On believing you will fail

Here’s something I wish I realized earlier: believing you will fail does not mean you will fail. You can succeed in spite of a lack of confidence in yourself. As a teenager and young adult I struggled to develop confidence in several areas of my life, from academics to social status to romantic relationships. I was dogged by insecurities about not being smart enough, not being interesting enough, not being attractive enough....

May 28, 2021

On collections of links

I’d like to capture some feelings I have about a pattern I’ve noticed on the internet: the tendency towards curation. There are wonderful people—newsletter writers and tweeters—who serve the role of curator: who put together long collections of links and quotes from various articles and rabbit holes on the internet, with the idea that they’re saving you time by finding the very best bits of the web. Unlike most of history, we live in an age when human-generated content (everything from books to essays to videos to tweets) is wildly overabundant....

May 27, 2021

Absurdism

The word ‘absurd’ has always held a special place in my heart. ‘Absurd’ evokes the ridiculousness of everything around us—the serendipity of our mutual existence at this place and time, the immeasurable complexity of the cells and proteins that make up our bodies, the unfathomable size of our galaxy. The moments I’m in touch with this absurdity have always been the moments I felt most alive. I’d find myself in awe that anything exists at all, and that the things which do exist happen to form this particular conscious experience of ‘me’ and ‘the world’....

May 21, 2021

Problems I'm thinking about

This is a list of philosophical questions I’m currently grappling with. Truth and objectivity I tend to be a realist, i.e. I think there are objective truths about the world, whether or not we’re aware of those truths. And for a while I’ve had the view that through science, philosophy, conjecture, reason, and error-correction, we could get closer to knowing those objective truths. (Some thoughts on objectivity here.) Recently I’ve been less sure about (1) the existence of such definite, objective facts describing the world, and (2) whether error-correction actually helps us get closer to those facts....

May 20, 2021

Life as problem-solving

A key part of happiness is understanding the role and nature of problem-solving in life. We are always solving problems. A problem can be defined as a conflict between ideas. The process of solving it requires the creation (and testing) of new ideas. Here are examples of problems: how do I relieve this back pain? how do we enable knowledge workers to collaborate more effectively? how do we reduce poverty?...

May 19, 2021

Objective morality

This post is an attempt to answer the question: how do you define morality objectively? Context: I used to be a moral nihilist (there is no such thing as “good” and “bad”, morality is completely arbitrary and subjective, the universe does not care). Today, I’m closer to being a moral realist, though I reserve some room for the possibility that morality is entirely a human construct. At the very least, I think arguments for objective morality should be considered seriously....

May 18, 2021

The importance of documenting (and subsequently sharing) your ideas

Many people have talked about this but I’d like to share my framing of it. As we grow, our ideas change. The way we see the world shifts. We update our political inclinations, philosophical stances, personal values, and understanding of things. Sometimes this is a sudden shift, precipitated by a profound experience or insight. But it usually happens more slowly than that. It can occur so slowly that it’s imperceptible – you only notice it after your worldview has already changed dramatically....

May 12, 2021

The relative primacy of contemplative and scientific truths

In this post I discuss two methods for understanding reality, and the respective roles they’ve played in my own worldview over time. I conclude with my current thinking about the relationship between these two modes, which is that (1) they can complement each other but have incompatibilities, and that (2) I have no idea which one takes primacy. Two modes of inquiry There are two broad classes of knowledge and truth-seeking that have underpinned my worldview in the past few years:...

May 9, 2021

Some thoughts on causality

In this piece, I first share a framework for causality put forth by Karl Popper; I then share how it differed from my initial intuitions about causality; and then I explain why Popper’s framework is better. In The Logic of Scientific Discovery (§12), Karl Popper states that there are two elements of any causal explanation: a statement in the form of a universal law. a statement of initial conditions. He gives the following example of a causal claim: a weight is placed on a thread and causes the thread to break....

May 3, 2021

In praise of reading slowly

I read more slowly than most of my friends who read. I do all the wrong things: I subvocalize, I stop and start, I take detailed notes and extract quotes. My friends talk about finishing a book in one night, and the same book takes me weeks. Today I watched a video of Visa talking about reading The Beginning of Infinity in a few days, whereas it took me hours of reading per night for several months....

April 29, 2021