Episode 93 — March 30th, 2023 — Available at read.fluxcollective.org/p/93
Contributors to this issue: Neel Mehta, Boris Smus, Dimitri Glazkov, Justin Quimby, Erika Rice Scherpelz
Additional insights from: Ade Oshineye, Gordon Brander, a.r. Routh, Stefano Mazzocchi, Ben Mathes, Alex Komoroske, Robinson Eaton, Spencer Pitman, Julka Almquist, Scott Schaffter, Lisie Lillianfeld, Samuel Arbesman, Dart Lindsley, Jon Lebensold
We’re a ragtag band of systems thinkers who have been dedicating our early mornings to finding new lenses to help you make sense of the complex world we live in. This newsletter is a collection of patterns we’ve noticed in recent weeks.
“The journey is part of the experience — an expression of the seriousness of one’s intent. One doesn’t take the A train to Mecca.”
— Anthony Bourdain
🐱🧠 Herding cats of the mind
Imagine the process of thinking. You may be picturing something that echoes the ideas of Aristotelian rationality: a single actor managing causal chains of reasoning, building on a sound foundation of facts and evidence.
Neuroscience — and our personal experience — indicate the reality is different. Our thinking process seems more like a house full of spirited cats. We are filled with discordant meowing, fighting, scaled drapes, destroyed houseplants, viciously clawed furniture, indulgent naps, and other representations of chaos.
It is a miracle — and perhaps the greatest illusion of all — that we perceive our mind as a single consciousness. How do we act effectively? How do we herd all these cats of our mind? Where do we even begin?
First, seek multiple perspectives. The view we have at hand, even when it seems most clear-cut, is just one of many. There are always other ways to look at a problem, other lenses. Each new perspective can reveal additional insights (although some more than others). If we stick with our default perspective, we’ll be surprised by the mismatch between our intention and the outcomes of our actions. In our mind’s house of cats, the loudest meow isn’t always wisdom.
Next, listen to our bodies. Our minds and bodies connect through the powerful, yet blunt, instrument of interoception. We generally have a clear signal on whether what’s happening around or within us is good or bad. What we don’t get from interoception is why. One of the common tricks our mind-cats play is creating fully formed opinions from minimal data. To overcome this, we must start by recognizing these thoughts as interpretations of our feelings. Then we must learn how to separate what we feel from what we observe. We need to learn to act differently from what our bodies urge us to do.
Third, write. A lot. Writing is the closest thing we have to idealized rational thinking. Stringing a feline pandemonium of thoughts into a cogent sequence of words is a robust organizing process. Learn to write, for yourself as well as others. Write to understand your own thinking process. Write to line up arguments and perspectives. Write to find gaps and discrepancies. If it’s a struggle, it might be a sign that all these thoughts aren’t as logical and sound as they first appear to be. Learn to write to think clearly.
These are the three practices that we embrace here at FLUX. We hope that they will help you herd your cats of your mind.
Clues that point to where our changing world might lead us.
🚏🇮🇳 An Indian courtroom used ChatGPT to help decide bail in a murder case
A judge at a high court in India was presiding over a murder case where the defendant asked to be let out on bail. To help him make a decision, the judge asked ChatGPT, “What is the jurisprudence on bail when the assailant assaulted with cruelty?” The chatbot replied that, if the defendant has been charged with “a violent crime that involves cruelty,” they’re often considered a danger to the community and thus denied bail. The judge agreed and rejected the defendant’s bail request.
🚏💽 A TikTok data center is apparently hindering ammo manufacturing for Ukraine
To fuel its growth in Europe, TikTok plans to open a new data center in the Norwegian region of Hamar. Meanwhile, a major ammunition manufacturer named Nammo, which has been building ammo for the Ukrainian army, wanted to expand its factory in the region. But the local energy provider said that there was “no spare capacity” to support the factory, since all the remaining electricity budget had been allocated to the TikTok data center. Nammo’s CEO was frustrated by the roadblock, saying that, “We are concerned because we see our future growth is challenged by the storage of cat videos.”
🚏🧩 ChatGPT invented & coded a puzzle game, but the idea already existed
🚏🥾 The UK set up phony DDoS-for-hire sites to confuse potential cybercriminals
“Booter” sites let criminals inundate target websites with a flood of fake traffic, thus DDoS’ing them and knocking them offline. To combat this scourge, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has been setting up phony booter sites. When criminals sign up on these fake sites, the NCA collects their contact info and sternly warns them that DDoSing is illegal; the goal is to “increase the level of paranoia” among aspiring attackers. (A few years ago, the NCA started running warning-filled Google ads for booter services, targeting British males aged 13 to 22.)
🚏🦣 A lab-grown meat company created a “wooly mammoth meatball”
One “cultivated meat” startup uses a few animal cells to grow large quantities of edible meat. In a promotional campaign, the company took DNA sequences for a protein found in wooly mammoths and placed it in sheep stem cells, allowing them to grow enough meat cells to make a meatball. Nobody is going to eat this meatball (the human immune system may not react well to the mammoth protein), but the company thinks they’ll be able to create edible versions of quail, alpaca, buffalo, crocodile, kangaroo, and other kinds of unusual meats.
📖⏳ Worth your time
Some especially insightful pieces we’ve read, watched, and listened to recently.
The Five Levels of Delegation (Full Focus) — Argues that leaders who delegate tasks to subordinates need to “make it clear what level of authority [they] are conferring on others.” There are five such levels, each with progressively more autonomy: “Do as I say,” “Research and report,” “Research and recommend,” “Decide and inform,” and “Act independently.”
How Sulfur Emissions Kept the North Atlantic and Pacific Cool (Leon Simons) — Shares a classic case of unintended consequences: sea surface temperatures in the northern mid-latitudes (a hotspot of shipping traffic) were long kept down by sulfur emissions from ships. But when new regulations mandated cleaner shipping fuels, the cooling effect of pollutants was diminished, and temperatures started increasing.
Simone Weil’s Radical Conception of Attention (Literary Hub) — Explores how the French philosopher drew a distinction between two kinds of attention. The first involves “muscular effort,” where we perform for our interlocutor, demonstrating that we are heeding them through social cues. In the second, which Weil dubs “negative attention,” we blot out all distractions, dilate our minds, and wait selflessly for insights to come to us.
The Taking of Stonehenge (Adrian Hon) — A tongue-in-cheek sci-fi essay imagining how colonialism-minded aliens would take British archaeological treasures back to their home planet and justify it as being good for us unsophisticated Earthlings.
What I Learned About America at 3 Miles per Hour (The Washington Post) — Reporter Neil King Jr. reflects on his contemplative 330-mile walk from Washington, DC to New York City, thinking about the varied people he met and the unexplored corners of the country he saw. He concludes that “a slow walk won’t buttress your certitudes — more likely the opposite, imbuing the mundane with wonder and magnifying the world’s extraordinary complexity. There are great wonders out there for anyone who decides to go look at the world, particularly a stretch you think you already know, at three miles an hour.”
📚🌲 Book for your shelf
An evergreen book that will help you dip your toes into systems thinking.
This week, we recommend Deliberate Calm by Jacqueline Brassey, Aaron De Smet, and Michiel Kruyt (2022, 352 pages).
If you’re not a fan of consultant-written books — the kind with endless testimonials of managers and leaders rescued by wise and inspirational coaches — this book might be tough going at first.
Yet we recommend that you look past the formulaic structure and focus instead on the nuggets of wisdom in this book. You’ll get an accessible description of the theory of predictive mind. You’ll see a dazzling variety of generative lenses, including many we've highlighted in this newsletter. Deliberate Calm is also an excellent introduction to the latest insights about how our body and our mind are connected and how they work, both together and against each other.
If you enjoy reading FLUX, you will likely be delighted by this book, even if the anthology of consultants’ heroic acts isn’t your cup of tea.
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The cats in my mind are arguing as to whether I should rush to read Deliberate Calm