The Long Game 53: What the Aging Field Needs, Authenticity is a Sham, Via Negativa, Familiarity
🧪 New Science, Preferences, Preparing for a Megadisaster, Flow, National Insecurity, Sharks, and Much More!
In this episode, we explore:
What the aging field needs
Authenticity is a sham
Overlooking subtractive changes
The One Word That Shouldn’t Exist in an Entrepreneur’s Vocabulary
Familiarity is a misunderstood virtue
Preparing for a megadisaster
Let’s dive in!
⏳ What the Aging Field Needs
Here’s in short what she’s calling for:
More teams taking on regulatory risk
tl;dr - aging drugs should be tested for their benefit on all-cause aging, not specific diseases
More translational aging companies
tl;dr - we don’t need a hundred aging companies working on new drugs - we need companies that know how to run aging studies.
More sustainable business models
tl;dr - to do ambitious things, companies need to self-sustainable and not be dependent on conservative incumbents for cash infusions
More investors bullish on aging
tl;dr - developing the first aging drugs will take patient capital
More (strategic) conservatism
tl;dr - aging drugs are not about immortality. They are about a better way to treat some of the most challenging diseases facing humanity.
More new ideas
tl;dr - the aging field uses the same tools over and over, limiting our understanding of aging itself
An interdisciplinary approach
tl;dr - aging is not a separate discipline of biology; it is cross-functional across all the other disciplines
Finally, the most important thing to remember is that the speed of progress in this field depends on us. Some great things are happening in the field right now, but it still needs much more money and people.
🦹♀️ Authenticity is a Sham
There is this general idea that you should always be yourself and that being authentic is so important. Recently, I came across numerous sources arguing the opposite, and after thinking about it for some time, I changed my mind on the importance of authenticity.
I read this great piece a few days ago. Here’s how it starts:
“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” This popular quip, often misattributed to Oscar Wilde, appears without any apparent irony in self-help books and blog posts celebrating authenticity. Understandably, they take the dictum to ‘be oneself’ as a worthy, nearly unassailable goal. Our culture is saturated with authenticity: we’re forever ‘finding ourselves’, ‘self-actualising’, ‘doing you’, ‘being real’, ‘going off the beaten path’, ‘breaking free of the crowd’. We spend our youth trying to figure out who we are; our later years trying to stay true to ourselves; and the time in-between in crisis about whether we are who we thought we were.
Authenticity wasn’t always an important value in society. It’s through Kierkegaard and the existentialist that it became one.
To be properly anxious in Kierkegaard’s sense is to see clearly the pure possibility of human life and face down the ordeal thereby imposed on us. Embracing, rather than evading, this anxiety through a kind of ‘leap of faith’ was for Kierkegaard, as for the existentialist philosophers who followed him, the essence of authenticity.
One such existentialist was the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre who, writing at the end of Vichy France, understood very well that the inauthentic evasion of this responsibility to ourselves was the norm. Sartre called this indulgence in the pretence that we’re not free ‘bad faith’. Bad faith is comprised of the stories we tell ourselves in order to live, to co-opt a phrase from Joan Didion. At its worst, it’s Vichy officials telling themselves that they have no choice, but most of us indulge in bad faith to some degree, even if we’re usually able to steer clear of Nazi collaboration. We take the easy way out by turning a blind eye to the minor corruptions of the bureaucracies in which we are enmeshed, letting hypocrisy and vice pass when opposing them could be costly, or pretending to be victims of circumstances beyond our control. Authenticity, for the existentialists, became the essential component of ethics. It’s the opposite of ‘bad faith’.
But in the era of social media, the situation is very different, and we might need to relegate authenticity to a lower position.
Social media has become an avenue for and intensifier of this narcissism, the likes of which Lasch could scarcely have imagined. The result is not the philosophical anxiety of Kierkegaard that tries to stand firm before the abyss, but a clinical anxiety constantly measuring the self against virtual avatars and adjusting it to their tacit or explicit feedback by way of the marketplace. Instead of trying to come to terms with our radical freedom, ‘authenticity’ drives us toward a rebel conformity constantly searching for the exercise routine, clothing brand or political posture that’s really ‘me’.
Seth Godin has a great way to articulate the problem with authenticity. He explains that authenticity is overrated; we shouldn’t care so much about how we feel at the moment. We should just do what we said we’re going to do—one day after the other. What matters is consistency and reliability.
Seth Godin: Well, so the other one which is as big as that one is I think authenticity is a crock, and I think authenticity is overrated and talked about far too much. The problem with authenticity is it’s selfish. Authenticity enables us to say whatever we want and if people don’t like it, well I was just being authentic. It is a ticket to self-absorbed inconsistency, and I don’t think anybody we serve wants that. I think what they want is consistency. I think they want us to make a promise and keep it, and the reason it’s called work, not my hobby is because I made a promise.
For more: Read this review of The WEIRDest People in the world
"WEIRD people are hyper-individualistic, self-obsessed, nonconformist, analytical, and value constancy. We prize behavioral consistency across social contexts—in other words, “being ourselves” and “authenticity.”"
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🧠 Better Thinking
➖ Overlooking Subtractive Changes
This paper on Nature is thought-provoking. People consistently overlook subtractive changes. The abstract:
Improving objects, ideas or situations—whether a designer seeks to advance technology, a writer seeks to strengthen an argument or a manager seeks to encourage desired behaviour—requires a mental search for possible changes.
We investigated whether people are as likely to consider changes that subtract components from an object, idea or situation as they are to consider changes that add new components.
People typically consider a limited number of promising ideas in order to manage the cognitive burden of searching through all possible ideas, but this can lead them to accept adequate solutions without considering potentially superior alternatives.
Here we show that people systematically default to searching for additive transformations, and consequently overlook subtractive transformations.
Across eight experiments, participants were less likely to identify advantageous subtractive changes when the task did not (versus did) cue them to consider subtraction, when they had only one opportunity (versus several) to recognize the shortcomings of an additive search strategy or when they were under a higher (versus lower) cognitive load.
Defaulting to searches for additive changes may be one reason that people struggle to mitigate overburdened schedules, institutional red tape and damaging effects on the planet.
I see this problem everywhere. In the outside world as well as in my private life. When we have a problem, our instinct is to add a new habit or purchase a fix. But many times, you can improve your life by taking things away. For example, the foods you avoid are more important than the foods you eat.
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
— Steve Jobs
⚡️ Startup Stuff
❌ The One Word That Shouldn’t Exist in an Entrepeneur’s Vocabulary
This week, a person asked, “what’s the best thing your mom taught you?” To this, Mark Suster answered: “You don’t ask, you don’t get.”
This answer resonated deeply with me as I started to understand what persistence really means over the last few months.
Mark wrote an excellent piece about this concept.
The one word the best entrepreneurs never accept.
I said it.
The level of persistence and relentlessness you need to make the train move as a founder is insanely high. If you accept the “no”s and rejections, you’re not really serious about what you’re building.
As Goggins repeats, you need to “callus your hands, and your mind” and get comfortable with discomfort.
When I was younger my mom taught me something I never forgot
“You don’t ask, you don’t get.”
It’s simple. I know. But it amazes me how many people don’t really get it.
No one likes hearing a not, getting rejected, or not being treated properly, but if you want to build a great company, you need to be non-consensus and right. It means that many people will think you’re not going to succeed. Just read the best founders today. They all have countless rejection emails to show.
The human brain reacts much more negatively to rejection than it reacts positively to a “yes.” That’s why it’s so important to learn to manage your own psychology as a founder.
The way I deal with this is:
If it’s a yes, or a positive response: Great—go back to work.
If it’s no, I try to understand why. I leave the ego at the door and improve what needs to be improved. If the person just doesn’t get it, it’s fine. I stay at it and prove them wrong :) (with no hard feelings—it’s important to keep the right balance of dark force motivation vs. light force motivation!)
📚 What I Read
New Science is an excellent initiative that aims to build new institutions of basic science, starting with the life sciences.
Over the next several decades, New Science will create a network of new scientific institutes pursuing basic research while not being dependent on universities, the NIH, and the rest of traditional academia and, importantly, not being dominated culturally by academia.
Our goal is not to replace universities, but to develop complementary institutions and to provide the much needed “competitive pressure” on the existing ones and to prevent their further ossification. New Science will do to science what Silicon Valley did to entrepreneurship.
Very interesting ideas about acknowledging the preferences of others:
Maybe I'm biased / placebo-ed / just seeing things, but my impression is that the same people who are good at taking ideas seriously are also good at respecting preferences. If you're the sort of person who, upon hearing a good argument for cryonics, will start looking into how to freeze disembodied heads, you're probably good at making large updates away from common-sensical priors really quickly. I find that if I tell one of these people my weird preference, they'll take it into account quickly and without protest. Maybe in the transhuman future, when only the cryonauts’ disembodied heads are left, I'll finally be able to get nice people at B&Bs to stop talking.
Familiarity as a misunderstood virtue:
To travel the world visiting everywhere only once can hardly bring understanding. You must return several times before a place opens up to you. Returning to the same place brings a new set of emotions, and eventually, some familiarity.
Through the pandemic, the last months were low in travels for most, and maybe the opportunity to re-discover familiar places:
Cultivating a sense of belonging is under-practiced and misunderstood. No matter where you live it is worth trying to improve the small things of your world. Romanticism has always elevated the pleasure of adventure over the pleasure of belonging, to an almost comical degree in recent times—everyone’s favorite hobby just so happens to be “travel”. I think this is something of an oversight. (however I am not against travel! I think seeing the world is a great hobby, but it’s one that you should try at home, too.)
🎙 Podcast Episode of the Week
A few great episodes this week:
A fantastic conversation that made me even more impatient to go back to martial arts.
Creating a personal board of directors.
An important duality in life: Maintain infinite faith in your ability to succeed and overcome challenges while also radically confront yourself to reality and its hard truths.
🍭 Brain Food
🌋 How to Prepare for a "Megadisaster"
Your monthly dose of prepping! Jeffrey Schlegelmilch, the director of Columbia’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, discusses the cataclysmic events that may threaten our future and how planning and research can help save us.
Submerged cities. Food shortages. Attacks on the electrical grid. Bioterrorism. It’s time to get ready for tomorrow’s catastrophes.
I already know you don’t like thinking about this. Still, I’ll keep writing about existential risks because they don’t get the attention they deserve. As humans, prevention is very hard to understand (I know this through my work at Vital), but we absolutely need to prevent major problems better.
Instead of just wishing this whole pandemic to end, we should maybe take the time to imagine it could be 100x worse and do everything to prevent future catastrophes from taking a heavy toll on us.
What types of potential megadisasters do we face?
In my book, I discuss five broad categories of risk: climate change; biological perils, including bioterrorism and emerging diseases; failures of critical infrastructure; cyberthreats; and nuclear conflict.
You devote an entire chapter in your book to nuclear war. Why?
Because it’s important. There is this belief that the need to prepare for nuclear conflict went away with the collapse of the Soviet Union. But the threat just changed form. In fact, new rivalries among China, Russia, and the US and the emergence of additional nuclear powers, including rogue nations like North Korea, have increased the potential for smaller-scale nuclear conflict and nuclear terrorism. The use of nuclear weapons may be more likely than ever before, but it is also much more survivable than in the height of the Cold War. It’s something we can and should prepare for.
What should people do to prepare themselves for megadisasters?
I always say that no matter what kind of disaster you might face, you’re going to have to do one of two things: remain at home for a long time or leave immediately. So you should have two sets of supplies ready, with one already stuffed into a bag and ready to go. You should also have a plan for where you’ll meet family members or loved ones in the event that communication networks aren’t working. And you should ensure ahead of time that any essential documents, like property deeds or insurance papers, are digitized and uploaded to the cloud.
The most important thing we can do, though, is to demand that our elected officials invest in disaster prevention and preparedness. Studies have shown that voters tend to reward politicians for bringing in lots of relief money after disasters, but not for investing in preventive measures up front. This is unfortunate.
🎥 What I’m Watching
🇨🇳 National Insecurity — China’s Reckoning (Part 4)
The final episode of Polymatter’s great series on China.
More China content:
🦈 Close Encounter with Great White Sharks
Crazy and scary footage of surfers & Great White Sharks 🤯
🔧 The Tool of the Week
🖌 Flow—Clear Your Mind Through Expressive Writing
Flow is a beautifully designed web app that lets you clear your mind through expressive writing. I didn’t understand the concept until I tried it.
I’m very interested in tools improving thinking and creativity, and Flow is one of these tools.
What are the tools you love using?
🪐 Quote I'm Pondering
In his travels around Amsterdam, Peter also realized that just like the fashions in which we clothe our bodies, the fashions in which we clothe our structures—architecture—shaped people. They too were an input that could be changed. Thus, Amsterdam was a kind of factory for creating modern people.
— Daniel Brook, A History of Future Cities
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