Timeless Ideas | October 10, 2020

Here’s your weekly dose of timeless ideas to sharpen your mind, make smarter decisions, and live better.

Quotes

I.

Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you and be silent.

― Epictetus


II.

The pettiest and slightest nuisances are the most acute; and as small letters hurt and tire the eyes most, so do trifling matters sting us most.

― Michel Montaigne


III.

When you wish to instruct, be brief; that men's minds take in quickly what you say, learn its lesson, and retain it faithfully. Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.

― Cicero

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Ideas

I.

On finding the sensible balance between optimism and pessimism:

Optimism is usually defined as a belief that things will go well. But that's incomplete. Sensible optimism is a belief that the odds are in your favor, and over time things will balance out to a good outcome even if what happens in between is filled with misery. And in fact you know it will be filled with misery. You can be optimistic that the long-term growth trajectory is up and to the right, but equally sure that the road between now and then is filled with landmines, and always will be. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

Morgan Housel in The Psychology of Money


II.

I propose that if you want a simple step to a higher form of life, as distant from the animal as you can get, then you may have to denarrate, that is, shut down the television set, minimize time spent reading newspapers, ignore the blogs. Train your reasoning abilities to control your decisions; nudge System 1 (the heuristic or experiential system) out of the important ones. Train yourself to spot the difference between the sensational and the empirical. This insulation from the toxicity of the world will have an additional benefit: it will improve your well-being.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb in The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable


III.

Everyone tries to make his life a work of art. We want love to last and we know that it does not last; even if, by some miracle, it were to last a whole lifetime, it would still be incomplete. Perhaps, in this insatiable need for perpetuation, we should better understand human suffering, if we knew that it was eternal. It appears that great minds are, sometimes, less horrified by suffering than by the fact that it does not endure. In default of inexhaustible happiness, eternal suffering would at least give us a destiny. But we do not even have that consolation, and our worst agonies come to an end one day. One morning, after many dark nights of despair, an irrepressible longing to live will announce to us the fact that all is finished and that suffering has no more meaning than happiness.

Albert Camus in The Rebel

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Articles Worth Reading

I.

How Fancy Water Bottles Became a 21st-Century Status Symbol

Amanda Mull | The Atlantic

On the surface, water bottles as totems of consumer aspiration sound absurd: If you have access to water, you can drink it out of so many things that already exist in your home. But if you dig a little deeper, you find that these bottles sit at a crossroads of cultural and economic forces that shape Americans’ lives far beyond beverage choices. If you can understand why so many people would spend 50 bucks on a water bottle, you can understand a lot about America in 2019.


II.

Reading and rabbit holes

Tyler Cowen | MarginalRevolutions

Follow the questions, not the books per se. Don’t focus on which books to read, focus on which questions to ask. Then the books, and other sources, will follow almost automatically. Don’t obsess over titles. Obsess over questions.  That is how to learn best about many historical areas, especially when there is not a dominant book or two which beat out all the others.


III.

Fear of being eaten shapes brains, behaviour and ecosystems

Lesley Evans Ogden | Aeon

Fear is a powerful force across the natural world. Ecologists have long known that predators play a key role in ecosystems, shaping whole communities with the knock-on effects of who eats whom. But a new approach is revealing that it’s not just getting eaten, but also the fear of getting eaten, that shapes everything from individual brains and behaviour to whole ecosystems. This new field, exploring the non-consumptive effects of predators, is known as fear ecology.

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