The finest handpicked things from the stinking and burning dumpster fire that is the interweb.

Month: February 2024

Your future self is calling you. Can you hear?

If you know who Tom Morgan is, then you’re lucky. If not, you should be ashamed of yourself. Once you’ve sufficiently marinated in your shame, clean yourself up with a towel and prepare to have your mind blown. Tom Morgan is one of the best curators and synthesizers on the internet.

Tom calls himself a “curiosity sherpa” who tries to identify the most interesting
ideas and people around the world. I gotta admit, that’s the coolest job description I have ever heard. He has this insane gift for finding some of the most provocative, wild, and what many would consider fringe thinkers and heretical ideas on the interweb.

His genius lies in his ability to find connections across finance, history, the cognitive sciences, spirituality, and mysticism. Reading and listening to him draw connections between obscure things and then connect them to the way we live is a treat. There are very few synthesizers like him; the only other name that comes to mind is Morgan Housel.

I have a shit memory, but if it serves me right, the first time I discovered Tom was when he appeared on Jim O’Shaughnessy’s Infinite Loops podcast. As soon as I heard the episode, I was hooked. His amazing ability and conviction to keep an open mind and not be swayed by popular judgment was truly inspiring.

I can’t recollect how or why, but his name popped up in my head this week, and I started listening to his podcasts. Since the idea of this blog is to collect and curate ideas, I figured I might as well introduce you to a few of Tom’s ideas. He was also one of the inspirations behind creating this blog as a tiny and sane corner on the interweb where I could avoid choking and dying intellectually from the toxic fumes that emanate from the dumpster fire that is the internet.

You may not agree with everything Tom says, and some of it may even sound nonsensical—I leave that judgment to you. But I would urge you to listen and read him with an open mind. I want to write a detailed post synthesizing the synthesis of his explorations, but for now, here are a few ideas to titillate and provoke your imagination.

I’ve quoted several amazing and lengthy podcast transcript snippets from podcasts that Tom was on. I hope I don’t get sued for copyright 😬🤞🏻

Surrendering to your curiosity

In one of his blog posts, Tom wrote:

If I could have any contribution to the world, it would be to make people trust the power of their own curiosity a little more.

That’s such a beautiful and noble thought.

Speaking to Bogumil Baranowski on the Talking Billions Podcast podcast, he elaborates on why he thinks curiosity is so important.

He explains that a key moment that led him to understand the importance of curiosity was a lecture by the controversial Jordan Peterson.

I remember in I think 2017, I was listening to this absolutely stunning lecture by Jordan Peterson, which is a difficult issue because he’s had his own trajectory that I’m not totally a fan of, but back then he was doing some truly electric stuff. And there was this line where he said that Carl Jung had a theory that your future self called to you in the present by directing your interests.

In the podcast, he elaborates on why Carl Jung’s idea of our future selves shoving us towards our destiny by directing our interests in the present was a critical moment in his life:

I know that you and I are kind of fascinated with the concept of language. I believe that curiosity is a relationship with a higher intelligence of some kind because your intelligence is not entirely your own. And I believe that you can somewhat reductively call it Evolution that your potential calls to you in the present by saying if you pursue this path of what you’re interested in, you will grow in an appropriate way. You will grow towards your potential in an appropriate way.

And you know, I said there is basis in science for this, and I think one of the simplest ways of looking at it is this, which is that the universe trends towards complexity, which is kind of an obvious statement, right? Like if you look at Earth, you have rocks, you had tribes, and now you have the internet, and that line of complexity has kind of gone parabolic particularly over the last few years.

And what does it mean for something to be complex? It’s almost a paradox, but basically, it’s for things to have very, very, very distinctly differentiated parts but all completely integrated in a whole. What does that mean for you and for me? It means that the direction of the universe is for you and me to become the most differentiated versions of ourselves possible through pursuing our own highly unique niche, which is the skills we are cultivating. And as we follow that path, we will become more and more differentiated. But that differentiation is only useful if it is in service of the whole organism, if it is in service of all of society all over the world.

And when you get those two things right, which is insanely difficult and it’s the work of a lifetime, when you get those two things right, unbelievably good things happen to you. But you have to get both sides right. But that, I believe, you are drawn into your niche through curiosity because I don’t see how else that process could happen because there are an infinite number of things in the world you could pay attention to. So why are you being drawn to just a small platform?

Tom goes on to say in the podcast that he still vividly remembers the day he heard Carl Jung’s line in Jordan Peterson’s lecture, and how he felt. Read the part of the podcast transcript that I’ve highlighted in bold. While Tom was struck by Jung’s idea, his expansion of Jung’s idea hit me like a lightning bolt. It was Thursday, I think, and I had come home from work and demolished a sumptuous meal like a barbarian who hadn’t eaten in days. I went to my terrace to walk around a little to let the meal settle, and I was listening to this episode on loudspeaker.

Then, BAM!

It hit me like an accidental drop kick in the nether regions by my 3-year-old nephew.

Tom’s perspective on surrendering to your curiosities reminded me of the clichéd and often-heard lament that we lose our childlike curiosity as we grow up. It takes an incredibly open and flexible mind to retain that sense of wonder as we grow older—a sense that’s formative to our development. Jim O’Shaughnessy asked him how he keeps an open mind on the Infinite Loops podcast, and here’s what Tom had to say:

Jim: You have an incredibly flexible mind with the stuff that you post. It’s amazing. How do you keep your mind so flexible? And what you’re really good at, and what I really read you for, is your ability to synthesize. I think that’s the new intelligence that’s going to be rewarded. So, tell me about that.

Tom: And I think that is where the hero’s journey and the nature of attention come together, in that Carl Jung had this crazy, life-changing idea that if you followed your attention and you followed your interests, it would lead you to a path of personal growth that you couldn’t anticipate, because you didn’t have access to all the information, because your left hemisphere and your consciousness are so limited. And Joseph Campbell had the same insight as well with The Hero’s Journey, which is follow your bliss and doors will open where previously there were only walls. And so when everyone comes to the same conclusion, and it takes an enormous amount of courage to do that.

But I think to answer your question in a very long-winded way, is that people ask, “Aren’t you reading all the time,” and, “How do you come onto these different sources?” If I’m like, “I really don’t. I don’t even read that much relative to what other people I know.” But when something grabs me, I really, really respect that impulse. And it may not even be clear for years afterward what I’m getting from that. But suddenly, particularly over the last few months, things have come together, now that I’m in a much more creative role, in a way that I couldn’t ever have expressed. In that now that I can synthesize it, all I do is follow that thread, and it leads me to unbelievably spectacular places.

Duel of fates

If you read and listen to Tom, it quickly becomes apparent that he’s a fanboy of British psychiatrist Dr. Iain McGilchrist. He’s spoken about Dr. McGilchrist’s thesis that our brain is divided into two hemispheres, ad nauseam. The left hemisphere is narrow, analytical, logical, verbal, competitive, and likes control. The right hemisphere is non-verbal, exploratory, cooperative, empathetic, directs our curiosity, and sees the big picture.

The key insight from Dr. McGilchrist is that our world is dominated by left-hemisphere thinking, and that’s at the root of most of the ills that plague us. He says that the right hemisphere should be the master, and the left hemisphere should be the emissary.

Interestingly enough, the left hemisphere also sees living things as dead. If you experimentally suppress the brain’s left hemisphere for 15 minutes, you start to see dead things as alive—the Sun going across the sky giving you energy. If you suppress the brain’s right hemisphere for 15 minutes, people start to see other human beings as zombies, pieces of furniture, machines, dead. And the fact is, it’s very easy to compete with, manipulate, or kill something where you don’t see the life in it.

Also, the left hemisphere has very limited bandwidth. If someone came up and spoke to you right now, you wouldn’t be able to process two conversations at once. Conscious bandwidth is something like 60 bits a second; our unconscious bandwidth is about 11 million bits a second. Which means if you wiggle your big toe, do it right now, wiggle your big toe, it wasn’t like your big toe just suddenly started existing; it just wasn’t being served to your conscious awareness. — Tom Morgan

Dr. McGilchrist and Tom Morgan are of the view that the dominance of left-hemispheric abstract thinking is at the root of some of our most pressing crises, like disconnection, lack of meaning, social isolation, and the mental health epidemic.

It’s a fascinating and provocative theory, and Tom says that Dr. McGilchrist’s ideas would still be relevant even if the theory were to be debunked. I agree. The idea that people have become way too rational and logical aligns with my own worldview. I wholeheartedly agree with his belief that we need a lot of irrational, spiritual, and mystical things in our lives, even if it makes us look like incense-sniffing weirdos.

If I read one more sodding article about how the only thing we need right now is just to be more rational, right? If everyone could dissect the problem and be as smart as me and make these observations, we would have no more problems, right? And that is sort of everything that we do right now, right? And that again is trying to solve the problem we got into with the problem that created it, which is if we’re just a little bit more reductionist and we can put break this down into more and more discrete parts, eventually it will be a solution.

Think about it this way: there’s a great quote that is to the effect of, if you divide the cow into more parts, you’re going to get more beef. You’re not going to get more cow, right? If you disrupt any complex adaptive system, you’re gonna kill it. You know, it’s like Johnny Five in Short Circuit for anyone old enough. You know, he realizes quite early on that if he tears things apart, he kills them.

And modern science and modern finance are unbelievably good at taking things apart. But then, how do you turn the beef back into a cow? Well, that requires magic, right? Like, quite literally, it requires magic. And you know, I was reading about shamanic cultures the other day, and it wasn’t the breakdown that would characterize whether someone was going to become a shaman. It was the nature of their reconfiguration afterwards, how they put themselves back together.

And I think that relates to the point that I was making earlier, which is you need to put things back together according to the propensity of the system, which is that we need people who are able to connect to values, to understand the way the system is flowing, and then align themselves with that in a harmonious way. And everything will work out much, much, much better. And you do that in an emergent way. Emergence is being on that middle line between order and chaos, right? Between embodiment and intellect. And once you’re in that space, you can tell exactly where the system is going to flow.

Productive waste

I loved this bit. Jim O’Shaughnessy says that if things like trading cards, TV shows, sports, politics, and celebrities occupy even a tiny bit of attention, then people have to reevaluate their lives. He asks Tom if there’s a course that can help people rid themselves of these useless obsessions. Tom’s answer was fascinating:

Tom Morgan: My wife is dramatically more successful and accomplished and magnificent in every way, relative to me. And she was in so much pain that one day she went to an acupuncturist and the acupuncturist was like, “What do you do that’s just for you?” And she ran down a whole list of things like, “I tidy the apartment, I do this, I do that.” And the acupuncturist dismissed every single one of them with, “These are all productivity hats.”

And then she was like, “What do you do?” and she’s like, “I watch Real Housewives.” And she was like, “That. That’s the thing. That’s your slack.”

I know we both have a mad love affair with Rory Sutherland and he’s like, “You need a certain amount of slack in the system.” And if it’s Magic the Gathering, if it’s Dungeons and Dragons, if it’s Real Housewives, if it’s complete crap, but that still gives you either an energy-positive feeling or enough time to be unproductive. I think that’s actually really pretty positive.

So I’m going to go ahead and shelve that on one side and each to their own. I think that, in terms of teaching this, I think that the most important lateral, so Tom Pence, he gave me… It told me to read a book by Stefan Zweig called The World of Yesterday. And I’d never heard of Stefan Zweig at all and didn’t know who he was. And he was basically one of the greatest writers of like the twenties and thirties. And he made his life a study of geniuses.

The bit of the book that grabbed my attention is where he talks about watching Rodin work, the sculptor. And he says that he basically stood in a room and watched him sculpt for an hour. And at the end of the hour, Rodin turns round and is like “Shit, you’re still there!”. He had completely forgotten time and space. And he was completely absorbed. And I think that Maria Popova, going back to her, she describes it as this mix of intention and attention, which is taken from Buddhism. And if you can find something that grabs your attention so much that you can concentrate on it for hours at a time, that’s how you lay down the foundation that provides meaning for the rest of your life.

And this doesn’t have to be all day every day. But I think that that signal, but it’s that combination of exploratory attention and focused attention that puts you exactly on your beam. And I think the signal that you’re on your beam is that whatever you’re doing feels meaningful.

Jim’s question highlights one of the greatest tragedies of our time. Today, anything that isn’t “productive” or “isn’t improving your life” is seen as a waste of time. It has become accepted wisdom that you shouldn’t waste your time and that you should work on being “1% better every day.” Since this is the received wisdom for most people, leisure, which is meant to rejuvenate people, makes them feel like shit. This was one of the previous themes of my previous post. It also reminds me of Bertrand Russell’s thoughts on the virtues of idleness. There has to be balance in everything.

I mean, it’s an unnatural expectation that you must be productive at all times. If it makes you feel better, here’s something I came across on Paul Bloom’s newsletter:

Here’s Darwin:

I am very poorly today & very stupid & hate everybody & everything.

Anything to not think about our shitty lives

Read the part in bold. This hit me like a cyclist with his brakes cut off, desperately trying to avoid crashing into a person’s family jewels. Though I’m not that old, I’ve still had those moments when I look at myself in the mirror and the only thought in my head is, “What are you trying to do in life, you miserable piece of shit?” And, like Tom says, I used to do anything to avoid having to think about whether I was doing something meaningful in life. It’s a profoundly disorienting experience.”

Jim O’Shaughnessy: The way I look at this is, we are in a time of what I think is great change. Why not throw a couple more irons on the fire? Why not say, “you know what, we might have to redesign the way we educate people?”. What do you think?

Tom Morgan:I think it’s become probably overly fashionable to knock education. And I felt like I had a strong education and it gives people a menu of things to choose from before they know what they’re interested in. And I think that’s a really good thing. And it helps people lay down the foundation.

I think the danger is when you assume their menu is the only thing to choose from, right? And as you get older, you get stuck in this rut. And I think it links to your previous point, which is that… So what happens in my experience, having been in a lot of institutions, particularly around middle management is that people don’t want slack in their day because it will leave them time to think about their choices. And I was that person, so I’m not looking down on anyone else. But you want to be distracted from that increasingly uncomfortable sense of dissonance that maybe it’s time for you to go and do something else.

I think this is a state of existence that a lot of people can relate to. In the podcast, Tom says that the only way to get out of this abyss is to kill your ego and relinquish control. That means giving up on everything that you have built and accumulated and all the safety nets that you have put up. As nightmarish and disorienting as this journey is going to be, the alternative, he says, is “death.”


In the interest of brevity, I’m gonna stop because, if I continue writing, this won’t be a blog post but rather a booklet. But don’t worry; I will continue writing about his ideas until you beg me to stop. I leave you with this brilliant quote I heard him share on a podcast:

“It is perfectly obvious that the whole world is going to hell. The only possible chance that it might not is that we do not attempt to prevent it from doing so.” ―J. Robert Oppenheimer

Explore more

Tom’s writing is dense and packed with insights—it’s like superfood for the brain, and I can’t recommend it enough. He belongs to a dying breed of intellectually honest and doggedly curious people. You always learn something new whenever you read or listen to him, and I’m grateful that he openly shares his ideas.

I’ve already linked to several of his podcast appearances, but here are a few more on my playlist:

His second and third appearances on Infinite Loops

The most interesting man in finance

As an aside, I had a subheading called “duel of fates.” It was inspired by the title of a musical theme from Star Wars, composed by John Williams. It’s one of my favorite movie soundtrack pieces of all time.

Good reads

Zygmunt Bauman: “Social media are a trap”

In which direction is the pendulum that you describe between freedom and security swinging at the moment?

A. These are two values that are tremendously difficult to reconcile. If you want more security, you’re going to have to give up a certain amount of freedom; if you want more freedom, you’re going to have to give up security. This dilemma is going to continue forever. Forty years ago we believed that freedom had triumphed and we began an orgy of consumerism. Everything seemed possible by borrowing money: cars, homes… and you just paid for it later. The wakeup call in 2008 was a bitter one, when the loans dried up.

Zygmunt Bauman is a sociologist, and I had never heard of him before. He has some dark yet fascinating views on the state of the world. A good rabbit hole for me to go down.

The dance of the Tao and the ten thousand things

I don’t think I’ve fully appreciated the many layers of this essay, but it’s a brilliant meditation on complexity.

In studying the biology of a plant, I can deaden myself to the real plant. I can see it as its Latin name and know things about its genetics and genus and species and evolutionary environment and medicinal and chemical properties and ecological niches it inhabits and creates…and in doing so, have less attention on the utter uniqueness of this life in front of me, the infinity about it I will never know, and as such, have missed the opportunity to really see it. But if instead, I take my knowledge of the complexity of cellular metabolism and evolution and the connection of the plant with all the other plants I can see around me through the ecology of the mycorrhiza and soil microbiome and its gas exchange with me to know we are literally made of the stuff of each other and have porous boundaries…and I consider all of that complexity and integrity and beauty and order and wildness and intelligence…and remember that all that information isn’t even a measurable fraction of all that is actually going on…and use the knowledge to prime an even deeper wonder and respect and reverence and awe…then the practice of knowledge and the practice of the Tao are dancing.

This essay was written by Daniel Schmactenerber, and I came across him when I was writing the piece on Moloch. He’s a fascinating thinker, and his name has been on my list of rabbit holes to go down.

Reflections From the Field: The Non-Conformist Cemetery

Another delightful and evocative essay by Hadden Turner

The more I read Hadden’s work, the more I want to meet him one day and get an autograph. I’ve linked to several of his essays previously, and I can’t recommend them enough. His descriptions of local places that we all tend to ignore are nothing short of poetic.

I have taken many a walk around the perimeter of the cemetery, reading the biblically-infused inscriptions on the graves which tell of “threescores and ten” faithfully lived, or lives tragically cut short (as in the case of the 17 year old Ralph Luckin Smith, who disobeyed his mother by picking a spot — and died of sepsis as a result!). These old, weathered stones tell tales of missionaries to India, battles fought in Germany and France, proprietors of local businesses that are now lost, and of mothers weeping for their young child. Time and time again one reads “IN SACRED MEMORY” and I like to think that in taking the time to stop and read the names and inscriptions I am, in a sense, holding the memory sacred of these ordinary but faithful saints of old.

Going Home with Wendell Berry

I discovered Wendell Berry because of Hadden’s essays, and I felt ashamed that I hadn’t heard of him before. This New Yorker profile is amazing and touches on many themes that are near and dear to my heart, like the meaning of home, what it means to belong, hearing your calling, and respecting nature’s bounty, among others. It also touches on many of the same themes as what Tom Morgan talks about. I have now joined the Wendell Berry fan club. Berry is what people in Karnataka would call ಮಣ್ಣಿನ ಮಗ, or a true son of the soil.

Between 1940 and 2012, the number of farms in the U.S. decreased by four million. The absence of so many farmers and their families is seen as progress by the liberals and conservatives who have been in charge of the economy since about 1952. Meanwhile, the farmland and the few surviving farmers are being ruined both by destructive ways of production and by overproduction. The millions who are gone have been replaced by bigger and bigger machines, and by toxic chemicals. If we should decide to replace the chemicals and some of the machinery with humans, as for health or survival we need to do, that would be very difficult and it would take a long time.

Thanks for reading Ooh, that’s interesting! You can put your work email in this magic box to get my wisdom in your inbox so that you can procrastinate in the office.

It’s a good day to think about your miserable life and wallow in it. Go ahead and start; you have my permission.

Exploiting yourself to death

The commodification of self edition

I had a busy week, so I couldn’t read or listen to anything that aroused a strong craving in me to bang out a post and subject the world to the gyan that usually oozes out of me. As Thursday passed and Friday was ending, I still had nothing. At around 8 PM on Friday, I found myself contemplating a dreadful thought: What would happen to the world if I failed to share my profound wisdom? I shuddered at the mere thought. The fact that people rely every week on the wisdom that drips out of me for meaning in their lives is a responsibility I take seriously. Then I enjoyed a sumptuous dinner with friends, and then I slept like a BBMP dog.

On Saturday, I woke up, finished downloading the previous night’s dinner, and headed to my usual coffee spot—my own little piece of heaven. For years, going to the coffee shop as soon as I wake up or after I finish sculpting my Greek god physique in the morning has been a ritual. I can’t think of a greater pleasure in life than a hot cup of strong filter coffee, a place to sit, and a few  good things to read.

As I parked my bike and was crossing the road to the coffee shop, it hit me. Early in the week, I heard a brilliant podcast episode. I can only describe the experience of listening to it as getting punched in the brain with a boxing glove dipped in chilly power and lined with rusty old nails. I had heard Stephen West, the wonderful host of the Philosophize This! podcast, distill the philosophy of Byung-Chul Han, the South Korean-born philosopher, cultural theorist, and author residing in Germany.

I had discovered the episode as I was scrolling through my non-algorithmic feed of new podcast episode releases on my Pocket Casts app. Until that moment, I had never heard of Byung-Chul Han. After listening to the episode, I felt ashamed and had a fair amount of regret that I hadn’t discovered him earlier.

Han is bloody brilliant, and I can’t think of many people who have chronicled the ills of life under modern capitalism in as brutal a fashion as he has. He’s the definitive philosopher of our times and our miserable lives. I kept nodding and chuckling nervously as I listened to the episode, because what he says is what I have been feeling for a long time, and I have been writing here as well. His philosophy ties in with the common theme of all the posts I have published so far—how to live a meaningful life. 

I didn’t have a lot of time to dive deep into his work, partly because he only speaks German. So I had to rely on translated interviews, analyses of his philosophy, and syntheses by podcasters. This is fraught with issues, but it’s good enough to get an outline of his philosophy. I intend to read his books this year and write more detailed summaries, but for now, I wanted to write a broad introduction to his key ideas. My hope is that they will spark a few questions in you.

Positive power

One of the key ideas of Byung-Chul Han is that we no longer live in what the French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault called the “disciplinary society.” In a disciplinary society, those in power no longer rely on violence to enforce conformity. The era of beheadings and violent public spectacles to punish non-conforming citizens has passed. In modern disciplinary society, individuals are surveilled and controlled by disciplinary institutions such as schools, prisons, hospitals, and factories. These institutions are designed to transform individuals into “docile” self-regulating entities that conform to society’s normative expectations.

“The judges of normality are present everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the social worker-judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behavior, his aptitudes, his achievements.” ― Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

He says Foucault’s disciplinary society was characterized by “you should not.” In other words, a society where people were controlled through “negative power.” This was the world people lived in for a long time, but Han argues that we now live in a world of “positive power,” where “can’t do” has been replaced with “can.”

He says Foucault’s disciplinary society was characterized by “you should not,” or, in other words, a society where people were controlled through “negative power.” This was the world people lived in for a long time, but Han argues that we now live in a world of “positive power,” where “can’t” has been replaced with “can.”

In a society of “positive power,” people are told they can be whoever they want to be and achieve whatever they desire. All they have to do is dream big, work hard, and constantly chase those dreams. In this society, nobody tells people they “can’t,” but rather, people are motivated because they are led to believe they “can” achieve anything.

“Positive power”—what a provocative conception of modern society!

This is positive power, positive power. Says “can,” negative power says “should,” and as Han says, “Can is much more effective than the negativity of should.” Therefore, the social unconscious switches from should to can. — Philosophize This!

The achievement society

Positive control has turned the world into an “achievement society.”

This is a new, interesting, positive form of control we are living in, what Han calls an achievement society, not a disciplinary society. Nobody holds a gun to your head and tells you what to do anymore; again, that’s an old-fashioned tactic at this point.

All you have to do to control people is tell them all the stuff that they can be doing in theory if only they make themselves valuable enough, if only they work hard enough to make their minds as efficient and optimized as they possibly can be. What Han calls psychopolitics is an extension of Foucault’s biopolitics.

You tell people that, and you don’t need a gun to people’s heads because in the pursuit of endlessly maximizing their abilities, they’ll spend the rest of their lives going crazy about never being good enough, never doing enough, never being efficient enough.

If there’s ever a moment where they’re not spending their time being as productive as they possibly could towards making themselves more valuable, they will actually feel bad about. — Stephen West of Philosophize This! explaining what Byung-Chul Han means.

In modern society, we have all become “entrepreneurs of the self.” We have all become our own personal projects. It’s you versus the world, and if you don’t continually improve, you lose. The result of this Hunger Games-like reality is that we are constantly optimizing our lives. If you stop optimizing and improving yourself to take a moment to smell the roses, you lose. You are a commodity, and the only way you can win is to increase your value. You must constantly “invest” in yourself, even if it means sacrificing things like friendships, because they are pointless distractions in the journey to the ultimate optimized self.

Practically everybody is not a person anymore; they’re their own little personal project. We turn ourselves into a commodity with market value. Everything we learn is not just learning anymore; it’s an investment in ourselves. Everything is about mentally optimizing yourself, working, producing more efficiently with your mind, and it’s a beautiful way to go through life, by the way. You know, if somebody calls you out for being a narcissist, you can just call them a loser, right? That’s just somebody that’s lazy; they’re not going for their dreams like I am. You know they can’t possibly understand the level of work that this kind of stuff takes.

If you’re in a relationship or a friendship and the other person says you’re focusing too much on yourself and your own projects and it’s causing problems in the relationship, you can just say, “Whoa, whoa, being in a relationship? Too much drama for me at this point in my life. I don’t have room for all that. I gotta focus on me and my market value for a while.” It really is a beautiful set of excuses to make it seem to you like it’s a character deficiency in the other person rather than you focusing entirely on yourself. — Stephen West of Philosophize This! explaining what Byung-Chul Han means.

This culture of endless self-optimization results in burnout. We are unhappy when we don’t achieve our goals and even unhappier when we do achieve them because our brains love the thrill of the chase, not the destination. The dramatic increase in depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues stems from this culture that pushes you to always do better.

“Depression—which often culminates in burnout—follows from overexcited, overdriven, excessive self-reference that has assumed destructive traits. The exhausted, depressive achievement-subject grinds itself down, so to speak. It is tired, exhausted by itself, and at war with itself. Entirely incapable of stepping outward, of standing outside itself, of relying on the Other, on the world, it locks its jaws on itself; paradoxically, this leads the self to hollow and empty out. It wears itself out in a rat race it runs against itself.” ― Byung-Chul Han, Müdigkeitsgesellschaft

Anxiety and constant dissatisfaction are the grease in the wheels of capitalism.

We are both masters and slaves

Han is a vocal critic of neoliberalism, the economic ideology that promotes free markets, deregulation, and the individual over the collective. In this environment, individualism reigns as the guiding philosophy of life. It’s just you and nothing else. In this individualistic world characterized by pathological narcissism, there’s no external force oppressing or exploiting us—we are doing it to ourselves. Han employs the poignant metaphor that we are both master and slave, whipping ourselves to death at the altar of neoliberalism.

The consequence of this individualistic and narcissistic society, where people are treated as “human capital,” is that we not only plunder nature but also ourselves. We’re in auto-exploit mode by default until we die.

Many of us are on the verge of suffocation, and this suffocation is called burnout today, as I mentioned earlier. I should actually be free if I am free from the constraints or commands coming from the other house, but I am not free because I myself am the one who creates constraints, constantly inventing my own commands and subjecting myself to them. It’s not the other who oppresses me; rather, I am suffocating myself, even though there is no master making me a slave. I am not free because I am the master who makes myself a slave; I am both master and slave at the same time.

One could simply say that I am plundering myself to death, I am working myself to death, I am optimizing myself to death. The disappearance of the other is a pathological phenomenon of the present; being interconnected is not the same as being connected, especially boundless connectivity weakens the bond of an intense relationship and presupposes the other who eludes my availability. It is only the unavailability of the other that makes closeness possible. — Translated transcript snippet from this German video.

Age of narcissism

We’ve all become raging narcissists. However, this rampant narcissism is not the cause but rather the result of the incentives that nudge us to be narcissistic. This phenomenon is prominently displayed on social media platforms, where we incessantly share and overshare all aspects of our lives. All of this feeds into a performative culture where emotions, relationships, work, and achievements are all performances in service of “optimizing” and “improving” various aspects of our lives. Nothing is sacred, and everything is seen as a resource to be exploited.

Today’s consumer society knows a healthier panoptic structure – not solitude through regulation, but overcommunication guarantees transparency. What is special about the digital panopticon, above all, is that its inhabitants actively participate in its construction and maintenance by exhibiting and exposing themselves. Pornographic self-display and panoptic control become one. The actionism and exhibitionism feed the net as a digital panopticon.

The panopticon is perfected where its subject is not controlled by external compulsion, but out of the need to shamelessly expose oneself – where the fear of losing one’s privacy and intimacy becomes the desire to put oneself on display. Google and social networks that present themselves as spaces of freedom are simultaneously digital panopticons.

Today surveillance does not take place as an attack on freedom as is commonly assumed – rather, one voluntarily submits to the panoptic gaze, diligently helping to construct the digital panopticon by stripping and displaying oneself. The inmate of the digital panopticon is thus victim and perpetrator at the same time. This is the dialectic of freedom: freedom turns out to be control. The subjected subject is not even aware of its subjection here; the power structure remains completely hidden from it. — Translated transcript snippet from this German video.

Life is a performance, and if we don’t perform hard enough, we don’t get enough points to climb the invisible global scoreboard.

Narcissism is the symptom, not the cause:

But to Byung Chul Han, that’s almost the opposite of what’s going on. The narcissistic individual is not the cause of the world being more narcissistic. The ethos of the world makes narcissism an extremely common lane for people to fall into because they have almost no other options. The same way in former societies it was very common for people to fall into a lane in life like go to school, graduate, go to work, get married, have kids, house, white picket fence… Narcissism is a lane we’re funneling people into in neoliberal society. — Philosophize This!

The Other

One of my favorite observations of Han was the lack of what he calls “the other.” The other is anything that isn’t the same. In other words, the Other is negativity, opposition, pain, opposing views, and disagreements. Han says that

The time in which there was such a thing as the Other is over. The Other as a secret, the Other as a temptation, the Other as eros, the Other as desire, the Other as hell and the Other as pain disappear. The negativity of the Other now gives way to the positivity of the Same. The proliferation of the Same constitutes the pathological changes that afflict the social body. It is made sick not by denial and prohibition, but by over-communication and over- consumption; not by suppression and negation, but by permissiveness and affirmation. The pathological sign of our times is not repression but depression. Destructive pressure comes not from the Other but from within. — The Expulsion of the Other: Society, Perception and Communication Today

Han says that everything has become the same because we are all doing the same thing and comparing ourselves to the same people.

“The terror of the same today reaches all areas of life. We traveled all over the place without having any experience. One learns everything without acquiring any knowledge. There is a craving for experiences and stimuli with which, however, one always remains the same as oneself. One accumulates friends and followers without ever experiencing the encounter with someone else. Social media represents a null degree of social.

Total digital interconnection and total communication do not make it easy to meet others. Rather, they serve to find people who are the same and think alike, making us pass by strangers and those who are different, and they ensure that our horizon of experiences becomes narrower and narrower. They don’t entangle us in an endless loop of self and ultimately lead us to a “self-propaganda that indoctrinates us with our own notions.” ― Byung-Chul Han, The Expulsion of the Different

Think of the other as a virus. To develop antibodies, you need to be infected. In the same way, we need different perspectives. More of the same leads to intellectual obesity.

Everyone today wants to be authentic, that is, different from others. We are constantly comparing ourselves with others. It is precisely this comparison that makes us all the same. In other words: the obligation to be authentic leads to the hell of sameness. — Interview with EL PAÍS

The church in our pockets

Perhaps one of the most depressing metaphors that I heard was Han’s comparison of the smartphone to a rosary and beads. We confess to it, but don’t ask for forgiveness, but attention. Every like is akin to an “amen.” We don’t notice that we have become slaves to the smartphone because our brains have been numbed to the constant secretion of dopamine.

Subjection means being subordinate. The smartphone is a digital devotional object, and indeed the emotionalization of the digital in general. To be a subject means to be subjected. As an apparatus of activation, the smartphone functions like a handcuff – in its handiness it also represents a kind of hand iron. Both serve self-surveillance and self-control. Power increases its efficiency by delegating surveillance to every single individual. We are easy digital serfs while clicking Like and sharing. As we do so, we submit to the power structure. The smartphone is not only an effective surveillance device, but also a mobile confessional – confession was a very effective technique of power.

We confess the depths of our soul. Today we live in a digital Middle Ages – we keep confessing, but voluntarily. But we do not ask for forgiveness, but for attention. It is no longer the church but the click and the market that lend us an ear. We live in a digital serfdom, the new lords are called Facebook or Google. They provide us with land for free and tell us to diligently cultivate it. We productively cultivate as we communicate, share, undertake, narrate, fill the timeline. Then the lords come and harvest, and we don’t even notice that we are being exploited. — Translated transcript snippet from this German video.

Listen to these episodes:

Achievement Society and the rise of narcissism, depression and anxiety

Everything that connects us is slowly disappearing


Good reads

Byung-Chul Han: “I Practise Philosophy as Art”

Our obsession is no longer for objects, but for information and data. Today we produce and consume more information than objects. We actually get high on communication. Libidinal energies have been redirected from objects to nonobjects. The consequence is infomania. We are all infomaniacs now. Object fetishism is probably over. We are becoming information- and data-fetishists. Now there is even talk of datasexuals. Tapping and swiping a smartphone is almost a liturgical gesture, and it has a massive effect on our relationship to the world. Information that doesn’t interest us gets swiped away. Content we like, on the other hand, gets zoomed in, using the pincer movement of our fingers. We literally have a grip on the world. It’s entirely up to us.

We live in an age of extravagance, learning to be content with abundance is the antidote we need

We consume extravagantly without end — yet are always left grasping for more. Such is the pitiful state of modern man. And all the while, that which as been abundantly provided for us, that which is renewable, sustainable, and of superior quality — the wild foods, the well-made durable goods, and the renewable sources of energy — are left underutilised, ignored, and wasted. This is a gross tragedy for as Berry again states in the same essay, “abundance, given moderation and responsible use, is limitless.” — limitless in the most sustainable and satisfying manner.

Lockdown, generational trauma and considerations for living in a post-pandemic world

Over time, I’ve come to realize that DID is also what helps me be a really different, expansive kind of editor: when I’m reading, I pull from a distinct “vault” of knowledge which is filled with memories and sounds of everything I’ve ever read or edited or researched, all weaving together into decades-long patterns of speech, writing and communication. Before knowing I have DID, I’d mercilessly shame myself for not knowing how to “just push through” with an editing task on occasion; now I know how to recognize this resistance as a request for rest (before my editor self is pushed to dissociate in order to get what she needs). As you might imagine, things in my mind are complex, and the work of DID and communicating with my “system of selves” will continue for the rest of my life.

The life of a common reader. “these need no reward… They have loved reading.”

I have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards—their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble—the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.”

Repair and Remain. How to do the slow, hard, good work of staying put.

When the flashing sidebar connects that hand lotion, those hiking boots, a beach vacation, or some rugged SUV with satisfaction, joy, and inner peace, it sure feels like we’d be suckers not to buy it. And when that thing inevitably disappoints, we hardly even notice. There’s always something new to buy. That narrative of elusive satisfaction isn’t just something we’re repeatedly being told; it is a story we’re literally buying into all the time. No surprise, then, that when our beloved to whom we once upon a time “pledged our troth” inevitably disappoints, we start thinking it might be time to get a new beloved.

Are you happy with your miserable life? If not, get a credit card and buy the life you want. 0% interest, conditions apply*

The drugification of everything

There’s a weird molecule in your brain. It makes you feel good, makes you look smart whenever you utter its name, and is also responsible for ripping apart families and the fabric of society. It’s gotta be the most destructive molecule known to mankind—more destructive than uranium and plutonium.

Any guesses?

I am talking about dopamine.

It’s the most famous and sexiest molecule ever. Neuropsychologist Vaughan Bell called it the “Kardashian of neurotransmitters.” If you’ve been reading this blog, you may have noticed that it’s filled with regrets about not reading all the books I want to. Another book that I’ve been wanting to read for a long time but is cursed by my tsundoku is Dopamine Nation by psychiatrist Dr. Anna Lembke. One of her videos popped up in my YouTube feed—see, algorithms are not all bad—and I’ve been bingeing on her videos and podcasts all week.

Dopamine is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but very few people understand what it is. It’s the Stephen Hawking book of words—everybody buys his books, but nobody reads them.

Since I’ve heard Anna Lembke’s podcasts, I’m obviously an expert on dopamine. I’m just two PDFs away from being a neuroscientist on the internet. Like, apart from the fact that actual neuroscientists study for a decade, do research, and cut open actual brains, there’s no difference between what I know from listening to podcasts and them. Ok, coming back to dopamine. To understand this mysterious chemical, you need to learn a little bit about the brain. Lucky for you, I’m a neuroscientist.

Neurons, or nerve cells, are the fundamental building blocks of our brains. They are like messengers that are responsible for processing and transmitting information through the body. The way they send biological WhatsApp messages is through electrical and chemical signals. They constantly text various parts of the body to ensure all bodily actions happen on time so that we don’t die. If you are on the LinkedIn website building your professional network and you suddenly and involuntarily pee in your pants, as has happened to many of us, it wasn’t you—it was your incompetent neurons.

Neurons have a gap between them called a synapse. As you can imagine, two neurons can’t communicate with each other if there’s a gap. As far as we know, we don’t have an endogenous neural WiFi network. This is where neurotransmitters come in. They are chemicals that our brain produces to help neurons talk to each other—think of them as ChemFi. Dopamine is one such neurotransmitter. Groovy stuff, right?

Duke University CIPHERS project

As soon as I heard one video of Dr. Lembke, I was hooked. Over the course of the week, I listened to several of her conversations, and she’s brilliant. I figured I might as well share a few ideas I picked up from listening to Dr. Lembke:”

Dopamine isn’t just about pleasure; it keeps us alive

Most people assume that dopamine is only pleasure, but that’s like saying the sun is just a dumb, giant ball of fire. You’re not entirely wrong, but you’re not entirely right either. Dopamine is much more complex than just pleasure and reward.

If you think about it, as humans evolved over thousands of years, the primary imperative was survival. That means we are hardwired to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Dopamine is the chemical that modulates this behavior.

Dr. Lembke cited a famous study in this talk that illustrates my point:

There’s a very famous experiment where scientists engineered a rat to have no dopamine, and what they discovered was that when they put food into the rat’s mouth, it ate the food and seemed to get pleasure from eating and swallowed the food. But if they put that food even a single body length away, the rat would starve to death, so it wasn’t motivated to get up and go get the food, suggesting indeed that dopamine has this fairly fundamental role not just in the experience of pleasure.

Perhaps dopamine’s most important function is motivation. To get a reward or to feel pleasure, we need to perform certain actions, and dopamine is the catalyst. Dopamine is also linked to movement because rewards require people to move and do things. The abominable Parkinson’s disease is caused by the degeneration of dopamine-producing neurons in a brain region called the substantia nigra. As dopamine production reduces, people with Parkinson’s experience tremors, rigidity, and mobility issues.

You can’t get addicted to dopamine

If you had a rupee for every time you used the phrase “addicted to dopamine hit” or heard other people use it, you’d be rich enough to buy a penthouse suite in Bandra, Mumbai. Dopamine is a chemical naturally produced in the brain, and in a way, it keeps us alive. Our brains naturally produce dopamine at a baseline level:

We’re always releasing dopamine at baseline tonic levels in the brain. It’s kind of like the heartbeat of the brain, and it’s the fluctuations in dopamine firing, either above baseline or below baseline, which influence how we feel, whether or not we’re motivated to do that thing again.

Pleasure and pain are joined at the hip

The same parts of the brain that process pleasure also process pain, and our brains like balance. The brain prefers this balanced state called homeostasis—neither too much pain nor too much pleasure. So whenever you experience pleasure, there’s a price to be paid, and you experience an equal and opposite amount of pain. This is why you feel hungover after getting drunk. Think of pain and pleasure as a see-saw.

The fascinating thing I learned is that whenever we do something pleasurable, such as eating a piece of chocolate, the dopamine levels in our brains spike above baseline. However, what’s interesting is that these dopamine levels don’t return to baseline levels after we finish eating the chocolate. Instead, our brain attempts to restore homeostasis by reducing dopamine production, resulting in a state of dopamine deficit.

Remember, there’s an equal and opposite reaction to pleasure, and this is how pain manifests—in the form of craving. If you don’t feed your cravings, they eventually subside, and dopamine is restored to baseline levels.

But if you give in to your craving and continue eating chocolate, you are increasing the amount of pain you will experience in the future. This is because as long as you continue eating chocolates, dopamine levels will remain high, which your brain dislikes. If you stop eating, you enter a dopamine deficit state because the brain has to reduce dopamine production and bring it back to normal levels. This is why people experience addiction in a dopamine-deficient state. If you don’t continue eating chocolates, you will feel terrible.

The scary part is that once you are in a dopamine deficit state, even if you eat chocolate, you don’t feel pleasure; you just stop feeling pain. In other words, you have to increase the amount of chocolate you eat to experience pleasure. Replace chocolate with cocaine, and this example immediately becomes clear. A drug addict would need to continue increasing the dose just to get the same high because the pain side of the equation keeps increasing in the opposite direction.

Anna Lembke: With repeated use of the same or similar reinforcing substances and behaviors, we eventually end up in this kind of dopamine deficit state. Now we need more of our drug and more frequent doses over time, not to get high, but just to feel normal and stop the craving. This is exactly why people with severe addiction will relapse even weeks after they’ve stopped using, even though they can objectively tell you, “Yes, my life is much better because I’m not using, and my spouse is back, and my job is back, and from a physical health point of view, I’m doing better.” But mentally, many of them are still struggling with those universal symptoms of that dopamine deficit state, which are anxiety, irritability, insomnia, depression, and craving..

Anything can be addictive and anyone can get addicted

Addiction doesn’t discriminate against anyone. Dr. Lembke herself, a renowned psychiatrist who treats people struggling with addiction, was addicted to romance novels. It started with Twilight novels, and then she lost control:

Anna Lembke: Well, it’s always a little embarrassing as these things are. But in my early 40s, I did develop a kind of compulsive attachment, which I think you could fairly call a mild addiction to romance novels. So it started with the Twilight Saga, you might think of The Twilight Saga as my gateway drug. And then I got a Kindle, which was akin to my hypodermic syringe. And it escalated from there over the course of about two years, to what I consider to be a kind of socially sanctioned addiction to erotica, or, you know, pornography for women, if I could phrase it like that. To the point where I was habitually staying up very late at night, reading romance novels.

As soon as I would finish one book, in fact, before I would actually finish it, once I got three quarters of the way through to the climax, I wouldn’t even finish it, I would already be on Amazon looking for the next book. To the point where I was often groggy in the morning, exhausted on my way to work, not fully able to be present for my patients, or my children or my husband.

Several nadir’s in the course of my compulsive behaviours, were, at one point, I did bring a book to work and found myself in the 10 minutes between patients, just wanting to escape and read that book. Once I went to a social event with another family, and found a room where I could read in the middle of the social event. 

Addiction isn’t just about substances; behaviors can be addictive as well. Anything from eating, Instagram, shopping, pornography, seeking attention, exercising, and even drinking water:

So I’ve seen one case of that in my career. It was actually very sad. It was a woman with a very severe alcohol addiction who got into recovery from her alcohol addiction. That is to say, she was no longer consuming alcohol, she was actively working on her health. But somehow or another, she discovered that if she drank water in copious amounts, she could feel altered, and she got addicted to that process. She had several very severe episodes of hyponatremia and almost died from those episodes. — Rewiring Your Dopamine Systems with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Anna Lembke

Addiction is a biopsychosocial disease. Biological, psychological, and social factors all play significant roles in influencing addiction. It’s not just an individual thing; factors such as genetics, personality, social situation, and environment can all influence one’s propensity for addiction.

Like, I think we’re all gonna get addicted to something because now that special key that works for each of our individual locks, it’s out there somewhere and the worldwide web will allow us to find it. Having said that, it is true that people bring different degrees of vulnerability to the process of addiction.

We do know that about 50-60% of the risk of becoming addicted is genetic. That’s based on family studies, showing that if you have a biological parent or grandparent addicted to alcohol, you are at increased risk of becoming an alcoholic yourself, even if you’re raised outside of the alcoholic home, in a non-using home. So, that’s powerful genetics.

It’s polygenic, it’s complex, we don’t fully understand it. It’s thought to be related to things like impulse control, ability to delay gratification, emotional dysregulation. But, you know, we don’t really know what it is.

Other risk factors include co-occurring psychiatric disorders. People with psychiatric disorders are more likely to develop an addiction, and also how you were raised. If you had a traumatic experience, as we’ve talked about, that puts you at risk. If you have parents who have explicitly or implicitly condoned substance use, either for recreation or as a coping strategy, that puts you at risk. Things like poverty, unemployment, that puts you at risk.

So there are lots and lots of risk factors, but I think that the major risk factor in the modern world and one which is generally ignored, is simple access. If you have access to a drug, you are more likely to try it and more likely to get addicted to it. And now, as we’ve talked about, we live in a world of virtually infinite access.

I’m still learning the nuances of addiction, and I will write about it in future posts.

The drugification of everything

One of my favorite metaphors that Dr. Anna used was the “drugification” of everything, and that’s so apt. We live in a society where the potency of everything, from food and drugs to content, entertainment, and even leisure, has been amplified. The goal of every corporation is to stimulate our brains to ejaculate the maximum amount of dopamine and keep us coming back for more. The incentive of late-stage capitalism is to turn us into compulsive consumers

Everything is just so readily available now, and it’s never been harder not to get hooked on something. It’s a weird paradox that abundance has become a curse.

Adel: The fact that evolutionarily we’ve had a system that’s got us to the point that we are at now because of our adaptability to avoid pain.

Anna Lembke: That’s exactly right.

Adel: But now we’re in a completely different context.

Anna Lembke: That’s right.

Anna Lembke: And so it is this mismatch between the ancient wiring, which was really intended for a world of scarcity, and the world that we live in now, which is a world of dopamine overload or overwhelming overabundance, in which almost every aspect of our lives, from the food we eat to the games we play, has been drugified in some way. And when I say drugified, I mean it’s been made more potent, so it releases more dopamine hypothetically than other types of reinforcers. It’s more abundant, meaning that there’s kind of no natural stopping point because it doesn’t run out.

It’s more accessible, and one of the biggest risk factors for addiction is simple access to that drug. And finally, it’s more novel, right? So what we figured out how to do is overcome tolerance to these drugs. Once we acquire tolerance, by, for example, combining two drugs together to make a more potent form of the original drug.

Adel: Yeah, everything you talk about, I can’t help but think about social media on the iPhone, yeah? And in regards to accessibility, right? If that’s a rule of thumb, can you imagine how accessible, and we’re thinking about social media as a drug, right? How accessible is social media? It’s like the most accessible drug, right?

Anna Lembke: Exactly. And I know, you know, in clinical practice, it really was starting in 2001 when the smartphone was invented that we started to see more and more patients coming in with life-threatening pornography addictions, gambling addictions, and then later, video game addiction, social media addiction, shopping addiction, all of these things that were really made possible by the 24/7 mobile access to the internet afforded by the smartphone.

Say no!

There are debilitating addictions to drugs and alcohol that require medical interventions, but for the vast majority of us, our addictions aren’t that serious. The most common addictions outside of drugs, tobacco, and alcohol are probably our dependence on digital devices, social media, shopping, gambling, and work. Social media is particularly pernicious because using platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook activates the same parts of the brain as drugs and alcohol. Being on social media is akin to snorting cocaine.

Before you can fix a problem, you must first acknowledge that there’s a problem. If you are oblivious to your addictions, then you don’t have a problem. Then comes acceptance. This is the hard part because we, as humans, possess the dangerous ability to rationalize anything, from bingeing on burgers to committing genocides.

“Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal.”

Robert A. Heinlein

While accepting a problem sounds nice in theory, it’s complicated in practice. There’s no bright line that separates addictive and non-addictive behavior, and the intensity of addictive behavior differs between individuals. According to Dr. Lembke, often the only way to determine if we have a problem is to abstain from the activity for a period of time, such as a month.

If you’re smart enough to figure out and accept that you have a problem, Dr. Lembke recommends the deceptively simple practice of dopamine fasting. This is all the rage these days, thanks to Silicon Valley bros and health podcasters, but the idea is simple: stop taking the drug that you like for 30 days.

Why 30 days?

According to Dr. Lembke, a month is the average time it takes for the brain to reset the dopamine pathways back to normal. In other words, your brain goes from a state of dopamine deficit to baseline. Dr. Lembke notes that, apart from people with serious addictions requiring medical interventions, most of her patients start feeling better after 30 days.

Recommended listening and reading

The best thing to do is to read her book. But if you are afflicted by tsundoku like me, then these podcasts are worth listening to:

Dr. Anna Lembke: Dopamine & Decision-Making

Dr. Anna Lembke: Understanding & Treating Addiction

Finding Balance In A Dopamine Overloaded World with Dr Anna Lembke

Jonathan Haidt and his collaborators have been documenting the harms of digital devices and social media in great detail. His newsletter makes for great reading.

Can Humanity Survive AI?

As I thought about this article the day after I read it, it seemed more like parody than reality. It’s a well-written article about the boomers and the doomers in the world of artificial intelligence.

Some fear not the “sci-fi” scenario where AI models get so capable they wrest control from our feeble grasp, but instead that we will entrust biasedbrittle, and confabulating systems with too much responsibility, opening a more pedestrian Pandora’s box full of awful but familiar problems that scale with the algorithms causing them. This community of researchers and advocates — often labeled “AI ethics” — tends to focus on the immediate harms being wrought by AI, exploring solutions involving model accountability, algorithmic transparency, and machine learning fairness.

Pair it with: How AI is quietly changing everyday life

Javier Milei’s Freak Show Act Is a Taste of Things to Come

It might very well be true that what we are seeing right now marks the end of a moderate, centrist version of “open society” neoliberalism, so appealing for decades even to many on the erstwhile social democratic left. But the rising popularity of more extreme forms of libertarianism around the world should caution us that market radicalism isn’t simply going to disappear. Instead, it is consolidating its ideology and returning to its cultural roots.

How to Grow a Garden in the Technopoly

A portrait of how people are actively resisting the encroachment of technology into all aspects of life.

So technology—and everything that we are stewards of—needs to bend to those principles. I love how Andy Crouch puts it in his very helpful book The Tech-Wise Family: Everything should be in its proper place, and that goes for our tools and time as well as toys and books and kitchen utensils. What Crouch also notes is that stating your family goals explicitly—such as growth in wisdom and courage—helps you to discern whether a certain tool is needed for a task. (As one of my dad’s sayings goes, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” And the corollary, of course, is just because other people are doing it doesn’t mean you should.) Will this help me, or my child, grow in wisdom and courage? Does this practice help cultivate attention, and appreciation of beauty and truth and goodness?

The Stars, Our Destination?

Why Space Is Watery (And So Very Far Away)

I regret not discovering Mike Sowden earlier. Ridiculously wonderful pieces! Must read!

Throw your phone away and go snort some grass. Not that grass. I mean grass.

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