sphere by dedicating uninterrupted time to your craft. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

A writer writes with his genius; an artist paints with hers; everyone who creates operates from this sacramental center.

How many of us have become drunks and drug addicts, developed tumors and neuroses, succumbed to painkillers, gossip, and compulsive cell-phone use, simply because we don't do the thing that our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to?

Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity...will elicit Resistance.

The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

Fear doesn't go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.

Resistance obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher.

The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight.

Anything that draws attention to ourselves through pain-free or artificial means is a manifestation of Resistance. 

A victim act is a form of passive aggression. It seeks to achieve gratification not by honest work or a contribution out of one's experience or insight or love, but by the manipulation of others through silent (and not-so-silent) threat.

The artist is grounded in freedom. He is not afraid of it. He is lucky. He was born in the right place...The fundamentalist cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past. 

The truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery.

If you find yourself criticizing other people, you're probably doing it out of Resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own.

The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

The professional takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself...the professional turns down roles that he's done before. He's not afraid of them anymore. Why waste his time?

Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They're the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.

Rationalization keeps us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work.

The professional steels himself at the start of a project, reminding himself it is the Iditarod, not the sixty-yard dash. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul. 

A pro views her work as craft, not art.

Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all compromise the ground over which the campaign must be waged. The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.

The professional is prepared at a deeper level...His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily and steadily as he can.

The ancient Spartans schooled themselves to regard the enemy, any enemy, as nameless and faceless. In other words, they believed that if they did their work, no force on earth could stand against them.

The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.

What I call Professionalism someone else might call the Artist's Code or the Warrior's Way. It's an attitude of egolessness and service.

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now." -Goethe

Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.

An individual who defines himself by his place in a pecking order will:
-Seek to elevate his station by advancing against those above him
-Evaluate his happiness/success/achievement by his rank within the hierarchy
-Act towards others based upon their rank in the hierarchy

Qualities of a territory:
-A territory provides sustenance
-A territory can only be claimed alone
-A territory can only be claimed by work
-A territory returns exactly what you put in

When – Daniel H. Pink

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing – by Daniel H. Pink
Date read: 4/11/18. Recommendation: 6/10.

Easy read with a few interesting takeaways regarding the science of timing. You'll get most of the value this book has to offer within the first 50 pages. Pink details how everyone experiences the day in three stages–a peak, trough, and rebound (not necessarily in that order). Each has a unique impact on our cognitive abilities. The key is to develop a greater awareness of when we should perform certain tasks by identifying our own personal chronotype – individual biological clock that affects performance and mood. Anyone who's dialed in to their own mental and physical abilities has likely built a natural awareness and routine around this, but it's always worth the reminder.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

All of us experience the day in three stages–a peak, a trough, and a rebound. And about three-quarters of us (larks and third birds) experience it in that order.

Emotional balance (happiness, warmth towards others, enjoyment) rises in the morning, dips in the afternoon, and rises again in the evening.

Juror Experiment: Mental keenness, as shown by rationally evaluating evidence, was greater earlier in the day. And mental squishiness, as evidenced by resorting to stereotypes, increased as the day wore on.

3 key findings from studies on the effect of time of day on brain power:
-Cognitive abilities do not remain static over the course of a day.
-Daily fluctuations are more extreme than we realize (daily low point can be equivalent to the effect of drinking legal limit).
-How we do depends on what we're doing (best time to perform a particular task depends on the nature of that task).

When we wake up, our body temperature slowly rises. That rising temperature gradually boosts our energy level and alertness–and that, in turn, enhances our executive functioning, our ability to concentrate, and our powers of deduction. For most of us, those sharp-minded analytic capacities peak in the late morning or around noon. 

Danish standardized tests:
-Four years of results for two million schoolchildren showed a direct correlation between hours tests were administered and performance. Each hour later in the day, scores fell a little more. Students scored much higher in mornings.

Human beings don't all experience a day in precisely the same way. Each of us has a "chronotype" – a personal pattern of circadian rhythms that influences our physiology and psychology. 

Larks (early risers) = 14% of population.
Third birds = 65% of population.
Owls (late risers) = 21% of population.

Chronotypes are influenced by multiple factors:
-Genetics accounts for at least half of the variability...larks and owls are born, not made.
-Age also plays an important factor...young children are generally larks, puberty transitions to owls, return to lark as grow older.

Biological clocks affect our performance, mood, and wakefulness. 

Corporate, government, and education cultures are configured for the 75 or 80 percent of people who are larks or third birds.

Figure out your chronotype, understand your task, and then select the appropriate time.

Whatever you do, do not let mundane tasks creep into your peak period.
*If you're a lark or a third bird and happen to have a free hour in the morning, don't fritter it away on email. Spend those sixty minutes doing your most important work.

Wait to drink that first cup of coffee an hour or ninety minutes after waking up, once our cortisol production has peaked and the caffeine can do its magic. If you're looking for an afternoon boost, head to the coffee shop between about 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., when cortisol levels dip again.

Typical worker reaches the most unproductive moment of the day at 2:55 p.m.

Judges were more likely to issue a favorable ruling in the morning (65%) than the afternoon (almost zero). But also after they took short breaks.

Breaks: Short breaks are effective and deliver considerable bang for their limited buck...Regular short walking breaks in the workplace also increase motivation and concentration and enhance creativity...Tech-free breaks increase vigor and reduce emotional exhaustion.

Beginnings
Long-term negative impact of graduating from college in a bad year often took the unlucky graduates two decades to catch up to the lucky ones who graduated in robust times. Total cost, in inflation-adjusted terms, of graduating in a bad year rather than a good year averaged about $100,000.
*Negative impact on students who graduated during 2010 and 2011 was double. Those who begin careers during such weak market may see permanent negative effects on their wages. 

"When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood." -Margaret Atwood

Midpoints
Wellbeing seems to slump in midlife. Why does this midpoint deflate us?
-Disappointment of unrealized expectations
-Learn that we're lousy forecasters, in youth our expectations are too high.
-Biological? See same trends in apes.

"Punctuated equilibrium" – evolution's path wasn't a smooth upward climb. The true trajectory was less linear: periods of dull stability punctuated by swift explosions of change.

Analysis of 18,000 NBA games and 46,000 NCAA games over fifteen years showed teams that were ahead at halftime won more games than teams that were behind. However, the only exception to this rule was that teams that were behind by just one at halftime were more likely to win. Being down one was more advantageous than being up one (encouraged team behind to exert more effort). 

Endings
Every Pixar movie has its protagonist achieving the goal he wants only to realize it is not what the protagonist needs. Such emotional complexity turns out to be central to the most elevated endings. 

One reason we overlook poignancy is that it operates by an upside-down form of emotional physics. Adding a small component of sadness to an otherwise happy moment elevates that moment rather than diminishes it. 

The best endings don't leave us happy. Instead, they produce something richer–a small rush of unexpected insight, a fleeting moment of transcendence, the possibility that by discarding what we wanted we've gotten what we need. 

Nostalgia, research shows, can foster positive mood, protect against anxiety and stress, and boost creativity.

Like poignancy, nostalgia is a "bittersweet but predominantly positive and fundamentally social emotion." Thinking in the past tense offers a "window into the intrinsic self," a portal to who we really are. It makes the present meaningful.

Writing is an act of discovering what you think and what you believe.

I used to believe in ignoring the waves of the day. Now I believe in surfing them.

Quiet – Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking – by Susan Cain
Date read: 3/27/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Quiet is a bible for introverts. Cain struck a chord with a massive, often overlooked audience, with an insightful look into the place of introversion in our culture that has come to hold extroversion as the highest ideal. But it's an important book for introverts and extroverts alike. For introverts, it offers a resource and the reassurance to be authentic, put yourself in the right lighting, and use your natural strengths. Cain also digs into concepts like restorative niches, soft power, self-monitoring, and deliberate practice–all familiar concepts to introverts. She also gets a bit more granular and discusses the difference between temperament and personality, nature vs. nurture, and the evolutionary benefits to each personality type. As Quiet suggests, the goal is to identify your own preferences along the spectrum introversion/extroversion so you can spend more time in your sweet spot and get the most out of your life. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

Some of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions–from the theory of evolution to van Gogh's sunflowers to the personal computer–came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there.

I have seen firsthand how difficult it is for introverts to take stock of their own talents, and how powerful it is when finally they do.

Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don't socialize enough.

Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration...They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation...Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.

Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. 

On extroversion becoming the cultural ideal in the past century:
How did we go from Character to Personality without realizing that we had sacrificed something meaningful along the way?

In the United States, Don [Chinese American] feels conversation is about how effective you are at turning your experiences into stories, whereas a Chinese person might be concerned with taking up too much of the other person's time with inconsequential information.

We perceive talkers as smarter than quiet types–even though grade-point averages and SAT and intelligence scores reveal this perception to be inaccurate.

We don't need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run.

Introverts as leaders:
Introverts are uniquely good at leading initiative-takers. Because of their lack of inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions....Introverted leaders create a virtuous circle of proactivity. Team members perceive introverted leaders as more open and receptive to their ideas, which motivated them to work harder.

"I am a horse for a single harness, not cut out for tandem or teamwork...for well I know that in order to attain any definite goal, it is imperative that one person do the thinking and the commanding." -Albert Einstein

Introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation. Solitude is key to creativity for introverts (and the most creative people are typically introverts).

While extroverts tend to attain leadership in public domains, introverts tend to attain leadership in theoretical and aesthetic fields.

Deliberate Practice:
It's only when you're alone (as proven by top students and elite athletes) that you can engage in Deliberate Practice, the key to exceptional achievement. When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly.

Deliberate Practice is best conducted alone because it requires intense concentration, deep motivation (often self-generated), and involves working on the task that's most challenging to you personally. 

"You once said that you would like to sit beside me while I write. Listen, in that case I could not write at all. For writing means revealing oneself to excess; that utmost of self-revelation and surrender, in which a human being, when involved with others, would feel he was losing himself, and from which, therefore, he will always shrink as long as he is in his right mind...That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes, why there can never be enough silence around when one writes, why even night is not enough." -Kafka

Temperament refers to inborn, biologically based behavioral and emotional patterns that are observable in infancy and early childhood; personality is the complex brew that emerges after cultural influence and personal experience are thrown into the mix.

I'm prone to wild flights of self-doubt, but I also have a deep well of courage in my own convictions. I feel horribly uncomfortable on my first day in a foreign city, but I love to travel.

"Many high-reactives become writers or pick other intellectual vocations where 'you're in charge: you close the door, pull down the shades and do your work. You're protected from encountering unexpected things." -Jerome Kagan

The heritability statistics derived from twin studies show that introversion-extroversion is only 40 to 50 percent heritable. This means that, in a group of people, on average half of the variability in introversion-extroversion is caused by genetic factors.

The parents of high-reactive children are exceedingly lucky, Jay Belsky told me. "The time and effort they invest will actually make a difference. Instead of seeing these kids as vulnerable to adversity, parents should see them as mealleable–for worse, but also for better." Ideal parent: "Someone who can read your cues and respect your individuality; is warm and firm in placing demands on you without being harsh or hostile; promotes curiosity, academic achievement, delayed gratification, and self-control; and is not harsh, neglectful, or inconsistent."

Rubber band theory of personality: We are like rubber bands at rest. We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much.

Over-arousal doesn't produce anxiety so much as the sense that you can't think straight–that you've had enough and would like to go home now. Under-arousal is something like cabin fever. Not enough is happening: you feel itchy, restless, and sluggish, like you need to get out of the house already.

Once you understand introversion and extroversion as preferences for certain levels of stimulation, you can begin consciously trying to situate yourself in environments favorable to your own personality–neither overstimulating nor understimulating, neither boring nor anxiety making. You can organize your life in terms of what personality psychologists call "optimal levels of arousal" and what I call "sweet spots," and by doing so feel more energetic and alive than before.

"There is no single best [animal] personality, but rather a diversity of personalities maintained by natural selection." -David Sloan Wilson

Scientists have found that nomads who inherited the form of a particular gene linked to extroversion (specifically, to novelty-seeking) are better nourished than those without this version of the gene. But in settled populations, people with this same gene form have poorer nutrition.

"Extroversion consists in a high rate of fertility, with low powers of defense and short duration of life for the single individual; the other [introversion] consists in equipping the individual with numerous means of self-preservation plus a low fertility rate." -Carl Jung

Introverts also seem to be better than extroverts at delaying gratification, a crucial life skill associated with everything from higher SAT scores and income to lower body mass index.

Introverts are "geared to inspect" and extroverts "geared to respond."

If genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, then as a culture we tend to lionize the one percent. We love its flash and dazzle. But great power lies in the other ninety-nine percent.

"It's not that I'm so smart. It's that I stay with problems longer." -Einstein

We tend to overvalue buzz and discount the risks of reward-sensitivity: we need to find balance between action and reflection.

The key to flow is to pursue an activity for its own sake, not for the rewards it brings.

Flow often occurs in conditions in which people "become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself." -Csikszentmihalyi

"Success in investing doesn't correlate with IQ. Once you have the ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble in investing." -Warren Buffett

Though Eastern relationship-honoring is admirable and beautiful, so is Western respect for individual freedom, self-expression, and personal identity. The point is not that one is superior to the other, but that a profound difference in cultural values has a powerful impact on the personality styles favored by each culture.

"Soft power" – Leadership by water rather than by fire.

"Soft power is quiet persistence. The people I'm thinking of are very persistent in their day-to-day, person-to-person interactions. Eventually they build up a team." -Preston Ni

Free Trait Theory: fixed traits and free traits coexist. We are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits–introversion, for example–but we can and do act out of character in the service of "core personal projects."

Self-monitoring: Introverts who were especially good at acting like extroverts tended to score high for a trait that psychologists call "self-monitoring." Self-monitors are highly skilled at modifying their behavior to the social demands of a situation.

The highest self-monitors not only tend to be good at producing the desired effect and emotion in a given social situation–they also experience less stress while doing so. 

Three key steps to identifying your own core personal projects:
1) Think back to what you loved to do when you were a child. The specific answer you gave may have been off the mark, but the underlying impulse was not. 
2) Pay attention to the work you gravitate to.
3) Pay attention to what you envy. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, but it tells the truth.

"Restorative niche" – The place you go when you want to return to your true self.

Understanding introversion changes one's parenting style. The key is to expose your child gradually to new situations and people–taking care to respect his limits, even when they seem extreme. This produces more-confident kids than either overprotection or pushing too hard.

The school environment can be highly unnatural, especially from the perspective of an introverted child who loves to work intensely on projects he cares about, and hang out with one or two friends at a time...Worst of all, there's little time to think or create. The structure of the day is almost guaranteed to sap his energy rather than stimulate it.

People flourish when, in the words of psychologist Brian Little, they're "engaged in occupations, roles or settings that are concordant with their personalities."

The way we characterize our past setbacks profoundly influences how satisfied we are with our current lives.

Those who live the most fully realized lives–giving back to their families, societies, and ultimately themselves–tend to find meaning in their obstacle. 

Where we stumble is where our treasure lies.

"Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discourage the inner journey, the quest for a center. So we lost our center and have to find it again." -Anais Nin

Love is essential; gregariousness is optional. Cherish your nearest and dearest. Work with colleagues you like and respect. 

The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting...Use your natural powers–of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity–to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply.

Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you're supposed to...Read. Cook. Run. Write a story. Make a deal with yourself that you'll attend a set number of social events in exchange for not feeling guilty when you beg off.

Don't mistake assertiveness or eloquence for good ideas. If you have a proactive work force, remember that they may perform better under an introverted leader than under an extroverted or charismatic one.

Introverts are offered keys to private gardens full of riches. To possess such a key it to tumble like Alice down her rabbit hole. She didn't choose to go to Wonderland–but she made of it an adventure that was fresh and fantastic and very much her own.

How Google Works – Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg

How Google Works – by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg
Date read: 3/11/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

Fascinating read and tremendous resource for anyone working in a startup and/or the tech industry. How Google Works offers an insightful look into all the elements that have contributed to Google's success in recent years, as well as the initiatives that have come up short. The core tenets of the book emphasize the importance of creating great products, attracting smart creatives, and cultivating an environment where you can succeed at scale. Many of these contradict the way massive corporations work–Google values user experience over revenue, transparency at all levels, less ego, more freedom, fewer meetings, and smaller teams, to name a few. As a side note, make sure you grab the latest edition of this book, as it contains an interesting addition that discusses how Alphabet (Google's parent company) works.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

The core principle: The only way to succeed in business in the twenty-first century is to continually create great products, and the only way to do that is to attract smart creatives and put them in an environment where they can succeed at scale.

But a start-up, or any venture that is trying to do something big and new, favors the chaos. Start-ups don't run on process, they run on ideas, passion, and a common set of goals. They don't wait for the meeting to make decisions.

The best products are still the ones that are based on technical insights, those unique ideas that apply one or more technologies in a new way to solve big problems.

We have long felt that the start-up model, with small, autonomous teams located in one office led by passionate founders, is the most effective way to achieve remarkable new things (or fail quickly in the effort).

Business leaders should be constantly asking themselves the question, What could be true in five years?

Hire as many talented software engineers as possible, and give them freedom.

"In the old world, you devoted 30 percent of your time to building a great service and 70 percent of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts." -Jeff Bezos

Since the industrial revolution, operating processes have been biased toward lowering risk and avoiding mistakes. These processes, and the overall management approach from which they were derived, result in environments that stifle smart creatives.

A smart creative has deep technical knowledge in how to use the tools of her trade, and plenty of hands-on experience.

Smart creatives, though, place culture at the top of the list. To be effective, they need to care about the place they work.

In the Internet Century, a product manager's job is to work together with the people who design, engineer, and develop things to make great products.

We invest in our offices because we expect people to work there, not from home. 

The Bezos two-pizza rule: teams should be small enough to be fed by two pizzas.

At the most senior level, the people with the greatest impact–the ones who are running the company–should be product people. 

MBA-style business plans are always flawed in some important way. This is why a venture capitalist will always follow the maxim of investing in the team, not the plan.

So although your plan might change, it needs to be based on a foundational set of principles...The plan is fluid, the foundation is stable.

Google Principles: Bet on technical insights that help solve a big problem in a novel way, optimize for scale, not for revenue, and let great products grow the market for everyone.

A technical insight is a new way of applying technology or design that either drives down the cost or increases the functions and usability of the product by a significant factor. The result is something that is better than the competition in a fundamental way.

Market research can't tell you about solving problems that customers can't conceive are solvable. Giving the customer what he wants is less important than giving him what he doesn't yet know he wants.

The best product had achieved their success based on technical factors, not business ones.

When you base your product strategy on technical insights, you avoid me-too products that simply deliver what customers are asking for. (Henry Ford: "If I had listened to customers, I would have gone looking for faster horses.") That sort of incremental innovation can work very well for incumbents....but for a new venture, it's not enough.

*Never prioritize revenue over growth. Do the opposite. Focus on creating the best user experience.

A workforce of great people not only does great work, it attracts more great people. 

Passionate people don't wear their passion on their sleeves; they have it in their hearts. They live it. (And the truly passionate don't often use the "P-word.")

"Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young." -Henry Ford

Google focuses on hiring "learning animals" who have the smarts to handle massive change and the character to love it.

Favoring specialization over intelligence is exactly wrong, especially in high tech...A smart generalist doesn't have bias, so is free to survey the wide range of solutions and gravitate to find the best one.

Rules of well-run meetings:
-Single decision maker
-Manageable in size (no more than eight people)
-Attendance is not a badge of importance – if you aren't needed, leave, or better yet excuse yourself ahead of time.

Spend 80 percent of your time on 80 percent of your revenue.

"Power comes not from knowledge kept but from knowledge shared." -Bill Gates

In all effective communication, reinforce core themes (At Google: putting users first, thinking big, not being afraid to fail).

Golden rule for management: Make sure you would work for yourself.

When you start a new position, for the first three weeks don't do anything. Listen to people, understand their issues and priorities, get to know and care about them, and earn their trust. So in fact, you are doing something: You are establishing a healthy relationship.

The more inclusive definition–innovation isn't just about the really new, really big things–matters because it affords everyone the opportunity to innovate, rather than keeping it the exclusive realm of those few people in that off-campus building whose job it is to innovate. i.e. Google self-driving cars vs. search engine improvements (core business with over 500 improvements/year).

Google[x] Venn diagram to determine if it will pursue something:
1) The idea has to be something that addresses a big challenge or opportunity
2) They have to have an idea for a solution that is radically different from anything currently in the market.
3) The breakthrough technologies that could bring that radical solution to life have to at least be feasible, and achievable in the not-too-distant future.

"Innovative people do not need to be told to do it, they need to be allowed to do it." -Udi Manber

Innovation has to evolve organically...Along the way, stronger ideas accumulate believers and momentum, and weaker ones fall to the wayside. There is no process by which to implement this evolution; its defining characteristic is its lack of process. think of it as a natural selection for ideas.

UX vs. revenue:
-Google Instant – immediate search results when you start typing. A few weeks before launch, no one had performed a detailed financial analysis. The product was obviously great for the user, so we all knew that launching it was the best business decision.
-Google has launched features that improve UX but hurt revenue a little (Knowledge Graph, side panel for people/places/things).
-Gmail – just concentrate on making it great and worry about revenue later.

Google knows that in the Internet Century user trust is just as important as dollars, euros, pounds, yen, or any other currency. Product excellence is the only way for a company to be consistently successful, so our prime directive when it comes to product strategy is to focus on the user.

There are rarely conflicts between [partners and customers], but when there are, our bias is toward the user. It has to be this way, regardless of your industry. Users are more empowered than ever, and won't tolerate crummy products.

Bigger challenges attract big talent. There is a symbiotic relationship between big challenges and highly smart, skilled people: The challenges get solved and the people get happy.

A good OKR should be a stretch to achieve, and hitting 100 percent on all OKRs should be practically unattainable.

70/20/10: 70 percent of resources dedicated to the core business, 20 percent on emerging, and 10 percent on new.

"If you want to hire great people and have them stay working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions, and you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy. The best ideas have tow in, otherwise good people don't stay." -Steve Jobs

The most valuable result of 20 percent time isn't the products and features that get created, it's the things that people learn when they try something new.

Create a product, ship it, see how it does, design and implement improvements, and push it back out. Ship and iterate. The companies that are the fastest at this process will win...Leadership's job must to feed the winners and starve the losers, regardless of prior investment.

And don't stigmatize the team that failed: Make sure they land good internal jobs. The next innovators will be watching to see if the failed team is punished. Their failure shouldn't be celebrated, but it is a bade of honor of sorts.

Antifragile: Management's job is not to mitigate risks or prevent failures, but to create an environment resilient enough to take on those risks and tolerate inevitable missteps. 

"Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment." -Mulla Nasrudin

Among your stronger employees, how many see themselves at the company in three years? How many would leave for a 10 percent raise at another company?

10% Happier – Dan Harris

10% Happier – by Dan Harris
Date read: 2/27/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

If you're skeptical of meditation and mindfulness, this book was written for you. Harris questions everything and cuts through the inane and fanciful self-help industry–including the likes of Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. Instead, he focuses on practicality and offers a more rational approach. Harris entertains through his personal narrative, while discussing the importance of concepts like impermanence, insecurity, and the power of negative thinking. Each of these elements play a role in cultivating mindfulness–an ability to recognize what's happening in your mind right now without getting carried away by it. For Harris, despite his skepticism, this was the difference in becoming a less stressed, and more secure, collected version of himself.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

I was always hurtling headlong through the day, checking things off my to-do list, constantly picturing completion instead of calmly and carefully enjoying the process.

Some of the only times I could recall being fully present were when I was in a war zone or on drugs.

"Make the present moment your friend rather than your enemy. Because many people live habitually as if the present moment were an obstacle that they need to overcome in order to get to the next moment. And imagine living your whole life like that, where always this moment is never quit right, not good enough because you need to get to the next one. That is a continuous stress." -Eckhart Tolle

I envied Ted [Haggard]–and not in a patronizing, I-wish-I-were-stupid enough-to-believe-this-stuff way...I had read the research showing that regular churchgoers tended to be happier, in part because having a sense that the world is infused with meaning and that suffering happens for a reason helped them deal more successfully with life's inevitable humiliations.

The Buddha's main thesis was that in a world where everything is constantly changing, we suffer because we cling to things that won't last.

Unlike many of the faiths I'd come across as a religion reporter, the Buddha wasn't promising salvation in the form of some death defying dogma, but rather through the embrace of the very stuff that will destroy us. The route to true happiness, he argued, was to achieve a visceral understanding of impermanence, which would take you off the emotional roller coaster and allow you to see your dramas and desires through a wider lens.

Dr. Mark Epstein (psychiatrist and practicing Buddhist) developed an immediate and abiding interest in the dharma, which resonated with him after a lifelong struggle with feelings of emptiness and unreality, and questions about whether he really mattered.

Epstein et al. argued that the only way to tame the monkey mind, to truly glimpse the impermanence and defeat our habitual tendency toward clinging, was to meditate. 

3 instructions to meditation:
1) Sit comfortably
2) Feel the sensations of your breath as it goes in and out
3) Whenever your attention wanders, just forgive yourself and gently come back to the breath.

My [meditation] efforts began to bear fruit...I started to be able to use the breath to jolt myself back to the present moment–in airport security lines, waiting for elevators, you name it. 

The net effect of meditation, plus trying to stay present during my daily life, was striking. It was like anchoring myself to an underground aquifer of calm. 

Mindfulness is the ability to recognize what is happening in your mind right now without getting carried away by it.

I spent so much time, as one Buddhist writer put it, "drifting unaware on a surge of habitual impulses."

Buddhist analogy – Picture the mind like a waterfall, they said: the water is the torrent of thoughts and emotions; mindfulness is the space behind the waterfall.

If anything, mindfulness brought you closer to your neuroses, acting as a sort of Doppler radar, mapping your mental microclimates, making you more insightful, not less. It was the complete opposite of the reckless hope preaches by the self-helpers. It was the power of negative thinking.

What mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, "respond" rather than simply "react."

It's not that we can't enjoy the good stuff in life or strive for success. They key is to not get carried away by desire; we need to manage it with wisdom and mindfulness. [Joseph Goldstein]

The slipping away is the whole point. Once you've achieved choiceless awareness, you see so clearly how fleeting everything is. Impermanence is no longer theoretical. 

The Buddha's signature pronouncement–"Life is suffering"–is the source of a major misunderstanding...The Pali word dukkha doesn't actually mean "suffering"...What he really meant is something like, "Everything in the world is ultimately unsatisfying and unreliable because it won't last." 

As Goldstein points out, "How often are we waiting for the next pleasant hit of...whatever? The next meal or the next relationship or the next latte or the next vacation, I don't know. We just live in anticipation of the next enjoyable thing that we'll experience."

"Hedonic adaptation" – When good things happen, we bake them very quickly into our baseline expectations, and yet the primordial void goes unfilled.

"But when you find yourself running through your trip to the airport for the seventeenth time, perhaps ask yourself the following question: Is this useful?" -Joseph Goldstein

"Is this useful?" It's okay to worry, plot, plan, he's saying–but only until it's not useful anymore.

Until we look directly at our minds we don't really know "what our lives are about."

How do you translate that into your daily life? When you start to lose your hair, or when somebody you love dies, or when your favorite baseball starts to not be so good anymore, you don't suffer?
"I would say that the amount of suffering in those situations has diminished enormously. It's not that I have different feelings, but I don't identify and attach to them–or make them a huge drama. You allow your emotions to come through with ease." -Joseph Goldstein

What's the worst case scenario? I lose my job? I still have a wife who loves me–and the only person that can ruin that is me. *That's insight because you're not clinging to success so seriously.

The point of getting behind the waterfall wasn't to magically solve all of your problems, only to handle them better, by creating space between stimulus and response.

We live so much of our lives pushed forward by these "if only" thoughts, and yet the itch remains. The pursuit of happiness becomes the source of our unhappiness.

The brain, the organ of experience, through which our entire lives are led, can be trained. Happiness is a skill. 

"Practice of compassion is ultimately benefit to you. So I usually describe: we are selfish, but be wise selfish rather than foolish selfish." -Dalai Lama
*Don't be nice for the sake of it, he was saying. Do it because it would redound to your own benefit.

Wisdom of insecurity: the "security" for which I had been striving was an illusion. If everything in this world was in constant decay, why expend so much energy gnashing my teeth over work?

There's a reason why they call Buddhism "advanced common sense"; it's all about methodically confronting obvious-but-often-overlooked truths.
 

The Black Swan – Nassim Taleb

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable – by Nassim Taleb
Date read: 1/28/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

A strong case could be made that Nassim Taleb is one of the most original minds of our time. It's well worth reading every book of his Incerto series, which includes: Antifragile, The Black Swan, The Bed of Procrustes, and Fooled by Randomness. Taleb defines Black Swans as events with the following three attributes: rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability. He discusses how the root of our inability to understand Black Swans lies in mistaking a naive observation of the past to be representative of the future. The book details specific themes that arise from our blindness to the Black Swan, including: confirmation bias, narrative fallacy, human nature, silent evidence, and tunneling. Taleb sets out to make us more aware of the biases in our logic as it relates to Black Swans so that we might better embrace our own humanity (that's part of it!) and avoid large-scale harmful predictions that might hurt our future. He advocates the "barbell" strategy and positioning ourselves to take advantage of positive Black Swans (lose small to win big) and situations where favorable consequences are much larger than unfavorable ones.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

Black Swan–an event with the following three attributes: rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability.

The reason free markets work is because they allow people to be lucky, thanks to aggressive trial and error, not by giving rewards or "incentives" for skill.

The problem lies in the structure of our minds: we don't learn rules, just facts, and only facts. Metarules (such as the rule that we have a tendency to not learn rules) we don't seem to be good at getting.

The bell curve ignores large deviations, cannot handle them, yet makes us confident that we have tamed uncertainty. Its nickname in this book is GIF, Great Intellectual Fraud.

History is opaque. You see what comes out, not the script that produces events, the generator of history.

Financial distress could be more demoralizing than war (just consider that financial problems and the accompanying humiliations can lead to suicide, but war doesn't appear to do so directly).

"F*** you money" is a psychological buffer: the capital is not so large as to make you spoiled-rich, but large enough to give you the freedom to choose a new occupation without excessive consideration of the financial rewards. It shields you from prostituting your mind and frees you from outside authority.

It is hard for us to accept that people do not fall in love with works of art for their own sake, but also in order to feel that they belong to a community. By imitating, we get closer to others–that is, other imitators. It fights solitude.

There are traps built into any kind of knowledge gained from observation. A turkey before and after Thanksgiving. The history of a process over a thousand days tells you nothing about what is to happen next. This naive projection of the future from the past can be applied to anything.

Mistaking a naive observation of the past as something definitive or representative of the future is the one and only cause of our inability to understand the black swan.

Other themes arising from our blindness to the Black Swan:
-Error of confirmation: focus on the seen and generalize to the unseen
-Narrative fallacy: thirst for distinct patterns
-Behave as if the Black Swan does not exist: human nature is not programmed for Black Swans
-Distortion of silent evident: history hides Black Swans
-Tunnel: focus on a few well-defined sources of uncertainty

The sources of Black Swans today have multiplied beyond measurability. In the primitive environment they were limited to newly encountered wild animals, new enemies, and abrupt weather changes. These events were repeatable enough for us to have built an innate fear of them.

Narrative fallacy: vulnerability to over-interpretation and our predilection for compact stories over raw truths. It severely distorts our mental representation of the world; it is particularly acute when it comes to the rare event.

The more random information is, the greater the dimensionality, and thus the more difficult to summarize. The more you summarize, the more order you put in, the less randomness. Hence the same condition that makes us simplify pushes us to think that the world is less random than it actually is.

Myths impart order to the disorder of human perception and the perceived "chaos of human experience."

We continuously renarrate past events in the light of what appears to make what we think of as logical sense after these events occur.

Events that are nonrepeatable are ignored before their occurrence, and overestimated after (for a while).

The way to avoid the ills of the narrative fallacy is to favor experimentation over storytelling, experience over history, and clinical knowledge over theories.

Our intuitions are not cut out for nonlinearities...We think that if, say, two variables are casually linked, then a steady input in one variable should always yield a result in the other one. Our emotional apparatus is designed for linear causality.

In a primitive environment, the relevant is the sensational...Somehow the guidance system has gone wrong in the process of our coevolution with our habitat–it was transplanted into a world in which the relevant is often boring, nonsensational.

The nonlinear relationships are ubiquitous in life. Linear relationships are truly the exception; we only focus on them in classrooms and textbooks because they are easier to understand.

The problem of silent evidence: tablets with portraits of worshippers who prayed then survived a shipwreck. Where were the pictures of those who prayed, then drowned? They would have a lot of trouble advertising their experiences from the bottom of the sea. This can fool the casual observer into believing in miracles.

My biggest problem with the educational system lies precisely in that it forces students to squeeze explanations out of subject matters and shames them for withholding judgment, for uttering the "I don't know." Why did the Cold War end? Why did the Persians lose the battle of Salamis?

I am not saying causes do not exist; do not use this argument to avoid trying to learn from history. All I am saying is that it is not so simple; be suspicious of the "because" and handle it with care–particularly in situations where you suspect silent evidence.

Gambling = sterilized and domesticated uncertainty.

In real life you do not know the odds; you need to discover them, and the sources of uncertainty are not defined.

Train your reasoning abilities to control your decisions; nudge System 1 (the heuristic or experiential system) out of the important ones.

Our human race is affected by a chronic underestimation of the possibility of the future straying from the course initially envisioned.

The more information you give someone, the more hypotheses they will formulate along the way, and the worse off they will be. They see more random noise and mistake it for information...Once we produce a theory, we are not likely to change our minds–so those who delay developing their theories are better off.

Remember that we are swayed by the sensational. Listening to the news on the radio every hour is far worse for you than reading a weekly magazine, because the longer interval allows information to be filtered a bit.

We attribute our successes to our skills, and our failures to external events outside our control, namely to randomness. We feel responsible for the good stuff, but not for the bad.

Anchoring: lower your anxiety about uncertainty by producing a number, then you "anchor" on it, like an object to hold on to in the middle of a vacuum.

Epistemic arrogance: tendency to tunnel and think "narrowly."

Forecasting by bureaucrats tends to be used for anxiety relief rather than for adequate policy making.

In order to predict historical events you need to predict technological innovation, itself fundamentally unpredictable. (Karl Raimund Popper's central argument)

Someone with a low degree of epistemic arrogance is not too visible, like a shy person at a cocktail party. We are not predisposed to respect humble people, those who try to suspend judgment.

Prediction error: buy a new car but do not anticipate that the effect of the new car will eventually wane and that you will revert to the initial condition, as you did last time. If you had expected this, you probably would not have bought it. You are about to commit a prediction error that you have already made. Yet it would cost so little to introspect!

Overestimate the effects of both pleasant and unpleasant future events.

We cannot teach people to withhold judgment; judgements are embedded in the way we view objects. I do not see a "tree"; I see a pleasant or an ugly tree. It is not possible without great, paralyzing effort to strip these small values we attach to matters. Likewise, it is not possible to hold a situation in one's head without some element of bias.

Be human! Accept that being human involves some amount of epistemic arrogance in running your affairs.

What you should avoid is unnecessary dependence on large-scale harmful predictions. Avoid the big subjects that may hurt your future: be fooled in small matters, not the large. Do not listen to economic forecasters or to predictors in social science (they are mere entertainers), but do make your own forecast for the picnic.

American culture encourages the process of failure, unlike the cultures of Europe and Asia where failure is met with stigma and embarrassment.

"Barbell" strategy: be as hyperconservative and hyperagressive as you can be instead of being mildly aggressive or conservative.
-85-90% in extremely safe investments
-10-15% in extremely speculative bets (venture-capital style)

Negative Black Swan businesses: military, insurance, homeland security–face only downside.
Positive Black Swan businesses: movies, publishing, scientific research, venture capital–lose small to make big.

Seize any opportunity, or anything that looks like an opportunity. They are rare, much rarer than you think.

Put yourself in situations where favorable consequences are much larger than unfavorable ones.

The 80/20 rule is only metaphorical...in the U.S. book business, the proportions are more like 97/20.

Although unpredictable large deviations are rare, they cannot be dismissed as outliers because, cumulatively, their impact is so dramatic.

I worry less about advertised and sensational risks, more about the vicious and hidden ones. I worry less about terrorism than about diabetes.

You have far more control over you life if you decide on your criterion by yourself...It is more difficult to be a loser in a game you set up yourself. In Black Swan terms, this means that you are exposed to the improbable only if you let it control you. You always control what you do; so make this your end.

We are quick to forget that just being alive is an extraordinary piece of good luck, a remote event, a chance occurrence of monstrous proportions...So stop sweating the small stuff. Don't be like the ingrate who got a castle as a present and worried about the mildew in the bathroom.

Reducing volatility and ordinary randomness increases exposure to Black Swans–it creates an artificial quiet.

Living organisms need variability and randomness...Organisms need, to use the metaphor of Marcus Aurelius, to turn obstacles into fuel–just as fire does.

Black Swan events are largely caused by people using measures way over their heads, instilling false confidence based on bogus results.

A Black Swan for the turkey is not a Black Swan for the butcher.

Do not confuse absence of volatility with absence of risk. Trend towards lower volatility but greater risk of big jumps. It has fooled entire banking system and will fool again.

Using leverage to cure the problems of too much leverage is not homeopathy, it's denial. The debt crisis is not a temporary problem, it's a structural one. We need rehab.

For Seneca, Stoicism is about dealing with loss, and finding ways to overcome our loss aversion–how to become less dependent on what you have.

The man had reached the Stoic self-sufficiency, the robustness to adverse events, called apatheia in Stoic jargon. In other words, nothing that might be taken from him did he consider to be a good.

Seneca ended his essays with vale. It has the same root as "value" and "valor" and means both "be strong (i.e., robust)" and "be worthy."

A More Beautiful Question – Warren Berger

A More Beautiful Question – by Warren Berger
Date read: 1/19/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

I first heard Warren Berger on The Knowledge Project podcast, then purchased this book in an effort to improve my own questioning ability. While it is a great resource for asking better questions, this book offers so much more than that. It's an insightful look into the role of inquiry in modern life. Berger suggests that as the world becomes more complex and dynamic, questions become more valuable than answers. He offers a framework to formulate and ask better questions. But he also digs deeper into topics such as the age of adaptation, design thinking, our education system, and the reasons people avoid fundamental questioning. As an added bonus, there are some brilliant questions Berger challenges us to consider for ourselves along the way. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

To encourage or even allow questioning is to cede power–not something that is done lightly in hierarchical companies or in government organizations, or even in classrooms, where a teacher must be willing to give up control to allow for more questioning.

If the questions from leaders and managers focus more on Why are we falling behind competitors? and Who is to blame?, then the organization is more likely to end up with a culture of turf-guarding and finger-pointing. Conversely, if the questions asked tend to be more expansive and optimistic, then that will be reflected in the culture.

With all that's changing in the world and in our customers' lives, what business are we really in?

The Age of Adaptation: To keep up, today's worker must constantly learn new skills. "I went to school, got a degree, picked up a skill, gained expertise in my field–I established myself over the years. Why should I have to start over?"

When the world moved at a slower pace and things weren't quite so complex, we spent the early part of life in learning mode. Then, once you became an adult, you figured out what your job was and you repeated the same thing over and over again for the rest of your life. Today, that rinse-and-repeat approach no longer works as well...the comfortable expert must go back to being a restless learner.

As the world becomes more complex and dynamic, questions become more valuable than answers.

To navigate today's info-swamp, we must have, "the ability to evaluate risk, recognize demagoguery, the ability to question not only other people's views, but one's own assumptions." -Leon Botstein

But eventually, all doctors–and all the rest of us, as well–will have access to some form of cloud-based super-search engine that can quickly answer almost any factual question with a level of precision and expertise that's way beyond what we have now. Which reinforces that the value of questions is going to keep rising as that of answers keeps falling.

Einstein on looking up his own phone number in a phone book – no reason to fill his mind with information that can so easily be looked up.

Design thinking:
-Framing a problem and learning more about it (why)
-Generating ideas (what if)
-Prototyping (how)

Connective Inquiry: Connecting existing ideas in unusual and interesting ways. One of the primary sources of creativity. Involves both connections and questions.

Do kids stop questioning because they've lost interest in school, or do they lose interest in school because their natural curiosity (and propensity to question) is somehow tamped down?

Project-based or inquiry-based schools get students to ask introspective questions such as What's interesting to me? Nobody's ever asked them that before. Entire curriculum is based around big questions.

The emphasis on letting students explore, direct their own learning, and work on projects instead of taking test–can also be found at Montessori schools. Montessori alumni include Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Google).

Students find it really liberating to have a teacher say, 'I don't know the answer–so let's figure this out together.'

Every time you come up with a question, you should be wondering, What are the underlying assumptions of that question? Is there a different question I should be asking?

Contextual inquiry: Asking questions up close and in context, relying on observation, listening, and empathy to guide us toward a more intelligent, and therefore more effective, question.

Think of the brain as a forest full of trees. Some of those trees are closer together than others, and the branches communicate with each other. As this happens, neural connections are formed, which can produce new thoughts, ideas, and insights. (via Dr. Ken Heilman, Professor of Neurology)

The more eclectic your storehouse of information, the more possibilities for unexpected connections. (Heilman points out that people who are well read and well traveled, those who have diverse interests and a broad liberal arts education, and developing "a whole series of different modules that can enable more connectivity and more creativity.")

Divergent thinking–which calls for trying to generate a wide range of ideas, including offbeat ones, in the early stages of creative problem solving. Idea is to force your brain off those predictable paths by purposely "thinking wrong"–coming up with ideas that seem to make no sense, mixing and matching things that don't normally go together. Jarring effect on creative thinking. In neurological terms, when you force yourself to confront contrary thoughts or upside-down ideas, you "jiggle the synapses" in the brain. Goal is not to generate lasting ideas on the spot. It's to think differently and consider a wide range of possibilities by connecting ideas that don't normally go together.

"A prototype is a question, embodied." -Diego Rodriguez

"The trick is to go from one failure to another, with no loss of enthusiasm." -Winston Churchill

Brainstorming: Generating questions instead of ideas. Allows us to think more freely and creatively. Peer pressure is reduced as answers tend to be judged more harshly than questions.
-Focus on coming out of a session with three great questions that you want to explore further (should provide a sense of direction and momentum)
-"How Might We" approach

What if a job interview tested one's ability to ask questions, as well as answer them?

Reasons people avoid fundamental questioning of much of what they do in their lives:
-Questioning is seen as counterproductive; it's the answer that most people are focused on finding, because the answers, it is believed, will provide ways to solve problems, move ahead, improve life.
-The right time for asking fundamental questions never seems to prevent itself; either it's too soon or too late.
-Knowing the right questions to ask is difficult
-What if we find we have no good answers to the important questions we raise? Fearing that, many figure it's better not to invite that additional uncertainty and doubt into their lives.

Since most schools teach us to prize answers over questions, while also generally teaching that most problems have one "right" answer, small wonder that our habit is to think that the answers we need are out there–just waiting to be "found," stumbled upon, looked up, acquired, purchased, or handed to us.

There is no substitute for self-questioning.

Is there something else you might want to want–besides what you've been told to want?

The "deferred-life" plan: ambitious young entrepreneurs devote themselves entirely to making money in the present, so that at some later point they'll have the means to pursue what really matters to them (once they take the time to figure out what that is).

Part of being able to tackle complex and difficult questions is accepting that there is nothing wrong with not knowing. People who are good at questioning are comfortable with uncertainty.

Appreciative inquiry: focus on what is working in our lives–so that we can build upon that and get more out of it. Strengths and assets. Gratitude is a shortcut to happiness. People who value and appreciate the basics tend to be a lot happier.

"When you're in a bookstore, what section are your drawn to?" -Carol Adrienne

-Why do I seem to "shine" when doing certain things? (What is it about those activities/places that brings out the best in me?_
-What if I could find a way to incorporate these interests/activities, or some aspect of them, into my life more? And maybe even into my work?
-How might I got about doing that?

"What's truly worth doing, whether you fail or succeed?" -Chris Guillebeau

Articulating a personal challenge in the form of a question has other benefits. It allows you to be bold and adventurous because anyone can question anything. You don't have to be a recognized expert; you just have to be willing to say I'm going to venture forth int he world with my question and see what I find.

Questions (the rights ones, anyway) are good at generating momentum which is why change-makers so often use them as a starting point.

How do we continually find inspiration so that we can inspire others?

What do you want to say? Why does it need to be said? What if you could say it in a way that has never before been done? How might you do that?

Zero to One – Peter Thiel and Blake Masters

Zero to One – by Peter Thiel & Blake Masters
Date read: 1/12/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

I had high expectations for this one, considering it has become a sacred text for many startups and entrepreneurs. But Zero to One did not disappoint. The core of the book emphasizes that there is no single secret to innovation and entrepreneurship. But Thiel explains that if we want to to create a better future, we can't wait around, we have to go out and actually build it. He touches on concepts like vertical progress, opposite principles, monopolies, luck, venture capital, and the importance of getting the founders right when launching a new startup. The first half of the book is particularly brilliant. If you're an entrepreneur or working in technology, there's a reason this book is so highly rated.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

The paradox of teaching entrepreneurship is that such a formula necessarily cannot exist; because every innovation is new and unique, no authority can prescribe in concrete terms how to be innovative.

Successful people find value in unexpected places, and they do this by thinking about business from first principles instead of formulas.

"What important truth do very few people agree with you on?"

Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.

Horizontal or extensive progress:
-Going from 1 to n
-Taking a typewriter and building 100
-Globalization (China)

Vertical or intensive progress:
-Going from 0 to 1
-Taking a typewriter and building a word processor
-Technology (Silicon Valley)

Spreading old ways to create wealth around the world will result in devastation, not riches. In a world of scarce resources, globalization without new technology is unsustainable.

Focus on building from small groups of people bound together by a sense of mission: It's hard to develop new things in big organizations, and it's even harder to do it by yourself. Small size affords space to think.

Conventional beliefs only ever come to appear arbitrary and wrong in retrospect; whenever one collapses, we call the old belief a bubble.

Opposite principles that are more correct than common startup lessons:

- It is better to risk boldness than triviality (instead of making incremental advances)
- A bad plan is better than no plan (stay lean and flexible)
- Competitive markets destroy profits (improve on the competition)
- Sales matters just as much as product (focus on product not sales)

To build the next generation of companies, we must abandon the dogmas created after the crash (dot-com).

The most contrarian thing of all is not to oppose the crowd but to think for yourself.

Under perfect competition, in the long run no company makes an economic profit.

If you want to create and capture lasting value, don't build an undifferentiated commodity business.

Competition is an ideology–the ideology–that pervades our society and distorts our thinking.

Higher education is the place where people who had big plans in high school get stuck in fierce rivalries with equally smart peers over conventional careers like management consulting and investment banking.

If you can recognize competition as a destructive force instead of a sign of value, you're already more sane than most.

The value of a business today is the sum of all the money it will make in the future.

Every startup should start with a very small market. Always err on the side of starting too small. The reason is simple: it's easier to dominate a small market than a large one.

The perfect target market for a startup is a small group of particular people concentrated together and served by few or no competitors. Any big market is a bad choice, and a big market already served by competing companies is even worse.

"Victory awaits him who has everything in order–luck, people call it." -Roald Amundsen

The strange history of the Baby Boom produced a generation of indefinite optimists so used to effortless progress that they feel entitled to it. Whether you were born in 1945 or 1950 or 1955, things got better every year for the first 18 years of your life, and it had nothing to do with you...A whole generation learned from childhood to overrate the power of change and underrate the importance of planning.

Instead of working for years to build a new product, indefinite optimists rearrange already-invented ones–bankers, lawyers, management consultants.

In an indefinite world, people actually prefer unlimited optionality; money is more valuable than anything you could possibly do with it. Only in a definite future is money a means to an end, not the end itself.

But indefinite optimism seems inherently unsustainable: how can the future get better if no one plans for it?

But leanness is a methodology, not a goal. Making small changes to things that already exist might lead you to a local maximum, but it won't help you find the global maximum.

Darwinism may be a fine theory in other contexts, but in startups, intelligent design works best.

Long-term planning is often undervalued by our indefinite short-term world.

A business with a good definite plan will always be underrated in a world where people see the future as random.

Vilfredo Pareto – In 1906 discovered the "Pareto principle," or the 80-20 rule, when he noticed that 20% of the people owned 80% of the land in Italy–a phenomenon that he found just as natural as the fact that 20% of the peapods in his garden produced 80% of the peas.

The biggest secret in venture capital is that the best investment in a successful fund equals or outperforms the entire rest of the fund combined.

VCs must find the handful of companies that will successfully go from 0 to 1 and then back them with every resource.

Venture-backed companies create 11% of all private sector jobs. They generate annual revenues equivalent to an astounding 21% of GDP. Indeed, the dozen largest tech companies were all venture-backed.

An entrepreneur makes a major investment just by spending her time working on a startup. Therefore every entrepreneur must think about whether her company is going to succeed and become valuable.

The power law means that differences between companies will dwarf the differences in roles inside companies. You could have 100% of the equity if you fully fund your own venture, but if it fails you'll have 100% of nothing. Owning just 0.01% of Google, by contrast, is incredibly valuable (more than $35 million as of this writing).

A conventional truth can be important–it's essential to learn elementary mathematics, for example–but it won't give you an edge. It's not a secret.

If everything worth doing has already been done, you may as well feign an allergy to achievement and become a barista.

Bad decisions made early on–if you choose the wrong partners or hire the wrong people, for example–are very hard to correct after they are made.

Anyone who doesn't own stock options or draw a regular salary from your company is fundamentally misaligned...That's why hiring consultants doesn't work.

You need people who are not just skilled on paper but who will work together cohesively after they're hired.

If you've invented something new but you haven't invented an effective way to sell it, you have a bad business–no matter how good the product.

PayPal: Needed smaller niche market segment with a higher velocity of money–found this segment in eBay "PowerSellers." There were 20,000 of them. Because eBay's solution to the payment problem was terrible, merchants were extremely enthusiastic early adopters.

If you can get just one distribution channel to work, you have a great business. If you try for several but don't nail one, you're finished.

The most valuable businesses of coming decades will be built by entrepreneurs who seek to empower people rather than try to make them obsolete.

The most valuable companies in the future won't ask what problems can be solved with computers alone. Instead, they'll ask: how can computers help humans solve hard problems?

Companies must strive for 10x better because merely incremental improvements often end up meaning no improvement at all for the end user.

Apple's value crucially depended on the singular vision of a particular person. This hints at the strange way in which the companies that create new technology often resemble feudal monarchies rather than organizations that are supposedly more "modern." A unique founder can make authoritative decisions, inspire strong personal loyalty, and plan ahead for decades.

We cannot take for granted that the future will be better, and that means we need to work to create it today.

The Inevitable – Kevin Kelly

The Inevitable: Understanding 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future – by Kevin Kelly
Date read: 12/27/17. Recommendation 7/10.

Kelly is a great teacher when it comes to helping others think beyond the realm of current possibilities. I often find myself fighting the inertia of the way things currently are, instead of looking at the inevitable trends and determining what's next. The specific forces he outlines become a bit repetitive, as there is significant overlap to each. But as a whole it's a great exercise in reminding yourself to take your thinking to the next level. Kelly is also refreshingly optimistic about the future of technology. He suggests that while we have little control over the inevitable technological forces on the horizon, we do have influence over their character and how symmetrical those relationships end up being. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

Everything, without exception, requires additional energy and order to maintain itself. I knew this in the abstract as the famous second law of thermodynamics, which states that everything is falling apart slowly...Existence, it seems, is chiefly maintenance.

Most of the important technologies that will dominate life 30 years from now have not yet been invented.

Technology is taking us to protopia...a state of becoming rather than destination. It is a process. In the protopian mode, things are better today than they were yesterday, although only a little better...This subtle progress is not dramatic, not exciting.

The revolution launched by the web was only marginally about hypertext and human knowledge. At its heart was a new kind of participation that has since developed into an emerging culture based on sharing.

The accretion of tiny marvels can numb us to the arrival of the stupendous.

Coming out of the industrial age, when mass-produced goods out-performed anything you could make yourself, this sudden tilt toward consumer involvement is a surprise. We thought, "That amateur do-it-yourself thing died long ago, back in the horse-and-buggy era."

But the web in 2050 won't be a better web...It will have become something new, as different from the web today as the first web was from TV.

The AI on the horizon looks more like Amazon Web Services–cheap, reliable, industrial-grade digital smartness running behind everything, and almost invisible except when it blinks off.

The business plans of the next 10,000 startups are easy to forecast: Take X and add AI. Find something that can be made better by adding online smartness to it.

"AI is akin to building a rocket ship. You need a huge engine and a lot of fuel. The rocket engine is the learning algorithms but the fuel is the huge amounts of data we can feed to these algorithms." -Andrew Ng

If AI can help humans become better chess players, it stands to reason that it can help us become better pilots, better doctors, better judges, better teachers.

Nonhuman intelligence is not a bug; it's a feature. The most important thing to know about thinking machines is that they will think different.

Because of a quirk in our evolutionary history, we are cruising as the only self-conscious species on our planet, leaving us with the incorrect idea that human intelligence is singular. It is not.

One of the advantages of having AIs drive our cars is that they won't drive like humans, with our easily distracted minds.

Industrial revolution eliminated all but 1 percent of farming jobs, but automation created hundreds of millions of jobs in entirely new fields.

Third age of computing: prime units are flows and streams. We've moved from batches or daily, to real time.

The union of a zillion streams of information intermingling, flowing into each other, is what we call the cloud...The cloud is the new organizing metaphor for computers. The foundational units of this third digital regime, then, are flows, tags, and clouds.

A universal law of economics says the moment something becomes free and ubiquitous, its position in the economic equation suddenly inverts. When nighttime electrical lighting was new and scarce, it was the poor who burned common candles. Later, when electricity became easily accessible and practically free, our preference flipped and candles at dinner became a sign of luxury.

Deep down, avid audiences and fans want to pay creators...But they will only pay under four conditions that are not often met: 1) It must be extremely easy to do; 2) The amount must be reasonable; 3) There's a clear benefit to them for paying; and 4) It's clear the money will directly benefit the creators.

Book reading strengthened our analytical skills, encouraging us to pursue an observation all the way down to the footnote. Screening encourages rapid pattern making, associating one idea with another, equipping us to deal with the thousands of new thoughts expressed every day.

Ownership is casual, fickle. If something better comes along, grab it. A subscription, on the other hand gushes a never-ending stream of updates, issues, and versions that force a constant interaction between the producer and the consumer.

Bitcoin:
-The most important innovation in Bitcoin is its "blockchain," the mathematical technology that powers it.

-When I send you one bitcoin, no central intermediary is involved. Our transaction is posted in a public ledger–called a blockchain–that is distributed to all other bitcoin owners in the world. This shared database contains a long "chain" of the transaction history of all existing bitcoins and who owns them.

-A new transaction like ours must be mathematically confirmed by multiple other owners before it is accepted as legitimate. In this way a blockchain creates trust by relying on mutual peer-to-peer accounting.

-A number of startups and venture capitalists are dreaming up ways to use blockchain technology as a general purpose trust mechanism beyond money. For transactions that require a high degree of trust between strangers, such as real estate escrows and mortgage contracts...

As we increase dematerialization, decentralization, simultaneity, platforms, and the cloud–as we increase all those at once, access will continue to displace ownership. For most things in life, accessing will trump owning.

The need for some top-down selection would only increase in value as the amount of user-generated content expanded...Facebook and Twitter's algorithm to sort your feed, Wikipedia's veteran editors. You don't need much of them, just a trace.

I have learned that in collaborative work when you share earlier in the process, the learning and successes come earlier as well.

The more powerful the invention or creation, the more likely and more important it is that it will be transformed by others. In 30 years the most important cultural works and the most powerful mediums will be those that have been remixed the most.

How we handle rewards for innovation, intellectual property rights and responsibilities, ownership of and access to copies makes a huge difference to society's prosperity and happiness. Ubiquitous copying (and tracking) is inevitable, but we have significant choices about its character.

The fastest-increasing quantity on this planet is the amount of information we are generating. New information is growing at 66 percent per year, doubling every 18 months, which is the rate of Moore's Law.

In our everyday lives we generate far more information that we don't yet capture and record...Taming this wild information will ensure that the total amount of information we collect will keep doubling for many decades ahead.

Metadata is the new wealth because the value of bits increases when they are linked to other bits.

Ubiquitous surveillance is inevitable. Since we cannot stop the system from tracking, we can only make the relationships more symmetrical.

Bitcoin transparently logs every transaction in its economy in a public ledger, thereby making all financial transactions public. The validity of a transaction is verified by a coveillance of other users rather than the surveillance of a central bank.

There is a one-to-one correspondence between personalization and transparency. Greater personalization requires greater transparency. Absolute personalization (vanity) requires absolute transparency (no privacy).

If today's social media has taught us anything about ourselves as a species, it is that the human impulse to share overwhelms the human impulse for privacy...Vanity trumps privacy.

If anonymity is present in any significant quality, it will poison the system. While anonymity can be used to protect heroes, it is far more commonly used as aw ay to escape responsibility. That's why most of the brutal harassment on Twitter, Yik Yak, Reddit, and other sites is delivered anonymously. A lack of responsibility unleashes the worst in us.

Like all trace elements, anonymity should never be eliminated completely, but it should be kept as close to zero as possible.

Wikipedia works because it turns out that, with the right tools, it is easier to restore damaged text (the revert function on Wikipedia) than to create damaged text (vandalism).

No one would have believed 30 years ago that there was an $82 billion business in answering people's questions for cheap or for free (Google).

Part of the increasing ease in providing answers lies in the fact that past questions answered correct increase the likelihood of another question. At the same time, past correct answers increase the ease of creating the next answer, and increase the value of the corpus of answers as a whole. Each question we ask a search engine and each answer we accept as correct refines the intelligence of the process, increasing the engine's value for future questions.

A good question is not concerned with a correct answer.
A good question challenges existing answers.
A good question is the seed of innovation in science, technology, art, politics, and business.
A good question skirts on the edge of what is known and not known, neither is silly nor obvious.

Question makers will be seen, properly, as the engines that generate new fields, new industries, new brands, new possibilities, new continents that our restless species can explore. Questioning is simply more powerful than answering.

Tribe of Mentors – Tim Ferriss

Tribe of Mentors – by Tim Ferriss
Date Read: 12/20/17. Recommendation: 8/10.

Tribe of Mentors is built around a set of 11 questions that Tim set out to answer for himself by asking some of the most brilliant people (100+ in this book). Most of the questions are the same as the rapid-fire questions he uses in his podcast, "what book have you gifted the most?" and "what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?" There are a few nuggets of eye-opening wisdom, but the brevity kept things fairly shallow for me. I prefer Tools of Titans which covers a wider range of ideas in greater depth, and includes more of Tim's own notes and insights. For me, the most valuable part of Tribe of Mentors was its wealth of book recommendations.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

What would this look like if it were easy? It's easy to convince yourself that things need to be hard, that if you're not redlining, you're not trying hard enough.

Life punishes the vague wish and rewards the specific ask.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." –Anaïs Nin

The most fulfilled and effective people I know look at their life's journey as perhaps 25 percent finding themselves and 75 percent creating themselves.

"In the world of writing, everyone wants to succeed immediately and without pain or effort." –Steven Pressfield

"Real work and real satisfaction come from the opposite of what the web provides. They come from going deep into something–the book you're writing, the album, the movie–and staying there for a long, long time." –Steven Pressfield

Finnish word, "sisu" – the mental strength to continue to try even after you feel you've reached the limits of your abilities.

"Intelligence is like following a GPS route right into a body of water until you drown. Wisdom looks at the route but, when it takes a turn into the ocean, you drown. Wisdom looks at the route but, when it takes a turn into the ocean, decides not to follow it, then finds a new, better way. Wisdom reigns supreme." –Terry Crews

"If you let yourself off the hook for not doing something for any reason, you won't ever do it." –Debbie Millman

Paraphrasing Debbie Millman's interview with Dani Shapiro: Overly confident people are annoying, arrogant, and compensating for some type of internal psychological deficit. Dani declared that courage was more important than confidence.

Naval Ravikant:
"Suffering is a moment of clarity, when you can no longer deny the truth of a situation and are forced into uncomfortable change."

"The genuine love for reading itself, when cultivated, is a superpower...The means of learning are abundant–it's the desire to learn that's scarce. Cultivate that desire by reading what you want, not what you're 'supposed to.'"

"Memory and identity are burdens from the past that prevent us from living freely in the present."

"Ignore: The news. Complainers, angry people, high-conflict people. Anyone trying to scare you about a danger that isn't clear and present."

"Ignore the unfairness – there is no fair. Play the hand that you're dealt to the best of your ability. People are highly consistent, so you will eventually get what you deserve and so will they."

"By focusing inward on yourself as a writer instead of outward on what you think readers will want to read, you'll end up creating the best most original work, and that one-in-a-thousand person who happens to love it will up finding their way to you." –Tim Urban

"It's not how well you play the game, it's deciding what game you want to play." –Kwame Appiah

"Integrity is the only path where you will never get lost." –Mike Maples Jr.

"The best advice I have seen comes from people who don't try to tell me the answer...instead they give me a new approach to thinking about the question so that I can solve it better on my own." –Mike Maples Jr.

"Too often, aspiring artists put pressure on themselves to make their creative work their only source of income. In my experience, it's a road to misery." –Soman Chainani

"The education system, by and large, gears everyone up to adhere to set industry standards. While this a foolproof way to get a job and live a normal life, very few people can break out of the cycle of the mundane to be adventurous, inventive, selfless. The safety net of regular job is too comfortable." –Richa Chadha

"Grudges are for those who insist that they are owed something; forgiveness, however is for those who are substantial enough to move on." –Criss Jami

"The difference between winning and losing is most often not quitting." -Walt Disney

"My advice is to choose a profession that is really easy for you to do and that also allows you to be creative. If it is easy for you to do and somewhat difficult for your peers to do, you will not have to work too hard to be successful and you will have enough spare time to enjoy life...If, on the other hand, you have to work long hours all the time just to be competitive, you will burn out and not enjoy life." -Lewis Cantley

"If you must play, decide on three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time." –Chinese Proverb

"Creating is a better means of self-expression and possession; it is through creating, not possessing, that life is revealed." -Vida Dutton Scudder

"Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life." -Jerzy Gregorek

"To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children...to leave the world a bit better...to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded." –Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The struggle ends when the gratitude begins." -Neal Donald Walsch

"Our culture puts such a premium on the notion of originality, but when you really examine just about any 'original' thought or work, you find it's a composite of previous influences. Everything's a remix. Of course, there's such thing as being overly derivative, but I tend to mostly value sincerity over originality. I think I perform better when I focus less on being original and more on being honest." -Joseph Gordon-Levitt

"When something goes badly, I don't automatically assume I did something wrong. Instead I ask myself, 'What policy was I following that produced the bad outcome, and do I still expect that policy to give the best results overall, occasional bad outcomes notwithstanding?'" –Julia Galef

"One distraction I've learned to avoid is consuming media that's just telling me things I already know and agree with (for example, about politics). That stuff can be addictive because it feels so validating–it's like venting with a friend–but you're not learning from it, and over time, I think indulging in that impulse makes you less able to tolerate other perspectives." -Julia Galef

"Do what you love, do it in a way that you love, and pour your heart and soul into every moment of it. Do not be subject to inertia." –Josh Waitzkin

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." -Theodore Roosevelt

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." -Henry David Thoreau

"Beware the investment activity that produces applause; the great moves are usually greeted by yawns." -Warren Buffett

"Focus on your writing skills. It's the one thing I've found that really helps people stand out. More and more communication is written today. Get great at presenting yourself with words, and words alone, and you'll be far ahead of most." –Jason Fried

"Remember that you'll always have less attention than time. Full attention is where you do your best work, and everyone's going to be looking to rip it from you. Protect and preserve it." -Jason Fried

Scaling: "No, don't scale. Start small, stay small as possible for as long as possible. Grow in control, not out of control." -Jason Fried

Raising capital: "No, bootstrap. As in life, we form business habits early on. If you raise money, you'll get good at spending money. If you bootstrap, you'll be forced to get good at making money." -Jason Fried

"Burnout is not the price you have to pay for success." -Arianna Huffington

"Macro patience, micro speed....Everybody's impatient at a macro, and just so patient at a micro, wasting your days worrying about years. I'm not worried about my years, because I'm squeezing the fuck out of my seconds, let alone my days." -Gary Vaynerchuk

"Courage over comfort." -Brene Brown

"If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions." -Einstein

"Always take jobs for which you are not qualified; that way you will inevitably learn something." -Esther Dyson

"I started my first business with $200...I learned far more about business from than $200 than from a debt-inducing MBA." -Kevin Kelly

"Be polite, on time, and work really fucking hard until you are talented enough to be blunt, a little late, and take vacations and even then...be polite." -Ashton Kutcher

"When 99 percent of your life is your work, either you are really bad at what you do or you are completely off balance with the rest of your life; neither is something to be proud of." -Jérôme Jarre

"Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise, instead, seek what they sought." -Matsuo Basho

"Have the moral courage to live in the gray, sit with uncertainty but not in a passive way. Live the questions so that, one day, you will live yourself into the answers.." -Jacqueline Novogratz

"Don't worry all that much about your first job. Just start, and let the work teach you. With every step, you will discover more about who you want to be what and what you want to do." -Jacqueline Novogratz

When feeling overwhelmed: "I go for a very long run and remind myself of the beauty of the world, that the sun will rise again tomorrow, that what matters is to be in the arena." -Jacqueline Novogratz

"Don't try to be something you're not. Be confident in the skills you have, as they may be make-or-break for the journey you pursue." -Steve Case

"If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, you must go together." -Steve Case

"No society in human history ever suffered because its people became too reasonable." -Sam Harris

"Those who are determined to be 'offended' will discover a provocation somewhere. We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt." -Christopher Hitchens

"The real measure of a good life is 'How happy and satisfied am I with my life right now?'" -Mr. Money Mustache

"You are free for life once you have 25 to 30 times your annual spending locked up and working for you in low-fee index funds or other relatively boring investments. If you save the standard 15 percent of your income, this freedom arrives roughly at age 65. If you can crank that up to 65 percent, you're free just after your 30th birthday, and you often end up a lot happier in the process." -Mr. Money Mustache

"A high savings rate (or 'profit margin on life') is by far the best strategy for a great and creative life, because it's your ticket to freedom. Freedom is the fuel for creativity." -Mr. Money Mustache

"It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things." -Leonardo Da Vinci

"Be in a hurry to learn, not in a hurry to get validation." -Evan Williams

Pursuing your passion: "For many, that is terrible advice. In your 20s, you may or may not really know what your best skills and opportunities are. It's much better to pursue learning, personal discipline, growth." -Chris Anderson

When feeling overwhelmed or unfocused:
"Have I had enough sleep? Have I eaten? Would it be a good idea to go for a short walk?
And once those have been answered, or fixed, if there's an actual situation that's overwhelming:
Is there anything I can do to fix this? Is there anyone who actually has information or advice about this that I can call and talk to?" -Neil Gaiman

"Top down (macro thinking) means I consider the big picture issues before the small when making decisions...For example, I invest in real estate where smart people want to live." -Adam Fisher

"Just learn how to learn. Then you can always figure out the next thing that you will need to know." -Adam Fisher

"Choose opportunities based on the quality of people you will get to work with." -Scott Belsky

"You can do so much in ten minutes' time. Ten minutes, once gone, are gone for good. Divide your life into ten-minute units and sacrifice as few of them as possible in meaningless activity." -Ingvar Kamprad

"Asking myself the question, 'When I'm old, how much would I be willing to pay to travel back in time and relive the moment I'm experiencing right now?' This simple question puts things in perspective and makes you grateful for the experience you're having right now versus being lost in thoughts about the past or future.

Responses to problems: "Most likely, the problem won't be around in a year, but my reputation of how I dealt with it will." -Whitney Cummings

"No one is qualified to tell you how you experience the world." -Vlad Zamfir

"Discipline equals freedom." -Jocko Willink

"Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued...Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it." -Viktor E. Frankl

"The player of the inner game comes to value that art of relaxed concentration above all other skills; he discovers the true basis for self-confidence; and he learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard." -W. Timothy Gallwey

Excellence is in the next five minutes, improvement is in the next five minutes, happiness is the next five minutes.

The power broker in your life is the voice that no one ever hears. How well you revisit the tone and content of your private voice is what determines the quality of your life. It is the master storyteller, and the stories we tell ourselves are our reality.

Focus on what's in front of you, design great days to create a great life, and try not to make the same mistake twice.

Feeling as though you are trying too hard indicates that your priorities, technique, focus, or mindfulness is off. Take it as a cue to reset, not to double down.

The Undoing Project – Michael Lewis

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds – by Michael Lewis
Date Read: 11/26/17. Recommendation: 9/10.

A fascinating look into the unlikely relationship and original contributions of two Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Together they examined how people make decisions and predictions, and uncovered the systematic bias and errors that are inherent to each. They found that the human mind replaced laws of chance with rules of thumb–what they referred to as "heuristics," including availability, representativeness, anchoring, and simulation. Each heuristic reveals itself in the form of a cognitive bias (hindsight, recency, vividness, etc.). The papers of Kahneman and Tversky have had widespread positive implications, helping to educate experts in various fields (economics, policy, medicine) of their own biases, and ultimately leading to the creation of "behavioral economics."

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

"Your mind needs to be in a constant state of defense against all this crap that is trying to mislead you." -Daryl Morey (GM, Houston Rockets)

It seemed to him that a big part of a consultant's job was to feign total certainty about uncertain things.

His main question to NBA scouts he interviewed, "who did you miss?" Wanted to find some degree of self-awareness.

But this raised a bigger question: Why had so much conventional wisdom been bullshit? And not just in sports but across the whole society. Why had so many industries been ripe for disruption? Why was there so much to be undone?

Danny Kahneman's defining emotion is doubt. An outsider who was displaced by WW2.
Amos Tversky was the quintessential Israeli and thrived in the role of a fearless hero. Self-assured.

The question the Israeli military had asked Kahneman–Which personalities are best suited to which military roles?–had turned out to make no sense. And so Danny had gone and answered a different, more fruitful question: How do we prevent the intuition of interviewers from screwing up their assessments of army recruits? Remove their gut feelings, and their judgments improved.

Walter Mischel's "marshmallow experiment" inspired Danny to study "the psychology of single questions."
-A child's (3-5 years old) ability to wait turned out to be correlated with his IQ and his family circumstances and some other things. Tracking them through life, found the better they were able to resist temptation, the higher their future SAT scores and sense of self-worth, the lower their body fat or likelihood that they would suffer from some addiction.

"It's hard to know how people select a course in life. The big choices we make are practically random. The small choices probably tell us more about who we are. Which field we go into may depend on which high school teacher we happened to meet. Who we marry may depend on who happens to be around at the right time of life. On the other hand, the small decisions are very systematic. That I became a psychologist is probably not very revealing. What kind of psychologist I am may reflect deep traits." –Tversky

Economic theory, the design of markets, public policy making, and a lot more depended on theories about how people made decisions.

By changing the context in which two things are compared, you submerge certain features and force others to the surface. "The similarity of objects is modified by the manner in which they are classified." –Tversky

Danny thought, this is what happens when people become attached to a theory. They fit the evidence to the theory rather than the theory to the evidence. They cease to see what's right under their nose.

"Belief in the Law of Small Numbers"
Teased out the implications of a single mental error that people commonly made–even when those people were trained statisticians. People mistook even a very small part of a thing for the whole...They did this, Amos and Danny argued, because their believed–even if they did not acknowledge the belief–that any given sample of a large population was more representative of that population that it actually was.

If you flipped a coin a thousand times, you were more likely to end up with heads or tails roughly half the time than if you flipped it ten times. For some reason human beings did not see it that way. "People's intuitions about random sampling appear to satisfy the law of small numbers, which asserts that the law of large numbers applies to small numbers as well."

The failure of human intuition had all sorts of implications for how people moved through the world, and rendered judgments and made decisions.

The entire project, in other words, was rooted in Danny's doubts about his own work, and his willingness, which was almost an eagerness, to find error in that work...It wasn't just a personal problem; it was a glitch in human nature.

Oregon researchers (with Lew Goldberg) asked doctors to judge the probability of cancer in 96 different individual stomach ulcers by looking at a stomach X-ray. Without telling the doctors, researchers mixed up the duplicates randomly in a pile so they wouldn't notice they were being asked to diagnose the exact same ulcer they had already diagnosed...Doctors' diagnoses were all over the map: The experts didn't agree with each other. Even more surprisingly, they rendered more than one diagnosis for the duplicates–couldn't even agree with themselves.

"Belief in the Law of Small Numbers" raised obvious next question: If people did not use statistical reasoning...what kind of reasoning did they use?

"Availability: A Heuristic for Judging Frequency and Probability"
The mind did not naturally calculate the correct odds...It replaced the laws of chance with rules of thumb. These rules of thumb Danny and Amos called "heuristics."

Four Heuristics: availability, representativeness, anchoring, simulation.

Representativeness: When people calculate the odds in any life situation, they are often making judgments about similarity.
-You have some notion of a parent population: "storm clouds" or "gastric ulcers" or "genocidal dictators" or "NBA players." You compare the specific case to the parent population.

The smaller the sample size, the more likely that is is unrepresentative of the wider population.

Availability: Any fact or incident that was especially vivid, or recent, or common–or anything that happened to preoccupy a person–was likely to be recalled with special ease, and so be disproportionately weighted in any judgment.

"The use of the availability heuristic leads to systematic biases." Human judgment was distorted by...the memorable.

The bias was the footprint of the heuristic. The bias, too, would soon have their own names, like the "recency bias" and the "vividness bias."

"We often decide that an outcome is extremely unlikely or impossible, because we are unable to imagine any chain of events that could cause it to occur. The defect, often, is in our imagination."

The stories people told themselves, when the odds were either unknown or unknowable, were naturally too simple.

It's far easier for a Jew living in Paris in 1939 to construct a story about how the German army will behave much as it had in 1919, for instance, than to invent a story in which it behaves as it did in 1941, no matter how persuasive the evidence might be that, this time, things are different.

Simulation: Power of unrealized possibilities to contaminate people's minds. As they moved through the world, people ran simulations of the future.

Danny wanted to investigate how people created alternatives to reality by undoing reality. He wanted, in short, to discover the rules of imagination.

Imagination wasn't a flight with limitless destinations. It was a tool for making sense of a world of infinite possibilities by reducing them. The imagination obeyed rules: the rules of undoing...
-The more items there were to undo in order to create some alternative reality, the less likely the mind was to undo them.
-"An event becomes gradually less changeable as it recedes into the past." With the passage of time, the consequences of any event accumulated, and left more to undo.
-In doing some event, the mind tended to remove whatever felt surprising or unexpected.

"On the Psychology of Prediction"
People predict by making up stories.
People predict very little and explain everything.
People live under uncertainty whether they like it or not.
People believe they can tell the future if they work hard enough.
People often work hard to obtain information they already have. And avoid new knowledge. –Tversky

Man's inability to see the power of regression to the mean leaves him blind to the nature of the world around him.

When they wrote their first papers, Danny and Amos had no particular audience in mind...They sensed that they needed to find a broader audience. Began targeting high-level professional activities, economic planning, technological forecasting, political decision making, medical diagnosis, and the evaluation of legal evidence.

They hoped that the decisions made by experts in these fields could be "significantly improved by making these experts aware of their own biases, and by the development of methods to reduce and counteract the sources of bias in judgment."

That is, once they knew the outcome, they thought it had been far more predictable than they had found it to be before, when they had tried to predict it–"hindsight bias."

In his talk to historians, Amos described their occupational hazard: the tendency to take whatever facts they had observed (neglecting the many facts that they did not or could not observe) and make them fit neatly into a confident sounding story:
"All too often, we find ourselves unable to predict what will happen; yet after the fact we explain what did happen with a great deal of confidence. This "ability" to explain that which we cannot predict, even in the absence of any additional information, represents an important, though subtle, flaw in our reasoning. It leads us to believe that there is a less uncertain world that there actually is, and that we are less bright than we actually might be."

"Creeping determinism"–Sports announcers, political pundits, historians all radically revise their narratives so that their stories fit whatever just happened. Impose false order upon random events probably without even realizing what they were doing.

"He who sees the past as surprise-free is bound to have a future full of surprises."

Error wasn't necessarily shameful; it was merely human. "They provided a language and a logic for articulating some of the pitfalls people encounter when they think. Now these mistakes could be communicated.It was the recognition of human error. Not its denial." -Don Redelmeir

"So many problems occur when people fail to be obedient when they are supposed to be obedient, and fail to be creative when they are supposed to be creative." -Tversky

"The secret to doing good research is always to be a little underemployed. You waste years by not being able to waste hours." -Tversky

"Selective Matching"
–Amos had collected data on NBA shooting streaks to see if the so-called hot hand was statistically significant...but the streaks were illusions...false patterns that people mistakingly assigned meaning to.
–"For arthritis, selective matching leads people to look for changes in the weather when they experience increased pain, and pay little attention to the weather when their pain is stable...[A] single day of severe pain and extreme weather might sustain a lifetime of belief in a relation between them."

Even though insurance is a stupid bet, you buy it because you place less value on the $1,000 you stand to win flipping a coin than you do on the $1,000 already in your bank account that you stand to lose.

By the summer of 1973, Amos was searching for ways to undo the reigning theory of decision making, just as he and Danny had undone the idea that human judgment followed the precepts of statistical theory.

"It is the anticipation of regret that affects decisions, along with the anticipation of other consequences." -Kahneman

People did not seek to avoid other emotions with the same energy that they sought to avoid regret. When they made decisions, people did not seek to maximize utility. They sought to minimize regret.

People regretted what they had done, and what they wished they hadn't done, far more than what they had not done and perhaps should have.

"The pain that is experienced when the loss is caused by an act that modified the status quo is significantly greater than the pain that is experienced when the decision led to the retention of the status quo. When one fails to take action that could have avoided a disaster, one does not accept responsibility for the occurrence of the disaster." -Kahneman

"Theory of Regret" (they soon left this behind and focused on "Risk Value Theory")
-Coming close: Nearer you come to achieving a thing, the greater the regret you experienced if you failed to achieve it.
-Responsibility: The more control you felt you had over the outcome of a gamble, the greater the regret you experienced if the gamble turned out badly.

"For most people, the happiness involved in receiving a desirable object is smaller than the unhappiness involved in losing the same object...Happy species endowed with infinite appreciation of pleasures and low sensitivity to pain would probably not survive the evolutionary battle."

"Risk Value Theory"
-Realization that people responded to changes rather than absolute levels.
-Discovery that people approached risk very differently when it involved losses than when it involved gains.
-People did not respond to probability in a straightforward manner.

A loss, according to their theory, was when a person wound up worse off than his "reference point." This could be wherever you started from, your status quo, or an expectation (i.e. annual bonus).

"Framing"–simply by changing the description of a situation, and making a gain seem like a loss, you could cause people to completely flip their attitude toward risk, and turn them from risk avoiding to risk seeking.

"I have vivid memories of running from one article to another. For a while I wasn't sure why I was so excited. Then I realized: They had one idea. Which was systematic bias." –Thaler

"Reality is a cloud of possibility, not a point." –Tversky

"The Conjunction Fallacy"
People were blind to logic when it was embedded in a story. Describe a very sick old man and ask people: Which is more probably, that he will die within a week or die within a year? More often than not, they will say, "He'll die within a week."

Amos created a lovely example. He asked people: Which is more likely to happen in the next year, that a thousand Americans will die in a flood, or that an earthquake in California will trigger a massive flood that will drown a thousand Americans? People went with the earthquake.

The force that led human judgment astray in this case was what Danny and Amos had called "representativeness," or the similarity between whatever people were judging and some model they had in their mind of that thing.

The work that Amos and Danny did together awakened economists and policy makers to the importance of psychology.

Richard Thaler–the first frustrated economist to stumble onto Danny and Amos's work and pursue its consequences for economics single-mindedly–would helped to create a new field, and give it the name "behavioral economics."