Ola! Welcome to this week's digest. This week is a very special "Misdirection" edition, as we explore how technology and shared fictions can manipulate us. Enjoy!


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"We live in utter certainty about a world that is highly uncertain. Whenever stress comes about through that process, we might be able to downregulate a lot of that stress by just not taking our thoughts and beliefs quite so seriously." ~ Tristan Harris
    • On Being: Erik Vance - The Drugs Inside Your Head - "Modern medicine is something that can outperform a placebo... That's the definition of a drug that works... The foundation of what we consider medicine is "Is it better than your own mind?" Which it often isn't."
    • After On: End Games with Naval Ravikant (Thank you Samantha for sharing!) “At any given time on the planet, there are a few people, and one is too many…. if you gave them a button that would end the planet, they would press that button.”
    • The Guardian: Why can’t we agree on what’s true any more? - " the quantity of data becomes overwhelming – greater than human intelligence can comprehend – our ability to agree on the nature of reality seems to be declining. Once everything is, in principle, recordable, disputes heat up regarding what counts as significant in the first place. It turns out that the “frames” that journalists and experts use to reduce and organise information are indispensable to its coherence and meaning."
    • Wait But Why: The American Brain - "The free speech of individual citizens is the free thought of the communal citizen body, and the singular right that lets hundreds of millions of minds link together into a giant network that can learn, grow, and think as one. Society is driven by the stories we believe, and free speech hands authorship of those stories over to the people themselves... Mute buttons in any form should raise an alarm in all of our heads, though they sometimes seem to go unnoticed. When all you’ve ever known is freedom, it can be easy to forget just how precious it is."
    • Farnam Street: The Evolutionary Benefit of Friendship - "...friends are actually a key component of success. Without them we become isolated and vulnerable to loneliness, pain, and poor health. With them we live longer, with more laughter and less fear, and a higher quality of life."

PODCAST - The Tim Ferriss Show: Tristan Harris — Fighting Skynet and Firewalling Attention - Tristan is at it again, armed with his core narratives of technological optimism complemented by cynicism for the incentives of the actors who create and control that powerful technology. I agree with Tristan's recommendation that we each must work hard to better understand ourselves before technology does it better than we can. Per the legendary Stoic, Epictetus, "No person is free who is not master of themselves."

Answering The Drucker Question: Think through the last few times you meaningfully changed your mind. What were the circumstances? What led you to change your mind? Data? Storytelling? A plea from someone you trust? When you've nailed down a few examples of what changed your mind, then ask yourself, 'If Facebook or Google knew that my mind can be changed that way, could they use that to change my mind on other topics?' Why or why not? And what would you need in place to protect yourself?

Complement with Wired: How Humans Get Hacked: Yuval Noah Harari & Tristan Harris Talk (TD Digest summary).

My highlights:
  • If you control the menu, and the order of options as they are presented, and the emphasis as they are presented... it seems as if they've made their own free choice along the way... But in fact, you know exactly what card you wanted them to get to all along. The kind of questions you can ask people shape the outcome.
  • We just have these recurring processes that follow us everywhere. And I think if you can't see them then they run your life, and then we're kind of like automatons, we're robots that are living according to the previous set of constraints. And the extent to which we have choice is the extent to which we see those patterns.
  • Our brains are living inside of this 24/7 magic trick, which is that whatever thought pops into our mind, we believe it... We automatically step into it, and we see the world through the assumptions of that thought... Four questions let you see the exact opposite of that belief, which then makes you not take your beliefs and your thoughts so seriously ... 1) Is that true?... 2) Can you be absolutely sure that it is true?... 3) How do I react when I believe the thought?... 4) Who would I be in that moment without the thought? ... [Bonus Question #5)] Do any obsessions or addictions begin to appear when you believe that thought?
  • We live in utter certainty about a world that is highly uncertain. Whenever stress comes about through that process, we might be able to downregulate a lot of that stress by just not taking our thoughts and beliefs quite so seriously.
  • ...[Y]our mind is living inside a selection filter that is preselecting certain bits of information to reach your conscious awareness, and then hiding lots of others, and also polarizing you against other people or sources of information. And you don't know even know why.
  • Each of us are responsive to different stimuli. And what if in the future you had this map of what is perfectly persuasive to each person, and then we built technology that would automate persuasive messages based on your unique characteristics? And this is exactly what Cambridge Analytica later was, it uses your big five personality traits.
  • We have to recognize this race to the bottom of the brain stem, race to the deepest paleolithic instincts towards tribal warfare... This is our nature. And a race for attention is a race to get consequences. You have to resonate at a deeper level than the other guys. And so the game theory progresses so that you have to go deeper into social validation, you have to go deeper into self-worth... These consequences are predictable and a direct consequence of that business model... the engagement business model. The fact that YouTube or Facebook is not a neutral tool waiting to be used... I am like a hammer sitting here with a stock price that depends on you using me in particular ways towards particular nails that cause other hammers to be activated... And I have five hundred billion dollars at stake at keeping people using these hammers in particular ways. And that is the disincentive... That consequence falls out of the business model.
  • The fundamental place that we went wrong is when we attached financial success directly to the capturing of human behavior, the controlling and shaping of human behavior... We have to go through a mass decoupling between business success and capturing human beings... All of the incentives point to continuing this self-extraction. Why would we stop scooping the attention out of ourselves, destroying democracy, and debasing our mental health, when that's the thing that makes the most money and Wall Street's not going to stop funding it? ... We need to reward the companies for having a high integrity public square.
  • Why in the world would we pay for Facebook when it's free? The problem is the harm shows up on the balance sheet of our sleep, of our collective democracy, of our public sphere, of the quality of our sense-making, the information ecology, mental health; it shows up everywhere.
  • The civil libertarians who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny, they fail to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions. [George] Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us, [Aldous] Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.

- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (My full Kindle notes) - Yuval's initial pop history opus reveals the tremendous power of shared fictions in humanity. For a formerly rigid rule-follower like me, waking up to the subjective nature of all cultural memes has been tremendously powerful, revealing many additional choices and opportunities in every sphere of life.

Answering The Drucker Question: Pick a sphere of life where you feel stuck, e.g., at work, in a relationship, etc. Journal for a few minutes about the situation, laying out the context, the key issue(s), and why you are feeling stuck (Note: Silence your self-editor for this, just let it floooooow). Then go back through in detail and note which elements of the situation are objective facts, and which elements of the situation are subjective beliefs. (Note: If you want an assist with this, you can also steal some concepts from Cognitive Journaling :D). For the subjective beliefs, is it possible that your map is not the territory? What opportunities or choices are available if you are wrong?

Complement with 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (TD Digest summary) and The Lessons of History (TD Digest summary).

My highlights:
  • Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths... There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings... Unlike lying, an imagined reality is something that everyone believes in, and as long as this communal belief persists, the imagined reality exerts force in the world.
  • The heated debates about Homo sapiens’ ‘natural way of life’ miss the main point. Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, there hasn’t been a single natural way of life for Sapiens. There are only cultural choices, from among a bewildering palette of possibilities.
  • Rather than heralding a new era of easy living, the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers... The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud... Village life certainly brought the first farmers some immediate benefits, such as better protection against wild animals, rain and cold. Yet for the average person, the disadvantages probably outweighed the advantages... This is the essence of the Agricultural Revolution: the ability to keep more people alive under worse conditions... This discrepancy between evolutionary success and individual suffering is perhaps the most important lesson we can draw from the Agricultural Revolution.
  • One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can’t live without it.
  • ...[I]t is an iron rule of history that every imagined hierarchy disavows its fictional origins and claims to be natural and inevitable... Most people claim that their social hierarchy is natural and just, while those of other societies are based on false and ridiculous criteria... Most sociopolitical hierarchies lack a logical or biological basis – they are nothing but the perpetuation of chance events supported by myths.
  • A good rule of thumb is ‘Biology enables, Culture forbids.’ Biology is willing to tolerate a very wide spectrum of possibilities. It’s culture that obliges people to realise some possibilities while forbidding others.
  • ...[T]he world have gradually come to see both equality and individual freedom as fundamental values. Yet the two values contradict each other. Equality can be ensured only by curtailing the freedoms of those who are better off. Guaranteeing that every individual will be free to do as he wishes inevitably shortchanges equality. The entire political history of the world since 1789 can be seen as a series of attempts to reconcile this contradiction.
  • The first universal order to appear was economic: the monetary order. The second universal order was political: the imperial order. The third universal order was religious: the order of universal religions such as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam... Merchants, conquerors and prophets were the first people who managed to transcend the binary evolutionary division, ‘us vs them’, and to foresee the potential unity of humankind.
  • ...[C]ultures are mental parasites that emerge accidentally, and thereafter take advantage of all people infected by them. This approach is sometimes called memetics. It assumes that, just as organic evolution is based on the replication of organic information units called ‘genes’, so cultural evolution is based on the replication of cultural information units called ‘memes’. Successful cultures are those that excel in reproducing their memes... There is no basis for thinking that the most successful cultures in history are necessarily the best ones for Homo sapiens.No matter what you call it – game theory, postmodernism or memetics – the dynamics of history are not directed towards enhancing human wellbeing.
  • Consumerism has worked very hard, with the help of popular psychology (‘Just do it!’) to convince people that indulgence is good for you, whereas frugality is self-oppression... Obesity is a double victory for consumerism. Instead of eating little, which will lead to economic contraction, people eat too much and then buy diet products – contributing to economic growth twice over... The new ethic promises paradise on condition that the rich remain greedy and spend their time making more money, and that the masses give free rein to their cravings and passions – and buy more and more. This is the first religion in history whose followers actually do what they are asked to do.
  • ...[T]he most important finding of all is that happiness does not really depend on objective conditions of either wealth, health or even community. Rather, it depends on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations... [B]eing satisfied with what you already have is far more important than getting more of what you want... If happiness is determined by expectations, then two pillars of our society – mass media and the advertising industry – may unwittingly be depleting the globe’s reservoirs of contentment.
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