Philosophy

Philosophers became insignificant when philosophy became a separate academic discipline, distinct from science and history and literature and religion.

~ From https://fs.blog/2012/10/freeman-dyson-on-philosophy-what-can-you-really-know/

Which is worth sharing just because it’s Freeman Dyson—I’m quoting a quote—in all his zany glory.

…but also, yeah. Why isn’t STEM today thought of as a branch of philosophy, (“love of truth” after all)? STEM degrees remain Ph.D.s, but beyond that vestigially appendix . . .

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Responsibility

In an increasingly interconnected world, finding focus and enabling time to do work is becoming harder and harder. Demands are outstripping our capacity at an alarming rate. It’s time to start thinking about how we work.

~ From https://fs.blog/2013/05/the-single-most-important-change-you-can-make-in-your-working-habits/

It’s not “time,” it’s far past time. But the key point of the article, (which is itself simply a pull-quote hyper-summary of a book I’ve not read,) is:

Personal responsibility.

That’s it. That’s the magic sauce. Where I’ve found success has only ever been where I took personal responsibility. And I’ve chosen my language carefully in that sentence. There are places where I took personal responsibility and still did not find success; in some cases I’ve found outright failure. But in absolutely no case was I ever successful without taking personal responsibility.

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Gaming the System

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

~ From https://fs.blog/2013/02/gaming-the-system/

A long time ago, a social studies teacher had been giving the same multiple-choice, high school, final exam, every year, for [as I recall the story] decades. The catch was two-fold: First, each year he cut the exam into strips separating each question. Yes, by hand, with scissors. He then shuffled the strips, scotch taped them onto a new sheet which did have sequential numbers on it already, and then ran it through the mimeograph machine. There was no way to create a “cheat sheet” for this exam based on previous years (even if we could have gotten a previous test.) Second, the test was insanely long; hundreds and hundreds of questions long. In fact, it was—intentionally—impossibly long.

When he graded the exams, he noted the total number of questions each student attempted. To be clear: He’d note the number of the last question you answered. So if one skipped around, you’re doomed since you definitely get wrong, the ones you didn’t even try to answer. So the incentive is to start at the beginning and just work straight through; recall, they’re totally shuffled. He then computed the average number attempted, and that average was used as the total possible points on the test. If you scored above the possible points (unlikely, but possible,) the points got added to your semester’s total points. (So if you score +2 on the final, the first extra point, brought up your 9/10 quiz score to 10/10. That second extra point brought a homework up from 5/7 to 6/7.)

Have you spotted how you game this system?

Bonus question: I regret what we did, (there were 3 of us.) But, can you tell me why I regret it?

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The Honeybee Conjecture

More than 2,000 years ago, Marcus Terentius Varro, a roman citizen, proposed an answer, which ever since has been called “The Honeybee Conjecture.” He thought that if we better understood, there would be an elegant reason for what we see. “The Honeybee Conjecture” is an example of mathematics unlocking a mystery of nature.

~ From https://fs.blog/2013/05/what-is-it-about-bees-and-hexagons/

Every once in a while, you will have the chance to be alive when a multi-thousand-year old mystery is solved. Humans are awesome. Mathematics for the win. *drops mic*

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The Munger Two Step

While most of us make decisions daily, few of us have a useful framework for thinking that protects us when making decisions. We’re going to explore Munger’s two-step process for making effective decisions and reducing human misjudgment.

~ from Farnam Street, https://fs.blog/2013/04/munger-two-step/

Some day I hope to write something as useful at the post I’ve linked to above. I do not hold hope for ever writing anything as directly useful as what Munger had to say, quoted and referred to in the post linked above.

There’s so much wisdom—how to make decisions without losing your shit is life-critical… right up there with knowing how to breath… There’s so much wisdown in that post about predictions and unknown-unknowns and making decisions with uncertain information.

Also, in the realm of unknown-unknowns: I’m sure you believe you know how to breath. Pop quiz: Take a pause and imagine you’re giving a lecture to a bunch of aliens who breath through gills… I’ll wait. How’d you do? Still 100% certain you know how to breath?

I’m not trying to preach to you about, “you don’t know how to breath!” I’m trying to show you—by asking rhetorically about something you certainly do a lot—that “knowing” is really hard.

And all of your deciding stands atop your knowing.

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The science of hitting

The book contained a very interesting picture, of himself at-bat with the strike zone broke into 77 individual squares.

~ Farnam Street from, https://fs.blog/2013/07/make-better-decisions/

I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I know enough to be impressed by what Ted Williams managed to do. I’ve had enough balls pitched at me, that the idea of even being able to know in a split second exactly where the baseball is going to be— …just click through and look at the graphic already. :)

What intrigued me about his idea of knowing—in real time, to the inch—what to literally swing at is the power of saying no writ explicitly and at high speed. I’m often thinking or talking about focus; talking about saying no to the right things to make space for the important yeses. But I’d never thought about intentionally practicing making the decision more quickly.

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Swinging

If Rembrandt wanted to rescue something from his masterpiece he would have to cut it down from the enormous arched space it was designed for into something for a residential buyer. So the cutting began.

~ Farnam Street from, https://fs.blog/2012/08/rembrandt-the-power-of-art/

I’m not a painter, and I don’t conceive myself a Master at the things I do do—but I sometimes get a yawning disorientated feeling when it’s time to choose between two path diverging in the woods on some project big or small. Do I swing for the center-field fence? Do I paint for the grand, arched space? …or do I cut the idea down to a more manageable size that a normal person would be more likely to engage with?

And then I think: What’s the point of swinging if one isn’t swinging for the fence?

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Experience

So does experience really make you an expert? What does it actually mean to be one? It turns out, we don’t learn from experience in many contexts.

~ From https://fs.blog/2012/03/does-experience-make-you-an-expert/

You’re really good—an expert even one might say—at many things. But being really good at something… Having a lot of experience doing that something… Does that make you an expert? I think those things are not sufficient. To be an expert one must also explicitly understand the principles underlying the activity. I’m very good at sitting on chairs—but I’ve never studied chairs; their design, their mechanical structure, their aesthetics. I’m not expert.

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