The Glass Is Already Broken

“You see this goblet?” asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai meditation master. “For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”

From quoting “Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective” by Mark Epstein.

50 (Short) Rules For Life From The Stoics

It’s an admirable list, but I like the conclusion best at the end of the post.

I’ll leave you with the one rule that captures all the rules. It comes from Epictetus: “Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.”

Don’t talk about it, be about it. The whole point of Stoicism is what you do. It’s who you are. It’s the act of virtue, not the act of talking about virtue. Or reading about it. Or writing about it. It’s about embodying your rules and principles. Letting your actions speak for you. So, Marcus Aurelius reminded himself and now us, “Waste no more time talking about what a good man is like. Be one.”

From 50 (Short) Rules For Life From The Stoics by Ryan Holiday

A Mother’s Exchange for Her Daughter’s Future

A wonderful personal essay By Jiayang Fan in the New Yorker. (There’s an audio version, too.) I found myself thinking at times that this is really a prose poem, then a lyrical narrative. Regardless of classification, if there is one, it is sad, poetic, lyrical and beautiful.

Once upon a time there lived a woman who wanted to exchange her present for her daughter’s future. Little did she know that, if she did so, the two of them would merge into one ungainly creature, at once divided and reconstituted, and time would flow through both of them like water in a single stream. The child became the mother’s future, and the mother became the child’s present, taking up residence in her brain, blood, and bones.

Jiayang Fan in the New Yorker

How the Big Bang gave us time

A great video (and transcript) about time and, one of my favorite subjects, entropy.

Entropy is how messy, how disorganized, how random a system is. When things are nice and neat and tidy, they are low entropy. When they’re all messy and all over the place, they’re high entropy. And there’s a natural tendency of things in the Universe to go from low entropy to high entropy. This is called the ‘second law of thermodynamics.’ The real question is: Why was the world ever low entropy to begin with? Why was the world lower entropy yesterday than it is today? The explanation is not completely satisfying, to be honest. The explanation is the following: because it was even lower entropy the day before yesterday. And why was the Universe even lower entropy the day before yesterday? Because it was even lower entropy the day before that. And this chain of reasoning goes back 14 billion years to the Big Bang, to the origin of our observable universe; in a hot, dense state, a very low-entropy state, and the Universe has been increasing in entropy ever since. And this is called the ‘Past hypothesis’ by philosophers- David Albert, who’s a philosopher of physics, gave it this name. So now we say, “If you know that the world is made of atoms, and you know what entropy is, in terms of rearranging all those atoms, and you know the past hypothesis- that the entropy of the universe started really low- then you can explain everything that happened after that. There’s a way of talking about human life and entropy, which I think is misguided, which is that we should think about life. You know, literally living, being a biological organism, taking in food and everything, as a fight against increasing entropy. I think that’s wrong. I think that we owe life to the fact that entropy is increasing, because what would it mean if entropy were not increasing? It would mean that nothing is happening. Nothing interesting is taking place. Without entropy increasing, there’s no memory of the past. Without entropy increasing, there’s no causal effect that we have on the future. You’d just be in what we call ‘thermal equilibrium.’ Everything would be the same everywhere. It would be the maximally boring universe. But what we do have as a scientific question is: ‘Why do complicated complex structures come into existence at all?’ It’s clear that they need increasing entropy to exist, because if entropy were already maxed out, there would be no complexity. But that doesn’t mean they have to come come into existence.

Think about a famous example there: The perfume is all in little bottle. It’s in a big room. You open it, and it all floats through the room. The entropy of the perfume increases. But if you think about it, when the perfume is all in the bottle, it’s very simple. Once it’s all spread through the room it’s also very simple. It went from low entropy to high entropy, but it went from simple to simple. It’s the journey from the simple, low-entropy starting point to the simple, high-entropy ending point, that there’s a large space of possibilities where things can be intricate. There’s more perfume here over there. There can be swirls caused by the motion of the wind in the room and so forth. The Universe is just like that. Our Universe started out simple and low entropy. In the future, the stars will die, the black holes will evaporate. It’ll be dark, empty, and again, simple, but high entropy. It’s in between that things like us- complicated, intricate systems that feed off of the increasing entropy of the Universe- can and do come into existence. We don’t know the whole story there. I think it’s a very fun, active, scientific research area: Why did complex structures like living beings come into existence and exactly the way we did? What is the role of information? What is the down-to-Earth chemistry that is going on here? What is the geology that is going on here? Could it happen on other planets? Very interesting questions- but one thing I do know is that if entropy weren’t increasing along the way, none of it would’ve come to pass.

The Big Think: How the Big Bang gave us time, explained by theoretical physicist Sean Carroll

Treat your to-read pile like a river, not a bucket

This struck a chord with me. Part of the very reason this blog exists at all is because I have a constant list of things I’d like to read and feeling unproductive that I postpone attending to so many of them.

this means treating your “to read” pile like a river (a stream that flows past you, and from which you pluck a few choice items, here and there) instead of a bucket (which demands that you empty it). After all, you presumably don’t feel overwhelmed by all the unread books in the British Library – and not because there aren’t an overwhelming number of them, but because it never occurred to you that it might be your job to get through them all.

Oliver Burkeman

The Kite

A moving animated short film by Martin Smatana I discovered on Colossal.

They are both made out of layers, which symbolize their age. The boy has many of these layers… he has all his life before him. But grandfather, on the other hand, has already lost most of his layers, and he has only few left. As he gets older, he also gets thinner, and at the end of his life, he is as thin as a sheet of paper. One day, the wind just softly blows him away and takes him up to the sky…

Martin Smatana quoted in an article on Colossal.

Netflix, Shein and MrBeast

Another fascinating article by Benedict Evans.

“What is MrBeast and his hundred million subscribers in this – is he a star, a show, a showrunner or a network? ‘Yes’.”

Benedict Evans

MrBeast is pretty fascinating. The Lex Fridman Podcast had a great interview with him as well: MrBeast: Future of YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram.

More from Benedict Evans:

“YouTube doesn’t buy LA stuff from LA people – it runs a network, and the questions are Silicon Valley questions. YouTube, in both the network and the kinds of content, is a much bigger change to ‘TV’ than Netflix. It’s ‘video’, but it’s also ‘time spent’ and it competes with Netflix and TV but also with Instagram and TikTok (it does puzzle me that people focus on competition between Instagram and TikTok when the form overlaps at least as much with YouTube). And YouTube doesn’t really buy shows or buy users – it pays a revenue share.”

Benedict Evans

Paper Menagerie

Kan,” she said. “Laohu.” She put her hands down on the table and let go.

A little paper tiger stood on the table, the size of two fists placed together. The skin of the tiger was the pattern on the wrapping paper, white background with red candy canes and green Christmas trees.

I reached out to Mom’s creation. Its tail twitched, and it pounced playfully at my finger. “Rawrr-sa,” it growled, the sound somewhere between a cat and rustling newspapers.

I laughed, startled, and stroked its back with an index finger. The paper tiger vibrated under my finger, purring.

Zhe jiao zhezhi,” Mom said. This is called origami.

I didn’t know this at the time, but Mom’s kind was special. She breathed into them so that they shared her breath, and thus moved with her life. This was her magic.

From the Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu

A wonderful short story. I almost hate to link to Gizmodo, which allows one to read it for free in its entirety because it’s so ad-ridden. But it’s worth a a read.

As Gizmodo says at the beginning of it’s article:

Ken Liu’s incredible story “Paper Menagerie” just became the first work of fiction to win all three of SF’s major awards: the Hugo, the Nebula and the World Fantasy Award.


In Praise of Fast Food

A great counterbalance to the common (and, I think, still a good thing to remain critical about) distrust of fast food.

For our ancestors, natural was something quite nasty. Natural often tasted bad. Fresh meat was rank and tough, fresh fruits inedibly sour, fresh vegetables bitter. Natural was unreliable. Fresh milk soured; eggs went rotten. Everywhere seasons of plenty were followed by seasons of hunger. Natural was also usually indigestible. Grains, which supplied 50 to 90 percent of the calories in most societies, have to be threshed, ground, and cooked to make them edible.

So to make food tasty, safe, digestible, and healthy, our forebears bred, ground, soaked, leached, curdled, fermented, and cooked naturally occurring plants and animals until they were literally beaten into submission. They created sweet oranges and juicy apples and non-bitter legumes, happily abandoning their more natural but less tasty ancestors. They built granaries, dried their meat and their fruit, salted and smoked their fish, curdled and fermented their dairy products, and cheerfully used additives and preservatives–sugar, salt, oil, vinegar, lye–to make edible foodstuffs.

Unte Reader

In addition, I was surprised that so many international dishes that seemed timeless to me, were invented in the 20th century:

Nor are most “traditional foods” very old. For every prized dish that goes back 2,000 years, a dozen have been invented in the last 200. The French baguette? A 20th-century phenomenon, adopted nationwide only after World War II. Greek moussaka? Created in the early 20th century in an attempt to Frenchify Greek food. Tequila? Promoted as the national drink of Mexico during the 1930s by the Mexican film industry. These are indisputable facts of history, though if you point them out you will be met with stares of disbelief.

Utne Reader