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.