The Long Game 37: Anti-Aging State of the Art, Success & Happiness, Better Listening, Radical Candor
🎰 Thinking in Bets, Finite and Infinite Games, Creating a Universe in a Lab, Why Nations Fail, and Much More!
Greetings from Paris ❄️
If you missed the past episodes, you could catch up here.
In this episode, we explore:
Anti-Aging State of the Art
Success and Happiness
Thinking in Bets
Let’s dive in!
Infinite frontier, immutable money, eternal life.
⏳ Anti-Aging: State of the Art
I came across a great round-up of the anti-aging field on Less Wrong. It’s great to see more and more people interested in the science of longevity and understanding that living hundreds of years is entirely up to us and what we will do in the next decades.
Aging is a problem that ought to be solved, and most Less Wrongers recognize this. However, few members of the community seem to be aware of the current state of the anti-aging field, and how close we are to developing effective anti-aging therapies. As a result, there is a much greater (and in my opinion, irrational) overemphasis on the Plan B of cryonics for life extension, rather than Plan A of solving aging. Both are important, but the latter is under-emphasised despite being a potentially more feasible strategy for life extension given the potentially high probability that cryonics will not work.
The article starts by explaining why aging is a problem in the first place. The main reason is that it’s the biggest killer worldwide. We really need to get society to change its perception about this, as The Fable of the Dragon Tyrant suggests. Why is it “normal” to live less than 100 years?
Here’s how an ideal world would look like:
The 'white mirror' of aging is a world in which biological age is halted at 20-30 years, and people maintain optimal health for a much longer or indefinite period of time. Although people will still age chronologically (exist over time) they will not undergo physical and cognitive decline associated with biological aging. At chronological ages of 70s, 80s, even 200s, they would maintain the physical appearance and much lower disease risk of a 20-30-year-old.
Today it sounds like science fiction but is a phenomenon exhibited by other species such as hydras, naked mole rats, tortoises, whales, and sharks - the latter can live up to 400 years old.
The essential thing to remember is that whether we live to see anti-aging therapies to keep us alive indefinitely (i.e., whether we make it to longevity escape velocity) depends on how much traction and funding the field gets in coming decades.
The article then gives some of the most promising anti-aging strategies that are:
Parabiosis (blood exchange)
Metabolic manipulation (mTOR inhibitors)
Senolytics - drugs that kill senescent cells
The methuselahs in the lab: The increase in maximum lifespan in the laboratory is shown in 5 animal species, both without any interventions and with dietary, chemical, or genetic interventions. For each organism, the impact of the increase in maximum lifespan through intervention is indicated in the graph using fold change.
The article concludes with a fantastic call to action that I’d recommend everyone to follow:
For those wanting to help aging be solved in our lifetime so we can avoid being the last generation to die, consider taking the following actions:
Sharing this post with others
Learning more about the field (suggested reading materials below)
Donating to the SENS research foundation. They fund the most neglected and high-impact research in this field as explained in this LessWrong post.
Becoming involved in the longevity field as a researcher in one of the hundreds of laboratories around the world, or working for a longevity biotech company. You can find available jobs at LongevityList.com
😐 Success Won’t Make you Happy
There is an ongoing debate in Tech around success and happiness. The discussion goes along the lines of “what’s more important, success or happiness?”
In Western counties, there was a shift in the last few decades, where religion and all the meaning that came with it were left behind. More recently, the idea of purpose and aligning your work and life mission became prevalent among most young people. Finding a meaningful professional activity is fantastic, as it’s what will take most of your waking hours, but with all this shift, the new equation of life isn’t necessarily happier.
By aligning meaning and work together, the risk is to get so obsessed with it that it makes your life miserable.
Some of the causes of this shift to a workaholic society are emotional—even spiritual. Derek Thompson calls this the new religion of “Workism”:
Perhaps long hours are part of an arms race for status and income among the moneyed elite. Or maybe the logic here isn’t economic at all. It’s emotional—even spiritual. The best-educated and highest-earning Americans, who can have whatever they want, have chosen the office for the same reason that devout Christians attend church on Sundays: It’s where they feel most themselves. “For many of today’s rich there is no such thing as ‘leisure’; in the classic sense—work is their play,” the economist Robert Frank wrote in TheWall Street Journal. “Building wealth to them is a creative process, and the closest thing they have to fun.”
After having made fun of the Stakhanovistes during the Cold War, we are becoming the new Stakhanovites. Branko Milanovic writes:
In his book The Meritocracy Trap, the legal scholar Daniel Markovits has called such high earners “the Stakhanovites of today,” using the Soviet term for model workers who exceeded production expectations. Under classical capitalism, the top wealth holders were often derided for leading idle lives; today, on the contrary, a statistically significant number of them work long hours.
This debate around happiness and work is more complicated than it seems. It’s also related to the work-life balance discussion. On one side (the Basecamp side), people argue that a perfect life balance is necessary, and on the other side, the Elon Musk fanboys, you need to be coding all night long, live at work, and take pride in how little you sleep. Of course, it’s a caricature, but you get the point. To me, the bigger question is where you draw the meaning of your life from.
Associating your life success only to what you’re doing professionally doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. So what’s left? Matthew Yglesias argued in One Billion Americans that family was a huge source of meaning a few decades ago. Instead of throwing all the traditions behind us, modern societies could try to realize that tradition is smarter than we are and keep some of the time-tested ingredients of a happy life.
Here’s a great framework that Arthur C. Brooks suggests to grapple with this question:
The first step is an admission that as successful as you are, were, or hope to be in your life and work, you are not going to find true happiness on the hedonic treadmill of your professional life.
The second step is to make amends for any relationships you’ve compromised in the name of success.
The last step is to find the right metrics of success.
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🧠 Better Thinking
👂 Better Listening
I’m not a good listener. I admit it. I also know how important it is to be a great listener because, last time I checked, no one ever learned something new while talking. Listening helps create meaningful conversations and lets the other person truly express what they have in mind. It’s one of the most important skills to think better.
I found this excellent Reddit thread:
Stephen Covey said “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” What are your thoughts on this?
Here are some of the best contributions to the thread:
There was a workplace seminar exercise thing I went to where we had to listen to our conversation partner, and all we have to do is to summarize what they said to make them feel fully understood. No response of our own other than reiterating their points. Then they have to “judge” us based on whether we got their main points, or if we’re missing important parts, or if we added anything they didn’t say. Took quite a bit of effort because we’re so used to just listening for keywords while our minds go elsewhere.
A friend who needed some serious marriage counseling with his wife now live by this rule: when they're arguing, neither is allowed to respond to a statement until they have re-stated what was said demonstrating understanding of it to their spouse's satisfaction. And it occurred to me that aside from making sure everyone is moving forward in the same direction, the practice slows down the pace of the argument allowing everyone to take their words into consideration before just blurting out "I hate you, you ruined my life."
⚡️ Startup Stuff
There’s no personal growth without feedback, but we all know how bad it can feel to sometimes receive negative feedback. Often, we want to suggest ways of improvement to people, but we’re afraid to do so, fearing they might take it personally.
It sounds so simple to say that bosses need to tell employees when they're screwing up. But it very rarely happens.
Kim Scott, the author of Radical Candor, found a solution. She draws a two-axis chart, “Care Personally” and “Challenge Directly.” “Radical Candor” happens when you care personally and you challenge directly. It creates an atmosphere of confidence and trust, and within this atmosphere, direct feedback can be received positively.
I would argue that criticizing your employees when they screw up is not just your job, it's actually your moral obligation.
Unfortunately, we all worked with jerks that fall into the “Obnoxious Aggression” category. The feedback received isn’t helping greatly to improve the situation because the caring atmosphere isn’t there:
When you challenge directly without caring personally, you fall into the quadrant that Scott calls obnoxious aggression. Which is bad, but better than not challenging directly.
The best way to create a golden team is to promote radical candor and find impromptu feedback opportunities. Of course, it needs to be possible for anyone in the team to give feedback, not only for the managers.
Imagine how much more effective teams could be if coworkers asked each other this question from Radical Candor:
What could I do or stop doing to make it easier to work with me?
📚 What I Read
I’m enjoying Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke. It’s a book that covers everything related to making better decisions. I’ll cover it in more details in the “Better Thinking” part of next week’s episode, but here some takeaways:
You should distinguish the quality of a decision and the result of it.
All decisions are bets.
The information that disagrees with us is an assault on our self-narrative.
Thinking in terms of percentage of certainty instead of black or white helps consider the information that contradicts our beliefs. When new information goes against what we previously thought, we don’t have to go from right to wrong, but from 55% sure to 48%, for example.
♾ Finite and Infinite Games
Finite and Infinite Games is a book by James Carse, and I’ve been reading references to it for a while. I didn’t read the book yet, but this summary by Taylor Pearson came in handy.
The main idea of the book is:
“There at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.”
The point, however, is not to abandon our roles but to realize they are roles.
“Since finite games can be played within an infinite game, infinite players do not eschew the performed roles of finite play.
On the contrary, they enter into finite games with all the appropriate energy and self-veiling, but they do so without the seriousness of finite players.
They embrace the abstractness of finite games as abstractness, and therefore take them up not seriously, but playfully.”
🎙 Podcast Episode of the Week
In the last weeks, I recorded new episodes of The Long Game Podcast on charter cities, Africa, new governance types, academia, and biohacking. Season 2 of the podcast is coming soon!
On other shows:
Max Tegmark: AI and Physics (Essential wake-up call concerning existential risk. "There are only two ways it could end geopolitically. Either it ends up great for all humanity, or it ends terribly for all of us. There is no in-between. You can't have people fighting when the weapons keep getting more powerful.")
🍭 Brain Food
🌌 To Create a Universe in a Lab
I have a growing passion for space exploration, and I think if I weren’t working on health optimization and longevity, I would be working on something related to space. Last week, after listening to Avi Loeb talks about the recent experiments trying to reproduce a universe in a lab, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So I wanted to know more about this idea—that’s also the closing idea of the best Youtube video ever, Journey to the End of Time.
I found this article to be a good introduction to the concept:
There are calculations which say the universe weighed 10 pounds (4.5 kg) and was no bigger than 10-²⁶ centimeters across before it stretched and sprawled into the great, heaving landscape we know of today. It’s strange to imagine that billions of fiery-tipped stars and billions of husky blue or rosy galaxies could emerge from such a negligible beginning — a point so small it was invisible to the naked eye and yet with enough weight to it that you could feel it pressing into the palms of your hands, encasing within that gaunt little area the necessary materials for the cosmos and all its ornaments. The Earth, too, being one of these ornaments and the eventual birthplace of toiling life. A vast and studded 46.5 billion lightyears of universe, and all of it possibly having weighed so little you could carry it in your arms.
The whole universe could be an experiment conducted in a larger universe, which could be an experiment of an even larger universe, and so on. 🤯
🎥 What I’m Watching
📉 Why Nations Fail
Recently, I talked to Mwiya, who is building a new city in Zambia, and he recommended the book Why Nations Fail by James Robinson. I didn’t have the time to read the whole book, so I watched this video, which is a great way to get the book's main ideas.
🔧 The tool of the Week
Muse is a great app for iPad. It’s is a spatial canvas for your research notes, reading, sketches, screenshots, and bookmarks. It helps recreate the feeling on a piece of paper while being digital, easily reusable, and editable because deep thinking doesn’t happen in front of a computer.
🪐 Quote I'm Pondering
The statements of science are not of what is true and what is not true, but statements of what is known with different degrees of certainty.
— Richard Feynman
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