Discover more from The Long Game by Mehdi Yacoubi
The Long Game 133: Sperm Count, Knowing What You Really Want, Unsolicited Advice, Validation is a Mirage
🌐 Building A Virtual Machine inside ChatGPT, Semaglutidonomics, SARMs, Minimalist Training, Brands I like, and Much More!
Hi there, it’s Mehdi Yacoubi, co-founder at Vital, and this is The Long Game Newsletter. To receive it in your inbox each week, subscribe here:
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In this episode, we explore:
How to know what you really want
Validation is a mirage
Let’s dive in!
📉 Sperm Count
You might have seen this paper by now, but it’s so important that I’ll still feature it here.
Here’s part of the abstract:
This analysis is the first to report a decline in sperm count among unselected men from South/Central America–Asia–Africa, in contrast to our previous meta-analysis that was underpowered to examine those continents. Furthermore, data suggest that this world-wide decline is continuing in the 21st century at an accelerated pace. Research on the causes of this continuing decline and actions to prevent further disruption of male reproductive health are urgently needed.
The big takeaways: 🤯
This led Nat Eliason to rightfully point out that you should get tested… Half of the infertility issues today are male-driven. Better to know if it affects you sooner than later, especially with how easy at-home male fertility testing is now.
Even if you don’t think you want kids, it’s wise to do it and freeze your sperm. Having the option to conceive kids is always better than not having it (additionally, the risk of autism for your kids is way higher as you get older.)
Your quarterly reminder of how mimetic desire affects your life.
Claire, a smart, ambitious student at Tulane University in Louisiana, was on track to have her pick of law schools, but she decided she’d like to get some real-world experience – and have some fun – in New Orleans first. She landed a job as a paralegal, spending her days researching expert witnesses to defend Big Pharma cases, and that’s when the crisis came. Claire had always loved cooking and learning about humanity through cuisine. She was like a female Anthony Bourdain trapped inside an overworked paralegal, and it was slowly making her life miserable.
She began to entertain thoughts of leaving the law firm and working in a kitchen or a coffee shop until she could figure out how to make a career out of her lifelong interest in food. But doubts haunted her. What would other people think? Maybe she’s not that driven. Maybe she’s not that smart, after all. Maybe she’s lazy. What other people expected her to want to do – and her ability to meet those expectations – began to determine her self-worth.
Many people face dilemmas like Claire’s. Each of us is occasionally overwhelmed by a multitude of competing desires: pursue job offer A or B? Start a new relationship or stay single? Sign up to run a marathon, or enjoy not getting up early to train? But life is full of marathons, and they don’t necessarily involve running. It’s good to know which desires to pursue and which ones to leave behind – to know which marathons are worth running. In this Guide, I aim to show you how.
So how can you ensure your desires are what you really want?
Desires are fundamentally different from needs. Unlike physiological needs, such as hunger and thirst, a desire is an intellectual appetite for things that you perceive to be good.
Desire is a social process – it’s mimetic. As the social theorist René Girard observed, our desires don’t come from within; rather, we mimic what other people want.
Identify the people or ‘models’ influencing what you want. To better control your desires, the first step is to identify the people influencing you.
Categorise these models. Working out who is influencing you from within your world, and who is influencing you from the outside, will help you gain greater agency over your desires.
Beware of becoming obsessively focused on what your neighbours have or want. Mimetic desire often leads people into unnecessary competition and rivalry with one another.
Map out the systems of desire in your life. It’s not just individuals who influence us, but entire social systems – by identifying them, you can escape their pull.
Take ownership of your desires. Just because you are not the sole author of your desires, that doesn’t mean you can’t begin to take ownership of them.
Live an anti-mimetic life. Free yourself from the herd mentality by grounding your life in something deeper.
Mimetic desire matters a lot because it cuts across all domains of life: relationships, career, social media, lifestyle (#vanlife, etc.), possessions, and more.
Pair with: The Trouble with Optionality
🧠 Better Thinking
🤐 Some Unsolicited Advice on Unsolicited Advice
I really liked this piece on unsolicited advice. It perfectly describes something that I believe we all felt at some point or another.
The psychologist Peter Gray has suggested that people seem to resent unsolicited advice more when it comes from loved ones. When strangers give us unsolicited advice, it doesn’t feel like a constraint on our autonomy, because we don’t care about pleasing them. But when loved ones give advice, it often does feel like a constraint, because we don’t want to upset them by ignoring their counsel.
People have a strong desire to please loved ones. It feels difficult to ignore their advice, because of the implicit fear that if you do, it will indicate a lack of love or respect. “If I don’t listen to their advice, they’ll think I don’t care about them.”
So you’d rather not hear it. Because unsolicited advice from those you care about puts you in a bind: you can ignore it, which makes you look like you don’t care about them; or obey it, which we naturally dislike because it violates our desire for autonomy. By complying, it can feel like relinquishing a bit of social standing, relative to the advice giver. Momentarily, it feels like they are in control of us.
This conflict, between complying (which shows our love and respect for the person) and not complying (which reaffirms our freedom) leads to frustration. This is why we feel more upset when a family member or close friend gives us unsolicited advice compared to when a total stranger does it.
So what can you do? Don’t give unsolicited advice to those close to you.
I wrote, “Don’t give unsolicited advice” in an earlier post. I’ll amend it to: “Don’t give unsolicited advice to those closest to you.” But if they come to you asking for guidance, then by all means—give it.
And if you want to share your knowledge with strangers (like I sometimes do), then go ahead. It doesn’t put potential listeners in that bind between love for you and autonomy for themselves.
Still, be aware that many of those strangers will get angry with you. Because to them, your suggestions will feel like coercion.
⚡️ Startup Stuff
If you have ever tried to build something, you might have encountered a lot of articles claiming to explain how to validate an idea before actually building it. These types of articles might have a bit of merit in the sense that you definitely can get a sense of whether there’s a bit of demand for something, but for the most part, the only way to validate something is to actually build it.
Spend enough time talking with entrepreneurs, product people, designers, and anyone charged with proving something, and you’ll bump into questions about validation.
“How do you validate if it’s going to work?”
“How do you know if people will buy it to not?”
“How do you validate product market fit?”
“How do you validate if a feature is worth building?”
“How do you validate a design?”
I mean you can, but not in spirit of the questions being asked.
What people are asking about is certainty ahead of time. But time doesn’t start when you start working on something, or when you have a piece of the whole ready. It starts when the whole thing hits the market.
How do you know if what you’re doing is right while you’re doing it? You can’t be. You can only have a hunch, a feeling, a belief. And if the only way to tell if you’ve completely missed the mark is to ask other people and wait for them to tell you, then you’re likely too far lost from the start. If you make products, you better have a sense of where you’re heading without having to ask for directions.
There’s really only one real way to get as close to certain as possible. That’s to build the actual thing and make it actually available for anyone to try, use, and buy. Real usage on real things on real days during the course of real work is the only way to validate anything. And even then, it’s barely validation since there are so many other variables at play. Timing, marketing, pricing, messaging, etc.
And in the current context, building it can mean more than it used to a few years ago. The conventional idea to ship it very fast might not be fully adapted to a world with millions of apps and overall fatigue from users trying new products.
📚 What I Read
140 million obese Americans x $15,000/year for obesity drugs = . . . uh oh, that can't be right.
Of six major weight loss drugs, only two - Wegovy and Qsymia - have a better than 50-50 chance of helping you lose 10% of your weight. Qsymia works partly by making food taste terrible; it can also cause cognitive issues. Wegovy feels more natural; patients just feel full and satisfied after they’ve eaten a healthy amount of food. You can read the gushing anecdotes here (plus some extra anecdotes in the comments). Wegovy patients also lose more weight on average than Qsymia patients - 15% compared to 10%. It’s just a really impressive drug.
Until now, doctors didn’t really use medication to treat obesity; the drugs either didn’t work or had too many side effects. They recommended either diet and exercise (for easier cases) or bariatric surgery (for harder ones). Semaglutide marks the start of a new generation of weight loss drugs that are more clearly worthwhile.
Ultimately, Henrich traces the success of the West back to the sex and marriage taboos of early Christianity. The book highlights how obsessed early Christian leaders were with preventing incest, and just how rare this concern has been historically. An appendix to the book lists milestones in the process, beginning with the Synod of Elvira in 305-306 AD decreeing that a man could not take communion if he married his dead wife’s sister, to bans on marrying family members that started with close relatives like first cousins and nieces and expanded to include sixth cousins by the eleventh century in a system that covered not only blood relations, but affines (i.e., in-laws, step-children, etc.) and spiritual kin (godmothers, etc.). The first documented communication between a Frankish king and a pope is a letter from 538 AD about the incest issue. In the eleventh century, the Duke of Normandy, who would later be known as William the Conqueror, was excommunicated for marrying a distant cousin. While church leaders always had to be cognizant of political realities, European history shows that they did exercise power in their own right, even over the lives and behavior of some of the most powerful figures of late antiquity and the Middle Ages.
Culture by algorithm in the 21st century
The internet has broken us free from the monoculture of TV networks that dominated the twentieth century. Their strict standards resulted in content that was homogeneous and boring, but safe. It’s terrifying that a man spent one hundred days in a small circle in an empty field. It’s even more terrifying that this is solely at the whims of a single former Minecraft YouTube creator who happened to find the perfect niche to build a platform and happens to have a perfect sense for what his millions of anonymous viewers want from a video. Now, things are exciting and interesting. But there’s no standards, no compliance department telling Mr. Beast that this video maybe isn’t the best idea. When there’s no bureaucracy, only passion, the world is interesting, but sometimes interesting in scary ways. That’s the world we’re headed into. In the future, content is ruled by algorithmic desire, and those best suited to steer on the seas of the algorithm’s waves and whims.
Pair with: The Refragmentation
🍭 Brain Food
Your Twitter feed was most likely flooded by ChatGPT screenshots. This article explains how they build a virtual machine inside ChatGPT. Crazy.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard of this new ChatGPT assistant made by OpenAI. You might be aware of its capabilities for solving IQ tests, tackling leetcode problems or to helping people write LateX. It is an amazing resource for people to retrieve all kinds of information and solve tedious tasks, like copy-writing!
Today, Frederic Besse told me that he managed to do something different. Did you know, that you can run a whole virtual machine inside of ChatGPT?
🎥 What I’m Watching
💊 SARMs: The Disturbing Rise of ‘Legal Steroids’
Teenagers are now jumping on the SARMs train to get big & strong, ignoring all the red flags for their future health…
Pair with: MPMD on JRE
➕ Minimalist Training Will FAIL You!
Stay away from minimalist approaches to lifting.
🔧 The Tool of the Week
👕 A Few Brands I like
I like well-done products, and my style has evolved quite a bit. I had to buy new clothes lately, as all my previous clothes got too small.
Some brands I like:
🪐 Quote I’m Pondering
The world is a very malleable place. If you know what you want, and you go for it with maximum energy and drive and passion, the world will often reconfigure itself around you much more quickly and easily than you would think.
— Marc Andreessen
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Until next week,