I really hope you've been well and indeed that you still are well. I sincerely hope that from this place of wellness you are able to act in such a way that ensures that you and all others are able to continue being well. Finding these ways of being in the world is what I believe, the game of human existence is all about.
I've been busy. I have been learning Japanese slowly and thoroughly and have been enjoying the feeling of making progress of being able to listen to and be able to parse another language — even if only a little bit.
I've also went ahead and made these two tools for helping me learn Kanji. If it just so happens that any of you are learning Japanese you might also find them helpful, or otherwise might be interested in checking them out.
I wrote about the how and why I got interested in learning Japanese in my 2020 piece Learning and Language. Not only do I want to learn the language, but I want to learn about how the process of learning a language happens from the inside out — and more broadly how learning happens in the first place (I want to write about my experiences and insights here, but alas today is not that day).
As a part of this I've been getting really interested in memory and the better and worse ways to remember what we want to remember. Have you heard of the Memory Championships? They are events held all over the world where individuals who have trained their memory compete in such feats as memorising and reciting the order entire shuffled decks of cards in the span of a half hour, or memorising extremely long poetry word for word or long strings of numbers. The mental athletes who win out in these competitions all swear that thy aren't savants, that they have no special ability. Rather that there are teachable techniques that anyone can learn and master to rapidly improve how they use they memory. I have been spending a lot of time and energy reading and thinking about these techniques and how more of us can apply and benefit from them in our day-to-day lives. The most famous and most ancient of them is known the Method of Loci. I am assuming that Loci must be Latin for Location. It involves visualising a physical space (often one you are familar with) and associating what you are trying to remember with objects in that space. This allows you to walk around that space in mind's eye and have what you see remind you of what you were trying to remember. You might know this by it's more modern name, a memory palace. A memory palace is a considered the gold standard in mnemonics, it takes advantage of the fact that our spatial memory works better than our conceptual memory. It's even been found that when scanning the brains of memory champions as they remember with FMRI they are using different parts of their brain to encode information into memories — the visual-spatial regions specifically.
I've read the book Moonwalking with Einstien by the former US Memory Champion Josh Foer. His story is amazing as he entered the competition originally as a journalist to write about his experience from the inside, only to win the grand prize.
I've currently reading the books Memory Craft by the Australian Academic Lynne Kelly which talks about all manor of mnemonics and how to improve their memory as well as their origins and how they were used in ancient times. She is convinced that what we call memory palaces were used by tribes living all over the world and are much more ancient than their apparant Greek origins.
- You can watch Lynne Kelly TED talk about the ancient methods of memory and how anyone, at any age can adopt them to improve their life here
More recently I have been getting very into programming and software development. Lately I've been commissioned by David Kedmey to build a way to archive and view the Tweets of the Author and Computer Scientist Judea Pearl who would like a way to preserve his tweets offline.
This has been really interesting but building software isn't what I want my main path forward in life to be. I want to be a writer — and so I will write.
I've had a number of different things on the mind over the last few months. As my savings have been dwindling one of them has been how I should make a living doing what I enjoy doing.
What you will read below is a note I typed up just today in my vault. It includes thought I've had about the concept of "lookahead" or spare attention and how I believe it is the precursor to wealth and progress.
Lately I've felt squeezed financially and this has pushed me to doing things I believe would earn me money in the short-term. I haven't felt like I had the free time and attention to really focus on writing. Soon I would like to change it and invest the time not just in writing but in being able to carve a space where I can making a living off what I write.
My plan in the short term is to earn at least a little runway so I have space to breathe, find some ways to make money that are efficient so I can carve out the free time I need to write and then transition my life so I can spend as much of it writing as possible and as little of it "maintaining the business of writing".
I want to think about what I please and act in the world unconcerned about whether it will generate returns. I want to spend my life constantly chasing my curiosity, the questions that I am most interested in at a given time and sharing the answers I find with everyone.
Anyway, here are some thought of mine that I've titled: Lookahead and Wealth
A friend mentioned this to me in the context of juggling. Lookahead is all about not being tied up by the task at hand. Lookahead is about having free attention that you can use to predict what will happen next. Juggling is all about lookahead. You need free attention to be able to see the next catch. It’s only at the point that the balls you are tossing in between your hands are totally under your control that you can add more.
I thought about this a little more and concluded that actually everything is about lookahead.
We have a finite amount of time, attention and energy to accomplish whatever we want to accomplish in life. If we want to add something new to our lives, we need to make space for it; we need to not be already fully loaded — we need a kind of lookahead.
To take on more commitments, we can’t have our hands full. Only in juggling, it’s literally the case.
Lookahead may be the fundamental driver of economic growth.
In the note I’ve written on Economic Growth, I gave the classic Robinson Crusoe example:
You’re stuck on an island. Every day you catch ten fish, and then you eat ten fish. One day you realise that you don’t need to eat ten fish, so you eat nine — but you continue to catch ten each day. Ten days later, you realise you don’t have to catch any fish at all. You have nine fish (a whole day’s worth) conveniently saved in a rockpool by the bay. You now have precious resources that you’ve never had before: free time and attention. Your hands are no longer full from catching fish. You have lookahead with which you can do whatever you so please. You decide to build a net. From then on, you can catch your nine fish in only half a day. Every single day you have a half-day with which you can do as you please — what will you do next?
This example was first explained to me by a friend to go through the basics of Austrian Economics and to make the point that wealth isn’t the same as money and is a concept that stands on its own.
Having runway (saved money that you can live off for some time) is like having financial lookahead. If all of your attention is invested in making ends meet and paying the rent, then you simply don’t have the bandwidth to think long-term about the future.
Another way of describing lookahead is as “attentional runway” if all of your attention is bound up with what’s in front of you, then there’s none left to look beyond. This might be why we tend to be more creative when taking breaks when we are away from the context of our work. When we are on a walk or having a shower, we have attention to spare, which often goes towards making breakthroughs on what we are working on.
I am starting to come of the mind that having free attention and lookahead is more fundamental than wealth and material prosperity. I love David Deutsch’s take on wealth as our knowledge of how to make physical transformations in the world that can solve our problems. The knowledge of how to turn what we find in the world into what we need to survive and flourish. We turn soil, water and sunlight into crops. We turn bricks into houses and sand into computers. Our ever-increasing knowledge of how to do this ever more efficiently is the sum of our society’s wealth. What we call material wealth is in fact downstream of our knowledge. Our knowledge is in turn, downstream of our creativity, of what our minds can do when they have the time and space they need — or in other words, when they have lookahead.
Knowing this, what can we do to improve our lives? We can look at what’s eating away at our time and energy moment-to-moment and clear out the archives of our mind. The author David Kedavy wrote a book titled “Mind management, not time management” — I haven’t read it yet, but I really love the title. How we act in the world -- and therefore, fruits that we reap from our actions -- are downstream of the contents of our minds.
Naval Ravikant’s famous twitter thread How to get rich without getting lucky talks about time renting (that is; having a job) as being a mistake. If you are getting paid for your time, then figuring out ways to get more done in an hour will only make someone else richer. It’s better to own a piece of equity, a business that will continue to deliver returns that will eventually be independent of your constant input and activity.
In my mind, the process is about finding a way to live in the world. You need a way of creating value in the world and trading this value for everything that you need to live well. From here, it’s about automating as much as you can to keep the ship of your life afloat, thereby freeing increasingly more time and energy to devote to your interests. Continually finding ways to achieve more with less time and attention and reaping the rewards.
When talking about finance, a good investment pays dividends over time that amount to more than the initial investment. I think we can extend this to more than just money. It is the same with our time and attention. We have to use it on something, and how we use it determines the quality of our continued existence and how much free time and attention we will tend to find ourselves with. A poor investment of time and attention will keep your hands tied and will keep you chained to having to continue in the activity that you despise. A wise investment of time and attention will find you with more time and attention to invest as you please — with more lookahead.
When I started this, the plan was to basically say "hi" paste the note I had written and then say "bye". I ended up writing quite a length intro though. This used to always happen, I used to always plan to be short and succinct and end up spilling thousands of words onto the page. I really miss it to be honest.
I want to write more often. I hope I soon find myself sending more of these letters to you.
By the way, as usual I want to remind you that I'm a real person and you can reply to these emails. I always love hearing from reader. Did you enjoy the piece? Any thoughts that you'd like to share? After all my time not publishing, have I gotten rusty?
Take care everyone!