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

Best reads


The Five Commandments of Decision Making Under Uncertainty ​

A counterintuitive statistical guide on how to avoid making stupid decisions:

“Collecting and processing the information necessary for complex decisionmaking is costly…Fully defining future states of the world, and probability-weighting them, is beyond anyone’s cognitive limits. Even in relatively simple games, such as chess, cognitive limits are quickly breached…too great a focus on information gathered from the past may retard effective decision-making about the future.” In other words, simplify information gathering and don’t rely on the past to make decisions about the future. “The choice of optimal decision-making strategy depends importantly on the degree of uncertainty about the environment…Other things equal, the smaller the sample, the greater the model uncertainty and the better the performance of simple, heuristic strategies.”

Roger Pielke Jr. ()


The Four Quadrants of Conformism

Paul Graham (Co-founder of seed capital firm, Y Combinator) suggests that aggressive conformists kill progressive ideas driving the advancement of society and non-conformists need protection. “One of the most revealing ways to classify people is by the degree and aggressiveness of their conformism…it seems to me that aggressively conventional-minded people are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the trouble in the world…independent-minded need to be protected, though? Because they have all the new ideas…it’s no coincidence that societies prosper only to the extent that they have customs for keeping the conventional-minded at bay.”(I found this useful diagram on summarizing the four quadrants.)

Paul Graham ()


Introverts Are Excluded Unfairly in an Extraverts’ World​

Story of my life (oh, you didn’t know I was a hermit?) As it turns out, 33 percent of the U.S. population are introverts. So why are they “physically present, but culturally absent?”:

“Working conditions chosen by extraverts to suit extraverts increase the burden on introverts.” The burden of group work, feeling dominated during meetings and working in open offices with extroverted colleagues who pester you to ‘coffee chat.’ But my dear extrovert friends, the #1 way to drive an introvert crazy is to interrupt their quiet time and ‘deep work.’ This is why you may have “the mistaken perception of introverts as snobbish, misanthropic or depressed.” Introverts live and breathe quiet time. So how do we protect our bless-ed introverts? For one, we must acknowledge that “the bias begins already in the first grade of school.” Two, in team meetings, “allocating time for each attendee to speak could also give introverts the chance to express their thoughts.” And the biggie, “in business and academic settings, workers should have more autonomy in choosing their working conditions.” (If I were a dictator, I would abolish open office spaces, but I’m not, so…) In short, we don’t have an introvert problem. We have a diversity problem. “Introversion is not something to be fixed – but a blessed source of human diversity.”

Noa Herz, Psyche mag ()


4 Steps to Cope With Panic Attacks

Our brains trigger a fight-or-flight response to escape life-threatening danger, but this may be a false alarm. During a panic attack, your body “produces three interconnected reactions: catastrophic thoughts…physical symptoms…and a powerful urge to escape.” Four psychologists share four steps to cope with panic attacks.“The four steps to alleviating a panic attack:

1. Learn about the body’s emergency ‘fight or flight’ stress response

2. Replace your catastrophic thoughts with rational ones

3. Calm yourself with breathing exercises or grounding

4. Resist the urge to escape the situation, and continue what you were doing.”

It also helps to remember that a panic attack is a “normal reaction that will pass in no more than a few minutes.”

Christian Jarrett, Psyche ()


Lack of Sleep Makes You Lonely

Neuroscientists have finally discovered why I’ve been a loner my whole life. A study published in Nature Communications discovered that sleep-deprived participants displayed higher levels of social distancing behavior than well-rested participants. Sleep-deprived participants also experienced greater activation in the “Near Space” network (a region of the brain associated with personal space.)

+ Sleep-deprived participants were perceived by others to be lonely and antisocial.

It’s a vicious cycle: you’re sleep-deprived. You isolate yourself. Your friends call you a loner. You withdraw even more. Now you’re lonelier. Rinse and repeat. Wonderful.

Eti Ben Simon & Matthew P. Walker (2018). . Nature Communications.

Best podcast of the week

When Did Marriage Become So Hard?

The rapid rise of marriage breakdowns has raised questions about the history of marriage, and why it’s getting harder. “Marriage originally arose in more egalitarian band-level societies as a way of sharing resources and establishing peaceful relations with groups…How do you make equality erotic? Where’s the sizzle in consensus and compromise, in child care pickups and doctor’s appointments, in a lifestyle symbolized by a Honda Civic rather than a flashy Ferrari?” Modern marriage is driven by a subtle expectation that your spouse will always fulfill your needs. But if you can’t fill the void yourself, who else can?

Hidden Brain ()

Best video of the week

This Canadian Genius Created Modern AI ​

Before the 1990s, only a handful of people believed that computers could learn like humans. One of these crazy minds was Geoff Hinton, a deep learning genius who spent 40 years trying to convince the world about AI.“If you want to understand a complicated device like the brain, you should build one.”

Bloomberg, YouTube ()

Riddle of the week: What begins with ‘E’ and ends with ‘E’ but only has one letter? (Answer will be revealed next week Sunday)

Word of the week: Being so stressed that relaxing makes you more stressed because you’re not working on what’s making you stressed.

Poem of the week:

“She had blue skin,

And so did he.

He kept it hid

And so did she.

They searched for blue

Their whole life through,

Then passed right by-

And never knew.”

― Shel Silverstein


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