Obvious things that are not so obvious

There are some things that are obvious, that should be obvious, but people just ignore them or find clever rationalizations for why they’re not obvious. As years go by, I see more and more of these things. For me, the scary thing is how non-obvious they seemed a couple of years ago, because it reminds me that there could still be hundreds of such things around me right now and I don’t see them as obvious. These can be “cached patterns” of thought, logical fallacies, or lazy thinking. Maybe there are some complex problems that are not really obvious to a more trained eye: if you think I have made a mistake, present an argument for why that is so, I’ll be happy to change my mind. But, lacking that, here are 3 of some pretty obvious things that are not obvious:

  1. Death is not good. This is obvious for managing your everyday life (e.g. you don’t walk into traffic), but somehow, if you apply this thought to a longer time horizon, you get very different results from what is usual. Most of us don’t want death today, tomorrow, or even next year, but we (say we) want it in 50, 60, 70 years. Consider this: if I asked you “Would you like to die tomorrow?”, you would say no. If I asked you that same question the next day, you would say no. If I asked you that same question a year from now, you would say no. If I asked you that question on 5 March 2089, if I said “Would you like to die tomorrow?”, you would STILL say no. In other words, no matter when I ask you, be it today, tomorrow, next decade, or the next millennium, you will say no, and you will never say yes if you are in good health and have friends. Obvious conclusion: we should try really hard not to die: cryonics, fasting (or at least a healthy diet), applied gerontology, and other things. There is nothing beautiful about death, nothing poetic about allowing the destruction of your own soul. There is nothing nice in ceasing to exist.
  2. Optimization is good. But it’s non-obvious. Say that you want to learn Swedish. You go to a language school and follow the curriculum. It reminds you of your high school days: you all start with checking homework assignments in the workbook, then you talk for a couple of minutes, then you read from the book, then you write down some answers to the questions about the text, and maybe then the teacher explains some topic of Swedish grammar to you. Straightforward. If you were my student a couple of years ago, you would have followed this same curriculum. However, that is no longer so. I asked myself the question: “How can I make my students learn Swedish in the least amount of time possible with the highest possible results?” The answer was not the curriculum we were doing. The answer was: learn really well the most frequent 100 words and the combinations they can produce. That was all it took, a simple question intended to make something better. The result: my students get to a conversational level in probably half the time. If you don’t really get why optimization is good, ask yourself: “Would I like to learn good Swedish in 8 years or in 1 year, given the same amount of effort?” If the answer is obvious to you, then so should the method be. Obvious conclusion: most of the things in your life can be optimized, but aren’t, because of a lack of thought. If you want results, if you really want/need something, you optimize, you don’t do the usual/normal/expected thing.
  3. Saving 500 people from certain death is better than helping an old, blind woman cross the road. Yes, you might get warm, fuzzy feelings about that old, blind woman. She is so obviously in need of assistance! Okay, if you have to choose, do you a) save the lives of 500 people and let the old woman find her own way or b) help the woman and let 500 people die? Can’t do both. Depending on your answer, effective altruism could (should) be obvious to you. When you can’t do everything but only one thing, you do the one thing that saves the most lives, helps the most people. Saving your dog from drowning is better than sharing your friend’s band page on Facebook. Sending $100 every month to a poor single mother in a Kenyan village to feed and educate her children is better than giving $100 to a random poor guy in USA. He’s in need of assistance, yes. But you giving $100 to a family in Kenya is the equivalent of, I don’t know, giving $1500 to the guy in the USA. Your limited $100 has a much stronger effect in Kenya than in the USA. You save more lives, help more people. Many people resist to such a cold calculation: how can you be so COLD about it? So… machine-like? Well, if you aren’t, you have to live with the fact that you let 500 people die just so that you can help an old lady cross the road. You have to live with the fact that your dog drowned because you helped your friend with his band page on Facebook. If you don’t optimize for maximum effect in helping, you have NOT done your best. You have done something, okay, that is better than nothing. But you didn’t give it your best. The poor woman in Kenya and her children will be hungry for another month. Obvious conclusion: instead of donating to other charities and organizations, join Giving What We Can, the organization which aims to put your money where it has the largest effect. Read 80000 hours. Do what does the most good.

This post might continue. These three things are the most obvious ones that I’ve been thinking about, but I might add other stuff as well (doesn’t have to be so serious as these three). Do you have something that you find fairly obvious, but people around you don’t? Leave a comment, I want to know.

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Quick! Solve your emotional problems now!

It is commonly recognized that if you have emotional, spiritual or psychological problems (NOT mental health issues – things like losing faith, or not being sure which career path to take, or noticing that you’re not anymore in love with your partner), they take some time.

I argue that we give them too much time.

This area of human psychology is fragile, so advice is often kind and “soft”, but we often completely ignore the fact that most problems shouldn’t take that long to solve. Here, decision paralysis reigns supreme. Hey, don’t you talk to me like that, don’t you know how I feel, don’t you understand that I’m in pain, recognize that I am suffering emotionally- STOP.

Pain is real, suffering is real and these problems are very real. I am not saying: “Just pretend they’re not there”. No. You should definitely take care of them, first, because you should generally take care of bad things in your life, and second, these problems are beneath an Overhuman.

But adopt the habit of asking this question whenever you feel stressed, bummed out and insecure: is this a problem that I could, at least in principle, solve more quickly than I am doing now?

Ask yourself that question. Could you, if you tried, solve it quickly? Sometimes the answer will be no, but it is still important to ask, because in most cases, the answer is a definite yes. Don’t play a role, play to win.

Playing a role mindset: this is a bad situation and I am supposed to suffer some undetermined (but relatively long) quantity of time, after which I may or may not find a solution/enlightenment.

Playing to win mindset: this is a bad situation. How can I solve it in the quickest, most effective way possible? If unsolvable, what can I do to minimize the amount and time of suffering and what can I do to get into a position of being able to solve it?

I look at it like this. We all get lost from time to time. Most of us find a way to somewhere, somehow. But for most people, it just takes too fucking long to reorient. You don’t need to spend a year contemplating your life’s purpose to find it. You don’t need to spend an additional two months in a bad relationship. Recognize this: at some point, you WILL reorient. No question about it. Nobody gets stuck forever. But if you know that you will reorient, why not do it more quickly?

Reality is intensely interesting

Many people find their lives boring and commonplace, with occasional streaks of fun and excitement. This is an emotional state which doesn’t at all correspond to the real world out there. It is stupid to say “you shouldn’t feel like that”, but in this case, you just… shouldn’t.

Understandably, you will sometimes perform boring work or otherwise engage in a boring activity, but the thing is – there is no such thing as boredom in the world around you. Boredom is produced when we fail to see what’s out there. If you wake up feeling bored, go to work and you’re bored there, go home, taking the usual route, do your exercise routine, you know, just boring old stuff – you’re out of touch with Reality. You’re living in the Matrix, or, better said, your image of the world is the Matrix.

Reality is infinitely and intensely interesting, not boring. Your sense of boredom overrides your sense of curiosity, but really it shouldn’t. It’s a defect in your thought-process. The world around you, from the most dull routine of existence to the most fantastic adventure is inherently interesting.

If you must feel negative emotions, then annoyance and anxiety are choices better suited for what’s really out there. You should rather be annoyed by the fact that you still don’t know how reality works, why there exists something in the first place, how ageing happens, why π is important, how to hack into Pentagon, who spoke the first language, how life came to be and so on… You should rather be anxious by the fact that you may die before you learn even the smallest particulars of True Reality. If you understand that solvable mysteries make up reality, and that humankind has really only solved a small percentage of all solvable mysteries, and that you concretely probably haven’t solved any (just because Feynman knows something doesn’t mean anything to you; you are still just as ignorant until you yourself understand a given phenomenon) – in short, if you see the rough sketches of how reality really looks like – boredom is absurd. It is seriously crazy not to be interested by all aspects of reality, from the most “boring” to the most exciting. If I performed a spell in front of you and summoned a fire monster, and you just said “meh”, there would be a serious, serious problem with you. A FIRE MONSTER, and you’re just “meh”?!? But that’s how many people actually are – electricity is normal, everyone uses it, therefore boring. There is nothing special or exciting in turning on a computer. Driving cars is commonplace. Why would you be excited by that?

puzzle-1You should! You should at least feel latent interest, a notion of, at least, in principle being curious about why electricity works and how cars are produced.

Anything else is just turning your eyes away from what’s really out there, and insisting on a lie that the world is boring. Anything else is just making up your own map, instead of drawing the map of the territory. Anything else is just laziness and bad habit. Anything else is just crazy.

To-do-again lists

Many people have to-read lists: lists of books and/or articles they wish to read at some future point. Reading new material is good: you expose your mind to new ideas and that way, you grow. But, as I found out when I set myself a goal to read one book every (two) day(s), the challenge is not so much to read and understand the books – speed reading takes care of that – but to actually implement the things you read. It’s relatively easy to read a book a day, if you set the time for it and if you are dedicated, but it is not neessarily a good idea: implementation of information takes more time than acquisition of information. And when I say implementation of information, I simply mean this: to put in practice what you know in theory; to actually do the things that you think about.

Some books will have quite concrete implementation advice, like books on nutrition and exercise: stop eating sugary foods; don’t do weight training more than 3 times a week; fast for 16 hours, then refeed. This is all very practical and concrete advice, but if you only read the book and only know that it’s good advice, but don’t follow it, you’re sort of wasting your time. This information has not become a significant part of your life – it is just trivia, something you know about but haven’t experienced, haven’t actually worked with it, tested it, saw how it felt, interacted with it. It’s like paying to get a new smartphone and just never using it for anything – while you could use it to phone your friend, write a blog post, tweet an idea, snap a photo of your dog, listen to a podcast, play an interesting game etc. Ideally, all knowledge that you receive is actionable, and you do not receive unactionable knowledge.

To give an example: currently, I read a lot about physics. Unactionable knowledge would be a bunch of physics trivia that I cannot possibly at this point tie with what I already know – like, for example, giving me an advanced equation that I am many inferential steps behind. Actionable knowledge would be something that I can work with: an elementary grasp of mechanics, for example. At some point, your super advanced equation will become actionable, but at this point, it is just clutter and simply knowing about it does not mean knowing it.

Other books, like many books of fiction, do not necessarily offer concrete advice, but interact with your mind in a different way – they “infect” your mind with recurring ideas and themes: you start thinking about what someone said or did while you do the dishes; your mind wanders and plays out scenes from the book while you cook; while out in a pub with your friends, you maybe act more like a character you particularly like, simulating their way of speaking or general behavior. Despite no concrete advice, these books are really very actionable.

But we have limited attention spans and our fallible human minds struggle with keeping valuable ideas in mind. I’ll give a personal example: I know the value of 80/20 and how doing just one big thing first thing in the morning, distraction-free, is like a first-class ticket to Productivityland. However, I sometimes – not always – struggle to keep up with this rule. Same with the slow carb diet – it just kind of gets ignored sometimes. Why does this happen? Nominally, I still subscribe to these ideas. I still think they are valuable. I invested serious time in them, they are not just trivia, I actually worked with them for a significant period of time. So why don’t they just stick effortlessly?

Well, there are a couple of views on this situation. First, a habit has not been formed. A habit is something you don’t struggle with: it is just automatic behavior, necessisitating no decision, no willpower. I should work more on consistency – simply insisting that I make the right choices every day, all the time, making my behavior automatic. The other view is that it is simply a normal course of things: it is behavioral entropy, the ever-present tendency for humans to revert to old patterns. In other words, certain things are simply never efortless to maintain: they can become easier, but it never becomes literally 100% effortless to maintain a certain habit. A third view on this situation is exposing your mind to triggers that produced the original change in behavior. So, if you originally read a book that made you stick to a new nutritional plan for weeks and now you feel yourself giving in, slowly losing the strength of your habit, it might be a good idea simply to reread the book! Because, during these last couple of weeks, you have been exposed to other kinds of information and other ideas, and now, your “viral infection” has ended – it has become repressed by other information.

A good idea is to build not only to-read lists and bucket lists but to-reread lists, to-do-again lists: lists of books, articles, shows, movies, people, whatever – things that at some point made you change your behavior, and expose yourself to these things again, periodically, maybe setting an alarm 3 times a year for a certain book, or once every month for a specific article that influenced you, or setting time once a week to talk with a specific person that makes you think about the world in different/better terms.

Take your calendar, think about the most influential things you consumed in the past, and set some alarms for the following year. Redo the good stuff.

Powerful and Powerless

(I haven’t yet read Robert Greene’s “48 laws of power”, it’s on my reading list; these are just some things that I’ve been thinking about)

Power is not binary

It’s not a question of having or not having power, but having less or more of it. Imagine you’re renting an apartment. Who has power here, you or the landlord? You provide the landlord with a steady inflow of money. Not only that, but you, if you’re a good tenant, provide the landlord with a sense of security: they know that they’ll both get the money every month and that the apartment will not be ruined in some way. So you could argue that it is you, the tenant, that has the power.

On the other hand, the name landlord doesn’t have “-lord” in it for no reason; indeed, the landlord is the owner and they have the possibility of your eviction in their hands (generally you’re protected by law not to be evicted immediately, but still). Obviously, the landlord is the possessor of power in this situation.

So who really has the power?

Answer: both of you have relative amounts of power to one another. Power is not binary, power is a quantity that can be distributed in a binary fashion, but usually isn’t. You wield some power over the landlord and the landlord wields some power over you. Sometimes you have more, sometimes they have more.

Forms of power

What is power, actually? Let’s arbitrarily define power as “good probability (>50%) that what you want actually will happen”. So, by this definition, power can come in many forms and the only thing that matters is that it brings >0.5 probability of you achieving your goals, seeing your plans to fruition.

Here are some forms of power that I can think of (there are probably others too):we-can-do-it-rosie-the-riveter-wallpaper-2

  • money
  • influence
  • strong character
  • knowledge
  • technology
  • numbers (of people)

 

So, let’s revisit the apartment example again. Let’s say you’re paying 1700 a month for the privilege of living in another person’s space (doesn’t matter which currency, I’m using arbitrary numbers). Let’s also say that your total earnings per month are usually around 4000. So, you have 2300 left to cover the bills, food and other spending. Say that it takes 800 for the bills. You now have 1500. Food, around 1200. You have 300 for any other spending (not a lot, you have to make ends meet, but you regularly survive). You are person A.

Person B, on the other hand, earns twice as much – 8000 per month. After all your costs, person B still has 4300 left to spend, enough to rent another apartment simultaneously.

It is recognizable that person B has more power than person A, but it is not immediately clear why this is so. I’ll explain.

Say your landlord starts giving you a hard time; maybe they’re broke and need to squeeze out the money, or they simply smell that you’re not really powerful. They start to demand earlier payments every month; when the equipment in the apartment breaks down, they refuse to pay for the repairs and insist you do it; they ask for advance rent payments; in short, they become very needy and demanding and “unreasonable” (funny word that – generally it’s used if you don’t have power to say no).

What does person A do? They submit, and submit, and submit, because they know that even if they find another apartment at this cost, which is unlikely, they’ll still get in the same sort of situation (a landlord that’s more powerful and demands things). And also all the hassle with moving and trying to earn a living at the same time… It’s easier to submit to the ever growing demands and small pokes and prods than to leave this increasingly abusive situation.

Person B? Hah! Person B says to the landlord at the first sight of “unreasonable” demands: “No.”

Just no. No explaining. No nothing. No.

Person B, you see, doesn’t care. Person B doesn’t try to make things work out for everyone and cooperate and compromise, because person B has enough money on their account to be able to simply say “no.” What’s the result? The landlord doesn’t even try to milk out more money because they know that they’ll lose a good tenant that gives them a steady inflow of money and a sense of security.

But did you see what just happened here? Both tenants were good tenants that provided the landlord with money and security, but only B had the possibility (>0.5) to leave. So person A has less power than the landlord, and B has more, simply because B has more options – in the form of more money.

All this serves to drive in a key lesson that I am learning: do your best to get (enough) power. This is a top-level priority. There will be kind people that will not turn to predators when they smell that you’re not strong, but the world generally doesn’t function like that, I think. Lions attack the weakest buffaloes. Street thugs attack the weakest victims. School bullies bully the weakest kids.

If you see the world as a battle between good and evil, you know that the battle will only be won if the good guys are stronger than the bad guys. So if you want to do good in the world, you have a moral obligation to get more power. Being powerless just gives more power to the evil tyrant, to the rapist, to the bully, to the corporation that puts toxic chemicals in children’s toys, to the landlord that doesn’t want to pay for repairs, to the policeman that beats on peaceful protesters. Don’t shy away from power, saying “Power corrupts!” Instead, get power and find some way in which you won’t get corrupted by it. Yes, power can corrupt, and you should be careful not to become one of the people you despise, but not all people with power are evil scum – be like them! Be Albus Dumbledore, not Voldemort. Be Luffy, not Doflamingo. Be Sherlock, not Moriarty.

Powermongering for World Optimization: the Minimal Guide for Good People

  • Money: options. More money, more options. How to get more money? (1) Be more valuable to other people and, ideally, (2) be a master of some thing. A cook is valuable (and paid), a better cook more valuable (and more paid) and a master cook is the most valuable of all (and has more money than all). Mastery, if done right, will mean a lot of money.
  • Influence: manipulation. If you know your practical psychology well, you will be able to make other people do what you want them to do. Read Influence by Cialdini. (Also, fame sometimes equals influence, but not always.)
  • Strong character: power recognition. Don’t be a weakling that feels powerless despite the fact that you actually do have power. If you are person B, don’t be anxious about your landlord giving you a hard time – you are in a position of power, recognize it.
  • Knowledge: currency of power. The more you know, the more you can exchange this knowledge into other forms of power. You could know a lot about influence and become influential. You could know some information and exchange it for money. You could know BJJ and pin some attacker to the ground. If power is the product, then knowledge is the currency with which you buy it.
  • Technology: the counter to other powers. In a world of knives, a gun makes all the difference. Tech can give you an otherwise unobtainable upper hand. If you went alone against a hundred Viking warriors, you would definitely be killed. Unless if you had an atomic bomb. Then you, alone, would beat a hundred armed warriors. Whenever you can have technology, or just learn it and use it, you should.
  • Numbers: the primal form of power. Sometimes, a lesser force will beat a bigger one. But often, it will not. If you can count on a lot of people, either for some sort of conflict or just as help, you will be a very powerful person indeed.

Power doesn’t flow from “could-happen” ideas

When the bully pins your head to the window of the bus and you’re all alone with him, you might be thinking “I could kill him. I could make an evil and ingenious plot and take his life. I could get him to- OUCH OUCH OUCH OUCH PLEASE STOP”.

Stop speaking or thinking nonsense. Power only comes from things that can actually happen. You know that you’re not going to kill anyone, despite your fantasies. The bully is powerful and you are weak. You can, in fact, obtain more power and thwart the bully: you can read books on influence and make his life really ugly by using Slytherin skills; you can earn money and pay someone bigger to beat him up; you can learn boxing and break his nose; you can get a couple of friends and collectively beat him up etc.

But dreaming up things that you’ll never ever ever do is just fantasy, and you are trying to put yourself into a position of power based on fantasy. Wrong. Don’t do that. Instead, recognize who has power, in which amount, and then do what is necessary to obtain more power. You don’t have to become the bully yourself, but you have to have enough power not to be bullied.


How do you think about power? Are you a powerful person or are you powerless? Leave a comment! I know I’m slowly getting to more power, but I originally come from a victim-mentality, zero-power personality, so I have a longer road than some. But you know, you gotta do the work, and do it every day…

A Journey of Ice and Fire: My experience with the Wim Hof Method

As some of you might know, several months ago I ran a campaign on IndieGoGo to get funding for Wim Hof’s workshop in Poland. It fell short of the necessary amount, but I was able to purchase the online video course. This is a story of my journey into the cold.


 

It all started when I learned about this article. I thought to myself “what a load of crap” at first. I mean, come one, really? Influence the immune system with breathing? That’s the sort of thing you hear from quacks and pseudoscience people. But as I found more information about Wim Hof and saw that he actually did have achievements, quantifiable, testable things, like siting in a tank filled with ice water for more than an hour or climbing snowy mountains in shorts, I thought to myself “maybe there is something to this guy”.

Little by little, I started practicing the breathing method described in the post above and it just always felt… interesting. I don’t know if I was controlling my immune system or transcending anything, but the sensation I had from the breathing sessions was always interesting, probably in the way that drugs are interesting. More about that below.

wim-hof-method-iceman3

The video course

Control of the immune system

This is the first one and the most important one for me. You can control your immune system at will? That’s some Bene Gesserit shit, man. Of course I was very curious, but at the same time, I could not have been more skeptical. What I didn’t expect was that there was a study, not only on Wim Hof, but on people trained in the Wim Hof method. A study on PNAS, at that, a reputable science journal. I recommend that you read (at least a bit of) the study, but the short version is this: some people trained by Wim Hof and other untrained people were injected a bacterial endotoxin, something that produces a strong immune response. The control group (the untrained guys) felt sick, the Wim Hof group just breathed through it and felt okay. In other words, while the control group fell sick, the Wim Hof group was almost untouched by the endotoxin. Pretty nice, huh? Especially if this skill is transferable to other attacks on the immune system, not just endotoxins. You can wave goodbye to that cold that has been bothering you!

My own personal experiments: Two times I felt like I would get sick,  I decided that I would do no breathing techniques and see if there was any difference. I got sick both times. On all the other occasions that I felt like I would get sick (around 6 or 7), I did the breathing techniques and didn’t have any symptoms – all but once, when, despite my best effort and continuous breathing, I managed to get really sick. Of course, all this is really weak evidence, but it did work for me with a significant success percentage.

Seeing that there is nothing parallel to the Wim Hof Method, for the control of the immune system, I give the course a 5/5.

Cold resistance

The exercises are really well put together and you have a natural progression, there are no shocks. First you just do hot-cold showers, then cold-hot-cold, then just cold, then long cold, then ice baths… The progressions are easy and you are always prepared for the next week. I am still not entirely satisfied with my progress – I need to train more so that my toes and fingers don’t get numb during prolonged cold exposure, but I am much better at handling the cold. It’s also really cool if you have access to nature – taking a really cold swim or crawling through snow is much more fun than just cold baths and showers.

On cold resistance, I give the course a 5/5.

Mindfulness

I hoped that I would also see a significant increase in my mindfulness and “be more Zen” (that was one of my three goals before starting the course), but here I did not see improvement as in the previous two categories. It is probably because I have already done a lot of mindfulness meditation before the course, so the meditation part wasn’t as new (and by extension, as significant) as the breathing and cold exposure. Nevertheless, my Zen level remained roughly the same as before the course, which is okay, so I give the course a 3/5 in that category.

Material, organization, curriculum, communication

Here I see some room for improvement. I think that the course would benefit from an optimization process. What I mean specifically is this:

  • There should be more videos explaining the structure of the course, and the written explanations should be more clear. (the PDF to be printed doesn’t seem like someone put a lot of effort in it)
  • Despite the scientific studies that show that there definitely is something to the Wim Hof Method, the community sometimes dabbles in pseudoscience and mysticism, and the language can get ambiguous and unclear, as is usual in pseudoscience and mysticism. I think that the method would benefit enormously if Wim and others would read up on the scientific method, maybe on Less Wrong or some books, perhaps Feynman. Generally, Wim doesn’t make incredible claims, so it’s all cool, but you sometimes get the feeling that he doesn’t completely appreciate the importance of the scientific method. My personal (and very general) advice is more clarity. The Facebook community is a bit worse and people sometimes post stuff about spiritual healling and chi energies and supernatural things – Wim and his team should probably be careful that the community doesn’t become an alternative medicine cult; that’s another reason why I suggest reading more about science and rationality.
  • I know that the course moved to another platform now, but the old forum was poorly designed and there wasn’t much interaction with Wim or the trainers. I would appreciate if there was a Questions and Answers session for the people that buy the course, where Wim (or another instructor) can dedicate an hour of Skype calling to the buyer of the course, something like personal consultation. I don’t know if that would be cost-effective though, but it would certainly be nice. Generally I would advise more communication with the team/instructors/Wim.

In short, I would like to see more effort put into the course, more videos, more explaining, more Q&A, more consultation, more mentoring, better design, and the other thing I would like to see is a more scientific culture. Overall, I give the course a  2/5 in this category.

Athletic performance & breath retention

My breath retention increased significantly and I have found that if I do some sort of cardio interval training, if I do the breathing during a break between intervals, my performance increases (probably due to oxygen saturation in the blood; more energy is available with more oxygen, I suppose). I have also found that explosive, plyometric movements, like precision jumps, get like a little bit better: I can jump a bit higher or farther. I don’t lift weights, but I suppose I would find a similar result in that area too. This is a really incredible hack, so I grade the course 5/5.

The drug-like effect of the breathing rounds

This was a real discovery for me and I must say that I was impressed. When you start to do the breathing rounds, your inner mental state becomes somehow… different. Here’s a metaphor (that probably won’t be that useful unless you try it yourself): imagine all your thoughts as dry leaves lying on the bottom of a big jar. When you start doing the breathing sessions, what happens to these leaves is that they start to turn and fly around, like if there was a strong wind within the jar. This was my impression with my thoughts and ideas and emotions: they would seem to flow faster, in a more chaotic fashion, and I would make certain connections really fast. It was also a good thing for my creativity: I got a lot of good ideas simply from a round or two of breathing exercises. I would describe it as jump-starting your mindfulness meditation; shaking things up. You kind of shake everything around and observe what’s going on. As stated in a previous paragraph on Zen, I didn’t get any lasting Zen state (or, to be more specific, MORE Zen), but during the process I found a lot of interesting stuff and so I grade this 5/5.

Overall impression

I think that the course was really good and I’m happy that I bought it, as I learned a lot and gained certain skills that I otherwise wouldn’t have. The really impressive thing for me is the control of the immune system and I would like to see further scientific research and the MED (Minimal Effective Dose) of the Wim Hof Method: it would be cool (did you get it, cool?) if we could boil down Wim’s teachings to the minimum that’s required for the control of the immune system and cold resistance. I mean, it’s possible that this already is the MED, but I would like to see more studies done with people that have done just the breathing, but not the cold exposure, or just the cold exposure, but not breathing, or just like one breathing cycle per day, and so on. It would be nice to play with such variables and see what has the biggest ROI, and then focus on that. But, absent such studies, I think that the full package of the course is a great resource, I grade the course 4.5/5 and I recommend it to everyone.


 

If you want to try out the Wim Hof method, I recommend the new website and the free mini-course. For me, it was an incredible experience and I am glad that I did it.

THE (incomplete) OVERHUMAN CURRICULUM

Okay, so we all know that there’s an awful lot of things to learn if you want to become Overhuman: martial arts, meditation, languages, mnemonics, deductions, strategy… The list goes on and on and on, and it doesn’t seem to stop.

Obviously, we are in need of prioritizing: deciding what gets learned and in which order. Otherwise, you might start by learning new languages, which is cool by itself, and it’s cool if that’s what you’re into, but if you’re into the whole Overhuman business, you’ll probably want to learn how to choke someone out before you go into your third foreign language.

This article is to serve as a guidepost if you’re improving yourself in this particular way. I tried to explain why this particular order is better than any other order, but if you disagree, it’s up to you to decide which order you’ll follow. I’ll just say that I wish I had something like this four years ago when I was starting out. Without ado, here is the (incomplete) list of what you should learn and in which order:

1. Always go back to the basics.

This is a sort of meta-rule, a rule about rules, and about itself. Always return to this very rule – it is by far the most important thing you can do. Remember that the most important thing in your journey is rule number 1, “Always go back to the basics”. Then think about the basics, and redo them. I cannot overstate the importance of this rule. I’ll give an example. You know that being constantly aware (hyperaware) is the cornerstone of your development as an Overhuman. You know this, you talk about this, you believe in this, but the problem is that you also forget this. We humans tend to forget the very things that got us somewhere in the first place. When was the last time you fully appreciated the fact that there such a thing as public transportation which can move you 10+ kilometers under 20 minutes and you don’t have to maintain it or do anything except pay a small fee and simply be taken somewhere? Never, right? That’s just the way the world is: there is a thing called “public transport” and it’s simply there, it always has been. Well, it hasn’t. But maybe you’ve never actually experienced a world without public transportation, so you’re not to blame for not fully appreciating it. But look at another example: your smartphone. You probably have one. You probably didn’t have it when you were a kid. This is an incredible device. You can complete financial transactions with it. You can communicate with a person on the other side of the planet with it. You can read books, listen to music and watch films on it. You can record your experience of the world. You can learn languages or play games. You even have a flashlight.

You probably do not appreciate the full value of an artifact of such immense power. Much the same with the basic notion of Overhumanity: hyperawareness. You know that you should be listening and watching intently the world around you, but you start thinking when you’re walking, or somebody comes into the room and you simply glance at them instead of studying them meticulously. You don’t listen deeply to what people are saying, you simply note their words. You forgot how important it is to be aware of your surroundings, despite the fact that you believe very firmly that it’s important.

This is something that you must remedy, and I am telling you this because I myself am most guilty of forgetting what the important things are. Repeat after me: always go back to the basics. Always go back to the basics.

Always go back to the basics.

Always go back to the basics.

Always go back to the basics.

If only I had a bigger font, I swear I’d use it.

So what are the basics then?

2. Hyperawareness

There is a term “hypervigilance” and it is usually meant as something bad, due to it being a key part of PTSD. Some people call it “condition yellow”, according to the Cooper Color code. I simply call it hyperawareness, from Frank Herbert’s Dune.

TV Tropes has a good description of it (bold added by me for emphasis):

“The Bene Gesserit use their hyper awareness as a tool for manipulation. Descriptions of Bene Gesserit thought processes in the novels are often comparable to chess masters watching the world around them like one big chessboard, and calmly noting their accruing advantage. At one point a Bene Gesserit correctly deduces that there is a hidden room on the other side of a large banquet room by noting the subtle geometry of the walls of the room and the objects in it as being specifically designed to produce a slight echo where those in the hidden room can listen in. ”

It’s simple: the very basic notion of Overhumanity is hyperawareness, or condition yellow, or hypervigilance (in a positive sense). You do actually need to pay very close attention to what’s happening around you, and do so at a conscious level. It is largely a matter of habit to train yourself to be hyperaware on command. But first, you need to qualify your senses in a different way, for example:

  • You do not watch, you scan. Walking around, you’re not meant to lazily turn your gaze to some things and ignore the many others. To scan is to frequently observe everything around you, look up, down, left, right, behind. It means to watch the faces of humans passing you and then observing the position of their hands. Are their hands concealed? Do they have perspiration on their skin? Do they stare at you? Do they also scan the environment? It means to look at the environment, not in an everyday manner, but as if you are deliberately trying to detect danger, or detect anything (hyperawareness should not be a stressful event, or, it should be intense and demanding, but in a calm way and relaxed way, not as something that produces anxiety). Have you ever been really high up (like on a rooftop or a tree) and observed people? If you have, then you know that you can be invisible without any special cloaking devices, because people rarely look up. So observe the windows of a high building as if looking for a sniper, then quickly observe the traffic as if looking for a suspicious looking car, then observe the people on the street, then observe everything else in between, and do so quickly. Scan instead of watching.
  • You do not listen, you monitor. So many sounds pass our attention because they get filtered out too soon. It is probably the fact that we feel very safe at all times in our lives, mostly because we all live in cities where there is a certain order to how things function and people mostly don’t die. catExcept, they do, but still not enough for the rest of the population to start paying real attention to the world that surrounds them. Observe, for example, the everyday street cat. All the athleticism aside, the feat that is most impressive with this animal it is almost impossible to sneak up to. Yes, their ears are bigger, so certainly they do experience sounds more intensely than we do, but there is also another thing: they have to pay more attention to their environment, lest they be attacked by a dog or something else. They actively monitor what’s going around them, while humans don’t even need earphones not to hear the surrounding world. I’ve found that spending some time in nature, alone, in the woods, is the easiest way to get yourself to listen. You don’t even need to try: some animal-like quality awakens in you and suddenly you hear every animal that passes close to you. you hear every crack, you notice every noise, and it happens because, suddenly, the sounds around you are much more relevant for your well-being.

3-MINUTE BURSTS: An exercise I’ve found useful is setting a timer for, say, three minutes and then simply watching and listening to the world around me. After three minutes, the idea is to write down everything I saw or heard or felt: the position of books on my desk, the number of cars that have passed down the street, the duration of dogs barking outside, was it a bark of a big dog or a small one, the coughing of my next-door neighbor, was it a regular cough like when you take a sip of coffee in the wrong direction or was it a wet cough, when you’re really sick, then what’s the color of the first car that passed my street, what’s the model of the third one, then have I felt any odd emotion that simply popped up, like, for example, a very short burst of anxiety when I heard the car pass, what was that about, then noticing a short craving for ice-cream, then noticing the regional accent of someone yelling outside…

WATCH YOUR PARTNER: Another exercise I find useful is personal awareness, or deductions: you get a stopwatch and a partner. One minute of chitchat. Partner leaves the room, changes one aspect of their appearance: adds a hairpin, puts a knife in pocket, unties shoes, puts a dot on hand and so on. Again, one minute of chitchat, during which you try to figure out the change. If after one minute you did not figure it out, the partner tells you, and then you leave the room and do the same thing. Repeat. This gets you in the habit of observing people intently.

ZEN MEDITATION is another basic exercise that you must practice daily. It really is basic: when you meditate, you let go of thinking and start only observing. Since we have great need of just raw observational power – we need the eyes of an eagle or a fly, instead of the eyes of an amoeba – Zen meditation is very useful because it is pure observation, untainted with thought. There are many introductions to Zen meditation, and I have written extensively on it myself; this and this might help.

There are a million things you could observe – you should.

3. Rationality

(resources: CFAR, HPMOR, Less Wrong, 12 virtues of rationality)

Do you generally believe that maps should reflect the territory they depict? Like, if you take a map of a city, you would want a map that corresponds to how the streets really look like and how they stand in relation to one another. You definitely don’t need a map that shows every street name wrong, and half the streets are missing, and the remaining streets are misplaced, misdirected or otherwise don’t correspond to the real streets in the city.

map

A napkin-level map. You don’t want this.

Well, if reality is territory, then your mind is the map. And we spend little time drawing correct maps. Most people have those napkin-level maps, with a couple of streets and some directions, but few have detailed topographical maps of reality in their heads. Why? Because they either don’t realize how important it is to have correct maps or they just don’t know their maps are very wrong or incomplete. (I was both.)

I have a story about not knowing about not knowing. Some 7 years ago, I started training Parkour. As my training progressed, I read more and more about physical exercise, about nutrition, strength and conditioning. At a certain point, I thought I had experience enough (and knowledge!) to speak openly and give advice to people about training, be it Parkour or general physical training. I didn’t think I knew everything – I definitely didn’t know the intricacies of human anatomy, or the minutiae of micronutrients – but I felt that I knew enough to give sound advice.

I was wrong.

My advice, nutrition and workout plans that I would propose to people were intuitive, made on the spot, very general: “Do 50 push ups, 70 squats and 100 crunches every day, and eat less calories, around 80% of your regular intake,  and run 5 km every second day.” I would simply blurt it out, you know, just throw it out there, no matter who I was dealing with. After all, everybody would benefit from such a regimen, right? Another thing I used to think was that muscle soreness was good and “burning” the muscles each workout, going to failure every time was also good.

“It is difficult to appreciate your own level of ignorance on a topic about which you are ignorant.”

Then I read “The 4 Hour Body” by Tim Ferriss. Then I listened to Pavel Tsatsouline talk. Then I listened to Charles Poliquin talk. Then I listened to Christopher Sommer talk.

I realized that I didn’t have a clue, and the most frightening thing was I didn’t have a clue that I didn’t have a clue.

“What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”

“An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that’s filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors, and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge. ” (Dunning-Kruger effect)

Believe me this: you don’t know how much you don’t know about the art of rationality. You don’t know how much you need the art of rationality. You don’t know how complex the art of rationality is. You don’t know that the art of rationality truly is an art, and a very difficult one, at that. It is NOT simply knowing about biases and putting “critical thinking” in your CV. It is not something you add to your mind; it is an entirely different way of thinking. And it is the only thing that will allow you to get things right, or at least LESS WRONG.

However, you pay a massive price.

The first price you pay is your certainty. The rationalist does not live in a world of certainty, but probability. This will be the first shock. You will not want to accept how much you don’t know. You will not want to accept the implications of what you don’t know. You will want to flinch away from this realization, not think about it. The world will suddenly become a much more complicated place, filled with caveats and balancing probability at every single step. Everything will become horribly difficult and slow; you have to use MATHEMATICS to check if something is true, and even THEN you don’t know for sure, but only have an estimated probability? WTF? Without certainty, life will cease to be simple.

The second price you pay is your affiliations. What will you do if you find that a group you’re a member of is probably wrong about something? Of course, now you think that they certainly won’t be, because you would know about it, right? You are making a classic mistake, because you do not yet know true rationality, and how full of doubt and uncertainty you should be. Even now, you’re reading this and thinking “yeah, he’s talking about Christians or other religions”, smirking and at the same time being, for example, a green activist. What if, for example, your stance on ecology and green policy is put into question? What if you know that GMOs are bad, and you know you’re right – and then you find out the opposite? Will you simply change your mind, or will it hurt to do so? Will it be easy to say “Ah, I was wrong for the last 8 years and all my effort to protest against GMOs was a waste of time”?  Will you do so even at the expense of losing friends?

Because the third price you pay is your relationships. Most people are not rationalists. They have napkin-level maps of reality and they don’t know how much they don’t know. However, they are very certain of that which they think they know. You will receive anger, disappointment and even hate when you change your mind about a thing your friends think is true. Most of us have been there with our parents: we thought differently and had our share of fights with them (religion, career aspirations or sexual orientation are some of the usual reasons). Some of us received angry words and beating for thinking and speaking differently. We know the emotional price of thinking differently. We know how it is to be despised or to be a disappointment in the eyes of our parents. But many of us think differently despite the whole drama, and grow up, and don’t start agreeing with our parents just to get acceptance. Are you a lesbian and your parents are disappointed and resentful? You know that it is okay to be a lesbian, but they do not agree. They want you to change. They tell it directly. They put you in an emotional hostage situation. It is even worse when they control your resources: they feed you and clothe you, so they have power over you. You do not submit anyway, and grow up and forget about it, but you remember how hard it was.

Are you willing to go through this again, this time with your friends, colleagues, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife? Are you willing to go through this ALL THE TIME,  ALWAYS CHOOSING TRUTH INSTEAD OF ACCEPTANCE AND FRIENDSHIP?

Because the fourth price you may pay is your happiness. The truth might not be something that makes you happy. And the process of finding truth might alienate you from people that do not share your love of truth. You will have to accept that this is a possibility – not a certainty, definitely, maybe your friends will enjoy seeing you grow into a different person, and not hate you for being less wrong than they are – but it still is a possibility. A possibility you have to accept. (And, obviously, find a way to be happy with the truth).

Do you care to imagine what the final price is? Well, one needs only look in history books and see how society deals with those who think differently. Freedom and life, these are the final prices you might pay for being more right and less wrong than the people around you. Fortunately, today it’s 2016 and it is a good day indeed because we do not burn people alive anymore. Well, Europe doesn’t, anyway. But if you are an atheist in a morally corrupt society like Saudi Arabia, you may expect punishment of such sort. The world has grown to be a kinder place, all due to the thinkers that spread their ideas and called them the Enlightenment. But there are still dark corners of the world, where light does not shine, ignorance abounds and evil thrives. There are still quests to be had, Dark Lords to be defeated, ignorance to be exorcised. The battle is still not won.

4. Self-preservation

When I say self-preservation, I mean all skills and knowledge that directly contribute to your survival and well being, especially if you are endangered. In practical terms, you can divide this in two categories: prepping and martial arts.

Prepping

A prepper’s mindset is basically this: shit can always happen, so it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. You have survivalists too, and they are more into bushcraft type skills , but preppers simply think about the possible bad things that could realistically happen to them – and then they prepare. It just, you know, makes sense: if you drive a car, you put a seat belt on and you have air bags. You know that you might get into an accident, and so you make a small investment now so that you increase your chances of future survival and well being.

You can go into great detail as to what could go wrong and which specific steps you should implement, but even small adjustments are incredibly useful. The usual list of problems is this: lack of money, lack of food and water, shelter, disease, violence. That’s it. Maybe you want to go into detail as to your plan on how to survive a nuclear strike – and that’s fine! But big dreams of nuclear shelters and evacuation protocols might distract you from the more common, lurking danger of not having money. What do you do if you suddenly lose your job? How much do you have in savings? Could you live normally for two months without a job? One month? A week?

This is a general beginner’s list that everyone should think about:

  • MOST IMPORTANT: Make a bug-out bag. It should be a normal-looking bag filled with medicine (antibiotics if you can find them), dry foods (like peanuts), water, extra socks, maybe a multitool, stuff like that. So if at anytime you do need to actually evacuate your home and you have only minutes to do so, you know you can at least survive for a week. backpackA bug-out bag shouldn’t be a big, army camouflage bag that attracts attention. Just a normal, regular-sized backpack.
  • Increase income and increase savings. Also, diversify income and diversify savings. Always have some cash in your house. Maybe even have a batch of cash, say 500 dollars, that are hidden somewhere safe, like a buried jar in your backyard.
  • Have at least two months worth of food at your home. Rice and oats don’t spoil easily, and neither do cans of beans. This is your insurance policy: pay a small price now so that you don’t have to pay a big price if something bad happens.
  • Have a plan: where do you go if you have to go? Do you have another apartment? Is there an empty house you know? Don’t just be stuck or improvise, figure out in advance what’s your fallback line.
  • Keep medicine in your home. This should go without saying. Aspirin, painkillers, band-aids, antibiotics, ethanol.
  • Keep weapons in your home (if you know how to handle them; a gun is useless if you don’t know what to do with it). Sticks at every doorway; maybe a gun in a safe place.

A small amount of paranoia goes a long way.

Next:

Martial arts

Violence is prevalent in our world. And even though humans have gotten less and less violent through history, violence still happens. As it doesn’t hurt to be prepared and have a ready bag and some food supplies at home at all times, it also does not hurt to know how to defend yourself. In other words, if you want to prevent or stop violence, be skilled at violence. I have trained in several arts and I have changed my opinion on violence a lot during the last few years. I will not go at length about the virtue of martial arts when it comes to cultivating spirit and body, but I will simply try to give a few guidelines:

  • Weapons beat fists. I am not an advocate of carrying a gun, but I would learn how to use it. Focusing exclusively on unarmed combat is like getting really good at horseback riding in an age where we have cars. Guns are a more effective way of killing, so if you’re looking to defend yourself from someone literally trying to kill you – guns.
  • Not all conflict necessitates escalation to guns, not all violence is killing. I suppose that most people still do not carry guns on them (except certain places in the US, I guess), so unarmed violence happens. Learn MMA. Seriously. When it comes to physical violence, aggressiveness and athleticism beat specialized skill. Be a well rounded striker and grappler, with enough aggression and athleticism, and you’ll probably fare well. After you’ve reached a level where you feel like you can stay “afloat” in a fight, after you’ve felt what fighting feels like, then start doing more self-defense scenarios that include groin, throat and eye strikes, thereby getting more realistic. Maybe you’ll do Ninjutsu. Maybe you’ll do Krav Maga. Maybe Wing Chun. Whatever. First get a feel of how fighting really is, get enough mileage, enough experience with handling violence, and only then go into self-defense: I don’t recommend the reverse. Experience first, refinement second. (And also, many self-defense schools are somewhere between useless and dangerously bad. If you have a couple of years of MMA under your belt, you learn to differentiate. If you start out in a self-defense school, you’re taking an unnecessary risk: MMA will really teach you more than enough for street scenarios.)

5. Acting

Now, this might come as a bit of surprise because I haven’t written about this topic yet, but I assure you that acting is one of the top skills you can gain. This skill revolves around the fleeting concept of identity. Every Zen master knows that a person is not their story, their name, their political dispositions and so on. A Zen master knows about the duality of the self: there is the story and there is the awareness of the story. This is a thing that actors naturally use, maybe even without any knowledge of this duality: they simply slip into different personalities and stay in them for as long as necessary.

Think about this for a second or two: acting is the ability to instantly become a different person. Acting is actually being somebody else for a given period of time. Naturally, this ability must be at the heart of what Overhumanity is: switching between faces as necessary, and as fits the occasion.

Now, this may sound all evil and stuff, but it really is not. I’m not advocating intentionally deceiving people where something can be done with honesty, and I’m not advocating changing your ethics at a whim. There still is the one true person behind it all, the controller, and that is who you are.

Ok, let’s say you need to do something that requires a lot of confidence, and let’s say that you’re not a naturally confident person. If you can overcome the initial weird feeling of being a different person, then you could totally switch into, say, Conor McGregor and actually BE Conor McGregor for as long as you need. Or let’s say that you need to sell something, but you are not a salesman, you are not silver-tongued and you simply feel you don’t have what it takes. Why not become Jordan Belfort from “Wolf of Wall Street” for a couple of hours?

jordan

So, learn to act: learn to do accents, learn to do impressions, read books on acting and get into an acting class, get mentors, train and hone your art. There is nothing inherently immoral in being more than one person, if you don’t do immoral things. It is only the conventions of society that see this as a bad thing if it happens outside of a stage or theater (despite the fact that everyone enjoys and laughs when you do a really spot-on impression of someone ). We all have some ability to act, some are more gifted, some less, but most of us never get in touch with the weird feeling of actually being somebody else, because we’re raised that way. Get comfortable with putting one face on and then changing it for another one when the opportune time comes.

However, the true importance of acting lies not only in being able to imitate, but in being able to think like they think. The true importance of acting lies in…

6. Strategy

The greatest art humans are capable of. To be able to play out different scenarios in your head, without them having to happen in reality… This is a formidable power. It really means to have a portion of the universe in your head, with all its probabilities and possibilities.

Strategy is a key skill in politics, in war, in business, but also in everyday life. Strategy is what takes you from an indefinite view of the world to a definite worldview: understanding that you actually do make a lot of difference, and that you are not a pawn to be moved, but a mover of pawns. Strategy is what gives you power to steer the course of your life, and do so smartly. Because truly many of us lead lives of unfulfilled potential, oblivious to the forces that shape our existence. However, in strategy, you are aware of forces. If life is an ocean, without strategy, you are floating on a raft. You have some control, but not a lot, and the ocean carries you easily around. With strategy, the ocean still carries you around, but you’re in a boat, or even a ship: you find ways to navigate the treacherous currents and winds. Sometimes, life still happens to you, despite your best effort. Nature simply doesn’t care. But sometimes, it is you who happens to life: you navigate the currents smartly and get nearer and nearer your desired destination. However it may be, the best chance of actual control is to be in a ship, instead of being on a raft, or simply floating without any help.

So, how does one go about learning strategy? Well, there are many things to consider. One is being another person (acting). The other one is thinking deeply. Third one is reading books on strategy. I have much to learn and improve myself, so bear in mind that if you do go along with what I say, you are listening to a beginner.

When I say acting, what I mean is to put yourself so deeply into another person’s shoes that you start to think like they do. Obviously, in a competitive context, this is a valuable skill to have. “Keep your friends close, but enemies closer” can be interpreted in various ways, one of which is simple, physical proximity. However, to keep your enemy close will in this case mean close in mind. It means to have a mental model of the enemy that is so natural to you that you can practically spontaneously put on the face of your enemy and actually become your enemy for a given time, in order to explore his thinking.

When I say thinking deeply, I mean to simulate: going through scenarios in your head in extreme detail, all the time calculating probabilities and plan B, C, D, E, F… It is an extremely complicated sequence of “if-then’s”, every “if-then” branching into more “if-then’s”.What is important to think deeply (simulate) is, of course, practice. It seems obvious in words, but many things are obvious in word, but not action. Constantly trying to predict the behavior of others, what this situation will cause, what that situation will cause, observing the many individual sequences that stem from a single action as they branch out. Understand the consequences and always try to understand implications, additional consequences, reasons. Understand the forces. This will necessitate raw intelligence (computing power), among other things.

Alongside pure computing power, certain heuristics, mental models and techniques will help in your thinking: Bayesian probability estimates come to mind. (They are mentioned in the chapter about Rationality). Another thing you will have to develop is mental fortitude, or willpower: to sustain deep, focused thought, for a long time.

And, as always, read books.

7. Learning to learn

Learning is at the heart of Overhumanity. We who try to become better humans are differentiated from everyone else by our skills, our abilities and our knowledge. We must learn how to learn better. We must not only know different languages – we must know how to learn new languages faster than average people do. We must not simply excel in a physical skill – hard as that is by itself – we must learn how to be able to excel in any physical skill. We must not only read, think and know – we must read about reading, think about thinking and know about knowing.

You understand the principle – it’s recursion. Don’t only improve on X, improve on your improvement of X. I would also like to advise you to improve on your improvement of your improvement – the more “back” you go, the more anterior levels you improve upon, the more results you get at the level of X. Not to let this stand at such an abstract explanation, I’ll try to give a real-world example:

X = cognitive psychology. If you want to improve your understanding of X, you will probably read books and studies. Now, how would you improve your improvement of X? You would find a way to read more effectively – maybe speedreading. Okay, so that’s one anterior level of improvement. How about improving the improvement of improvement? For that to happen, you would need to improve yourself in a certain way that would make speedreading easier. So maybe you could improve your general attention through a disciplined meditative practice. So the final scheme looks like this: meditate (to achieve attention/focus) so that you can speedread better so that you can learn about cognitive psychology. Three levels, three layers of improvement.

This is the main principle, going one level “back” if you can. From this principle flow certain techniques that work for practically everybody, and they are:

Speed reading

Books are little objects of magic: a person pours their thoughts into a paper-box-thing, and then you look at the paper-box-thing and then you can read their thoughts. It’s magic, pure and simple.

Normal reading is okay, but to find things out, it’s very useful to know how to speed read. If you can read a 500 page book in 5 hours instead of 5 days or weeks, that means that you have more time to read other books. (And nothing is stopping you from slow reading them again, if you like).

Start by reading any of the popular books on speed reading and develop your own system from there. I currently go through a 100 pages in around an hour. I say “go through” instead of “read”. Why? Because the truth about speed reading is that what you’re actually doing (at least in my system) is rushing through the text and discarding as much information as possible. Why would one want to do that, as it defeats the purpose of reading? You discard information already known to you. All the speed reading I do is based on this idea: go as fast as allows you to generally have an idea about the content of the pages you’re looking at and discard everything you already know. Simply put, when I speed read, I aim to track down the bits of information that aren’t already known to me. (There are several ways to do this; read a couple of books and you’ll get the idea… Or leave a comment and I might write a detailed article on speed reading).

Example:

“In this sentence, because we are talking about speed reading, and more generally, about improving your skills in life, I will try to explain the following principle, which I already mentioned before: speed reading is nothing more than eliminating all you already know, and finding things you don’t.”

The words in bold are what would be considered new information: everything else in the previous sentence is just repeating already mentioned knowledge. If you apply this principle to entire books, instead of just sentences, you save a lot of time.

It goes without saying that some books are not really speed readable… I don’t think you would want to speed read poetry, for example, or Musashi. I reserve speed reading simply to get information faster.

Read the right books

Your number two strategy for learning how to learn will be books on learning and thinking. Some of the books that have helped me:

Understanding how your brain operates and then taking advantage of this knowledge to learn better in general is a very important thing. Cognitive psychology will be your primary resource – Kahneman’s work is, as I understand it, the best there is (haven’t read it yet, but Thinking: Fast and Slow seems to be on everyone’s must-read-list).

And the commonsense advice also applies when it comes to learning to learn: if you want to remember something, repeat it; socialize with people smarter than you are if you want to get smarter; don’t do rote memorization but understand the material.


 

Some finishing thoughts:

A lesson to be learned: go and find specialists, and then learn from them. A master grappler will teach you better grappling than a general strategist; Kevin Spacey’s acting Masterclass will make you a better actor than my post will. Break everything into tiny pieces and then find people that are really, really good at those little pieces.

If someone is really good at something, it doesn’t mean that they are really good at a different thing. Yes, some skills are transferable, but what does this mean? It means that if you are really good at, say, boxing, you will learn wrestling faster than someone that doesn’t know the first thing about fighting. But it does not mean that you’re automatically good at wrestling too – it simply means that it will come faster to you.

Nobody will openly claim that they know everything, but many will act like that. A martial arts teacher should not be revered as a life guru. A good businessman should not be consulted for much else besides business practice. This very blog should be considered not with a grain of salt but with piles of salt: make your own judgement and don’t listen to everything I say.


 

The good thing about all these things you can learn is that they help each other to a certain extent. For example, Bayesian probability estimates are something that belongs to Rationality, but you will benefit enormously from it in Strategy. The prolonged focus in Strategy is the same one in Hyperawareness, though the latter one is toward the outside, instead of the inside. Things help themselves, a bit. Skills are transferable.


 

That is it.

  1. Go back to the basics. (because you just have to)
  2. Hyperawareness. (because you don’t want to be blind if eyes are an option)
  3. Rationality. (because Google Maps are better than sketches on napkins)
  4. Self preservation (because living is a good idea)
  5. Acting (because you suddenly become a multi-tool instead of being just a knife)
  6. Strategy (because you don’t want life just to happen to you)
  7. Learning to learn (because you want to actually achieve things in your life)

This curriculum is not complete, but it should help.