The Long Game 9: Longevity vs. Performance, the Mimetic Theory, French Elite, Risk Homeostasis, Montaigne and the Plague

🔥 mmhmm, Birds on the Everest, the Precipice, Behavioral Biology, Competition, Hiring, and Much More!

Hey there 👋🏼, and welcome to The Long Game — my take on health, wellness, and better living.

One more week in Belgrade; I'm enjoying the lighting in the city during the late afternoon!

If you missed the past episodes, you could catch up here.

This week we explore:

  • The Longevity vs Performance trade-off

  • What are you optimizing for?

  • Risk Homeostasis

  • Competition is for losers

  • The Mimetic theory

  • Birds & the Everest

  • mmhmm

Let's dive into it!

Brutalist architecture in Belgrade.


🥑 Health

⚖️ The Longevity vs Performance Trade-off

This week, I tried to understand what's the relationship between longevity and performance.

The reason I looked into this is that I recently did a full blood test, and I found a high IGF-1 value (insulin-like growth factor 1).

IGF-1 is a growth factor; it helps build muscle and repair muscle and contributes to grow new neurons and prevent neurons from dying. It's a powerful hormone for performance.

So IGF-1 is fantastic, right?

Not so fast. IGF-1 is a growth signal, which means it also helps bad cells to grow. It overrides the messages of the body telling to damaged cells to die and tell them to continue to grow.

That's why there is a trade-off to make (here's a video for a complete explanation of the concept.)

We want IGF-1 for its healthful properties without increasing our risks of cancer.

So how can we do that?

Dr Peter Attia, an expert in the applied science of longevity, suggests cycling IGF-1 levels:

Instead of aiming for IGF levels that are always low (like while fasting) or constantly high (like when eating), the best approach is to cycle IGF levels from low to high.

This way, we get the best of both worlds:

  • Low levels mean less cancer.

  • High levels mean less neurodegeneration.

So in practice, doing a few extended fasts per year (48+ hours) should help you cycle your IGF-1 levels between high and low.

There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs.


🌱 Wellness

🎯 What are you optimizing your life for?

I love this question from Derek Sivers.

It's crucial to know why you're doing what you're doing.

The inputs that influence you are powerful. The people around you, the event you attend, the projects you start, all these things should be aligned with what you want in life.

Whatever you decide, you need to optimize for that goal, and be willing to let go of the others.


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🧠 Better Thinking

⚠️ When Safety Proves Dangerous, by Farnam Street

Safety measures are created to make us safer and reduce the risks we're exposed to. But the human mind is tricky and tends to take more risks when it feels safer.

This excellent article explains the common pattern called Risk Homeostasis:

We all internally have a desired level of risk that varies depending on who we are and the context we are in. Our risk tolerance is like a thermostat—we take more risks if we feel too safe, and vice versa, in order to remain at our desired “temperature.”

What can we learn from risk compensation?

  1. Safety measures are more effective, the less visible they are.

  2. We are biased toward intervention. To improve a situation, our first instinct is to do something. Sometimes, it's wiser not to act.

  3. Making people feel less safe improves their behavior.


⚡️ Startup Stuff

🥈 Competition is for losers, by Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel, the co-founder of Paypal and author of the book Zero to One, is known for his strong take on competition. In this lecture, he explains why going after a very small market, in the beginning, is the best thing to do.

In a small market, you can easily develop a monopoly.

Let me say a few things about how to build a monopoly, and I think one of the sort of very counterintuitive ideas that comes out of this monopoly thread is that you want to go after small markets. If you’re a startup, you want to get to monopoly. You’re starting a new company, you want to get to monopoly.

You want to be a one of a kind company. You want to be the only player in a small ecosystem. You don’t want to be the fourth online pet food company. You don’t want to be the tenth solar panel company. You don’t want to be the hundredth restaurant in Palo Alto.

For more, here's the transcript of the lecture.

Don't take it to the extreme though 😅.


📚 What I Read

🇫🇷 France, As Revealed by its Elite, by Nicolas Colin

I loved this excellent piece by Nicolas Colin, Cofounder of The Family, who explains why France is lagging in Tech.

The main reason for this is explained by who rules the country.

Among the other reasons:

  • France is isolated from global discussions "the French language acts as a barrier keeping the French immune to ideas from the outside."

  • "The way France selects and breeds its elite creates a uniquely French problem with money."

So what should France do?

  • Everyone should be fluent in English, but don't expect this soon, "what an insult it would be for the langue de Molière..."

  • France being a mid-size country, it really needs its tech startups to expand beyond its borders

I highly recommend reading the full article!

🐐 What is the Mimetic Theory?

In his Mimetic Theory, René Girard explains how human desire is linked to the desire of others.

All of the human culture, according to Girard, is built upon the edifice of scapegoating and ritual repetition.

The article explores the three components of the theory:

  • Mimetic desire

  • The scapegoating mechanism

  • Revelation

Scapegoating also operates in individuals at the level of identity. We all construct identities over against someone or something else. I’m a woman, not a man. I’m a liberal not a conservative. I’m an atheist not a believer. And most problematically, I’m good not bad. When we need some other person or group to be bad so we can maintain our sense of ourselves as good by comparison, we have engaged in scapegoating

At a time when people seem to be increasingly polarized, blaming most of the problems on the other side, I found the following quote thought-provoking:

Girard points out that to have a scapegoat is not to know you have one. In other words, participants in the scapegoating mechanism hold an authentic belief in the guilt of the victim, a guilt seemingly demonstrated by the restoration of peace.

🦠 Montaigne Fled the Plague, and Found Himself, by Robert Zaretsky

A fascinating article on how writing the Essays helped Montaigne find himself.

What he finds, quite simply, is the importance of the moderate life. We must then, he writes, “compose our character, not compose books.” There is nothing paradoxical about this because his literary essays helped him better essay his life. The lesson he takes from this trial might be relevant for our own trial: “Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live properly.”

☣️ The Precipice, by Toby Ord

I started this book after listening to the episode on existential risks I linked in last week's episode. I know this topic won't be for everyone. Still, enough people must pay attention to the existential risks our society is facing to ensure the continuity of our species on Earth.

This quote from the book is alarming:

“During the twentieth century, my best guess is that we faced around a one in a hundred risk of human extinction or the unrecoverable collapse of civilization. Given everything I know, I put the existential risk this century at around one in six: Russian roulette.

Among the significant risks we face:

  • Nuclear weapons

  • Natural risks

  • Future risks:

    • Pandemics

    • Unaligned AI

    • Dystopian scenarios

The idea of the book isn't to make us afraid. It's to give an accurate and precise description of the risks we're facing, and suggest ways we could control them.

For example, these are policy recommendations to reduce existential risk.


🍭 Brain Food

🏔 Why Birds Can Fly Over Mount Everest, by Walter Murch

Read this fascinating story to understand the evolutionary pathway that led birds to inherit dinosaurs' lung system.

Every year, millions of bar-headed geese migrate over the Himalayas and have been doing so for millions of years. They have been seen flying at 28,000 feet. They have flown over Mount Everest! How do they do that?

The answer seems to be that bar-headed geese, like all birds—hummingbirds, ostriches, pigeons—have super-efficient lungs. It makes our lungs—and the lungs of all mammals—look primitive.


🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week

🎧 Charlie Songhurst on Invest Like The Best, with Patrick OShaughnessy

I like listening to episodes with lesser-known guests because you can discover an entirely new way of framing the problems and the solutions.

I didn't know Charlie Songhurst, former head of strategy at Microsoft and investor in nearly 500 companies, and this episode didn't disappoint.

The main ideas discussed are:

  • Founder-market fit

  • The concept of an alien founder

  • Advice on recruitment

Don’t study success, study failures and avoid those habits. The luck/skill of survival gets you at the top of the experience curve.

If you’re not in a network effects business, going slowly and choosing people who are exceptional people who have deep synergies with others on the team is the key to success.

Thanks to Sid Jha for the comprehensive notes!

🧬 Behavioural Biology Course, by Robert Sapolsky

A little bit different than usual, this is a course from Stanford Professor Robert Sapolsky on Behavioural Biology.

The first lecture is about avoiding categorical thinking. The course aims at explaining that behaviours are ways to express biological processes.

Old courses on Youtube are extremely underrated!

This lecture on Depression is also great.


🔧 The tool of the Week

🔥 Mmhmm App

Are you getting tired of using bad video tools all day long?

This app is going to be a game-changer in the way we use video to communicate. For a preview of the beta, watch the founder Phil Libin, founder of All Turtles & Evernote, go through the different functionalities.


🪐 Quote I'm Reflecting on

“You can't win an argument. You can't because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.”

—Dale Carnegie


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EndNote

Thanks for reading!

I will see you next week. As always, if you're finding this newsletter interesting, give me your feedback, you can respond to this email or tweet at me, or send me a note!

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Have a great day,

Mehdi

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