Breakfast Notes #61 (Hofstadter’s Law)

Breakfast Notes #61 (Hofstadter’s Law)
Photo by Randy Fath / Unsplash

Good morning friends.

Here is the 61st serving of the Breakfast Notes.

3 Reads To Bulk Your Brain

  • The Bus Ticket Theory of Genius. We tend to have a mistaken theory of genius. We think a genius is made because he/she is just naturally smart and born determined. Paul Graham reminds us that there is a third area we have not fully understood - compulsive interest. To quote him, ‘When you look at the lives of people who've done great work, you see a consistent pattern. They often begin with a bus ticket collector's obsessive interest in something that would have seemed pointless to most of their contemporaries.’ The example that comes to mind is - Steve Jobs. In a time when every computer manufacturer cared about ramping up their computing powers and riding the wave of Moore’s Law, he pursued the seemingly trivial - fonts. His obsession with design and aesthetics served Apple well as it became known to be the world’s most beautiful technology company.
  • Praise to the Typewriter. The typewriter revolutionised office working habits forever.  As it was introduced in the 1800s, information processing increased exponentially. Gone were the days when scribes were writing minutes furtively. One can think and write twice the speed with a few clicks and clacks. Yet, forever lasted for less than a hundred years.  By the 1990s, all the famous manufacturers had been destroyed by the computer revolution and are now survived on the internet. You can read about the Noiseless typewriter and how it eliminated the loud cranking in the office.
  • The Eternal Soup. What would it be like if you had a stock of soup passed down from generation to generation? The soup your grandmother drinks will be the same soup your grandchild drinks. This tradition has been preserved in France, and pockets of China have its fans and detractors. However, the existence of the eternal soup animates our modern dilemma- are we forsaking flavour, tradition and experimentation in exchange for an excessively rigid standard of hygiene? After all, the best foods are cooked in kitchens with a little bit of dirt and mess.

2 Visualizations To Wow You

Google Arts & Culture 

This advertisement aged so badly.


The two orange circles are the same size; however, the one on the right appears larger. The Ebbinghaus illusion is an optical illusion of relative size perception. This isn’t the point of the optical illusion, but it serves an interesting lesson: comparison with others can distort your sense of self.

1 Big Idea (Hofstadter’s Law)

Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect.

Even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.

In 1997, Deep Blue became the first computer to beat a human champion by defeating Garry Kasparov. The supercomputer could calculate millions of possibilities in seconds through brute computational force.  It was Deep Blue’s victory that ushered in the era of AI.

But, many forgot the first significant chess-playing program was launched in 1957. The Bernstein program ran on an IBM 704 computer and could compute around 42,000 operations per second.

Pundits predicted that the time a computer would beat a grandmaster was just a few years away.

In reality, it took forty years.

This was Douglas Hofstadter’s insight - we tend to underestimate how time-consuming a cognitively demanding and complex task will be. The modern world tells us we need our progress, success and rewards now because we deserve it. But, if we keep Hofstadter’s Law in mind, we will learn patience.

We know it took 40 years for a computer at chess and 20 years for Singapore to climb out of poverty.

Heck, it took Facebook 8 years to reach 1 billion monthly users.

Things always take longer than we think. Impatience will only burn us out. Impatience is the poison that will kill our dreams.

Patience coupled with action is the entry cost for success. May we all keep that in mind!

May the Sun Shine Upon Your Face,

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