The Long Game 30: Breath, Anxiety, the Memory Palace, Fascinate, A History of Future Cities
💡 The Pandemic Exposes Human Nature, Dam on the North Sea, a Spacecraft to Save the World, and Much More!
Greetings from Montenegro 🇲🇪
If you missed the past episodes, you could catch up here.
In this episode, we explore:
Let’s dive in!
Evening on Karl Johan Street (1892) by Edvard Munch.
This week I read Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor, and it’s a fascinating book that I recommend to everyone. I learned a lot about breathing and, more importantly, about how bad for our health it can be to have a bad breathing technique.
I also learned that modern medicine is (again) completely oblivious to such an important pillar of health.
Here are some takeaways from the book:
Mouth-breathing is catastrophic, and we should never breathe from the mouth. Breathing from the mouth has negative effects on the shape of our head and our teeth. Many tribes from Central and South America make sure their babies breathe only from the nose, and as a result, they’re in perfect health, and their teeth are perfectly aligned.
We need to eat hard foods to use and keep the muscles in our mouths. Eating only soft foods lead to respiratory problems.
The author explains the benefits of slow breathing: basically, the ideal breathing is 5.5 seconds in, 5.5 seconds out, and 5.5 breaths per minute. If you try it, you’ll see that… it’s very low!
Breathing fast and taking in a lot of air is stressful for the body, but it can be beneficial for short periods of time. It’s exactly what the Wim Hof Breathing technique consists of.
The right breathing can promote the immune system and help people stay warm in freezing cold temperatures.
With enough training, everyone can achieve incredible things and fix breath-related health issues.
I practiced a little bit the Wim Hof Breathing technique, and this book motivated me to continue and keep improving my breathing.
Here are some resources to get started!
Here’s a thread summary of the book by my friend Glen Lubbert 👇
⚡ The Positive Side of Anxiety
Most people will agree that anxiety is a negative thing, and we should try to reduce it as much as possible. This article takes a different stance on the topic.
Anxiety is not merely a problem or an affliction for which philosophy offers a solution. Rather, a distinctive form of anxiety, as evinced in philosophical enquiry throughout history, is a fundamental human response to our finitude, mortality and epistemic limitation.
Of course, this is opposed to Stoicism and Buddhism, and as a person naturally asking myself a lot of questions, I find this article thought-provoking. Instead of fighting anxiety as a problem, what if we just accepted it as a crucial tool to keep improving?
Anxiety then, rather than being a pathology, is an essential human disposition that leads us to enquire into the great, unsolvable mysteries that confront us; to philosophise is to acknowledge a crucial and animating anxiety that drives enquiry onward. The philosophical temperament is a curious and melancholic one, aware of the incompleteness of human knowledge, and the incapacities that constrain our actions and resultant happiness.
Nevertheless, we should distinguish between severe anxiety that’s just making everything so hard and “manageable” anxiety that gives this boost of energy to do more. More generally, I think the field of mental health should invent new words to clarify all these concepts because words like “anxiety” and “depression,” for example, can be used for a vast range of concepts.
Søren Kierkegaard suggested that the most basic human affect, over and above the phenomenal consciousness generated by our senses, is anxiety. The moment we begin to address it by asking What is this feeling? What does it rise in response to? we are philosophising. To cure anxiety, then, might remove all that is distinctively human – an accusation sometimes levelled at Stoicism and Buddhism.
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🧠 Better Thinking
With the rise of digital note-taking and second-brain systems, memory has been relegated to a much less important skill. I think it’s a mistake.
I’m a huge fan of note-taking systems, but it’s important to still remember the things we read and learn. I realized this after starting The Long Game Podcast. When you’re writing, it’s fine to rely extensively on your note-taking system; it’s easy to open Notion or Roam and search for what you’re looking for. When you’re recording a podcast episode, you can’t easily do that. The same goes for debates or casual conversations; memory is essential to have access to precise knowledge and make the points you intend to.
Memory is like a muscle; if you don’t train it, it will stop working well. So how can we train our memory?
This article gives great ideas to get started.
Surprisingly, when the mental athletes were learning new information, they were engaging regions of the brain known to be involved in two specific tasks: visual memory and spatial navigation.
There’s a technique called the Memory Palace, where you store information in a mental palace that you create.
The idea is to give your memories something to hang on to. We are pretty terrible at remembering things, especially when these memories float freely in our head. But our spatial memory is actually pretty decent and when we give our memories some needed structure, we provide that missing order and context. Creating a multi-sensory experience in your head is the other part of the trick.
Mental athletes using this technique can remember an astounding amount of information, which shows that our abilities are incredible if we know how to practice.
⚡️ Startup Stuff
What makes some brands fascinating and others not? Why are people queuing for days to get a new iPhone or the latest Supreme drop?
In Fascinate: Your Seven Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation, brand consultant Sally Hogshead gives seven mental triggers that will help a brand fascinate its users.
Here are the seven points:
Lust: Sparks a craving for sensory pleasure or experience. Stops people thinking and start feeling makes the ordinary emotional, and uses all five senses, teases, and flirts.
Mystique: Provokes curiosity with unanswered questions, builds mythology, and limits access.
Alarm: Creates urgency with a threat of negative consequences, deadlines, and distress – focuses not on the crisis most likely, but the crisis most feared.
Prestige: Increases respect within a group, with emblems, standards, scarcity, and action.
Power: Uses authority to command and control, dominate, reward, and punish.
Vice: Encourages a creative approach or rebellion against rules by creating taboos, leading astray, and defying absolutes.
Trust: Builds loyalty with stability and predictability by becoming familiar, authenticity, repetition.
Related to this topic, we talked about cult wars in The Long Game 15:
There has been a meteoric rise in cult brands that play at a higher level than their peers; brands that infuse their followers with a great sense of pride and purpose who then go beyond rationality to see their brand win.
📚 What I Read
I recently talked to Patri Fridman on the podcast; he’s the founder of the Seasteading Institute and the General Partner at Pronomos Capital, the world's first charter city VC fund. To prepare the episode, I started A History of Future Cities by Daniel Brook, and it’s an excellent look at how new cities emerged in different places of the globe.
I don’t read a lot of history, but I enjoyed learning about how Saint Petersbourg was created, how Shanghai became a major city, and, more generally, how new cities are born from new ideas, and how these new ideas can change the countries where these cities are.
This paper is fascinating; it gives 10 insights into how the pandemic and the quarantine may impact society in the coming years.
Here’s a part of the abstract:
An evolutionary perspective can help us understand the progression and consequences of the pandemic. Here, a diverse group of scientists, with expertise from evolutionary medicine to cultural evolution, provide insights about the pandemic and its aftermath. At the most granular level, we consider how viruses might affect social behavior, and how quarantine, ironically, could make us susceptible to other maladies, due to a lack of microbial exposure. At the psychological level, we describe the ways in which the pandemic can affect mating behavior, cooperation (or the lack thereof), and gender norms, and how we can use disgust to better activate native “behavioral immunity” to combat disease spread. At the cultural level, we describe shifting cultural norms and how we might harness them to better combat disease and the negative social consequences of the pandemic. These insights can be used to craft solutions to problems produced by the pandemic and to lay the groundwork for a scientific agenda to capture and understand what has become, in effect, a worldwide social experiment.
The insights I found most interesting are:
The Mating Landscape Is Changing, and There Will Be Economic Consequences from a Decrease in Birth Rates
We Have Not Evolved to Seek the Truth
Human Progress Continues
🎙 Podcast Episode of the Week
I didn’t have time to edit new episodes of The Long Game Podcast this week, so here are some episodes from the archive and some episodes I enjoyed from other shows:
On The Long Game Podcast:
On other shows:
🍭 Brain Food
What if an asteroid came to collide with Earth? It would most likely be the end of humanity. That’s why scientists are working to divert these asteroids long before they get close to us.
Next summer, that same dish in California will be the spacecraft’s main point of contact with Earth as it blitzes through the solar system on a first-of-its-kind suicide mission for NASA. The goal of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, is to slam the cube into a small asteroid orbiting a larger asteroid 7 million miles from Earth. No one is exactly sure what will happen when the probe impacts its target. We know that the spacecraft will be obliterated. It should be able to change the asteroid’s orbit just enough to be detectable from Earth, demonstrating that this kind of strike could nudge an oncoming threat out of Earth’s way. Beyond that, everything is just an educated guess, which is exactly why NASA needs to punch an asteroid with a robot.
🎥 What I’m Watching
🌊 Mega Dam on the North Sea
Global warming isn’t stopping anytime soon, unfortunately, and the Netherlands will be one of the most impacted countries. To curb the effects of rising sea levels, the country proposed a gigantic dam to close the North Sea from the Atlantic ocean. If started, this would be the biggest human engineering project ever.
🎥 If you’re looking for documentary films to watch, I asked Twitter, and I got good recommendations!
🔧 The tool of the Week
Command E is a great productivity tool; it enables a seamless search feature through all your apps and frequently used websites at the same place.
It’s an impressive product. I highly recommend it!
🪐 Quote I'm Pondering
If you find evidence that questions your belief, write it down within thirty minutes or your mind will block it out.
— Charles Darwin
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