Confident idiots, Russian Roulette, Boredom, TheFireside turns 2!
Welcome to Issue 17 of TheFireside!
This is a special edition because it marks the 2nd anniversary of this newsletter, started in September 2017. Thank you everybody for being such loyal readers :)
If you feel like doing something nice for the occasion, I’d really appreciate if you’d recommend TheFireside to a friend or two by clicking the button below. A personal recommendation goes a long way!
On to The Fireside...
This issue of TheFireside took a little longer that expected to put together because I wanted it to be special. The first 2 links are recommended readings for everyone. The second link, in particular, talks about a concept - ergodicity - that has been mentioned in this newsletter before but it’s such an important idea that it’s worth repeating. The 3rd link - “The story of us“ - will keep you busy reading for weeks and I’m sure it will be remembered as one of the best collection of blog posts of all time.
New blog posts: I’ve published two short blog posts. The first one is about the importance of being bored and the epidemic of kids glued to their phones. The second one is about designing your environment for success and why I was a fat kid. Enjoy.
New Book: “Shantaram“ by Gregory D. Roberts is easily in the top 3 novels I’ve ever read. It’s an autobiographical account of an armed robber and heroin addict, escaped from an Australian prison to India, where he lived in a Bombay slum. There, he joined the Bombai mafia, was tortured in an Indian prison and was sent in Afghanistan to fight with the Mujahideen. The style is beautiful and the storytelling is sensational. Probably the only book that made me cry. Buy it, read it and fall in love with it.
Have a great rest of the week :)
➤ The links
[Manuel's best pick] CollaborativeFund’s blog is one of the best blogs I’ve found in a very long time. Almost any article is worth reading. The main point of this article is that since the world is driven by tail events — a minority of things drive the majority of outcomes — one can’t truly understand what’s happening in the world, and indeed in history, unless he understands the “Big things“, the handful of events that are so powerful they influence a range of seemingly unrelated topics.
Russian roulette is the infamous game of chance in which a player places a single round in a revolver, spins the cylinder, places the muzzle against his head, and pulls the trigger. If you’re completely insane you might roll the dice and take $1,000,000 to play Russian Roulette one time but there’s no amount of money that would make you play it 6 or more times.
Though you will (hopefully) never play Russian roulette, there are a surprising number of scenarios in life that have rules very similar to Russian Roulette but which otherwise sane and rational-seeming people (including Nobel prize winners) choose to play. In fact, you may be playing one of those games right now and don’t realize it. So how do you recognize games like Russian Roulette and, more importantly, how do you make sure you consistently win at this game? The key is a big little idea called ergodicity.
👨👩👦👦 The story of us
WaitButWhy (A.K.A. “The best blog on the planet“) is back after months of silence and I’m so freaking excited. This time they are back with a series of posts that try to answer one question: why is our society more divided than ever? The result is a wonderful (and hilarious) journey through history, evolutionary psychology, political theory, neuroscience and everything in between which is exactly all the things TheFireside is about. There are 8 “chapters“ in total and I haven’t finished the series yet. My advice is to read the introduction and the first chapter and then decide if you want to continue reading. I bet you’ll read them all ;)
Charles Bukowski famously said “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence“. In the field of psychology, this is known as the Dunning–Kruger effect, a cognitive bias in which people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. In the words of Dunning himself:
“Incompetent people do not recognise, cannot recognise, just how incompetent they are. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight. For poor performers to recognise their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent”.
In this rather long research paper Valentina Assenova, drawing on the largest available longitudinal sample comprising 192 countries over 17 years, examines the evidence in relation to several explanations, including the usual suspects like national investment in R&D, the quality of STEM education, venture capital availability, and governmental support and policies for entrepreneurship. Contrary to prevailing theories, the strongest predictors of cross-national variation in entrepreneurial activity were normative, with social norms being the most strongly associated with entrepreneurialism.
If you don’t want to read the research, here’s the summary: more gender-egalitarian societies and societies that value and reward performance and endorse status privileges have on average higher rates of entrepreneurship, national income and economic growth. While this is probably not surprising, I wonder what the implications are. Unlike laws, social norms take a VERY long time to change (when it’s at all possible) and it’s a bottom-up process. Does it mean that countries with low entrepreneurial activity are destined to remain so forever?
Making decisions for a group is really hard, because if you go against the group and are wrong you’ll be remember forever, but if you go against the group and are right no one will remember at all.
★ Other things from the internet
(That may or may not make you look smart at dinner parties)
A research by a neuroscientist at MIT shows that our theory of focus might be wrong. The core finding here is that our brain 'suppresses' distracting sensory information, instead of us 'focusing' on something to the exclusion of other things. Still too soon to draw conclusions but interesting to see how this research essentially matches what people who meditate have already known for years.
Ignore the clickbait-y title. This article, based on a research by professors Diener and Pavot, suggests that because your happiness level is more dependent on the frequency of positive events, rather than the intensity, you should be creating a “daisy chain of happiness-inducing events” all day long. I like this research because it’s yet another confirmation that the way we design our environment, habits and, ultimately, our life has the most profound effect on our happiness and well-being.
PS: Read the full TheFireside archives here