2021, Week 5 Musings

Multitasking: As I’ve observed the characteristics my own state of working during these long quarantine days, it’s occurred to me that multitasking, often dismissed altogether as impossible, does exist — with certain qualifications. In particular, I think it’s relevant to first characterize different kinds of work by their cadences of attention; certain tasks, like reading, require complete, nonstop attention, while others, like certain data analysis procedures, only demand start-and-stop attention, like writing of code, followed by the running of long processes, followed by the inspection of results and tinkering of original code. In particular, the kind of work with the…

2021, Week 4 Musings

Knotty homonyms: Earlier this week, I tried to say the word knotty in a sentence for the first time, which I know because I was instantly confronted with the novel fear that perhaps everybody who was listening to me may have misunderstood me to be saying naughty. A knotty problem is quite different from a naughty problem, although a problem can be both knotty and naughty. I have since mused that there is a relevant subset of homonyms that can cause dangerous misinterpretations, and so should be singled out conceptually and avoided in general conversation. …

2021, Week 3 Musings

Time management: I’m starting to feel the grueling weight of an idea I believe strongly in, that human attention is the most valuable resource in the universe. I think this principle is useful in general, as a reminder of how we should design a variety of social systems, but taken at the level of personal time management, I’m starting to have to confront the difficult trade-offs I’ve often been too immature to make.

For one thing, as is probably obvious to anybody who knows me, I’m perpetually working on too many things at once, and while I’ve somehow been able…

2021, Week 2 Musings

Two books in progress, Conjectures and Refutations and The Ministry for the Future: I’m participating in a philosophy reading group hosted by the guys behind the Increments podcast, and we’re going chapter by chapter through one of Popper’s books. So far, Popper hasn’t fundamentally reshaped my personal philosophy the way that, say, Peter Singer and Derek Parfit have, but I am very much on board with his core points so far, like the idea that truth is manifest, expressed elegantly in the following line:

“Our knowledge can only be finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite.”

I’ll have more…

2021, Week 1 Musings

This is hopefully the first of weekly posts this year I’ll call “Musings” which are all the scraps that I think are worth sharing but not substantive enough to be “entrees” (like my post about the events at the Capitol). I’m basically jotting random ideas down on Google Keep, and each weekend I’ll see if I can whip up a meaningful enough parfait.

Two books, Caste and A Promised Land: The former by Isabel Wilkerson had the more profound impact on my thinking, while the latter by President Obama simply deepened my admiration for him. In recent years I’ve generally…

The other virus plaguing our society

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Taken in the Cannon House Building in 2017

Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth. Snape’s Veritaserum. That Disguise spell from Onward that the brothers use to appear as their mom’s centaur police boyfriend, but that breaks as Ian starts to lie.

I thought about such fantastical tools while watching senators lie on my computer screen late in the evening, even by my time zone’s standards, R code running on another monitor, photos of the mob infiltration of the Capitol earlier that day on yet another monitor, and remembered that below the foundation I thought I would be writing about at the start of 2021, moral epistemology, is an even…

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Pretty much every year for the past decade, I’ve gotten to year’s end disappointed that I did not write as much as I could or should have. And consequently, I’ve (sometimes) whipped up a voluminous year-end reflection — part art critic roleplay, part philosopher roleplay, mostly skirting of the ultra-personal — as a paltry compensation, complete with year-to-be resolutions including, irresolutely, to write more.

Everything changed in 2020, and nothing changed in 2020. What could have been a gift for the recluse reader and writer — nine months quarantined at home — was spent instead on my most severe bout…

Media and our complicity in tragedy

A response to my recent thoughts on mental health from a friend:

“I think the preventative measures you wrote about can be achieved through school, but we should take a step back. An even greater preventative measure involves cutting out the source of the psychosis, our media and modern movies. The Hollywood that he was living in his head was born from the messages that he lived through and those that we continue to subject children to. We need to change media.”

This and a variety of insightful reads compel me to share my thoughts on culture, which had already…

Derek Ouyang

Program Manager of the Stanford Future Bay Initiative (bay.stanford.edu) and Co-Founder of City Systems (city.systems). More at derekouyang.com

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