My journey out of an existential crisis

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Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

If it really takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in something, then I’m an expert in but one thing — enduring an existential crisis. For over a decade, I stumbled through life in a steady state of distress, my every hour of potential bliss invariably violated by life’s insistence that I explicitly state its meaning. I submitted thousands of answers — none were deemed sufficient.

That is not to say I made no progress. …


An affirmation of life

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Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash

He stood dangerously close to the edge of a cliff, staring hesitantly at the raging sea below. He felt the fear coursing through his body — not the fear of falling, but the fear that he might jump. The chaos beckoned, urging him to plunge himself into the abyss, to answer his subconscious drive toward death and self-destruction.

He thought of how easy it would be. There was a state of constant tension, as if he was pulled forward by an invisible rope. What was required was not action, but mere inaction. …


You’ve merely forgotten it

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Photo by Ethan Sykes on Unsplash

They say a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. If wisdom had indeed been bestowed upon me, I’d have learned from Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince.

The story is simple enough. The Prince lives on a small asteroid. He’s lonely. His sorry days are spent tearing out hazardous baobab roots. Then, out of nowhere, a mysterious seed takes root. The Prince watches closely over the small shoot which is quite unlike any he has seen previously. Every day, the miraculous apparition grows in elegance, introducing the Prince to evermore beautiful colors and shapes. This is no baobab. It’s a rose!

With such an exquisite creature now as his companion, the Prince’s life is rendered infinitely more meaningful. Every minute spent with the tiny flower, together in this immense garden of cosmos, feels like a privilege. For the Prince, mere existence is now enough — plenty to be there while she spreads her leaves and blossoms, while she perfumes the planet with her fragrance, while she glistens in the sunset. …


A philosophy for a productive life.

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Photo by Arisa Chattasa on Unsplash

Newton’s first law states that an object at rest stays at rest. To get it moving in any useful direction, great force needs to be applied. Although Newton‘s principle talks about inanimate matter, we’ve come to regard it as a law of human nature, too.

Rest is our natural state of being, we’re told. We’re inherently lazy and self-indulgent. If it were up to us, we’d merely sleep, eat, mingle, and repeat. Jolting ourselves into motion, out of this congenital comfort zone, takes immense might. All sorts of trickery must be brought to bear, too, the self-help gurus keep regurgitating. To-do lists must be kept, time needs to be tracked, and motivational quotes have to be read. …


New advances in artificial intelligence spell the dusk of the era of human-computer symbiosis

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Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

In 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue defeated the reigning world chess champion Garry Kasparov. The world was in shock. It seemed computers, thus far thought to be little more than glorified calculators, had finally intruded upon the human domain of imagination and creativity.

The worry was in vain. Deep Blue had no capacity for ingenuity. It won by brute force alone, evaluating 200 million positions each second. It was an abomination to compare such a rudimentary algorithm to human originality. While the mindless machine toiled in trial-and-error, Kasparov was gently beckoned towards promising moves by his subconscious.


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Photo by Christian Bowen on Unsplash

When Gilles Vandewiele noticed a large number of studies reporting near-perfect accuracy in predicting whether would-be mothers will undergo premature delivery, his jaw dropped. This was huge.

The unbearably high mortality rate of infants has plagued humanity since its inception. Preterm birth, which afflicts every tenth newborn in the US, is the leading cause of these untimely deaths. If it was possible to say with certainty whether a woman will deliver early, preparations could be made to reduce the risk of complications.

However, forecasting premature births has proven to be elusive. For gynecologists to ascertain whether a woman is due early, they have to account for an unwieldy amount of risk factors, including esoteric items like air pollution, domestic violence, and stress. …


Two words is all it takes

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Photo by Dimitar Belchev on Unsplash

For Bryan Cranston, acting had always been an end in itself. While many of his colleagues burned out groveling for a part in the next Hollywood megahit, he marched steadily forward, perfectly content with honing his craft on less glamorous jobs. An artist, through and through, unperturbed by fantasies of vanity, he spent most of his career playing in commercials, obscure TV shows, and yes, soap operas.

It was, therefore, no small surprise when suddenly, in his fifties, he was a megastar. Almost overnight, his face was everywhere — woven into hoodies, molded on Halloween masks, shaved on the back of peoples’ heads, even inked permanently on some asses. …


Life is objective, we make it subjective.

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Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

There’s an exchange in Hermann Hesse’s novel Siddharta that has always stayed with me. It’s a conversation between a rich merchant and the title character — a son of a Hindu priest who has grown disenchanted with a life of asceticism and self-sacrifice. Unable to quench his thirst for earthly pleasures, he’s run off into a booming city in search of materialistic success and is now faced with his first-ever job interview.

Naturally, the merchant is skeptical of the young man. After all, Siddharta has no training in business. He doesn’t know how much a basket of fish costs, nor is he aware how much interest should be charged on loaned money. In fact, when inquired what he’s got to offer to the experienced trader, he speaks of only three irrelevant skills: “I can think. I can wait. …


Data Privacy

Because you’re relatively immoral

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Photo by ev on Unsplash

You‘d never guess by her many achievements — a doctorate from Cambridge, a best-selling memoir — but for most of her life, Tara Westover’s environment has been anything but conducive to intellectual inquiry. While our parents were euphoric stumbling upon us perusing a textbook, Tara’s punished her.

Growing up in a survivalist household in a remote part of Idaho, her childhood was one of isolation and physical toil. Her father a radically religious conspiracy theorist, she was strictly forbidden to attend school or commune with other kids. Instead, her youth was spent on the family’s hazardous wrecking yard, sorting scrap. …


As our character evolves, so must our aspirations

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Photo by Mika Matin on Unsplash

For as far back as I can remember, I’ve yearned for success in its most banal. In kindergarten, we were asked to paint our future selves. Some kids drew policemen, some painted firefighters, a few saw themselves as astronauts. I drew a man holding a bag of cash.

The roots of every twist and turn at the junctions in my life can be found in that painting. At the age of ten, I quit competitive chess, for there was no real fame in the game anymore. At fourteen, I gave up long jump, for the Olympic medal doesn’t sell for much. A year later, I developed a keen fascination for finance. …

About

Sten Sootla

Building robots by day, thinking hard how not to become one myself by night.

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