Making maps of reality

A map explains the territory it shows, but the map is not the territory. The same is true will all explanations and ideas.

Science is drawing maps of the world. We’re looking for facts that don’t match, like that hill over there, so we can improve the maps. So we can make better explanations.

The better the maps are, the less they will change as we discover new facts.

But the maps will never be perfect, because reality contains a surprising level of detail. Reality is fractal.

A map that is a perfect match to the territory must therefore be the territory. If all the details are the same, they have to share the same attributes, and take up the same amount of space, and energy.

If we simplify our explanation in any way, we’re simulating reality. We’re making a map again. But if we want to do easy things, a simple map will do. If we want to do harder things, we need better maps.

So we can’t make a perfect map, but we can improve the ones we have forever. Because there’s always more detail to discover. We can make many different maps to understand reality in different ways. One top down, one from the side, and so on for ever.

Every time we make a map more accurate we make it easier for humans to live, thrive, and make better maps.

That sounds like a great endeavour to me, let’s make some maps!

What if we had No Code on MacOS

Why are there no No Code tools for MacOS? How cool would it be to open an app, and be able to check all the APIs of MacOS.

I wish I had the time to start working on this. But I don’t.

Here’s what I imagine: it’s a native app that you launch super quickly (because it does nothing at launch).

The app lists all the APIs available in MacOS. One after another. With a specification of what parameters it accepts and requires, a short description and a button that reads from or posts to it.

The app also allows you to build your own function by taking inputs, writing small packets of swift maybe, and sending the result to outputs.

No Code has already shown the way online. Why isn’t there any No Code tools on native platforms?

A theory of design – what design does

Design is a widely used term. But unfortunately it’s a bit vague. This is my attempt to explain what design is, and what it does. Hopefully in a way that makes the term a little more useful.

We experience the world through our senses. Which are quite blunt as instruments. What your senses pick up depends to an uncomfortably large degree on what we already think about the world. Theory comes first.

Here’s a simple example to illustrate what I mean:

When a magician performs a card trick your eyes are telling you that cards appear out of thin air. Of course you know that is not what is happening. When the magician performs, we know it’s a trick. But we still can’t see how it’s done.

Unless we learn to do the trick ourselves, then suddenly we can see how it’s done. You have to know how it works first, to perceive what is really happening.

A part of magic is the deliberate attempt to confuse our senses, but this is true for all observation. If you don’t know what you’re looking at, you don’t perceive how it really is.

Another good example is seeing faces in the clouds. We all know they are not there. With a quick glance in a shady neighbourhood, a moving shadow can easily scare us.

You can quite literally not trust your own two eyes. You need to know what to look for.

“All observation is theory laden”

Karl Popper

Design works at an even more fundamental level. We are not just perceiving the world around us, but also trying to predict what happens next. What does this button do? What happens when I push or pull this door? Our brains are constantly occupied trying to predict the future, moment to moment.

These predictions or expectations are guesses that the brain is making on what will happen next. (I almost used the word bets, which might be even more descriptive, because you might make more than one.)

In pop science they’re called mental models, but the term is overused and carries a lot of preconceptions, so I will stick to guesses.

When we see faces in the clouds, we are projecting our guesses onto the world. Humans love seeing faces, so most random patterns will look like one.

These guesses in your mind are what we as designers are trying to shape.

Not the object, or software, your perceive. That is just the medium of communication. But the guess you’re making in your head. The layout, the color, the architecture, all of that is just a means to an end.

We want you to experience the world with a specific guess in your mind. With most design, we want you to guess so specifically that you can see how the card trick is done.

The thing you’re reading this on. The steering wheel in your car. The pattern of class or plastic on your phone. They are designed to communicate a way of thinking. They are designed to shape the guess inside your mind.

If the guess is right, your expectation is fulfilled, and it feel like something works.

If the guess is wrong, you have to rethink, which costs a little bit of effort. A little bit of friction. And it will feel strained, or awkward.

The art of design, like choosing vivid colors and fonts. And the craft of design process, like researching jobs-to-be-done or user context. Is all done to design the right guesses in the minds of the users.

This is what design does: we’re shaping guesses.

This is why it looks easy, or obvious, when it’s done well. Your mind is helped to make the right guess every step of the way.

But when it’s not done well, or rushed, it’s feels awkward or not quite right. Or worse, you make errors and blame yourself.

“Good design looks easy. Like great athletes, great designers make it look easy. Mostly this is an illusion. The easy, conversational tone of good writing comes only on the eighth rewrite.”

Paul Graham

2021 in review (a little late)

I don’t know why I’ve procrastinated doing this review for 10 months. But I have. So here it is, last years review, very late to the game!

Timeline of events

Jan to Mar

I struggled with winter. As I always do. But with covid making visits to stores and cafes awkward, I struggled more than usual. Super happy I was in Sweden, where we at least still could go out.

Went on a road trip to the other side of Sweden to visit other old friends. It was hard both from a covid perspective (many people were still afraid) and because so many people have retreated into doom & gloom over the last two years.

Thankfully, we had an early spring. And a new strain of Covid that no one in Sweden could take too seriously anymore.

Apr to Jun

Hung out with a group of really interesting thinkers and builders. Left a job. And the fear finally dissipated from society in general. We celebrated old friends, and had a proper midsummers.

Most importantly my old friend Elisabeth got married! I was asked to hold one of the ceremonies, to my great pride, and a bit of nerves. 😅

Jul to Sep

Rushed around to visit old friends in both Gnesta, and Berlin. Started working with Volocopter who were in dire need of design help. And also started a Sommelier course!

Oct to Dec

Ended the year with a lot of beautiful morning walks. Celebrated birthdays and Christmas with family. Actually joined Volocopter as an employee, which will help us to move to Berlin next year! Finally we celebrated New Years with my god daughter and her wonderful parents.


I started, built, shipped, and closed Ting. Still dreaming of making a better zettelkasten app. But Ting was unfortunately built on the wrong tech stack, and couldn’t be saved.

Started and finished a Sommelier training. Very excited to have a broader understanding of wine and drinks!

Started to additional projects: Sponsorpost and an unnamed Hubspot project.

Books I read

I read at least 21 books (according to Goodreads). Most of them fiction, which makes me think I was a little depressed. But a couple of classics, and a small number of business books.

I would recommend two of them:

The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn by Richard Hamming, which is an engineering book that focuses more on how to think to do better work than actual engineering.

And The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, this is a Soviet era classic that is full of crazy stuff. Almost reads like a Discworld book. Except that it’s a critique of the Soviet system that was allowed to be published.

Things I learned

This is always the hardest part to write. But since the middle of 2021 I started using zettelkasten (currently using LogSeq) and I now have notes about everything I’ve learned. So this year, this part is hard to write because I have too much stuff, not too little.

I’ve realised I need to practice being bored.

It’s so easy to be lead by dopamine and never sit idle. No deep thinking, or work, will happen unless you give yourself time to be bored. Kerouac says it well, except he’s talking about doing mindless work, while in our generation mindless consumption is probably a worse problem:

Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.

Jack Kerouac

Make small commitments, and deliver on them

During 2021 I lost some confidence and started having a hard time believing I could do important things. The answer was to make really tiny commitments with myself, and with others, and fulfil them. Clean the house. Take out the trash. Just commit first, and then do it. And suddenly I had trained my confidence back up to big projects.

Trying to understand leadership

This quote made me think a lot about what it means to lead.

Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.

Colin Powell

Mindfulness isn’t a todo

During the year I’ve had dips and lulls in my mindfulness and my strength training. Both of them I attribute to going through the motions.

Mindfulness isn’t a todo to check off. If you’re not putting all your attention into it, you’re not really doing it. The same is true with most things, but so very obvious in mindfulness.

I’m wasting a lot of time

Most of my wasted time looks like fulfilling social obligations I don’t really want to do. Or spending time doing boring or trivial things, because I feel resistance towards doing the important things I want to do.

These quotes help me think about it. But the main issue is having too many things going on. I hide behind tasks instead of spending my time deliberately.

At one low point I wrote this down: “I also realised that I’ve been tricking myself into thinking I’ve been focused, while at the same time committing to 9 projects”. Which probably means it’s time to focus my attention.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.

Annie Dillard

You have to live on this 24 hours of time. Out of it you have to spin health, pleasure, money, content, respect and the evolution of your immortal soul. Its right use … is a matter of the highest urgency.

Arnold Bennet

I’ve also come to the conclusion that next year will be all about avoiding vices. Alcohol yes, but also stress, overwork, and mental sleuth.

2021 was a bit of a placeholder year. Which is sad, because it was a year of my life.

Practical mindful productivity

Picture a perfect leisurely Sunday morning: You wake up. Think about your breakfast or brunch. Get up, get ready, and then go enjoy it.

Now picture every stressful morning: You wake up. You’re thinking about the 15 things you need to do that day. You’re brushing your teeth while listening to a podcast and get stressed about a call you have to make later.

What’s the difference between these two days? For a long time I’ve tried all sorts of experiments to figure out how I can live in a majority of calm Sunday mornings. Because I don’t think it’s time off is what I’m really looking for. I think it’s the calm, clear, mindful way to go about a day.

Based on that thoughts I naturally started my experiments around mindfulness. I started meditating daily. While it helps but was not the magic ingredient. I did cold showers, daily pages, journalling… Name any mindfulness strategy, I probably tried it.

The experiments that worked best for me were:

media fasting, not taking in any media input at all except music.

single tasking, meaning you limit yourself to doing one thing at a time.

Both of them are impractical though, and even with all that effort my success rate was still less than my 80% goal.

I had started giving up on this idea, thinking that maybe I was just too hard on myself, maybe I should accept that most days are not filled with clarity and get on with it, when I saw this clip on youtube:

It’s Andrew Huberman, of Huberman Labs fame, talking about resetting your dopamine in the mornings. And something clicked for me. Be warned however, this is a productivity porn video.

What Huberman is saying in this video is that by explicitly setting a single goal for yourself in the morning, and then achieving that goal, you’ve started the day by practicing rewarding yourself for doing work. And I think there’s a deep truth to take from this.

Dopamine, which I’ve written about before, is a neuro transmitter that gives you drive in the form of anticipation, and a rewarding sense of achievement when you’ve done something. It’s the reason you can’t stop scrolling dumb stuff on the internet, because each new small discovery gives you a little dopamine hit.

What Huberman is saying in this video is that in the morning you are naturally a bit dopamine low, and your mind will be craving stimulation. If you give it that with social media, or news, you’ve just set your mind up for short term quick wins of consumption.

This matters because our brains adapt to repetition. The mechanics of brain plasticity mean that anything we do get’s easier with each time we do it.

So getting a dopamine kick from consumption in the morning is training our brains to seek distraction, to seek stress.

Instead if we set a goal and achieve it, like making our beds, putting away our clothes before getting breakfast, whatever it is, we’re training our brains to get rewarded by conscious action. To seek clear goals.

This effect is probably quite small day to day, but large over decades. After 20 years of morning news, you will probably find it really hard to start a day without a jolt of worry and anger.

But I believe this also works on a psychological level.

When we start the day with consumption, or reacting to events, we’re getting into the autopilot mode of living. We’re reacting to events, maybe a little behind schedule, a little short on time, thinking about the 17 things we need to do before lunch. We’re in the anxious closed mode, or system 0, depending on which schools of thought you like.

If we instead start with extremely specific goals, even though they’re small, we are putting ourselves in the active mode of living. We’re proactive about spending our time. We act instead of react. We’re in the relaxed open mode, or system 1.

This mode is, I believe, the “calm Sunday morning” lifestyle I’ve been chasing for the last 20 years.

When we are in the relaxed and open state, we’re also more present. Because we’re focused on the specific short term goal of what we’re doing. We’re not daydreaming about that time we made a friend uncomfortable, or the stressful meeting planned for later.

I think there’s one more layer to this worth thinking about. When we are overwhelmed and react, we’re constantly letting ourselves down. We’re beating ourselves up with thoughts like “I should do X more” “I really should do Y today”.

When we’re completing specific tasks, we’re basically setting short deadlines with ourselves and keeping them. So we’re building self reliance. We’re showing ourselves that we can get things done.

Instead of reminding ourselves that we’re not going to the gym more. We made the bed. Had a coffee. Read the keeping-up-with-newsletter. Called the landlord. We’re building up a chain of small successes.

I’m not sure I’m explaining this well. But I think I’ve found a key to live a more focused, mindful, and calm life.

The method is really simple:

Before you start doing things in the morning, tell yourself what you will do, and then only do that. Keep it simple enough that you can’t fail. And be specific, intentional, about what you’re doing.

My favourite definition of art

Ask around among the art crowd and I bet you most will say that art cannot be defined. There’s even famous art trying to explore what art is, that is highly debated if it should be called art of not.

Art is one of those topics where we say you’ll know it when you see it. I think we fall back on that parental get-out-of-jail-free card because it’s hard to define. Hard to even think about. Harder still to nail down with words.

I think this is the case because it’s one of these topics where we need to zoom out, or zoom in, to really understand what it is. But I think this definition nails it:

Artists create meaning where there is none.

That is what art is. Uncovering, or creating, meaning.

Art can make you feel, or think, something new. Art has no specific form, or shape, but it can create a sense of wonder, or dread, or even anger, in the viewer.

Art is in the eye of the beholder. Which means that art creates meaning, for you, the beholder. And I think that is a beautiful, dare I say artful, definition.

I learned this definition from Bret Hall who in turn learned it from David Deutsch.

Aspire to be less wrong – Elon Musk

A few years ago I was inspired by my love of David Deutsch work and this quote by Elon Musk:

Aspire to be less wrong

Elon Musk

I couldn’t say it better myself. So cold winter morning I found some rights free space images from NASA and I put together this poster. Never printed it, but since then it has been becoming increasingly popular on the Figma community. So I figured I would offer some good exports for sale.

I hope you like it!

Addiction and balance

I’ve started thinking more and more about addiction. I am not, in the classic sense, in any way an addict. But I think my addictions are taking up too much of my life.

I first realised how common addiction can be compared to the classic idea of drug abuse when I read Andrew Wilkinsons startling introspection:

Dr. Lembke explained that most addictions arise from substances or activities that release dopamine.


Things like video games. Food. Social networks. Porn. Email. Exercise.
Even romance novels. Yes, romance novels.


People can be addicted to ANYTHING that releases dopamine. And we are all doing it constantly in an unnatural way.

Andrew Wilkinson on Twitter

This means that everything that triggers in you an excited, focused, joyful moment can be addicting. And wow does that mean the normal world we live in is full of addictive things and addicts.

Here is Scott Alexander talking about how even eating could be viewed as an addiction cycle.

Everyone always says you should “eat mindfully”. I tried this once and it was weird. For example, I noticed that only the first few bites of a tasty food actually tasted good. After that I habituated and lost it. Not only that, but there was a brief period when I finished eating the food which was below hedonic baseline.


This seems pretty analogous to addiction, tolerance, and withdrawal. If you use eg heroin, I’m told it feels very good the first few times. After that it gets gradually less euphoric, until eventually you need it to feel okay at all. If you quit, you feel much worse than normal (withdrawal) for a while until you even out. I claim I went through this whole process in the space of a twenty minute dinner.

Scott Alexander in Astral Codex Ten

I think he’s right. Addiction is not a digital state, but an analogue gradual scale, and everything we indulge in slides around on that scale. Which means that life is full of addictive traps. Paul Graham says it well in this tweet:

Which means we will increasingly have to make a conscious effort to avoid addictions — to stand outside ourselves and ask “is this how I want to be spending my time?”

Paul Graham in Life is short

The hardest things to avoid are the ones that feel personal, without actually being personal. Things that trigger fear:

Things that lure you into wasting your time have to be really good at tricking you. An example that will be familiar to a lot of people is arguing online. When someone contradicts you, they’re in a sense attacking you. Sometimes pretty overtly. Your instinct when attacked is to defend yourself. But like a lot of instincts, this one wasn’t designed for the world we now live in. Counterintuitive as it feels, it’s better most of the time not to defend yourself. Otherwise these people are literally taking your life.

Paul Graham in Life is short

Graham is as usual a vivid observer of life, and I think he nails it when he says:

The things that matter aren’t necessarily the ones people would call “important.” Having coffee with a friend matters. You won’t feel later like that was a waste of time.

Paul Graham in Life is short

To take it back to Wilkinson, he echoes a similar observation:

After a month of this, I came home and had coffee with a friend.

I felt like a new man. Whereas before NOTHING made me happy, a month of quiet had flipped things on their head.

Suddenly the muzak playing in a cafe sounded like the best song I’d ever heard.

Andrew Wilkinson

What can we learn from these interesting people?

I think addiction is a slippery slope of immediate responses to emotions, enjoyment, stress, fear. The trick is to decide if this is really how you want to spend your time. Your life.

To do that, we have to look at things at a longer timescale. Is this an activity you will remember fondly, or time passed in a blur?

It’s easy to let the days rush by. The “flow” that imaginative people love so much has a darker cousin that prevents you from pausing to savor life amid the daily slurry of errands and alarms.

Paul Graham in Life is short

How do you want to spend your life? Is that notification really worth 10 minutes of your day? Is that extra drink worth being sluggish tomorrow?

Here’s Mario Merz explaining how intensity of living might be a better way to frame it:

It’s clear to me that in some moments we feel more purely alive than others: years unfold in minutes. The most popular refrain when someone is in the first flush of love, after all is, I’ve never felt more alive. Intensity is the pursuit of aliveness.

Mario Mera in Permitting Intensity

All addiction starts out as vivid examples of being alive. But we can’t chase the high like addicts. Because every experience quickly stops being rewarding and instead turns into the pain of withdrawal.

We need to be aware of this, and continue to explore vidid experiences of aliveness. But not chase the high.

Balance intensity of action with reflection and rest. Balance addictive input with boredom.

If you have any good ideas about how to do this, please let me know. Because I’m definitely not bored enough.

The people who judge you

We often imagine how people will react when we make decisions in life. Should I stay at my job? Start a risky new company? Even the most hardened individualist among us imagine the reaction of our parents, or friends, when we think about big decisions.

A life coach I recently listened to offered the idea that we carry with us the image of people we wanted to impress growing up. It’s probably your parents, but also others like your first boss, the cool kids from high school, or more mature friends of your siblings. Then when we decide on taking a new job, or doing a new project, we imagine how they would react. Will they be impressed? Will they call me a dweeb?

I think he’s right. We do carry around imagined panels of critics, made up from people who are maybe not even in our lives any longer. Perhaps setting limits for our lives based on people who are no longer around isn’t a good strategy?

The coach then proposed we write down an explicit list of people who’s opinion we still value, and the next time we have a decision to make, we can think of those people. Or even better, we can ask their opinions. Completely getting rid of the imaginary audience might be difficult, or even impossible. But switching them out for an audience that makes sense could be practical.

My own list turned out to be surprisingly short.

Advice on turning 38

Like Patrick Collison describes so well in “Advice” all advice is unfortunately lost in translation. You’ll have to experience it yourself to truly internalise.

Today I became 38, so here are a few pieces of advice I wish I could give to my 28 year old self.

Jesper Bylund celebrating turning 38 at Monocle Zürich Switzerland. Photo by Agnes Haverling.
  • It takes time to learn ideas. When you read it once and think you understand it, you’ve not even begun to learn the idea. And that is ok.
  • All progress is progress. Any increment is valuable. Because making progress is the only thing that matters. Progress makes you richer, smarter, stronger, but we can never stop. There is no final truth or form.
  • Being intellectually honest takes a lot of effort and discipline. But if you aren’t, why would you spend the time to learn? Why would you repeat an argument? If you don’t live the way it says is best.
  • Every time you do anything, is the last time you do that. So enjoy it. This is the last meal you prepare, that was the last what with that friend. Because it really is like Heraclitus says. The earlier you can internalise that. The better you will spend your life.

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s no the same man.

  • Everything is addictive. And we have to beware of addiction, because it makes us to invest time, energy, and money in things that do not align with our long time goals. Instant gratification kills your long term dreams.