The Constitution of the United States

This document is old, I’m lazy and my english is weak. Here’s a best attempt summary. I’m sure it’s going to be missing essential details. I’m also sure I’m misunderstanding some (lots of) things.

Article 1

  • The powers of this document are held by a Congress
  • Congress is composed of a Senate and House of Representatives
  • Members of the House of Representatives will be elected every two years.
  • Candidates of the House of Representatives must be at least 25 years old and have been a citizen for seven years.
  • Members of the House of Representatives must live in the state they represent.
  • Each state will not have more than 1 representative for every 30,000 people.
  • Each state will have at least 1 representative.
  • The House of Representatives has the Power of Impeachment (of the president?)
  • The Senate has Senators from each state.
  • Each Senator has one vote.
  • After the first assembly of the Senate, all Senators were split into 3 classes. The first class held only a two year term, the second a 4 year term and the third a 6 year term. This means that every 2 years, ⅓ of the senate changes (unless a Senator gets re-elected or re-appointed).
  • Senators must be at least 35 years old and have been a citizen for at least 9 years.
  • VPOTUS is the President of the Senate.
  • VPOTUS doesn’t have a vote in the Senate unless there’s a tie.
  • The Senate has the sole Power to try all Impeachments.
    • Does this mean that the House decides whether to impeach and the senate does the legal process?
  • Congress must meet once a year on the first Monday in December.
  • The House can expel a member with agreement of ⅔ rds of its members.
  • Journals must be kept and published except when secrecy is required.
  • Senators and Representatives are paid by the Treasury of the United States.
  • They cannot be arrested during attendance or when they’re going to or from their sessions unless they’ve committed treason.
  • Bills are proposed in the House of Representatives then sent to the Senate and finally to the President.
  • The President can reject with objections for reconsideration and send it back to the Representatives.
  • The Bill becomes law if the President accepts OR ⅔ of the House and ⅔ of the Senate accept after reconsideration.
  • If the President does not sign or object to a bill within 10 days (except Sunday), it becomes law.
  • Congress will not prohibit importing people but may impose a tax not exceeding 10 dollars per person.

Article 2

  • How the President and Vice-President get elected:
    • Each state appoints Electors equal to the number of Senators and Representatives of that state.
    • The Electors cannot be Representatives nor Senators.
    • Electors meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for two people, at least one of which must live in another state.
    • These ballots are signed, sealed and sent to the President of the Senate.
    • The President of the Senate counts the ballots in the Presence of the Senate and the person with the most votes is determined President. The runner-up is Vice-President.
    • If there is a tie for President and both candidates have a majority of the votes then the House of Representatives votes to break the tie.
    • The nobody has a majority of the vote then the House of Representatives picks from the top five through ballot.
    • Same deal for Vice-President except the Senate chooses the VP in case of ties.
  • Natural born citizens (or citizens at the time of writing of constitution) are eligible for Presidency.
  • Presidents must be at least 35 and have been a resident for at least 14 years.
  • Congress and remove the President and/or the Vice-President and appoint someone to their place until an election or their reinstantiation.
  • Upon taking office the President must take an Oath of Affirmation: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
  • The President can make treaties and appoint ambassadors and other public figures but only with the consent of ⅔ rds of the Senate.
  • The President, Vice-President and all civil officers are to be removed from office for treason, bribery or other high crimes.

Article 3

  • Judicial power of the United States resides in a Supreme Court.
  • Congress may establish inferior courts.
  • The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction of cases involving public ministers and states.
  • All crimes except for impeachment will be tried by a jury.
  • Trials are to be held in the state where they are committed.
  • Nobody is to be convicted of treason without the testimony of two witnesses on the same act within open court.

Article 4

  • Citizens of one state are entitled to the privileges of all states.
  • Anyone charged with treason who has been found in another state will be delivered to the state where he committed the crime.
  • New states can be formed but not within the jurisdiction of an already existing states.
  • States cannot join together to make a new, larger state.
  • The United States guarantees every state a republican form of government and will protect them from invasion and domestic violence.

Article 5

  • Congress can amend this document when ⅔ of both houses agree.

Article 6

  • Debts and engagements agreed to prior to the constitution are still valid.
  • The Constitution, laws and treaties of the United States will the be supreme law of the land which all states must abide by.
  • No religious test will ever be required as a qualification to public office.

Bill of Rights (amendments 1 – 10)

  1. Congress will not make laws supporting or prohibiting religion, denying freedom of speech, freedom of press or the right to peacefully assemble.
  2. Congress will not infringe on the right to own weapons.
  3. Soldiers will not be kept in houses with the consent of the owner in times of peace.
  4. The state will not perform unreasonable searches of people or their private property without probable cause and a warrant.
  5. Nobody will be tried for the same crime twice. Nobody will have to be a witness against themselves. Nobody will be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of the law. Private property will not be taken for public use without just compensation.
  6. In criminal prosecutions the accused has the right of a quick and public trial by an impartial jury. The accused is to be informed of the alleged crime and the right to confront the witness against him and the right to counsel.
  7. Trial by jury is to be had for lawsuits over matters exceeding $20.
  8. Excessive bail will not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
  9. The Constitution does not deny other rights held by the people.
  10. Powers not expressly allowed or prohibited by the constitution can be chosen by the states.

Amendments 11 – 27

  1. Citizens cannot sue states?
  2. See article 2, this amendment describes how the President and Vice-President are to be elected.
  3. Slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment of crime by law, will not exist within the United States.
  4. Everyone born in the US is subject to its laws. No state may deny privileges granted by the United States. No state may deny any person life, liberty or property without due process of the law. Everyone must be given equal protection of the law. Those of have gone against the United States may not hold public office unless Congress votes by ⅔ to remove that disability.
  5. People of color and race can vote.
  6. Congress can collect taxes on income.
  7. Stuff about how senators get appointed and hold office.
  8. Manufacturing, sale and transportation of liquor in prohibited.
  9. Women can vote.
  10. New Presidents and Vice-Presidents come into power on the 20th of January. New Senators and Representatives come into power on the 3rd of January. Congress assembles at least once a year on the at noon on the 3rd of January. If the President dies, the Vice-President will become president until a new one is elected. Congress can pick new Presidents and Vice-Presidents if they die.
  11. Alcohol is no longer prohibited.
  12. Nobody can be president more than twice.
  13. The district of the seat of the government is entitled to Senators and Representatives like other states.
  14. Failure to pay tax does not remove a citizen’s right to vote.
  15. If the President is removed from office then the Vice-President will take his place. When the Vice-Presidency is vacant the President can appoint one.
  16. People who are at least 18 can vote.
  17. Laws varying the compensation of Senators or Representatives can take effect until the next election.

Lost and Founder

Rand Fishkin

I stumbled onto this book at such a good time in my life. I had no idea who Rand was before this book but now I feel like I know him intimately. I respect him. Rand has courage. Rand is the founder and former CEO of a business called Moz which specializes in search engine optimization and this book he gives new founders cheat codes he’s found starting his business. Along the way her shares some personal and professional stories which, I suspect, most people would not be willing to share so publicly.

Like most things in life, starting a business the first time is hard. Luckily for everyone who’s read Rand’s book, there are cheat codes. Shortcuts we can take to build a better business faster. Rand starts off his book with five cheat codes:

  • Raise prices and grandfather existing customers.
  • If you want to raise money from an investor, ask for help with your business. If you want an investor to help with your business, ask for money.
  • Founders should buy preferred shares in their own companies when raising money from investors.
  • When you’re gaming news aggregator sites like HackerNews to promote your product, make sure your friends who are upvoting your post live in different geographies.
  • Founders should recruit software engineers directly and not offload it to a recruiting agency.
  • Find a co-founder or two. Doing it alone is dangerous and scary.

Even with these shortcuts, founders should expect to fail. Over 90% of tech-based venture-backed startups fail to return their investors capital and half of those who reached year 4 still ended up dead. Building a business is hard. The statistics are overwhelmingly negative. Yet somehow, people keep trying.

The reality of being a CEO is different from what’s portrayed. The job of a CEO is managing people, holding people responsible, recruiting, dealing with customers and dealing with daily crises. Starting a software company means that you won’t be writing code for very long. Same goes for marketing or any other skill set. This often means that new CEOs don’t like their job because their passion lies in what they want to do day to day as opposed to what they want to accomplish. And that’s ok. If you want to write code all day you probably shouldn’t start a company. If you want to affect the world, then building a business is for you.

Companies take on the personalities of their founders. Rand gives examples of misogyny and Uber, logistics and Amazon and people management and inDinero. A founder who’s self aware of their weaknesses and strengths is at a massive advantage because they can fill their holes earlier in their entrepreneurial journey. Different founders find different parts of business building difficult. MBAs may find that building software is hard while software engineers may find marketing the most difficult part. It comes down to the relative strengths and weaknesses of the founder(s). There are three ways to deal with weaknesses:

  1. Learn the process and do it yourself
  2. Find cofounders who fill this gap
  3. Invest in building enough knowledge to hire talented people

Learning to do it yourself is time consuming and inefficient. Finding cofounders lets in a lot of risk because that founder leaving might be catastrophic. Learning just enough to hire effectively is probably the best tradeoff between the two. Any senior executive you hire to fill your gap should have an aptitude and bias to teaching. A CEO with a weak technical background needs a CTO to teach her so she can become a better CEO.

Venture capitalists go out and raise money from rich people (Limited Partners or LPs) promising a return of ~3x of 10 years. Then, venture capitalists invest this money in startups. Most of their investments fail but one or two will succeed and VCs needs these one or two to succeed big. Real big. This means that if your VC backed company is getting an offer to be bought which returns ~3x of investor capital, your investors won’t be happy. If you’re one of their good investments they need you to sell for 10x or more. Incentives quickly misalign if founders are ok with exiting before becoming a unicorn.

When you’re raising money from a VC who’s genuinely interested, make sure you ask to speak with CEOs of other companies they’ve backed. Often you’ll find candor and camaraderie in the entrepreneurial world. Rand found that many CEOs he contacted about a potential investor would speak negatively about their own VCs.

In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins look at what separates good companies from great ones. One of his findings is that good companies are filled with people who share the same fundamental beliefs. Not beliefs like Star Trek > Star Wars. Beliefs like transparency or frugality. When core beliefs aren’t shared by everyone in the company, every project and initiative is undermined. Values cannot be set but instead discovered. Values fail in organizations in three ways:

  • When they’re viewed as paper platitudes and not embodied
  • When those values are created to build a cult-like environment
  • When values are publicized and must be discovered by potential candidates and new hires

It’s important to share core values but a mistake to be homogenous. When you hire people because they prefer Star Trek over star wars you miss out crucial elements that diversity brings like empathy. Rand says (and I think Facebook has real data to back this up) that diversity is inherently good. When hiring, if you find two candidates who are equally talented, the more diverse one should be preferred. Diversity brings empathy, perspective and creativity.

Once organizations reach a certain size there needs to be a formal way for people to grow within the organization. If management is the only way to grow, the organization will suffer. Management is a unique skill set just like marketing or engineering. It’s important that there are management tracks and individual contributor tracks within the organization and that they be treated and compensated equally. The job of a manager isn’t to boss people around but to act as an efficient coordinator and communicator for the whole team.

Some research has been done which shows that psychological safety is the single greatest predictor of a successful company. This means that people don’t fear being ridiculed or blamed for mistakes. This means that people feel comfortable sharing personal details. This means that colleagues become friends. This means that tough times doesn’t mean bad times (or maybe the other way around?).

Rand’s final piece of advice can be summarized in a single word: focus. To get this point across he talks about at one point his company offered 8 different products. Each new one added took resources away from the others. Moz had gone from being a clear market leader to an average SEO company. Profitability was down and layoffs had to happen. Afterwards they cut some of their products and found that this newfound focus made them profitable again. Moz was spread too thin and did nothing well. As Ron Swanson says: “don’t half ass two things, whole ass one thing.”

The Power of Now

Echkart Tolle

The Power of Now needs a certain level of spiritual preparedness. Something I didn’t have and still don’t have. I can see the value of the messages Eckhart purports but it’s hard to internalize them fully. I had such a hard time internalizing these ideas I’m not sure how much I can say off the top of my head other than embracing the Now. Compulsive thought of past or future does no good. Peace and happiness lie in the now. Eckhart proposes that psychological time is an illusion. Nothing happens in the past or future, everything happens in the now. The past can be remembered and the future can be imagined but things only ever happen right now.

I don’t know if I wrote about this before in a book review or as a journal entry but I’m finding a lot of what I’m reading a learning ties in well together. There’s seems to be a thread to my life. Ayahuasca taught me presence. The Power of Mindful Learning taught ideas of mindfulness just like the Eight Steps to Happiness. It seems that presence is some sort of spiritual secret waiting to be uncovered. Presence is some higher level of consciousness that’s waiting to be discovered and liberate all of us from the shackles modern society places on us. I don’t know, were humans more present in the past? I suspect that since homo sapiens have been around we’ve been burdened by psychological time – cringing at our past and worrying about our future.

Many of us have probably experienced presence without being aware of it. In fact, many of us seek it out without knowing that we do so. Presence explains why people do dangerous things like mountaineering or racing or skydiving. Momentary lack of awareness could mean death. Activities like these force us into presence. I identify with that idea. The times I’ve skydived were addictive because of how engaging it is. Riding hard on my motorcycle is the same. There is no time to think about how I said that stupid thing some time ago or worry work.

Embracing the Now means all of your problems disappear. Problems are a form of resistance to what is. By embracing the now you can embrace what is and take action to make life better and find peace in what you cannot change. Another interesting aspect of embracing the Now is guilt of what you “should” be doing. If you’re fully present you either get up and do that thing or fully embrace your laziness and either way whatever inner conflict existed will cease to be.

This secret of presence has been taught for millennia but somehow it still eludes almost everyone. Those who have found it speak so highly of it. I think presence and being is worth looking for. I wonder when I’ll find it.

A Philosophers Notes On Optimal Living, Creating an Authentically Awesome Life and Other Such Goodness

Brian Johnson

Introduction

  • Living a life of virtue and integrity will lead to all things we desire such as meaning, love, wisdom and kindness
  • The integrity gap is the difference between what we’re capable of doing and what we actually do.
  • The integrity gap is where depression and anxiety happen.
  • Happiness is not something to chase, but something to practice.
  • Write down your answers to the following questions:
  • What is the single thing which, if you started doing consistently, would have the biggest positive impact on your life? (my answer is fasting)
  • What is the single thing which, if you stopped doing consistently, would have the biggest positive impact on your life? (my answer is smoking weed)
  • Take action on your answers. Do it right now. This is how you live a life of virtue and integrity.
  • These are the 10 principles of optimal living:
    • Optimism
    • Purpose
    • Self-awareness
    • Goals
    • Action
    • Energy
    • Wisdom
    • Courage
    • Love
    • en*theos

Optimism

  • “Imagine a study with two dogs. They’re both given shocks at random intervals. One can press a lever to stop the shocks. The other can’t. The first dog quickly discovers how to stop the shocks and is fine. The other dog—the one who can’t do anything about the shocks—eventually gives up and curls into a helpless little ball in the corner as the shocks continue. Eek.That’s Part I of the study.

    Part 2: Those same dogs are put into a new environment. This time, both dogs can easily avoid the shocks. The healthy dog quickly discovers the trick and is fine. The other dog, EVEN THOUGH IT NOW HAS THE POWER TO CHANGE THINGS, just gives up—curling into a ball as the shocks continue (and continue and continue). The dog has learned helplessness.”

  • Don’t learn helplessness. You can always choose your attitude and attitudes of mastery/courage/dominance/happiness/etc will make life so much better.
  • Optimism can be trained the same way physicality can be trained. Go to the optimism gym if you’re not an optimist.
  • Instead of complaining, find solutions.
  • Don’t be a victim, be a creator. Define what you want and go get it.
  • Life is hard and causes you to lose focus. Practice regaining your foucs and each time you will get better. Eventually you will be a master of focus.
  • Everyone has negative thoughts. That’s ok. Don’t dwell on them. When you realize that you’re dwelling, do literally anything to distract yourself: walk, breath, journal, sing, anything to get your mind off these negative thoughts. Eventually their frequency will reduce.
  • Here are two tools to reframe bad things:
    • pretend you scripted the bad thing that happened (you intended for it to happen)
    • Ask yourself “what if this was a gift?”

Purpose and Self-Awareness

  • Reframe your highest purpose as living with virtue and integrity. This will give you a the opportunity to live every single day happily instead of delaying your happiness to achieve some 10 year goal
  • Deepak Chopra asks: if you had all the time and money in the world, what would you do? Use this answer as a north star in how you life your life today.
  • What do you want people to say about you at your funeral? Embody those thoughts today.
  • Here’ an exercise (I haven’t done this yet myself): take out a notebook and write down 100 questions. Find a theme in those 100. Pick out the top 10 and write them down elsewhere. Rank those top 10. Start living those top 10 questions today.
  • Near-death experiences cause people to reprioritize their lives and live differently. Suppose you had one, how would you live differently?
  • Pretend in the future a time travel machine is invented and your 110-year-old self can come back and talk to you for 30 minutes. What would they say? What if the conversation was only 5 minutes?

Goals

  • Acquiring stuff never creates lasting happiness
  • Set “being” goals instead of “bling” goals
  • Make your goals attainable and as soon as you attain one, set another attainable goal. Incremental progress is powerful.
  • Ask yourself, and write down the answer, “if everything went incredibly, splendidly right, what would my life look like?”

Action

  • You gotta do things, just like Nike tells us.
  • Show up every day and put in the effort. Never underestimate incremental improvement.
  • The masters of any discipline have learned it’s fundamentals. What are your fundamentals?
  • Every decision you make either pushes you forward (+1) or backward (-1). Try to end each day with the highest score you can. Again, incremental improvement.
  • Ask yourself “now what needs to be done?” and go do that
  • Plan your life
  • Blowing off commitments isn’t virtuous. Before you make a commitment, take stock of whether you will follow through. Once you’ve made a commitment, don’t back out.
  • If something comes up and you can complete it in less than two minutes, Just Do It. Accomplishment begets accomplishment.
  • Exploit the pareto principle as much as you can. In almost all things in life, 20% of the work gets you 80% of the way there.

Energy

  • Oh, one more thing. Ever hear the story about the guy who runs into another guy who’s sawing down a tree? He’s watching the guy work and work and work and he’s like: “Hey, dood. You might want to sharpen that saw. I think it’ll make everything a lot easier.” And the other guy says: “No way, man. I’m way too busy to slow down long enough to sharpen this thing.”
    • It’s (almost) always worth it to sharpen your saw
  • Exercise has been shown to be more effective at treating depression than antidepressants. Exercise is good. You’ve heard this before. Make sure you exercise.
  • Remember the idea of incremental improvement? Well it comes up here again. Prefer consistency over intensity. Doing a little bit every day will yield greater results than doing a lot every now and then.
  • You should meditate daily. The book recommends this and so does Paymahn.

Wisdom

  • Here are the 12 Hows of Happiness
    • Expressing Gratitude
    • Cultivating Optimism
    • Avoiding Overthinking and Social Comparison
    • Practicing Acts of Kindness
    • Nurturing Social Relationships
    • Developing Strategies for Coping
    • Learning to Forgive
    • Increasing Flow Experiences
    • Savoring Life’s Joys
    • Committing to Your Goals
    • Practicing Religion and Spirituality
    • Taking Care of Your Body: Meditation + Physical Activity + Acting Like a Happy Person
  • We can’t be happy all the time. But we can move needle for both our lows and our highs. We can orchestrate our lives such that some time in the future, our lows are higher than our current highs. It just takes some work.
  • The activites of our lives can be defined along two axes: important/not important and urgent/not urgent. We can even plot these activities on a cartesian graph with 4 quadrants. Doing things which are unimportant and not urgent is a waste of time (quadrant 4). Doing things which are important and urgent is the best use of our time (quadrant 2). Aim to do things in quadrant 2 as much as possible.
  • Nobody is perfect and humour is a good way to reduce the fear of mistakes. Laugh at what you did wrong, learn and try again. Almost no mistake is catastrophic.

Courage

  • Fear is tied to negative expectation. Try to reframe your thoughts positively to avoid fear.
  • There are two types of struggles, against external oppressors and against ourselves. The harder struggle to overcome is the one within.

Love

  • One marriage counselor claims he can predict with 90+% accuracy whether a couple will divorce or not. He does this by measuring the ratio of positive to negative interactions and has found that the magic ratio is 5:1.
  • Here’s a great way to reframe your thinking: change “should” to “could”. “I should have gone to the party last night” -> “I could have gone to the party last night”. Should is blaming while could is empowering.
  • Don’t take things personally. Other people’s behaviors are because of their internal state and not because of you. You act different when you’re hungry and tired vs full and awake, so do others.
  • Try not to lecture others and when you do, try to listen to your lectures.
  • Let go of your grudges. Holding a grudge is like drinking rat poison and expecting the rat to die.
  • Never forget the golden rule: do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
  • Learn the platinum rule: Do not do unto yourself what you would no do unto others

En*theos

  • Tear down your temple walls and see the whole world as your church. Pratice spirituality every moment of every day.
  • Stop waiting and start doing.
  • What you can be, you must be.
  • Live with virtue and integrity.
  • Get god flowing through and within you.
  • Don’t wait for retirement to live. Live now.

The Power of Mindful Learning

Ellen J. Langer

The modern educational system is broken and because of this most people don’t know how to learn and even fewer know how to teach. The brokenness comes down to a single concept: mindful vs mindless learning/teaching. When something is is taught (or learned) mindlessly, there is no room for creativity, doubt or context. Mindful teaching on the other hand gets students to personalize what they’ve learned and apply their knowledge in creative ways. As an example, we’re taught that the internal angles of a triangle always sum to 180 degrees. Is this true when the triangle is drawn on a globe? The answer is no. Dr. Langer says that there are seven pervasive myths which undermine the process of learning:

  1. The basics must be learned until they’re second nature
  2. Paying attention means staying focused on one thing at a time
  3. Delaying gratification is important
  4. Rote memorization is necessary
  5. Forgetting is a problem
  6. Intelligence is knowing “what’s out there”
  7. There are right and wrong answers

The Basics

The highest performers don’t mindlessly apply the basic skills they’ve learned. Instead, they’ve found a way to make those skills their own and apply subtle variations where necessary. Mindless memorization of basic concepts in any skill leaves no room for creativity and personalization. Should recipes be followed exactly? There is a real danger is overlearning a basic skill mindlessly. Both students and teachers should aim to learn and teach basic skills mindfully and conditionally.

There are two standard ways to learn. Top-down where a student is lectured and bottom-up where students rely on experience and repeated practice. Dr. Langer proposes a new type of learning she calls sideways learning which lies somewhere in the middle. A guideline is provided by some teacher but students mindfully apply their twists as they practice. Sideways learning is more exploratory than top-down or bottom-up.

Attention

It’s hard to keep focus and many times when someone loses focus they’re labelled as distracted. What if instead they were labelled as otherwise attracted. If what they were originally focused on continued to be engaging there would be no need or desire to find entertainment elsewhere. Instead of berating the distracted for not paying attention maybe we should be asking why the object of their otherwise-attraction is so stimulating. People learn best through novelty and many times novelty is lost during long sessions of “just stay focused”. Novelty doesn’t have to come from external experience. For example, when reading a book try to think about the perspective of different characters. Dr. Langer did experiments on learning through novelty and found that those who learned through memorization and focus performed worse than those who learned by varying the target of their attention (mindfulness). The hyperactivity part of ADHD may be students trying to increase the novelty of their experience. Experiments have shown that students with ADHD learn more effectively when content is taught as a game.

Delayed Gratification

I didn’t learn anything here.

Rote Memorization

Memorization rarely leads to understanding. Memorization leaves little room for creative application. Learning through memorization is hard work and tends to lead to boredom, otherwise-attraction and procrastination. Personalization of information is an easy way to get around the hurdle of memorization. Some who is mindful of their weight will immediately internalize that a burger from Store X is 2000 calories, their daily budget. The less personally relevant information is, the harder it is to remember. Another way to improve information retention is to draw distinctions. As an example, you might notice that tall people playing some sport have blonde hair. Then you might notice that not many Asian people play that sport. Then you might wonder which sports Black people tend to play. Distinctions you draw are necessarily personally relevant and help increase your understanding.

Forgetting

It’s ok to forget. Forgetting lets your re-experience pleasurable things. Forgetting lets you learn new facts and ideas. Forgetting lets you derive new meaning from past experiences not remembered perfectly. Dr. Langer did experiments which showed (suggested?) that losing memory as you age is a self fulfilling prophecy. She found that old people in cultures which don’t associate memory loss with age have better memory their counterparts in cultures with that association.

Intelligence

Intelligence can be defined by how well a person’s perception matches their environment. For example, emotional intelligence is how well someone understands the thoughts and feelings of others – a perception of their environment. Another definition of intelligence is domain-specific intelligence where the cognitive map of one area of expertise is different from the maps of other areas of expertise.

I’ve always considered intelligence as more of a meta skill. Those who are more intelligent learn faster. Intelligence, to me, is your capacity to learn.

Right and Wrong Answers

There is rarely ever a single right answer. Context is always important and what is right in one context may be entirely wrong in another context.

Conclusion

When learning or teaching, don’t behave mindlessly. Personalize information and experiences. Consider other perspectives. Don’t try to memorize. Mindful > mindless.

Meditations on First Philosophy

Rene Descartes

I exist. What I understand clearly must be true. I understand certain ideas clearly. I understand the idea of perfection therefore a perfect being must exist. I understand God to be a perfect being. Therefore God exists.

I’m not certain of the historical significance of Meditations on First Philosophy but I think this is where Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” comes from. In this book, Descartes tries to reason about knowledge and understanding from first principles does so over six meditations. This is among the hardest books I’ve ever read, comparable to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence, Siddartha, and The Brothers Karamazov. I read this book twice before writing this review because after the pass of superficial reading (see my report on How to Read a Book) I knew I didn’t understand most of Descartes’ arguments. I still don’t have a clear picture of his reasoning but I think his ideas are interesting.

Overview

It’s not clear to me if Descartes’ did all of this reasoning over six consecutive days or a much longer time period but he structures the book as six meditations. In the first meditation he casts doubt on everything he knows in an attempt to start from nothing. In the second meditation Descartes supposes the non-existence of all things whose existence has doubt. From here he starts building ideas the way a mathematician builds proofs and discovers how the mind and body are separate and explores the idea of substance. The third meditation reveals the existence of God. Next, Descartes explore truth and falsity and the error of judgement. His fifth meditation explores the nature of things of substance (material things) and again makes discoveries about the existence of God. In his final meditation we learn about the distinction of mind and body.

Doubt

Our senses are imperfect and deceive us constantly. Our perception of something when we are far away (say a tower) may not be accurate. Its height, its shape, its color may be different once we’re up close to it. It is prudent to cast doubt on those who have deceived even once for they may deceive us again. Even in our dreams we experience our senses as if awake. How can we be sure that we are awake right now? There are no signs to distinguish reality from dreams (although we find out later in the sixth meditation that there is a sign, memory). It is better not to assume a good God but one that is deceitful and who aims to trick you in every way possible.

Knowing the Mind

Assume that everything you see and feel and touch and experience is false. How can you know you exist? Simply making this assumption of falsity means you must exist. If there some God out there deceiving you, then you must exist in order to be deceived. If you think, you are. For as long as you think, you exist. Thought is inseparable from you. From your mind. If you were to stop thinking, then you would cease to exist. You are a thinking thing. This is the great conclusion of this meditation.

God

An idea, considered by itself, cannot be false. Unicorns don’t exist but, with reality put aside, an idea of a unicorn cannot be false. All effects have causes. The reality of an effect must come from the reality of its cause. Something cannot come from nothing and what is more perfect (has more reality) cannot come from something less perfect. You cannot have the idea of heat or love unless that which created also had those ideas in its reality. There cannot be an infinite regression of causes and thus there must be some root cause. Some thing which contains all the reality of you. Because you are a finite being yet can imagine an infinite being, something which contains the reality of infinity must have created you. God is an infinite being. God must exist. God cannot be a deceiver. He can have the power to deceive, however the will to deceive is antithetical to the idea of this supremely perfect being.

Truth and Falsity

You only make mistakes when you judge. You got your capacity to judge from God, however your capacity is finite. If you had an infinite capacity for judgement you would never make mistakes but this is not the case. You make mistakes because you are finite. Because you are finite you will never be able to understand the will of God and it makes no sense to question His will or actions. Judgement comes in two parts: knowledge and the free will of choice. Your capacity to choose is larger than your capacity for knowledge. Because of this, you sometimes make choices on things which you do not fully understand and this is when errors happen.

Material Things

Some ideas exist independently of your mind. Ideas such as a triangle which can be described by certain immutable properties like: it’s internal angles sum to 180 degrees and it’s longest side is opposite its largest angle. However, because you can think of a triangle does not one materially exists. Because you can think of mountains and valleys (which are inseparable ideas), it does not follow that mountains and valleys exist. God and existence are also inseparable ideas (perfection and existence are inseparable) and from this it follows that God must exist.

Mind and Body

Imagination and understanding are different. You do not need one for the other. Imagination is not a part of the essence of your mind for without it you would remain the same entity. You are a thinking thing yet hold a clear but distinct idea of your body. You are not your body. God is not a deceiver and He is the one who gave you your capacity to sense. To feel and see and taste. Therefore, corporeal things must exist. Yet you and your body are a single thing. You sense pain when you are injured instead of observing the injury intellectually. How is it that your senses, which are given to you in the likeness of God, in the likeness of perfection, can deceive you? How can someone drink poison when they’re thirsty? For the same reasons that other errors occur: your capacity of choice is larger than your capacity of knowledge. You are a finite being and errors are to be expected.

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Daniel Kahneman

I never understood why first impressions matter until I read Thinking, Fast and Slow. There’s a lot of things I didn’t understand until I read this book. Turns out I’m interested in psychology. People are naturally extremely intuitive and most of the time your intuition is correct. It’s your intuition that tells you when to eat and when to sleep. It’s also your intuition that lets you get fooled by advertising.

Kahneman walks us through the two systems of the mind, System 1 (your intuitive, fast thinking brain) and System 2 (your rational, slow-thinking brain). System 1 is what’s in charge most of the time and when it occasionally gets stumped it’s calls for backup from System 2.

What’s 2+2? System 1 is responsible for coming to the answer for that.

What’s 24×17? System 2 solves that once System 1 realizes that we need to work to figure it out.

The power of System 1 can be enhanced. This can be called gaining a skill. As you practice something repeatedly in a regular environment with a quick feedback cycle, the actions of System 2 can become ingrained into System 1. Learning to shoot a bow and arrow takes focus and attention (System 2) but eventually becomes natural over time (System 1).

Ideas

Ideas can be thought of as nodes in a graph in your head. This is called the associative memory and time is an important component of how the memories are linked. Having just seen the word EAT, you are more likely to complete the word SO_P as SOUP and not SOAP. This is because of your associatvie memory and is called priming. One famous experiment primed experimentees with words related to old aged. Next they were asked to walk down a hall way and timed unknowingly. The treatment group (those who had been primed) in fact walked slower on average. This works in reverse also. If you walk slowly for some time and are then shown a group of words, you’ll pick words related to old age.

Advertising is a form of priming because it primes you to think about their product. The more recent an ad was seen on TV or the more memorable it is, the more likely it will brought up in your associative machinery. Experiments have shown that money-primed people are more individualistic and selfish. They are less likely to help someone in need and less likely to demand help. Having seen a word recently, it’s your experience greater cognitive ease thus giving you a sense of familiarity.

Cognitive ease is a notion where people tend to think about things which are easiest to them. Things that are familiar. This is part of the reason why media and political campaigns have slogans they repeat often. To increase the feeling of familiarity. This is also a way and lie can be turned to truth because once something has been repeated enough, truth becomes indistinguishable from familiarity.

Jumping to conclusions

System 2 governs our rational mind. Because of its inherent laziness, people are most prone to believe things when it’s busy doing something else or depleted of energy.

When System 2 tries to test a hypothesis, it looks for positive examples. This is called confirmation bias. Related to confirmation bias is the halo effect. When you like a feature about a person, you’re more likely to appreciate other things too. This is why first impressions are important. It gives people a reason to continue liking you. Going downhill vs going uphill.

System 1 is particularly good creating stories. The stories it creates are based on the bonds between different ideas in the associative machinery. The metric of success for System 1 is the coherence of the story, not the quality of the data. This combination of coherence-seeking behavior from System 1 and the laziness of System 2 means that System 2 will likely endorse first impressions from System 1. Kahneman calls this propensity for jumping to conclusions What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI).

Judgements

System 1 is constantly working make sense of the world and does this using models and heuristics. Judgements can be substituted for each other. When asked if it’s ok to steal some bread for you hungry family, you may instead substitute that question for “is it ok to steal?”, one that’s (potentially) simpler to answer. Two aspects of this substitution apparatus is the ability to translate values across dimensions (“If Sam is as tall as he is intelligent, how tall is Sam?”) and perform a mental shotgun where you perform more computation than necessary.

The Law of Small Numbers

People are good at intuitive thinking but bad at statistical thinking which is becoming increasingly needed in our world of information. The law of small numbers states that low sample sizes have higher variability. A study of american healthcare found that small, rural towns, usually Republican, had far fewer incidences of kidney cancer. However, the data also showed that the places with the highest incidences of kidney cancer were also in small rural towns. Their small sample size caused them to deviate farther from the norm.

Anchors

When you’re asked to estimate a quantity you’re unsure of, your estimate can be swayed by knowing another estimate first. If you are asked whether Gandhi was more than 114 years old when he died you will end up with a much higher estimate of his age at death than you would if the anchoring question referred to death at 35. What I find interesting is that this idea flies in the face of conventional negotiation wisdom which is to never say the price first. Maybe I’m getting wisdom from the wrong places. Anchoring says that I should say a number higher than expected to anchor the other persons estimate. I know I’ve fallen susceptible to this myself, especially at flea markets.

Sometimes anchoring is part of a deliberate action of System 2. When asked you estimate something and also given an anchor, you start your estimate at the anchor and begin moving away until you become unsure. This adjustment mechanism usually ends prematurely because the scan of the estimation space is linear.

The Availability Heuristic

You are more likely to estimate something in greater quantity if it’s easier to recall. Couples were individually asked what they thought their percentage contribution to keep the house tidy was. The results showed that the sum of estimations was above 100% because it’s easier to recall your own contributions than someone else’s. This is one explanation of why someone may feel they’re pulling more than their own share in a team exercise.

The Conjunction Fallacy

Kahneman created the idea of a conjunction fallacy: judging the conjunction of two events as more probably than one of the events in direct comparison (feminist bank-teller vs bank-teller). The conjunction fallacy works because System 1 likes to make coherent stories and coherent stories become easier to make when more details are given.

Regression to the Mean

It’s likely that a normal event will follow an exceptional one. Scoring two baskets back to back from half court is less likely than just one. Evidence has shown that positive reinforcement is a better teaching aid than negative reinforcement but regression to the mean partly explains why people believe negative reinforcement works. When you yell at someone for doing exceptionally poorly, regression to the mean explains why they do better.

Formulas

People tend to be overconfident about their intuitions. When your intuition is relied on for an estimation, it’s usually worse off than a simple algorithm. It was found that expert wine tasters who were asked to predict the future value of a wine they tasted performed poorer than a simple algorithm. Kahneman found that using a simple 1-5 rating for various attributes of a soldier being interviewed for officer duty did a much better job of predicting that soldiers success through the military.

Loss Aversion

Losing hurts more than willing feels good. Loss aversion is why people would turn down a bet at the toss of a coin losing $100 on tails and winning $150 on heads. Loss aversion causes people to be risk averse when they’re winning but diminishing sensitivity explains why people tend to be risk seeing during a loss – would you rather lose 950k for sure or take a 90% to lose a million? Loss Aversion explains why people tend to stick to what they know, for fear of losing something that works.

The Peak-End Rule

There are two selves: the experiencing self and the remembering self. The remembering self governs our long term decisions and these decisions are governed by two rules: the peak-end rule and duration neglect. When remembering an experience, you overweight the peak and end intensities and forget how long the experience lasted. This is why short, intense excitement is preferable to long, moderate happiness. In a famous experiment, participants were asked to put their hand in cold water three times. Once is cold water for 60 seconds and once in cold water for 60 seconds which was then warmed for another 30 seconds. For the third trial they were asked to pick which of the previous two they would like to repeat and the 90 second trial was preferred even though it should have been strictly more painful (it was longer and never warmed up enough to be pleasant). This is because of duration neglect and because the end of the second trial was overweighted.

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Appendix

Find my notes here.

Buy the book here.