Son finishes primary school, speeches. Podcast: David Edmonds on the greatest philosopher, you probably don’t know. Climate scenarios, an actuarial critique. How to Do great Work (Paul Graham Essay).
Son finishes primary school, speeches
Climate scenarios, an actuarial critique
How To Do Great Work (Paul Graham Essay)
Anoushka on Tanya’s Shadrick: The Cure for Sleep
My youngest son finished his primary school this week. The invited speaker quoted Chief Justice Roberts.
“Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted.
I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”
The head teacher quoted Dr Zeuss:
Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You're on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.
You'll look up and down streets. Look 'em over with care.
About some you will say, "I don't choose to go there."
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you're too smart to go down any not-so-good street.
And you may not find any
you'll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you'll head straight out of town.
It's opener there
in the wide open air.
Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.
And then things start to happen,
don't worry. Don't stew.
Just go right along.
You'll start happening too.
THE PLACES YOU'LL GO!
You'll be on y our way up!
You'll be seeing great sights!
You'll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.
You won't lag behind, because you'll have the speed.
You'll pass the whole gang and you'll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you'll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except when you don't.
Because, sometimes, you won't.
I'm sorry to say so
but, sadly, it's true
can happen to you.
You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You'll be left in a Lurch.
You'll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you'll be in a Slump.
And when you're in a Slump,
you're not in for much fun.
is not easily done.
You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they're darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?
And IF you go in, should you turn left or right...
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it's not, I'm afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.
You can get so confused
that you'll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place...
...for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or the waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
That's not for you!
Somehow you'll escape
all that waiting and staying
You'll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.
With banner flip-flapping,
once more you'll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you're that kind of a guy!
Oh, the places you'll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame! You'll be as famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.
Except when they don't
Because, sometimes they won't.
I'm afraid that some times
you'll play lonely games too.
Games you can't win
'cause you'll play against you.
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you'll be quite a lot.
And when you're alone, there's a very good chance
you'll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won't want to go on.
But on you will go
though the weather be foul.
On you will go
though your enemies prowl.
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl.
Onward up many
a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore
and your sneakers may leak.
On and on you will hike,
And I know you'll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.
You'll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You'll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never foget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)
KID, YOU'LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea,
You're off the Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way!
I think I preferred the Zeuss which I hadn’t heard for a while. I don't have a grand narrative reflection on this. Emotions ran high. School suits many people (see Jade O Brien on being a school teacher). School ill-fits many people (see Naomi Fisher on home education). Life sends many twists and turns. If you cling too tightly to one thread it may break or you can fall over the edge. If you have nothing at all to anchor you, the wind may blow you anywhere.
Families try and steer their ship as best they can with the weather they have. Wishing everyone the best on the journey.
Peter Singer on animal welfare. Utilitarian thinkers influencing cost-benefit analysis. Rawls on justice, equality, also Larry Temkin.
Arguably, virtue ethics leads to ethical investment screening. Pluralist views sit behind integrated ESG and stakeholder capitalism.
I think it is worthwhile to know something of our greatest philosophers. Derek Parfit was considered one of the greatest British philosophers of his era. David Edmonds has written an insightful stylish biography of him. I have an excellent conversation with David - linkbelow.
David Edmonds is a philosopher, writer, podcaster and presenter. His most recent book is a biography of Derek Parfit. Parfit: A Philosopher and His Mission to Save Morality.
“Derek was perhaps the most important philosopher of his era. This scintillating and insightful portrait of him is one of the best intellectual biographies I have read.” -Tyler Cowen
Other books include: The Murder of Professor Schlick, Would You Kill the Fat Man? and (with John Eidinow) the international best-seller Wittgenstein’s Poker. He’s a Distinguished Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. With Nigel Warburton he produces the popular podcast series Philosophy Bites. For three decades, he was a multi-award winning presenter/producer at the BBC and the host of The Big Idea.
We start off discussing “Trolley problems” and the ethical implications of choosing between lives now and in the future. Edmonds provides a nuanced perspective, discussing the argument that while a life in the future is (almost) as valuable as a life today, the decision to kill five lives today could potentially reduce future life.
Would you kill five people today, or five people in 100 years?
I think I would choose five in a hundred years, but it would be a very marginal decision…on the whole, I agree with Parfit in I think that there should be no moral discounting in that I think a life in the future is as valuable as a life today. But presumably if you kill five lives today, you are affecting who gets born. So that's why I would kill five lives in the future because I might be also reducing future life as well if I take lives today.
We chat about if thought experiments are even useful at all (contra, Diane Coyle, who dislikes them).
I then ask about real life challenges such as NHS budgets and potentially choosing between saving pre-term babies or diabetics.
I ask David about his favorite paradox (think about God and a very large breakfast) and give him the St Petersburg paradox to answer.
"Can God cook a breakfast so big that He can't eat it?"
We discuss the life of Derek Parfit, his personality and obsessions. Whether he might have been a good historian (vs philosopher), the pros and cons of All Souls College and if an autistic cognitive profile mattered.
David gives his view on why Derek’s second book was (and is) considered inferior to his first.
We also touch on Effective Altruism (EA) and Derek’s influence here on longtermism and possible foundational philosophical roots to the EA movement.
We end on what chess opening David would use against Magnus Carlsen, what countries David would like to visit, current projects and life advice David has.
Podcast available wherever you listen, or below. Video on YouTube.
How to do great work. The essay is a long read, which does not summarise very well at all (but some points below). I suggest you take 30min to 1 hour out of your time one day, if you really want to think about doing work in the top 10% of some area you care about. The essay mostly applies to those with high ambition. You want your work to be equal to or better than anything else out there, and, or, novel.
- Choose something you have a natural aptitude for and a deep interest in.
- Ensure your chosen work offers scope for greatness.
- Experiment and work on your own projects to drive your work.
- Develop a habit of working on ambitious projects.
- Learn enough about your chosen field to reach the frontier of knowledge.
- Notice gaps in the knowledge of your field.
- Embrace outlier ideas and explore promising gaps that others may have overlooked.
- Work hard and consistently on what you find genuinely interesting.
- Avoid project procrastination.
- Allow undirected thinking and leverage the power of interleaved deliberate work.
- Cultivate your taste in your field and strive to be the best.
- Be intellectually honest.
- Be willing to admit mistakes.
- Embrace earnestness and optimism.
- Take risks in your work.
- Avoid affectations, cynicism, and pessimism.
More in this long essay by Paul Graham
Anoushka on Tanya’s Shadrick: The Cure for Sleep:
Oh, this book had some deep, deep resonances for me. Shadrick’s “The Cure for Sleep” is an intimate, intense memoir about the author experiencing a post-partum haemorrhage which brings her near to death, and the seismic wake-up call that causes. As someone who is too-tentatively trying to grab for the reins of her life, it was good to read this book, at this moment. It brought to mind my touchstone book, Jenn Ashworth’s “Notes Made While Falling” which also deals with the traumatic aftermath of a birth - but where Ashworth sees herself falling, Shadrick rises in search of a second life as a writer and performance artist.
Books that chart these kinds of epiphanies and the motivated action that follows can be frustrating reads. When a life is so closely tangled up in the lives of others and in external systems over which the woman has little or no control, it’s not as easy as just making a decision to change. Contrast Shadrick’s experience with the middle-aged man who decides to climb Everest (or a more modest venture) and packs his bag and goes, leaving his wife at home to deal with the children and maintain the domestic sphere. What I liked about Shadrick’s book was that she acknowledges that, as a woman, it is not enough to just decide on change (although that in itself can be a surprisingly difficult threshold to cross). Women usually need facilitators, enablers, co-conspirators, money to be able to untangle themselves enough to step out (Shadrick’s husband is a treasure, here). And when they do, often society at large is troubled, “but what about the children?”
There were other resonances for me, too. Shadrick was an only child of separated parents. I think, maybe, 1 in 10 of us are only children in the U.K. and I don’t often see it explored on the page. Her experience was not my experience but there were nuances that caused a twinge of recognition in me.
Shadrick’s book touches on class, fertility, trauma, family ties, the long-reaching shadow of our childhoods, rurality, poverty, gender roles, creative expression, mental health and so many of the factors which impinge on a woman’s experience of being in the world.
Circling back to Ashworth, it was interesting to observe where the authors conclude their books. Ashworth talks about “finding a home in falling”; Shadrick talks about “webs of coloured wool leading me back to a way I could be at peace from now on”. These books are maps charting the trajectories of women in motion. I read somewhere that physicists regard a ball thrown upwards as being in free fall so that, in many ways it doesn’t matter how we perceive the direction of motion, riding or falling. What is important are the unbalanced forces that acted on these women and that, ultimately, they found brave new homes for themselves.
I remain wary of climate model <->real world <-> finance system as it’s super complex. The various climate economic models that have been attempted are complicated and uncertain. This uncertainty supports a precautionary risk principle as argued by risk thinker Nassim Taleb. In using models, we should be aware that the map is not the territory. This week, this report came out and argues many models are under-estimating risk:
1. Many climate-scenario models in financial services are significantly underestimating climate risk There is a disconnect between climate science and the economic models that underpin financial services climate-scenario modelling, where model parsimony has cost us real-world efficacy. Real-world impacts of climate change, such as the impact of tipping points (both positive and negative, transition and physical-risk related), sea-level rise and involuntary mass migration, are largely excluded from the damage functions of public reference climate-change economic models. Some models implausibly show the hot-house world to be economically positive, whereas others estimate a 65% GDP loss or a 50–60% downside to existing financial assets if climate change is not mitigated, stating these are likely to be conservative estimates.
2. Carbon budgets may be smaller than anticipated and risks may develop more quickly Earth-system models also have limitations and uncertainties with profound implications. We may have underestimated how quickly the Earth will warm for a given level of emissions, meaning we need to update our expectations as to how quickly risks will emerge. A faster warming planet will drive more severe, acute physical risks, bring forward chronic physical risks, and increase the likelihood of triggering multiple climate tipping points, which collectively act to further accelerate the rate of climate change and the physical risks faced. A significant consequence of this is that carbon budgets may be smaller than those we are working with and may now be negative for a temperature goal of 1.5°C. All of which reinforces the need to urgently reduce emissions, remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and repair broken parts of the climate system.
3. Regulatory scenarios introduce consistency but also the risk of group think, with scenario analysis outcomes being taken too literally and out of context Firms naturally begin with regulatory scenarios, but this may lead to herd mentality and ‘hiding behind’ Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS) thinking, rather than developing an appropriate understanding of climate change. Key model limitations, judgements and choice of assumptions are not widely understood, as evidenced by current disclosures from financial institutions. Investors and regulators assessing financial resilience need to be particularly careful not to place undue reliance on artificially benign model results.
Looking possible that I will be podcasting with Fuchsia Dunlop (Food, China); also Lucy Jones (Matrescence). Let me know if any questions.