Nerd Corner #50

Hi All!

This year I committed to becoming a runner. I’ve now been running almost every day for the past 6 months. It has not been an easy process but I’ve enjoyed it and learned many things. In my latest blogpost, Short reflections on 6 months of running, I reflect on the past 6 months and distill key insights that have helped me keep running no matter what. 

These reflections are part of the much broader topic of habits and habit-building. As a productivity freak, I’ve been exploring, experimenting, and struggling with cultivating better habits and quitting bad ones for many years. I’ll start exploring these topics more in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

What I am reading 📚

The Moviegoer has been intriguing and attention-grabbing so far. The book narrates the story of Jack “Binx” Bolling a 29-year old stockbroker who is not happy with his life and struggles to find meaning in it. The tone is very existentialist. I’m sure that many of the questions Jack poses to himself are questions most of us have had at one point or another. 

Throughout the book, Jack (or Binx as his aunt calls him) is always thinking about “the search”, the search for meaning, the search for god:

What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple; at least for a fellow like me. So simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.

And, although nihilist at times, there is a certain stoicism to the story, to make of life the best we can. The passage below also reminds me of the story of Spartacus who—despite knowing that his war was doomed to failure—fought until the very end:

A man must live by his lights and do what little he can and do it as best he can. In this world goodness is destined to be defeated. But a man must go down fighting. That is the victory. To do anything less is to be less than a man.

Nerd Corner 🤓

In his latest newsletter, my friend Juan David Campolargo, mentions Richard Hamming's “The Art of Doing Science and Engineering.” book. That is an amazing book that I read while in college. It changed the way I approach learning and got me started on a quest to always “learn how to learn” better. 

Over the years this led me to the ideas of deliberate practice—learning should be hard but not too hard and have feedback loops from which to actually learn and improve—, Cal Newport’s idea of Deep Work and Scott Young’s Ultralearning methods.

Juan David’s email reminded me of how difficult learning actually is if we don’t have the right framework and tools. And the issue with this is that most schools and colleges don’t emphasize “learning to learn” enough. In most places, students are given a list of steps and material to go through after which it is expected that they’ll know the subject. 

But, as Cedric Chin points out in his great essay "Why Tacit Knowledge is More Important Than Deliberate Practice":

Giving people a list of procedures to execute, blindly, denies them the ability to build expertise, which in turns prevents them from doing the sorts of creative problem solving that is common amongst expert operators.

Learning is by definition an active endeavor, and true learning must feel like an adventure, one should have the time to discover insights, get lost, and find his way out. 

Perhaps, as Chin argues, it is time for a new Renaissance, we should bring back apprenticeships. Students should first copy their masters until the basic techniques are ingrained in their minds. And then they should be let loose on their own to build mastery and learn from their direct experience. This is, after all how the marvels of Michelangelo, Leonardo, and others came to be. 

Cool Finds 🤯

  • "Why Walking Helps Us Think”. This 2014 explains the reasons and benefits of walking and why many scientists and artists routinely take long walks. If you ever feel stuck with your work, chances are that a nice walk in a park or somewhere green will help.

  • The Longevity FAQ. This is the best introduction to the topic of longevity that’s out there. Warning though, it is very technical at times!

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Until next week,