The Illusion of Certainty

“Scientists sometimes resist new ideas and hang on to old ones longer than they should, but the real problem is the failure of the public to understand that the possibility of correction or disproof is a strength and not a weakness…

…Most people are not comfortable with the notion that knowledge can be authoritative, can call for decision and action, and yet be subject to constant revision, because they tend to think of knowledge as additive, not recognizing the necessity of reconfiguring in response to new information.”

Mary Catherine Bateson, ” 2014 : WHAT SCIENTIFIC IDEA IS READY FOR RETIREMENT?: The Illusion of Certainty.” 2014.

R.I.P., Mary Catherine Bateson.

Waiting for the Last Dance

“…it is highly probable that we are in a major bubble event in the U.S. market, of the type we typically have every several decades and last had in the late 1990s. It will very probably end badly, although nothing is certain. I will also tell you my definition of success for a bear market call. It is simply that sooner or later there will come a time when an investor is pleased to have been out of the market. That is to say, he will have saved money by being out, and also have reduced risk or volatility on the round trip. This definition of success absolutely does not include precise timing. (Predicting when a bubble breaks is not about valuation. All prior bubble markets have been extremely overvalued, as is this one. Overvaluation is a necessary but not sufficient condition for their bursting.) Calling the week, month, or quarter of the top is all but impossible….

…Nothing in investing perfectly repeats. Certainly not investment bubbles. Each form of irrational exuberance is different; we are just looking for what you might call spiritual similarities. Even now, I know that this market can soar upwards for a few more weeks or even months – it feels like we could be anywhere between July 1999 and February 2000. Which is to say it is entitled to break any day, having checked all the boxes, but could keep roaring upwards for a few months longer. My best guess as to the longest this bubble might survive is the late spring or early summer, coinciding with the broad rollout of the COVID vaccine. At that moment, the most pressing issue facing the world economy will have been solved. Market participants will breathe a sigh of relief, look around, and immediately realize that the economy is still in poor shape, stimulus will shortly be cut back with the end of the COVID crisis, and valuations are absurd. “Buy the rumor, sell the news.” But remember that timing the bursting of bubbles has a long history of disappointment.”

-Jeremy Grantham, “Waiting for the Last Dance.” January 2021

I thought in March 2020 that COVID-19 was going to clobber markets, and I was dead wrong. Too early. But, at some point, markets have to reflect the economic reality, which should happen Real Soon Now.

Identifying a Stupid Person

“…a stupid person causes damage to others while deriving no gain, or even possibly incurring losses. We invariably underestimate the number of stupid individuals in circulation as the probability that a certain person is stupid is independent of other characteristics or credentials (e.g., they can have a Ph.D. or be President). We (the non-stupid) are vulnerable to the stupid and their actions as we find it difficult to imagine and understand — or to organize a rational defense against — an attack that lacks rational structure or predictable movements. Or, as Friedrich Schiller put it, against stupidity the gods themselves fight in vain.”

-Scott Galloway, “Stupid.” January 8, 2021

Also, we are all, at one point or another, a stupid person. The trick is to reduce the duration and frequency. See also: Hoodoos, Sucking Black Holes, Psychic Vampires, The Unhappy & The Unlucky, Toxic People, Narcissist’s Prayer, etc.

Minorities vs. Majorities

“Today, as then, public opinion is the omnipresent tyrant; today, as then, the majority represents a mass of cowards, willing to accept him who mirrors its own soul and mind poverty. That accounts for the unprecedented rise of a man like [Teddy] Roosevelt. He embodies the very worst element of mob psychology. A politician, he knows that the majority cares little for ideals or integrity. What it craves is display. It matters not whether that be a dog show, a prize fight, the lynching of a ‘nigger,’ the rounding up of some petty offender, the marriage exposition of an heiress, or the acrobatic stunts of an ex-president. The more hideous the mental contortions, the greater the delight and bravos of the mass. Thus, poor in ideals and vulgar of soul, Roosevelt continues to be the man of the hour. On the other hand, men towering high above such political pygmies, men of refinement, of culture, of ability, are jeered into silence as mollycoddles. It is absurd to claim that ours is the era of individualism. Ours is merely a more poignant repetition of the phenomenon of all history: every effort for progress, for enlightenment, for science, for religious, political, and economic liberty, emanates from the minority, and not from the mass. Today, as ever, the few are misunderstood, hounded, imprisoned, tortured, and killed.”

-Emma Goldman, “Minorities Versus Majorities.” Anarchism and Other Essays. 1911.

Intrinsic Values Test

“To develop this test, we investigated what philosophers and psychologists have said about what humans fundamentally value, and then conducted two studies of our own, collecting and statistically analyzing the intrinsic values of 500 people in the U.S. Taking this test will help you:

1. Figure out your most important intrinsic values.

2. Discover what your unique intrinsic values say about you.

3. Understand why intrinsic values are so important.

An intrinsic value is something you value for its own sake.

Put another way, an intrinsic value is something you would still value even if you got absolutely nothing else from it. Sometimes intrinsic values are referred to as ‘terminal values,’ because they reflect the end points in our value system that all our other values are aiming at. Non-intrinsic values are sometimes called ‘instrumental values,’ because we only care about them as a means to achieve other ends.”

Intrinsic Values Test

My top value: I have agency and can make choices for myself. Surprising no one.

The 36 Questions That Lead to Love

“If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be? … [Buddhist Enlightenment and the corresponding freedom from suffering, obviously]

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life? … [Not being preoccupied with accomplishments.]

When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself? … [Any given month, probably during a movie.]

-Daniel Jones, “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love.” The New York Times. January 9, 2015.

In 3 sets of 12, designed to become increasingly intimate. Reading through, it also occurs to me that there are implied values in these questions. For instance, how many people think in terms of superlatives, e.g., perfect days, most grateful, truth about yourself, greatest accomplishment, most treasured, most terrible, etc. The latter questions also have a focus on finality and resolution. What does it mean to find someone’s death disturbing?

But, on the other hand, the questions reveal what is core in relationships, that is, vulnerability, regard for the other person and some sense of shared experience and purpose. A useful exercise to go through with the people close to you.

Zuihitsu: 2020-08-08 to 2020-12-31

  • A great meeting has three key elements: the options, desired outcome, and the roles of the participants are clear.
  • Solitude is freedom from inputs from other minds.
  • Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage.—Ray Bradbury
  • Life is a game that is played on a five-inch field — the distance between your ears. —apologies to Bobby Jones, the American golfer.
  • There’s a market for confirming people’s opinion and not for the truth.
  • The catastrophe we think will happen has in fact already happened.—Donald Winnicott
  • An engaged practice does not permit unengaged labels and objectification.
  • Perfection and beauty are created by happiness.
  • Be there when the stillness comes.
  • “Discipline is choosing between what you want now, and what you want most.”—Abraham Lincoln
  • Between sense and nonsense, there is no right or wrong.
  • Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the Will.—Nietzsche
  • Dangerous grifter-led subcultures generally appeal to “lost young men.”
  • Make the revolution irresistible.—Toni Cade Bambara
  • There are two religions in the world: the religion of being right and the religion of being in love, and you can’t be a member of both at the same time.
  • A decrease in common sense and an increase in superstition and gullibility are infallible signs of alienation.
  • Changez vos amis.
  • There can be no separate survival.
  • Hold faith with the sun in a sunless place.
  • Broaden definition enough and you make a sieve of meaning.
  • People are myopic.
  • Every job looks easy when you aren’t the one doing it.—Jeff Immelt
  • Münchhausen Trilemma, when asked for more proof the end is either circular, regressive, or dogmatic.
  • Don’t be afraid to take. Takers never worry about taking too much. If you worry, then you aren’t solely a taker. Relax about it.
  • Kind and reasonable people using coalition-building, science, and determination to solve problems. Are you in that room?
  • The prior can often only be understood in the context of the likelihood.
  • With distance, every conflict seems solvable and senseless.
  • Stories not explanations.
  • Truth only comes at the end of the line.
  • Find a place of radical expression and acceptance.
  • Ignore the bullshit of the day.
  • Apocalypse is the suburb of utopia.
  • The land of the possible has many paths, and we can know only one.
  • It’s possible to be both empathetic and strong.
  • Pictures, luggages and life; everything’s impermanent.
  • A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance.
  • Morals are like aesthetics, best left for interpretation.
  • Living under the constant threat of destruction.
  • ”A trip through a sewer in a glass-bottomed boat.”—Wilson Mezner on time spent in Hollywood
  • The labor of thought, the labor of writing and the labor in reality builds our character.
  • Everything is a delibrate construction.
  • Analog shuts out digital distractions.
  • Look for the extraordinary intruding on ordinary life.
  • Strip away complexity and simplify.
  • Humility is thinking of yourself less.
  • One person’s apocalypse is another person’s day-to-day.
  • Knowing isn’t doing.
  • Stupid cannot be educated.
  • One person with a mind and knows it can always beat ten people who haven’t and don’t.
  • Take the trouble to find the right thing to say, then say it with levity.
  • Desperate people do desperate things.
  • Right don’t come to you doing wrong.
  • LOVE, life’s only valid expression.
  • What is conversation for? One answer: leaving the other person better off emotionally.
  • Start with something that works.
  • Pain is the body registering a departure from what it regards as “normal.” If you can train yourself to think of pain as normal, then the pain will cease to exist.
  • Serve the material.
  • The dynamics of the high school clique are social dynamics everywhere.
  • Respect the individual.
  • People want to believe in something, even if it is false.
  • Every road is new.
  • Our lives are measured not by gain but by giving.
  • Don’t share opinions on topics that have low thresholds to having opinions and where there is little to differentiate them.
  • Don’t run towards ruin.
  • Only the dead are without fear.
  • The meaning we overlay onto our experience is primary of our many manufactured fictions.
  • Every signal has a cost. No costs; no need to communicate it.
  • Don’t feed the mouth that bites you.
  • Your fantasies have cursed your realities.
  • Ask a question. Find forty answers.
  • It’s too dark at night to wonder around with your eyes closed.
  • Do the small thing.
  • Create fun and a little weirdness. —Zappos motto
  • Change the initial conditions.
  • Puzzles over facts.
  • The people that need to read, don’t.
  • Wipe your feet at the door. Meaning: Your personal business shouldn’t be a problem for your business.
  • Power yields nothing without demand.
  • If it’s important and you stop, someone else will do it.
  • If you wish to know something, pay it careful attention.
  • Humanity is rife with brand and tribal loyalty.
  • Pragmatism > Culture Defense Warrior
  • A vantage point can only be occupied by one person at a time.
  • Better to try and fail than do nothing.
  • Be present in the present.
  • Invite the witness inside.
  • There is no final, fixed answer.
  • Keep increasing the number of sensed experience per second until the illusion of continuity shatters.
  • Intellect subs for faith. Faith subs for wisdom. Wisdom subs for both intellect and faith.
  • Balance and strengthen. Strengthen and balance.
  • Cities are full of weird, wonderful people, and people can teach us a lot.
  • Every experience can be a source of wisdom.
  • Labels not stories. Stories provide unnecessary detail that is wrong. Labels bypass thought.
  • Sick leaders attract sick followers.
  • Selection effects are everything.
  • Ideological conflict has no easy solutions.
  • It’s expensive to be both comfortable and to appear virtuous.
  • No one wants to be reincarnated as the fly eating poop.
  • It is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong.—Warren Buffett
  • It’s easier to train an expert to manage well than to train a manager to be an expert.
  • World-class talent wants to work for and with other world-class talent, or As hire other As, Bs hire Cs. Cs don’t hire As or Bs.
  • Wiping your mouth (or your ass) with paper isn’t making it clean.
  • Mine is classy, yours is crassy.
  • The measure of government is how many quiet tragedies it has authored.
  • Class and demographic biases rule over expertise.
  • Happiness is the difference between what you have, and your definition of enough.
  • Boats rowing the stream are harder work, but frequently have better company.
  • There are ways to eliminate suffering in ourselves and others. We need only discover and master them.
  • Advice requires context. What is good for the grey beard isn’t good for the novice.
  • Can you apologize for someone else?
  • Wanting things to be different (which includes wanting them to remain the same) is the cause of suffering.
  • Thinking blocks experiencing, like seeing an image taken with a camera rather than using your eyes.
  • Labels define culture, personally and socially.
  • Tests check but also drive performance.
  • Bridge the gap.
  • Don’t be The Other for people to define themselves against if you can help it.
  • Keeping free time scarce means keeping people unambitious and increases the market for convenience, gratification, and any other form of relief.
  • To be is to be related.
  • Socratic method: Let them talk. Ask questions. Let them expose their ignorance. Do not cheer when that happens.
  • Dread is lack of agency.
  • Spend over a year with no address.
  • Check if there’s a Japanese camping version.
  • Be more curious.
  • Social interaction in any medium is always a balance between self-expression and the accommodation of others.
  • Simple pastiches reign, signs of humanity’s lack of imagination.
  • Pursuing one kind of truth tends to obscure other kinds.
  • Many visions, many maps.
  • Your priorities are reflected in where you spend your money.
  • What ordinary thing has become invisible to you?
  • Practice analytically, perform intuitively.
  • Keep complexity in mind, enough to drive good decision-making.
  • You’re never too young to die.
  • Five big things instead of 500 half-assed things.
  • Cultivate an obsessive desire to make the world a weirder place.
  • Float to the top or sink to the bottom. Everything in the middle is the churn.—Amos in Season 5, Episode 2
  • Nobody really saves anyone. She taught me how to save myself.
  • Just because someone’s the underdog doesn’t mean they are the good guy.
  • Not every stain comes out.
  • Philanthropy is scooping soup, not solving the problem of soup lines.
  • Everyone has an eye on the self.
  • Every choice rules out a panoply of others.
  • Following models or trying to discover yourself avoids the hard work of creation, the difference between prefab or bespoke.
  • Education is sticking around until you get it.
  • We see what we need to see in other people.
  • The greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
  • The brave find their courage in adversity.
  • You do not have to be good.
  • Support people not projects or ideologies.
  • Every childhood is strange in its own way.
  • People are not composed entirely of their facts.
  • Save what you can save.
  • Turn yourself away from what you think is happening so that you can see what is really happening.
  • The worries of others are a largely unknown landscape.
  • See people as their best and most complete selves.

Ordering Chinese Food

“1. Greens are usually the glories of the cuisine: order as many vegetables as there are people

2. If you will have a meat, consider the juiciness that pairs well with the starch: something saucy if you will eat with rice, or less saucy if you will have soup noodles

3. Order Yunnan mushrooms if they are on the menu

4. Fill out the rest with cold appetizers, they are never a bad idea

—Dan Wang, “2020 Letter.” January 1, 2021.