The Long Game 22: Longevity Escape Velocity, Psychedelics, Effective Altruism, Crypto State, Turbulent Twenties
🥑 Keto Diet for Information, Measuring Happiness, Emotional Gym, Dragon Tyrant, Rogue, and Much More!
Greetings from Paris 🇫🇷,
If you missed the past episodes, you could catch up here.
In this episode of The Long Game, we explore:
Longevity Escape Velocity
Can we measure happiness?
Keto diet for information
The crypto state
Let’s dive into it!
The Swimmer, 1930 — Futurist painting by Giulio D'Anna
🧬 Longevity Escape Velocity
I find the concept of Longevity Escape Velocity to be the most compelling to help people understand why we should put a lot of resources and energy in the field of longevity.
Longevity escape velocity is a hypothetical situation in which life expectancy is extended longer than the time that is passing. For example, in a given year in which longevity escape velocity would be maintained, technological advances would increase life expectancy more than the year that just went by.
Damage repair buys us time, and time provides us with better technologies.
Most people are still skeptical about this because we didn’t have a lot of convincing results of damage repair therapies on mice yet, but the top scientists in the field predict that it will happen soon.
Once it happens, it will dramatically shift the expectations of society. People will go from expecting to live a bit more than their parents to expect to live much more than the previous generations.
It’s an understatement to say that it will be a dramatic inflection point. People will ask for different healthcare, different laws; almost everything will have to change.
I strongly believe the best thing people can do right now is to learn more about longevity and try to be part of this movement that will change life on earth forever.
Here are a few resources to learn more about this:
Longevity: What we know so far
Aging Biotech: details of the companies working on it
"The first 1000-year-old is probably only ~10 years younger than the first 150-year-old"— Aubrey de Grey
📊 I’ve recently started the Health Optimization & Longevity Community — a community of people committed to reaching better health and longevity, at scale. If you’re into these topics, fill in the form or respond to this email to join the group!
⚖️ Can we Measure Wellbeing?
Every week, I read and consume content related to wellness and the wellness industry, and I share here the best thing I found on the topic.
This week, I took a first principle approach, and I went back to the definition. What is wellness, and how can we measure it? It’s a fundamental question because when you think about it, what is more important than well being and happiness? Most of the things people pursue in life are proxies for these two concepts, but as Simone de Beauvoir said, “Living by proxy is always a precarious expedient.”
Without a clear understanding of human psychology and what makes well being and happiness, we can’t improve the current situation.
The first distinction to do here is between objective and subjective wellbeing. Objective well-being is often assessed using indicators that measure aspects of education, physical and built environment, community, and economy. Subjective well-being is characterized by the individual’s internal subjective assessment, based on cognitive judgments and affective reactions, of their own life as a whole.
On the objective side of things, Our World in Data has a great paper on Happiness and Life Satisfaction. It’s interesting to see that people in richer countries tend to be happier. One thing strikes me; however, there is a huge disparity of life satisfaction in countries with the same average income. Countries of Latin and Central America tend to be significantly happier than Easter European countries. It could suggest a strong cultural component to life satisfaction.
Life satisfaction is correlated with GDP, but wealth doesn’t do everything. Targeting happiness directly could be a way to improve the lives of people at scale. That’s what Bhutan is doing with its Gross National Happiness Index.
On the subjective side of things now, and perhaps the most important, the equation is much harder. There are certainly a lot of principles to guide us here; for example, Laurie Santos, from the Happiness Lab, explains that being other-oriented, finding purpose, understanding the impact bias — the fact that people consistently overestimate the duration of their emotional response to an event, both in the positive side and in the negative side — and maintaining strong relationships are pillars for a happy life.
This leaves us with general guidelines, but very few practical things to do. I don’t have a clear answer to this question, and if I had to guess, I would say that the answer will be different for everyone. That’s why I believe some form of self-awareness of the factors that make us feel better or worse is essential (I talked about this in Episode 12.)
Of course, tracking everything can be annoying sometimes, but how could we improve something that we don’t measure?
On a personal level, I find that playing with the equation “Happiness = Reality - Expectations” is very helpful, especially during a year like 2020.
It’s a complicated but beautiful question; let me know if you see wellbeing and life satisfaction through a different lens!
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🧠 Better Thinking
🥩 Keto Diet for Information
We’ve already talked about information diets here, but this concept will be one of the most important of our century. Just like we are what we eat, our mind is what we read, listen, and watch.
Countless scientists work in big companies to engineer the most addicting junk food and the most addicting content loops. Without a conscious effort to understand the problem and find a way to avoid the trap, we can’t succeed.
I found this idea of Keto diet for information very interesting — to all the vegans out there, forgive me for this one, we’ll talk about meat & veganism another time. A good heuristic to decide what to devote your attention to consists of focusing on materials that needed an extensive amount of work from the author. This way, you have more chances of consuming something high-quality.
For example, books, research papers, and long-form articles are part of this category. I consider that podcasts are in-between; most of the time, the guest is an expert on a topic, so even if the talk isn’t prepared, the quality of the ideas is nevertheless high.
Twitter is an interesting question in this discussion. It clearly has a lot of the addiction problems related to social media. Still, with a well-curated subscription list, it’s also an incredible tool to “care about a lot of things,” and be meta-rational, as Tyler Cowen describes it.
⚡️ Startup Stuff
🏋️♀️ The Founders’ Emotional Gym
The hardest part in a startup is that you wake up one morning, and you feel great about the day, and you think, "We're kicking ass." And then you wake up the next morning, and you think "We're dead." And literally nothing's changed.
Building a startup is an emotional rollercoaster, and founders need to get used to it. Still, as I was thinking about this, I remembered a piece I read a few months ago about emotional fitness for founders.
I re-read it, and it’s an excellent framework to help founders think about this often forgotten part of building a successful company — and staying mentally sane.
First, here’s the problem:
Founders confront a unique set of mental wellbeing challenges. They're often walking a thin tightrope between self-belief and self-doubt — the steadfast optimism in their vision to change an industry, and the fear that they don’t have the chops to pull it off.
There’s no doubt about the mental challenges associated with building something new and innovative. What I liked about this article is the preventive approach to maintaining emotional wellbeing. Just like with health, it has to start with the understanding that problems will come, and the best way to be prepared is to deal with them proactively.
Many people wait until they’re having debilitating anxiety before they start to think seriously about taking action. Maintaining emotional fitness is an ongoing, proactive practice that increases self-awareness, positively affects relationships, improves leadership skills, and prevents mental and emotional health struggles down the line. Think about it less like going to the doctor and more like going to the gym
Then, the article details seven traits a founder needs to work on to be emotionally fit. I won’t go into them in detail, but here are the three of them that resonated with me:
Self-awareness: always start with yourself, and take responsibility before asking anything to anyone.
Empathy: put yourself in the shoes of the other.
Effective communication: put clear words to your needs and expectations. I highly recommend this summary of Nonviolent Communication.
Strong companies take shape when emotionally fit founders are sitting at the top.
On a personal level, I already experimented with extreme work quantities to go from A to B, and I can confirm that it’s (a) not sustainable and (b) not the best way to get to B.
The ability to work through exhaustion can get founders from point A to point B, but it isn’t sustainable. Don’t wait for this emergency to pass — start on your self-care now.
📚 What I Read
⚖️ Effective Altruism
I got introduced to Effective Altruism by listening to Toby Ord on Making Sense Podcast. This movement aims to answer one simple question: how can we use our resources to help others the most? It uses science and data to make donations and tries to do the most good possible.
This piece from the Washington Post is a good introduction to the movement.
Effective altruism isn’t just about donations. It aims to bring rationality to what people choose to care about.
For example, for an effective altruist, a person on the other side of the planet is just as important as a family member. It’s based on utilitarianism, a philosophical theory that focuses on maximizing good consequences.
The main critics ask how do you measure the greatest good?
William MacAskill wrote Doing Good Better, a book to explain the philosophy behind the movement. For example, giving a sweater to a homeless person without any sweater is better than giving a sweater to a homeless person who already has a sweater. MacAskill's interesting point is that working for an NGO or following your passion is not necessarily the best career choice. In the mind of an effective altruist, a high-paying job will enable you to give a portion of your sizeable income to charities.
In short, sometimes our charitable actions, though well-intended, have far worse consequences than we imagine. To make the most of our charitable donations, we have to think rationally and critically — not only about whom we give to and how we give, but also how that money will be used.
Although it’s a good book to present Effective Altruism, some claims aren’t justified. Alex Guzey — the investigator & police of the internet — didn’t let that go unnoticed. He wrote a detailed article to document MacAskill’s misrepresentations.
🔫 The Turbulent Twenties
Last week, I came across this tweet of Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter.
No need to explain how shocked I was to read this. It was in response to Brian Armstrong’s Coinbase is a mission-focused company. Whether you agree with Brian or not is beyond the point here. We start to have a real problem when people cannot accept a different opinion than theirs. That’s what could make Peter Turchin’s Turbulent Twenties prediction a reality.
I also found this survey to be concerning: Over the course of three years, the number of Americans who say they feel justified in using violence to achieve their political goals has gone up from 8 percent to over 33 percent.
Reading former Twitter CEO calling for armed revolution made me think of this article about the US's bunker economy.
Too many people, maybe even me, are “not ready” for a bunker, he said. Maybe they do not have enough responsibility in their life. Maybe they do not take things seriously enough. Maybe there isn’t enough for them to care about. The issue with people who do not recognize the need for a good bunker lies with the people, not the bunkers, he proffered. Later this year, the whole world will be able to see what the bunker business does for people, he added: Right now, a camera crew is at Vivos, filming for a series. The place is filling up. Some very high-profile people, names withheld, are buying in. The bunkers are selling themselves.
On this topic of the culture war, I found this video with Glenn Greenwald to be excellent at explaining elite contempt for Joe Rogan.
💥 The Crypto State
After describing in his books a potential new world order with China as a superpower, he wrote an article recently to discuss another possibility, the crypto state.
It’s a fascinating possibility to explore, that’s being made possible by Ethereum’s smart contracts.
Smart contracts automatically process social and economic exchanges according to a predetermined algorithm. For example—as Buterin argued—one might have a contract of the form “A can withdraw up to X currency units per day, B can withdraw up to Y per day, A and B together can withdraw anything, and A can block B from withdrawing.”
The main challenge remaining is to connect this to the real world. For example, if you bet for a presidential candidate on a decentralized platform, how will the information be transmitted? The sources of information from the world outside the system are called “oracles”, and companies like Chainlink are working on this.
The ultimate question is whether nation-states will disappear, or will they use their monopoly on violence to remain in place?
Some in the crypto space believe that the slow erosion of the state’s tax powers will eventually determine its final collapse, at least as we know it today. Others have told me that they expect all nation-states to disappear over the coming decades, with the notable exception of China, which alone, they maintain, has the political and social resources to penetrate or disable fundamental choke points in the crypto system.
🍭 Brain Food
Last weekend, I started watching this episode of the Joe Rogan Experience. At first, I just wanted to watch a few minutes while eating, but I couldn’t stop watching it. Brian Muraresku, the guest, is the author of The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name. He spent more than a decade researching the role psychedelics have played in the origins of Western civilization.
I started listening to the book's audio version, and I can’t believe such important truths were forgotten for so many centuries. I highly recommend giving this book a try if you want to immerse yourself in a very rarely discussed topic.
Here’s a quote I liked:
In order to find our soul again, a popular outbreak of mysticism could be just what the doctor ordered. And the prescription could be exactly what it was in the beginning: to die before we die, with a solid dose of the religion that started it all.
There’s no doubt that psychedelics had and will continue to have a major role to play in our civilization. The recent research conducted at the John Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research is up-and-coming and could be a breakthrough in treating conditions like PTSD, addictions, and depression.
On a more poetic note, you can read Maria Popova on Cosmic Consciousness.
Like a flash there is presented to [the person’s] consciousness a clear conception (a vision) in outline of the meaning and drift of the universe. He does not come to believe merely; but he sees and knows that the cosmos, which to the self conscious mind seems made up of dead matter, is in fact far otherwise — is in very truth a living presence.
🎥 What I’m Watching
🐲 The Fable of the Dragon Tyrant
We’ve talked about Nick Bostrom’s Fable of the Dragon Tyrant, a story describing why it doesn’t make sense for us to accept aging as it is, and why we should focus on fighting again, by slowing it down or even reverse it.
This video is an excellent illustration of the fable by CGP Grey.
🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week
🏛 Philosophize This!
I discovered Philosophize This! a few days ago, and it’s already one of my favorite shows. I started with the last episodes:
The quality of the script for the episodes is remarkable. On Laughter, the host, Stephen West, guides us in understanding what makes us laugh.
I found the episode on Max Weber particularly interesting because it touches on the timely topics of scientific rationality, progress, and enlightenment ideas.
Now, Weber might say...you hear the term world mastery...doesn't really sound too bad! I mean who WOULDN'T want to live in a world where we've mastered it. Who WOULDN'T want to live in a world where every day that passes is civilization progressing further and further into a level of existence no human being has ever experienced before? Then again...he would say...think of the WEIGHT that you live under...that also NO HUMAN BEING has ever experienced...think of the weight of feeling like every day that you live needs to be a step forward. This is NOT the way most societies throughout history have felt.
The work of Weber is crucial for us, especially at this time. Our possibilities keep increasing, and with more rationalization, we’re removing the mystery from our lives.
We are "specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved."
When we’re advocating for more progress, it’s crucial to think through these arguments and find a way out. Creating a better future will be as much a scientific project as it will be a philosophical one.
🔧 The tool of the Week
🏃 Rogue Jump Rope
2020 is not a great year for gym enthusiasts… I would love to have a home gym, but in the meantime, I’m doing a lot of jump rope. The problem is that I already broke 3 of them.
I got this one from Rogue, and it’s very high quality.
I have always admired Rogue; they manage to stay true to their identity when everyone else tries to go digital. It seems that they will be around for a long time before being disrupted by connected barbells!
🪐 Quote I'm Pondering
On the 2nd of October, it was Gandhi Jayanti — the celebration of the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. I came across this timely and timeless quote.
"We must always keep an open mind and be ever ready to find that what we believed to be truth was, after all, untruth."
— Mahatma Gandhi
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