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Hey, it's Shane Parrish, and welcome to a new episode of the Knowledge Project, where we deconstruct actionable strategies that you can use to make better decisions, learn new things and live a better life. This time around, we have the amazing Devall Ravicher novel is the CEO and co-founder of Angel IS. He's invested in more than 100 companies, including Uber, Twitter, Yammer and so many others.
Don't worry, we're not going to talk about early stage investor.
Duval's an incredibly deep thinker who challenges the status quo and so many things he's thought deeply about stuff that's near and dear to us, like reading habits, decision making in life. Just a heads up. This is the longest podcast I've ever done.
Our conversation lasted over two hours, and if you're like me, you're going to take a lot of notes. A complete list of books and sites mentioned is available in the show.
Notes at Farnam Street blog, dotcom slash podcast. That's F.R. and a street blog podcast.
A transcript is available for members of our learning tribe. If you want to join, head on over to Farnam Street blog dot com slash troub.
In addition to transcripts, we have the world's best online reading group and a host of other goodies. Without further ado, here's Nivel. Before I get started, here's a quick word from our sponsor. I believe in full disclosure, so I want to point out that not only do I use this sponsor personally for my weekly meal planning, but I'm also one of the owners. Milham is one of the most downloaded food apps in the world. Everybody eats some just do it better than others.
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You save time and money, reduce stress and eat well. Download the free meal for your Android or iPhone or check them out on the web at Milham Dotcom. That's me a l. I am e dotcom. Naval, welcome to the show. I am so excited to get to talk to you today and ask you a whole bunch of questions that I have on my mind.
Oh, thanks for having me.
I'm excited to be here. I've been a long time fan of your work.
Thank you. Let's get started with something simple. Can you tell me a little bit about what you do?
It's actually not that simple. I have a hard time seeing what I do. My day job is that I am CEO of AngelList. This is the company that I started almost seven years ago. Now, an angellist is sort of this platform for startups in the tech industry. And we help entrepreneurs raise money. We help entrepreneurs recruit talent into their startups, and we also help people find jobs into startups. And now recently we acquired prototons. So we also help companies launch to customers.
So it's basically a one stop shop for the early stage tech ecosystem, whether you're raising money or you're investing money with the largest online platform for that, whether you're recruiting talent or whether you're being recruited by the largest online platform for startup recruiting and then whether you're looking for a new product to try out or whether you're looking for customers for your product. We're also the largest online platform for launching that. So it's sort of become this bigger thing. And that's sort of my day job.
But I'm also involved in a bunch of other things. I'm an investor personally in about two hundred companies, advisor to a bunch a bunch of boards, occasionally blog and tweet. I'm also a small partner in a cryptocurrency fund because I'm really into these coins, that bitcoin cash and so forth, and I'm always cooking up something. You always have a bunch of side projects that I forget
how you keep track of it all.
Like what is your typical day look like?
Well, that's the good part.
I don't have a typical day, nor do I want a typical day. If there is a typical day, I'm usually inside my office at aAngellist, but I'm basically just operating mostly on email or phone or meetings or or squirrelled up at home. So there are days when I just were completely from home. The day that I don't work, I'm actually even trying to get rid of this concept of having to be specific to the specific time. All I care about is am I doing what I want to do and being productive and am I happy?
And I really want to break away from this idea of 40 hour weeks or 60 hours a week through 80 hour weeks or nine to five or rolls or jobs or identities. It just all feels like a straight jacket.
You're one of the most voracious readers I know. You've called yourself a conscious bookworm and you've read a ton. How did you first get interested in reading?
Reading was my first love. I know that in my childhood, when I was around nine, 10, 11 years old, I was a lasty kid. My mom was working multiple jobs and then she was going to school at night. We were raised by a single mother. My brother and I were in New York City and we were in a part of New York City that isn't very safe. So I basically the library was my was my after school center.
So afraid to come back from school, I just go straight to the library and I just hang out there until they closed and then I'd come home. So that was just my daily routine. But I think even by that point in time, I already loved books. I was reading books, the child. I remember my grandparents house in India. I'd be a little kid on the floor going through all of my grandfather's Reader's Digest, which is just all the to read there.
I mean, now, of course, there's a smorgasbord of information out there. Everybody can read anything all the time, but back then it was much more limited. So I would read comic books that would read Reader's Digest. I would be storybooks, you know, whatever I can get my hands on mysteries. I was big into mysteries. So I think I just always loved to read because I'm actually antisocial, introverted, and I was just lost in the world of words and ideas from an early age.
I think some of it comes from the happy circumstance that when I was young, nobody forced me on what to read. I think there is a tendency among parents and teachers to say, Oh, you should read this, but don't read that. The reality is I can read a lot that by today's standards would be considered mental junk food. But eventually you just get to like reading. You run out of the junk food and then you start eating the healthy food or your tastes kind of gradually.
So I think to some extent that's what happened with me, because I started from comic books and then went from there to mysteries and went from that into fantasy. The sci fi and then from sci fi admitted to science and then mathematics and then philosophy. So it just kind of kept climbing up the stack. But I'm lucky that there was no one around when I was seven years old or six years old saying, oh, you shouldn't read that, you should read this instead.
Is most of what you read today physical or on a computer Kindle
It's mostly Kindle. It's not the Kindle device itself for the iPad and but for books that are really, really like. I will also buy a physical copy. So I have both. So there's no excuse not to read it. A really good book costs 10 or 20 dollars, and you can change your life in a meaningful way, so it's not something I believe in saving money on. And this is even back when I was broke and had no money, I always had books.
I never viewed that as an expense. That's an investment to me. And I probably spend 10 times as much money on books as I actually get to. So in other words, for every two hundred dollars worth of books I buy, actually end up making it to 10 percent. So I'll read twenty dollars worth of books, but it's still absolutely worth it.
You and I have a lot in common.
Yeah. And anything that's one of the greats. Like if I read a book and I know that it's amazing, I'll buy multiple copies pass to give away, partially because I have to provide around the House. And these days I find myself really as much or more as I do because I think this is a tweet from an account on on Twitter that I saw this guy in a service and he basically said, I don't want to read everything. I just want to read the great books over and over again.
And I think there's a lot to that. So it's really more about identifying what are the great books to you because different books speak to different people and then really absorbing those, because I don't know about you, but I don't. I have very poor attention. I have to ask my speed read. I jump around and I could not tell you specific passages or quotes from books, but but at some deep level, you do absorb them, become part of the threads of the tapestry of your psyche.
So they do kind of weave in there.
There are there are books that I'm sure you had this feeling where you pick up a book, you start reading it like, oh, this is pretty interesting, this is pretty good. And you're getting this increasing sense of deja vu.
And then about two thirds are halfway through the book, you realize over this book before. And that's perfectly fine. It means you were ready to reread it.
What are the books are rereading now?
It's a good question. I pull up my Kindle app as we talk, but usually I'm always rereading some books and science. Like I just I read a seven brief lessons in physics that was I mean, I read that one at least twice a reading. Sapiens against the book so much and pretty much all those reading rereading something by either Krishnamurti or Osho. Those were kind of my favorite philosophers. I'm reading a book on Rene Juraj Memetic theory. It's more of an overview book because I couldn't make it to his actual writings.
I'm reading tools for Titan Tools of Titans Temporaries, a summary of what he learned from a lot of performers. I'm rereading stories of your life and others. Ted is one of my favorite sci fi novels. I'm reading a book called Thirlwell in Full Complexity. It's actually by a friend of mine. It's not published yet. I just finished reading dissuasion, I should say. I finished giving dissuasion, Robert Kennedy. And I think I needed to read the entire book to get the point, but it was too good to read it, to read what I did.
I read recently reread The Lessons of History by William Durant. It's a great little book through book. Yeah, I am. I'm currently reading a story of philosophy also by Children Durant. I have a young kid now, so I got a lot of child reading books that I use more as reference materials. Anything else? I recently read some Emerson, Chesterfield, Leo Tolstoy book here. I've got another book of delusion damage. This blog that I used to love.
I have pieces of it up. Alan wants to see Scott Adams. I reread God's Debris recently about a friend of mine is rereading it, so I picked it up again. There's tons. We just go out and buy this book here. There's the undercover economist, the Richard Boksburg and Jed McKenna Books. I was recently trying to reread Moby Dick in Hamlet just to try and get back into fiction, but I didn't make it to either.
What do you set aside time in your day to reread or like to read at all, or is it like a consistent thing or do you fit it in when you have time?
I read what I'm bored of everything else, but the good news is I get bored very easily. So there's always a book to capture the imagination, usually at night time before I go to bed.
But it's not it's not a flawless thing. When I'm on vacation, I'll read. But if I'm sitting in a lift or an Uber I've read sometimes in the morning at home after I worked out, I just read. Sometimes when I wake up, I'll just grab my phone and read it. I just I know that I'm not a very disciplined person, so I don't really set these hard and fast rules for myself because I'm but the good news is I just love to read because I love to read.
I whenever I'm bored, I have time. I just do it. And thanks to the the iPhone and the Kindle and the iPad does make it really easy. Oh, I've got two books here and Feynman perfectly reasonable deviations is by him. And then Genius, which is a book about Feynman. So this is we're talking of flipping. Looking More Evolution of Everything by Matt Ridleys, one of my favorite authors I've read everything is reread everything and says Dale Carnegie in here, the three body problem, man's search for meaning.
There's a lot sex, Don, and a lot of books on
your Kindle. Sounds like my dream.
Well, I'm going through right now, it's hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books are downloaded. It's not even like we could sit here.
The entire podcast
you've said before, you think of books as throwaways. How did you come to think of books like that? And what impact is that had on what you read?
I mean, that's really an impact of the Internet. Once the Internet came along, I think it's destroyed everybody's attention span because now all of humanity works are available at any given time and you would be interrupted constantly.
So just our attention span goes down, our bit of focus goes down, but at the same time, we just become more judicious. We also want we want the meat. And the the problem with books is that to write a book, to publish it, publish a physical dead tree book, just takes a lot of work and effort and money. So sometimes people start putting long wrapping long books around simple ideas. Those are probably my least favorite books, and it's kind of why I avoid the whole business and self-help category, because you generally have one good idea and it's buried in hundreds or thousands of pages and lots of anecdotes.
So what happened was I just noticed that sometime in the late nineties I stopped reading as much as I used to and I started reading more blogs, etc., reading books or blogs and great blogs like Farnam Street, Kevin Semillas Blog, Melting Aspell and so on. You get incredibly smart people justifying, simplifying and and writing these great things, but it's only a page or two or three pages. So I got really into blogs, but then I'd stop reading books and a lot of the oldest wisdom is actually in books and with books.
You're now talking about the combined works of all of humanity as opposed to just who happen to be blogging right now. So I realised I missed that. And then with the Kindle and eBooks coming along, that allowed me to start treating books like I treat blogs, which is when I go to a blog, I'll actually skim through lots of articles until I find one that looks really interesting. I'll read that whole article all the way through it, maybe take notes.
So now I treat books the same way, which is I'll skim through a large number of books, I'll put them down, I'll jump around. Fastforward middle until I find a part that's interesting. Then I'll just consume that piece and I won't feel guilty about having to finish the entire book because there's a view it as a blog archive. Right? It's like a like a blog. Might have three hundred posts on it and you could read just the two, three, five that you need right now.
And I think you can think of a book the same way and that opens the World Wide Web of books back open to us instead of it being buried somewhere. I think like many people, I know of a lot of friends who are currently stuck on a book somewhere. And if you ask people, if they read, everybody says they read, everybody says they're reading a book that can answer which book they're reading. The reality is very few people actually read actually finished books.
And I think and I think that's probably because of all these societal and personal rules that we've put up, like you must finish your book and you must read books that are good for you and you can't read junk food books. And this is a hot book right now and so on. The reality is, I don't actually read that much compared to what people think. Like, I probably read one to two hours a day, which and that puts me in the top one percent.
I think that alone accounts for any material success that I've had in my life and the intelligence that I might have, because real people don't read an hour a day. Real people, I think, read a minute or less. So making it an actual habit is the most important thing. And how you make it and have it doesn't matter. It's very much like exercise or working out do something every day. It almost doesn't matter what you do. So the people who are obsessing over like should I be weight training or should I be doing tennis or should I be doing palletize or should I be doing the high intensity training method versus the happy body, which is whatever.
They're missing the point. The important thing is to do something every day because no matter what it is. So the same way I would argue the important thing is to read every day. And it's not and it doesn't matter. It almost doesn't matter what you read because eventually they'll read enough things and your interest will lead you there that will dramatically improve your life. So just like the best workout for you is the one that you're excited enough to do every day.
The same way I would say the best books to read are the ones that are books or blogs or Twitter or whatever, anything with ideas and information and learning the best ones to read the ones that you're excited about reading all the time,
lists of the people that I know that read quite a bit. They have a reading habit like you. You're described as a very habitual person. Where did that come from?
That might have come from the Temporaries podcast.
I don't think I'm more habitually anybody else. I think. Beings are entirely creatures of habit. Young children are born with no habit loops. They're essentially born as blank slates. And then they habituate themselves to things to learn patterns and they get conditioned and they use that to get through. Everyday life and habits are good. Habits can allow you to background process certain things so that your your neocortex, your for your frontal lobe stays available to solve your problems.
But we also unconsciously pick up habits in the background and we keep them for decades and we may not realize that they're bad for us. So we're ready to move on from them. To some extent. Our attitude in life, our mood, our happiness levels, depression levels, these are also habits. Do we judge people? How often do we eat? What kinds of food do we do? We walk or do we sit? Do we do the exercise?
Do we read? These are habits as well and we absolutely need habits to function. You cannot solve every problem in life as if it's the first time it's thrown at you. But but what we do is we accumulate all these habits. We put them in the bundle of identity Igoe ourselves, and then we get attached to that. I'm saying this is the way I am and of all this is the way I am. And it's really important to be able to unconditioned yourself, to be able to take your habits apart and say, oh, OK, well, that's that's a habit that I probably picked up for when I was a toddler and I was trying to get my parents attention and now just reinforced it and reinforced and reinforced it.
And I call the part of my identity. But is it serving me anymore? Is it making me happier, healthier that they can accomplish whatever I want to set out to accomplish right now?
So I don't think I'm anymore, I would argue, less habitual than most people like. I don't like to structure my day, but to the extent that I do have habits, I'm trying to make them more deliberate rather than the accidents of history.
So what's a habit that you're trying to to change right now? What are you working on?
Well, I did a lot of habit changes in the last few years, so I've now got a daily work that I do, which is a great habit.
I cut down heavily on drinking. It's not fully eliminated, but it's mostly gone. I dropped caffeine. I'm not on the paleo diet, although I like to be. So I'm a variation of it that I call the failure diet, which is I try to be paleo, but I feel constantly. But how to beat myself up over it because I feel that even the proximity to it is better than where I have been historically. So I like that I try to build a meditation habit, but but I feel that I have made a habit of being meditative.
So I've gone through lots of habits. Probably the one that I'm currently would like to cultivate is doing yoga more regularly. But I haven't really I haven't formulate a plan around that. And by the way, I reject a lot of the stuff that's being peddled around today about how you perform and break habits. I know there's this very popular book, one that I even recommended, which talks about the science behind habit. And one of its depressive conclusions, I think, this came out of Stanford was that you can't break habits.
You can only replace them. And that's B.S. I've definitely broken habits completely. And so I think you can unconditioned yourself. You can untrain yourself. It's just hard work. So it just takes work. It takes effort. And usually the big habit changes come when there are strong desire motivators attached to them.
So the yoga one I'm going to work on, I don't yet have a great plan on that one. I haven't tackled that one properly yet. A big habit that I'm working on, which is going to be really hard to explain in any way that any normal human being will understand this. But I'm trying to turn off my monkey mind.
I think we are when we're born as children, we're pretty blank slate. We're living very much in the moment and we're essentially just reacting to our environment, to our instincts, and we're living in what I would call the real world. And then when puberty comes along, it's the onset of desire. It's the first time you really, really want something and you start long range planning for it. And then because of that, you start thinking a lot and you start building an identity, an ego to go and get what you want.
And this is all normal and healthy. It's part of being the human animal. But I think at some point it gets out of control and then we are constantly just talking to ourselves in our heads. We're playing little movies in our heads, walking down the street, but no one's actually there. Now, of course, we started voicing this thought in your head that you're always having you'd be a mad man and they'd lock you up. But the reality is, if you walk down the street and a thousand people in the street, I think all thousand are talking to themselves in their head at any given point.
They're constantly judging everything that they see. They're playing back movies of things that happened to them yesterday. They're living in a fantasy world of what's going to happen tomorrow and they're just pulled out of base reality. And that can be good when they're doing long range planning can be good when you're solving problems. It's good for the survival and replication machine that we are. But I think it's actually very bad for your happiness. And so in my mind. The mind should be a servant or tool master, it's not something that should be controlling me and driving me twenty four seven.
So I've taken on this idea that I want to break the habit of uncontrolled thinking, which is hard, because if I say to you, don't think of a pink elephant, I just put a pink elephant in your head. So it's an almost impossible problem. So it's more something that has to be guided by feel than guided by actual thinking outside process. But I'm deliberately cultivating experiences, states of mind locations, activities that will help me get out of my mind.
And I know all of society does that to some extent, in some sense to the people chasing thrills and action sports or flow states or orgasm or any of these states that people really strive to get to. A lot of these are basically just trying to get out of your own head. They're trying to get away from that voice in your head and this overdeveloped sense of self. At the very least, I do not want my sense of self to continue to develop and become stronger as they get older.
I want it to be weaker and more muted so that I can live much more in present everyday reality and accept nature and the world for what it is and appreciate it very much in childhood, and then not have to seek happiness through external circumstances, chasing to fits of preconceived notion that I have.
Well, there's a lot that I want to ask questions on, is there?
Yeah, that's the tough one. That'll take years. That's not a six month habit, but a 10 year habit.
Do you think there's a difference between turning off or versus suppressing your monkey mind?
Absolutely, yes. Suppression doesn't work because when you try to suppress, that's the mind suppressing the mind. That's just you playing games with yourself. So I think it's I think it's a very hard problem.
And I want to go back to kind of conditioning you. You basically stop drinking alcohol. How did how did you work on deprogramming yourself from the social settings and environments that you're in where alcohol is probably available all the time?
And what benefits have you seen as a result of like are you isolating these habits when you're changing them so, you know, oh, I sleep better because I'm not.
Yeah, the the alcohol one is an interesting case study because the alcohol habit came from two things. One was availability. Just being in situations where alcohol is available and accepted and something you're supposed to do. And then the second is the the desire you want to do it because you're trying to accomplish something else. So when I unpack that, I realize a couple of things. The availability came from I'm just out if I'm out at night in an environment where I'll be served the availability.
So if you want to avoid that, stay in staying. It is not fun. So what do you do? Well, I started this daily workout regimen in the mornings. If you're working out in the mornings and you can't stay up too late at night, he can't stay up too late at night. You can't be drinking too much. You screw up a few times and your morning workout is terrible. You have a headache, you feel bad, you don't feel as and when you're working out every day, you can check point yourself very easily like, oh, well, this exact thing that I do every single morning, it's suddenly harder.
So therefore I'm weakened from the alcohol from last night. So the morning workout checkpoint really helped me understand the consequences of consuming alcohol before. And then the more interesting question is, well, why am I doing it? And that's basically boils down to I was doing it to survive longer and social environment that I wasn't particularly happy in, especially in the STON, my brain into submission. So there are better ways to do that. One of those is only associated with people, but you don't have to drink to be around them.
And that really narrowed my friends circle and narrowed the kinds of events that I go to.
There's a little bit of a substitution effect and some of what the substitution effect was. I was drinking so that I wouldn't be thinking because and so what I went back to is like, well, can I cultivate the states of not thinking too much? And if I can get there another way, then that will take away some of the urge to drink. And then there's some substitution. For example, a switch from hard alcohol to red wine and red wine is inherently self limiting.
You have two cocktails. The next thing you want is not a cocktail. You have two glasses of red wine. At least for me, I usually have a headache, so I'm done. At that point. It's very self limiting. That's some of it is a function of age. I mean, I'm forty three now. I think I can make it through a single glass of wine without having some negative consequence buildup.
So I still, I still drink. I don't, I don't believe in the words like never and always because I think that's, that's a way of limiting yourself and self discipline yourself makes you less free and less happy. It's a level, but I just want to be naturally in a position where I don't need it and I don't desire it. And so that's kind of what I've been working more on.
What habit would you say most positively impacts your life?
I think it's the daily morning workout that has been a complete game changer. It's made me feel healthier, younger. It's made me not go out late. And it came from one simple thing, which is everybody says, I don't have time. Right. Basically, whenever you throw any so-called good habits, somebody they'll have an excuse for themselves. And usually the most common is I don't have time and I don't have time is just another way of saying it's not a priority.
So you really have to do is to say, is it a priority or not? And if something is your number one priority, then you will get it. That's just the way life works. But if you've got a fuzzy basket of ten or fifteen different priorities, you're going to end up getting none of them. So what I did was I basically just said my number one priority in life, above my happiness, above my family, above my work is my own health.
And it starts with my physical health and in sickness, my mental health, and then third as my spiritual health. And then it's my family's health, then it's my family's well-being. And then after that, I can go out, do whatever I need to do the rest of the world. There's a series of concentric circles starting out from me. And so because my physical health became my number one priority, then I could never say I don't have time.
So in the mornings I just work out. And however long it takes is how long it takes. And I do not start my day. And I don't care if the world is imploding and melting down, it can wait another 30 minutes until I'm done working out.
And do you take any breaks from that or is that every day?
It's pretty much every day. There are few days where I've had to take a break because I'm traveling with. Injured or sick or something, but I can count on one hand the number of breaks I take every year.
You mentioned happiness being one of your top priorities. What is happiness to you? What does that mean? What does that word mean? Can you unpack that?
Yeah, it's a very evolving thing. I think, like all the great questions, when you eat, when you're a little kid, you go to your mommy, say, what happens when we die? Is there Santa Claus there? God, should I be happy? Who should carry those kinds of things? There are no glib answers to that because there are no there are no answers that apply to everybody. So these these questions, the search for truth, these kinds of questions, they ultimately do have answers, but they have personal answers.
So the answer that works for me is going to be nonsense to you and vice versa. So whatever happiness means to me, it means something different to you and it means something different to the listener. But I think it's very important to explore what it is. And for some people I know, it's a flow state for some people satisfaction. For some people, it's a feeling of contentment, the best. My definition keeps evolving. So the answer to giving you a year ago would be different than what I tell you now.
But today I believe that happiness is it's really a default state. It was there when you remove the sense that something is missing in your life and we are highly judgmental survival and replication machines, we're constantly walking around thinking, I need this, I need that. Trapped in the web of desires and happiness is that state. When nothing is missing and when nothing is missing, your mind shuts down and your mind stops running into the future or running into the past.
It regrets something or to plan something. And then in that absence for a moment, you have internal silence. And when you have internal silence, then you are content and you're happy. I think people believe mistakenly feel free to speak again. It's different for everybody, but people believe, mistakenly, that happiness is about positive thoughts and positive actions. But the more I read, the more I've learned, the more I've experienced because I verify this for myself.
Every positive thought essentially holds within a negative thought is the contrast to something negative. The data says it's more articulately than I ever could, but it's all it's all duality and polarity. So if I say I'm happy, that means that I was sad at some point. If I say he's attractive, then that means that somebody else is unattractive. So every positive thought even has a seed of a negative thought within it and vice versa. Which is why a lot of greatness in life comes out of suffering.
You have to view the negative before you can aspire to and then appreciate the positive. So all of that said, long winded to me, happiness is not about positive thoughts. It's not about negative thoughts. It's about the absence of desire, especially the absence of desire for external things. And so the fewer desires I can have, the happier I can or more than accept the current state of things, the less my mind is moving because the mind really exists.
Emotion towards the future, the past, the more present I am, the happier and more content I will be. But if I latch onto that, if I say, Oh, I'm happy now and I want to stay happy, then I'm going to drop out of that happiness. Because now suddenly the mind is moving. It's trying to attach to something. It's trying to create a permanent situation out of a temporary situation. So happiness to me is mainly not suffering, not desiring, not thinking too much about the future of the past, really embracing the present moment and the reality of what is the way it is, because nature has no concept of happiness or unhappiness to a tree.
There is no right or wrong. There is no good or bad. Nature follows unbroken mathematical love and a chain of cause and effect from the Big Bang to now. And everything is perfect exactly the way it is only in our particular minds that we're unhappy or not happy and things are perfect or imperfect because of what we desire. But I think I've also come to believe in the complete and utter insignificance of the self. And I think that helps a lot.
Like, for example, if you thought you were the most important thing in the universe, then you have to bend the entire universe to your will, because if you're the most important thing in the universe, then how could it not conform to your desires? And if it doesn't conform to your desires, something's wrong. However, if you view yourself as bacteria, a. an amoeba or if you view all of your works as riding on water or building cattle and fed, that you have no expectation from how life should actually be.
Life is just the way it is. And then you sort of accept that and you have no cause to be happy or unhappy because things almost don't apply. And what you're left with in that neutral state is not neutrality. I think people think, oh, that would be a very bland existence. No, this is the existence of little children live. And if you look at little children, on balance, they're generally pretty happy because they're really immersed into the environment at the moment without any thought of how it should be.
Given their personal preferences and desires, so I think the neutral state is actually a perfections state and one can be very happy as long as one isn't too caught up in their own heads.
What is your internal monologue go like when you find yourself trying to attach to something by default?
Yeah, I try to keep an eye on my internal monologue. It doesn't always work, but in the in the computer programming sense, I try to run my brain and debugging mode as much as possible. And when I'm talking to someone like I'm talking to you right now or when I'm engaged in a group activity, it's almost impossible because your brain has too many things to handle. But if I'm by myself, like just this morning, know, I'm brushing my teeth and starts thinking forward to the podcast and I started going to a little fantasy or imagine you asking me a bunch of questions and I was fantasy answering them.
And then I caught myself. I put my brain in debug mode and just watch every little instruction go by. And I said, why am I fantasy future planning? I can just stand here and brush my teeth. Right? And it's just just the awareness that my brain was running off in the future and planning some fantasy scenario out of ego that that I was like, well, do I really care if I embarrass myself? A chance podcast? Who cares?
I'm going to die anyway.
This is a zero and I don't remember anything is pointless. So at that point, I shut down, I went back to brushing my teeth and then I was noticing how great the toothbrush was and how good it felt. And then next moment I'm off to something else. And then I have that look at my brain. I can't say do I really need to solve this problem right now? And the reality is that ninety five percent of what my brain runs off and tries to do, I don't need to tackle at that exact moment.
In fact, if it's like a muscle, then I'll be better off resting it being at peace, and then when the particular problem arises, immersed myself in it. So what I would rather dedicate myself to is, for example, right now, as we're talking to, be completely lost in the conversation and to be one hundred percent focused on this as opposed to thinking about, oh, when I brush my teeth, I do it the right way or planning something else in my mind.
So I think the ability to singularly focus is related to the ability to lose yourself and be present happy and actually, ironically, more effective.
That's fascinating. It's almost like a relativity issue where you're taking yourself out of a certain frame and you're just moving over to another frame and watching things from a different perspective, even if you're in your own mind.
Yeah, I think a lot of the Buddhists talk about is awareness versus the ego. What they're really talking about is you can you can think of your brain, your consciousness as a multilayered mechanism. And there's kind of a core base colonel level OS that's running. And then there's applications that are running on top. And I like to think of it as a computer geek speak. I'm actually going back to my awareness level OS, which is all is calm, all is peaceful and generally happy and content.
And I'm trying to stay in that mode and not activate the monkey mind, which is always worried and frightened and anxious, but serves incredible purpose. But I'm trying not to activate that program until I need it, because when I need it, I want to just focus on that program. But if I'm running it twenty four, seven all the time and wasting energy and it's just it becomes me and I am more than that. Right. I think another thing that spirituality or religion or Buddhism or any any, anything you follow will teach you over time is that you are more than just your mind, you are more than just your habits.
You're more than just your preferences, your level of awareness, your body and modern humans. We don't live enough in our body. We don't live enough in our awareness. We live too much in this internal monologue in our heads up. All of which, by the way, is just programmed into you by society and by and by the environment from when you were younger. You're basically a bunch of hardware DNA written that then reacted to environmental effects when you were younger.
Then you recorded the things that were good and bad. We use that to prejudge everything to be thrown against you, and then you're using that to constantly trying to predict and change the future. But as you get older, older, the some of these preferences that you've accumulated is very, very large. And some of these reactions, habitual reactions that you do, that it's very, very large, and then they end up as a runaway freight trains that control your mood.
Well, we should control our own moods. Why don't we study how to control our moods? What a masterful thing that would be if you could say, well, right now I would like to be in the curious state and then you can genuinely set yourself into the curious state or you say, I want to be in a morning state. I'm mourning a loved one and I want to grieve for them. But I really want to grieve. I really want to feel that I want to be distracted right now by my computer programming problem that's due tomorrow.
So I think that the mind itself is a muscle and it can be trained and it can be conditioned. It has just been haphazardly conditioned by society out of our control. And if you. Look at it with awareness and intent, and it's twenty four seven job you're looking at every moment of every day, I think you can unpack your own mind and your emotions and your thoughts and your reactions are reconfiguring. You can start rewriting this program to what you want.
You mentioned before and one of your interviews that you have foundational values, but you didn't elaborate. And so I'm curious, what are those?
Yeah, it's a good question. I've never actually listed them or articulated them, but I would define values, first of all, as a set of things that you will not compromise upon.
So foundational values to me are things that I've looked at very, very carefully about myself. And I deliberately chose them and said, you know what, this is a habit. This is a way of life and I'm not going to compromise. I'm going to stay this way forever. I just don't want to live life any other way. And I've never fully enumerated them, but examples of them. I think honesty is a core core core value to be.
To give you examples of what I mean by honesty is I want to be able to just be me. I don't want to I never want to be in an environment around people where I have to watch what I say, because if I disconnect what I'm thinking from what I'm saying, that creates multiple threads in my mind. That means that I'm no longer in the moment. That means that I now have to work future planning or past regretting every time I'm talking to somebody.
So anyone around whom I can't be fully honest, I don't want to be around. Another example of foundational value is I don't believe in any short term thinking or dealing. So if I see anybody who's even around me, like, let's say I'm doing business with somebody and they think in a short term manner with somebody else, then I don't want to do business with that person anymore because I think all the benefits in life come from compound interest, whether in money or in relationships or love or health or activities or habits.
So I only want to be around people that I know I'm going to be around with for the rest of my life. And I only want to work on things that I know have long term payout. Another one is like I only believe in peer relationships. I don't believe in a hierarchical relationship. So I don't want to be above anybody and then want to be below anybody. If I can't treat someone like a peer and if they can treat me like a peer, then we have, then I just don't want to interact with a human.
Another one is I don't believe in anger anymore. I mean, that was something that was good when I was young and full of testosterone. But now I was like the Buddha, the saying that anger is a hot cool, that you hold your hand while waiting to throw it at somebody. So I don't want to be angry and I want to be around angry people. So I just cut them out of my life and I'm not judging them. I mean, I went through a lot of anger, too, and so they have to work through it on their own, but they'll be angry at someone else somewhere else.
So know if that honestly falls into the classical definition of value. But it's a set of things that I won't compromise on and that I just live my entire life by.
And I think everybody has values and a lot of finding great relationships, great coworkers, great lovers, wives, husbands. Is finding other people with your values just line up and then the little things don't matter. Generally, I find that if people are fighting or quarrelling about something, it's because their values don't line up, their values lined up, the little things wouldn't matter.
How is radical honesty? Look at how radical is your honesty and how is that kind of impacted your life?
I mean, it's pretty OK. I'm not like I think Ray D'Alessio from Bridgewater is famous, to be radically honest. So I'm not going to go and call somebody ugly to their face. Like I'm trying to make a big show of it. I'm not trying to say, hey, I'm so honest and I'm going to shock you. What radical honesty just means that I want to be free. Part of being free means that I can say what I think and think what I say.
They're highly congruent and integrated. And it also means Richard Feynman famously said, you should never, ever fool anybody and you are the easiest person to fool. So the moment you tell somebody else something that's not honest, you've lied to yourself and then you start believing your own lie and then that will be disconnected from reality and take you down the wrong road. So it's really important for me, to be honest, but I don't go out of my way volunteering negative or nasty things.
I would combine radical honesty with an old rule that Warren Buffett has, which is pretty specifically criticized generally. And I try to follow this. I don't always follow it, but I think I follow it enough that it makes a difference in my life, which is if you have a criticism of someone, then don't criticize the person, criticize the general approach or criticize kind of that class of activities. But if you have to praise somebody, then always try and find the person who best who's the best example of what you're praising and then praise that person specifically.
And that way, people's egos and identities, which we all have, don't work against you. They work for you.
Have your values changed at all or have you given more thought to them since becoming married and becoming a parent? I mean, how is that changed you?
Values, almost by definition, don't change that much over time, but they take some it takes some time for you to figure out your own foundational values. I think everybody has them.
It's just that maybe we're not that aware of them until later. And so it might have changed a little bit, but not a lot. I mean, my wife is an incredibly loving, family oriented person and so am I. And so that was one of the foundational values that brought us together.
The moment you have a child, it's this really weird thing, but it's sort of it answers the built in meaning of life, purpose of life question. All of a sudden, the most important thing in the universe moves from being in your body and to being moving into the child's body so that that changes you and your values inherently become a lot less selfish. I would say that probably the biggest such change was when I was younger. I really, really, really valued freedom.
Freedom was one of my core core values and ironically, it still is. It's probably one of my top three values, but it's a different definition of freedom that my my old definition was freedom to freedom to do anything I want, freedom to do whatever I feel like, whenever I feel like. And now I would say that the freedom that I'm looking for is internal freedom. So it's freedom from its freedom, from reaction. It's freedom from feeling angry.
It's freedom from being sad. It's freedom from being forced to do things. But I'm looking for freedom from internally and externally, whereas before I was looking for freedom too
I like that a lot. What's the biggest mistake you've ever made in your life and how did you recover?
I've made a class of mistakes that I would summarize in the same way, and I made this class and mistakes. And it was obvious to me that these mistakes were only in hindsight the one exercise, which is you probably heard the when you're 30. What advice would you give your 20 year old self? And when you're 40? What advice would you give your 20 or 30 year old self? So if you do that exercise decade by decade or maybe younger, you can do it in five, really sit down and say, OK, thousand seven.
What was I doing? How was I feeling? Twenty eight. What was I doing that was two thousand nine or they're doing how they're feeling and at least for me that's remarkable. Consistency emerged and that consistency was that everything that I was doing I should have still done, but with less emotion and especially less anger because they used to be very angry when I was younger, but especially less emotion. Life is going to play out the way it's going to play out.
Some good, some bad. But most of it is actually just up to your interpretation. And you're born, you have a set of sensory experiences, then you die. And how you choose to interpret those sensory inputs is up to you in different people to interpret them in different ways. But really, I wish I had done all of the same things, but with less emotion and less anger. Like the most celebrated example would be when I was younger, I started a company and the company did well, but I didn't do well.
I sued some of the people involved and it was a good outcome for me at the end and everything worked out OK. But there was a lot of angst and a lot of anger. And really today what I would do is I wouldn't go down the angst and the anger. I would have just walked up to the people and said, look, this is what happened, is I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it. This is what's fair.
This is not what I would have realized, that the anger and the emotion themselves of this huge consequence is completely unnecessary. So now I'm just trying to learn from that and to do the same things that I think are the right thing to do, but to do them without anger and to do them with a very long term point of view. So I think if you take a very long term point of view and if you take the emotion out of it, then I would consider those things mistakes anymore.
More than that, I mean that there is a you know, the perspective I like to adopt is that everything that I did and everything that was done to me and there's some impossible to separate combination brought me to this exact moment here today talking to you.
And this is a good moment.
So for whatever reason, for whatever set of circumstances conspired to bring us here, we're good because here I
was there a moment you would say when you realized that you could control how you interpret it.
I mean, I think one of the problems that a lot of people have is they don't recognize that they can control, not what happens to them, but how they respond and how they interpret a situation.
I think everyone knows it's possible and the reason they know it's possible is it is a great lecture that he calls the title the attraction of drugs is spiritual. And he talks about why do people do drugs, everything from alcohol, psychedelics to cannabis, you name it.
And they're doing it to control their mental state and they're doing it to control how they react. And sometimes it's worse and sometimes it's better. But some people drink because then they don't care as much or they they're potheads because they can zone out or they do psychedelics so they can feel very present or connected to nature, what have you. But the attraction of drugs is spiritual. So to some extent we already know that we can control our internal state.
We just need external bioactive substances to do it. And now there are a lot more techniques that are out there in the public domain. Many have been dug up from other times, but these range from cognitive therapy and behavioral psychology to meditation to taking long walks in nature. You can control your mental state. It's just we're used to doing it by hacking our external circumstances to then come back around and control our mental state. And for example, sitting on a on a there's a famous line that says that all of man's problems arise because you can't sit by himself in a room for 30 minutes to get into.
Yeah, exactly. So if a if a man or a woman can sit by themselves on a cushion for 30 minutes and it's hard, it's really hard to do. That's meditation you are essentially struggling with and controlling your internal state. And the first thing the first thing to realize is that you can actually observe your mental state. So just the the advantage of meditation is not that you're certainly going to gain super power to control your internal state. It's that you will recognize just how out of control your mind is.
It is like a monkey flinging feces that's running around the room, making trouble, shouting, breaking things. It's completely uncontrollable. It's an of control mad person. And you have to see this mad creature in operation before you feel a certain distaste towards it and you start separating yourself from it. And in that separation is liberation when you realize that, oh, I don't want to be that person, why am I so out of control? Just that awareness alone calms you down.
So there are there are many techniques. One can use another one, for example, that I think a lot of smart people say is if you're aiming at something or if you get an unhappy email and you want to respond, don't respond for twenty four hours. What does that do? It just you calm down, the emotions subside, the hormones go down, and your mental state, a better mental state twenty four hours later. So I think people already know this, but we just don't act on it because socially we're not conditioned to act socially.
We're told, go work out, go look good because that's a multiplayer competitive game. Other people can see if I'm doing a good job or not or we're told, go make money, go buy a big house again, external multiplayer, competitive game. But when it comes to learn to be happy, train yourself to be happy, completely internal. No external progress, no external validation. One hundred percent. You're competing against yourself, a single player game.
And we're such social creatures, we're more like bees or ants that we're externally programmed and driven, that we just don't know how to play and win at the single player games anymore. We compete purely on multiplayer games, but the reality is life is a single player game. You're born alone, you die alone. All the interpretations are alone, all your memories are alone, and you're gone three generations. Nobody cares before you showed up. Nobody cares.
It's all single player.
I think Buffett is a great example of that when he gives the Do you want to be the world's best lover and known as the worst or the world's worst lover and known as the best in reference to an inner or external scorecard?
Exactly right. I mean, all of your scorecards are internal. And the sad thing is we sit there like jealousy. Jealousy was a very hard emotion for me to overcome. When I was young, I had a lot of jealousy, envy, and by and by I learned to get rid of it. And it still crops up every now and then. But it's such a poisonous emotion because at the end of the day, you're no better off. You're unhappy and the person you're jealous of is still stressful or good looking or whatever they are.
But the real breakthrough was for me was when I realized at a personal, fundamental level, I mean, the problem with these kinds of podcasts is I can give glib answers all day long, but you have to discover your own personal answer because your personal answers will be different than mine. I'll speak to you. But the one that I discovered that spoke to me was the day I realized that all these people that I was jealous of, I couldn't just cherry pick and choose the little aspects of their life.
I couldn't say I want his body. I want her money on his personality. You have to be that person. Do you want to actually be that person with all of their reactions, their desires, their family, their happiness level, their outlook of life, their self image. And if you're not willing to do a whole. Twenty four seven hundred percent swapped with who that person is. There's no point in being jealous. And so look at it.
Once I came to that realization, jealousy sort of faded away because I don't want to be anybody else. I'm perfectly happy to me. And by the way, even that is under my control to be happy. It's just that no social rewards for it.
But there's a lot of internal rewards.
Yeah, it's almost anti-social rewards because when you're when you're working on your inner stuff, people don't love that. It's that they don't dislike it. Your friends, of course, support you, but they're not getting anything out of it.
And even when I look at my own peer group and to the extent that they're working on themselves and everyone in their 40s at some level is most ever engaged in group activities, hey, let's do a group meditation. This group that started this group lecture. And I keep coming back to this one line that I read, everything I just read, but which was said, only the individual Transend. Nobody reaches enlightenment or or or internal happiness or does serious internal work in group settings.
It is a very lonely kind of task. So to some extent, I think that people who are consciously looking for social affirmation in their internal work aren't that serious about it. And it's fine. I'm not judging, but they're craving more social interaction than they're really craving internal work.
What big ideas, have you made change your mind on in the last few years?
There's a lot on kind of a life level. There's a couple obviously in the business level.
I think on a more practical basis, I've just stopped believing in macroeconomics that I studied.
I studied economics in school and computer science and the time when I thought I was going to go be a PhD in economics and all that. But the further I get, the more I read macroeconomics, the combination of voodoo complex systems and politics. And you can find macroeconomists to take every side of every argument. So I think that discipline, because it doesn't make falsifiable predictions, which is the hallmark of science, because it doesn't make falsifiable predictions, is become corrupted because you never have the counterexample on the economy.
You can never take the US economy and run two different experiments at the same time. And because there's so much data, people kind of cherry pick for whatever political narrative they're trying to push. So to the extent that people spend all their time watching the macro economy or the Fed forecasts or which way the stocks are going to go to next year and a good year, a bad year, that's all junk. It's no better than astrology. In fact, it's probably even worse because less entertaining is more stress inducing.
So I just think of macroeconomics not as junk science or politics. The macro economists that said microeconomics and game theory are fundamental. I don't think you can be successful in business or even navigating through most of our modern capitalist society without an extremely good understanding of supply and demand and labour versus capital and game theory and tit for tat and those kinds of things. So macroeconomics is a religion that I gave up, but there are many others. I mean, I've changed my mind on death, on the nature of life and the purpose of life on marriage is the reason that someone would want to be married and have kids.
So there have been a lot of fundamental changes. But the most practical one is I gave up macro and embraced micro. And I would say that's just not true in macroeconomics. That's true in everything. I don't believe in macro environmentalism. I believe in micro environmental. I don't believe in macro charity. I believe in micro charity. I don't believe in macro improving the world. Like there's a lot of people out there who get really fired up about climate change, the world of a change.
This person would change the way people think. I think about micro. If they change yourself, then maybe change your family, your neighbor, before you get into abstract concepts about how to change the world
What part of your your base knowledge that you have today that you believe do you consider the least solid or most likely to change over the coming years?
Good question. I mean, I try not to have too much that I've decided upon, I think that creating identities and labels locks you in and keeps you from seeing the truth.
So I used to identify as a libertarian, but then I have to find myself defending positions that I hadn't really thought through just because they're part of the libertarian canon. The reality is that if all of your beliefs line up into neat little bundles, you should be highly suspicious because they're prepackaged and put together. So I don't like the self identify almost any level anymore that keeps me from having too many of these so-called stable beliefs. So it's hard for me to point to something that I think is shaky because if I thought it was really shaky, then I wouldn't I wouldn't stand on it.
I guess the areas where I'm becoming less certain is kind of all the I call it the grand category of how should we organize society beliefs everybody has. Some people think we should be communists. Some people are capitalists of anarchists. Some say we need a larger welfare state. We need universal health care and basic income. And others say, no, we need it all. I think that entire class of belief, that unfalsifiable based, almost religious, there are things that people got into when they were young.
Nobody actually knows which system is the better one. Nobody actually knows which one maximize happiness versus output, which is whatever. I know there's a lot of smart economists and people studying it, that a lot of good data science. But at the end of the day, I just the more I look into it, the more I come away saying, well, maybe I don't know how best to organize society. Maybe society should not have just one organization, but should have multiple organizations.
So you can choose and you can go into whichever society where you are most bound to thrive. But I don't think there is a single right answer for human culture of society anymore, except to the extent that given the increasingly destructive power of technology along that timescale, a longer time scale to put a nuclear weapon on a longer timescale, you can create a singularity in your backyard as part of your high school physics project. So I think of the human race.
We do have to sort of get past this idea that we're separate organisms and kind of almost get some kind of a multicellular organism situation other way to just destroy ourselves. It'll just be too easy to blow ourselves up. And that obviously runs very, very counter to my libertarian instincts that everyone should be free and whatever they want, etc. So I just don't know how to organize society anymore. And I think any beliefs that I have, any remnant beliefs that I have from being younger about the optimal way to organize society are probably wrong.
And the future thriving society that we end up with maybe a thousand years from now will probably look like something that I would argue very strongly against today, because they will have no room for the individual.
Maybe you can explain for listeners the singularity and kind of what your thoughts are around the singularity.
Is this idea that technological change accelerating and at some point the acceleration gets so great that there's massive change in our lifetimes. We create things like, general, I start living forever. And just the nature of who we are as humans changes the consequence of that. It's most associated with the general. If we could produce a general purpose, artificial intelligence, that artificial intelligence could then hack its own code, make itself smarter. And out of all this, the point where we are either obsolete or immortal or something in between my thoughts on it, I think it's fanciful, to say the least.
Nick Bostrom wrote a very famous book called Superintelligence, which lays out the past that there are good rebuttals. Superintelligence. I wouldn't just read that book breathless and wide eyed and believe everything. And there are people like the Singularity Institute who are looking forward to this coming that I think is a religion for nerds. You know, it's got all the same characteristics as unfalsifiable. Until that happens. It basically says the chosen ones will be saved. The world is going to end.
We will be immortal. It's very hard to tell. Exactly. It's very hard to tell apart from a biblical kind of story. And I find the people who are pushing it the most or what I would call sort of armchair technologists, like they might understand a little bit of science, but these are not the PhDs in physics who are pushing this. It's not like the Fields medal winning mathematicians pushing this. You know, I was trained and a little bit of science and I consider myself an amateur scientist.
And I know just enough to know how little we know. Physics still can't solve the three body problem collide. Three billiard balls together can't tell you what happens. We cannot properly model complex systems. We can't tell the weather next week. We still can't solve the vast majority of chronic diseases. We're just starting to connect the gut and the brain and back. In our system together, there is so much complexity in nature and humans have just begun to scratch the surface, that to believe that we are going to sort of go into this world of perfection through technology, I think it's far fetched.
I was talking about none of these people have written real code. We are no closer to creating a general. I think that we were 20 years ago. Now, there are actual huge advances that have been made specific. But these are data processing problems. Basically, if I dump huge amounts of real world images into a neural network, then I can do better image recognition. No question that is real. That is a data driven solution. But the algorithms haven't gotten any better.
And a structure of how the human brain works and how the human body works is still so far advanced beyond our machine capabilities that certainly they're going to singularity. It's not going to happen in my lifetime. And I think in that sense, some things like the singularity are pernicious. They're pernicious for the same reason that the afterlife is pernicious, because it takes you out of the moment. It gives you hope for the future to stop living for today and you start over tomorrow.
And I know that doesn't sound like much, but it's actually a big deal at any given time when you're walking down a street, a very small percentage, your brain is focused on the present. The rest is future planning or regret in the past. And that's keeping you from an incredible experience. It's keeping you from seeing the beauty in everything and being grateful for where you are. And I think it can literally destroy your happiness that you spend all your time living in delusions of the future.
So I do think the singularity thing is good in the sense that it pushes forward technological advancement. We put more resources on it. We spend more time develop some of the great things that the human race so the great technologies are going to take advantage of. So in that sense, it pushes science forward as a good thing. But I think it's delusional to think that you're somehow going to be saved before you die by some combination of A.I. and magic science.
You just have to live the life you have.
And that's pretty profound. Even when you're living backwards, you're not really living right. You kind of have to be in the moment to have any thought.
There is nothing. There is actually nothing. But this moment, no one has ever gone back in time and no one has ever been able to predict the future successfully in any way that matters. And so literally, the only thing that exists is this exact point where you are in space at that exact time that you happen to be. And it's like all the great profound truths. It's all paradoxes. So any two points are infinitely different. Any moment is perfectly unique.
But that moment itself slips by so quickly that you can't grab it.
What's your opinion on the current education system? When I ask people on Twitter what they wanted to ask you, this question came up a couple of times, which was how would you fix it? What's your opinion on the education system and what are your thoughts around that?
I think there's no question it's completely obsolete. The education system is a path dependent outcome from the need for daycare, from the need for prisons, for college age males who would otherwise overrun society and cause a lot of havoc.
The original medieval universities had guard towers that faced inwards, for example, because you you have to put a curfew in.
They need to lock up the young 18 year old males before they go out with swords, daggers and create trouble.
So call a college and schools. And the way we think about they come from a time period when books were rare, knowledge was rare, babysitting was a rare, crime was common, violence was prevalent.
There was no such as self guided learning. So I think schools are just byproducts of these kinds of institutions. And now we have the Internet, which is the greatest level of knowledge ever created, completely interconnected. So it's very, very easy to learn if you actually have the desire to learn everything is on the Internet. You can go on Khan Academy, you can get MIT and Yale lectures online. You can get all the coursework and get interactivity. You can read blogs by brilliant people.
You can read all these great books. So it's the ability to learn, the means of learning. The tools of learning are abundant and infinite. It's a desire to learn that's incredibly scarce. So I don't I just don't think that schools matter for self-motivated students. But the schools matter for is one of the keep the kids out of the parents here while the parents go to work. It creates socialization because kids want to be around their peers and they want to learn how to operate society of their peers.
But I think if it's purely learning, you're after that learning can be done much more either on your own or through the Internet or by uniting through the Internet with Like-Minded Groups. So I think that's one problem with the current educational system. The second problem is what do you choose to learn? And the current educational system has to have a one size fits all model has to say, well, you have to learn X now and then you have to learn why and to give you examples of what is obsolete memorization.
Day and age of Google and smartphones, memorization is obsolete. Why should you be memorizing the Battle of Trafalgar? Why you should be memorizing what the capital of this or that state is. But we still put undue weight on that because that's the way it's always been done and we lived in a regular world. Another example is how when we're moving along at a certain pace, I'm sure not everyone, but sure 90 percent of your listeners have had this happen to them, which is they were learning mathematics.
And at some point they were they were keeping up. They were doing arithmetic and they were doing geometry. They did commentary. They precalc the count. And somewhere in there, they got lost somewhere in there while building the massive edifice, logical structure that mathematics is, they missed one lesson. They missed one concept that missed five classes or they just didn't just their brain couldn't think a certain way that something was being explained to them. It should have been explained visually, but it was being explained numerically or should have been explicit symbolically and it was being explained in cartography, what have you.
But we're not able to keep up in the moment. You lose that rung in mathematics, you missed that rung of the ladder. You can't go to the next one because the next one is like, OK, we're done with Precalculus. Now we're moving on to calculus. You're saying, wait, I don't understand praetorius. And I understand how precalculus leads from trigonometry to calculus and missed that whole part. So now I get the calculus. You don't understand the fundamentals and now you reduced of memorization.
So like, OK, why would I see that simple? I do this. But now you've lost the actual learning. You've lost the connection to the underlying principles. So I think learning should be about learning the basics in all the fields and learning them really well over and over, because life is mostly about applying the basics and only doing the advanced stuff in the things that you truly love and where you understand the basics inside out. But that's not how our system is built.
We teach all these kids calculus and they walk out not understanding calculus at all, when really they would have been better off of just doing arithmetic and basic computer programming the entire time. So I think there's a there's a of learning issue and then there's finally a lot to learn and there's a whole set of things we don't even bother trying to teach. We don't teach nutrition. We don't teach cooking. We don't teach how to be happy, positive relationships.
We don't teach how to keep your body healthy and fit. We just say sports. We don't teach happiness. We don't teach meditation. Maybe we shouldn't teach some of these things. Different kids will have different aptitudes, but maybe we should. Maybe we should teach practical construction of technology and and maybe everyone in the science project, instead of building a little chemistry volcano, maybe we should be building a smartphone. So we just haven't kept up. And I have to believe that we can change the system, but we're not.
But you never you never change a system by taking the existing thing and reworking it. I don't believe I've been a Silicon Valley tech business long enough to know that you're better off changing it just by creating something brand new. So one fantasy idea I've had is after I'm done with Angel List, if I have more time on my hands, I would like to create a successor to the One Laptop project that MIT Nicholas Negroponte had the One Laptop per Child project.
But then I saw this fascinating write up. This is a really long time ago, maybe five years ago. Maybe this is The Economist or somewhere. It was a story about how they left a box full of unopened Android tablets in a little village in Pakistan. And when they came back months later, the kids have opened the box. They've all figured out how to put it. The tablets, they're hack them. They've gotten past the user administration log in.
They've installed a whole bunch of apps. They've got a little economy set up. The older kids are teaching the younger kids, the teaching their grandmothers how to run businesses. They're surfing the web. They've taught themselves English. Kids are learning machines. They just need the tools. So to that end, what I would like to do is create a very low cost, very rugged, easily powered, cheap Android tablet that's hard to destroy and basically distribute them around the world, the pre-built learning applications so that you can literally fire one up and it works with you interactively in thirty seconds.
It figures out what language do you speak, if any, speed symbolic and what level of aptitude are you? Are you a second grader, third grade fifth grader? And of course, it varies by different discipline. And they let you dive into and let you learn anything you want that will make your life better. Just going by. Just by responding to. Exactly. And it always keeps you on the edge and it always keeps pushing you. And then you can network in all the teachers of the world.
So anyone who wants to be a teacher can contribute. And that's a Salman Khan Academy. But essentially you could network, connect all the teachers of the world and all the students of the world using tablets and do it at a pace and level with essentially customized for each child. And they're learning the things that have a practical outcome in. I know that the of liberal arts education is pushing things that people aren't going to really want to learn on their own, but they have to have some desire for it.
It's better to wait until they're think already and then give it all to them, because I think that's the way that learning sticks. So that's the kind of project I like to work on. But I don't I don't think it's solvable with the current school system.
I hope you get a chance to work on that. I think that would be a phenomenal impact to the world.
Yeah, I think I think it'll be fun. And I'm thinking about this now more because I have a young infant son and honestly, I don't want to send him to school.
How do you as an adult, I mean, you mentioned a couple of physics books in the start of the interview here. How do you as an adult go about learning new subjects? You specifically
yeah, mostly I just stay on the basics. So even when I'm learning physics or science, I'm sticking to the basics. So I'll read concepts for fun, but I'm more likely to do something that arithmetic than calculus. I'm not going to be a great physicist at this point, maybe in the next lifetime or my kid will do it.
But it's too late for me. So I have to stick to what I enjoy. And what I love about science is mathematics is the language of nature sciences. To me, the study of truth. It is the only true discipline because it makes falsifiable predictions, actually changes the world and applied science becomes technology. And technology is what separates us from the animals and allows us to have things like cell phones and houses and cars and heat and electricity. So science to me, the study of truth and mathematics is the language of science and nature.
So in that sense, I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual. And to me, that is the most devotional thing that I could do to study the laws of the universe. And so the same kick that some guy might get out of being in Mecca and Medina and bowing to the prophet, I get that same feeling of awe and that same small sense of self when I study science. So for me, it's it's it's unparalleled. And I'd rather stay at the basics and start at and this is the beauty of reading.
It's a one thing I don't like to do. But when I do my books on the Kindle, I skip two thirds of them. And the reason I skip two thirds of them is because they're kind of embarrassing. They don't sound like good books to read. They'll sound like trivial or silly or whatever. But who cares? I mean, I don't have to tell everybody everything I read. I read all kinds of stuff that other people consider junk or even reprehensible.
I read all kinds of stuff that I disagree with because of mindbender. Yeah, I found myself and some random dark hole in Twitter the other day where I was reading this guy's tweets like, wow, he's really smart and really interesting, very clever. Like, wait a minute, this guy is a full blown white supremacist. I mean, he's not even like mildly a white supremacist. He just thinks like everyone in the white race should be gone and people like me shouldn't be allowed on the streets.
But it was still fascinating and he's still really smart. And I kept reading it and I read it and read it. Read it. After a while, I built up my own sense of his coherent view of the world and where he was coming from. But to do that, I could have judged too much. And I'm certainly not going to go around bragging to my friend, hey, I learned this from a white supremacist the other day. Right?
So to some level, you almost have to read the stuff you're reading because you're into it and that's it. You don't need any other reason. There's no there's no mission accomplished if you just read because you enjoy it.
If you read what everybody else is reading, I mean, there's wisdom that you're going to think what everybody else is thinking. So you need the diversity and almost like an index fund approach where you're going to catch the winners, but you can't really identify a lot of them beforehand that they're going to change you as a person because so much of that is contextual.
Yeah, I think almost everything that people read these days, it's designed for social approval. All the best sellers are about social approval, social conditioning, if you really want to, to be successful, happy, blah, blah, blah, all those external metrics, you're looking for a non average outcome. And so you can't be reading the average thing to your point. And all these things are actually as old as the hills. You can go read Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations.
You can read Benjamin Franklin and his aphorisms understand how to live your life. You could read Charlie Munger, you could read you could read Charles Darwin and understand evolution of the source. You could read Watson and Crick understand the structure of double helix and DNA. But instead, what we choose to read are just whatever is number one at the airport bestseller or whatever our friends are reading or we read. I know people who have read a hundred regurgitated books on evolution and they've never read Darwin or they read they've got or think of the number of macroeconomist out there.
I think most of them who have read tons of treatises in economics but haven't read any atomistic.
So at some level you're doing it for social approval, you're doing it to fit in with the other monkeys. You're fitting to get along with a herd. But that's not where the returns are in the returns in life are being out of the social approval inside, inside the home. So if you want social approval, definitely go read what the herd is reading, but it takes a level of contrarianism and say, no, I'm just going to do my own thing regardless of the social outcome to learn anything.
I think that's interesting.
Do you think there's some sort of loss aversion there? Because once you diverge, you're pushing out, say there's a Gaussian distribution, you're pushing it to one of the tables. And if you feel that you're going to lose out on that, you'd rather just stay in the middle. If there's a chance that you're not going to be in the in the fat tail for a positive.
I think that's what the smartest and most successful people I know started out as losers. If you view yourself as a loser, as someone who's been cast out by society and has no role in of society, then you will do your own thing and you're much more likely to find a winning path. So it helps as a start up by saying, I'm never going to be popular, I've never really accepted, I'm already a loser. I'm not going to get.
But all the other kids have got to be happy.
Yeah, I think that's true. When you're reading, do you just read and it sticks in your head or is it more like you take notes, you have a system for how you keep track of that or review them?
I'm both lazy and I'm really focused on being present. So I think taking notes is the same as taking photos when you're on a trip was doing is taking you out of the moment and then who really sits there years later and goes back and looks at all their photos and gets nostalgic. Just go take your next trip. So I just don't believe in anything from the past. Anything, no memory, no regrets, no people, no trips, nothing.
Because a lot of our unhappiness also comes from comparing things from the past to the present. First time you saw a sunset, it was amazing. It was jaw dropping. You forgot yourself the second time you saw it as cool. One time you say it's nothing. The thousandth time you're saying if someone shows you a sunset, you're like, well, actually, I saw this one sunset in Mexico this time. That was really cool. You're not even there.
So I just don't believe in clinging too much to memories. And that includes in reading. So I do highlight I catch myself doing that, but I do it more because it just kind of a way of rereading and rereading that particular paragraph at that moment in time. And then once in a blue moon for my especially favorite books, I want to reread the book, but I'll be short of time. So I just read the highlighted passages until something catches my eye and I get sucked back into the book.
But the reality is I could stop highlighting tomorrow and it would make no difference. And note taking is even, I think, harder than that. So I do not take notes, but everyone's brain works differently now. Some people love to take notes. Actually, my note taking is Twitter. So what I do is a reading will read and if I have some fundamental insight or concept, then what I like about Twitter is it forces me to distill that into 140 characters and then I try and put it out there as an aphorism and then I get attacked by all kinds of random people and the point of all kinds of obvious exceptions and jump down my throat like, why do I do this again?
You have one of the most thoughtful Twitter feeds that I know of.
So I don't know. I hope nobody jumps down your throat
When you first pick up a book, are you skimming for something interesting? Like how do you go about reading it or do you just flip to a random page and start reading or what's your process for that?
Yeah, I'll start at the beginning, but I'll move fast. So if it's not interesting, I just started looking ahead. I'll start skimming or speed reading. If it doesn't grab my attention within the first chapter in a meaningfully positive way, I'll drop the book or I'll skip ahead a few chapters.I don't believe in delayed gratification when there's an infinite number of books out there. There's so many great books and there's so many of them that are so well written that I just can't spend my time on this. One thing I will do, though, is if I find that early on in the book, the author starts making statements that I think are just factually untrue and one should always be open to new ideas. But if they're starting to make contradictions where the epistemological load of acknowledging that contradictory use the 50 cent word, but I would have to revisit my entire lifetime of learning and undo it and start over.
Scratch the truth.
Yeah, exactly. Or like know, I had a very a conversation recently with a guy who sounded really, really smart and was throwing all kinds of science at me and my head was spinning. And then he basically said, and as we know, thermodynamics isn't really true. What's the point of it? OK, I got to discard everything you just said because thermodynamics is fundamental to undo.
But yeah, that is not even a theory at the law comes from the mathematics.So you want to throw that out then
We just have to we have no basis for conversation. So if I find something like that in a book where someone says, oh yes, I cleared my mind and I watch my thought process, then I was able to levitate, then I have to put the book down because now I don't know what is true. And what if there's.
Basically, what I'm looking for is the author knowingly lying or completely deluded, if they are, then I can't fill my brain with that junk because I can't separate truth from fiction. So generally, I'll skim. I'll fast forward. I'll try and find a part that catches me. Usually, though, what happens in most books, though, is most books have one point to make and obviously the nonfiction I'm not talking about fiction, but they have one point to make.
They make it and then they give you example after example after example after example, and they apply it to explain everything in the world. And once I feel like I've gotten the gist of it, I feel very comfortable putting the book down. So there's a lot of these what I would call a pseudo science bestsellers that are all over. Everyone's always reading and people like, oh, did you read this book? And I would say, yes, but the reality is I read the two chapters of it, but I got the gist.
I want to switch gears and talk a little bit about decision making, which is kind of what you get paid to do, both as an investor and the CEO of INITIALISED. You're kind of paid to be right when other people are wrong, you have a process around how you make decisions.
Yeah. So decision making is everything. And in fact, someone who makes decisions. Right, 80 percent of the time, sort of 70 percent of time will be valued and compensated in the market hundreds of times more. And I think people have a hard time understanding that. But that's a fundamental fact of leverage. If I'm managing a billion dollars and I'm right, you know, 10 percent more of the time that somebody else and that's one hundred million dollars worth of value on a judgment call.
And with modern technology and large workforces and capital decisions getting leverage more and more. So if you can be more right. More rational and that's one of the reasons why I love your blog, because it really focuses on helping you be more write, better decision making, more rational than you're going to just get non-linear returns in your life. So decision making is everything and decision making, what was going on were basically what the brain is a memory prediction machine.
It is a memory of things that work in the past and what it's read as trying to predict the future and a lousy way to do memory prediction is X happened in the past, therefore X will happen in the future. It's to be based on specific circumstances. So what you want is your principle. You want mental models. So the best mental models that I have found have come through evolution game theory. And Charlie Munger, who I'm sure you quote a lot of.
But Charlie Munger was Warren Buffett's partner, very good investor, but he has tons and tons of great mental models. Nassim Taleb has great mental models that Benjamin Franklin had great mental models. So I basically lowered my head full of mental models, but then different ones apply to every situation. So I don't really run a checklist. But for example, I spent a lot of complexity theory when I was younger. It's a it's a field that I got into a gun.
I occasionally just get into things that I just learned a lot about that field and most recent ones, cryptography. But I was really into it. The complexity theory back in the mid nineties. And the more I got into it, the more I understand the limits of our knowledge and the limits of our prediction capability. And that's been super helpful to me. So that has helped me come to the system that operates in the face of ignorance. And I believe that fundamentally we are ignorant and very, very bad at predicting the future.
So I don't look for and I don't believe that I have the ability to say what is going to work. So rather, what I try to do is I try to eliminate what's not going to work. So I think being successful is just about not making mistakes. It's not about having incorrect judgments. It's about avoiding the incorrect judgments. So I have mental models around. How do I determine if I can trust somebody around? What are the actual odds this is going to work?
How much margin of safety do I have? If it works out? The angel bets and venture bets are great because of non-linear outcome in the positive. But the downside, you can only lose one X, but on the upside you can make ten thousand X. So I tried to rig the game, so I don't believe in specific goals, Scott Adams said famously also set up systems goals. So use your judgment to figure out what kinds of environments you can thrive in and then build a system to create that environment around you that you're statistically likely to succeed.
I don't I'm not going to be the most successful person on the planet, nor do I want to be. I just want to be the most successful version of me while working the least hard possible. Right. I want to be in a thousand universes and a successful nine hundred ninety nine, though that is not a billionaire, but he's done pretty well in all of this. So whatever the metric is, or he's happily married and most of them, he may not have nailed it in every regard, but he's set up systems such that he's failed in very few places.
So so basically I just try and set up good systems and in the individual decision. Aren't that don't don't matter that much, because I think our ability to make individual decisions is actually not great. So, for example, as an investor, I would rather invest. I would rather my system. I want to see ten thousand companies and I want to pick five hundred that have a shot of being huge. And then I want the option to double down to the five winners.
I don't want to just look at one hundred companies and pick 10 that I think are winners and go all of those because I don't think I have that capability and I think there's a lot of ex post facto reasoning and and sort of origin stories that people make up about why they were successful. But the real separation here is you look at which people are consistently successful, especially in Silicon Valley. There are lots of one hit wonders. But how many people consistently seem to do something interesting, build something interesting, make money and do something new?
I'm not I'm not in this to make money. Money is just a piece of paper. And every time I see one of these billionaire founders giving away to a hospital or whatever, you know, they overshot. They need that much money. So there's a huge diminishing returns to money after a certain point, especially now that I'm born into freedom from the freedom to think I want to do that. I can't do so. Literally, money in that sense is a boat anchor on my neck because it is something that I'm very fearful of losing something I'm getting Jocie debates about many people want from me, so I'm not even anymore for the money.
It's like, can I do something interesting and new? Can I create something brand new? The world has never seen that it gets value out of that it uses that is congruent with my morals. So I never have problems sleeping at night and I never have to worry about selling something that I wouldn't buy so much more into that. But I don't I don't have a checklist system for decision making. I know that's like a big thing. Recently I took a good one.
They wrote the Checklist Manifesto, and that's good for pilots and surgeons. I don't think it's necessarily great for investors or entreprenors
Oh yeah I think it totally misses the point of decision making.
I agree. And by the way, that's another one of those books where you just read the first chapter and you're done. It would have made a great blog post, but yeah.
So I also don't think you need to be that hard on yourself. A lot of a lot of what goes on today is a lot of your listeners are right now like beating themselves up and scribbling notes and saying, I need to do this or need to do that. And I know you don't need to do anything. You know, all you should do is what you want to do. And if you stop trying to figure out how to do things the way other people want you to do them, then you get to listen to that little voice inside of your head that wants to do things a certain way.
And then you get to be you. And no one in the world is going to beat you with being you. You're never going to be as good at being me as I am, and I'm never going to be as good at being you as you are. So certainly listen, absorb, but don't try and emulate the fool's errand. Instead, each person is uniquely qualified. It's something they have some specific knowledge, capability and desire that nobody else in the world that that's just purely from the combinatorics of human DNA and development.
And so and so your goal in life is to find out the people who need you to find out the business that is the most, find the project and the art that can do the most because there's something out there just for you. But what you don't want to do is be building checklists and decision frameworks built on what other people do, because you're never going to be there.
You'll never be good at being somebody else.
Yeah. And you're inevitably going to miss stuff, too. And checklists you mentioned, kind of like how you determine if you can trust somebody. And I know you said in the past you kind of used Buffett's criteria for evaluating people, which is the combination of intelligence, energy and integrity. What what predictive signals do you pay attention to for each? How do you determine if you can trust someone, a large part of you trust the hardest one?
Yeah, integrity is the hardest one. And integrity that usually comes out in two ways. One is long term, which is if you've known somebody for a while and you kind of know how to think about things. But the most the more interesting one, there's a short term one, which is you just kind of see how they treat other people. So there are lots and lots of people who will not screw over. School is a strong word, but they will do something that is self dealing or slightly unethical relative to another business partner when the whole time they'll they'll say to you, wink, wink, I'm taking advantage of person because they deserve it.
But you're my friend. I would never do that to you. And I think. Yeah, exactly. It's very easy to change your definition of who friends are.
I find that the people who really do things out of integrity, they have an internal moral compass. So they don't they don't do unfair, unethical or bad deals with other people because it would spoil their own view of themselves and they wouldn't be able to sleep with themselves at night. So some of the highest integrity people I know, the worst thing you can do is you can tell them what I think yourself doing on that one and they will get so unhappy because they're like, no, no, no, that's not who I am.
I can't be that person. And they'll bend over backwards. Usually I find that people that negotiate with who are high integrity, they're very easy to negotiate with, they'll give you things that they don't need to give you because they think it's fair and vice versa. So negotiations with high integrity people are usually very easy. You're giving each other things to make sure the other person's happy enough. The deal survives because unhappy deals get unwound and they become short term relationships which don't have any compounding benefits.
And then finally, if someone is going around and talking about how honest they are, they're probably dishonest, like a little telltale indicator of when someone spends too much time talking about their own values or talking themselves up, they're covering for something. So there's actually a good book. It's kind of out of print. I think it's hard to track down a line somewhere and it's not the obvious one. The name of the book is called The Art of Manipulation, and I found it because of a tweet that I followed from Elastica.
And it was really good. It was because this guy basically goes undercover and lives with conman and he spends time with them, running cons and learning all about cons and just very without judgment. He just laid down how con con men work and he put down there how to spot them when they're being dishonest. And some of the telltale signs are they will they will push the deal a little bit too hard. They'll sell just a little bit too hard.
They'll talk about how honest they are. But I have great people in my life who are extremely successful, very desirable, like everybody wants to be their friend, very smart. And yet I've seen them do one or two things that are slightly not great to other people. And the first time I'll tell them, I'll go up and say, hey, look, I don't I don't think you should do that to that other person, not because you won't get away with it.
You will get away with it, but because it'll hurt you in the end and then some cosmic karma kind of way. But just I believe that deep down, we all know who we are. You cannot hide anything from yourself. And so your own failures are written within your psyche and they're obvious to you. And so if you have too many of these moral shortcomings, you will not respect yourself. And the worst the worst outcome in this world is not having self esteem.
And if you don't love yourself, who will? So I think that you just have to be very careful about doing things that you are fundamentally not going to be proud of because they will damage you. So the first time around, not one of them, by the way. Nobody changes. Right. And then I just kind of distance myself from that sort of cut cut them out of my life. But I just had this thing inside my head.
The closer you want to get to me, the better your values have to be. Yeah. When I met my wife, it was a great test because I really wanted to be with her and she wasn't so sure at the beginning. And so in the end, we ended up together because she saw my values. And I'm lucky I had developed them by that point, because if I hadn't, I wouldn't have gotten her. Not that I own her anything.
That's an attachment like that. But but I wouldn't have deserved her, I guess. Charlie Munger says to find a worthy mate, be worthy of a worthy mate. So I think working on your values is long term selfish, although short term it's absolutely about sacrifices. If being ethical or profitable, everybody would do it and we wouldn't have to have a separate concept. When we talk about it, there would be no books on it. There would be no one would ever talk about values that would be profitable.
But it's not. It's obviously unprofitable, involves sacrifices. But like everything in life, if you're willing to make the short term sacrifice, you'll have the long term benefit. My physical trainer, Georgie Gregory, really wise, brilliant guy. He always says know easy choices, hard life, hard choices, easy life. So basically, if you're making the hard choices right now and what to eat, you're not eating junk food. You want to make the hard choice to work out, then your life long term will be easy.
You won't be sick. You won't be unhealthy. Same is true of value. Same is true of saving up for a rainy day. Same is true of how you approach your relationships. But if you make the easy choices right now, your overall life will be a lot harder.
I want to dive into intelligence a little bit there to like how do you separate the people who know what they're talking about from these people who pretend they know what they're doing? I mean, we're full of a world where it's so easy to pretend you have knowledge that you don't actually have.
Real knowledge is intrinsic in that, and it's and it's built from the ground up.
So going back to my math example earlier, you can understand trigonometry without understanding arithmetic or geometry. So basically, someone is using a lot of fancy words and a lot of big concepts. They probably don't know what they're talking about. I think the smartest people can explain things to a child. And if you can explain to a child and you don't know it, and I think that's very true and it's the common thing. But Richard Feynman, very famously, if you go into his lecture pieces where his early physics lectures, he has one where he basically explains mathematics in three pages.
He starts from no line counting, and then he goes all the way to precalculus and it just builds it up through an unbroken chain of logic. He doesn't rely on any definitions. For example, if somebody says like, oh, that bird is called this or the rule for this thing, is that not the telling you the fundamental of the country by humans? They're telling you about naming systems. True understanding is about algorithms, about understanding how things connect to each other.
So I think it's the mark of a charlatan to try and explain simple things in complicated ways as the mark of a genius to explain complicated things in simple ways. So really, they should be able to do it very, very, very, very simply. And I catch myself on this because I have a big vocabulary, because I've read a lot so I can sound smarter than I am just by using big words. But in the process, I'm being dishonest with myself.
It's OK to use more precise words. English is a big language with a lot of words, and so that allows for a lot of precision. But if you're deliberately using words that your audience doesn't know, or if you even think you're using a word that your audience didn't know and you don't catch yourself and correct that, then you're essentially being dishonest. You're just trying to show off. You're trying to pull one over their eyes. There's a great book by Randall Munroe who who is the creator of xkcd, that very science oriented comic as Upcher five.
It's a reference to Saturn five rocket that took the Apollo missions into space. And what he's doing in that book is he explains all these very complicated concepts all the way from climate change to physical systems to submarines and so on. But he does it using only the thousand most common words in the English language. So that's why he called the Saturn five or five, because it's called a rocket. You can't define a rocket as a spaceship or a rocket.
It's self-referential. He says, upgrade this thing that goes up and kids get that right away.
That's the thing Explainer the name of the book, I think.
Oh, yeah, I'm sorry. You're right that the name of the book is Thing Explainer. Yeah. And of course, five is one of the pages. There's another great book that I think in physics. I open this one all the time and I love on the back cover. It has this great little pigeon says the only book that's used in both grade school and graduate school.
It's true. It's all simple physics puzzles that it can be explained to a 12 year old child they can puzzle over and it can be explained to a twenty five year old grad student in physics. And they all kind of have fundamental insights in physics. They're all kind of tricky. But anyone can get to the answer to purely logical reasoning. I love reading the history of how scientists came up with their various breakthroughs. And if you have ever gone down the relativity, relativity is a fascinating thing, the very advanced concept.
But in a way, it's very simple because Einstein came up with it with what are called get Donkin fancy word for thought experiments, thought experiment in German. So he was able to basically just do logical thought experiments in his mind until he came up with relativity. And then he formalized that with mathematics and with a prediction that he made that were later unfortified that were basically shown to be true. So really brilliant physicists like that, they get there by pure reasoning and pure logical reasoning.
It's not like he had to go draw lots of complicated diagrams and so on. He just understood things that are very basic, fundamental level. So, again, this goes back to I think the really smart thinkers are clear thinkers and they understand things and understand the basics that are very, very fundamental level. And I would rather understand the basics really well than have memorized all kinds of complicated concepts that then I can't stitch together and I can't read derive them from the basics.
If you can't read derived from the basics as you need it, you're lost. You just memorize. Exactly.
It seems like a large part of making effective decisions kind of boils down to dealing with reality. How do you make sure you're dealing with reality when you're making decisions?
By not having a strong sense of self or judgments or mind presence. The monkey mind will always respond with regurgitate an emotional response to what it thinks the world should be and that will cloud your reality. This happens a lot of times and people are mixing politics and business like, for example, in January this year, a little piece on the election that kind of predicted a Trump or Bernie is going to win one of those two characters. That's not what I wanted to have happen, necessarily having to lead my life is pretty good, right?
I'm not looking for rabble rousers to change everything, but I wanted to see a reality the way it was as opposed to the way I wanted it to be. So I think the number one thing that clouds us from being able to see reality is just that we we just have preconceived notions of the way it should be. There's a one definition of a moment of suffering is that it's that moment when you see things exactly the way they are. So this whole time, you've been convinced your business is doing great and really you've ignored the scientists not doing that.
Well, then your business fails and you suffer. Well, it's just because you've been putting off reality, you've been hiding it from yourself. So the good news is that when you're suffering, when you're in pain, that's a moment of truth. That is a moment where you're forced to embrace reality actually the way it is. And then you can make meaningful change and progress because you can only make something. You can only do that when you're starting with the truth.
So I think the hard thing here is seeing the truth. And to see the truth, you have to get your ego out of the way because your ego doesn't want to face the truth. So the smaller you can make your ego, the less conditioned you can make your reactions, the less desires you can have about the outcome you want, the easier it is to see the reality. The clear example of this is when we're going through difficult things like a breakup or a job loss or business failure or health problem.
And our friends are advising us. Right? Well, when we're advising them, the answer's so obvious. It comes to us in a minute and we tell them exactly, oh, that girl, get over her. She wasn't good for you. Anyway, you'll be happy to trust me. You'll find someone. You know what the correct answer is, but that person can't see it because in that moment of suffering and pain and they're still wishing that reality was different.
So the problem isn't reality, the problem is their desire colliding with reality. It's preventing them from seeing the truth. No matter how much you say it's the same thing happens when I'm making decisions. The more of a desire that I have that work out a certain way, the less likely I am to see the truth. So especially in business, if something isn't going well, I try to acknowledge that publicly and I try to acknowledge it publicly in front of my co-founders and friends and coworkers, because that way then I'm not hiding it from anybody else.
If I'm not hiding it from anybody else, then I'm not going to basically delude myself and what's actually going on.
You won't said anything you can think of has been thought of and tried. The only way you're going to find something is if you stick to it at an irrational level and try a whole bunch of things. This kind of makes an idea a commodity. But the judgment and execution incredibly rare. How do you evaluate if someone is picking the right idea and if they have the capacity to execute on that idea?
The best founders I've found are the ones who are very long term thinkers. So even decisions that maybe they shouldn't care that much about early on, they fixate on because they are not building a house. They're putting bricks in the foundation of a skyscraper, at least in their minds. And so what you're looking for is looking for someone who knows the space well, who understands how difficult it's going to be, but doesn't care because they just love whatever they're doing, they're into it and they commit to it for the long haul.
So passion and vision alone are not enough then. I think. Steve Case. So that vision without execution is hallucination. Execution alone isn't enough. And then unfortunately, at least the technology business, there's a lot of luck required. Right place, right time, market forces timing regulatory action against a pro. So there's a lot of things that we control where the platforms are shifting, what open source efforts show up so you can never predict the outside successes.
But what you can predict of the failures, you can say, oh, this person doesn't know this field at all that we are or this person, their short term thinker, they're not going to last the game. They have to go as far as needed because as I was saying, there are no new ideas. All the ideas have been thought up. But it's about the combination of the idea, plus the execution, plus the passion. Like Steve Jobs was a visionary and a great designer, not because he came with the idea to build the smartphone.
Many people had tried to build a smartphone, but it's because he had a very high bar for the design. He understood the manufacturing tolerances and what technology was capable and what it was, and he could rally the people and the resources to get it done. He actually didn't care about the financial outcome. He took a dollar salary from Apple. He just wanted to see it done and he was willing to do it for as long as it takes until it worked.
So it's kind of this magic complex of factors. And then the timing in the world happened to be right. The technology was around and Johnny, I was there and who knows how many other factors intersect to make it happen. But just so many factors intersected on his side. There are ones that intersected against him, for example, or Apple, which was a horribly failing company at the time. Poor guy died of pancreatic cancer. He got taken out early.
You think about what more he could have created, what more he could've done for the world.
He probably wasn't happy in the whole process. He drove himself to ruin. So I think you do have to be irrationally optimistic to succeed and passionate, but you also have to really know your stuff and. I mean, a lot of entrepreneurs were the short term thinkers, in which case that's OK, just mean this is not the thing for you. Go find the thing you can commit to for 10 years. That's how long it takes minimum to get a good outcome.
And you have to enjoy the journey because there's no guarantee of the outcome and you have to be a really, really good at it, which means that you probably love it so much that you're willing to put in the time before there's even any return on it. So I think the best founders, they have a deep understanding of the space. They're going into enough to be contrarian and they have a deep passion for it so that they'll just keep working on it.
And they have execution skills. They just get things done. They solve problems. They're capable.
I love that I don't get too invested with angel funders, so I don't. But we all deal with people with similar in business or life. If we're establishing a partnership, whether it's with a customer supplier relationship, we have similar concerns about the short term thinking and we'll take advantage of us. And how should we go about entering that relationship and is this relationship fragile?
And I think that's a good way to think about it.
One thing I've figured out kind of late is that generally, at least in the tech business in Silicon Valley, great people have great outcomes. So be patient. Every person that I met at the beginning of my career 20 years ago when I looked at it, say, wow, that guy or that gal is super capable. They're so smart and dedicated and blah, blah, blah. Now we'll just be friends or hang out or whatever you forget about them.
All of that, almost without exception, became extremely successful. You just had to give them a long enough time scale. It never happens on a time scale you want or they want, but it does happen.
I want to circle back and ask you a few more questions about life before we wrap up. You've kind of called your philosophy rational Buddhism. How does that differ from traditional Buddhism? And what type of exploration did you go through to arrive at that?
Yeah the rational part means that I have to reconcile with science and evolution, so I have to reject all the pieces that I can't verify for myself. So, for example, is meditation good for you?
Yes, it's clear. Your mind a good thing? Yes. Is there a Bassler awareness kind of below your monkey mind? Yes. All these things I've verified for myself and some of the belief that come out of Buddhism, I believe and follow because again, I've verified or reasoned with thought experiments there myself. But what I will not accept is things that are written down. It's just so like, oh, you're this in the past lives that you're paying off the karma for what?
I haven't seen it. I don't remember any past lives. I don't have any memory. So I just have to not believe that. Or when people say your third chakra is opening and your second chakras, I don't know. This is fancy nomenclature. Right? I have not been able to verify or confirm any of that on my own. So if I can't verify it on my own or if I cannot get there to a science, then I just then it may be true.
It may be false, but it's not falsifiable. So I cannot view it as a fundamental truth. On the other side. I do know that evolution is true. I do know that we are evolved survival and replication machines. I do know that we have an ego so that we get up off the ground and worms don't eat us. We actually take action. So what rational booton to me means understanding that the internal work that Buddhism espouses to make yourself happier and better off and more present, more in control of your emotions and being a better human being.
But I don't subscribe to anything fanciful just because it was written down in the book. I don't think I can levitate. I don't think that meditation is going to give me superpowers and those kinds of things. So it's it's basically try everything, test it for yourself, be skeptical, keep what's useful and discard what's not. So I would say my philosophy falls down to on one poll is evolution and the binding principle because it explains so much about humans.
And their side is Buddhism, which is the oldest, most time tested spiritual philosophy on the internal state of being inside each of us. And I think those are absolutely reconcilable. I actually want to write a blog post at some point about how you can map the tenets of Buddhism, especially the non sensible ones, directly into a virtual reality simulation. What I mean by that is if you believe we're living in the AASIM, which I know some people are espousing, or if you believe the Buddhist view of the world with samsara and Nirvana and all that, you would actually come to the same conclusions on how to live your life.
What are the areas of your life right now that you'd like to change the most and why?
I would like to be less I'd like to be less time bound, and I like to be less greedy about signing up for things I want to describe. You know what it really is. I had a tweet recently where I was going back and forth with somebody and then came up with this concept of this should be a two factor authentication on your calendar to fact.
Exactly. It was two factor authentication. When you're logging into a website that if your password gets stolen, the attacker doesn't, the thief or hacker doesn't have your phone. So they can't log in because the phone that's generating a code. Well, I wish to the Two-Factor code against my calendar because currently present me is always making promises for future current. Me is tired, exhausted, hungry, wants to go home, let's go to sleep, wants to be the book.
Want to hang out with the wife and baby. But Future Me is this dynamic high energy individual who always show up to every meeting and we'll have a lot of energy and we want to get a lot of things done. So I commit myself to all these commitments to the future that when the future me arrives back to being lazy and hungry and tired. So I wanted to factor against myself. And the way I would like to do that is I think every time I make a commitment to anything, I should instead just write it down and then check back in forty eight hours later and then clear my and say, do I commit to doing this?
Or even better would be saying if I commit to doing something that I commit to doing it right now. Yeah. If I'm not willing to do it right now then don't do it. Don't commit to it.
Yeah. That's the Derek Sivers approach. If you're not saying hell yes right now, then you should just be saying no.
I think yeah. So I think this is this is something of every busy person. I just want to be much better at managing my own time because you go through life through an exploration phase and then you switch to the exploitation phase.
And I'm very much the exploitation phase, not looking for more exploration, but that all that said, I have a hard time saying no. If I mean, if I had one wish, the most important thing to me would be I would constantly be running my mind in debug mode. I would literally be watching every single thought I have and letting no no reaction pass without it being stopped, inspected, strip searched, examined, understood, and then let go.
But the reality that there's a lot of time and we're just highly conditioned creatures. So I do view a lot of my goals over the next few years of unconditioned and previous learned responses or habituated responses so that I can make decisions more cleanly in the moment without relying upon memory or or prepackaged heuristics and judgments.
What's the most common mistake you see people make over and over?
I think the most common I mean, this is a very tough question and so contextual, it really depends on the context. I think the most common mistake to look at out there on planet Earth for humanity is the idea or the belief that you're going to be made happy because of some external circumstance. And I know that's not original. That's not new. That's fundamental Buddhist wisdom, someone taking credit for it.
But I think I really just recognize that another fundamental level, including in myself, like we just bought a new car with a baby, so we need a safer car. We were driving a little Mini Cooper before. Not enough room in there. So we bought a new car and now I'm waiting for the new car to arrive. And of course, every night I'm on the forums reading about the car. Why am I doing that silly object, silly car?
It's not going to change my life that much at all. And I know that the instant the car arrives, I will care about it anymore. But what it is, is I'm addicted to the desiring. I'm a I'm addicted to the idea that this external thing is going to bring me some kind of happiness and joy. And this is completely delusional. So I think just looking outside for anything, I think is the fundamental delusion, which is not to say you shouldn't do things in the outside.
You absolutely should. You're living creature. You there are things that you do. You locally reverse entropy. That's why you're here. You're meant to do something. You're not meant to lie there in the sand and meditate all day long. So you should stop actually you should do what you're meant to do. But the idea that you're going to change something in the outside world that is going to bring you the peace and everlasting joy and the happiness that you deserve, that is a fundamental delusion that we all suffer from, including me.
And so the mistake over and over and over is to say, oh, I'll be happy when I get that thing, whatever that is. That's the fundamental mistake that we all make, including me. Twenty four, seven all day long.
I definitely see myself in that answer
Because you're human, you're human. All of us do it.
I want to end with a really unbounded big question, which is what is the meaning and purpose of life?
Yeah, it's a big question.
I'll give you three because there's a big question. I'll give you three answers. One is it's personal. You have to find your own meaning. Any piece of wisdom that anybody else gives you, whether it's Buddha or you or me, it's going to sound like nonsense. So I think fundamentally you just have to find for yourself. So the important part is not the answer to the question, is it to sit there and dig with a question that it might take you years or decades, but when you find an answer you're happy with, that will be fundamental to your life?
The second answer I would give is there is no life, there's no purpose to life. Osho says it's like riding on water or building houses and sand. The reality is you've been dead for the history of the universe worth ten billion years or more. You will be dead for the next 70 billion years or so until the heat death, the universe and anything you do will fade, disappear just like the human race will disappear, the planet will disappear, get to Mars, even that group will disappear.
So no one's going to remember you past a certain number of generations, whether you're an artist or a poet or a conqueror or a pauper or nothing.
So there's no meaning. So you have to create your own meaning, which is what it boils down to. You have to decide, is this a play that I'm going to live? I'm just watching. Is there a self actualization dance that I'm doing? Is there a specific thing that I just desire just for the heck of it? But these are all meanings you are making up. There's no fundamental, intrinsic, purposeful meaning to the universe that there was.
Then you would just ask the next question. So why is that the meaning to just be, as Richard Feynman said, it would be turtles all the way down the wires would just keep accumulating? There is no answer. You can give that question that wouldn't have another way. And I don't buy the everlasting afterlife answers because it's insane to me with absolutely no evidence to believe that because of how you live seventy years here on this planet, that you can spend an eternity, which is a very long time in some afterlife.
What kind of silly God that is for eternity based on some small period of time here. So I think that after this life, it's very much like before you were born, remember that it's going to be just like that. And and when before you were born, you didn't care about anything or anyone, including your loved ones, including yourself, including humans, including whether we go to Mars or whether we stay on planet Earth and whether it isn't, I don't care.
So I met this entrepreneur who was obsessed with Steve Jobs and making all this sacrifice, try and be like the next Steve Jobs. And I said to him, do you want to be exactly like Steve Jobs right now? He said, yes. And I said, well, Steve Jobs is dead. He doesn't care about anything. You've gone like zero. He's not registering at all. So if you want to be like Steve Jobs, you don't want to be like Steve Jobs, just be you right now.
He would trade places with you right now in an instant if you could. So I don't think there's any real meaning of purpose in life. And in the last answer I'll give you is a little more complicated than that. From what I've been reading and science, friends of mine have written books on this kind of stitch together. Theories and maybe there is a meaning to life, but it's not a very satisfying purpose, basically in physics, the arrow time comes from entropy.
Second law thermodynamics says it only goes up, which means this order to the universe only goes up, which means concentrated free energy only goes down. And if you look at what living things are, living systems, humans, plants, civilizations, what have you, they these are systems that are locally reversing humans locally, reverse entropy because we have action. But in the process, we globally accelerate entropy until the heat death of the universe. So you could come up with some fanciful theory which I had, which I like, that we're headed towards the heat, that the universe with no concentrated energy, where everything is sort of the same energy level and therefore we're all one thing, we're essentially indistinguishable.
And what we are doing is living systems. We're accelerating getting to that state. So the more complex of a system you create, whether it's computers and civilization or through art and mathematics or just through creating a family, you're actually accelerating the heat that the universe. So you're pushing us to at this point where we end up as one thing. But I think that's the kind of an unsatisfying answer if you're looking for personal meaning today in your life.
That was phenomenal. Listen, thank you so much. This was just absolutely mind blowing. I really appreciate it. Where can people find you?
On Twitter at all or on my blog at Startup or Dotcom?
Thank you so much. Thank you for the great. And. Hey, guys, this is Shane again, just a few more things before we wrap up. You can find show notes at Farnam Street blog, dotcom slash podcast.
That's fair. And S-T REIT blog, dotcom slash podcast. You can also find information there on how to get a transcript.
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