In this edition:
- Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus
- On Deciding
- GPT4 for Writers: What Works and What Doesn't
- Should you work inside the institutions or outside of them?
- The Haniel Garage (1951) by Paul Schneider-Esleben
- The Electromagnetic Papyrograph
- The Unbearable Repartee
Note from the Editor
Signs of Life has always been a weekly round-up edition (roughly!), but it's been a month since my last one. I might keep it monthly; I'm still thinking about how this format fits into the larger vision, as this weird little personal thing continues growing into something obscurely larger.
A few things I want you to be aware of:
- The next cohort of our writing accelerator will start on May 15. We run a 4-week group program for working or aspiring writers, philosophers, scientists, and artists interested in building an independent intellectual life on the internet. Request an invitation at indiethinkers.org.
- Workshop: GPT-4 for Writers (What Works and What Doesn't). These workshops are always free for paid members; otherwise we just ask a modest admission fee. Workshops are designed to be highly practical on topics of value to readers of the newsletter. Tuesday, April 25 at 11m Central. Replay will be sent to anyone who can't make the live time. RSVP here.
- Explore the Other Life community v2.0: We'll give you a fully-fledged personal server and desktop app, featuring a complete communications suite, integrated crypto wallet, and voice chat on the peer-to-peer, censor-proof Urbit network. Host groups, share apps, publish newsletters, and much more. When data, ownership, and money are fully programmable, I believe the result will be an unstoppable collective intelligence. Get started here.
Reading of the Week
If you read nothing else this week, read carefully this passage from Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus.
Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together; that at length they may emerge, full-formed and majestic, into the daylight of Life, which they are thenceforth to rule. Not William the Silent only, but all the considerable men I have known, and the most undiplomatic and unstrategic of these, forbore to babble of what they were creating and projecting. Nay, in thy own mean perplexities, do thou thyself but hold thy tongue for one day: on the morrow, how much clearer are thy purposes and duties; what wreck and rubbish have those mute workmen within thee swept away, when intrusive noises were shut out! Speech is too often not, as the Frenchman defined it, the art of concealing Thought; but of quite stifling and suspending Thought, so that there is none to conceal. Speech too is great, but not the greatest. As the Swiss Inscription says: Sprecfien ist silbern, Schweigen ist golden (Speech is silvern, Silence is golden); or as I might rather express it: Speech is of Time, Silence is of Eternity.
On Deciding. Something I've learned is that anytime I really decide I want something, I always eventually get it. My worst problem has always been simple indecisiveness about what I really want. It's actually scary to realize you can obtain almost anything so long as you really decide.
On Apple. When I was young, Microsoft was lame and Apple was cool. But why? I remember vividly: When you opened up a computer with Microsoft Windows, you were inundated with a bunch of annoying prompts and popups and other gunk. On Apple, everything just worked. Now, Apple is Microsoft. When I restart my Apple, I’m inundated. Apps auto-starting; requests to re-enter my system password for obscure reasons like 'accountsdb requires your system password'—who knows why, but I have to get on with the day. Apple is now Microsoft. Apple will be overthrown. My biggest asymmetric bet is still that Urbit will be the platform to do it.
On Unpaid Interns. One nice use of GPT4 is collating and formatting information for different kinds of outputs. If you have any kind of passively accumulating valuable info, try letting it accumulate in a Google Sheet or Airtable for a few weeks. Then turn it into a formatted, publication-worthy product instantly. This works with less structured copypasta as well, but the problem with that approach is having to go collect copypasta. The benefit of passive collection is that the information is just waiting for you (it's also probably easier for GPT to deliver a clean result). Here's a prompt that works well for me.
Restructure and format the following tab-delimited text into standardized HTML items for an email newsletter. For item descriptions, truncate to only the first 200 characters.
The Electromagnetic Papyrograph
I've had this idea for a very simple web app, something I always wanted but never encountered: To mail paper letters to my loved ones, but with the speed and ease of digital technology.
In one week of night-time tinkering, I built it—100% with ChatGPT. It's a Python Flask app, which I constructed on Replit, and then deployed on Render. All practical context was also supplied by ChatGPT.
I love this little thing. It's amazing that you can now develop real, working software with the English language. The API I'm using says 7-21 days but I think that's conservative. When I sent a letter to myself, I'm pretty sure it was less than 7 days.
This Month from Other Life
- Why Virtue Ethics is Probably Correct. Virtue Ethics is a framework for living freely and correctly.
- Testosterone is declining because it's illegal. It's easy to lament the decline of testosterone, but most Americans prefer a low-testosterone society—including many of those who lament the decline of testosterone.
- Mussolini: A Wormhole in the Fabric of History? Am I crazy? Or am I right?
- Ezra Pound and the Curse of Genius. Many individuals with immense potential fall prey to this psychological pattern.
- When Kipling Met Twain. Kipling was young and unknown, Twain was one of the most famous American writers.
- Hunger Games But Really Slow. There are too many possible lifestyles now, and it's a bigger problem than you realize.
- On Agnes Callard. Are you OK, babe? You've barely touched my mushy dots and it's thwarting my aspiration.
- The Next Men of Letters. On the value of soul in the era of machine intelligence.
- Dr. Samuel Johnson: Hustler, Savage, Grifter, Great. Notes on the 18th century Substack.
- What Happened to National Geographic? On the heritage American media brand that once inspired young boys around the world.
- Empty Pockets. On private clubs and mental sovereignty.
- A Child is Not the Most Important Thing. On fatherhood and the unspeakable terror of steering the ship.
From the "Open Discussion" channel in town.otherlife.co (community v1).
- Conscription. "I would make this proposal, were there a forum within which to make it. Much like jury duty, each citizen of voting age will be required, by lot, to be a teacher for a year."
- Should we read every book on St. John's list of great books? "I keep getting this feeling... Like maybe the Other Life community should do nothing other than work through the greatest works of the canon over the course of ~3 year cycles, and just do that over and over again. Does this speak to your soul, or nah?"
- Esoteric Bitcoin Event at BTC Miami. "If anyone’s planning on being in Miami for Bitcoin Week this year... Lots of interesting discussions planned and we’re hosting a happy hour afterward."
- Organizing the Mind for maximal efficacy, quality and satisfaction. "I have accumulated approx. 35 notebooks of handwritten notes, journal narratives, mind maps, hundreds of ideas for essays, movies, books, screenplays, and a personal knowledge management system that is moderately functional. I am also stymied in the shear volume of all the ideas and areas of potential work. I've several works nearing completion but many more floundering..."
- Do I understand Urbit's deep selling point correctly? "If you strip everything else away, it’s ultimately the Signal app, but even more transparent. This doesn't describe Urbit in its entirety, but if you're in the market for Signal, Urbit will also fit the bill... If your OS is deterministic, and if the deterministic layer isn't breached, then even if your OS is compromised, you can revert your OS back to a known good state. You can snapshot the bad state too to figure out exactly what was compromised and how."
- New Polity. "This video from New Polity is hands down the best diagnosis of our political situation that I have seen anywhere. It explains the whole historical progression of modernism and shows precisely why our political arena is so bewildering and chaotic."
Share Your Work
From the "Share Your Work" channel in town.otherlife.co (community v1).
Review of Seven Story Hotel. I recently published a write-up on the first issue of Seven Story Hotel, published by fellow user Cori Hart. Like The Mars Review, I found it a refreshingly weird collection that introduced me to new creators and unique perspectives. By Annie Normal.
The Evolutionary Origins of Addiction: A Rough General Theory. "Would love any and all feedback." By Matt Dillon.
Good Is Bad, Bad Is Good: On the Subjectivity of Morality. The world you see depends on what you value. When you see a chair, you don't look at the chair per se but at the significance of the chair in relation to what you are trying to do. A chair can be practical if you are tired, an obstacle if you are running, or something entirely different. By Nicolás Forero.
Nigerian prostitution rings, on how to live a certain way. "Hello! It's been a while since I posted my writing here since things were a little slow on The Outpost due to IRL circumstances. This is my latest writing." By Guillermo Tarnawski.
Poetic Iconoclasm. I wrote a review essay, “Poetic Iconoclasm,” on Patrick Downey’s book Serious Comedy: The Philosophical and Theological Significance of Tragic and Comic Writing in the Western Tradition. The book presents a novel approach to political philosophy. By Stephen Pimentel.
The Sandbag. "I was finally able to put the finishing touches on this video, thanks to several AM work sessions with folks here. This video examines the key differences between the original Sandman Comic by Neil Gaiman and the recent Netflix adaptation." By Jesse.
Scientia Harmoniae. "This is a series of short stories on the Catholic Faith in relation to philosophy and science.", you will notice that some of your ideas from your blog appear in one or two of the stories, the idea of underfitting and overfitting. By Apollos Dionysios the Areopagite.
Terrence Malick's Badlands. "Primarily through a Heideggerian lens, but relevant to local interest: our friends Bergson, Deleuze, and Dr. Wendy S. Painting make appearances." By Mike Sauve.
Girardian Truth. "Why I still believe in truth despite the misleading (at best) and abusive (at worst) moves made by postmodernists, deconstructionists, and the like in the name of truth." By Jonathan Foster.
The Unbearable Repartee
"Silence is the unbearable repartee." —Chesterton