Mental Pivot #73: Skepticism, Optionality, Observation
Sextus Empiricus’ “Outlines of Pyrrhonism”, the trap of optionality, and what Renaissance painters can teach us about reality and perception.
“The imperfect work that you produce is far better than the perfect work that resides in your head.”—Brian McDonald (author and teacher)
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Now onto this week's recommendations…
Never Trust a Number: Steve Roy encourages us to view the numbers we encounter in our newsfeed with skepticism. “An incorrect number looks exactly like a correct number.” Indeed, it is easy to mistake precision for accuracy. Thankfully, Roy offers tips for handling and consuming numbers safely.
Skepticism as a Way of Life: “The desire for certainty is often foolish and sometimes dangerous. Skepticism undermines it, both in oneself and in others.” Nicholas Tampio introduces readers to an important work of philosophy from classical antiquity, Sextus Empiricus’ Outlines of Pyrrhonism.
The Trouble with Optionality: Optionality (the state of having many choices available to you) is a principle that some business-types love invoking. Harvard professor Mihir Desai cautions that overemphasizing optionality is a trap: the safety net it offers can also keep us from obtaining our dreams and postponing important decisions.
The Tyranny of the Note-Taking Industrial Complex: As Herbert Lui observes, there is a bizarre world of note-taking capitalism on the internet (apps, courses, systems): “Modern capitalism has a tendency to take something very ordinary and make it extraordinary, and re-package it in luxury, and mark it up by 4,000%.” Despite his understandable introductory rant, Lui also provides a helpful roundup of helpful articles on the topic. Some key takeaways: notes don’t always need to be “useful”, budget time for thinking about and revisiting your notes, keep your notes simple, and don’t let your notes keep you from working on your projects.
What Artists Notice: This was my favorite article this week. Stepan Parunashvili examines the paintings of Van Eyck, Matisse, and Botticelli to show us the easily overlooked details that these painters obsessed over and how those details enlightened these masters. “Painting isn’t a rote exercise, but an inquiry into reality and perception.” Using this framework, he then explores how his field, computer programming, can employ many of the same principles of observation and exploration to achieve a deeper understanding of reality. His explanation of how to teach a computer to draw a circle is delightful. Even if you aren’t a programmer, you’ll get something out of this insightful piece.
I Commanded U.S. Army Europe. Here’s What I Saw in the Russian and Ukrainian Armies: When the Cold War ended, cross-national outreach programs like the Partnership for Peace led to greater peacetime cooperation, informational sharing, and joint training between NATO and former Warsaw Pact nations. A retired U.S. commander recounts shares his observations from the past three decades in which Ukraine embraced the Western leadership model and successfully modernized its military while Russia did not.
Has Neoliberalism Really Come to an End?: Neoliberalism, as described by historian Gary Gerstle, is “a worldview that promises liberation by reconciling economic deregulation with personal freedoms, open borders with cosmopolitanism, and globalization with the promise of increased prosperity for all.” In the United States, he observes a through-line of neoliberalism—embraced by both the left and the right—starting with Reagan, culminating in the Clinton 1990s, and ending with the Obama.
Should We Get Rid of the Scientific Paper?: Stuart Richie suggests harnessing the power of the internet to invigorate a problematic system. Instead of publishing in online journals, he recommends the creation of online notebooks—living documents that provide greater transparency, more opportunities for peer review, and a better means for revising and correcting the work.
This Cheeseburger Explains Your Grocery Bill: The humble cheeseburger offers a window into the supply chain, labor shortages, climate, geopolitical events, and rising consumer prices. One component, lettuce, has increased 12% from last year. Why? Transportation is partly to blame, with higher fuel costs and driver shortages. More importantly, drought in California and Arizona, where most of the nation’s lettuce is grown, have impacted crop quality and yields.
Odds & Ends:
Dream AI Art lets you type in a 100 character prompt (e.g., “fire and water”, “monkey cat dragon boat”) and select a style (e.g., “psychedelic”, “etching”) and a machine learning algorithm will concoct a one-of-a-kind artwork based on those inputs. The developers, Wombo Studios, also offer free iOS and Android apps for generating art on-the-go.
ProjectionLab is a financial modeling tool that helps you plan your future by analyzing your current finances and generating projections based on a simulation engine. The basic features are free to use. The onboarding is excellent. There’s a sandbox mode for those who want to kick the tires before registering an account.
Read Something Interesting curates high-quality articles from the web. Click the “random article” button to be surprised by a selection from the site’s collection. Or subscribe to the service and receive something interesting via email.
Visualizing All Electric Car Models Available in the U.S. is a helpful reference for those in the States looking to make the shift to an EV. Wish I had this reference when I was shopping for one.
Refind is a content discovery tool that sends curated articles to your email inbox or via mobile app (iOS and Android). Focus your attention on what’s really relevant to you.
The Sample is a newsletter discovery tool. If you have a hard time finding worthwhile newsletters, this might be the solution. The Sample sends newsletter recommendations based on your interests and, over time, refines those recommendations based on your feedback.
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