Editor's Note: This transcript was automatically transcribed, so mistakes are inevitable. You can contribute by proofreading the transcript or highlighting the mistakes. Sign up to be amongst the first contributors.
Hello and welcome. I'm Shane Parrish, and this is the Knowledge Project, this show that explores the ideas, methods and mental models that help you expand your mind, discover your curiosity, and master the best of what other people have already figured out.
Today's episode is a bit different than what we normally do. We're in the middle of summer, so I thought I'd experiment with a short version of our podcast. Normally our podcast ranges from anywhere 45 minutes all the way up into two hours. Today's show is going to be a bit different. We're going to cut it down to 15 minutes. A full, unedited version is available for members of our learning community. If you're not a member, you can sign up at F-stop blogs Tribe.
Today's guest is Ali Amazigh, the San Francisco based author of An Illustrated Guide to Bad Arguments and Bad Choices. He's going to help us better understand our logical fallacies. OK, let's dive in. What ideas would you say you've kind of changed your mind on in the last few years that you maybe used to believe and you've updated or you've significantly changed your algorithm for how you approach them?
You know, I didn't I when I first got into publishing, I kind of fell into it because I I'd produced this put together this website about arguments. And and then we talked about how it might work as a as a book. And then I went ahead and printed it as a book. And I didn't realize that by shifting the medium from a website to a book that the audience would change for that project and the expectations would change. And all of a sudden the connections with people were different.
It's much more active when you're when you're when there was a book in between you and and somebody else. So that's something I didn't quite read, didn't quite know a lot about four years ago. And I've come to appreciate and really enjoy over the past few years. I didn't realize that publishing or I should say more generally, that the medium plays such a huge you know, it's so important to kind of how you approach a problem, but also how you you know, how you explain something and how you interact with various people.
So that's something I've grown, you know, I appreciate I've grown more appreciative of. I'm super curious.
Can you expand on some of the things that changes maybe with the expectation or with the audience? How did the audience change?
Yeah, so the website I mean, especially if you're coming from, say, an open source background with a website, you put something out there and it's more often than not free. And then someone comes across it. If they like it, they like it, they might share it. And if they don't like it, you know, one of two things can happen. Either they don't do anything or they might submit, you know, a contribution to you or they'll say, I came across this particular thing that I that is not quite working or is not accurate and you should fix it.
Or better yet, here is the fix. So there is that kind of dynamic between the creator and and the audience. Whereas with so and and crucially, there is it's the the the the artifact is always a work in progress. Whereas I came to learn that with a book, there is this perception that a book is the culmination of, you know, of an effort and maybe rightfully so for historical reasons. That's that's how it's always been.
But but with with bad arguments. For instance, I tried to break that model a bit by maintaining the open source project. So there's the book and print. And then there was the book online. And it was interesting to see kind of how, you know, how that dynamic shifted and changed. Even the publisher who picked up the book in the beginning weren't too sure that it was going to work having these two projects, you know, side by side.
But slowly, you know, there were people buying the book and then at the same time, there were people contributing to the book and, you know, trying to improve it and so on. And so so even when I think of the the second book on an algorithms, I like to think of it as kind of one of several iterations that have occurred over the past few years. And it just so happens that this is one that was commercialized.
But there's no stopping, you know, others coming after it either by myself or by others and kind of building up on that idea.
Do you think about going back and editing and revising it, or do you continually think about moving on to the next project? I guess books are harder to go back.
Yeah, I think I think with this one, I might have reached the end of the road because I've spent three years on it. I was a bit pigheaded to begin with. I, I tried something that didn't work. I tried something else. I think I spent like fifteen thousand dollars on it didn't quite work. I tried something else. So I think I've spent about three years, I had spent about three years on this project and and I feel there is you know, there is a point where you get diminishing returns.
And I think that's kind of the point that I'm at right now. So I am looking I'm kind of currently working on another project that I'm hoping to spend about six months on and then maybe have it in draft form by the end of the year.
What's that project? Can you talk about that? Yeah, I mean, it's still very nascent, so I don't have it. It's not really developed or materialized or anything. But the general concept is or the theme is empathy. You know, how can we explain? How can we how do you convey empathy in a way that's not been done before? So you find attempts at doing that in various children's books? There are you know, various people have done research on the topic and in some cases published books.
So I thought of just taking all that material and seeing if there's some something else that could be done with that.
It's interesting kind of the dichotomy between algorithmic thinking and empathy, you know, because we don't presume that algorithms have any empathy and it's just kind of raw, rational horsepower versus considering more angles or the other person's perspectives like we would with an empathetic point of view.
Absolutely. I mean, that's a great connection. And also, I mean, you see it in other places as well, in design and coding, any time you're thinking about the audience, right. Or considering where the audience might be or whether this particular control that you've designed on screen is something that somebody could use without much struggle. You know, that's that's a manifestation of empathy. So I think, you see, it's not only the obvious definition of, you know, somebody not bullying somebody else or kind of, you know, giving someone their lunch money or so on.
But also I think you see it in all other kinds of fields as well.
How would you define empathy as a as a broad category? I think I would say, again, it's it all depends on your advantage and your circumstances and where you're coming from. But I think one way is to is to recognize people, I think. So one idea I had for this project that I don't think is going to work, but it's something I had early on was to have a book where the character of interest is not the protagonist, but somebody else in the background.
So you you follow the story to the very end and then you and then you find out at the end that this that the story is actually about the secondary character that you can only barely see in the background. So I think that's part of empathy is kind of recognizing people and things that are not always easily recognizable or seen or acknowledged. But, yeah, doing that and also not being too focused on on the obvious kind of having more heart when looking at the world.
And yeah, those are all factors that I think play play into it.
I wish you well with that mission. How would you kind of go about teaching empathy to people? I like this category of books where it looks like it's for you know, it looks like the book is for a child, but actually it's for an adult. So that's kind of the approach that I've taken with the previous two or three projects. And I think I would like to kind of stay in that category and see if we can do something within the same framework with with this with this new idea.
And I think it's very effective when you combine illustrations and prose and kind of the physical packaging of the product. It's it's not only been enjoyable for me to kind of work with with those various components, but I think they also they also are very effective. It's it's a good way to reach various people and people still go to bookshops. So that's that's good. Yeah.
For now, hopefully it continues, though. Which would you describe yourself as a very habitual person, as in routines, daily routines and.
Yeah, almost like an algorithm for life.
You know, it depends with some things. I am I'm very respectful of time. I try to be very I try to have my my time find out I planned out. And if if I'm meeting with someone, I'm there on the dot. If I am if I want to get something done, I'll impose deadlines on myself by then with other things, not so much. So if I'm going out for a walk I'll just go out for a walk and it could be a could be half an hour.
It could be an hour and a half. So it depends I say on it. It depends.
What would you say the smallest habit that you have that has the biggest leverage or most positively impacts your life?
Well, I would say, again, time, respect for times is hugely important because once you I mean, it's a finite resource and we don't realize it sometimes until it's too late right now that we fall sick and then we we realize it or something changes in our life or we switch jobs or we know something happens with family. But I think just just time being being cognizant of time, how much time there is in the day, you know, how many hours you've spent on various things.
That helps a lot. At least it's been useful for me.
Can we get carried on that for a second? How does that manifest itself in how you live your life?
So for me, for instance, you know, again, I get up in the morning, I get on the train, it's about an hour to to the office. And, you know, what do you do in that hour? You could just watch YouTube videos. You could do nothing. You could listen to an audio book. These are all decisions that you have to you have to make. And it could be the case that sometimes the audio book is the most effective thing for that day.
Or it could be the case that they're just looking out the window is the most effective thing. And that's been the case for me sometimes, or maybe just, you know, just listening to what everybody else is talking about in the the cabin. So I think. Yeah, so so you have that one hour and then you have you make a decision about what you do in that one hour and and how is it affecting everything else that might come in that day.
So for me, for instance, I have this this side project about empathy that's top of mind. And so when I'm sitting on the train, that's that's the only thing that I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about what can I do right now that will bring me closer to that draft that I would like to have ready in six months time. And and again, it could be something obvious, like sketching a scene on a piece of paper or the back of my notebook or something, or it could be just another.
Looking at people and seeing how they interact with each other, how people get off the train, how they get on the train, how they sit next to each other, what kind of small talk goes on between them when they're doing that? Just just various things. But they are trying to keep keep all those observations and my thinking focused on whatever the short term goal is.
Do you have a notebook that you carry around with you? Like how do you keep track of all these thoughts?
I do, yeah. I do have a notebook and I much I prefer writing in a notebook than on a computer.
And do you review the notebook or do you just write your thoughts and then kind of go back to it if you're triggered or like how does that process work, how does it get from your your brain to your notebook into your writing or your thinking or updating your algorithms? Yeah, I do.
I go through my notebook all the time and it's always nice going through older notes because often you find that you wrote down a lot, a lot of things that didn't make sense at the time. But now, you know, because of a change in context or different circumstances, all of a sudden that idea that you had three years ago, you know, takes on a different form. So I do go through my notes. I don't know, I mean, regularly, but I don't know how frequently.
But there is this constant going back and seeing what what I wrote before, how applicable it is to to what I'm doing right now.
How would your thinking change? If you listen to a piece of music and you found out afterwards it was constructed by an algorithm just for you?
Well, the first question I would ask is, you know, what are the inputs to that algorithm, you know, and how did it get access to to those inputs? Because because obviously, when you're trying to create a summary of a profile, which has me in this case, you can't rely on all the on all the inputs that are available. You kind of pick and choose. So I'd be interested in kind of knowing what are the things that summarize me, because I still don't know who I am.
And I don't think anyone does. I mean, but you kind of know various facets of your of yourself. So I'd be interested in knowing how the algorithm picked those facets or if somebody picked them, what the basis for that was. And then also, I think there is a kind of a softer kind of thing that I would I would consider. And that is, you know, do I like the piece of music? And if I do, what does that say about me or the algorithm?
Yeah, I'd be I can't quite remember right now, but I think I've come across some someone or somebody or some group of people working on something like that. So it's yeah.
It doesn't seem too far fetched to think that, you know, the world and some not so distant future will take the same kind of base and tailor it to things that we like or dislike based on our past history of liking and disliking to give us more of what what the algorithm, I guess, thinks that we want.
And in that, I mean, we lose some sort of serendipity and we lose there's costs, I guess, to that sort of approach.
Do you worry about how much data we're leaving online and what that says about us or what companies will think that it says about us and how that will change the future?
I mean, absolutely. I mean, that's that's the problem. I remember I used to work for a company where where they're they're they're kind of their slogan was that we care about users privacy. And that's and they they value privacy over everything else, including features and the ability to acquire data and so on. And then they discovered after many years that the user, the user doesn't care a lot about privacy. You know, we live in a in a time where we post stuff on Instagram, we post stuff on Facebook.
A lot of it is personal stuff and photos. And so there's been a shift in how we view things that were in the past. Super private. Right. You would never share a picture of your say of yourself with friends maybe, or with family members or or maybe there was some other stuff they would never put online. But now it's all fair game. I mean, you're putting it out there on your LinkedIn profile, on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram.
And Twitter is the worst because you had this constant stream of updates that people are sharing and sometimes you don't recognize how much you're revealing in those places. But at the same time, you are benefiting from those from sharing those. And that's why people do them right. You get like so that makes it feel good. You get tweets, you get connections to various people that you would have otherwise, you know, come across. So there is there is a cost, as you say.
And I think the question should be, is that cost worth it? And for some people, they decide that it's not worth it. So they're not on any of those platforms. And for some people, they decide that there is there is no cost. So they they go all out on those platforms. And then I think for for a lot of people that are somewhere in between where they they caught, you know, they consciously decide what to post on these various platforms.
And and. Yeah, and I think it depends on the depends on the person we're on that continuum.
Do you fall?
You know, I'm fairly I'm fairly introverted. I'm not very I'm not particularly active when it comes to sharing stuff. So I think if yeah, I usually post things that have to do with project. Rather than with me, so on Twitter, Instagram, I think there are some photos that I've taken on the road on Instagram, but otherwise it's mostly to do with any output that I have that I think is interesting. But I have to say, even even for me, I've not quite cracked those those platforms.
So maybe I'm not the target audience for that because I don't I don't quite I'm not quite excited by I'm not really excited by by the thought of sharing things and and kind of being always in the under the spotlight. I much prefer, you know, spending a year working on something in the dark and then kind of presenting it after that and then seeing how it's perceived and how we can improve it and then going back for another year and then working on something else and then coming back.
So so for that type of person, I think social media is a bit challenging. But again, you know, there are a few people I follow who are brilliant at kind of, you know, sharing information and and being very, you know, useful and interesting. And it all depends on on your personality, I suppose.
I like that. It sounds like you're more professional, less personal, and that maps to you how you are as a person.
I want to end with a philosophical question, which is if you could have everybody in the world have a topic that they discussed over dinner on any given day, say, Sunday, what would that topic be and what would the question, the leading question or the first question that you think everybody should start with?
That's a tough one. Yeah, I think the question that you the question that you asked me earlier is, is one that that gave me some pause. I think it would be useful to ask. And that's what's one thing that you changed your mind about today or this past week. It's not easy to change, to change your mind, it turns out, because for various reasons, we kind of it becomes part of our identity, sometimes our thoughts.
So it's separating ourselves from our thoughts is not always that easy. So I would ask, what is one thing that you over the past week, maybe you that you've changed your life, that you change your mind on order thought that.
I mean, I ask the question. So I think it's a great question, Ali.
Listen, this has been this has been a great interview, a great conversation. I want to thank you for your time and thanks for coming on the show. Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
Uh. 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 am s t r e t blog. Dotcom slash podcast. You can also find information there on how to get a transcript.
And if you'd like to receive a weekly email from me filled with all sorts of brain food, go to Furnham Street blog, dotcom slash newsletter. This is all the good stuff I've found on the Web that week that I've read and shared with close friends, books I'm reading and so much more.
Thank you for listening.