What I’ve Been Up To – Writing, Music and Coffee

Intellectual life is seasonal, a cycle of ingestion, chewing and digestion. But to truly assimilate ideas you’ve been chewing on, to make them a part of your being, you’ve got to chew and digest for a long time. So here are the ideas I’ve been chewing on and digesting for the past couple months/years, which I’m only starting to be able to articulate now.

Writing:

  • A philosophy/neuroscience/psychology paper on how the subjective sense of “being a self” arises and why this feeling is an illusion; how the mental schema we create are evolutionarily adaptive and fit neatly within the predictive-processing/Bayesian brain theory of cognition (our brain is a predictive machine that doesn’t see reality, per se, but is constantly simulating reality); finally, how psychedelics and other consciousness-altering tools can dissolve this illusion.
  • An honors thesis (should be done within a year) providing a full-fledged explanation of depression, from the neurotransmitter-level all the way up to the level of thoughts and emotions. It’ll touch on metaphysics, philosophy of mind, neuroscience, etc. I’ll also integrate exciting new research on the use of psychedelics to treat depression, and show how this connects to the predictive-processing account of cognition.
  • A 20-page memoir on my obsession with basketball between the ages of 10 and 16 (first draft complete.)
  • A literary journalism piece, not sure about what…perhaps coffee and coffee-house culture in 18th-century Europe.
  • Some other short pieces for my creative nonfiction class.

On the back-burner, but still there:

  • Nihilism and crippling existential dread.
  • IQ and personality research
  • Information theory, statistical thermodynamics and a physical theory of everything (see my posts in early and mid 2017.)
  • Trying to learn more about quantum mechanics and cosmology.
  • Working on my social skills. Relationships–both platonic and romantic–are important for one’s psychological well-being, and I’m failing at both types of relationships currently, so trying to learn more.
  • Limits on free speech and the slow decline of classical liberal values (e.g. those espoused by John Stuart Mill) on college campuses
  • Jordan Peterson/Jungian psychology/the Bible as encoding Truth (in the pragmatic, not realist, sense).
  • Epistemology and philosophy of science (pragmatism vs. realism)

Music I’ve discovered or returned to lately:

  • Keith Jarrett (On Green Dolphin Street; I Fall in Love Too Easily; Autumn Leaves)
  • Steely Dan (Kid Charlemagne; Black Cow; Deacon Blues, as always)
  • Chris Potter (his live solo on Snarky Puppy’s Lingus is killer)
  • Led Zeppelin (Over the Hills and Far Away; Fool in the Rain; classics such as Immigrant Song, Kashmir, Black Dog, etc.)
  • Metal/Angry Lifting Music (Iron Maiden, Metallica, Black Sabbath)
  • Stan Getz & Bill Evans (Night and Day is a good one, first track of their 1973 album, I believe.)
  • Chet Baker (Stella by Starlight; I Fall in Love Too Easily)

Other things I’ve been doing:

  • Drinking lots of coffee and working on my espresso-making ability (coffee is one of the things that compels me to keep living)
  • Taking a class in jazz theory
  • Trying to figure out what to do with my life.

How to Be a High-Functioning Depressive

depression

Expected reading time: 20 minutes. 

We don’t feel the same every day. Some days we’re happier, some days we’re bluer. At times, it can almost feel as if we’re two completely different people on two different days.

We also vary individually in how we feel over longer stretches of time. Some people have a higher set-point of positive emotion and are nearly always cheery. Others have a lower set-point and always seem a bit blue. Some people have an extremely low set-point of positive emotion. We call these people depressed.

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How to Solve Problems Using Mental Models

We no longer live in a world in which you go to college, get a degree, get a job at a corporation, and work your way up over the course of your “career.” For the majority of fields, the idea of a “career” is quickly becoming antiquated.

The technological landscape shifts and undulates rapidly, and it will only continue to do so faster. You may currently be on a peak of this landscape, but if you don’t know how to ride the waves, in ten years you’ll fall off the peak and be out of work.

So, how should you best prepare yourself for the job market of the future?

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A Brief History of Intelligence Research

The first post in a series on the psychology of intelligence.

Intro

Humans are intelligent in a variety of ways. We communicate abstract ideas through language, recognize patterns in data, and solve novel problems.

However, at its core, what is intelligence? Are there multiple intelligences? Are some people more intelligent than others? Does intelligence even matter in the real world? We’ll explore those questions in this series of posts on intelligence research.

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10 Ways The World Will Change in the Next 20 Years

10 predictions about the future of the Western World, specifically the U.S., along with time-frame (because it’s not a matter of “if” but of “when”), my degree of belief (DOB) in that statement, reasons why I believe it will be true (bullet points) and reasons I could get it wrong.

I don’t necessarily want these things to be true; I simply think they will be.

If you think the time-frames I’ve predicted are too soon, remember that close-up, an exponential growth curve looks linear.

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Why Intelligence Research Matters

I became interested in research on intelligence after listening to Sam Harris’s podcast with Charles Murray, the much-maligned coauthor of The Bell Curve. Before listening to the podcast, like many people, I thought IQ was pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo peddled by eugenicists and white supremacists.

But I was surprised to learn that intelligence research is one of the most well-established areas of research in all of psychology, and many of the statistical techniques fundamental to psychology, such as correlation and factor analysis, came out of early intelligence research. This led me down a rabbit hole, one which I’m still exploring and hope to share with you.

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Embrace Your Suffering and Make Art

Oftentimes when we feel a strong emotion—anger at a friend who stabbed us in the back, pain from the death of a family member, joy from doing well on a test we studied hard for—we let it overwhelm us. Our internal dialogue plays the same track on repeat: I’m so upset at him for cheating on me, how could he…I wonder what I’ll have for lunch today…Oh my god, he’s such as asshole for doing that. Though we can choose to change to another track, we often don’t. We choose to stew in our emotions.

This can be quite enjoyable if we are stewing in positive emotion, and it can cause a great deal of suffering if we are stewing in negative emotion.

However, I think with both types of emotions, it’s better to simply move on. Even if the emotion feels good, don’t ruminate on it. Stop the mental masturbation, which is what stewing in positive emotion is. Don’t get attached to it. Merely observe it and let it pass. In the long run being too attached to fleeting emotions is going to cause you more suffering than joy (a very Buddhist/Stoic principle.)

Why?

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Idea Dump: How Life Began, Groups Formed and Morality Developed

This is an idea dump, a place where you can peek into my mind and toy with the half-baked ideas I’ve been playing with lately. It’s messy, purposely so. 

What I’ve written below is a rough sketch composed of broad theoretical brushstrokes–individual and group selection, the development of norms in order to regulate behavior, signaling, etc.–so the fine detail is lacking. This is intentional. That said, I provide concrete examples which I hope will help you understand what I’m getting at.

I focused on a few limited levels of explanation: that of the individual, the group, and culture. After fleshing these levels of explanation out–which people have been working on for millennia, so it might take a while–the next step is to zoom in and look at how life originally began at the levels of physics and chemistry. An important first step in this direction is explaining the development of self-replicating and error-correcting individuals, as well as the development of metabolism. These evolutionary innovations are intimately tied to the ability to digitally code information via structures such as DNA. All of this is key to explaining how we went from an amorphous prebiotic soup 3.7 billion years ago to the development of roses and humans who can compose poems about said roses. (I point this out because the development of early forms of life is in many ways analogous to the development of more complex forms of life and culture.)

The question of how we went from nothingness and Chaos to complexity and Order fascinates me, and perhaps that fascination might rub off on you too.

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What to Do With Your Twenties

Your twenties are some of the most formative years of your life. You’re unshackled from the chains of adolescence and (most likely) are done with college. How should you make use of this decade?

This is a question I’m personally trying to answer. Life is a game, in a sense, and I’m searching for the principles—that is, the rules of thumb—that make the game as fun and fulfilling as possible. Many of these principles hold true throughout all of life. However, as I’ll get into, I believe that your twenties are a bit different.

(Disclaimer: One might argue that given my age, I have no place giving life advice. This objection is warranted. I’m going to look back in 10 years having learned a lot and I probably won’t agree with some of the things I’ve said here. So, all this advice is provisional and should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, age doesn’t necessarily lead to wisdom (if it did, all our parents would be happy and fulfilled) and after a certain point wisdom isn’t necessarily predicated on age, so make of this what you will.)

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