The Long Game 48: DNA Testing, Wellness as a Status Symbol, Peer Review, Climbing the Wrong Hill

🌌 Man's Search for Meaning, Rocket Men, US—China, The Case Against Reality, Spot, and Much More!

Hi there, it’s Mehdi Yacoubi, co-founder at lifetizr, and this is The Long Game Newsletter.

Greetings from Montenegro 🇲🇪

In this episode, we explore:

  • The future of DNA testing

  • How wellness became a status symbol

  • Is Peer Review a Good Idea?

  • Climbing the wrong hill

  • Man’s Search for Meaning

  • The case against reality

Let’s dive in!

🥑 Health

🧬 What’s the Future of DNA testing?

This week, Orchid was announced. It’s a company that aims at providing couples with DNA information to reduce the risk of getting a baby with some health conditions.

Immediately, dozens of people got furious and saw us enter the Gattaca era. The company goes beyond what other services currently do and helps parents choose the embryo with the lowest risk of developing heart diseases, Alzheimer’s, diabetes (T1 & T2), breast cancer, and more. It’s a significant step forward.

The genetic testing space is very particular because society is well aware of some of the dystopian futures associated with it. I think what’s essential for now is to open the discussion because our technology gets better rapidly, and we will be able to do a lot in altering human DNA. We need to be proactive and fix the good limits to get the most out of this technology.

Even though it’s understandable from the parents' perspective, imagine a world where everyone looks like The Rock. What makes our strength as a species is the diversity of looks and talents distributed in the population. Give us the possibility to choose the kid we want, and we will lose a lot of diversity in very few generations. I’m not sure I want a world like this.

Like other breakthrough technologies (bio-weapons, nuclear, etc.), the only approach that can work is a global one, where every country is held to the same standards.

For more on this, I recommend this episode with Jamie Metzl, author of Hacking Darwin, where he explains how the (scary?) future of genome editing might look like.

I’ll be honest, I have no idea how we should use DNA testing and genome editing for the better. I’ll be learning and exploring this topic to find good ways to think about it. Let me know what you think!

🌱 Wellness

💎 How Wellness Became a Status Symbol

I love wellness and psychology, so I naturally enjoyed this piece showing wellness has become the new status symbol. I don’t really like that wellness is now a status symbol as it distracts from its initial goal.

“It’s like the only acceptable lifestyle brag,” says Ana, 26, a Manhattan spinning enthusiast. “You are a douche if you brag about your car or how much money you make, but bragging about how much you spin is normal, though still very annoying.”

I’m very interested in all the ways we can and will close the gap between the part of the population that’s getting healthier & fitter year after year and the other part that’s getting less and less healthy.

It’s depressing that the new Céline bag is a green juice.

When the recession hit in 2008, luxury shoppers became more reluctant to purchase goods that actively flaunted their wealth. The phenomenon, dubbed “stealth wealth,” ushered in an era of discreetly luxurious brands like The Row and Céline, and a label-less, unadorned aesthetic that made it harder (to the uninitiated) to gauge how much a garment or handbag actually cost. Now, a few years after the recession, it seems there has been another shift, as luxury consumers pour their money into boutique fitness classes and expensive sportswear. If five years ago it was a Céline bag, today’s ultimate status symbol might just be a SoulCycle hoodie and a green juice.

I don’t think we can fight against status games as they might be embedded in our nature and societies, but I think we can and should make health and wellness accessible for everyone. If people want to spend 💰 in clubs, I have no problem with that; they do what they want with their money, but basic goods helping people be healthy and feel good should not become what the elite gains status from.

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🧠 Better Thinking

👥 Is Peer Review a Good Idea?

There have been many discussions lately about the problems of academia and the gatekeeping of people with power. One of the main topics of discussion has been whether we should keep the peer review system. It helps surface quality science, but it also prevents out-of-the-box thinking from going a long way. I found this paper interesting and worth sharing. Here’s the abstract:

Prepublication peer review should be abolished. We consider the effects that such a change will have on the social structure of science, paying particular attention to the changed incentive structure and the likely effects on the behaviour of individual scientists. We evaluate these changes from the perspective of epistemic consequentialism. We find that where the effects of abolishing prepublication peer review can be evaluated with a reasonable level of confidence based on presently available evidence, they are either positive or neutral. We conclude that on present evidence abolishing peer review weakly dominates the status quo.

Alex Danco also had two excellent articles on this topic, exploring whether Twitter can save science and arguing we should get rid of peer review.

As you may know already, ten years ago (before I got into the tech world) I lived in the academia world, as a grad student doing neuroscience research. Scientific research, to put it bluntly, needs to be fixed. There are so many smart and well-intentioned people working really hard in university labs and research institutions, but whose best years are getting wasted through no fault of their own. It’s not an easy problem to fix, but we’re going to have to. 

Related to this, Agnes Callard explains why academic writing is a problem for philosophy.

"Writing for the sake of publication—instead of for the sake of being read—is academia’s version of “teaching to the test.” The result is papers few actually want to read. First, the writing is hypercomplex."

⚡️ Startup Stuff

🏔 Climbing the Wrong Hill

Don’t climb the wrong hill. That’s an essential concept I’ve been thinking about lately. Chris Dixon describes the problem in a good way:

Over the years, I’ve run into many prospective employees in similar situations. When I ask them a very obvious question: “What do you want to be doing in 10 years?” The answer is invariably “working at or founding a tech startup” – yet most of them decide to remain on their present path and not join a startup.

Why smart and ambitious people stay working at companies they don’t believe in or in areas where they have no long-term ambitions?

I think there are basically two reasons:

  • Not having a practice of self-reflection and not developing the habit of examining your life.

  • Thinking that you have a lot of time in front of you.

I think this is a big mistake. I’m not saying everyone should start a company or leave their current job, but I think having some plan to get to job and life you’ll be fulfilled by is a good idea.

People early in their career should learn from computer science: meander some in your walk (especially early on), randomly drop yourself into new parts of the terrain, and when you find the highest hill, don’t waste any more time on the current hill no matter how much better the next step up might appear.

This idea doesn’t apply only to professional life. The same goes for relationships, social status, and so on. Being aware of the game and what’s a stake is the first step, then understanding how you want to play the game is the second one.

We already talked about the problem with optionality a few months ago, but this piece is so good that it’s worth revisiting frequently.

The shortest distance between two points is reliably a straight line. If your dreams are apparent to you, pursue them. Creating optionality and buying lottery tickets are not way stations on the road to pursuing your dreamy outcomes. They are dangerous diversions that will change you.

📚 What I Read

🚀 Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon

I greatly enjoyed the story of Apollo 8 by Robert Kurson, and I find it fascinating how these people managed—against all odds—to put a man on the Moon in a time that was deemed impossible by all the “experts.” It’s fantastic to see what human beings are capable of.

I'm very optimistic about our long-term future—if we do the work. I am also realistic about the risks we face. If we collectively address those, I have no doubt we'll become multi-planetary and live for millennia. If we stay oblivious to the risks, we might not make it to 2100.

This book tells the story of one of the most amazing things humans did, and we should be inspired from this to address (among others) these challenges:

  • Fight climate change

  • Defeat aging

  • Explore the universe and become multi-planetary

  • Reduce existential risks

What are going to be the Manhattan Project & Apollo Program of the 21st century?

🌌 Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl

I finally read the masterpiece. I understand why so many people recommend it, talk about it, and are even emotional when mentioning the work of Frankl.

I believe everyone would benefit from reading this book. It’s profound, poignant, and will help you in your journey to find meaning. Here are a few notes:

  • Don’t aim at success—it’s a side effect of aiming at a cause bigger than oneself.

  • Success will follow you because you had forgotten to think about it.

  • A man can get used to anything, but do not ask us how.

  • When you’re in such a state of strain (concentration camps), you’re forced to go back to a primitive level of existence (dream and think about food, sleeping, and basic human needs.)

  • Humor is a weapon for self-preservation.

  • Hope is both very powerful and very dangerous. Giving up hope leads to death.

  • Even in horrible situations, men choose how they want to act and who they want to be. The prisoner you become is a result of an inner decision.

  • If there is a meaning in life, there is a meaning in suffering because suffering is part of life.

  • Life means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to the problems you’re facing. You need to fulfill the tasks that are coming your way. These tasks differ from man to man and from moment to moment. There is no one meaning of life for everyone.

  • When a man finds that the task he needs to do is suffering, he needs to find the meaning in his suffering.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

― Viktor E. Frankl

🎙 Podcast Episode of the Week

There are so many great episodes I listened to recently. Now that I fixed my chronic back pain (more details coming soon), I can run again, and I greatly enjoy going for a long run at a slow pace while listening to a good episode.

I recommend:

🍭 Brain Food

🤯 The Case Against Reality

I learned about Donald Hoffman’s work on consciousness this week, and the least I can say is that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I found these ideas through this long conversation that I highly recommend. This article is a good introduction to Hoffman’s work:

As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.

Not so, says Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. Hoffman has spent the past three decades studying perception, artificial intelligence, evolutionary game theory and the brain, and his conclusion is a dramatic one: The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality. What’s more, he says, we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction.

In a few words, Hoffman argues that all we have been studying in science so far is the equivalent of being in a VR game and studying what’s happening in the game. He calls for exploring what’s outside of the VR headset, and he argues that space-time is within the VR game and can be bent if we leave the headset. He uses quantum mechanics to justify his ideas, and he’s calling for experimental protocols to validate or invalidate his conjecture.

💊 Red pill or blue pill?

🎥 What I’m Watching

🇺🇸🇨🇳 Peter Thiel on US-China Relations

China again this week! I’m no geopolitics expert. I try to make sense of the world we live in on multiple different verticals. Geopolitics is one of the verticals I’ve been paying more attention to recently. Peter Thiel made the news a few days ago because he raised awareness about how China might use bitcoin against the USD as a global reserve currency. A lot of it was taken out of context, and here’s the video where he details how he thinks about the US—China relations. I don’t agree with everything Thiel says and stands for, but one thing I like about him is that he’s not afraid of saying things that might not be popular in the dominant world view of the moment.

For more:

🔧 The Tool of the Week

🚶 Walking Meetings with Spot

I’m a huge proponent of walking for health, mental health, and more. It’s a perfect low-intensity activity, it helps you move more, and you can do other things while walking. I always loved to call friends and family while going for long walks, and recently I also started doing some work-related calls while walking. Lately, I’ve been getting 15—20k steps per day, and I feel much better than when I get 8—10k steps.

I came across Spot this week, and I found the concept so good that I wanted to share what they’re doing even before trying the product. Here’s what they do in a few words:

Starting a Spot is simple. Send a calendar invite directly from your existing calendar tool and let everyone know it’s an audio-only call. No second-guessing if you have to turn your camera on or not during the meeting.

🪐 Quote I'm Pondering

“Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.”

― Viktor E. Frankl

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👋 EndNote

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Until next week,

Mehdi Yacoubi

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