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On taking the next step in the journey

Why do people do what they do? What are the patterns that govern the laws of nature? Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated by these questions and their implications.

As a kid, I spent a lot of time just thinking. At school, I would get into trouble because I was so easily distracted. …


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A brief note I wrote for readers on my website

The author must keep his mouth shut, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “when his work starts to speak.” The rumble of these words echos an important truth.

People generally see themselves through their accomplishments. In doing that, they end up caring more about their image than the messy reality of who they actually are. Rather than your work doing the talking, you end up defining yourself by external, collectively validated markers of prestige that you hope will earn you respect.

The problem with this is that it encourages both yourself and other people to judge your worth based on some relatively arbitrary metric. Suddenly, my formal educational credentials overshadow what I actually learned. Status-based affiliations overshadow the silent contemplation that taught me how to think for myself. …


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“History doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes.”

The speed of light is 299 792 458 m/s. The speed of sound is a mere 343 m/s. One consequence of this difference is that during extreme weather conditions, we tend to see lightning before we hear the thunder.

There is an analogy here that we can use to understand how events in a chain of causes and effects play out. Generally speaking, when it comes to the big things that affect the world, this line moving from cause to effect isn’t always clear. …


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Maybe it’s about more than just what we think?

Artificial intelligence theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky defines rationality in one of two ways: epistemic rationality and instrumental rationality.

The first concerns itself with what we think of as the truth — making sure that our beliefs about reality map well to some collective or objective definition of the truth. This is generally thought of as the realm of science, but many people would argue that there are truths that science hasn’t yet realized, or can’t realize, and those matter, too. In a sense, it’s about making sure that our beliefs align with facts and their supporting evidence.

The second concerns itself with our ability to get what we want. It is about how effectively we are able to live in accordance with our values, generally as measured by how well we can meet the demands of the goals we set for ourselves based on those values. It is more pragmatic in nature. Once we pick a north star, this kind of rationality is only really measured by the degree to which we are able to meet the demands set by that north star. …


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The problem of getting caught in an asymmetry

There are three competing theories behind why the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche went insane: the first, the most popular, is that he contracted Neurosyphilis; the second, based on a study of his medical records, suggests that he began to show signs of dementia; the third is simply that he mentally saw things or thought things that pushed him over the edge.

In 1889, apparently while watching a horse being beaten in public, Nietzsche ran over and put his arms around it before having a nervous breakdown. …


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Looking beyond linear time management

It is often said that economics is the study of how we relate to scarce resources with alternative uses. There are only so many raw materials in the world, and they become what we collectively demand them to become.

A piece of land, for example, can do many things. It can be used for agriculture, growing food to feed and sustain a population. …


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Do we need more community or more individualism?

“All of humanity’s problems,” the philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensees, “stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

“What should young people do with their lives today?” Kurt Vonnegut wondered at a commencement speech some 300 years later. “Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

Who is right here? Pascal? Vonnegut? Both of them? First of all, everybody would likely agree that the feeling of loneliness isn’t a good one. That it hurts. In certain cases, that it even kills. Now, some people claim that, in the Western world, we are currently undergoing a loneliness epidemic. …


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Fooling yourself is the easiest thing to do

In 1994, John Meriwether started a hedge fund named Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM). In 1998, it had to be bailed out for $3.6 billion. By 2000, the fund was liquidated and then dissolved.

But it’s the story that took place in between these years that is interesting. …


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There is more to reality than meets the eye

Scientists have known for a while now that galaxies within a few million light-years of distance can affect each other in predictable ways. Gravity is a powerful force, and in local clusters, it makes itself apparent.

What they didn’t know, however, was that there are possible interactions that can supposedly occur between galaxies that are 10 and, sometimes, 20 million light-years away from each other that can’t be explained by our current cosmological models of the Universe and mere gravitational fields.

In a recent study published in The Astrophysical Journal, a team found that there are perhaps hundreds of galaxies that are rotating in sync with each other across vast distances beyond their local cluster. Although this is still an elementary finding, and it will require far more data before anything more can be said with certainty about what is going on, it’s just plain weird that objects so far away from each other can influence one another. …


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Make connections, fill gaps, and think dynamically

Imagine that the year is 1985. Imagine that you are a 25-year-old. Let’s say that you have a choice between investing $20,000 into a balanced portfolio, or investing only $5,000 and then using the rest to buy yourself a new car. How much money would you have today in either scenario?

At a relatively friendly rate of 7 percent growth compounded over 35 years, in the first scenario, you would have a little more than $213,000. …

About

Zat Rana

Playing at the intersection of philosophy, science, and art. Trying to be less wrong. I write here now: zatrana.substack.com/subscribe.

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