Pope Francis has a remarkable and inspiring message of compassion and tolerance. Here are my favorite things he's said.Read More
I use bulleted lists
There's this unchallenged notion that prose in serious articles must take the form of paragraphs. How unfortunate. Lists are often the most efficient and effective way to deliver info. They save space avoiding unnecessary filler words. They also make the points easier to digest, both by showing how they are distinct and by lending them a visual hierarchy that makes them easy to identify and distinguish. Here, the language of design comes into play. Visual hierarchy allows the reader to quickly identify how different pieces work together.
This takes some inspiration from formal documents like business and legal, as well as listicles like BuzzFeed. These techniques, simulate roust old and innovative, provide value. We shouldn't discard them simply because they were motivated by a different ideology. We can take the good while leaving the bad (the blandness of corporate and legal, and the superficiality of listicles).
They're a way to bring journalism into the modern age and engage young readers with serious, valuable journalism.
I use headers
Dividing into sections also provides visual hierarchy and separates distinct ideas or passages. They are a service to the reader and help them learn and retain info. They magnify the impact of good journalism beyond the halls of a few astute readers. Accessibility matters.
They also can't be answered in a definitive way. Answers are elusive; when found, nuanced.
Spiritual and religious traditions and beliefs provide helpful ways of looking at these questions. Be open to their thoughts, even when they clash with your own.
Be skeptical of anyone who claims a definitive answer. Investigate and question. Only internalize the answer if you deeply believe it; this is the only way for it to be deeply meaningful and true.
Be skeptical of anyone who attempts to reduce these questions to merely one aspect (for example, the physical). These questions transcend disciplines and require a mix of approaches.
Is anything impossible?
- Can supernatural beings overcome what appears impossible by definition? For example, can God overcome the laws of physics (perhaps because God is not governed by physics)? Can God reverse time? Can God just change the laws of physics, to make an exception in one case or to change the rules moving forward?
- How much do humans really understand of impossibility? How can we know for certain that anything is impossible, when we have imperfect knowledge? Is not God the only arbiter of what is impossible?
- Given the availability of alternatives in essentially every situation, is impossibility a meaningful concept? Or is it purely theoretical?
- Does one's state of mind influence the perceived impossibility? (Of course). Does one's state of mind influence the practical impossibility? (I say yes here, too. People who reject impossibility do the, well, impossible).
How is life formed?
- And how could it possibly be formed from that which is non-living? It's definitionally absurd.
- Do supernatural beings have a role in this transformation?
What is consciousness?
- We can describe consciousness fairly well - an understanding of self, an awareness of the world. But this does not really tell us anything. How is consciousness formed? Is it purely a physical phenomena? Can it be manufactured?
- At what point does a living being become conscious? What marks this transition? What causes it? Can we draw a stark dividing line or are their shades in between (for instance, between a non-conscious baby and a conscious toddler)?
- Can we physically measure consciousness? In other words, can we point to specific physical elements of the brain to indicate that something is conscious or not?
- More widely speaking, can we attribute every mental phenomena to something in the brain, or is there also a mind? I won't include this question as a main one because many already ask about it - it's not an innovative question. This is also an area of extensive study, and we may come closer to an answer during our lifetimes.
Are there other types of being other than living?
- We classify everything in the Universe according to whether it is living or non-living. Does this classification capture the full breadth of existence? Or are there alternative ways of existing?
- An analogy: we have our five senses (touching, smelling, etc.) Were there a sixth sense, we would not fully understand it because we had not experienced it. Just as describing sight to a blind person is futile (the blind person can never, by definition, truly understand sight), none of us can understand a sixth sense, which we lack (even if we knew about said sense).
- Are there alternative ways of existing that we are currently unfamiliar with and have yet to discover?
- Are there alternative ways of existing that we can never understand, given our particular station in life? We exist through living in three dimensional space, with limited knowledge; does this disqualify us from understanding or even observing alternative forms? In other words, are we too limited to go beyond our personal form of existence and reach outward?
- Is it possible to adopt an alliterative form of existence? Just as one can end life and enter non-life, can one transition from life to something else?
Is life fair?
- People are born into drastically different situations. Some people seem to live better or worse lives than others. Does it all even out in the end (that is, we each have countervailing good times and bad times), or do some of us just get shortchanged?
- Does the human capacity to adapt to changing circumstances (and maintain roughly the same mood and level of happiness as before) mean we all make do in our respective stations? Or are there situations which no adaptation can overcome (e.g. abuse) or weaken (e.g. love), leaving us permanently happier or sadder?
- Do genetic differences (for example, a predisposition to mental or physical illness) make us unequal, or are genetics themselves fair (doling out plenty of good and bad for each?)
- Is there any good for a farm animal raised in a pen for the sole purpose of being killed? Can we say that it has any enjoyment or life, or is its life purely unhappy?
- How do we measure fairness? Is happiness a good indicator? (I think not). We need something deeper, like fulfillment, but how do we measure that? Is fulfillment an inherently subjective concept, rendering comparisons pointless and in fact impossible?
Is time cyclical?
- Is it true that time passes in an endless circle?
- This is both reassuring (knowing that nothing good is ever lost forever), but also horrific (knowing that nothing bad ever passes)
What came before the Big Bang?
- Is it really true that the Universe did not exist before? It makes more sense to say that it was incredibly small.
- Can it be uncaused?
- Was anything supernatural involved? Isn't the incredibly rapid expansion by definition supernatural, since it essentially brought into being the laws of nature (physics)?
Science as researched and practiced today is profoundly broken.
The problem is not inherent to the field, but to practitioners who have adopted certain approaches and reinforced them, both by rewarding colleagues who take the same approach and by discouraging non-conformists to join the field. I'm smart and serious, yet I don't feel welcome in the scientific community. I expect better.
They attempt to solve metaphysical problems, something for which the discipline is not suited
Reason (or science / rationality) and intuition (or faith / religion) have their respective places. They answer different questions. They complement one another but neither replaces the other. What we have seen in the past several decades, with the rise of atheism and the continuous discrediting of traditional religions, is an obsession with science as the answer to all the important questions in life. This is misguided. Science by definition measures causes and effects - the what. It does not not explain why anything happens.
The incredible arrogance of scientists to presume they understand the grand meaning of it all would be laughable were it not so dangerous. We are quickly losing the hallmarks of our intuitive brilliance (think cathedrals, poetry, novels). They are being replaced by uninspired and drab nonfiction. Think of how many people try to quantify great works of art. They use machines to create poetry. They write self-help books based not on introspection but on humorless self-measurement. There is no soul. And there are no solutions.
It's partially a product of our colorless industrial-capitalist society. We produce things, and everything is commoditized. It's all measurable, and everything (they say) has a price. This leaves no role for the things that make us human: our great works and our great ideas.
THEY FAIL TO RECOGNIZE THE INHERENT SUBJECTIVITY OF MOST PHENOMENA
Science is as biased as any other field. Unfortunately, the appearance of objectivity makes it appear that scientific conclusions are somehow separate from the vagaries and faults of human behavior.
There is no such thing as literal objectivity. Every approach (for example, a particular research method) has its downfalls and deserves careful consideration. Polling, a social science that some try to make into a hard science, is inherently subjective. The method one chooses dictates the results. The phrasing of questions determines how people respond. People can and do use the results to make certain points and influence certain behaviors. In the case of polling, no amount of wordsmithing can make a poll perfectly subjective. Thus it is the responsibility of researchers and the public to understand the biases inherent in the research method, either correcting for them or discounting information that may not be perfectly reliable.
The hard sciences are subject to bias as well. The mere fact that a scientist chooses to engage in a particular course of study indicates a bias. Either the person is personally interested in that (because of hobbies and passions, or because there is a monetary interest involved) or the person is compelled to participate (because of employment or funding). In any case, the subject of research influences results. It means that that particular area receives more study, and that in turn other areas receive less (i.e. they are neglected). As humans we have an unavoidable tendency to seek confirmation of our existing beliefs, so when studying something we are personally interested in, we will subconsciously design research methods that further our intended outcomes. Even if the research itself is conducted rigorously (for example, by a double blind method or using equipment that avoids human error), the fundamental structure of the research biases the results.
Many scientists are scrupulous about their work and seek to avoid bias. However, they can never do so completely. Research conducted with ulterior motives (for instance, by giant corporations or by political organizations) is more obviously biased, but research by seemingly neutral third parties can be even more damaging because it gives the appearance of objectivity (building trust among the public) when in fact it does not exist.
There is a sharp and increasing divide between hard and pop sciences
It has always been the case that serious science, as reported in journals like Nature, had limited reach. Any organization that attempts to communicate findings will make mistakes (for example, local news reports often grossly overinterpret findings, or misinterpret them entirely). This was tolerable insofar as the public understood these organizations were not experts on science.
The problem we have today is that pop scientists masquerade as legitimate (i.e. accurate and objective) purveyors of scientific information, when in fact such individuals are poorly qualified. They do more harm than good, because they deliver incorrect or misleading information while giving the appearance of expertise. Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, "Doctor Oz," and Sanjay Gupta come particularly to mind, with their wildly inaccurate analogies and oversimplifications that distort underlying facts. They are popular not because they deliver valuable information, but because they give the appearance of doing so. People will drive a luxury car for because they want to be seen (not because of any superior engineering), so too will many people watch pseudoscientific shows so as to reassure them of their knowledge; conducting serious investigation would be too hard and wouldn't reap the same psychological and social benefits. Equally as problematic, many pop scientists seek power (i.e. fame, money, influence). They want to be celebrities — not conduct valuable research
Even where this is not the case, and pop scientists and watchers in fact have good intentions, they are delusional in their methods.
The rise of pop science (through publications such as Scientific American and Psychology Today, as well) marginalized hard science to the domain of professionals and obscure publications. It limits the reach of meaningful discoveries. Ostensibly trying to spread valuable knowledge, they are only inflating their own egos.
Hard scientists (the ones who conduct research out of public sight) also share responsibility. Most have not worked hard enough to propagate their message beyond the halls of academia. They see that as the responsibility of others, or don't see themselves as capable of such dissemination. They don't strive for decision makers (such as voters, consumers, and government officials) to understand the findings and act upon them. Their research may be less valuable (i.e. have less of an impact) as a result.
They also write in a dry, pedantic, uninspiring style that makes the work less accessible (limiting its reach) and intelligible (limiting comprehension). The problem is that scientific journals, the biggest granter of legitimacy, require this style and punish creativity. Good writing is both accurate and sensible. One can communicate the same ideas using beautiful or lifeless language. One can clearly and precisely explain a concept using sensible grammar or contrived constructions. One can write for all or shirk the responsibility and write for a few thousand.
Ultimately, there should be less of a stark division between the hard scientists who prize accuracy and the pop scientists who prize reach. Everyone involved in scientific endeavors should prioritize both.
A reasonable proposal: dedicate 10% of one's time to propagating findings within the scientific community, and another 10% to propagating findings to non-experts with influence over decisions. This is a reasonable expenditure that will not impede research, and the feedback from non-experts will help produce more actionable research moving forward.
They see complex socio-historical phenomena in falsely rational terms, thus furthering traditional power structures
Issues like institutional racism are far too complex to be seen from a reductionistic rationalist approach. Theoretically (or more precisely, ideally), one can view problems like income inequality as simple functions of the laws of nature. This Darwinian approach assumes that nature's way of picking winners and losers is fundamentally fair, and thus undeserving of challenge. It ignores the fact that humans created these institutions (capitalism, in particular, is not a fact of life but a human construct) and thus have the capacity to abolish or modify them. By enshrining (or worse, ignoring) social problems, they maintain and advance the power structures (particularly patriarchy and white privilege) that dominate our current society. In this regard they are not the pioneers they claim to be, but instead reactionaries.
Many educators and practitioners of the social sciences are to blame here. The tendency has been to convert social sciences into hard sciences, robbing them of depth and thus their capacity to advance social justice. Social scientists are ceding their leadership role.
Social constructs relating to our humanity (whether that be race, gender, economy, etc.) are messy, and approaching them from the perspective of a traditional science misses depth and gravely sacrifices accuracy.
Changing this mindset requires an honest recognition that our society (and, perhaps, fundamental human nature) is neither fair nor inherently virtuous. We have and continue to do terrible things. Yet we have the capacity to atone, and to learn. To do so we must be willing to challenge rather than revere the traditional pillars of our society. Science dethroned religion as the primary way for many people to understand their world; we can argue the virtues of this transition. In this case, scientific inquiry can help topple the institutions that unfairly manipulate and enslave humans, resulting in unambiguous benefits.
They dismiss non-traditional, and especially non-Western, approaches too quickly
Read the Wikipedia articles on acupuncture, for instance. They contain extensive and unconditional language on the clinical invalidity of such treatments, without addressing their
This speaks to a general hostility toward any approach to medicine that doesn't rely on traditional cause and effect relationships. People find results from these treatments, and whether they are placebos or not is entirely irrelevant. This is borne of a physicalist obsession that discounts anything not explained simply using physical phenomena. Humans are not simple systems that respond uniformly or precisely to treatments, so studying us as such misses the value of alternative treatments. Rather than seek to discredit them, they should investigate the psychological impact that the treatments can provide.
There's also a general dismissiveness toward any approach not sourced from the Enlightenment. It's a form of cultural imperialism.
The vast majority of what The New York Times does is excellent, and serves the public good. A few elements hamper the experience:
- A general arrogance and defensiveness, evinced by the Public Editor's general willingness to defend the newsroom even when the latter makes massive mistakes, and the mysterious firing of Amy Davidson
- A failure to bring serious journalism to a truly massive audience, ceding that role to disgustingly lowbrow blogs like BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post
- A failure (thus far) to attract younger readers - the ones who will be essential to financial viability and who will make the decisions about public policy moving forward
- A hawkish approach that legitimated the Iraq War and contributed to the killings of hundreds of thousands of people (the role of the Times in building public support cannot be underestimated, given its immense influence)
- Unsophisticated technology journalism, using inaccurate terminology and analogies, and leaving out entire topics like video games (an important topic with serious artistic merits)
- Unsophisticated commenting features, which don't allow the user to view all their comments on one page, delete their comments, or comment within the mobile apps
The New York Times offers an unparalleled level of quality, and it's my only regular newspaper. It's simply in a different class than any other. Its numerous assets include:
- Intense investigative journalism, even when it threatens traditional allies like Democratic senators and powerful interests like Chinese rulers
- Strict wall between the business and journalistic sides
- Courageous use of a paywall to make its business model viable - a widely unpopular decision that allows traditional journalism to stay alive
- Comments moderated by humans, elevating the discussion by weeding out the bad ones and putting the onus on the commenter to say something substantive
- A strongly liberal editorial board, speaking for the disenfranchised and challenging authority
- A focus on what makes New York exciting, weird, and inimitable
- Exploring sociological quirks like the bar car
- Looking back at the evolution of the city (for example, the landmarks preservation movement begun with the destruction of Penn Station)
- Carefully assessing the art landscape, from the litany of galleries to the new Whitney)
- A commitment to covering all major news stories - being truly comprehensive even through financial difficulty
- An astoundingly high-quality subscription service center; the gentleman I spoke with empathized with me in a way I've never received from customer support
- Bold adoption of visual storytelling (through static and interactive infographics) to complement the prose (see A New Whitney)
- Generally serious tone with streaks of subtle humor when exploring sociological phenomena
- Rigorous use of stylistic guidelines to facilitate a sophisticated conversation (this includes honorific terms of address)
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
Shigeru Miyamoto: for instilling in me a sense of adventure and aspiration through the The Legend of Zelda
A trio of geniuses who pour their souls into their work
- Christopher Nolan: for thoughtful movies that deal with unimaginably complex themes—some of themes that define the human experience—in a nuanced and emotion way
- Hans Zimmer: for deeply moving soundtracks to accompany epic scenes, provoking emotion and building dramatic tension
- Leonardo DiCaprio: for making grand themes real and personal
Jony Ive: for making deeply personal objects; for maniacal attention to designs; for intentionality about materials; for fusing design with endangering—the truest form of industrial design
Tim Cook: for fusing relentless quality, attentive design, and confidence in his vision with personal kindness—thus demonstrating that compassion and quality can and should coexist
Hayao Miyazaki: for richly animated, whimsical movies that produce nostalgia and an endear viewers to the idea or essence of Japan
- Themes: tackling nothing less than the essence and fate of humanity; sending messages to oneself from the future; saving one's family versus saving humanity; love's ability to transcend all of spacetime; distortion of spacetime (relativity); lying to people about their hopeless state to motivate them to save all of humanity; the future of humanity
- Director Christopher Nolan: "The film is continually trying to contrast the individual and the particular with the cosmic"
- Composer Hans Zimmer: "The basis of our human spirit, our sense of adventure, our sense of science; our sense of the impossible: it captures it in such an emotional way. It's a spiritual connection"
- Actress Jessica Chastain: "I have a curious mind, and I'm never comfortable just sitting back and going 'Ah, it's alright, I'm just happy here.' I want to learn. And I hope this movie instills a curiosity in other people"
- Producer Emma Thomas "I would love for kids to watch this film and get excited about the possibilities of space travel and exploration. I think that what's fantastic about the science behind the film is that there are so many possibilities, and there's so much more to explore"
- Nolan: "I think we have a generation who's absorbed the idea of technological process as entirely earthbound, and to do with making our everyday lives more easy, or whatever, as opposed to the specialness, and the extraordinary nature of a few select individuals pushing the boundaries of where the human race, the human species, has ever been or can possibly go to. I think it would be really thrilling if people got some sense from this film that these ideas were worth thinking about beyond just the scope of watching Interstellar"
- Style: homages to 2001 (color balance, metal industrial materials, interaction and fascination with the unknown, haunting and pensive reflection on the nature of humanity)
- Production: an analog, tactile approach; film and miniatures for a realistic and timeless look; use of the tesseract to represent time as a spacial dimension - visually communicating about dimensionality, gravity, spacetime, and infinity
- Nolan: "With science fiction, the danger is that the human element gets lost. And so, I think incorporating an organic, people-based approach methodology to every aspect of the film, whether it was the recording of the music, or the miniatures or costumes, all of these things, like really trying to always retain a human element, I think grounds the film. We want it to feel relatable; we want it to feel tactile, because ultimately the film is about human beings—what binds us together, what divides us, these kinds of things. But that setting of deep, deep space in between the stars, between galaxies, it give you a very, very fresh approach to be able to look at those issues"
- Soundtrack: grand, operatic, pensive, booming, deep, and timeless; supernatural; crescendos at climaxes; sudden silences for dramatic effect; performed by a real human being on a real organ; the acoustics of cathedrals
- Zimmer on the organ: "There's something very human about it, because it can only make a sound with air, and it needs to breathe. On each note you hear the breath. You hear the exhale"
- Nolan: "You feel a human presence in every sound"
- Zimmer on the setting of the performances: "These architects weren't fools when they built these cathedrals. I mean, the acoustics inside these places is staggering, because it is supposed to impress. It is supposed to take you to other worlds"
- Home video: Thoughtful and deeply moving special features
2001: A Space Odyssey
- Cinematography: Cool color balance and industrial materials that reflect the cold, neutral nature of space
- A great review
- Production: blurring the lines between art and reality; movie time mimics real time; we see the development of a human life alongside the development of their character
Helvetica: for helping me get into graphic design
Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
Safari (Web browsing)
OneNote (thought drafts)
Apple Music (music)
iTunes Radio (radio)
Todoist (to-do lists)
1Password (password management)
Illustrator (graphic design)
SquareSpace (personal website hosting)
Dreamhost (web app hosting)
Google Domains (domains)
iA Writer (novel writing)
Last updated September 29, 2015
Your Verse: We don't read and write poetry because it's cute; we read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering — these are noble pursuits, necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love; these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "Oh me, oh life, of the questions of these recurring. Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these, oh me, oh life? Answer: That you are here. That life exists, and identity. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?
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