The Smarter Brain
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Busy week? Here’s the best of this week for your Sunday reading list.

Thought-provoking quotes of the week

“If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.”

― Thomas Aquinas

“Freedom is not procured by a full enjoyment of what is desired, but by controlling the desire.”

― Epictetus

“We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates… Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.”

—Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows

Best reads of the week


Anger Is Temporary Madness: The Stoics Knew How to Curb It

Lessons from the stoics on how to control your anger. “[A]nger is a temporary madness…Seneca would respond that to talk of moderate anger is to talk of flying pigs: there simply isn’t such a thing in the Universe.”According to Epictetus, you should be like a rock.“What, for instance, does it mean to be insulted? Stand by a rock and insult it, and what have you accomplished? If someone responds to insult like a rock, what has the abuser gained with his invective?”

5 ways to control your anger:

1. “Associate with serene people, as much as possible; avoid irritable or angry ones. Moods are infective.”

2. “Seek environments with pleasing, not irritating, colours. Manipulating external circumstances actually has an effect on our moods.”

3. “Don’t engage in discussions when you are tired, you will be more prone to irritation, which can then escalate into anger.”

4. “Deploy self-deprecating humour, our main weapon against the unpredictability of the Universe, and the predictable nastiness of some of our fellow human beings.”

5. “Don’t start discussions when you are thirsty or hungry, for the same reason.”

— Massimo Pigliucci, Aeon (4 min read)


The Polymath Playbook

The future of work is uncertain. Will AI displace our jobs? Will remote work be the norm? Should you become a specialist or generalist? Last year, I wrote about why generalists will rule the future of work, so I’m glad to see this idea gain traction. “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one…The key advantage that polymaths hold is their ability to develop mental models from different fields and apply them to solve problems in a unique way.” (Contrary to popular opinion, the more you specialize, the harder it is to differentiate yourself from the competition.)

— Salman (8 min read)


How Busyness Leads to Bad Decisions

“You churn through the day.. feeling busy, purposeful and a little breathless. Yet as the end of the traditional workday.. you realise with a sinking feeling that you haven’t even begun the big project you meant to tackle that day.”At the end of each day, you beat your chest and resolve that ‘Tomorrow will be different,’ but the vicious cycle repeats itself. Why?

“When we’re stressed and feeling pressed for time…our attention and cognitive bandwidth narrow as if we’re in a tunnel.” And this tunnel often leads to wasted time on “low-value tasks,”instead of “the big project or the long-range strategic thinking.”

The main culprit behind busyness is email: “the perfect addictive “attention slot machine”.” Because “[o]ur brains are wired for novelty, so we actually love being interrupted with every random ping and ding of a new message.”But there’s hope. We can escape the tunnel of busyness by “thinking about our schedules as less like a pantry that we cram anything…into, and more like an art gallery where we…decide what is most important and how to arrange it so that everything fits.”

— Brigid Schulte, BBC (5 min read)

Book recommendations of the week

Deceit, Desire and the Novel
by René Girard

René Girard was a historian, literary critic, and philosopher, who is best known for his “mimetic theory”: a theory that suggests that our desire for any given object is an imitation of the desire of another person.

In other words, the object of our desire is an illusion. For example, you may believe that you want to be wealthy (object), but your true desire is to become a wealthy person you know (mediator or model).

The result of our desire is a triangular relationship between subject, model, and object.

In this book, Girard analyzes and draws out themes of his mimetic theory from great novelists including Cervantes, Stendhal, Flaubert, Proust, and Dostoevsky.

“Jealousy and envy imply a third presence : object, subject, and a third person toward whom the jealousy or envy is directed. These two “vices” are therefore triangular…the jealous person easily convinces himself that his desire is spontaneous, in other words, that it is deeply rooted in the object and in this object alone. ..But true jealousy is infinitely more profound and complex; it always contains an element of fascination with the insolent rival…What exactly then does such a “temperament” or “nature” imply if not an irresistible impulse to desire what others desire, in other words to imitate the desires of others?”

— Print 

Podcast of the week

How to Design Conversations That Matters

How to Make Your Own Luck

Life lessons and decision-making frameworks from a professional poker player. “German philosopher Immanuel Kant proposes betting as an antidote to one of the great ills of society: false confidence bred from an ignorance of the probabilistic nature of the world.”Our ability to go all-in “is the crucial variable that makes so many decisions so very difficult.”To avoid this we often make passive decisions, but “hanging back only seems like an easy solution. In truth, it can be the seed of far bigger problems.”

—Freakonomics Radio (1hr 2m)

Video of the week

Lullaby Theories: A Secret Message

The science of why we experience pain and how to control it, as explained by a mother to her four-year-old twins. “Brain and body talk to each other to tell you something is wrong…but you don’t feel pain until the brain interprets this message…you can trick your brain, when you adjust your mood or distract yourself, you can stop or reduce the pain.”

— Lullaby Theory, Coat Of Arms (2m 14s)

Word of the week: Akrasia. The state of mind in which someone acts against their better judgment through weakness of will.

Poem of the week:

“To be great, be whole;

Exclude nothing, exaggerate nothing that is not you.

Be whole in everything. Put all you are

Into the smallest thing you do.

So, in each lake, the moon shines with splendor

Because it blooms up above.”

― Fernando Pessoa, Poems of Fernando Pessoa

Answer to last week’s riddle: Envelope.

Shower thought I had this week: Creativity thrives under constraints. An environment surrounded by limited resources is the breeding ground for innovation.

Thank you for reading,


Your Brain Food Chef


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