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All Of Our Days Are Numbered - 7 Takeaways No. 136
Optimization, Age, Beliefs, Skepticism, Anxiety, Death, Alone, Loss
1. “Know what you’re optimizing for”
The Optimal Level of Optimization – Dan Shipper – (Every – Chain of Thought newsletter)
Using AI learning models as examples, Shipper discusses how over-optimization can go wrong. Yes, it applies to any optimization, but I found the description of AI learning to be both interesting and accessible.
Goal optimization is one of the key things that machine learning and AI researchers study. In order to get a neural network to do anything useful, you have to give it a goal and try to make it better at achieving that goal.
One example uses the classic “learn to identify dog breeds” AI training. Past a certain point, further training can actually destroy the model’s ability to recognize new images.
Do this: Know when to stop.
2. “No matter your age these are your golden years”
Excellent Advice for Living – Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier – Kevin Kelly – (ebook)
For a variety of reasons, some of which I’ll discuss in my personal blog in the coming weeks, I’m being reminded of the shortness of life, the value of time, and the importance of the family we choose.
Kelly’s book has many what he calls “wisdom tweets”, several of which resonate strongly with me. Many are similar to Stoic and Buddhist philosophy. The one above is, to me, a reminder to be present, and value the here-and-now.
Do this: Don’t wait “until”. Live life now.
3. “The Earth is flat”
What’s Our Problem? – A Self-help Book for Societies – Tim Urban – (ebook)
Here’s the full quote:
If someone really wants to believe something—that the Earth is flat, that 9/11 was orchestrated by Americans, that the CIA is after them—the human brain will find a way to make that belief seem perfectly clear and irrefutable.
Our ability to delude ourselves is epic. We have no idea the depths possible.
Urban’s book (I’m only partway through) discusses the state, and causes, of the incredible division in today’s society. It’s informative, and yet somewhat scary and frustrating at the same time. It’s long, but I’m taking my time with it, as the topic is incredibly important if we’re to make sense of WTF is going on around us right now.
Do this: Question your
4. “Something is rotten in skepticism.”
MOS: Guide to a Fuckery Free Life – SciBabe (aka Yvette d’Entremont) – (Moment of Science, on Facebook)
We should be better than this. That’s one of my takeaways from the last 8 years of politics, pandemic, conspiracy, and misinformation. In fact, we were better than this. We used to be able to detect bullshit better than we do today, it seems. Yes, there’s always been, and will certainly always be, bullshit, but we seem to have reached record-setting toxic levels.
In this essay, SciBabe, in her entertaining way, outlines some basic tenets of skepticism we should all make part of our daily lives. Perhaps the single, most important rule:
The easiest person to fool is yourself, and you come with an assortment of silly ideas and biases. When a news outlet affirms all your worldviews or opinions, take a step back …
Do this: please, please, please get better at healthy skepticism, and don’t be afraid to call bullshit when you see it.
5. “Emotionally healthy but coping with unusual pressures”
Being Anxious or Sad Does Not Make You Mentally Ill – Arthur C. Brooks – (The Atlantic)
Politics, pandemic, social media — these are all often cited causes of the increase in diagnosis of depression and anxiety. While Brooks acknowledges that some truly are illnesses, for many, perhaps even most, it’s not an illness at all, but simple the psyche working as it should.
The point is that feeling discomfort and seeking help should not necessarily mean that you are ill. You might instead be emotionally healthy but coping with unusual pressures, a period of change, or just, well, life on Earth.
Life on Earth just about sums it up. He includes three things to remember:
We are all anxious and sad.
The goal is not to eradicate suffering.
Your happiness requires unhappiness.
Do this: Remember you’re not alone.
6. “All of our days are numbered.”
It’s Easier Than You Think – Sylvia Boorstein – (ebook)
If some of my selections seem a little maudlin this week, I apologize. I’ve just spent the better part of a week overseas with a dear family member whose cancer took a turn.
This has me reflecting a lot on both living and dying.
No one knows what number we are up to. Literally, we haven’t a moment to lose.
Or, as I put it in my blog post referenced in #8, below, we are all dying. Some of us are just doing it faster or sooner than others.
Do this: Don’t lose a moment.
7. “Let people know they are not alone.”
One of the Most Important Things You Can Do on This Earth – John P. Weiss – (The Saturday Letters newsletter)
One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to pay attention to others.
Listen to them. Talk to them. Help them.
Let people know they are not alone.
Weiss’s essay starts out focused on death, but the topic is so much larger than that. As we’ve seen in prior takeaways, loneliness is an epidemic, and perhaps not even a new one.
Whose life could you inspire? Who could you uplift? Who needs someone like you to light a candle in their bothy? To warm their heart. Hold their hand.
Let them know they’re not alone.
Do this: Reach out.
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8. “Hug your loved ones.”
On Aging and Loss – Leo Notenboom – (Personal blog)
We all want to live a long and healthy life. We want to be the ones making it far through the bell curve of life expectancy. I know I do.
There’s an unanticipated problem with succeeding.
The longer we live, the more we outlive.
Do this: Cherish those still with you.
More random links & thoughts
WHO aspartame brouhaha – another good take on the whole kerfuffle.
In Praise of Phone Numbers – Indeed. 🙂
How a Vast Demographic Shift Will Reshape the World – Speaking of aging, more costs.
1440 is a daily newsletter that aims to share “All of your news, none of the bias”. I regularly find interesting items for 7 Takeaways, and occasionally Not All News Is Bad. This week, 1440 was the source for the link “How a Vast Demographic Shift Will Reshape the World”.
I’m building and keeping a list on the sources page.
What I’m Reading
The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations for Clarity, Effectiveness, and Serenity – Ryan Holiday, Stephen Hanselman