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Mastering the best of what other people have already figured out.
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If you missed last week's edition, which included: Reclaiming what we’ve lost in a world of constant connection, Going from grad school to prison, Your brain on silence, How to read a book, Why it's impossible to make plans anymore, and so much more, catch up. If you're enjoying Farnam Street, please consider a small donation.

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The most popular article this week was What is Meditation?

What else was interesting? 

  • Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload — Memory is fallible. More than just remembering things wrongly, “we don’t even know we’re remembering them wrongly.”
  • Maya Angelou on Haters, Life, Reading, and Love — "If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be."
  • While it wasn't the most popular post, if you read one thing this week I'd recommend Seneca on Time — "time is the one loan which even a grateful recipient cannot repay."
Odds and Ends

Still Curious?

Fish filmed spitting ostracod 'fireworks' — "I never knew fish vomit could be so amazing."

The Mental Virtues — "Even if you are alone in your office, you are thinking. Thinking well under a barrage of information may be a different sort of moral challenge than fighting well under a hail of bullets, but it’s a character challenge nonetheless." (Still curious? Check out Intellectual Virtues).

How Movies Trick Your Brain Into Empathizing With Characters — "They do ... think a lot about how to manipulate the audience’s emotions. “We’re always thinking about how to get into an emotional state, moment by moment, and how to bring as much of the audience along with us,” Aronofsky said. For example, in Requiem for a Dream, which follows four people unraveled by addiction, Aronofsky said one strategy he used was to shift from wide shots at the beginning of the movie to tighter shots as it progressed to convey an increasingly subjective sense of what the characters were experiencing. “There’s always a theory of where the camera is and why it’s there,” Aronofsky said."

+ Randall Munroe Of xkcd Answers Our (Not So Absurd) Questions — "It’s tempting to think of technical audiences and general audiences as completely different, but I think that no matter who you’re talking to, the principles of explaining things clearly are the same. The only real difference is which things you can assume they already know, and in that sense, the difference between physicists and the general public isn’t necessarily more significant than the difference between physicists and biologists, or biologists and geologists." (Pair with What If)

How Do Planets Form? — A nearby planetary system contains two baby planets that may refine astronomers' theories about how solar systems come to be.

One week, no food â€” "I experienced a phenomenal increase in physical energy but at the expense of a lack of mental concentration. So if you need to lose some weight and also need to dig some ditches this week, fasting might be just the thing. On the other hand, if you are trying to solve problems in the theory of quantum gravity, it’s probably best to get some food down. These effects lasted only while I was actually fasting: one day after breaking the fast, I felt completely normal, with the same appetite and level of physical energy as usual."

+ Why Walking Helps Us Think â€” "What is it about walking, in particular, that makes it so amenable to thinking and writing? The answer begins with changes to our chemistry. When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention. Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them." (Still curious? Check out A Philosophy of Walking: Thoreau, Nietzsche and Kant on Walking)

+ Counterintuitive but excellent. The Most Important Transportation Innovation of the Decade Is the Smartphone â€” "Almost all movement in a major city now begins with a phone. Mobile apps and interfaces help people do everything from sort through route options to locate an approaching bus or hail a taxi or for-hire vehicle. While cities and transportation regulators have released data and encouraged innovation through contests and hackathons, no U.S. city has aggressively pursued development of an integrated app that enables users to plan, book, and pay for trips across multiple travel modes. Instead, it's the likes of Uber and Google Maps and CityMapper and RideScout that have demonstrated what is possible, and controlled the movement market to date."

+ Physicist Yaneer Bar Yam's presentation on complexity in systems and interaction at scale. 

+ Some classes of prediction are not affected by black swan problems. Nassim Taleb explains binary and vanilla payoffs. (related paper)

Your Brain on Metaphors â€” "What’s emerging from these studies isn’t just a theory of language or of metaphor. It’s a nascent theory of consciousness. Any algorithmic system faces the problem of bootstrapping itself from computing to knowing, from bit-shuffling to caring. Igniting previously stored memories of bodily experiences seems to be one way of getting there. And so may be the ability to create asymmetric neural linkages that say this is like (but not identical to) that. In an age of brain scanning as well as poetry, that’s where metaphor gets you." (Still Curious? Check out with Metaphors We Live By.)

+ The Re:Think Innovation Workshop in Chicago sold out quickly. Sign up to be the first to know about the next workshop, Re:Think Decision Making in California this February.
 

Thanks for reading,
Shane Parrish