The Smarter Brain
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“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

— Greek proverb

Worth Reading

1. 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 (5 min read)

2. Thinking About Your Birth Should Be as Scary as Thinking About Death.

‘Huh?’ That’s what I thought when I first read the title of this essay. Before we dive into some existential philosophy, here’s what I’d recommend: stop multitasking, sit on a rock, lean forward, rest your chin on one hand, and gaze downwards as if you were deep into thought (here’s what this striking pose looks like: The Thinker):

“To be born, and therefore to begin life as an infant and child, is to be destined to forget much of one’s early life, even while it still lives on within one…This aspect of being born, as well as the mystery of our own beginnings, can arouse anxiety. For, when we pay attention to infantile amnesia, we can feel uneasy and uncomfortable realising that we will never be able to make full sense of ourselves or of our own motivations and impulses.” We’re strangers to ourselves.

+ “Here, these forms of birth anxiety are not so different from death anxiety after all, because death anxiety is likewise about my ongoing condition as a mortal being – I am always vulnerable to death.” Your life is a cosmological dice roll. If an exact sequence of events never occurred thousands of years leading up to your birth, you wouldn’t exist. So why are we more anxious about death than birth? Perhaps it’s because “My birth is in the past, whereas my death is in the future.” We came into existence gradually, but this process of birth has been annihilated from our memory. Meanwhile, death is something we can imagine in the future. And the thought of losing our consciousness scares the living daylights out of us. Enough philosophy for today, let’s get back to multitasking.

— Alison Stone , Aeon (4 min read)

3. 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. (3 min read)

A  long read…

4. The Man Who Walked Backwards 

The Great Depression crushes a small restaurant and leaves Plennie Wingo (business owner) penniless. To make ends meet, Plennie decides to travel around the world on foot. But in reverse:

“But traffic slowed and bills came due, and he held on as long as he could. He scaled back by laying off employees, the hardest thing he’d ever had to do. And then the bank came to take the cafe for good. But Plennie has a plan… to gain fame and fortune by walking backward around the great world.” (Plennie set the bar high: if you can’t make money walking backward, you’re not a real entrepreneur.)

— Ben Montgomery, TexasMonthly (31 min read)

For the science nerds…

5. 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). Sleep loss causes social withdrawal and loneliness. Nature Communications.


Worth Watching

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 (8m 32s )


Worth Listening to

The Case of the Missing Hit

If you can’t find something on the internet, does it exist at all? “The hell of having something at the tip of your tongue that won’t go away…I’m singing this song that’s stuck in my head…So I pull my phone out to try to find it…And I can’t find a single lyric to this song. I can’t figure out, you know, who made it. Nothing, no information anywhere on Google about this song.”

— Podcast: Reply All (54m33s )


Today I Learned: WWI was a family feud. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King George V of England, and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia were all cousins with each other. Their common ancestor was Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Kaiser Wilhelm II once said about the war, “If my grandmother had been alive, she would never have allowed it.” (Source)

Food for thought: Most self-help books should be blog posts. Most blog posts should be tweets. And most tweets should be deleted.

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