The coddling of the American mind – Part 2

I finished the book yesterday. The second half wasn’t as good as the first one. But I understand how hard it is to identify causality and solutions in a complex stochastic system. 

The solutions the authors proposed were as with everything in life: easier said than done. While I agree with many of their ideas, I don’t know how to apply them. One example is the idea of free child play and exposing children to dangerous yet manageable physical environments. I am actually sometimes worried when I see kids doing crazy things on public transit and their parents aren’t showing concern that they might fall, I can’t imagine myself being this calm while my kids are hammering nails and cutting wood with saws as the authors said they do with their kids. I agree with the principle I don’t know how to execute it.

I also don’t know why they were overselling Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I need to read more about it.

Overall I still recommend reading it.

My first post about the book can be read here.

The coddling of the American mind

I am currently reading this book. It has been long since I got hooked to that level on a book.

As a strong advocate of free speech this book gives a great model on the current issues within the context of university education.

I only read Jonathan Haidt first book “The righteous mind”. While he is not considered part of the intellectual dark web, I am now getting a deeper understanding for the importance of such group even if I disagree with some of their ideas. He didn’t mention them at all in the book (I am on page 70) but what he is describing on university campuses has actually expanded almost everywhere.

I am still reading and enjoying it.

If you are a free speech advocate and against silencing those you disagree with on the basis of reducing hate speech, this book is definitely for you.

And if you think hate speech should be constrained this book also explains the dangers of this act.

The abstract and the concrete

I recently made a stupid book recommendation to a friend. The book wasn’t stupid but my recommendation was.

The more I read the more I see patterns repeating between things, and after a while I develop the ability to move from the abstract to the concrete and back.

Take for example the idea of antifragility, that as humans what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. You can read it in abstract form through a book like Antifragile, or in concrete psychology context in a book like the upside of stress.

Same applies to success. The abstract form can be found in probability books. Being successful is a matter of increasing the probability. The concrete comes in books like Grit, Mastery, or outliers.

Another recent example is complex systems. You can study them from the abstract mathematical chaos theory, or by concrete examples like marriage and studying companies.

The thing is people have different abilities when it comes to moving between the abstract and the concrete. If you are always abstract, you might be a non-doer. If you are always concrete, you may not understand how things apply in a different context.

My book recommendation was stupid because it was too abstract for that person. I confused them with the group of people I mostly hang out with, as they almost read the same things I do and we keep oscillating between the abstract and the concrete.

The first rule of communication is know your audience. I should take more into consideration how concrete or abstract I should be when I am communicating to someone. And you should too.

Skin in the game

I finally finished the book. At the beginning I didn’t like it and abandoned it for a while. Then I saw Naval saying it is the best book he read in 2018. I decided to pick it up again.

I got the idea of skin in the game. The idea of bearing the consequences of both the upside and downside of one’s decisions.

I got how beareaucrats and economists have no skin in the game, since they don’t get the downside of their decisions.

The minority rule was a revelation. I think it is a must understand for anyone to know how the world works.

I didn’t fully understand ergodicity. And I think Lindy effect is similar to Bayes forecasts in the case of initial priors where one predicts something is going to continue for at least the same duration it has survived so far. I don’t know why he decided to call it Lindy effect.

Dynamic and static equality was a spot on. I don’t know how accurate is the data he presented but it confirms my bias on why the so called “economic equality” in Europe does more harm than good.

The idea of complex systems was also a spot on. I was talking to a friend the other day and he was saying I don’t know why when I talk to each of them they are smart, but when they are in a team the output is really bad. I was also talking to a different friend about marriage, and she highlighted how two sane persons become crazy once they are together. This all falls into the idea that the outcome of the parts together doesn’t equal the sum of the parts. Because with every node you add, the complexity grows exponentially and you have a totally new thing. At the end the structure of the system matters more than the inputs/parts.

Then there is the idea of ruin. While I totally got it I didn’t understand how you avoid making it stop you from taking risks. At the end of the day we need some belief to take the big risks that result in big outcomes. Taking small risks with high outcomes at extremistan only works for a small subset of people. Or maybe one can argue that the whole product/market validation methods in software startups are only to take small risks and avoid ruin. I don’t know.

The biggest challenge for me was connecting the dots in the book. While the book talks about the same topic all across, the flow seemed broken and the different parts seemed disconnected. I understood the different subparts with different degrees but overall failed to connect the overall flow. Maybe there isn’t one.

There is also the style of the author. It is aggressive and he almost attacks every one he disagrees with. Most specially Saudi Arabia. It got to a point where it became comical every time I read one of those sentences where he attacks one of his opponents. I laughed out loud reading some of them.

And I wasn’t fully convinced by some of the arguments related to lack of skin in the game. There were multiple points where Nassim abstracted a fairly complex topic in a simple manner similar to those he was attacking throughout the book (e.g. the Arab-Israeli conflict).

In general I enjoyed it and it was worth reading. I recommend you doing so as well.

Scalability of ethics

I was watching Peter Thiel interview with Dave Rubin. Part of the interview was Thiel talking about seasteading, a libertarian Utopia he wants to build in the middle of the sea.

The first thing that came to mind upon hearing this was Talib’s “ethics don’t scale” argument from Skin in the Game.

There is also

A libertarian Utopia can not scale, or it will turn into a dictatorship or something else.

That’s one of the reasons I don’t understand humanists that keep saying we are all one. No we are not. We are different. There are infinite factors that determine our position in society and our life path. We can’t control for most of those factors. We live with other human beings. They have different desires and incentives. They have different genes. Their ethics are different. They act differently.

The only way we can all be one is in a dystopian world. A world in which we are all trapped together having to abide by rules dictating we all should behave in a certain way. In such a world I will probably be unconscious. This makes life meaningless. And I don’t want to live a meaningless life. Sorry, we are not one.

Being an Owl

Yesterday I sent the following email to some of my coworkers

I have a weird request, but can we make this meeting some other time that’s not 9:30? I am genetically a night owl and I hate 9:30 meetings. You can find more info on night owls below. Source: Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

And then I attached the following two screenshots

And I want to add this screenshot to this blog post

I don’t know if what I did was good or stupid, but I really hate 9:30 meetings. I am an owl, and I should be accommodated for.

The confirmation bias rational optimist

I tried reading “the rational optimist” by Matt Ridley. Here is a summary of the book chapters

  1. Stats and anecdotes showing the world got better.
  2. Stats and anecdotes from the next era showing the world got better.
  3. Stats and anecdotes from the next era showing the world got better.
  4. Stats and anecdotes from the next era showing the world got better.
  5. Stats and anecdotes from the next era showing the world got better.
  6. Stats and anecdotes from the next era showing the world got better.
  7. Stats and anecdotes from the next era showing the world got better.
  8. Stats and anecdotes from the next era showing the world got better.
  9. Stats and anecdotes from the next era showing the world got better.
  10. Some Pessimism: Africa is doomed, but it is gonna be alright. Climate change will kill us all if we don’t react to it, but it is also gonna be alright.
  11. Extrapolation of the stats and the anecdotes from chapters 1-9 to the coming 100 years.

The end

I am an optimist myself. It is the first word in my bio. But the book looks like it is written for optimists looking to support their confirmation bias. No wonder most of the people recommending it such as Bill Gates, and Naval are known to be optimists themselves.

I totally agree that the world got and is getting better. I keep telling everyone that someone like myself, born in Egypt fifty years before I was born, and have the same disease I have, would had far lower chance of living a comfortable life as the one I enjoy, let alone having a decent job and living by themself in a different country.

The book almost dismisses randomness and the role it plays in social, political, and economic boom and bust cycles. It forgets that the turkey after 1000 days of getting fed, it thinks tomorrow will be the same until thanksgiving comes.

It also dismisses the point, that individualization and capitalism, the same things that led the world becoming better, are making people unhappy feeling they lost their sense of belonging in the society, which on a longer run might have a reversal effect by people wanting this progress to stop. The book ignores that the rapid technological advancements are making tech and tech companies controlling humans more than ever, driving us towards a dystopian world where we become slaves of those technologies.

Those are just few points of pessimism – among many others – that I expected to be addressed in such a book. I expected it to have stronger arguments targeted towards real pessimists, and not a compressed dose of statistics and anecdotes that anyone could argue against, even if they are true.

Never Split the Difference

One of the books I finished recently is “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It” by Chris Voss. He used to lead the FBI’s international hostage negotiation team. In the book he gives his best negotiation advice having spent a career negotiating people’s lives.

Negotiation is hard. I once tried reading “Getting to yes”. I couldn’t get beyond chapter 1. It was following a typical rational process while the reality of a negotiation is much more irrational and complex.

I liked the mental model Chris created for negotiations. The model has basic principles, supported by tactics to help you achieve the negotiation goals, without diverting from the principles.

Some of the principles

  • Great negotiators go in with a sit of hypotheses about the counterpart’s desires and emotions. They try to validate these hypotheses throughout the negotiation process, and discover black swans.
  • The problem is the issue, not the person behind the table.
  • Be willing to walk away. No deal is better than a bad deal.

As for the tactics, for every tactic he explained the psychological basis for it. This make things easier as it made me understand the why behind each of the them.

What I didn’t like about the book is it could’ve been better organized.

I listened to it more than 5 times and was taking notes. Some of the topics were repetitive, and some chapters had a lengthy introduction (sometimes more than half of the chapter) before going into the core of the topic.

Some important topics were just mentioned between the lines (like when and how to shake the other party), sometimes out of context with no proper introduction like the other tactics.

In general it is my best read of 2017. I highly recommend it.

Shoe Dog

I recently finished the memoir of Nike’s founder Phil Knight. I didn’t know it is pronounced “Nikee” and not “Nike like Bike”.

It is a clear story of passion and persistence. The book reminds me of “The hard thing about hard things” by Ben Horowitz. It has the same pattern of a series of ups and downs with extremes on both ends. The main difference I felt was Phil’s story was more personal. He talked more about how he felt and what was he thinking when things were happening. It kinda makes you feel in his shoe.

It is a story of mastery. Starting the company with his three decades older coach is a great example of the evolution from apprenticeship to mastery. They both had passion for shoes and running. Phil had the energy, while Bowerman had the experience that made him innovate on shoe designs. I feel envious he was this lucky to find such a mentor.

The book is well written and worth the time. There are countless quotes to share but those two are the ones I liked the most.

  • “We’re also finishing construction on a new athletic facility, which we plan to dedicate to our mothers, Dot and Lota. On a plaque next to the entrance will go an inscription: Because mothers are our first coaches.”
  • “When goods don’t pass international borders, soldiers will. Though I’ve been known to call business war without bullets, it’s actually a wonderful bulwark against war. Trade is the path of coexistence, cooperation. Peace feeds on prosperity.”

Man’s Search for Meaning

Yesterday I finished the book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. I heard of the book first time from a tweet by Keith Rabois.

It is the story of a psychiatrist who survived four Nazi concentration camps during world war II. Perfect time to read while just arriving to Germany!

The book is not the typical WWII horror story type of book. It rather focuses on the psychological aspect of being a prisoner in one of those camps, and the difference between those survived and those gave up to let themselves die.

Then the author talks about a new approach to psychiatry which he calls “Logotherapy”. Logos is a greek word which denotes “meaning”. Here is an excerpt from the book

Logotherapy, or, as it has been called by some authors, “The Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy,” focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning. According to logotherapy, this striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man. That is why I speak of a will to meaning in contrast to the pleasure principle (or, as we could also term it, the will to pleasure) on which Freudian psychoanalysis is centered, as well as in contrast to the will to power on which Adlerian psychology, using the term “striving for superiority,” is focused.


Logotherapy regards its assignment as that of assisting the patient to find meaning in his life. Inasmuch as logotherapy makes him aware of the hidden logos of his existence, it is an analytical process. To this extent, logotherapy resembles psychoanalysis. However, in logotherapy’s attempt to make something conscious again it does not restrict its activity to instinctual facts within the individual’s unconscious but also cares for existential realities, such as the potential meaning of his existence to be fulfilled as well as his will to meaning.

Any analysis, however, even when it refrains from including the noölogical dimension in its therapeutic process, tries to make the patient aware of what he actually longs for in the depth of his being. Logotherapy deviates from psychoanalysis insofar as it considers man a being whose main concern consists in fulfilling a meaning, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts, or in merely reconciling the conflicting claims of id, ego and superego, or in the mere adaptation and adjustment to society and environment.

I have few highlights from the book, but here is one that I really liked.

Edith Weisskopf-Joelson, before her death professor of psychology at the University of Georgia, contended, in her article on logotherapy, that “our current mental-hygiene philosophy stresses the idea that people ought to be happy, that unhappiness is a symptom of maladjustment. Such a value system might be responsible for the fact that the burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased by unhappiness about being unhappy.”

Although the book was first published in 1946, this is so true to our current world!