The Long Game 78: Turning Blood into Human Eggs, Crypto Cities, Choosing to Suffer, Coordination Headwinds
🏃 Escaping Competition Through Authenticity, Romwod, Japan, Shamanic Breathing Technique, and Much More!
Here’s a small update from us at Vital. More is coming very soon!
📣 We are hiring at Vital, help us build the “Strava for Health.” We are now looking for:
Senior Backend Engineer (Python, Django)
Senior Frontend Engineer (Flutter)
We are offering $1,000 in Bitcoin if you refer to us a candidate we end up hiring.
In this episode, we explore:
Turning blood into human eggs
Why we choose to suffer
Escaping competition through authenticity
Shamanic breathing technique
Let’s dive in!
🥚 Turning Blood Into Human Eggs
I shared the book Hacking Darwin in the newsletter a few weeks ago, and one of the key predictions of the book was that we’d be able to create human eggs from stem cells (of a man or a woman) in the not too distant future. You read that right, in the future, you might be able to have a kid alone: with an egg and a sperm of yours.
Conception—a company pursuing this mission—was recently announced:
The company is initially trying to make replacement eggs for women. That’s scientifically easier than making eggs from male cells, and it has an obvious market. People are having kids later in life, but a woman’s supply of healthy eggs nosedives in her 30s. It’s a major reason patients visit IVF clinics.
Conception is starting with blood cells from female donors and trying to transform these into the first “proof-of-concept human egg” made in the lab. The company hasn’t done it yet—nor has anyone else. There are still scientific puzzles to overcome, but Krisiloff sent out an email to supporters earlier this year saying his startup might be “the first in the world to accomplish this goal in the not-too-distant future.” It says that artificial eggs “could become one of the most important technologies ever created.”
Saying that the ongoing biotech revolution will radically change how we live is an understatement, but it seems that many of those developments aren’t shared and debated enough in society. I’m afraid that if things don’t change soon, the scientific & tech community will be extremely far and isolated from the rest of the people and working on things that will change everything related to how humans live. This is why I love Andrew Huberman and his efforts to translate the latest science to a broad audience. We need the same in all the scientific fields (The Sheekey Science Show is good for longevity/bio topics.)
That’s no exaggeration. If scientists can generate supplies of eggs, it would break the rules of reproduction as we know them. Women without ovaries—for example, because of cancer or surgery—might be able to have biologically related children. What’s more, lab-made eggs would cancel the age limits on female fertility, allowing women to have related babies at 50, 60, or even beyond.
The prospect of egg cells from a blood draw is profound—and ethically fraught. Conception’s process for making eggs from stem cells has required human fetal tissue. And if reproduction is dissociated from what have been the accepted facts of life, unfamiliar scenarios could result. It opens the door not only for same sex-reproduction, but perhaps even for one individual—or four—to generate an offspring.
🥗 Unrelated: I just picked up Burn: New Research Blows the Lid Off How We Really Burn Calories, Lose Weight, and Stay Healthy, and I love it. We’ll talk about it next week.
😓 Why We Choose to Suffer
Paul Bloom is the author of The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning, and I haven’t read the book yet, but I directly resonated with its message. I found this article to be a good introduction to the ideas of the author.
When life is going well, we can forget how vulnerable we are. But reminders are everywhere. There is always the possibility of pain—a sudden ache in the lower back, a cracked shin, the slow emergence of a throbbing headache. Or emotional distress, such as realizing that you just used Reply All to reveal an intimate secret. Such examples only touch the surface. There is seemingly no limit to the misery we can experience, often at the hands of others.
The simplest theory of human nature is that we work as hard as we can to avoid such experiences. We pursue pleasure and comfort; we hope to make it through life unscathed. Suffering and pain are, by their very nature, to be avoided. The tidying guru Marie Kondo became famous by telling people to throw away possessions that don’t “spark joy,” and many would see such purging as excellent life advice in general.
But this theory is incomplete. Under the right circumstances and in the right doses, physical pain and emotional pain, difficulty and failure and loss, are exactly what we are looking for.
Of course, it doesn’t mean that all suffering is good:
Not all suffering is valuable, though. To tell someone who is deeply depressed that they need more pain in their life would be cruel if it weren’t so ridiculous. I know psychologists who will tell you that bad experiences are good for you—they speak about post-traumatic growth, an increase in kindness and altruism, more meaning in life—and this sometimes does happen. But the evidence suggests that common sense is right here: Unchosen suffering is awful; avoid it if you can.
But chosen suffering is a different story. A life well lived is more than a life of pleasure and happiness. It involves, among other things, meaningful pursuits. And some forms of suffering, involving struggle and difficulty, are essential parts of achieving these higher goals, and for living a complete and fulfilling life.
I think the discussion around suffering is critical right now in our modern society that tries to eradicate all sources of discomfort. A growing number of people realize that this absolutely won’t lead to happiness—potentially the opposite. It explains the growth of long-distance running and other strenuous physical activities that are the source of a significant amount of pain and discomfort.
For more on this idea of necessary discomfort, watch/listen to this episode with Daniel Schmachtenberger on how to stir civilization away from self-destruction. In short, as we progress, we’ll need to create rituals to remember what pain & discomfort are or face self-destruction.
🧠 Better Thinking
🏃 Escaping Competition Through Authenticity
Being authentic is the best way to build something exceptional. I liked this piece on how you can escape competition through authenticity.
Sometimes you get trapped in the wrong game because you’re competing. The best way to escape competition—to get away from the specter of competition, which is not just stressful and nerve-wracking but also will drive you to the wrong answer—is to be authentic to yourself.
No one can compete with you on being you
If you are building and marketing something that’s an extension of who you are, no one can compete with you. Who’s going to compete with Joe Rogan or Scott Adams? It’s impossible. Is somebody else going write a better Dilbert? No. Is someone going to compete with Bill Watterson and create a better Calvin and Hobbes? No.
Artist are, by definition, authentic. Entrepreneurs are authentic, too. Who’s going to be Elon Musk? Who’s going to be Jack Dorsey? These people are authentic, and the businesses and products they create are authentic to their desires and means.
If somebody else came along and started launching rockets, I don’t think it would faze Elon one bit. He’s still going to get to Mars. Because that’s his mission, insane as it seems. He’s going to accomplish it.
Authenticity naturally gets you away from competition. Does it mean that you want to be authentic to the point where there’s no product-market fit? It may turn out that you’re the best juggler on a unicycle. But maybe there isn’t much of a market for that, even with YouTube videos. So you have to adjust until you find product-market fit.
At least lean towards authenticity, towards getting away from competition. Competition leads to copy-catting and playing the completely wrong game.
In entrepreneurship, the masses are never right
An important caveat, though: authenticity shouldn’t mean doing whatever I feel like doing. Here’s a different view on the question of authenticity, and I believe holding the two together, although seemingly contradictory, is worthwhile:
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.
I decided a really long time ago that I was going to be consistent, and it didn’t matter if in a moment, I felt like yelling at a customer service person, or going up on stage when I’m supposed to be adding energy and just taking energy instead. What I learned from that is the way we act determines how we feel way more often than the way we feel determines how we act.
⚡️ Startup Stuff
🗺 Coordination Headwinds
This piece on coordination headwinds was so good I had to share it. Here’s the idea, in short:
Back to Komoroske’s deck. It’s rather long, even though each slide is only about a tweet’s worth of text. You should read the deck, since there’s a lot of subtle detail (presented in a deceptively simple way) but here’s a short summary that will do for this newsletter.
In any organization, things that work at small scale, where individual competence is the limiting factor, slow down and stall as you scale the activity and the systems/organization become the limiting factor. The problem occurs in two flavors — the slime mold flavor and the military hierarchy flavor. The latter is worse, so you should try to be like slime mold.
There is no villain responsible for this. Coordination simply becomes vastly more difficult far earlier along scaling trajectories than people realize. Things get worse than you expect, sooner than you expect. This is coordination headwind. It’s an exponential snowballing phenomenon.
There are many sources of coordination headwind — execution uncertainty, ambiguity of goals, effort fragmentation, cost of deconfliction through escalation, sensitivity to small misunderstandings, attribution errors, obstacles obscuring goals and timelines, negative network effects, and so on.
All contribute to create a superlinear relationship between scale and coordination headwind intensity. This happens with mathematical inevitability via multiplication of long chains of numbers that are individually high (like say 0.95) but net out to a rapidly falling probability of accomplishing anything.
People routinely and radically underestimate the massive size of this effect, and misattribute it to bad management, individual incompetence, or malice, and systematically under-react to it, doing too little, too late, and letting the problem grow to crippling, existentially threatening levels before even recognizing it.
When things stall due to coordination headwinds, people predictably pull out a variety of responses that at best don’t work, and at worst, make things work. These responses include: excruciating process discipline (spreadsheets!) to control uncertainty, heroic dragon-slaying efforts, simply ignoring it, leaders “diving in” to “help out,” and of course, throwing more people at the problem.
There are no easy answers, but one general approach is to replace big, brittle long-term goals that are fragile to coordination headwinds with a process of iterative retargeting (Komoroske uses the metaphor of “roof sighting”).
📚 What I Read
In case you missed it: the latest piece by Vitalik Buterin on charter cities.
One interesting trend of the last year has been the growth of interest in local government, and in the idea of local governments that have wider variance and do more experimentation. Over the past year, Miami mayor Francis Suarez has pursued a Twitter-heavy tech-startup-like strategy of attracting interest in the city, frequently engaging with the mainstream tech industry and crypto community on Twitter. Wyoming now has a DAO-friendly legal structure, Colorado is experimenting with quadratic voting, and we're seeing more and more experiments making more pedestrian-friendly street environments for the offline world. We're even seeing projects with varying degrees of radicalness - Cul de sac, Telosa, CityDAO, Nkwashi, Prospera and many more - trying to create entire neighborhoods and cities from scratch.
On why comfort and complacency are the enemies:
Declines occur because many people’s entire goal is to become so successful that they can relax, and relaxing leads to complacency that breeds decline.
On the hypocrisy of blaming billionaires:
If you look closely, you’ll notice the pressure placed on billionaires to fix the world isn’t applied broadly. No one’s really giving Warren Buffet any shit. Musk, Zuckerberg, Bezos — we tend to obsess over billionaire founders. This is probably because our billionaire founders, with a fraction of the resources our politicians wield, are the only examples we have of leaders meaningfully effecting change. It’s somewhat counterintuitive, but my sense is a lot of the pressure isn’t coming from a place of anger. I think it’s coming from a place of hope.
It sucks but suck it up, I guess is what I’m saying, you’re needed, and now you have our attention. In between these truly excellent dunks, we could really use a plan.
🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week
This week in podcasts:
The Stoics are emotional preppers. They always prepare for the worst.
Switching gears a little bit and went back to History episodes. Dan Carlin is such a pleasure to listen to, and he manages to share his passion for history. The Supernova in the East Series is fantastic and covers Japan in the 20th century.
🍭 Brain Food
🏛 Principles to Live By
I loved these principles from Blake Robbins. They are worth following. It’s always about playing the long game.
🎥 What I’m Watching
🇯🇵 Why Japan Has No Military
It always strikes me how a constitution, while trying to promote great principles, can prevent a country from taking essential decisions in an era vastly different from when the constitution was written. This is the example of why having an army is unconstitutional in Japan:
🌬 Shamanic Breathing Technique
🔧 The Tool of the Week
🏋️♀️ Romwod — Optimize Your Range of Motion
Stretching is always on top of what I need to do, but I rarely do it, to be honest. I know I should, but I never actually do it. I love lifting and running, but for some reason, I don’t like stretching, although I know it’s essential. On top of aging well, I find that being very flexible is badass and that strength + flexibility is the best combo there is.
For this reason, I’m trying Romwod to see if having the support of an app will help.
🪐 Quote I’m Pondering
PHILOSOPHER: What I am saying is, don’t be afraid of being disliked.
YOUTH: But that’s—
PHILOSOPHER: I am not telling you to go so far as to live in such a way that you will be disliked, and I am not saying engage in wrongdoing. Please do not misunderstand that.
YOUTH: No. Then let’s change the question. Can people actually endure the weight of freedom? Are people that strong? To not care even if one is disliked by one’s own parents—can one become so self-righteously defiant?
PHILOSOPHER: One neither prepares to be self-righteous nor becomes defiant. One just separates tasks. There may be a person who does not think well of you, but that is not your task. And again, thinking things like He should like me or I’ve done all this, so it’s strange that he doesn’t like me, is the reward-oriented way of thinking of having intervened in another person’s tasks. One moves forward without fearing the possibility of being disliked. One does not live as if one were rolling downhill, but instead climbs the slope that lies ahead. That is freedom for a human being. Suppose that I had two choices in front of me—a life in which all people like me, and a life in which there are people who dislike me—and I was told to choose one. I would choose the latter without a second thought. Before being concerned with what others think of me, I want to follow through with my own being. That is to say, I want to live in freedom.
YOUTH: Are you free, now?
PHILOSOPHER: Yes. I am free.
YOUTH: You do not want to be disliked, but you don’t mind if you are?
PHILOSOPHER: Yes, that’s right. Not wanting to be disliked is probably my task, but whether or not so-and-so dislikes me is the other person’s task. Even if there is a person who doesn’t think well of me, I cannot intervene in that. To borrow from the proverb I mentioned earlier, naturally one would make the effort to lead someone to water, but whether he drinks or not is that person’s task.
YOUTH: That’s some conclusion.
PHILOSOPHER: The courage to be happy also includes the courage to be disliked. When you have gained that courage, your interpersonal relationships will all at once change into things of lightness.
If you enjoyed this newsletter, make sure to subscribe if you haven’t 👇
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.
Feel free to email me or find me on Twitter if you have any feedback or questions.
Until next week,
PS: Lots of newsletters get stuck in Gmail’s Promotions tab. If you find it in there, please help train the algorithm by dragging it to Primary. It makes a big difference.