Breakfast Notes #51 (Tyson Technique and Kahneman)
Good morning friends.
Here are four quotes I want to share with you this week.
- Madeleine L'Engle, the award-winning American writer and poet whose writing career began to take off at the age of forty, said this of the bravery to try: "We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are."
- Roger Scruton, the British philosopher and art critic on appreciating beauty, "We appreciate beautiful things not for their utility only, but also for what they are in themselves—or more plausibly, for how they appear in themselves."
- Niccolo Machiavelli, the astute Italian diplomat of the Renaissance era on assessing leaders, "The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him."
- Anne Frank, on the value of optimism. "It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them because, in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart." She was 15 when she died. She probably has the highest wisdom-to-year ratio in the past century.
Here is the 51st serving of the Breakfast Notes.
Reads Of The Week
Here are the reads of the week.
- Life as Idol. Ivan Illich was an Austrian Roman Catholic, priest, theologian , philosopher, and social critic. His key thesis was that Western modernity, with its excessive focus on science, law and institutions, has corrupted Christianity. If one codifies and institutionalises values as rules, the values become corrupted. They become a shallow and performative ritual for the congregation. This explains why Paul, in his letter to the Galatian Church, wanted the members to be led by the spirit so they would not be under the law. It's a reminder once again not to confuse reputation and character.
- The Strange Life of Clippy. The weird and slightly eerie Microsoft avatar showed us that tech seemed more humane in its early form as a barely-functioning paper clip than its hyper-realistic, hyper-targeted and advanced peers.
- National Service as Social Engineering. On Mar. 13, 1967, Dr Goh Keng Swee, Singapore's first Minister of Defense put forth the National Service Bill to mandate National Service for all men. Dr Goh had the intuition that Singaporeans still lacked certain virtues. He recognised that Singaporeans were excellent in 'the ability to get on in life whatever the regime. However, they lacked the social discipline and moral values a small nation-state requires to survive in a hostile world. Hence, national service was implemented not just for national defence but to prepare Singaporean men for "the strenuous exertions that may lie ahead."
The Tyson Technique
Neil deGrasse Tyson is one heck of an astrophysicist.
He appeared on The View, The Joe Rogan Experience and even Hot Ones.
Television and radio hosts love interviewing Tyson because he makes science fun to learn.
He has this uncanny ability to condense complex concepts into one beautiful analogy or memorable quote.
His trade secret is what I believe to be an upgrade to the Feynman Technique (which I shall call the Tyson Technique).
The Feynman Technique is made up of four steps:
- Choose a concept
- Explain it like you would a 12-year-old
- Reflect, Refine, and Simplify
- Organise and Review
The Feynman Technique prizes simplicity; the Tyson Technique prizes familiarity.
He believes that to get people excited about astrophysics is not to dumb down the subject but to "embed the concept in familiar ground." In short, it is to replace step 2 with analogies the audience intuitively relates to.
Watch how he explains time dilation here and notice how his co-host learns in real time (with excitement).
Colonoscopy and Final Moments
First impressions are overrated.
It's the final moments that matter.
Let me tell you about the story of a doctor, a psychologist and a colonoscopy.
In 1996, Daniel Kahneman and Dr Redelmeier assessed patients' appraisals of uncomfortable colonoscopy or lithotripsy procedures and correlated the remembered experience with real-time findings.
They found that after a painful colonoscopy treatment, patients would forget the overall duration of the pain they experienced. The treatment could be 15, 20 or 25 minutes, but all of it would be a blur to them.
What they remembered were the peak moments of pain and how it ended.
A patient whose colonoscopy lasted an agonising half-hour would remember the experience better and merrily return a year later for his follow-up appointment if given a piece of candy at the end. His brother, who might have only 5 minutes of total pain, wouldn't return next year because he remembers how painful the scope was removed.
People judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak and end. This is why it's always best to end on a high note and send your guests home happy.
To me, these two men confirmed the wisdom of the Chinese proverb - '先苦后甜', which is first to take the bitter pill and then accompany it with a spoonful of sugar.
Visualisation Of The Week
In 2019, 92% of all drinking water in the U.S. met safety standards. This means 26 million people are at risk of drinking unsafe water.
(That is 5x the Singaporean population)
In comparison, 97% of American adults own a cellphone.
Thank you for reading this and truly, may the sun shine upon your face,