The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho — Follow Your Personal Legend

I’m smack in the middle of a personal challenge to read at least one book every week. Because of school and work, I’m currently 13 books behind and playing catch-up. The erudition section of this blog is my attempt to chronicle my challenge and galvanize a lifetime of curiosity and learning. If you have read… Continue reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho — Follow Your Personal Legend

Live Dangerously

“For believe me: the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is—to live dangerously!” —Nietzsche, The Gay Science (section 283)

Brent Pottenger on “Self-Experimentation with Story Systems”

Brent Pottenger, author of the healthcare epistemocrat blog, asks: How should we invest our intellectual and spiritual energy and capacity? His answer lies within the confines of tradition. Take a look at his m=1 Story Systems example. I’ve been experimenting in an n=1 fashion for quite a while now, but the idea of an m=1… Continue reading Brent Pottenger on “Self-Experimentation with Story Systems”

Case Study: Two Leaders, One Strategy, Centuries Apart

The Colloseum in Rome, Italy. (Photo: jonrawlinson on flickr) Gods, epic myths, heroes, and damsels in distress. The history of ancient times fascinates me. Below is one of my favorite stories from Greek history. The story of Xenophon’s mission to return 10,000 Greek mercenaries to their homeland. And for entertainment’s sake—and to display a fantastic… Continue reading Case Study: Two Leaders, One Strategy, Centuries Apart

“—Christianity, alcohol, the two great means of corruption.”
The Portable Nietzsche, page 652

“Every kind of faith is itself an expression of self-abnegation, of self-alienation.”
The Portable Nietzsche, page 639

The analogy of Christianity to alcohol is interesting to me. The chemistry of alcohol: ethanol is a carbohydrate, the metabolism of which leads to the inhibition of the enzyme phosphofructokinase (slowing and directing cell metabolism to store instead of burn fat) and is converted to triglycerides in the liver (storing more fat); ethanol binds to the GABA-A receptor which increases effects of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA (effectively slowing nervous system reactions), and of course increases liver cirrhosis. (A bit oversimplified, and disregarding the hormetic effect of alcohol, but the point remains.)

The chemistry of Christianity: faith rests on convictions, convictions inhibit the believer from independence so that he “cannot posit himself as an end” and in fact requires someone else—a priest or deity—to posit any end at all, and so he becomes a means to others’ end—a slave—in which case his freedom and sense of self continually deteriorate. Just like alcohol, this pathway dulls the senses and robs men of the vivid sense of life that accompanies self-overcoming or self-actualization.

I’m not sure how much Nietzsche knew about biochemistry, but in any case he has here a deeply accurate analogy.

From Summation by Auren Hoffman:

Entrepreneurs tend to be street-smarter than strategy consultants. Entrepreneurs are more practical, more focused on the bottom line, and more attuned to real-world contingencies.

A typical strategy consultant job interview might go something like this:

“I toss a coin. Heads you win $10,000. Tails you lose $6,000. Do you play this game? Why?”

And a typical strategy consultant answer would go something like this:

50% chance I win, 50% chance I lose. So my decision calculation goes something like:

Winnings: (0.5) * $10,000 = $5,000

Loses: (0.5) * $6,000 = $3,000

My net value of this game is $2,000

Therefore, even if I am very risk averse, I’ll still play this game, because I can afford to lose $6K when the payoff is so much higher.

A typical entrepreneur would look at this game totally differently and would ask a series of questions:

1. How do I know the coin is fair? Maybe tails is much more likely to come up. Can I test the coin by flipping it 500 times to see if it is consistent? Do I really want to waste my time performing and recording 500 coin tosses?

2. How do taxes affect my wins and losses? Is Uncle Sam going to take a huge chunk of my winnings but not recognize my losses? Can I only apply my losses to gambling gains? How are state and city taxes affected?

3. Do I have to pay in cash if I lose and do I get cash if I win? If that is the case, are we going to show up at the location with all the money? Will I be secure? Can I pay by credit card to get frequent flyer miles?

4. How can I be sure I will collect from you? Are we going to hold the money in a third-party escrow? How much will that cost?

Auren Hoffman, Summation

It’s interesting to note that Nassim Taleb gives a similar example of the coin toss scenario when discussing the thought processes of The Nerd and the street-smart common-sensical Epistemocrat.

Here, however, Auren Hoffman is describing the typical entrepreneur. I’m sure Taleb (and most entrepreneurs) would agree that, despite the typical risk associated with entrepreneurship, creating your own business and liberating your finances—that is, putting your wealth in your own hands—changes the nature of the question so that you have ultimate control over the amount of risk that you choose to take on. Otherwise, your entire stream of income would be dependent on the decisions of the establishment that hired you.

Picture entrepreneurship like a pyramid, a large base and a fine point on the top; the large base represents multiple opportunities for streams of income. A typical job, however, would look like an inverted pyramid, in which you only have one source of income—the point of the pyramid. If that one source fails, the entire pyramid would collapse on you.

Neil Tyson and the Argument From Ignorance

The frailty of the human mind: just another reason to remain skeptical. I recently found this video of Neil Tyson explaining the fallacious appeal to ignorance. As Tyson explains with his unique humor, the appeal to ignorance pervades all of human nature. The appeal to ignorance, also called the argument from ignorance or argumentum ad… Continue reading Neil Tyson and the Argument From Ignorance