In light of my birthday, I want to take a step back and reflect on where I’m going so that I can make the best out of the upcoming year. I hope that beyond a rough picture of my future plans, this piece will also contribute a tiny bit of inspiration for sketching your own.
My overarching theme for this year is capacity building. This refers to a focus on:
- developing physical and psychological resources
- building enabling external systems
The reason behind this choice of theme is that I’m likely the most naive and inexperienced version of myself that I’ll ever be, so I want to make sure that my more mature future selves have the best possible resources to work with. This process includes ruthlessly optimizing across Maslow’s basics (e.g. high-quality sleep, nutritious food, daily exercise, restorative leisure, good hydration), with both the routines themselves and their cumulative benefits being valuable assets. In my view, those goals taken together resemble a long-termist take on lifestyle design.
I took some inspiration for this first rubric from Bryan Johnson, who takes it to the extreme by talking about, for instance, his sleep protocols. Not routines, not habits, but protocols. It brings in connotations of coldness and dryness, but emphasizes robustness and reliability. Even if this level of lifestyle systematization is a bit too much even for me, I can’t help but admire the boldness and determination at play here. Truth is, some routines have such complex networks of goals to get right (e.g. nutritious food should be healthy, tasty, easy to cook, cheap to cook, etc.), that systems implemented once and used regularly might greatly reduce cognitive load. This is also Bryan’s main argument, that streamlining Maslow’s basics through protocols frees us up to think about more meaningful things. Whether running a brain-computer interface start-up is more meaningful than cooking probably depends a lot of where you are in worldview space, though.
The second rubric above is mostly about thoughtware. Moving from commercial one-size-fits-all tools for thought (e.g. Obsidian) to building tools from scratch was one of the most rewarding things that happened in my professional life recently. Rather than having to adjust my way of thinking and workflows to a third-party product, it feels like actively tailoring my thoughtware stack to my specific needs. This will continue to play a central role in my work, as my projects this year will likely address the following themes:
- handling information overload
- editing belief systems
- embodied knowledge work
Those projects will continue to be compact self-contained explorations into thoughtware through fully open source software accompanied by write-ups and follow-up articles. However, I expect my iteration rate to shift from the current one of roughly a project published per month to a longer cycle of roughly two-three months. This transition is due to the increasingly larger space of possibilities created inside each new tool individually, as I’ll increasingly have the guts to diverge from the status quo of tools for thought more and more. For instance, an IDE for belief systems might only have a handful of novel primitives (e.g. generate belief given dissonance constraints), but might enable a much larger number of workflows (e.g. generate an ideological scaffold to help internalize a target belief, generate beliefs which contradict a target while reinforcing others in order to help remove it), just like Photoshop enables so much creative possibility given a handful of core features. As another glimpse, considering that a data-driven memory palace would optimally project ideas onto physical places, what does walking around it feel like? How does it feel to go from an idea to another, to physically enter a region of semantic space, to consider different walking paths associated with different trains of thought? Much more possiblities of filling in the usage canvas compared to the relatively less radical features of the conceptarium. If you’re interested in seeing those tools come to life going forward, please consider supporting me.
As a final point I want to hold myself accountable to via this article, I plan on implementing another specific infinite skill over the course of this year. The pattern of the list comprehension would roughly specify breaking out of my comfort zone through occasional large-scale challenges to take on, similar to the more sport-focused Misogi practice. The first item in the infinite skill might or might not consist in traveling to Shenzhen, building a synth from locally-sourced parts, and finally reaching out to my favorite artist and asking him to use it for an improv session. Some item down the line might or might not consist in long-distance biking across EuroVelo tracks 6 and 15. If not a completed item, then I at least want a well-defined version of this infinite skill of leaving my comfort zone in memorable ways.
I can’t wait to see how things will turn out a year from now, and in the meantime I’ll go back to the shorter-term. Because reinforcement learning teaches us that some time discounting is necessary for learning and growing. If there’d be no discounting at all, the agent wouldn’t perceive an earlier reward as better than the same exact reward at a much later point, and sooner is still valuable. Trying not to bounce from instant gratification all the way to the other extreme of no meaningful present impact.
I hope this serves as a tiny source of motivation for sketching out your own plans, and I’ll check back on this piece an year from now, see where we’ll be.