A running stream of evergreen, thought-provoking content from the UWW (universe-wide-web); take a seat and quench your mind, body, or soul, accordingly.
'Toys are not as innocent as they look. Toys and games are preludes to serious ideas.’ Charles Eames
'The balance between conformity and rebellion, or perhaps obedience and opposition, is a very delicate matter. But this does not mean, as D.H. Lawrence observed, that we have to “bury so much of the delicate magic of life.”' A view of this magic, from the inaugural Extraterritorial magazine from the Santa Fe Institute.
'I believe that education thus conceived marks the most perfect and intimate union of science and art conceivable in human experience.' John Dewey, in his pedagogical master view.
'Technological progress does solve certain kinds of problems for some people at one level, but it introduces wider and deeper issues too. To live at one level, disregarding the total process of life, is to invite misery and destruction. The greatest need and most pressing problem for every individual is to have an integrated comprehension of life, which will enable him to meet its ever-increasing complexities.' Krishnamurti on education.
In need of a new read? Look no further. Last year Es Devlin created the Memory Palace, an immersive installation exploring the entire 70 millennia worth of human history. A splash of time in the cosmic pond, really. Devlin curated a list of books that informed the concept.
5.3 THE DRIVE
"What is this antidote to death, or deadness?" Peter Attia, M.D. in conversation with Esther Perel. They talk about truly living, community, healing, stories and uncomfortable emotions.
'...and it is this, I believe, that is the ultimate origin of the apparent freedom of human will.' Intrigued? Physicist Stephen Wolfram has a compelling thesis.
"Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." Harold Thurman.
Vogelsberger of MIT spends his waking hours modelling galaxy formation; does the answer of our universe lay somewhere in these pixels? Mind-blowing.
From IBM: 'AI learns the art of debate' is the official tagline. If in doubt, debate, I say.
'Politics, like religion, is a topic where there's no threshold of expertise for expressing an opinion. All you need is strong convictions'. Paul Graham of Y Combinator fame, in his signature elegant rationality, makes the case for making your identity as small as possible.
What happens when you split triplets at birth, in the name of science? I think you know. 'Three Perfect Strangers', a doc by Tim Wardle.
Arnold Bennett's essay 'How to Live on 24 Hours a Day'; a jovial tone overlays this meditation on the interplay of work and self.
4.5 A DARE
Audacity comes in many forms. Here Robert Rauschenberg talks about his controversial erasure of De Kooning's work. The status quo saw art one way, one man had another idea. The question arises how far will you go in the pursuit of an idea?
4.4 PAGE BOY
'In true education, anything that comes to our hand is as good as a book: the prank of a page-boy, the blunder of a servant, a bit of table talk - they are all part of the curriculum.' Michel de Montaigne. Look up his essays, they're edifying. There may be a few anachronisms, but look past those, page-boys are just so hard to come by these days.
4.3 THE PROF
The road to power is paved with... friendship, unspoken loyalties, fierce devotion, bias, protection. Leadership requires a specific type of person to answer its call. One leader, Winston Churchill, is firmly placed in this pantheon of excellence. But was all as it seemed? Here's a riveting podcast episode from Malcolm Gladwell.
What do you think, and what does it mean? Listen
Shane over at Farnam Street delves into the history of the figure we all now call 'zero'. This a far reaching essay which starts as a jaunt through history to find the origins of this unit of measure, but along the way goes far deeper, and we hurl into the ultimate rabbit hole, via a study of Buddhism, meditation and consciousness itself. We'd also recommend 'The Nothing That Is Zero', by Robert Kaplan.
Hit play here
4.1 SHADOW PLAY
Stanford's d.school is a fascinating melting pot of ideas when it comes to design for better living. The Shadow A Student Challenge - looks at how we can design spaces and processes to cultivate empathy. We also like it because at first glance, it sounds utterly counterintuitive.
Forget Glastonbury, it's all about the London Design Biennale. Es Devlin is the Artistic Director, with the chosen theme of 'Resonance'. Devlin is a remarkable creator, whose work we have followed closely. No doubt many wonders await those who attend.
Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google, opens Pandora's box:
3.8 MR SOWELL
Watching a razor sharp intellect at play is a healthy way to remain humble in one's pursuit of wisdom. Thomas Sowell is the author of several books, one of the most radical, 'Black Rednecks and White Liberals'. Here's a Twitter feed devoted to him. See what you think Here
Physicist David Bohm in conversation with philosopher J.Krishnamurti. Bohm would go on to coin his own philosophy on reality and one's place in it, in the book 'Wholeness and the Implicate Order'.
Now, concentrate. Watch
Consumption and luxury goods are always contentious topics. Our guiding philosophy has always been buy what you please, but do so consciously, intentionally. Each object we bring into our lives inevitably speaks volumes about us. From the School of Life, this intriguing essay is a powerful exploration of this exact theme. Read and share, it's important.
3.5 A TIP
Play. Doodle, buy a puzzle, do throw and catch, play Monopoly Deal (it's addictive), learn a new, terrible cheesy joke and bore each of your friends with it. Let's loosen up a little!
From several years ago, a study out of UCL on habit formation, here
The punch line? The 21 day theory is a bit of a con, and that lasting change takes time, but is completely possible.
3.3 WELL, GIVE
Charity and philanthropy can be overwhelming to navigate. We've discovered GiveWell.org. It actively vets and conducts independent widely respected research on charities across the world, and recommends the most effective and under-funded organisations. It's transparent and non-judgemental.
The Pomodoro technique, coined in the 70s, encourages productive, impactful work in short bursts. Set a timer (your phone is perfect) to 25 mins and work solidly on whichever project is in front of you, and then as time is up, take a five minute break.
Put the rubbish out, do some sit-ups, take a quick walk, make a crumpet etc. Then start that timer again. Start a tally, and after 3-4 bursts take a longer break of 15-20mins. This works whether you are self-employed, work for a corporation, or for your own personal projects/interests. The repeated act of setting the timer reinforces your determination, and the focus frees you. We're all about positive restraints.
A speed-reader's dream, Blinkist is an app which essentially transforms books into short digests that you can get through in 15mins or less. Warning: you still have to read the full books, Blinkist is the ideal amuse-bouche, not a three course meal.
Take one person in your immediate circle that you admire. Define one quality of theirs that you would like to develop for yourself. Link one word to this quality i.e. confident, generous, creative. Over the course of days/weeks, as you are faced with any decision, recite this word a few times. Get into the mindset of that quality of note. It'll start the cognitive process towards cultivating this characteristic. Persist. It could be life enhancing.
2.9 PER SE
per se with Designer and Maker Tobias van Schneider about their work, what it's like setting up a fashion business and some methods employed to live a more intentional life:
2.8 THE PODCAST
Tech entrepreneur and VC Naval Ravikant tackles a series of Q&A on the Tim Ferriss Show (Tim is a self-experimenter, a life-long learner and author). Try it, even if 'you're not really into podcasts.' Tease quote: “I actually think happiness is the absence of suffering. It comes from peace. That comes from being careful about desire, judgement, and reaction.”
2.7 AN ESSAY
Kevin Simler of the website Melting Asphalt is a remarkably pragmatic thinker. We're mulling over his recent essay 'Crony Beliefs'. Simler breaks down the origin of our beliefs into two core groups - 'meritocratic' and 'crony', the former based on veracity, proof and facts, and the latter on social acceptance and camouflage. Read the essay, slowly, deliberately, and share with your friends. It's an important exercise in self-awareness.
2.6 A FILM
A 3min deep dive into the power of uniform.
Watch it here
2.5 APP FATIGUE
Best way to break the compulsive checking of your social media apps? Move them around on your home screen, and grey scale them: the mental strain to keep finding them is really quite fascinating to observe. Your brain will soon lose interest.
Then run for the hills !
One of the great ironies of the people who say they used to love reading but have now fallen out of practice, is that they themselves are great story-tellers; that wistful look in search of lost time. It’s really quite a marvel. Yes there are literally millions of books out there, and yes we only want to read ‘good’ things and of course how could fiction count because it's ‘just stories’. We’ll wait a moment as you throat clear your excuses…Here are some tips that have helped us dip back again into the word when we’ve had a dry spell:
- Start with re-reading a book you loved once. It doesn't matter that it may be many decades since, or a genre you wouldn’t touch now, but you need to coax that reading muscle back to strength
- Open up your web browser, of the many tabs open, apart from the Daily Mail wall of shame, and look for patterns of interest. Are you searching Youtube for videos on how to build your own home gym, are you intrigued by space and the exploits of astronomers, are you still confused about the difference between they’re and their? These are all clues for places to start: identify your interest, start with a search engine and look for ‘founding’ texts or time tested sources on these topics. For some context on the sources you discover, look up reviews from leaders in the field or unique thinkers whose opinions you value
- Look up the reading lists of people you admire. On his website patrickcollison.com, Collison has a list of all the physical books he has, and a colour code system of highly impactful or significantly above average works
- Walk into any nearby bookshop, find a section that appeals vaguely, even as arbitrary as fiction vs non fiction, and pick a book, any book. Read the first page, and see if you want to read the next. If not, pick another. The pull you have from wanting to read something, is of equal and opposite a reaction to something you think you should be reading. Just spend 10mins of a lunch break
- Crowdsource - ask three friends to each give you a book that’s influenced them. You immediately have a personal library, edited, and from these you’ll find a topic/genre/person that you’ll want to delve into more
- Don’t feel constrained by traditional chronology. Often in the case of non-fiction, writers treat chapters as stand-alone mini-essays. There is a grand narrative but you can equally just dip in, find a section that piques you, and journey onwards. Fidelity isn’t necessary, and you can always go back to get the full context
- Why not choose up to two books and leave them on a table or counter, which you often sit by or are around. Sometimes it's easier to do something if it feels accessible and is right in your face. The adage, out of sight out of mind, applies to reading as much as anything else
- Final one. Imagine you’re in a movie about your life - a real Truman show situation. What would you be reading?...
Over and out.
2.3 PURE IMAGINATION
Whether we refer to architecture, town planning or landscape gardening, each of these disciplines actively seek to influence us through manipulating space and structures. It is a phenomenal power to possess. Architecting an inherited world, where oceans and rainforests and woodlands originally sat majestic, the architect especially must bring a vision worthy of its competitor. Samir Rahman is one such architect in training that we discovered through RIBA's (Royal Institute of British Architects) annual President's Medals competition. This is a worldwide search for the most inspiring, surprising and ultimately visionary students, who develop individual projects to suggest how the world could, and should, be. His work, 'Nuclear NOW!' explores how perceptions of this controversial power source can be challenged and changed. His imagined project is a festival which takes place in the year 2051. By now a nuclear plant sits within Greenwich park, London. The site envisions a celebratory series of events and experiences, from a tea garden within a monsoon climate generated by waste heat from the station, fishermen catching on site fresh fish soon to be transformed into sushi, and luscious tea trees, from which festival goers pick their leaves to drink at a traditional tea ceremony. It's an audacious vision. A single idea with nuanced thinking. Regardless of your views on the specifics, orthogonal thinking as this will deeply influence our interaction with the world. Visuals of Samir's work can be found here.
“Bliss—a-second-by-second joy and gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious—lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (Tax Returns, Televised Golf) and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Instant bliss in every atom.”
David Foster Wallace
2.1 THE MINIMALISTS
A documentary that frames life a little differently, if that's your kind of thing.
Take the challenge and watch it here
2.0 A NEW YEAR, NOT A NEW YOU
Be in the present. Seek not novelty but refinement; not arbitrary change, but growth. Keep up the business of living, the joy of learning and the gift of compassion and empathy. Be in command of yourself, ask tough questions, do not shy away from the unknown, for in chaos, lies opportunity.
1.9 G.I. GURDJIEFF
With a long list of 'pupils', including Frank Lloyd Wright, Aldous Huxley, Arthur Koestler, the writer Katherine Mansfield and Egyptologist, John Anthony West, Gurdjieff is viewed by some as the original purveyor of 'Eastern' esotericism into 'Western' culture; seems deep(?). It's tickling to read an article that reads like butter spread too thin on toast.
1.8 A STORY
FROM MELINDA GATES
'The world is making progress by doing three things economists call Recognise, Reduce, and Redistribute: Recognize that unpaid work is still work. Reduce the amount of time and energy it takes. And Redistribute it more evenly between women and men.
When it comes to Recognise, Reduce, and Redistribute, the story of Anna and Sanare, the couple I stayed with in Tanzania, is pretty inspiring. When they got married, Anna moved from a lush part of the country to live in Sanare’s drought-ridden area. She had a hard time adjusting to the extra work that meant. Finally, Sanare came home one day to see Anna sitting on the steps ready to leave, her bags packed and their first child, Robert, in her arms. Sanare, heartbroken, asked how he could persuade her to stay. “Fetch water,” she said, “so I can nurse our son.” And so, recognizing the imbalance, he did. He started walking the miles to the well every day. At first the other village men made fun of him and even accused Anna of witchcraft. But when he said, “My son will be healthier because I’m doing this,” they started redistributing the work with him. After a while, when they got sick of working so hard, they decided to build water tanks to collect rainwater near the village. Now that they’ve reduced, no matter who goes to get water, Anna or Sanare, it’s a lot closer—and they both spend more time with Robert and their other kids.'
Just One conversation, adjustment, idea can lead to a result 10x in its effect.
Sounds like a good ROI.
1.7 A UNIFORM
'In the fall of 1830, Victor Hugo set out to write The Hunchback of Notre Dame against the seemingly impossible deadline of February 1831. He bought an entire bottle of ink in preparation and practically put himself under house arrest for months, using a most peculiar anti-escape technique: ‘Hugo locked away his clothes to avoid any temptation of going outside and was left with nothing to wear except a large grey shawl. He had purchased the knitted outfit, which reached right down to his toes, just for the occasion. It served as his uniform for many months.’ He finished the book weeks before deadline, using up the whole bottle of ink to write it. He even considered titling it What Came Out of a Bottle of Ink, but eventually settled for the less abstract and insidery title.'
What's your get 'down to business' uniform of choice?
1.6 AN ASSIGNMENT
When in doubt, grid. The premise, according to WaitButWhy, is that once the business of sleeping is out of the way, we have approximately 1000 minutes awake a day. Breaking these into approachable chunks we have 100 10-minute blocks each day. The challenge? Colour the blocks according to how you think you spend your day, one block for breakfast, 500 blocks for work, three for the gym and so on. And then take a look at your day, broken down rather conveniently, and colour coded, no less. Think about the blocks you like the most, which ones the least. Which blocks would you like to add more time to, which blocks take more time than they should. Finally, print another grid and colour the blocks according to how you actually spend your day. What do you see?
For the grid, see here
1.5 A QUOTE
'Anything you do, reflects everything you do.'
1.4 AN EXERCISE
A classroom exercise from Marina Abramovic, from her memoirs Walk Through Walls: 'For a few months, they (students) sit for two hours a day at a table with 1,000 pieces of blank white paper and write down their ideas. All the good ones they put on one side of the table; all the bad ones go in the trash can. But in the end, I only look in the trash. It turns out to be a treasure of everything they’re afraid of and really should do.'
Worth a go? Perhaps start with 15 minutes...
Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi's work Flow; on the topic of tapping into a heightened state of stimulation in any activity we are focused on, that gives us deep and long-lasting happiness. There's science, psychology and evolutionary studies woven in like a grand tapestry. A very practical snippet:
“If one has failed to develop curiosity and interest in the early years, it is a good idea to acquire them now, before it is too late to improve the quality of life. To do so is fairly easy in principle, but more difficult in practice. Yet it is sure worth trying. The first step is to develop the habit of doing whatever needs to be done with concentrated attention, with skill rather than inertia. Even the most routine tasks, like washing dishes, dressing, or mowing the lawn become more rewarding if we approach them with the care it would take to make a work of art. The next step is to transfer some psychic energy each day from tasks that we don’t like doing, or from passive leisure, into something we never did before, or something we enjoy doing but don’t do often enough because it seems too much trouble. There are literally millions of potentially interesting things in the world to see, to do, to learn about. But they don’t become actually interesting until we devote attention to them.”
1.2 ONE TRACK
On The Nature Of Daylight, Max Richter
'The road to wisdom?
-- Well, it's plain
and simple to express:
and err again
Grook, Piet Hein