“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia. (…) You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”
― John Green, Looking for Alaska
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 twitter summarizing the four quadrants.)
— Paul Graham (6 min read)
In Praise of Mediocrity
Flashback to your favorite hobby as a child. Remember how passionate you were, and how you didn’t care about being good at it. (Mine was drawing.) As we grew up to adulthood, we’ve lost “the gentle pursuit of a modest competence, the doing of something just because you enjoy it, not because you are good at it.” Society promised “to free us from the struggle for survival and to make room for higher pursuits. But demanding excellence in all that we do can undermine that.”The truth is, we struggle to keep hobbies because “we’re afraid of being bad at them.” And our perfectionism and self-judgment trap us in the vicious cycle of procrastination.
— Tim Wu, The New York Times (4 min read)
Your Imagination Is a Projection of Your Past
The human ability to access memories is a blessing and a curse. One on hand, “If you can plan for the future, you’re more likely to survive it.” But on the other hand, “Your accumulated experiences…are the only building blocks you have to construct a vision of the future.” Our memory leaves us vulnerable to cognitive biases, unexpected events, and stupid decisions. (As tempting as it may be, relying on the past to make decisions about the future is dangerous. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
— Julie Beck, The Atlantic (4 min read)
Why We Trust Dishonest People
You may have heard the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover,” which reminds us to judge the character of a person instead of their outward appearance. But there’s one major flaw with this. Science suggests that we don’t have good judgment of character. In fact, our character judgment is so bad that we tend to trust certain people, despite their blatant lies. Why? Because “a good reputation biases the ability to learn the momentary trustworthiness of another person and impairs the updating of one’s beliefs about the other’s character for behavior revision.” In other words, we struggle to update our judgment of character, especially with individuals who were initially trustworthy.
— Bellucci, G., & Park, S. Q. (2020). Honesty biases trustworthiness impressions. Journal of Experimental Psychology.
The Mysterious Origins of Jazz
Over 100 years after the first jazz recording, heated debates about its origin continues to rage. “African-style drumbeats and the Caribbean rhythm… so common to jazz as a whole, points to the time from 1817 to 1843, when black slaves – some from Africa, some from the Caribbean, some from the interior of the American South – would gather on Sundays in New Orleans’ Congo Square to play music and cross-pollinate their traditions.”
— Christian Blauvelt, BBC (7 min read)
The History of Victorian London’s Infamous Filth
In the 19th century, London, the capital of England, was the center of the British Empire. But it wasn’t as glamorous as scenes in movies. It was literally filled with shit. “By the 1890s, there were approximately 300,000 horses and 1,000 tons of dung a day in London. What the Victorians did, Lee says, was employ boys ages 12 to 14 to dodge between the traffic and try to scoop up the excrement as soon as it hit the streets.”
—NPR (13m 26s)
Why Positive Feedback Fails to Motivate Others
“Random chance plays a role in virtually everything that we do, so the outcome of events are influenced by both skill and a little bit of luck…so if you have especially good luck on one day, chances are that your level of luck won’t be as good the next day.”
—Veritasium, YouTube (7m 23s)
Today I learned: In 1231, Qutuz, a young Persian prince was captured by the Mongols and sold as a slave to Egypt. He rose up the ranks to become king of Egypt, then he led an army to fight the Mongols. Qutuz got his revenge and dealt the Mongols with their biggest defeat. (source)
Food for thought: There are only three things you need to be happy: Love, family, and purpose.