Category Archives: Thinkering

Paul Graham, Wealth, and Skin in the Game

I was re-reading Paul Graham’s Wealth essay today when I realized that he’s talking about Nassim Taleb’s idea of “skin in the game”:

I think everyone who gets rich by their own efforts will be found to be in a situation with measurement and leverage. Everyone I can think of does: CEOs, movie stars, hedge fund managers, professional athletes. A good hint to the presence of leverage is the possibility of failure. Upside must be balanced by downside, so if there is big potential for gain there must also be a terrifying possibility of loss. CEOs, stars, fund managers, and athletes all live with the sword hanging over their heads; the moment they start to suck, they’re out. If you’re in a job that feels safe, you are not going to get rich, because if there is no danger there is almost certainly no leverage.

From Dan Cohen, “Back to the Blog“:

It is psychological gravity, not technical inertia, however, that is the greater force against the open web. Human beings are social animals and centralized social media like Twitter and Facebook provide a powerful sense of ambient humanity—the feeling that “others are here”—that is often missing when one writes on one’s own site. Facebook has a whole team of Ph.D.s in social psychology finding ways to increase that feeling of ambient humanity and thus increase your usage of their service.


How do you respond when told something is impossible?

From Ryan Holiday’s new book Conspiracy:

It is always revealing to see how a person responds to those situations where he’s told: “There’s nothing you can do about it. This is the way of the world.” Peter Thiel’s friend, the mathematician and economist Eric Weinstein, has a category of individual he defines as a “high-agency person.” How do you respond when told something is impossible? Is that the end of the conversation or the start of one? What’s the reaction to being told you can’t—that no one can? One type accepts it, wallows in it even. The other questions it, fights it, rejects it.

As an engineer, my first response is always to deconstruct the problem. Empathy is important too. Some questions I like to ask:

  • Why does this person believe it is impossible?
  • What do they know that I don’t or vice versa?
  • What are the limiting factors of the outcome that is supposedly impossible?
  • What are the actual dynamics of the system that is supposedly impossible to change?
  • How do the dynamics of the system differ at other timescales? (Over months, decades, lifetimes…)
  • What does everyone believe about the system? What if the opposite is true?

The wound consists precisely in claiming to discover and to master meaning, in claiming to suture or to saturate, to fill this emptiness, to close the mouth. Imagine that someone claimed to have said everything that needed to be said on the subject of this poem or that line of Celan, that someone claimed to have exhausted the subject. That would be terrifying; it would be the destruction of the poem. In order not to destroy the poem, one must–and this is what I would like to do–try to speak of it in such a way, as Celan himself says, that the poem still speaks. It still speaks. One must speak in such a way as to give it the chance to speak. We are talking about this in reference to interpretive reading and the hermeneutics of the poem, but this also holds for life in general. One speaks, trying to listen to the other. One should speak while leaving to the other the chance to speak, while giving the floor to the other. It is a question of rhythm, of time: not to speak too much, thereby imposing silence on the other, and not to remain too silent. All this has to be negotiated.
Jacques Derrida, “The Truth that Wounds,” Sovereignties in Question: The Poetics of Paul Celan

via tabulasar

Plays and movies

It took me a while to get into The Castle by Kafka. It can definitely be a boring book, but it doesn’t have to be. What finally got me into the book was this: I stopped imagining the scenery of the story as if it were a movie or a television show: an entire world playing out in front of a camera. Instead, I now imagine it as a theatrical production, as if I’m watching a play of The Castle, with a limited set and props, actors in the background doing whatever, the spotlight following the current thread of the narrative. Imagining K.’s world in this way helps me understand the story being told, I guess because The Castle is a “theatrical” novel?

I recently read The Name of the Wind, a modern fantasy novel which was very much written like a movie, and not like a play. It was easier to imagine Kvothe’s world as a series of movie scenes, with the camera focusing on different things for effect, cut scenes to explain a back story, and so on.

Maybe I’m becoming a better reader? Maybe I have an over-active imagination?

First off, there is really only one thing to keep in mind when reading a philosophical text, and it’s the thing that seems to be the most lacking in new readers: The Principle of Charity. It asks that you read a text in the strongest, most persuasive way possible, regardless of whether you agree with the content. This is extremely important for reading philosophical texts, because many of them will challenge your ideals. Some might even say that is the entire point of reading philosophy, so if you fail in the Principle of Charity, you fail at reading philosophy entirely.
How to study philosophy as an amateur – Existential Comics