Greetings from Austin!
I spent the weekend doing a solo retreat, which I’d never done before. I did some hiking in the Hill Country, spent a ton of time journaling, did acupuncture for the first time, and finished two books: Einstein’s Dreams and Fallen Leaves.
Here’s what I want to share this week:
Podcast with Ash Fontana: I interviewed Ash about his new book, The AI-First Company. Ash says that AI-First companies are the only trillion-dollar companies, and soon they will dominate even more industries, more definitively than ever before. Beyond the book, we spoke about health, continental philosophy, and Ash's obsession with cycling. (Listen to the podcast here or on: iTunes | Spotify | Overcast)
The Price of Discipline: This piece is inspired by my childhood hatred of school and the story of former world #1 tennis player Andre Agassi, who was forced to play tennis against his will. That, though, presents a conundrum. When should we discipline people? And what are the costs of such discipline?
Coolest Things I Learned This Week
A Story about Writing
A boy was once walking through a park when he saw an old man sitting on a bench. The old man had printed a long article he’d written, which was sitting on his lap.
So the curious boy asked: “Can I read it?”
The old man responded: “Sure.”
The boy picked up the piece of paper and sat down next to him. After ten minutes of careful reading, the boy said: “Good piece! You must have written it in just a couple hours because you’re a natural talent.”
The old man: “Ummm... nope. I actually rewrote the entire piece four times.”
The boy: “No way, it reads so naturally.”
The old man: “Exactly.”
A Decline in Age-Segmented Education
The Internet will make age-segmented education a thing of the past.
With online learning — and eventually most learning will happen online — students will be grouped by competence instead of how old they are.
In some ways, the Internet already works this way because you can study what you want. I say this as somebody who was a slow learner. For math, in particular, I was never able to keep up. Since I never got a good foundation, it was impossible for me to study the advanced stuff.
Modern architecture really makes you question the gospel of efficiency.
For all the talk about progress, why are beautiful buildings like this so rare these days?
How the FDIC Influenced Architecture
One reason why architecture isn’t as beautiful as it used to be is that signaling isn’t as important now.
Consider the decline in bank architecture since the FDIC insurance began in 1933. Beautiful architecture used to signal trust, but consumers and lenders have other sources of information now.
Library Literacy vs. Street Sign Literacy
I’ve long believed that we’re experiencing a decline in advanced literacy.
On this topic, I don’t really care what the statistics say because they’re misleading. Official literacy rates measure what I call “Street Sign Literacy,” which is the ability to read signs and basic articles, and we are undoubtedly getting better at it.
But we are getting worse at Library Literacy, which gives you the ability to understand logic and think about ideas abstractly. It’s what you learn when you read dense fiction or difficult philosophy, and we don’t really measure it.
In short, you need Street Sign Literacy to live, but you need Library Literacy to think.
Teaching People to Read
Inspired by the previous point, I enjoyed this piece about The Erosion of Deep Literacy.
The most surprising section was about the historical connection between Protestantism and literacy rates. Gutenberg’s printing press was the precondition to the Protestant reformation. Protestants believed in compulsory schooling, so literacy rates rose fastest in those areas.
This created a feedback loop where the more educated people became, the more state-education education followed. The cycle was further driven by the Protestant belief that the Bible itself was more central to faith than the Church, which further increased literacy rates.
Photo of the Week
I mentioned it at the top of the newsletter, but I’ll mention it again here. Fallen Leaves is a lovely book. It was penned by the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Will Durant during the final years of his life.
The ideas will sound old school to the contemporary reader, but when the author of an 11-volume series called The Story of Civilization collects his ideas about life into a 200-page book, you know it’ll be worth your time.
As we close today’s Musings, I’ll leave you with this idea: "Health lies in action, and so it graces youth. To be busy is the secret of grace, and half the secret of content. Let us ask the gods not for possessions, but for things to do; happiness is in making things rather than in consuming them."