Discover more from The Long Game by Mehdi Yacoubi
The Long Game 13: Regenerative Agriculture, Sleep Optimization, Categorical Thinking, Victimization, Remote Teams
👽 UFOs, Cloud Cities, Senescence, Newsletter Stack, the Dragon Tyrant, and Much More!
Hey there 👋🏼, and welcome to The Long Game — my take on health, wellness, and better living.
If you missed the past episodes, you could catch up here.
In this episode, we explore:
Let’s dive into it!
Paris is emptier and sunnier than ever!
🚜 Regenerative Agriculture
I like to think about the second-order effects of COVID-19 on different sectors of society. The two changes I’m very interested in following are the increased focus on health and the changes in our food system.
Rethinking the food system is an essential challenge because it could fix many of our most pressing issues as a society.
A better food system leads to people in better health, and it can help fix the environment. I like to imagine that the COVID-19 pandemic will serve as a warning for all of us that things can go wrong when left unplanned and unaddressed for too long. I might be a little bit too optimistic when we look at the global lack of cooperation between countries on this crisis that doesn’t have any border.
Our health. Our diet is the main cause of death, disability, and suffering in the world.
Inequality. Children raised on ultra-processed and sugary foods suffer from malnutrition.
Communities in the developing world suffer disruption from big agribusinesses and Big Food.
The way we produce food is endangering the planet.
In other words, pretty much everything is related to our food system.
I’ve heard a lot about regenerative agriculture as a solution to these problems lately, so I wanted to learn more about it.
First, what is regenerative agriculture?
Regenerative organic agriculture improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them. It is a holistic systems approach to agriculture that encourages continual onfarm innovation for environmental, social, economic and spiritual wellbeing.
Farmers engaged in regenerative agriculture put a great deal of emphasis on:
Diversity: By increasing the plant diversity of their fields, farmers help create the rich, varied, and nutrient-dense soils that lead to more productive yields.
Rotation and cover crops: By rotating crops and deploying cover crops strategically, farms and gardens can infuse soils with more and more (and more diverse) soil organic matter, often while avoiding disease.
Conservation tillage: By adopting low- or no-till practices, farmers minimize physical disturbance of the soil, and over time increase levels of soil organic matter, creating healthier, more resilient environments for plants to thrive.
Now, let’s look at how regenerative farming could be one solution to curb some of these problems.
First, regenerative agriculture has, at its core, the intention to improve the health of the soil, which symbiotically enhances the quality of water, vegetation, and land productivity.
Second, regenerative agriculture can help with ‘soil carbon sequestration’, a process in which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and stored in the soil carbon pool.
Third, it will produce healthier foods than the one industrially farmed. The meat is grass-fed, and the plants are mostly organic.
One thing I noticed is that the debate around regenerative farming ends up resembling the debate ‘animal foods vs. veganism’. It’s a discussion charged with emotions on both sides, with Big Food now digging in and pushing for regenerative agriculture (in part to counter the rise of plant-based alternatives!)
It’s very hard to reach scientific consensus on these topics (I found this good attempt at describing what’s real from what’s not on the environmental aspect), where studies seem to contradict each other. Still, we will need more studies to determine whether regenerative farming can hold up to its promises and deliver both plants and animal foods while removing carbon from the atmosphere at scale.
💤 Optimizing Sleep — Bioloop Sleep Review
I started tracking my sleep a few months ago. During the first few weeks, I slowly started to understand which factors impacted my sleep, but after a while, I realized tracking sleep is not the same as improving sleep.
Currently, the sleep wearables available on the market provide you with data on your sleep. It’s a good first step; it makes you aware of your sleep quality.
When it comes to improving your sleep, wearables do very little. Health and wellness metrics like sleep depend on multiple factors and require an organized approach to be upgraded. Having accurate data is only the first step of the process.
To address the problem of improving sleep, Jason Jin built Bioloop Sleep, an online sleep lab, to help you get better sleep. They are currently in closed beta, and I’m lucky to be part of the early users.
Their product guides you in your self-experimentation journey and helps you find what impacts your sleep. For example, you can choose to experiment with meditation, or Magnesium supplementation for a few days and see (with accurate data) if it impacted your sleep quality (there are currently plenty of experiments you can choose from.)
I will do a more in-depth review once after using the product for a few weeks!
I believe this approach is great, and it’s going to be the next big thing in health optimization. That’s what my co-founder and I are currently building with blood glucose levels and nutrition. We will guide people in their quest for optimal nutrition and lifestyle, leveraging accurate blood glucose data. I will announce more about this in the coming weeks!
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🧠 Better Thinking
🗄 Resist Categorical Thinking
One idea that stuck with me after watching Robert Sapolsky’s course on Behavioral Biology is to resist categorical thinking. I’m sitting on a terrasse in Paris writing this, and the street in front of me separates the 3rd Arrondissement from the 4th Arrondissement. These two “Arrondissements” have different images in the mind of people in Paris. Yet, sitting here, I couldn’t differentiate the two sides of the street.
If you think about the world with a particular set of categories in your head, you will think differently than without these categories. When you think in categories, you overestimate how different two facts from different categories are.
Categories are a quick way to classify things, but they limit your thinking by placing artificial borders in the world.
When you pay too much attention to the categories, you lose sight of the big picture.
⚡️ Startup Stuff
With my co-founder, we were already sold to the idea of building a remote-first company before the coronavirus hit. Now, we’re even more.
I believe remote-first will be the future of work (both for economic reasons and lifestyle reasons), and we are currently in the transition period. It’s a difficult period because remote work requires different processes than office work.
This article by Andreas Klinger, who helped build Product Hunt as a fully distributed team, does a great job of describing a functioning remote-first setup.
You can’t just “get up and talk with everyone all the time” in a remote team… you simply can’t. People might be offline, might be sleeping, might be deep focused on other work.
That’s why remote teams need much more process, but it doesn’t have to be rigid workflows.
This can be as simple as: “We do check-ins every morning…” “Please before you do X always do Y…” These simple explicit agreements allow other people to expect those actions to happen and avoid unnecessary communication loops.
In this time of transition, it’s tempting to opt for a hybrid set-up. Andreas warns that these setups might be the hardest to do well.
Imagine you are the only person remote in a small team. You have entirely different process needs. You will suffer.
📚 What I Read
❌ Victimization and Cancel Culture
Some people tend to see themselves as perpetual victims. Rahav Gabay and her colleagues define this tendency for interpersonal victimhood as “an ongoing feeling that the self is a victim, which is generalized across many kinds of relationships.
I find the consequences of this mindset to be fascinating to study, especially right now, with the rise of cancel culture. Studies show that people with a victimhood mindset tend to perceive themselves as having an immaculate morality and view everyone else as being immoral.
Moral elitism often develops as a defense mechanism against deeply painful emotions and as a way to maintain a positive self-image. As a result, those under distress tend to deny their own aggressiveness and destructive impulses and project them onto others. The “other” is perceived as threatening whereas the self is perceived as persecuted, vulnerable and morally superior.
In modern Western societies being a victim doesn’t always lead to undesirable outcomes. Sometimes, being a victim can increase one’s standing. And justify one’s claim to material resources.
They [researchers] argue that “contemporary Western democracies have become particularly hospitable environments for victim signalers to execute a strategy of nonreciprocal resource extraction.”
The best way to transmit an idea is through a story, there’s no doubt about that. This fable by Nick Bostrom is a masterpiece to describe how crazy it is for our society not to tackle the problem of aging and death with more resources and energy.
Once upon a time, the planet was tyrannized by a giant dragon. The dragon stood taller than the largest cathedral, and it was covered with thick black scales. Its red eyes glowed with hate, and from its terrible jaws flowed an incessant stream of evil-smelling yellowish-green slime. It demanded from humankind a blood-curdling tribute: to satisfy its enormous appetite, ten thousand men and women had to be delivered every evening at the onset of dark to the foot of the mountain where the dragon-tyrant lived.
Today, people still accept aging and death, just like people in the fable accept the tribute they have to pay to the dragon. I hope it will change soon.
While we still lack effective and acceptable means for slowing the aging process, we can identify research directions that might lead to the development of such means in the foreseeable future. “Deathist” stories and ideologies, which counsel passive acceptance, are no longer harmless sources of consolation. They are fatal barriers to urgently needed action.
🍭 Brain Food
👽 UFOs, singularity
According to the findings, there are some objects we don’t recognize. It can be that a country made a significant technology leap or that a civilization outside of Earth is now with us on this planet. In both cases, it’s better to investigate!
When thinking about UFOs and other mysterious things, there are two ways to go:
Dismiss those findings directly, and say that it’s nonsense and that it’s impossible.
Investigate the findings.
I stand for the second option.
And more generally, I always tend to think that we have a lot of things still to discover as a species, especially some truths that will be very hard to accept at first.
As Mike Solana writes: “Today, there are many “truths” about the world I worry we have wrong. In the first place: we need to talk about UFOs.”
We seem to have a psychological block that prohibits us from entertaining a class of “strange ideas” outside some personal, identity-based window of acceptable thinking. “I am not the kind of person who thinks X,” where “X” is the bizarre.
The biggest challenge to keep progressing and discovering things as a society will be emotional:
The block is emotionally fortified. When faced with an unacceptable question about the world a feeling hits you in the gut and twists — turn back, do not look at this.
For a serious/funny take on this, watch Rogan and Post Malone discuss it.
🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week
When it comes to the future and especially the transitions society will make during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, Balaji has a lot of very interesting ideas.
The main topics discussed are:
How COVID will help push for more progress in biomedicine
The future of media and the rise of citizen journalism
How Twitter mobs influence governments
“Twitter is actually the government of Western civilization right now” – Balaji Srinivasan
👨🔬 Ned David, Ph.D.: How cellular senescence influences aging, and what we can do about it on The Drive
In this episode, Ned explains the science of cellular senescence and how it impacts the aging process. Ned discusses how senolytics may delay, prevent, treat, or even reverse age-related diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative disease.
A few highlights of the discussion:
Three principles of aging:
Aging is not a rigid thing, it’s flexible and malleable
Nature has “control knobs”
Natures control knobs can be “twisted” by humans (such as with drug development)
Very similar creatures have very different lifespans
Example: A hard clam (one that you could eat) lives about 40 years, but it has a deep-ocean dwelling relative called the quahog clam that lives at least 500 years.
The control knobs of aging are: Calorie restriction, rapamycin, and mTOR—Young blood—Mitochondrial aging—Methylation of DNA—Cellular senescence
“If you look at all of these aging mechanisms and these knobs that I’ve described, they all play a role in this. We don’t yet know what the sort of underlying primordial clock that ticks that makes us age. What we do know is that you have a series of these component mechanisms that work collectively and they create this phenomenon that we call aging.”
🔧 The tool of the Week
Legacy media is currently being unbundled in small, individual publications. Creators, journalists, and citizens understand that owning their audience is crucial today. In this wave of decentralization, newsletters gained a lot of popularity. I subscribed to a lot of newsletters over the last months, and I get a lot of value from reading them.
Newsletter Stack is a great place to find quality newsletters on the topics that interest you.
My personal favorites are:
Stratechery — Tech news, by Ben Thompson
Venture Desktop — An ongoing exploration of the ideas, companies, and people shaping the innovation economy, by Brett Bivens
Two Truths, One Take — News, ideas, and long-term trends in the innovation economy, by Alex Danco
The Interesting Times — Great perspectives on risk management, by Taylor Pearson
Out of Pocket — The world of healthcare, but funny, by Nikhil Krishnan
🪐 Quote I’m Reflecting on
I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
— Michael Jordan
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