Watching films

For the last two years I have been trying to be mindful about what media I consume. I’ve been trying to only watch, and listen to, what I want to. Not because I should keep up, or because it’s routine, or because I need the distraction.

This has resulted in less podcasts, turning off my Netflix subscription, and instead coming back to classics. Or sometimes, simply not doing anything.

I’ve seen more black & white films these last two years than I’ve seen Netflix shows. And I think it’s been good a thing

Yesterday we couldn’t find “Blood and Sand” with Rita Hayworth. While searching we realized we hadn’t seen “Parasite”, the Korean film that took the word by storm in 2019. So we saw it. And I’m extremely happy we did. It’s an amazing film, and work of art.

Time is a great judge of what is worth your attention, and what isn’t. But the Lindy-effect can’t filter out what is great today.
I think I might need to sample a bit more current culture.

“The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch

There are two books I’ve read in the last handful of years that I haven’t stopped thinking about, or quoting. “Enlightenment Now!” by Stephen Pinker and “The Beginning of Infinity”. The books are very different, the former being a collection of distilled and referenced facts about complicated topics. While the latter is a long form argument about the nature of knowledge. But they share the result of expanding my thinking, and at least from inside my qualia broadening my world view.

The Beginning teaches you the difference between bad philosophy and sound philosophy. Thought it is never as easy as that sentence sounds to distinguish between the two. Deutsch has made a significant work of philosophy into a series of easily understood examples, anecdotes, and discussions about reality.

This is not an easy read, not because of the text, but because it challenges your ability to think. I’d recommend this to anyone.

“Progress that is both rapid enough to be noticed and stable enough to continue over many generations has been achieved only once in the history of our species.”

— David Deutsch

“Whenever there has been progress, there have been influential thinkers who denied that it was genuine, that it was desirable, or even that the concept was meaningful. They should have known better.”

— David Deutsch

“The ‘passengers’ metaphor is a misconception in another sense too. It implies that there was a time when humans lived unproblematically: when they were provided for, like passengers, without themselves having to solve a stream of problems in order to survive and to thrive. But in fact, even with the benefit of their cultural knowledge, our ancestors continually faced desperate problems, such as where the next meal was coming from, and typically they barely solved these problems or they died. There are very few fossils of old people.”

— David Deutsch

“Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand

Very few books achieve notoriety and devotion in the magnitude of Atlas Shrugged. And it really isn’t surprising. It’s a massive over thousand pages book with little plot, and very little character development. Instead it’s crammed full on philosophical monologues from said characters.

Most criticism seems to fall into one of two camps:
The first thinks the book is literarily dreary and clearly didn’t read more than the first third of the book. These are most reviews and critiques I’ve found, as they claim characters say and do things that are changed later or turn out to be false.
The second thinks Ayn Rand is an insane egotist, who clearly doesn’t care about human beings or the arts. And this second group is more interesting. They should indeed complain, as they are the complainers & looters that Rand is painting as the most terrible of criminals in Atlas.

Regardless of your political opinion. The book is interesting as a historical work, this is a strong female author who’s clearly a hard core feminist, writing a book with plenty of sex in the 50s… It is also a book that has had a lot of influence. And is still selling surprisingly well. I don’t recommend this to everyone, it’s a bit of a slog. But it’s also genuinely thought provoking. Especially if you’ve been nurtured into the liberal norm (in the modern sense of the word liberal) as I had.

“She was fifteen when it occurred to her for the first time that women did not run railroads and that people might object. To hell with that, she thought-and never worried about it again.”

— Ayn Rand

“What greater wealth is there than to own your life and to spend it on growing?
Every living thing must grow. It can’t stand still. It must grow or perish.”

— Ayn Rand

What are we consuming that broadens our minds?

Something the Farnam Street newsletter got me thinking about today. Read the whole thing here.

““[M]y worry is that … you won’t put enough really excellent stuff into your brain. I’m talking about what you might call the “theory of maximum taste.” This theory is based on the idea that exposure to genius has the power to expand your consciousness. If you spend a lot of time with genius, your mind will end up bigger and broader than if you spend your time only with run-of-the-mill stuff. The theory of maximum taste says that each person’s mind is defined by its upper limit—the best that it habitually consumes and is capable of consuming. … In college, you get assigned hard things. You’re taught to look at paintings and think about science in challenging ways. After college, most of us resolve to keep doing this kind of thing, but we’re busy and our brains are tired at the end of the day. Months and years go by. We get caught up in stuff, settle for consuming Twitter and, frankly, journalism. Our maximum taste shrinks. Have you ever noticed that 70 percent of the people you know are more boring at 30 than they were at 20?.””

— A Commencement Address Too Honest to Deliver in Person

The Game Changers & Fake News

Yesterday I watched an episode of “The Game Changers” on Netflix, after a friend of mine recommended it to me. I was shocked by what I saw.

The show is a “documentary” about athletes discovering that plant based diets are better than meat based diets. But that’s not the shocking part.

The show was so full of scientism (thank you Taleb) and false information that it got me angry. Then when I thought about it, I realised that this is linked to why I don’t watch the news anymore.

It’s not that shows like “The Game Changers” and Fox News are fake news that are publishing lies, even though they are. The problem stems from the fact that most of what we consume today as information sources is really entertainment. Heavily dramatised, and simplified past the point falsehood.

Without getting into the weeds of nutrition, The Game Changers claimed such absurdities that there’s no difference between plant and animal protein (true to a degree, but different plants have different levels of the essential amino acids) but also that animal protein gives you cancer. Which would be quite a big difference.

(It also showed a trained athlete going from a max of 10 minutes doing a workout to over 60 minutes just from switching to a plant based diet. That would make these plants much more powerful than steroids. Is this a documentary or the home shopping network?)

Almost everything we watch, read, or listen to today is a dramatisation of some information. Even the news is trying to find the edge to make you sit up and pay attention. That’s no different from marketing. The news tries to work from fact, but since dramatisation requires simplification, it makes no real difference if you are watching CNN, the WHO briefing, or listening to some celebrity’s podcast.

It’s all fake news. We must view it critically, which means never believing it at face value.

(Please don’t watch The Game Changers, it is total crap, no athletes know that little about nutrition.)

“Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov

My future wife has inspired me to read the classics, in the past two years I’ve experienced Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and many more. It was still with a bit of trepidation I picked up Lolita. One of my favourite authors, Christopher Hitchens, recommended Nabokov as one of the greatest english writers despite english being Nabokovs second or third language, which intrigued me.

Lolita is in many ways a horrific story, the main character clearly a monster. It is redeemed however by the quality of the language, and the depictions of horror Nabokov relates. This is quite simply some of the best writing I’ve ever come across. Far beyond most authors.

Apparently, if you wish to expand your English, read a Russian author.

I won’t talk more about the actual topic of the book, instead I’ll let Nabokov explain why worrying about fiction is childish:

“That my novel does contain various allusions to the physiological urges of a pervert is quite true. But after all we are not children, not illiterate juvenile delinquents, not English public school boys who after a night of homosexual romps have to endure the peradox of reading the Ancients in expurgated versions.
It is childish to ody a work of fiction in order to gain information about a country or about a social class or about the author.”

— Vladimir Nabokov

“Although everybody should know that I detest symbols and allegories (which is due partly to my old feud with Freudian voodooism and partly to my loathing of generalizations devised by literary mythists and sociologists)…”

— Vladimir Nabokov

What happens after React? Svelte. (SthlmJs #64)

IMG_0088.jpg

This is the second time I gave my talk about what the future of JS frameworks might look like. My thinking is still that Svelte, and it’s compiled JS idea will take over the internet in the coming 2-3 years.

Here’s my Svelte demo.

Still looking to use Svelte in production myself!

What happens after react? (second edition) from Jesper Bylund

Malthusian’s never learn

In 1798 Malthus wrote a famous essay where he explains the argument that has since become legendary.

The argument is simple enough to explain. Malthus observed that population increases exponentially while food supply increased only linearly. Therefore in any given year a society with a population of 100, and food for 100, would increase to a population of 200 and only food for 110. Obviously heading for disaster.

Malthus realised that this would lead to the end of western civilisation in the 1800s. We know Malthus was wrong, because we’re still here, and even slightly overweight. But that hasn’t stopped people making this mistake over and over again.

Rarely a month goes by without a news outlet publishing some claim that one resource or another is about to end. If we don’t cut back on consumption and radically change our ways, this time our civilisation will end…

Except it wont. The mistake that leads to all this alarmism is one based on an incorrect assumption about the world, namely that resources are natural. This is not accurate.

Let’s return to Malthus for a concrete example. Malthus expected food supply to increase linearly based on historical evidence that showed how much time it took to plant new fields and grow new crops. His math was accurate.

What Malthus got wrong was that it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s no reason only those fields can be planted, and only in that way. Humans can learn how to change these limitations. Knowledge is the limiting factor, not land. And knowledge can be created, by humans. Most of the things commonly referred to as resources would be more accurately described as “resources currently made available by human knowledge”. The actual foundational resource is not scarce at all.

Just look at the amount of oil we have now compared to in the oil crisis of the 70s. The amount oil available as a resource is actually increasing. Despite “peak oil” being an alarmist trend every few months since the 70s.

Knowledge is a very interesting resource. Because humans couldn’t live anywhere in the world without it. There is no natural state for a human without knowledge. It is our only real limiting factor, and we create it ourselves.

Knowledge is not a process of random chance discoveries. But simply the result of a lot of humans trying to tinker and conjecture about how to do something. As long as there are creative humans with free time, there will be new knowledge.

The only humans who don’t seem to learn, are the prophets of doom in the guise of Malthus. How many times will they need to be proved wrong? How many times before we can simply tell every new person crying wolf about a scarce resource; you are wrong.

Using herd mentality to your benefit

You notice it every week; how suddenly everyone seems to be talking about that same thing. A new trend. A new thing, having its moment. But how often are these trendy topics valuable?

Now I don’t know this for a fact, but over the years I’ve noticed that trendy things are rarely, if ever, very useful. The trend usually preempts the usefulness. The real work begins when the trend is at its peak. Only after that do people discover, through trial and error, how to actually do the thing.

It will probably take a year or so until they turn around and can teach the rest of us how to use this, no longer trendy, topic in our own work.

This is good news. I think we can use this for our advantage. When I see something interesting I’ll simply write it down, and then google it a year later. By then the experiments will have been run and I can learn from the results. All that time I’m not wasting keeping up with the trend I can use to study and experiment on my own stuff.