Power to the People

Power to the People by Pavel Tsatsouline is one of the classic books on strength training. Here are my notes.

Wired for power

  • We already have more power in our muscles than we’re using (20-30%)
    • Part of training is getting more ‘neurological efficiency’
    • We won’t completely overcome this ‘strength deficit’ as otherwise you would tear your muscles
    • (as seen with bodybuilders who gain more strength than their tendons can hold)

Tension, what force is made of

  • Tension = force, we want to increase tension
  • High tension training has five key conditions
    1. Slow exercise performance
    2. Maximizing muscle tension (flexing) regardless of weight
    3. Heavy (85-95%) weights some of the time
      1. Lifting heavy is needed for spine, joints, tendons to get accustomed to pressure
    4. Minimizing fatigue
      1. “High values of fatigue and tension are mutually exclusive”
      2. So program should focus on having (and inducing) low fatigue
    5. Taking advantage of various neurological phenomena

Training to failure or to success?

  • “[Y]ou must push your limits of weight/tension, and not reps/exhaustion if you want to get stronger.”
  • Hebbian rule (Cells that wire together, fire together)
  • If you are training to failure, you are training to fail”

Don’t water down your strength with reps and fatigue

  • How to minimize fatigue
    1. limit reps to five or fewer
    2. increase rest between sets to 3 to 5 min
    3. limit sets to 2
    4. pause and relax between reps
    5. don’t practice a lift more than 5x per week

(check back later how this contradicts with building muscle?)

Advice is to train almost every day, but breaks are ok, taking more than one day off reduces effectiveness by 50%

More low rep advantages

  • Why it’s safe
    1. The stabilizing muscles are not fatigued yet
    2. You are (forced to) concentrate(d)
    3. Can develop strength without training to failure

The idea is that these types of workouts will give you energy (vs draining it after more reps)

Rigor mortis, or why high reps failed to tone you up

  • You feel the ‘burn’ after high reps because you run out of ATP (as a dead body does too)
  • Strength = tension = tone (i.e. get muscle tone by residual tension over active/energy exhaustion)

But I don’t want to bulk up

  • Lifting heavy weights will not necessarily build big muscles

Machines are the wusses’ way out

  • Learn with free weights, better to have stability before going to heavy (free) weights
  • “The more fixed the object, the more likely you are to develop a pattern overload,” explains Paul Chek

Isolation exercises, Frankenstein’s choice

  • Instead, do movements that involve more than one joint to form a ‘kinetic chain’

Irradiation: Getting strong and hard with only two exercises

  • “It’s not daily increase, but daily decrease – hack away the unessential” – Bruce Lee
  • E.g. tense your fist, now tense harder, more… then you feel other muscles up to chest contrasting
    • Law of Irradiation
  • The deadlift & pside press (over bench) as the two exercises
    • Deadlift being the 80% important (Pareto)

Emphasize your problem areas without adding exercises

  • Change up the variation of the big two exercises (to focus in on muscle that is lacking)
  • But, probably also not necessary, as building up load on basic exercises will recruit the lazy muscles

How to become a bear: A Societ commando’s secret

  • What if you did want to buld ‘show’ muscles?
    • Longer time muscle under tension, so more reps
  • The method
    1. reduce reps to 4-6 per set (so still relatively heavy weights)
    2. perform 10-20 sets
    3. stop a few reps before failure, so you can keep doing same reps/sets
  • e.g. instead of 100×5 (and 90×5 for second set), do 80×5, 30-90sec rest, stop when you can’t do 80×5 anymore
  • reducing rest time promotes HGH production(?)
    • and reduced rest time allows for best training total time of 45min for testoterone release (?)
  • do workouts less often but still 3x per week each muscle group

Last tree pieces of the big biceps puzzle

  • Eat a lot of protein
  • Note on health: no, having a lot of big muscles is also straining on the body
  • Book on diet: Anabolic Diet (Mauro Di Pasquale)
  • REST
    • “Don’t run if you can walk, don’t walk if you can stand, don’t stand if you can sit, and if you sat, might as well lie down and take a nap.”
  • Calm mind = big body (i.e. less stress is good for muscle building)

Virtual Masculinity

  • (some critique of building muscles by pumping them full of blood)
    • Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy
  • This is in contrast to ‘myofibrillar hypertrophy’ which is a result of heavy weight training
  • Building with high reps does both, but leads to ’empty’ muscles

On variety, soreness, and keeping things in focus

  • Your body reacts the same to exercise as to smell, not smelling something again unless intensity or taste is changed
  • (notes on ‘plateau’ as just being the level where someone has started to get accustomed to an exercise)
  • So, do the same exercises, but change the routine’s load (cycling)
  • There is no correlation between your level of soreness and progress

Cycling: The Russian breakthrough for continuous improvement

  • Don’t max out, you won’t get improved results over time
  • Do periodization, build up weight over time, take breaks after intense periods (competition)
  • Three types of periodization
    1. Linear Cycle
      • Start with 80% of 5RM, e.g. weight you can do 10x
      • At least 8 workouts in cycle
      • Stop if you can’t make the set
    2. Wave Cycle
      • Go back in weight during the cycle
    3. Step Cycle
      • Stay flat for a while, then go up a bigger step
      • Or a small step, so good program if doing lighter weight exercises
  • If you have been ill or otherwise away from the gym for 7 days or more
    • Then go back 2 to 3 workouts and pick it back up again
    • Or even if you’re feeling shitty
  • A cycle is about 8-16 workouts

Hyperirradiation: How to boost strength and safety

  • Next few chapters about ‘neural programs’ and how to use them in training
  • Hyperirradiation: tense all your muscles when doing the lifts, as to activate/recruit them and gain strength
    1. Squeeze the weight as if you are trying to crush it
    2. Squeeze your glutes as if pincing a coin
    3. Tighten your abs as if bracing for punch

Hyperirradiation: “Cheering” not “Cheating”

  • Brace yourself against the ground (for olympic lifting)
  • Slack muscles absorb the ‘recoil’ of the muscles that are at work
  • Benefits
    1. Increased strength through additional neural stimulation of the target muslces by the impulses from working ‘extra’ muscles
    2. Increased strength trhough providing a solid and efficiently aligned foundation to lift from
    3. Improved workout safety through dramatically improved body stability

Hard abs + strong hands = Powerful body

  • Training grip can help with deadlift
  • When training with heavy weights, the core muscles take on a significant part of the load (abs included)

Power breathing: The Karate secret of superstrength

  • Tensing the abdominal muscles helps with strength (so karate also employs this with scream at end of punch)
    • This included contracting the rectal sphincter
  • Alternative is to breath out, but with tension in stomach still
  • A belt does something similar, though should be avoided (as it creates a weak link in the midsection)
  • A way to exercise this is to do concentrated/contracted breathing (8 reps, 8 sets?)
  • More in Beyond Crunches: Hard Science. Hard Abs.
  • Breating tips
    1. Inhale 75-100% before loading muscles
    2. Hold breath, breath out at the end or right after
    3. Take a breath (if exercise allows) between reps
    4. Don’t expel all of your air, to not lose tension
    5. Can take more breaths between reps (e.g. with deadlifts)
    6. Keep your midsection rock hard but do not let your stomach bulge out
    7. Always use the anal lock (contract your rectal sphincter)

Slow and steady wins the race

  • Lift heavy weights slowly
  • Three to five seconds up & then three to five seconds down
  • You will not be able to lift more weight if you go quick

Feed-forward tension

  • “Because your strength generally does not exceed 30% of your tendon structural strength, the strength governor mechanism is set up way too conservatively”
  • Feed-forward tension
    • Maximally contract your muscles with a submaximal weight
    • Or even without weight, done with dynamic tension
    • This (may) break(s) the feedback loop and allows for more tension also under heavy loads
  • Feed-forward tension is not the same thing as ‘feeling the muscle’ either. Feeling your entire body cease to be a carbon based life form and get compressed to the density of a black hole is more like it!

Pre-tension for max power and safety

  • Build tension first (before load is touched) to lift maximally

Successive induction

  • Successive induction: if you tense one muscle group, the opposite one (e.g. triceps and biceps) will be disinhibited as they are expecting the other side to hold the tension
  • E.g. doing bicep curls, but on the way down, push with the triceps

On shoes, gloves, and mirrors

  • Running shoes bad for lifting
  • Shoes with least support/spring are best (deadlift shoes)
    • e.g. Chuck Taylors
  • Also, no gloves (less feedback/pressure)
  • No mirrors, means better internal feel for muscles
    • So lifting with eyes closed could help in some regard

Power Stretching

  • “[A] muscle that can easily relax into an extreme stretch is a muscle that can do things”
  • More in Beyond Stretching
  • Do only light stretches before a workout
  • Stretching may lead to muscle damage that leads to muscle splitting, hyperplasia
  • Possibly this is the yin and yang of strength training, contracting and stretching (=better results)

The Drills

  • The Deadlift
    • Keep weight on heels
    • Eyes forward/ceiling (don’t look at bar when picking it up)
    • Knees backwards (not over bar, as vertical as possible)
    • Push butt backward
    • Recommends alternating grip (mwah, hook grip ftw)
    • Flex triceps as this ensures arms are straight
    • Knees straight forward (cue may be to push them out)
    • Core tight
  • The Side Press
    • Why it’s good
      1. Full body action, also for stability of core
      2. Also good for grip
      3. Easier to learn than miilitary press (hmm)
      4. Teaches good overhead lifting skills
      5. Shoulder in external rotation, better for safety
      6. Uses lats
      7. No spotters necessary (nor rack)
    • Brace core (etc)
    • Press working shoulder and elbow down
    • Push yourself away from the barbell (instead of barbell up)
    • When going down, actively pull the bar down (induction)

The Power to the People! Manifesto

  • Scientists who study non-linear dynamics know that complexity on one level implies simplicity on another. They even have a term, simplexity, which refers to the emergence of simple rules from underlying disorder and complexity. In Power to the People! I have attempted to deliver a ‘simplex’ approach to strength training, decades of scientific research and hundreds of years of lifting and martial arts experience distilled into a no frills power formula anyone, from a recent couch potato to a world class athlete, can use.

Amazon Unbounded

Amazon Unbounded by Brad Stone recounts the recent history of Amazon and is a follow-up to his previous book The Everything Store. The book details the meteoric rise in the valuation of the company, the many new services offered, and the demanding management style of Jeff Bezos and colleagues. The outsider perspective is critical but fair, curious and critical. A light read that will leave you more informed about what goes on inside the everything store.

Read: 1x | First: July 2021

Summary Review of Amazon Unbounded

Part I: Innovation

The first part of the book describes the rise of Amazon starting in 2010. It is crazy, from our vantage point now, to think that about 10 years ago Amazon was worth around $80 billion, less than 5% of the current $1.7 trillion it’s worth now. The same goes for the number of employees, which has risen from 33k to 950k (1 in 153 employees in the US are working for Amazon). If nothing else, this book is a story about how to scale a business through constant innovation.

‘Do more with less’ and ‘think big’ are two of Amazon’s leadership principles. Amazon is constantly trying to reinvent products that the customer wants and doing this at a scale and pace that others are not trying it at. What stood out from these pages is that even though a product fails (e.g. the Fire Phone), the lessons and technology from the product production are taken into account.

Innovation is still a hard thing to pull off. The company has had many misses and for several projects, the pay-off is years away. The intuition that Jeff Bezos has developed over the years (coupled with data) is what sometimes has moved unprofitable projects forward that in the end might turn out to be winners (e.g. cashier-less shops). The same can be said for the development of Alexa, which took many iterations before it became a product that did its job well enough.

Being a strong leader did have its downsides, as many in the Fire Phone group had their doubts about the viability but didn’t dare speak up to Bezos. Thus a balance between vision (top-down) and ground-level feedback (bottom-up) was possibly skewed too much in favour of the former.

The focus on customers is what has made Amazon successful. Throughout this book, you will see that this principle supersedes other concerns such as the quality of life of employees (using a ranked-firing/stack-ranking system such as Netflix also has) or the sellers on Amazon marketplace. The former did possibly improve, for white-collar workers that is, as the forced firing was abandoned later on.

Jeff Bezos personally buys the Washington Post and through instilling some good lessons from Amazon turns the paper profitable. It seems that the move is both altruistic (preserving good reporting) and in the end a great business decision. Later chapters do point out how the association of him and the paper, and the battle with Donald Trump, might have had negative externalities. A government contract that was awarded to Microsoft (worth more than $10 billion) might have been theirs be it not for the feud between Bezos and Trump (but who knows, this is a counterfactual after all).

Amazon Studios tried to be as scientific (data-driven) as the engineers at Amazon had been, but soon they would find out that the creativity needed to make hits didn’t match their formulas. Going with experienced script/plot-writers did solve this later on. Though, now that I’m writing this, I do remember that House of Cards was something that Netflix had conceived based on a lot of data from what customers wanted/liked. So I guess both ways can work.

The biggest needle movers will be things that customers don’t know to ask for” – Jeff Bezos, in a letter to shareholders

Mini notes

  • Minimum lovable product – as an alternative to minimable viable product
  • Single-threaded leader – each team needs to have someone who is responsible for this task, and this task only
    • For a start-up (as I’m running) this does ring true, but I think also needs to be adjusted to you yourself having one task/hat on for a period of time and then switching task/thread/hat for another part of the day
    • Chapter four also mentions that Prime day needs to mean one thing, something I have to remind myself of a lot of times, you can only be one thing in the minds of customers
  • Start with the needs of the customers and work backwards from that – e.g. people don’t want to wait in line at the supermarket so remove the checkout part (through cameras that track what you take of the shelves)
  • “Stubborn on vision, flexible on details” – Jeff Bezos
  • Amazon spent more than $22 billion on R&D in 2017, eclipsing Google and the other tech companies (and cleverly, but I would say justifiable, the tax system)
  • Keep trying things” – Jeff Bezos, on their India expansion, and the need to go fast and try, try again
  • Two-way door decisions – a mental model of decisions that they could make that were reverseable (vs one-way doors), making it (mentally) easier to make a choice to do something as it could still be reversed later on
  • Amazon was very secretive about their financials and hid the profits they made from AWS for a long time to not give competitors ideas

Part II: Leverage

Amazon’s flywheel (also see Turning the Flywheel) is the virtuous cycle that guides their business. It consists of offering lower prices, which lead to the loyalty of (Prime) customers, which leads to more sales, which leads to more sellers, that offer lower prices (or better quality products/wider selection), repeat. Whilst growing, Amazon also had a focus on growing the revenue faster than the expenses. The question they have repeatedly asked themselves is as follows: “How could they reduce costs in their operations while maintaining sales growth?” (note that this excludes R&D costs, which are a huge part of the business).

The company has been accused of using profits from some parts of the business (AWS) to fund other parts of the empire (Amazon marketplace). And in a way this is true, and possibly anti-competitive. At the same time, the S-team and Bezos, in particular, were aware that every part of the business should carry itself. One example is that when advertising showed to be hugely profitable on their website, they still hammered that the marketplace should be profitable without this part. Automating many pieces of the business is what marked this era of Amazon.

ROBOTS

Mini notes:

  • Many changes at this time led to disgruntled sellers, who were being outsmarted by other sellers with fake reviews and knock-off products
  • Amazon expanded into unprofitable, but staple, products (CRaP) to become even a bigger part of someones life/shopping habits

Part III: Invincibility

aa

Het Tekort van het Teveel

Het Tekort van het Teveel (The shortcomings of too much) by Damiaan Denys offers a critical perspective on mental healthcare. The main thesis is that we want to do too much, for too many people. We should focus our efforts on those who are suffering the most, whilst limiting the public investments into helping people who are doing so-so. Going broader than this, Damiaan (or at least my interpretation) argues that we shouldn’t try and solve everything, we should be able to sit with our pain and live with discomfort.

Read: 1x | First: June 2021

We were in the jungle. There were too many of us. We had access to too much money, too much equipment. And little by little we went insane.” – Francis Ford Coppola (quoted at the start of the book, director of Apocalypse Now, describing the situation in Vietnam

Summary Review of ‘Het Tekort van het Teveel’

1. The Paradox

  • One in four people will develop mental health issues during their lifetime (WHO, 2001)
  • Those suffering from mental health issues have double the chance of dying from cardiovascular diseases
  • 90% of suicides are accompanied by mental health issues
  • 60% of those in need don’t receive mental healthcare, leading to 13,5 million deaths per year (The Lancet, 2018)
  • The estimated lost productivity and Disability-Adjusted Life-Years (DALY’s) lost between 2011 and 2030 is estimated at 16.300 billion
  • The investment, per person, on mental health care is but 2,5 dollar per year (between 0,1 to 21,7 dollar, Knapp & Wong, 2020)
  • Many experts are calling this a ‘global mental health crisis’

Damiaan identifies three problems underlying the crisis:

  1. The incompetence of governments
    • More than 40% has no mental health care policy, 30% no program, 25% no laws on this (WHO, 2001)
    • No government is able to provide adequate funding (though, see his later points on this, Andrews & Henderson, 2000)
    • In developing countries, there is a severe lack of access to mental health care (The Lancet, 2018)
  2. The inability of current science
    • Psychiatry itself is in crisis (Gardner & Kleinman, 2019)
    • There haven’t yet been much progress in the understanding of mental health disorders
    • (me: I would say that some therapies including those with psychedelics are paving a way forward here)
  3. The immense scale of psychological suffering
    • It’s estimated that 1 billion people are suffering from mental health issues (alas no source given)
    • 14% of lost (happy) years is due to mental health issues (no source)
      • From Rehm & Schield (2019);
      • 1 billion people living with mental and addictive disorders in 2016
      • 7% of global burden of disease as measured in DALYs
      • 19% of all years lived with disability
    • Since 1990, there have been no improvements in mental health globally (The Lancet, 2019)
    • Although there is the same prevalence (number of people with X), the need/demands on care keeps rising (MHF and other sources)
    • Those living in wealthy (WEIRD) countries are impacted more and are more vulnerable for psychological suffering

The subtitle of the book is ‘The Paradox of Mental Health Care’ and it’s explained as follows:

  1. The first paradox is that you would expect richer countries to do better, not worse
  2. The second paradox is that (in the current system) it’s unsolveable as the actions taken have the opposite effect of what is wanted

The Netherlands

  • 5th place on world happiness ranking (39)
  • 89% thinks they are psychologically health (40)
    • 95% of kids between 12 and 16
  • 40% will develop a mental health issue during their lifetime (42)
  • In each year (year incidence) this is 20%
    • 21% mood disorders
    • 20% anxiety disorders
    • 19% addiction
    • 9% attention & behaviour issues
  • The Netherlands spends 7,3 billion euros on health care (43)
    • 4 billion of this on curative (to cure)
    • 1,7 billion on protected living
    • 1 billion on youth mental health care (‘jeugd-GGZ)
    • 0,6 billion on long-term care (44)
  • The percentage of the budget going to mental health care is the highest in the EU (45)
  • This care is being done by 19.000 professionals (49)
    • 3.500 psychiatrists
    • 15.000 psychologists
    • 24.000 nurses
  • The Netherlands is the best place to go crazy.”
  • Between 1980 and 1997, there was a doubling in the number of intakes (51)
  • Between 2000 and 2010, the costs rose from 2,9 billion to 6,1 billion (57)
  • Between 2003 and 2018, the number of psychiatrists rose from 2400 to 3700 (59)
  • Or in other words, the number of personell or the abundance of money aren’t the problems here
    • More health care institutes are filing for bankruptcy (61) WHY?
    • Waiting lists are becoming longer and work pressure is rising (FIND SOURCE)
    • At the moment of writing, more than 90.000 people each year are on waiting lists (per year or at any moment???)
    • It takes about 8 weeks to be referred somewhere
    • The work pressure is leading to many health care professionals wanting to leave the field

The rest of the book will dissect this paradox by looking at the three components in this system, 1) the health care system, 2) the care offer, and 3) the care demand.

2. The Health Care System

aa

3. Care Offer

aa

4. Care Demand

aa

5. The (ab)Normality

aa

6. The Paradox

aa

7. The Shortcomings of Too Much

aa

8. Epilogue

aa

Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir is another cool space engineering adventure by the author of The Martian. Here our adventurer wakes up on a spaceship and needs to find a way to save the earth from astrophages. A lot of engineering and dry humour later, well you will have to read for yourself.

Read: 1x | First: May 2021

This was another great read (listen) and it had many of the characteristics of Andy Weir’s previous books (The Martian, Artemis). It was fun, showered you with cool engineering and physics problems, and didn’t take itself too seriously.

Ryland Grace is the protagonist of the book and the sole survivor of the space journey that has taken place before the present time. Because of the medically induced coma (he thinks), his memory from before is fuzzy and the reader is presented with bits and pieces throughout the book. Or in other words, that is used as a convenient way to tell the backstory.

It’s interesting to see the reluctance that he started with, that he even didn’t want to go in the end (and that Strat drugged him), but throughout it all, he did want to do the science and contribute to the survival of humanity.

Whilst at Tau Ceti (a nearby solar system) he meets an alien who is also the lone survivor of his mission to save his home system. He and Rocky (who looks like a huge spider) learn to communicate (the latter speaking in musical notes, and not having vision but echolocation) and become friends.

After a lot of science, some major screw-ups, and a visit to a local planet, the two figure out how to stop the astrophages from consuming the sun(s). Instead of coming back a hero, Ryland comes back to save Rocky and go to his solar system.

There, Ryland ends up a teacher (which he was before too) and the book comes full circle.

All and all, amazing book, and definitely one to re-read someday.

Getting Higher

This post originally appeared on Blossom Analysis.

Getting Higher by Julian Vayne is a manual for exploring the use of psychedelic substances, and provides a variety of things that someone may consider doing before embarking on a psychedelic journey, which includes cleansing the body through washing, intentional diet, choosing clothes to wear, decorating the physical space and setting an intention. It emphasizes the importance of choosing a group of people to trip with that have mutual trust and respect for one another, and the importance of rounding off the ceremony with a formal conclusion of the session. Furthermore, it introduces techniques that can navigate or even intensify the psychedelic experience, such as breathwork, meditation, and other forms of concerted group activities, as well as artistic explorations that include drawing or painting, consciously consuming sensory content.

Read: 1x | First: April 2021

Publisher Summary of Getting Higher

Getting Higher is a manual for exploring the use of psychedelic substances in the contexts of spirituality, self-transformation and magic. This is the psychonaut s essential guide. The techniques presented here work whether you’re a scientist or a shaman; there’s no requirement to believe in anything other than the wonder of your own neurochemistry and the value of the psychedelic experience. Getting Higher describes the psychedelic triangle of Set, Setting and Substance. It suggests strategies to hold and enhance the psychedelic experience; from games to play when you are high, through to complete entheogenic ceremonies. It will help you to intelligently explore the territory of both traditional sacred plants and modern magical molecules. Getting Higher is a toolbox for technicians of the sacred; ideal for both novices and experienced psychonauts. Inspired by the wisdom of ancient cultures, and informed by the latest advances in psychedelic science, this book is a powerful ally for all those following the Medicine Path.”

Summary Review of Getting Higher

Getting Higher finds its roots in esoteric culture, in the occult realms of shamanism, witchcraft, parapsychology, and tarot cards. And it is good to know that this is what has formed some of the ideas presented in the book. But if there is one thing to take away from this summary, then it is that this book is accessible to everyone. From the aspiring rationalists to those who are more in touch with spiritual practices.

David Luke says in his foreword that Julian Vayne has written a book that combines drugs and magic. Or as the author put it himself, the book is a manual for both experienced and novel psychonauts. The manual offers insights for everyone from those seeking therapeutic experience, to those who just want to get really high. And, as is often the case, people come at a psychedelic experience with multiple intentions. In the broadest sense of the term, this book is intended to help you get higher.

Chapter 1 – Calling to the Spirits

The first chapter describes the preparations done at the start of a psychedelic experience. For someone less familiar with altars, the following describes does well in highlighting why it’s there: “We have externalised the psychedelic experience into this icon so we can speak to it as we would another person.” Making the invisible visible, to have something present during the experience.

This externalization, or making concrete, possibly also mirrors how Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy makes the different aspects of your psyche/personality more visible.

Chapter 2 – The Medicine Path

Mind altering drugs go with human spirituality the same way that music goes with human celebration.” (see The Immortality Key for more on this).

There are many reasons to do psychedelics, and these are just a few of them:

  • Self Exploration – examining your own psyche
  • Healing – of psychological ails and sometimes/possibly also physical problems (or learning better to deal with them)
  • Numinous Experience – positive peak experiences
  • Other Realities – as defined by the individual themselves
  • Occult or Parapsychological – using them for acts of magic
  • Creative Insight – creative problem solving
  • Preparation for Death – simulating the experience of dying
  • Reset – as a starting point for new directions
  • Recreation – experiencing the joy of life

When using psychedelics with care and within ritual, the effect may be greatly enhanced. This has been seen both with therapy with MDMA in a clinical setting (e.g. Jerome et al., 2020), as well as the large placebo/contextual effects of the psychedelic setting (Uthaug et al., 2021).

There may be neurological benefits to the use of psychedelics. Here Vayne highlights some of the changes that happen in the brain of someone on psychedelics, from lower top-down processing to more connections between different areas of the brain (e.g. Luppi et al., 2021).

Chapter 3 – The Psychoactive Triangle

The psychoactive triangle consists of the set (mindset), setting (social and environmental context), and substance (the psychedelic in question).

When investigating the dosages of psychedelics, Vayne has ranked them in this order:

  1. Baseline – before (or after) psychedelic ingestion
  2. Placebo dose – where expectancy effects can still lead to changes, but no drug has been given
  3. Microdose – a low enough dose that is perceived consciously (see all papers on microdosing)
  4. Threshold dose – sometimes also called a mini-dose, where it’s just barely perceptible
  5. Effective dose – where you do really feel something
  6. Low, medium, and strong doses – increasing levels of effect
  7. Dissociative dose – where memory is impaired and unconsciousness could happen
  8. LD50 – the dose at which half of the population would die, this is 100s of times higher than a strong dose for psychedelics (and only a few times higher for alcohol)

The useful ranking system from PiHKaL is also repeated here:

  1. Minus – no effects
  2. Plus/Minus – threshold action, just perceptable
  3. Plus One – there is action, but not quite definable (e.g. the jitters during a come-up)
  4. Plus Two – real effects, but you’re still able to suppress it and go about your day
  5. Plus Three – ignoring is not possible anymore, totally engaging experience
  6. Plus Four – peak experience, a state of bliss, religious experience

There are different ways of ingesting psychedelics and range from slow (eating, drinking) to rapid (IV, or absorption via a cut). Technology has recently added new ways of ingesting psychedelics, from continuously releasing patches to vaporizing devices.

With regards to the naturalness of psychedelics, Vayne argues that both are valid and that the line between them is more blurred than sometimes is assumed. Even if a psychedelic can be found, we usually still do some man-made processing such as heating them. A plus for artificial drugs is that the dose is usually easier to calculate (and thus effects can be somewhat more predictable).

The effects of psychedelics are (broadly) defined as uppers (amphetamines), downers (opiates), and those who change our perception of the world. Of course, many compounds show characteristics of multiple effects (e.g. MDMA or ketamine combine the upper/downer effects with mind-altering effects).

Body load refers to all the effects that psychedelics have on the body, from yawning to feelings of anxiety. Rituals around the use of psychedelics usually help reduce the negative experiences around body load. Experiences such as singing together, to playing card games during the come-up are just two examples of ways to focus the attention away from the body (load).

The chapter ends with a note about contact high, experiencing psychedelic effects by someone who is with a group, but has taken no substance themselves. Vayne suggests that someone who wants to (lightly) experience psychedelic effects, could do it via this route.

Chapter 4 – Beginning the Journey

Psychedelic drugs radically rearrange our experience of the world. They cleanse the doors of perception, so that the most mundane of things can be appreciated as wonderful, curious and even divine.”

There is a large contrast between the traditional use of psychedelics and that with clinical studies. In the former, psychedelics are taken within the context (setting) of a group and with the leader/host often participating in taking psychedelics. In the latter, someone is (usually) alone with a therapist. This chapter highlights some things we can do before tripping, at the start of the journey.

  • Washing – ranging from just hands to taking a bath
  • Fasting – which can be a psychological experience and also leads to faster absorption
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes
  • Blankets – for keeping warm and feeling safe/comfortable
  • Making your setting beautiful – cleaning the house, adding art, flowers, etc
  • Have water available
  • Turn of your phone
  • Arranging light – from candles to electronic (strobe) lights

One should be aware of the level of trust and respect required when experiencing psychedelics together. Often personal details are disclosed, and one should be aware that this may/will happen.

Prayers, spells and invocations can also be said at the beginning of a trip. Another way of putting this is the ‘statement of intent’, saying out loud what you hope this trip will bring you.

On page 32 the text of an opening ritual is given.

Chapter 5 – Core Techniques

This chapter discusses various ‘core techniques’ that one can use during a psychedelic experience. Some are similar to what is being used in clinical studies, but many are much closer to what people do in psychedelic experiences from Amazonian shamanistic rituals to Western group experiences.

  • Breathwork – “deliberately slowing and deepening the breath serves to calm the bodymind as a whole”
  • Hawk breath – forceful breathing in combination with raising and lowering arms from over the head towards the heart or tan tien (slightly lower)
  • Sun Moon breath – breathing to access/connect to yin energy
  • Partner and group breathing – passing a breath around (one breaths after the next one)
  • Breathwork systems – these include ones such as Holotropic Breathwork
  • Light breath and Tonglen – imagining breathing in positive and breathing out negative energy
  • Meditation – e.g. mindfulness meditation and becoming aware of the here and now (can also be beneficial before and after a session)
  • Pre-recorded music – “Listening to music provides both a wrapper around the trip and interesting content to focus on while high” (see all papers that mention music)
    • Multi-layered music, it is proposed, can be most interesting during the peak of a trip
  • Making music – from singing to mouth harps
  • Drumming – usually at 200 beats per minute in Native American peyote rituals
  • Movement – dancing together (e.g. like is happening at a festival or rave) can create a shared experience
  • Posture – the posture you take may influence your mood (alas the psychological research into this has been largely debunked, still there may be a small (and amplified under psychedelic) effect here)
  • Balance – doing anything from yoga to slacklining
  • Weaving the ‘Web of Wyrd‘ – “The Web of Wyrd is a metaphor for fate and destiny derived from women’s spinning.
  • Gestures – this can be anything from holding hands to doing mirrored movements
  • Sensuality and sexuality – think group hugs and massage, but be very clear about what is appropriate before the session starts
  • Animal forms – simulating the movement of animals (just like martial arts use this as an analogy, but here also meant more literal I think)

Chapter 6 – Internal Journeys

This chapter presents two examples of ‘guided imagery processes’, the use of stories that aim to induce a state of trance vision.

Chapter 7 – Advances in the Ultraworld

Just like the fifth chapter, this one offers suggestions for many things that one could do whilst tripping. They range from visiting a museum, to experiencing a festival.

  • Artistic explorations – drawing, painting, etc. “Psychedelics provide us with an opportunity to play with paint, draw in the sand or mould clay in a way where we can reconnect to a child-like appreciation of exploration and fun without self-critical judgements about making ‘good’ art or a specific final product.”
  • Consuming content – movies, series (some of which are made to be enjoyed whilst high)
  • Wonderful things – become enamored with everyday objects
  • Sculpts – moving/placing objects within a space and endowing them with meaning
  • Cut-ups – rearranging things to find serendipitous meaning
  • Playing games – from Frisbee to Twister (personal recommendation: Dixit during come-up)
  • The Superheroes game – describing the superhero qualities of your friends
  • Psychogeography – playing with movement and location (going on an exploratory walk)
  • Museum level – “describes a dosage of any substance that allows the user to successfully enjoy a public space … in an altered state of awareness”
  • Vigil & vision quests – doing a solo journey (sometimes also done with fasting)
  • Raves & Festivals – celebrating life with others, and also giving meaning to the preparation before such an evening
  • Mindful Smoking – smoking tobacco, sometimes part of shamanic rituals
  • Sigil – a representation of a desire in an abstract way
  • Mimetic magic – also known as sympathetic magic
  • Divination – externalizing your thinking in objects (e.g. tarot cards) and finding meaning and understanding that way
  • Sensory deprivation – from blindfolds to floatation tanks (one such ritual under the influence of ketamine is described)

Chapter 8 – The Medicine Circle

This chapter is inspired by the Native American peyote circle and describes elements of a medicine circle. A circle is usually led by an experienced person (Roadman, Medicine Carrier), who can be assisted by several helpers who can help with anything from keeping the fire going to helping people who are ‘getting well’ (i.e. vomiting).

Many medicine circles recommend that people engage in a variety of preparatory rituals. These range from eating a certain (usually plant-based) diet, fasting the (half) day before, and refraining from sexual activity.

During the ceremony, a central altar could be made that represents a certain ‘energy’ and makes visible some of the abstract thoughts/ideas/intentions.

When a group starts, a statement of intent could be made. Confessions, or talking about what problems you’re bringing to the circle, are then shared, a talking stick could be used to facilitate this ritual. When taking the medicine (which should be voluntary and could be skipped at each round by the participants), the leader should take into account the state of the participants (e.g. using the Shulgin Scale).

The latter parts of the chapter describe a variety of other things to do during a ceremony. Time for silence, taking breaks, drinking water, prayers, movement, and more are discussed.

In the end, Vayne stresses that there is no clear distinction between spirituality and fun, both can happen within the same ritual. Challenging experiences and hearty laughter can happen in the same evening, and relaxation and deep contemplation are not mutually exclusive.

Chapter 9 – A Guide for the Perplexed

Experiences with a guide can also be helpful, and this is how Western/clinical experiences usually are conducted. A guide can provide context, grounding, integration and reflection. Unlike in some/many circles, the guide or sitter doesn’t take the psychedelic themselves.

Sitters can also provide grounding through physical, non-sexual, touch such as holding hands.

Chapter 10 – Dealing with Challenges

Challenges may arise during a psychedelic experience and they shouldn’t necessarily be avoided. “These processes can be vital part of the transformative power of the trip…” Then can, however, be attenuated by employing one of the following strategies:

  • Changing the setting: changing music, offering a blanket, going from inside to outside
  • Changing the set: focussing on breathing, recalling a pleasant memory, focus on the music
  • Changing the substance: seek medical attention if needed, keeping the airway clear if vomiting (but most challenging experiences are caused by anxiety and not bad/adulterated drugs)
    • There are currently no trip-stoppers publically available that are guaranteed to work, but anecdotally a vitamin C pill or fruit juice may help (if only as a placebo)
  • Relax and float downstream: ride it out, know that ‘this too shall pass’
  • Refining your rapture: not taking more of a substance, but increasing its effects by fasting or other methods

Chapter 11 – On Coming Down

When coming down from a trip, making sense shouldn’t be the immediate priority. This could be left for another moment when you come back together as a group (the next day or week). Recording thoughts during, immediately after, or the next day could be helpful in processing the trip.

All that is left is to integrate the experience back into daily life. Are there lessons to be put into habit or insights that you can bring forward? Doing this consciously (e.g. discussing the trip afterward) or unconsciously, will hopefully help bring lessons from the trip to your daily life.

More resources related to this book can be found at theblogofbaphomet.com/getting-higher

Invisible Planets

Invisible Planets is edited and translated by Ken Liu and features 13 awesome sci-fi stories from China.

Just like Broken Stars, Lui features an interesting casts of writers. All can be classified as somewhat sci-fi but differ a lot in the types of stories.

Read: 1x | First: April 2021

Here are the stories with mini-notes:

Chen Qiufan

  • The Year of the Rat (ok, not my story)
  • The Fish of Lijiang (interesting concept, faster time for productivity, slower for old age) *
  • The Flower of Shazui

Xia Jia

  • A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight
  • Tongtong’s Summer (human-controlled robot-helpers, good take – random business idea: sensors on grandparents for safety but also for grandchildren to connect to toy that has their heart-beat etc)
  • Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse

Ma Boyong

  • The City of Silence (inspired by 1984, good story) *

Hao Jingfang

  • Invisible Planets (title of book, but not my type of story)
  • Folding Beijing (could easily turn into a sci-fi movie, very good) *

Tang Fei

  • Call Girl (interesting) *

Cheng Jingbo

  • Grave of the Fireflies

Liu Cixin

  • The Circle (adapted from Three Body Problem) *
  • Taking Care of God (very Liu Cixin – small premise, big story)

Some great sentences I came across:

  • “The biggest fear is for someone else to understand what you really fear” (p62)
  • A man is such a strange animal: fear and desire are expressed by the same organ.” (p63)
  • … technology is neutral. But the progress of technology will cause a free world to become ever freer, and a totalitarian world to become ever more repressive.” (p182)
  • [his father] had held fast to the thin reed of opportunity as the tide of humanity surged and then receded around him until at last he found himself a survivor on the dry beach.” (p231)
  • Morning climbs in through the window as shadow recedes from Tang Xiaoyi’s body like a green tide imbued with the fragrance of trees.”
  • Each individual’s behavior is so simple, yet together, they can produce such complex intelligence.” (p314)

Managing Oneself

Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker is a short booklet (monograph I think) on how to live a good and productive life. It provides some ways of thinking about how to manage your own life (vs being lived/going with the Flow).

Read: 1x | First: February 2021

Finding Your Strength

We are often clueless about what our strengths are. Drucker advises to write down what you expected to happen at a key decision, and then to review that. Or in other words, to make a prediction and see which predictions came true, finding your strengths.

From this feedback analysis, he finds several implications:

  1. Concentrate on your strengths, where they can produce results
  2. Work on improving your strengths, fill the gaps in your knowledge
  3. Find where you’re ignorant, and work on this to enable your strength to really shine

Applied: I do monthly and quarterly OKRs (Measure What Matters) where I also make predictions on what I will do. Although this has less to do with decisions, it allows me to plan what to work on and identify what needs to change to realize it.

The last point also made me think about your personality/skills as described in the Early Retirement Extreme. Here, from memory, I think the author described your personality to be a T-shape (or inverted T-shape). One where you are ok in many skills (vs being bad) and very good at only one skill.

This is not to say that you should focus your energy everywhere (or nowhere as there is limited time). No, you should work only on those things that help you improve your strength. 1) execute your strengths, 2) improve them, 3) remove blockages.

What Environment Allows me to Perform Well

So, how do I perform? Is the next question in the booklet. Here Drucker proposes a few different ways of working. The first is ‘reader vs listener’. How do you ingest knowledge to make decisions? The second is the way you learn (e.g. writing, speaking, sketching). The third is your style/level of cooperation, do you work well together or prefer to work alone? The fourth is a distinction between advising and leading/making decisions.

Why ask these questions? Because you’re unlikely to change yourself, but you can choose the environment you’re working in. To find an environment where you thrive, not one where you have to go against your instincts all the time.

Applied: I’m definitely a reader and in work thrive by reading something and then (slowly) exploring those ideas (vs directly responding). And I’m a writer, learning by trying to explain something (meta: as I’m doing here). I like to work together, at a distance, and cooperate with many people whilst having long stretches of time to work on my own. In those relationships, I like to be the leader/decision-maker. And I like to work in small organizations (start-ups) in a somewhat structured environment.

Your Values

What kind of person do I want to see in the mirror in the morning?” This is what Drucker has dubbed the mirror test, and it shows you something about your values.

This part of the booklet goes deeper into the values or worldview that you bring into work. This can be a long-term vision vs short-term profits, or values around work-life balance that you have.

Your values and strengths don’t always align. For Drucker this resulted in him leaving his financial job (during the Great Depression) and started building his consulting business.

Applied: I value understanding above most other things. Money is something that can enable this, but isn’t a goal in itself. Transparency, honesty, speed of execution, trust, using thinking tools, being critical, are some of the other values/words that come to mind. In time, I should have more on this on the ‘Me‘ page.

Where to take your Strengths, Performance, and Values?

Drucker posits that not many gifted people know where they belong before their late twenties. By knowing what you’re good at, you can become better at knowing where you don’t belong. And it allows you to better say no to opportunities that look good on paper, but don’t match with you specifically.

Applied: I know that my skills won’t do (that) well within large organizations. I love my freedom (to spend my time where I want it) too much. I also wouldn’t do well if I had to work on something that doesn’t have much value to add to the world (e.g. improving the flavour of biscuit X).

What Should I Contribute?

The answer to this question should address three elements.

  1. What does the situation/environment require?
  2. Given my strengths/performance/values how can I add the most? (unique contribution)
  3. What results have to be achieved to make a difference?

Drucker further specifies that the results you plan for can only be 18 months into the future, should be hard to achieve (stretch goals), but still within reach. The results should be meaningful, make a difference, visible, and measurable. Or, to put it in 21st-century lingo, to be SMART goals.

Applied: Currently my goals are related to building out Blossom. Here my competitive advantage is my ability to build something from nothing. And to execute on that vision and build. I have recruited a small team which I will expand, as I will do with the resources. I know that I’m not the best at promotion and should find someone else to help with that part. The results that need to be achieved are the completion of the database and then to add new features. This then needs to be used by everyone from researchers to legislators and help them move the field forward faster.

Building Responsible Relationships

You’re almost never working alone. The first thing about working with others is that you should know they are different (values, strengths, etc). The second lesson is that you should ask them what they are doing and how they do their work (i.e. communication). Or as I have learned from running a study association to my personal life (where, of course, it’s the most difficult) to over-communicate.

Even people who understand the importance of taking responsibility for relationships often do not communicate sufficiently with their associates.”

By telling others how you work (and asking them how they work), you gain valuable information and learn how to better work together. I think this is the strength of tools like the MBTI, learning that other people are different.

Building responsible relationships is about building trust (The Speed of Trust). Knowing who you are and how others think, helps build that trust.

Applied: When starting to work together with others, it could be good to ask them about their values and ways of working. Currently I don’t have a framework for this, but based on this book and other tools like the MBTI could develop something that we could use as a guideline for a conversation.

A Second Career

Drucker thinks that the midlife crisis of 45 year old executives is caused by boredom. He proposes three ways of starting a second career:

  1. Start in a new field (to challenge yourself again)
  2. Develop a parallel career (e.g. help at church)
  3. Become a social entrepreneur (start a non-profit)

You must begin long before you enter [your second career].”

Developing a second career is also a good way to shield yourself from a setback. If things at work don’t progress, you can find challenge and joy in your volunteer work for instance.

Applied: In a way, I’m already working on the second career, second start-up. But as meant in the booklet, I think that I would want to become a social entrepreneur in the field of psychedelics for mental health improvements. But let’s first see how the field develops.

Calling Bullshit

Calling Bullshit by Carl Bergstrom & Jevin West uses a sceptical, yet fair, perspective to dissect fact from fiction, well reasoned conclusions from bullshit.

This book tries to dissect true scientific claims and bullshit. The focus of the book is on data-driven bullshit. It goes through various forms of (data) bullshit, and offers tools on how we can improve our critical skills.

My notes from the awesome reading group by Joeri

Recommended further reading (more philosophical/technical books)

Bernard Wiliams – Truth & Truthfulness

Stephen Toulmin – Return to Reason

Plato – The Republic

Plato was railing against the bullshit of the sophists, they were not concerned with the truth, just with influence, money, fame.

We are currently being fed bullshit by media, bots, etc. This can be seen as a digital cave (filter bubble) ala Plato’s cave.

Another way of framing the cave is as a rave. It’s a comfortable place to be, doing philosophy is (more) difficult. We like to distract ourselves, not do the hard work.

Parrhesia – the ancient word for talking truth to power.

Instead of social justice warriors, we have to become epistemic justice warriors

Believing is a form of acting -? weighing evidence carefully…

How do we spot (call) bullshit:

  1. Question the source of information
  2. Beware of unfair comparisons
  3. If it seems too good or too bad

Refuting bullshit

  1. Use reductio ad absurdum
  2. Be memorable (and funny)
  3. Find counter-examples
  4. Provide analogies
  5. Redraw figures
  6. Deploy a null model
  7. Be correct
  8. Be charitable
  9. Admit fault
  10. Be clear
  11. Be pertinent

One has to use logic.

Although closely interconnected, doubt and belief are characterized by profoundly different feelings: “Doubt is an uneasy and dissatisfied state from which we struggle to free ourselves and pass into the state of belief; while the latter is a calm and satisfactory state which we do not wish to avoid, or to change to a belief in anything else”

Method of tenacity – which brings comforts and decisiveness but leads to trying to ignore contrary information as if truth is private and not public.

Method of authority – which overcomes disagreements but sometimes brutality

The method of the a prior – only use deduction instead of induction

How to refute bullshit

The method of science – There are real things, whose characters are entirely independent of our opinions about them; those realities affect our senses according to regular laws, and, though our sensations are as different as are our relations to the objects, yet, by taking advantage of the laws of perception, we can ascertain by reasoning how things really are; and any man, if he have sufficient experience and reason enough about it, will be led to the one true conclusion. The new conception here involved is that of reality.

(Typical of cynicism is that the collective (especially the informed part) is duly aware of wrong, hegemonic and dominating aspects of society and its power-structures, but has either learned to agree with them, or to see the hegemonic forces as unshakable. This means people know there is the possibility and potential to unmask hegemonies as domination or injustice and to reveal false consciousness (and as such are enlightened), but they see every ideal that is offered in replacement of those hegemonies as wishful thinking or naïve. This is what Sloterdijk came to call ‘enlightened false consciousness’, to which cynicism amounts. Any optimism about the future has thus been replaced by cynicism.)

The socratic method – let people reason it out themselves by asking questions

  • You have to have these characteristics:
    1. Ignorance
    2. Curiosity
    3. Courage
    4. Naivety
    5. Patience
    6. Will to delve deep
    7. Make time
    8. Suspend judgement
    9. Open and empty mind
    10. Rational compassion

Other recommended books during the meetup:

  • Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening – Stephen Batchelor
  • The Feeling of Value: Moral Realism Grounded in Phenomenal Consciousness – Sharon Rawlette
  • On What Matters, Vol. 2 – Derek Parfit
  • The Myth of Morality (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy) – Richard Joyce

The God Delusion

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins is a spirited, fair, rational, engaging, and vigorous explanation of why God is not there. It methodologically tackles various objections, explains historical quarks, and his reasons for writing such a direct/hostile book.

Read: 1x | First: December 2020

As someone who beliefs himself to be a rationalist, this book touched all the right points for me. It goes through various objections and cuts them down without resorting to anything else but reason.

Dawkins has been known to speak his mind, to be a great explainer of science, and one who doesn’t back down in the face of resistance. At the same time, he seems to have developed positive relationships with those from the other side of the argument who are willing to listen, even if they don’t agree on the outcomes.

One may also ask: What good does a book like this do? Does it not speak only to those who are already convinced? Dawkins also dispels this notion and informs us that many religious people (including leaders) have found his arguments compelling and have left the faith.

This book pairs well with Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett.

Introduction for the 10th anniversary edition

Life has come forth through (Darwinian) evolution: cumulative natural selection. But that is hard to believe, is there nothing that makes all of this special? A designer? A grand scheme?

That is what theism claims, that there is a God (or gods) that have caused the universe to exist (and made/controlled it to varying degrees). This book explains that there is no ground for such a claim. We don’t need it to explain evolution, humans, nor morality.

Of those who identify as Christian (in the UK), many are completely unaware of what is written in the bible (why doesn’t the church encourage reading it more?). When asked about why they believed, 18% indicated they believed in its teachings. A much larger 46% said it was because they were christened/baptized into religion (see chapter 9). Or in other words, many who identify as Christian, don’t actively engage in behaviour or belief that match the central tenets of its faith.

See this survey here for a primer on the data.

… you could plausibly argue that the best antidote against all of the three Abrahamic religions is a thorough reading of their holy books. The nasty bits are seldom mentioned in churches or Sunday schools.”

Chapter 1 – A deeply religious non-believer

Dawkins has been described as religious, but a better description would be naturalist (students of the world), atheist (there is no supernatural power, no miracles).

As ever when we unweave a rainbow, it will not become less wonderful.”

A theist is someone who believes in a supernatural intelligence that has created the universe and is actively managing it.

A deist only believes that a supernatural intelligence has set up the laws of the universe.

A pantheist only uses God as a non-supernatural synonym for Nature (or Universe). (“Pantheism is sexed up atheism”)

This book will speak/criticize only a supernatural God (i.e. not when using God as a metaphor).

Religion should not be protected, it should not be a reason why you can discriminate (against homosexuals) or get special exemptions (taxes, drugs).

Chapter 2 – The God Hypothesis

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

That is quite the statement to start this chapter, and one that gets often quoted. Later on Dawkins points towards all the place in the Old Testament which justify such a paragraph.

God Hypothesis: “there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us.

Alternative: “Any creative intelligence of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution.

Also see Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (to review) by Daniel Dennett.

America was founded on secular grounds, but alas because religion ‘evolved’ outside the state, it became such a large (and influential) institution on America.

Being an agnostic is not something we can confidently be when talking about the God Hypothesis. It’s not something where there is no evidence or no priors (e.g. the change of intelligence life on other planets).

We are all atheists, when considering the gods Zeus, Apollo, Amon Ra, etc. Why not go one God further?

One experiment to prove the existence of God was the Great Prayer Experiment. Without bothering with the details, the ones who were prayed for and who know that this was the case – did worse on medical outcomes.

Chapter 3 – Arguments for God’s existence

Chapter 4 – Why there almost certainly is no God

Chapter 5 – The roots of religion

Chapter 6 – The roots of morality: why are we good?

Chapter 7 – The ‘Good’ Book and the changing moral Zeitgeist

Chapter 8 – What’s wrong with religion? Why be so hostile?

Chapter 9 – Childhood, abuse and the escape from religion

Chapter 10 – A much needed gap?

Afterword by Daniel Dennett

The Half-Life of Facts

The Half-Life of Facts by Samual Arbesman presents an interesting framework for thinking about the updating of our knowledge. He argues there is structure in the time it takes for facts to become outdated. Just like the half-life of uranium, facts become superseded by other facts at a predictable rate.

Read: 1x | First: December 2020

This book got recommended on the Clearer Thinking podcast with Spencer Greenberg. It got introduced as interesting, though not always as sound as presented (i.e. there is more nuance than fitted on the pages).

I enjoyed the book, it helped me think more clearly, and it’s a quick read for those interested in how knowledge develops.

I wrote at the start of the book: “We know 1% of infinity, and that 1% is always getting bigger.

Chapter 1 – The Half-life of Facts

“Facts, in the aggregate, have half-lives: we can measure the amount of time for half of a subject’s knowledge to be overturned.”

Arbesman is using facts in a common-sense way in the book. Things we know to be true (at this moment), as close to ‘ground’ truth as we can currently get.

Mesofacts are facts that change at middle timescale (a few years). Examples are number of chemicals, height of Mount Everest (see chapter 8), height of tallest skyscraper.

Chapter 2 – The Pace of Discovery

We can now measure the speed of discoveries (scientometrics) and in many cases the number of papers published in a field doubles every X years, which showcases exponential (vs linear) growth.

Although, possibly, discoveries are getting harder to make, there are so many more scientists, the speed of discovery is still accelerating.

Chapter 3 – The Asymptote of Truth

Knowledge in a field can also decay exponentially, shrinking by a constant fraction.”

This (and much of this chapter) is based on citations of scientific papers and the decline in that of older papers.

It’s not that when a new theory is brought forth, or an older fact is contradicted, what was previously known is simply a waste, and we must start from scratch. Rather, the accumulation of knowledge can then lead us to a fuller and more accurate picture of the world around us.”

We are currently in the ‘long-tail of discovery’, and by that the author means we may not get block-buster discoveries, but we are ever refining and better understanding and improving them.

Chapter 4 – Moore’s Law of Everything

Processing power grows every year at a constant rate rather than by a constant amount.”

The amount of information we can send to others has grown exponentially, how awesome is that.

This chapter also introduces the idea of several S-curves making up an exponential curve.

Technology, in its broadest sense, is the process by which we modify nature to meet our needs and wants.” and “Science is about understanding the origins, nature, and behavior of the universe and all it contains; engineering is about solving problems by rearranging the stuff of the world to make new things.”

About life expectancy, this chapter mentions Aubrey de Grey from Ending Aging.

Knowledge grows through cumulating, “as there is more technological or scientific knowledge on which to grow, new technologies increase the speed at which they grow.”

This process closely matches population growth. An interesting idea is how this will develop, as population growth slows/stops. Will our interconnectedness still provide us with enough momentum or will the half-life of facts start to grow larger?

Chapter 5 – The Spread of Facts

Knowledge spread slower than we think/hope. Like the idea that spinach has a lot of iron, which isn’t true (but the story about why also is wrong, and that meme has spread even slower).

Information spreads via social networks (and thus also moves in bubbles), and between different networks (e.g. geographies).

The most important ties are thus medium ties, not strong ones (have the same knowledge) nor weak ones (whom you don’t speak to often).

Sometimes errors spread further and quicker because the story is more compelling than the truth/fact. E.g. a frog in a slowly heated to boiling pot will not jump out (wrong!).

Facts do not spread instantaneously, even with modern technology. They weave their way through social networks in mathematically predictable ways.”

To prevent spreading misinformation, have a certain vigilance about what you hear.

Chapter 6 – Hidden Knowledge

Knowledge can be hidden in one domain, and be useful in another domain. So combining domains and ‘throwing people at the problem’ are valid strategies for unearthing facts.

This also holds true for knowledge in the public domain that is lost over time. So ideas, proposed back in the day, were not ‘ripe’ for that time, but could be tested/used/validated now.

Innocentive is mentioned, a crowdsourcing centre for ideas. With the premise being “a long tail of expertise – everyday people in large numbers – has a greater chance of solving a problem than do the experts.”

A cummulative meta-analysis tries to include all trials (not only the latest ones) as to find statistical significance early on. (see page 109)

Another project mentioned is CoPub Discovery (but doesn’t seem to be active anymore?), a paper search engine that matches based on co-occurrence of (similar) words in papers.

Mendeley is a tool that helps with citing papers and saving references to them. And to find related papers.

DEVONthink might also be a good tool to find hidden connections, Mac/iOS only.

… facts are seldom lost. And as long as knowledge is preserved, we have the raw materials for unearthing hidden knowledge.”

Chapter 7 – Fact Phase Transition

At certain thresholds there can be a state change, think water to ice. The changes might themselves not have accelerated, but the end product is very different than X iterations before.

This type of thinking is usually applied to physics but also applies to facts (e.g. number of exoplanets found). And by using this, you can predict (approximately) when we will have an answer about fact/question X.

We are always on the edge of chaos, always learning new things (at least in dynamic societies) and our knowledge (facts) change all the time. Or in other words, we’re always in a critical state.

Chapter 8 – Mount Everest and the Discovery of Error

The height of Mount Everest is a meso-fact (see above), it changes over time as we were getting better at measuring and still changes as the earth is changing.

Revolutions in science have often been preceded by revolutions in measurement.” – Sinan Aral

We have improved our measurements of many things, and by that also our understanding of the world. As we get better at measurements (e.g. brain scans in real-time at more detail) we will continue to learn more.

Error can be measured in two ways, precision (10x same error) and accuracy (10x error around the centre).

Then the book discussed a topic I want to dive deeper into next year, p-values and statistics. This quote from John Maynerd Smith summarizes what we now do “Statistics is the science that lets you do twenty experiments a year and publish one false result in Nature.”

What is important is the discriminating power of a study, of how much it changes our prior to posterior probability of X being true.

Some factors that help falsehoods become significant results:

  • smaller studies
  • smaller effect size
  • more tested hypotheses
  • flexibility in study design, definitions, outcomes, analytical model
  • financial incentives
  • hotter field

I can confidently say that most of these apply to the study of psychedelics for therapy. And one of the things that should (continue to) happen is replication, to be damn sure that something really work.

Only through replication can science be the truly error-correcting enterprise that it is supposed to be.”

This all being said, Arbesman notes that science is not broken. It isn’t perfect, but still moves forward.

One interesting way of looking at this is to make the distinction between the core and the frontier. The former is relatively stable and fixed, the latter is more fluid and full or error. Slowly facts from the frontier make it into the core.

There is a sifting and filtering process that moves knowledge from the frontier to the relatively compact and tiny core of knowledge. We should enjoy this process, rather than despair.”

Chapter 9 – The Human Side of Facts

There is a human side to updating facts. Dan Ariely of Predictably Irrational is mentioned here.

… shifting baseline syndrome… refers to how we become used to whatever state of affairs is true when we are born, or when we first look at a situation.”

An interesting way of defining technology is as “anything that was invented after you were born” – Alan Kay

As facts change, our understanding of them changes slower. I think this matches with the concept of memes, they are similar to genes in many ways, but one way they are different is that it needs to be both transmitted and then received/processed/saved (and then transmitted again).

The beliefs that we have (currently) can prevent us from updating to a newer and better view of reality. Daniel Kahneman referred to this as theory-induced blindness.

Changes in facts thus also follow the phase change bursts and relatively stable periods. I think this can be true, but don’t know if this applies to all fields and institutions (i.e. if a company has good systems they could possibly have continuous change? Netflix maybe?).

The model proposed by Thomas Kuhn about science progressing one funeral at a time doesn’t seem to hold up. Young scientists are just a likely as older ones to accept/reject new ideas.

One thing that could be useful is to stop remembering facts (as we’ve all done to some degree I think) and retrieve (the latest and updated) facts when we need them.

Paradoxically, by not relying on our memories, we become more likely to be up-to-date in our facts, because the newest knowledge is more likely to be online than in our own heads.”

Chapter 10 – At the Edge of What We Know

Science requires an idea to be refutable. It is not good enough for a concept to seem compelling; it must have the potential for a new fact to come along and render it false.”

Are we in an exponential curve or ‘just’ a logistic curve? Some things point towards ever accelerating (e.g. knowledge spreads faster). Other things point towards a slowdown (e.g. population growth is slowing down dramatically).

Facts don’t change arbitrarily. Even though knowledge changes, the astounding thing is that it changes in a regular manner; facts have a half-life and obey mathematical rules. Once we recognize this, we’ll be ready to live in the rapidly changing world around us.”