The Long Game 52: What Accelerates Aging, the Spectrum of Optimism, Unhappy Millenials, the Paypal Formula

🛩 Supersonic Planes, The Vulnerable World Hypothesis, Countdown, Meat, Popcorn, and Much More!

Hi there, it’s Mehdi Yacoubi, co-founder at Vital (important announcements coming soon, stay tuned 👀), and this is The Long Game Newsletter.

In this episode, we explore:

  • Things that accelerate aging

  • The struggles of Millenials

  • The spectrum of optimism and pessimism

  • The Paypal formula

  • Countdown

  • The Vulnerable World Hypothesis

Let’s dive in!


🥑 Health

⏰ Things That Accelerate Aging

This paper explores the early detection of accelerated aging and cellular decline (AACD). It gives the identified risk factors that accelerate aging:

  • Clinical conditions (cardiovascular, renal, metabolic disease, cancer) 

  • Obesity 

  • Insulin resistance 

  • Inadequate nutrition 

  • Sedentary lifestyle 

  • Low physical activity 

  • Low physical capacity (e.g., slow gait speed, muscle weakness)

  • Unfavorable genetic background

  • Demographic/clinical characteristics 

  • Environmental/behavioral 

  • Smoking 

  • Persistent physical or psychological stress 

  • Low socioeconomic status 

  • Alcohol abuse 

  • Air pollution

We already talked about many of these risk factors on The Long Game. The work we’re doing at Vital will help people prevent insulin resistance, obesity, and many chronic diseases related to a dysregulated metabolism. While waiting for life extension technologies to be developed, the best thing people can do for their longevity is to maintain optimal health (you can also donate to the anti-aging space, it would help a lot).

If you have an interest in being healthy, you can’t be insulin resistant. If you want to live the healthiest life you can live, you have to be insulin sensitive.

— Peter Attia


🌱 Wellness

😓 The Struggles of Millenials

I find the level of the unhappiness of Millenials concerning. Often considered lonely, depressed, and burned out, millennials aren’t known for high levels of life satisfaction.

There might be many reasons for this, and this week, I found this economic perspective on the problem by the FT to be interesting.

Mads Wold, in contrast, knows he lives a good life in Norway. He remembers watching The Wire, the gritty drama set in the US city of Baltimore, then going for a stroll down his pleasant street. “That’s when I was was like, oh shit, I live in a bubble.” But he worries about the global instability that climate change will cause. “One million refugees almost broke European unity; 225m climate refugees will surely annihilate it.”

He is one of a number of young people who say they are not sure whether to have children. “A lot of people my age are having the ethical debate, is it ethically right to have a kid even though you’re not sure if the world will go on? That’s actually a challenge me and my fiancée are having right now,” he writes.

These are depressing perspectives proving, once again, that if young people don’t go after the big challenges of our time, we will suffer hard consequences.


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🧠 Better Thinking

⚖️ The Spectrum of Optimism and Pessimism

Optimism and pessimism don’t encapsulate all of the nuances there are on the spectrum. Morgan Housel wrote a great piece detailing the spectrum from pure optimism to pure pessimism.

I find the middle of the spectrum particularly interesting to study:

Next are people who are pessimistic with their words but optimistic with their actions. They’re attracted to pessimism because it’s intellectually seductive and gets people’s attention. But their investment portfolios are clearly set up for a world where things get better. Many pundits fall into this category.

In the middle we have what I call reasonable optimists: those who acknowledge that history is a constant chain of problems and disappointments and setbacks, but who remain optimistic because they know setbacks don’t prevent eventual progress. They sound like hypocrites and flip-floppers, but often they’re just looking further ahead than other people.

Then come the probabilists. They know progress is likely but couch everything as a matter of playing the odds. “I am not an optimist,” Hans Rosling once said. “I’m a very serious possibilist.”

I believe optimism is an essential value to build the future. I shared on the newsletter a few months ago a great piece by Dan Wang explaining why:

I wonder if economists overrate the easier-to-observe policy factors and under-theorize the idea that positive visions of the future drive long-term growth. To put it in a different way, I wish that they would consider definite optimism as human capital. In addition to education levels, human capital models should consider factors like optimism, imagination, and hope for the future.

Finally, on a personal level, I love Jason Crawford’s framing of the optimism vs. pessimism question:

Descriptive optimism, for me, is highly contextual. It is situation-specific. I am mildly optimistic about our efforts against coronavirus. I am fairly pessimistic about US politics. Prescriptive optimism is deeply philosophical. It is a belief about the nature of life, intelligence, and agency. It is a moral attitude, a way of living.


⚡️ Startup Stuff

💲 The Paypal Formula

I said multiple times that I don’t believe in applying general advice or in pre-made formulas. Still, I enjoy reading about success stories and how other companies managed to reach greatness.

I liked this description of the Paypal culture by Keith Rabois. Here are the important elements:

  • Extreme Focus (driven by Peter): Peter required that everyone be tasked with exactly one priority. He would refuse to discuss virtually anything else with you except what was currently assigned as your #1 initiative. Even our annual review forms in 2001 required each employee to identify their single most valuable contribution to the company.

  • Refusal to accept constraints, external or internal: We were expected to pursue our #1 priority with extreme dispatch (NOW) and vigor. To borrow an apt phrase, employees were expected to "come to work every day willing to be fired, to circumvent any order aimed at stopping your dream."

  • Meritocratic opportunity & opposition to traditional general management: Just as responsibility for initiatives was frequently re-allocated based upon performance, so was "management." Peter and Max crusaded to replace under-performing senior colleagues, which introduced some fear and less stability into the office, but also forged new opportunities for new stars promoted from within to thrive. Peter and David also were opposed to general managers or hiring people whose core skill was "managing." People were promoted based upon their technical proficiency at a given role--i.e., the best engineers would manage engineering, the best product people who be running product, etc.

  • Vigorous debate, often via email: Almost every important issue had champions and critics. These were normally resolved not by official edict but by a vigorous debate that could be very intense. Being able to articulate and defend a strategy or product in a succinct, compelling manner with empirical analysis and withstand a withering critique was a key attribute of almost every key contributor.


📚 What I Read

📉 Countdown

I just started Countdown: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race by Shanna H Swan, and the book is really alarming. I’ve talked about the decrease in sperm counts and fertility and wanted to know more. I haven’t finished the book yet and will give more details next week.

In the first chapters, a concept I found compelling is that the current fertility crisis is at the same place climate change was a few decades ago. It’s still not widely accepted, and nothing is done to bring back healthy levels.

Related to this, I’m still collecting people interested in optimizing testosterone levels using nutrition, exercise, sleep, and supplements. If you want to be part of it, fill in this form.

💣 The Vulnerable World Hypothesis

As you might already know, I am very concerned about existential risks. I understood how risky our century is after reading The Precipice by Toby Ord. I highly highly recommend everyone to read it. I believe talking about it can have significant positive outcomes in the future.

“Nuclear weapons were a discontinuous change in human power. At Hiroshima, a single bomb did the damage of thousands. And six years later, a single thermonuclear bomb held more energy than every explosive used in the entire course of the Second World War.”

This week, I read The Vulnerable World Hypothesis by Nick Bostrom. Here’s the abstract:

Scientific and technological progress might change people’s capabilities or incentives in ways that would destabilize civilization.

For example, advances in DIY biohacking tools might make it easy for anybody with basic training in biology to kill millions; novel military technologies could trigger arms races in which whoever strikes first has a decisive advantage; or some economically advantageous process may be invented that produces disastrous negative global externalities that are hard to regulate.

This paper introduces the concept of a vulnerable world: roughly, one in which there is some level of technological development at which civilization almost certainly gets devastated by default, i.e. unless it has exited the ‘semi-anarchic default condition’.

Several counterfactual historical and speculative future vulnerabilities are analyzed and arranged into a typology. A general ability to stabilize a vulnerable world would require greatly amplified capacities for preventive policing and global governance. The vulnerable world hypothesis thus offers a new perspective from which to evaluate the risk-benefit balance of developments towards ubiquitous surveillance or a unipolar world order.

Existential risks are one reason we absolutely need to make humanity a multi-planetary species, although Slate Star Codex disagrees!

To conclude, we decided that terrestrial and off-planet lifeboats offer very similar amounts of protection from x-risks, with off-planet solutions adding a small amount additional protection in certain scenarios whilst being markedly more expensive than a terrestrial equivalent, with additional risks and unknowns to the construction process.


🎙 Podcast Episode of the Week

A few crypto episodes this week:


🍭 Brain Food

🤯 The Mystery of the Neolithic Bottleneck

Have you ever heard of the mystery of the Neolithic Bottleneck? I’ve read about it this week, it’s fascinating (and scary!)

Starting around 7,000 years ago and taking place over the next two millennia, something odd happened. The diversity of the Y-chromosome plummeted. This took place across the continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe. It’s the major reason why humans are 99.9% identical in genetic makeup today. The Neolithic Y-chromosome bottleneck (as it’s called) has stymied anthropologists and biologists since it was first discovered in 2015. Now, the mystery may have been solved.

Declines in genetic diversity in a given human population aren’t rare. Oftentimes, a natural disaster wipes out a large segment of society, but during the Neolithic bottleneck, curiously, only men were affected. What is the reason, then?

In many societies at the time, power was organized around patrilineal kinship. A patrilineal lineage is when titles, lands, and the family name are handed down through the males of a family, from one generation to the next. Zeng surmised that intense warfare between patrilineal clans killed off so many men, only one was left for every 17 women. As a result, just a few lineages saw rapid expansion.

Here’s the full paper published on Nature.


🎥 What I’m Watching

🛩 Supersonic Planes Are Coming Back

In 1996, it was possible to do London—New York in 2 hours52 minutes59 seconds with the Concorde. 🤯 Due to economic reasons, the plane stopped flying, but today, more than 20 years later, supersonic planes are coming back!

Here’s a tweet from Boom Supersonic’s CEO I think about very often:

🥩 Eating Less Meat Won’t Save the Planet

Like with so many things, climate change and nutrition are more like religions than open topics where people can discuss ideas without preconceived solutions.

There’s a general idea that meat is very bad for the environment. Although some arguments may be true, the big picture is very different from what anti-meat people want you to believe when considering everything. This video explores the topic in detail, and I recommend it.


🔧 The Tool of the Week

🍿 Popcorn — Ratings for Netflix

We used to have a small amount of choice with the TV. Now we have too much choice on Netflix. Popcorn is a Chrome extension that shows the rating of each movie/show to help you fix the biggest problem Netflix has: decision fatigue!


🪐 Quote I'm Pondering

When your mind and body are starting to tire, and you feel like giving up, you're only at 40 percent of what you are truly capable of achieving.

David Goggins


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👋 EndNote

Thanks for reading!

If you like The Long Game, please share it on social media or forward this email to someone who might enjoy it. Podcast reviews are also gratefully received. You can also “like” this newsletter by clicking the heart just below this, which helps me get visibility on Substack.

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Until next week,

Mehdi Yacoubi

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