Medley 258: Courses, Air, Free Will, 10x Class, Shadows, Neurons, Baby Eliason...

This is the Monday Medley, a newsletter that goes out, you guessed it, every Monday. I republish it here for sharing and referencing, but if you'd like to sign up you can do so right here:

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Happy Monday!

I have some exciting personal news to share: Cosette and I are expecting our first child in October! Expect a bunch more parenting / health related stuff to pop up in the Medley moving forward.

In other news, my friend Adil and I have been working on a simple platform for finding & reviewing online courses. Check out the V1 here, and leave a review for any courses you've recently enjoyed!

Alright, on to the Medley.

The World of Second Brains

🗓 Tiago Forte is launching the next cohort of his "Building a Second Brain" course this week.

👨‍🏫 If you've been on the Medley for a while you probably know BASB is my favorite online course online, and radically changed how I interact with digital information. It massively influenced how I read & learn, and significantly improved the quality of this newsletter. If you want to get better at making technology work for you to make you smarter and more productive, this is the best course online.

👍🏼 Also if you've already taken it, take a second to leave it a review to help other potential students who are on the fence!

The World of Neurons

✍🏼 This piece by Kevin Simler is one of the more interesting takes on agency and free will I've come across.

🧠 He opens by arguing that our concept of free will or "agency" isn't some emergent phenomenon of the brain, rather a natural consequence of lower level bits of "agency" combining into more and more function independent "modules."

"Because even neurons have agency, in the form of (metabolic) selfishness, higher-order brain systems don't need to create agency 'from scratch' out of mindless robotic slaves. They inherit agency pretty much for free... rich substrates are more fertile, more conducive to growth. Bacteria grow better in glucose-rich agar than in saltwater. Plants grow better in (organic) soil than in (inorganic) sand. Ideas grow more quickly in a highly-connected society than in a sparse one."

🖥 Which also explains why it's not so easy for a computer to have "agency." The lower level components don't have any agency, so there's no way for higher level components to inherent it.

"Computers, though technically capable of supporting agency, aren't particularly hospitable to it. The brain, in contrast, is already teeming with agency (in the form of billions of selfish neurons), and is thus uniquely fertile."

❌ What's interesting about Simler's thesis is that it provides some explanation for our tendency to do things we don't want to do. Like bad habits or addictions.

"At the level above simple modules, but below the self, are poised what I will call sub-personal agents. These are systems like drives or instincts — hunger, lust, curiosity, greed, addictions — that have agency recognizable even to lay-people... Sub-personal agents also have immense explanatory power. This is most visible in the life of an addict. The addict 'himself' often doesn't want to keep up the addiction, but he keeps doing it anyway. Thus the addict is often described, even by himself, as powerless, and perhaps the best, most parsimonious explanation for his behavior is that there's literally another agent inside his brain — his inner addict — realized as a particular cabal of neurons and modules."

⬅️➡️ I find this to be an exceptionally useful tool for personifying the aspects of your personality you don't want to identify with. A common twist might be to refer to them as your "shadow," the darker parts of who you are which you often feel pulling you in a direction you don't want to go.

🙅‍♂️ And it provides an explanation for how we might get rid of bad habits or parts of our shadow. Simply ignoring the sub-personal agent vying for control weakens them over time, decreasing their pull over our behavior.

The World of Work

💸 Dror Poleg shared an excellent piece on how technology, and now remote work, will radically change the earning potential of white collar workers.

📈 He refers to this phenomenon as the "rise of the 10x class." People who are experts in their field and know how to increase their personal leverage have the potential to earn dramatically more than their peers.

"The 10X Class’s increased productivity will make many of their own colleagues redundant. As blue-collar employees lost their manufacturing jobs once their industries became more productive, white-collar employees will lose theirs"

🗺 One point he makes that I hadn't thought of was that the income discrepancy between A++ workers and B workers had been constrained by location:

"As you recall, when “imperfect substitution” is combined with “joint consumption technologies,” the result is “the possibility for talented persons to command both very large markets and very large incomes.“ While music and TV stars can be broadcast from and to anywhere, software engineers can only work in one place... The ability to work remotely changes this equation. And its impact will be compounded by several other factors."

📍 A rockstar developer or designer can now earn significantly more money since they can be hired by any company in the world, not just any company in their vicinity.

🌏 As it gets easier and easier to work with people outside of the US, using async collaboration technology and crypto-based low-cost payments, I suspect more and more companies will hire highly skilled overseas labor at a significantly lower cost and it will get more difficult for American knowledge workers to compete.

The World of Air

☀️ I'm about a month in to using my Sun Desk and I think it's one of the best decisions I've ever made for my health & happiness. Spending 6+ hours a day outside, and having a fan and heater for when the temperature gets uncomfortable, is really a game changer.

💨 One other benefit is that it probably helps me get fresher air during the day, which turns out to be a really important factor for health. There is some good advice in that post on how to improve your air quality, including:

  • "If you have an ultrasonic humidifier, kill it.
  • Monitor local air quality like the weather.
  • No incense.
  • Extinguish candles with a lid.
  • Be careful about smoke when cooking.
  • Get a particle counter.
  • Use an air purifier at home all the time. (Move this to #1 if the outdoor air has high particulate levels where you live.)
  • Install a HEPA cabin air filter in your car.
  • Avoid aerosols.
  • Use a mask very carefully when in dirty air."

👨‍🍳 I keep a Dyson air purifier running in my bedroom which I can tell helps a lot. Certain things, especially cooking at a high heat, apparently kick off a ton of particles into the air which makes the air purifier start working like crazy.

🏙 I do think that ultimately though it's impossible to have very clean air while living in a city. Probably need to be more in the country where there isn't so much pollution from cars. I wonder if when we transition to all electric, life spans in cities will increase? That would be neat.

End Note

As always, if you're enjoying the Medley, I'd love it if you shared it with a friend or two. You can send them here to sign up. I try to make it one of the best emails you get each week, and I hope you're enjoying it.

And should you come across anything interesting this week, send it my way! I love finding new things to read through members of this newsletter.

Have a great week,
Nat

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