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ȘȈǤƝȘ 63: Reality Splitters

7 min

“Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be attained only by someone who is detached.” —Simone Weil

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Dear Reader,

Signs of Life—my spin on the recurring medley format, where I send you short ideas, books, links, and upcoming events every week—saw 61 issues before I paused it a few months ago.

Today I'm excited to resume this series with a few improvements and embellishments, but rather than give you cheap talk about grand plans—let's just see what I can do.

In this issue, you'll learn about:

How to Find Frontiers

I like Philip Monk's framework for operating at the outer edge of what's possible. He asks you to visualize a descending tree structure.

How to find frontiers
Untitled diagram by Philip Monk

Each line is a path of exploration, where history flows downward. The green circle represents all of the dominant models of the present. The red circles are smaller, weirder, competitor models with aspirations to become green.

The blue dots are what you want to study.

Conventional wisdom says you should prune the branches not taken. People will tell you they're not "lindy," they've been "disproven."

The unique insight of Monk's model is that, on the contrary, the greatest reservoirs of alpha lie hidden among the paths not taken.

"People claim to be explorers and to love frontiers, but they complain they can’t find the 'next frontier' until it’s already mainstream..."

Start by studying the blue dots, but with an eye toward underpriced red circles, then go all-in expanding whichever red circle you most believe in. Read the whole essay.


The Unreasonably Negative Effects of Podcast Listening

The feeling of listening to podcasts approximates the feeling of having original thoughts.

As you listen to interesting ideas, not only do you feel that you're learning something, you even feel as if you're coming up with new ideas. In a sense, you are; the podcast stimulates new idea-embryos every minute, but they're aborted just as quickly—by the next interesting idea.

Once you put the podcast down, of course, you've forgotten everything and you certainly haven't created or produced anything.

The seemingly edifying habit of podcast listening can, therefore, be harmful—especially for people who love ideas, for these are the people who should be producing ideas.

The degree of this social harm might pale in comparison to malaria or lead poisoning, but I suspect its much worse than people think, since I've never heard anyone talk about it. I wonder how many brilliant thinkers are not writing because they are addicted to listening.

Whereas an addiction to crappy television is self-limiting for high-status people, because it's rightly stigmatized and associated with laziness and poverty, a podcast habit does not include this salutary feature. On the contrary, it's plausible to tell oneself that one is learning and making intellectual progress when, in fact, one is completely outsourcing the task of thinking, in every free minute of one's life.

Beware the podcast addiction. The simplest solution is to take written notes on any podcast you listen to, especially making sure to write down original ideas that come to you. If you follow through on this, you'll quickly reduce your podcast listening, but get much more from it. You'll also become more discerning about what you listen to.


Want to improve your output, and meet some of the other writers, hackers, and artists who read this newsletter? Join a Tuesday morning Work Session hosted by IndieThinkers.org. These sessions are free for anyone who reads this newsletter, just drop your email here to get the Zoom link.

This world: a monster of energy, without beginning, without end, a firm, iron magnitude of force that does not grow bigger or smaller, that does not expend itself but only transforms itself... With tremendous years of recurrence, with an ebb and a flood of its forms; out of the simplest forms striving toward the most complex... Then again returning home to the simple out of this abundance, out of the play of contradictions back to the joy of concord, still affirming itself in this uniformity of its courses and its years, blessing itself as that which must return eternally, as a becoming that knows no satiety, no disgust, no weariness: this, my Dionysian world of the eternally self-creating, the eternally self-destroying, this mystery world of the twofold voluptuous delight, my “beyond good and evil,” without goal, unless the joy of the circle is itself a goal… Do you want a name for this world? A solution for all its riddles? A light for you, too, you best concealed, strongest, most intrepid, most midnightly men?—This world is the will to power—and nothing besides! And you yourselves are also this will to power—and nothing besides!

—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power (via cryptocculture.com)


“Delta was the Reality Splitter:” Mónica Belevan's Spenglerian Theory of Covidian Aesthetics

Mónica Belevan is a Peruvian theorist who writes a Substack called Covidian Aesthetics. She joined me for the latest episode of the Other Life podcast.

Justin Murphy: You told me the other day that you think we're at the end of a Spenglerian period. I wonder if you could explain that for me?
Mónica Belevan: History cycles like an animal, like an organism—this is also treading Battaillean territory—and so we're at the end of a Zivilisation that's cresting and crashing, and COVID has helped give it the oomph to crossover.
And there's going to be this convergence of Kultur tissue that starts to disassociate itself from the rotting corpse of the previous... The thing is, we're in that moment of deep overlap. And we feel that, at this point, I tweeted some days ago that Delta was the reality splitter—it's even in the name.
This is the one that makes the fork. And we can see that kind of happening. Alpha brought the chaos, but Delta makes the fork. COVID itself has its own periodicity, its own stages, its own phasing. It's a very interesting phenomenon.

If you’re not already subscribed to the podcast, subscribe on your favorite podcast app. Ben is working with me full-time now, and we have many big interviews coming out in the next few weeks. Don't sleep on it, subscribe.


Other Life <> Edgeware Agency

I received a generous grant from the Edgeware Agency to help me finish my second book—provisionally entitled Exit Theory. The book will collect and extend a few of the ideas I've developed over the past few years, on the theme of exit from institutions. Thanks to this grant, I am now shifting to work on this book full time, while Grant Dever runs IndieThinkers.org. DAOs are already starting to replace traditional funding bodies, and it seems the Edgeware Agency wants to be a PBS or BBC of creative intellectual work. This vision resonates with me deeply, of course, so I am grateful for their support and excited to see where this goes. In the coming months, we'll be doing a few different experiments with their technology and community. If you're interested in what they are doing, you can reply to this and I’ll connect you; or go say hello in their Discord.


Based Mansion, Austin — Nov. 5-7

Once again, I am renting a mansion for a weekend, to host an informal conference/party for people in my internet communities. Specifically for indie thinker types working on independent intellectual or creative projects outside of institutions. This time it will be in Austin, Texas over the weekend of November 5 to November 7. To learn more about the concept, read this review of Based Mansion LA in 2020.

There are many ways to join the weekend. We have a limited number of bedrooms, but for people who have their own place to stay, we'd love to have you over for particular events throughout the weekend. Space will be limited and we may not be able to have over everyone who wants to come; but if demand really outsizes capacity, I'll seriously think about doing more things like this. I'd love to eventually welcome and connect with anyone who wants to join.

If you'd like to attend Based Mansion in Austin, please RSVP here and I'll get back to you personally.


How Microdosing Works

In a recent episode of the Other Life podcast, Brom Rector suggested that microdosing pyschedelics is overhyped and might be more harmful than people think. He said that microdosing just makes you a little happier, then people rationalize it by saying it makes them more productive, more creative, etc.

I microdosed last week and, I have to admit, Brom’s comments really changed my interpretation of my day. Honestly, I think he’s right. I’ve probably over-celebrated this practice too naively.

But then again, increasing happiness may be an indirect productivity booster.

If you work too hard for too long, you can start to hate life, which makes you unproductive. You forget what you’re working for, you get stuck in the weeds of trivial tasks, so you get miserable, which makes you lazy and inefficient. This might sound obvious but it invades you surreptitiously. It’s impossible to escape with your own will power, precisely because its your will power that got you stuck there. Disciplined people can be too disciplined to cut loose, to the point of harming the ROI of their discipline.

Even if it only marginally increases happiness, I think microdosing can have a positive productivity effect for this type of person. When I grind myself down through hard work, to the point I’m feeling down and unmotivated and uncreative… A day of marginally elevated happiness via microdosing refills my interest in life and my motivation to continue working hard. By reminding oneself that life is indeed fun and interesting, it makes all the hard work feel worthwhile. It breathes some energy and confidence into the larger narratives of my life, simply by increasing happiness. And I always promptly redouble my commitment to not overworking. I don’t always follow through on that perfectly, but I do for some time at least.

Some research suggests microdosing increases creativity (1, 2). Perhaps this is because it makes drawing new connections fun rather than taxing. Andrew Huberman says that testosterone makes effort feel good. Perhaps microdosing LSD just makes thinking feel good.


What did you think of this new edition of Signs of Life? I'd love for you to hit reply and tell me.

Submissions or tips always welcome, including links to your own work.

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