How much can science tell us about reality?

1/ Reading and re-reading The Brief History of Time when I was young, I grew up into adolescence with an unshakeable faith in science to reveal truths about reality. At school, we were taught scientific laws as if they’re the gospel of reality, never to be changed and never to be questioned. Once you understood magnetism, for example, you could seal that part of reality forever as being understood and then move onto the next thing.

2/ Except that’s not how things happen. Our scientific understanding gets revised all the time. Once the western civilization believed that Earth was created 4000 years ago. Today, most know that it can’t be true.  ...  Read the entire post โ†’

Is the world becoming better?

This essay is inspired by the book Factfulness where the key idea explored is that the world has witnessed significant progress over the last few decades, but most people are unaware of that fact because they hold distorted views.

For example, most people overestimate the percentage of the human population living in extreme poverty (which is defined as having an income of less than $2/mo). It's 10% (as of 2017) but even the most educated people get it wrong.

My intellectual progress in the last decade (2010s)

A decade is a long time, about 1/8th of an average life span if you happen to live a long life. I came across Scott Alexander’s post where he wrote about his intellectual progress in 2010s and thought it’ll be a good idea to do the same for myself. When I had turned 30 two years back, I had looked back at the goals that the 20 year old me had. If you read that post, you’ll see that overall I feel that my 20s (and correspondingly, most of the 2010s) were very fulfilling. I started a company, fell in love and made myself financially independent. ...  Read the entire post โ†’

Life is fractal, but markets are square

I recently read Venkat’s synopsis of the book Seeing like a state, which I followed up by an excellent blog post titled The Meridian of Her Greatness. Venkat challenged people to summarize the most important ideas from that post in a tweetstorm. He said if it gets more than 100 likes, on Twitter he’ll give away $1. I thought it was a fair deal, so here’s my attempt to distill some of the ideas into a visual essay.

1/ When humans wield their power in the world, they are limited by the linear nature of their thinking. The best example of this linearization is the top-down planning of modern suburbs. Contrast this with how nations and states emerged in a bottom-up fashion. ...  Read the entire post โ†’

Notes from ‘Nonzero: the logic of human destiny’

I make notes of books that really impact my thinking. Earlier, I made notes from The Elephant in the Brain and Skin in the Game. This time I make notes from a book that traces the arc of human history. My notes are not verbatim (unless quoted). It’s mostly what I found illuminating.

1/ Here are my notes from ‘s book – Nonzero: the logic of human destiny. I enjoyed the book very much.

The basic premise of the book is that history has a direction which favors co-operation and non-zero sum games, and that causes an increase in complexity.

2/ Starting from the first replicating molecule which co-operated with an outer layer to form first proto-cell, evolutionary and cultural history is full of examples where two entities come together to survive and progress a lot more than they would have done individually.

3/ This co-operative entity fares much better than two individual entities because of specialization. If two entities are in the same boat – that they win together or lose together – then trust is implicit.

4/ In a non-zero sum game, trust causes entities to focus on what they do best. For example, eukaryotic cells – the ones animals and plants have – emerged when two proto-cells merged, and one took the role of energy generator (mitochondria), the other specialized in protection.

5/ Some scientists believe that even nucleus in a cell is a result of an early cell merging with another cell. So M&A is not a recent phenomenon, entities have been merging because of common interests ever since life started. ...  Read the entire post โ†’