In 2017, I listened to an episode of the Art of Manliness podcast with author and philosopher, William B Irvine. I, then, went on to listen to his book, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy on Audible.
In the time of the Greeks and Romans, Philosophy was something that was practiced and not just thought. Students went to these schools for practical lessons in living.
Each philosophy taught that there was an ideal that played a central role more than all the others. Epicureans believed that pleasure played such a central role. Stoics believed that tranquility played a central role.
The book busts several myths about Stoicism. The Stoics were not emotionally dead. They offer several practical tips and tricks to prepare one for the emotional roller-coaster of life. These practices helped Stoics maintain tranquility.
In comparison, the various darsanas of Indian Philosophy seem to say that there is only one theme that plays the central role – the reduction of or end of suffering.
I had written about the Evo-Devo universe on January 3, 2021. I got many questions from readers for more details about the Evo-Devo universe. I am still in the process of learning more about it myself.
Evo-Devo is a model of predicting the future of the universe. The model was developed by futurist John Smart and philosopher, Clement Vidal. It is a possible theoretical explanation for the Universe. The authors propose a model that mixes two other existing models – evolutionary and developmental model.
However, scientists, presently think that the universe is fully evolutionary.
Evolutionary in the Evo-Devo is the bottom-up process of evolution. This is what we see in biology and shown by Charles Darwin. The authors call this part of the process “chaotic, variety-producing, locally adaptive, and unpredictable”.
Developmental in the Evo-Devo is the top-down process of development by planning. The authors call this part of the process “stabilizing, convergently unifying, globally adaptive and predictable”.
The authors think that the mixture is in the Pareto ratio (80:20). This ratio could be 90:10, 95:5, 98:2 or could move in either direction as more data becomes available.
In his essay, The Goodness of the Universe, John Smart applies the above theory to show that the Universe becomes increasingly good as it evolves and develops into networks. As these networks miniaturize and becomes dense, it becomes more likely that humans will stay on Earth than go out into the cosmos.
Ryan Holiday had the above podcast episode with Cal Newport for the Daily Stoic podcast. While both practitioners shared their ideas of how they practiced their crafts, I especially liked the part where they spoke about knowledge work.
I consider what I do as knowledge work.
Cal shares that Peter Drucker defined knowledge work in the 1950s. Since then, he says not much has changed. Workers are given a task and are then left alone to do their task. The organisation does not interfere in the performance of this task.
He suggests that probably knowledge work may improve with the involvement of the organisation. He suggests that NBA and NFL teams in the US do this much better. They know what they want to get out of a player in terms of his personal performance, his team’s performance in the game and in the league.
On improving our own knowledge work, Cal suggests that we do lifestyle-centric career planning. This involves first understanding the type of lifestyle we would like to lead and then select a career accordingly for best results. For the first two years of one’s career, he suggests not letting anything fall through the cracks. This makes sure that managers stay out of the way and gives the knowledge worker more autonomy.
Another snippet that I liked in their conversation is how Cal approaches a new idea. He says that knowledge work involves a lot of thinking and the present day has no slack for this very important part of a knowledge worker’s work. He builds the idea by thinking about it, talking to others and writing about it. This progression places more and more burden to be structured and relevant levels of research.
Although I have lived in Pune for two-and-a-half years, the Pandemic meant that I have not explored the city.
I was looking for book stores in Pune. There are many of the ones that play an academic role. Many shut down during the Pandemic. Pagdandi seems to the city-wide favorite. However, I was not happy how they treated my wife and daughter when I was inside the store. I have not returned there since.
The search for another bookstore began. A search revealed Book World. This is a bookstore on Pune’s Fergusson College Road (FC Road). The Google review says they have a good manga collection.
I went there on the two wheeler expecting parking to be an issue. I left my two wheeler a little way off and walked on FC Road. I loved the vibe on FC Road. There were road side shops selling clothes and books. There was place to sit and hang out. There was a Kalakar Katta where artists were seen drawing portraits. I am not sure if there were writers or readers there.
I went down the steps and to Book World to see books on a center table and spread from floor to ceiling on the walls around. I spotted some of the latest books on the shelves there including some old copies of famous books. They had a really good collection of books there.
I bought a copy of Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Stoic for myself. I bought a copy of Mahabharatee by Shruti Hajirnis Gupte for my wife. I bought a few children’s story books for my daughter.
During the time I spent in Takshashila, I heard a lot about Radically Networked Societies. It is a framework to think about societies structured in the Information Age. In a paper/book by Nitin Pai and Sneha Shankar, they define it thus:
A networked society is flat, its demands are diverse and often inchoate, decision-making processes are amorphous, and leadership diffuse.
– Nitin Pai and Sneha Shankar, Networked Societies and Hierarchical States: The Emerging Challenge to Political Order
Nitin had a TEDx Bangalore talk on similarly organizing government at the level of cities (to begin with) to better respond to citizen’s demands in the information age.
Yesterday, I read a blog post titled, The Goodness of the Universe on the excellent, Centauri Dreams blog. The paragraph that caught my eye in the blog post was this:
At its core, life has never been about either individual or group success. Instead, life’s processes have self-organized, under selection, to advance network success. Well-built networks, not individuals or even groups, always progress. As a network, life is immortal, increasingly diverse and complex, and always improving its stability, resiliency, and intelligence.
John Smart, The Goodness of the Universe
There it was again. The mention of networks. This is networks at the level of the planetary scale. He believes that both evolutionary and developmental processes are work in the Universe. He calls this the Evo-Devo Universe. In this paradigm, he believes that we are more likely to head to a non-dystopian, post-biological future.
I am also convinced we are rapidly and mostly unconsciously creating a civilization that will be ever more organized around our increasingly life-like machines. We can already see that these machines will be far smarter, faster, more capable, more miniaturized, more resource-independent, and more sustainable than our biology.
John Smart, The Goodness of the Universe
The author goes on to say that at this level, the ethics and empathy in the network grows. The longer we live in this post-biological future, the more good we get. His conclusion also was interesting to me, when he says:
Also, far too many of us still believe we are headed for the stars, when our history to date shows that the most complex networks are always headed inward, into zones of ever-greater locality, miniaturization, complexity, consciousness, ethics, empathy, and adaptiveness. As I say in my books, it seems that our destiny is density, and dematerialization.
John Smart, The Goodness of the Universe
We see this in part in the growth of our cities, to some extent. I think the Evo-Devo Universe is the end point for which a Radically Networked Society is the starting point. As always, it is the middle that is interesting.
We watched Bheemante Vazhi on New Year’s eve on December 31, 2021. The film portrays the efforts of a people in a poor neighborhood on the side of the railway tracks trying to get an accessible road to their houses.
The movie highlights the plight of any person who undertakes public tasks in a community in Kerala. The film highlights these in a light hearted way.
Kunchako Boban’s character Sanju aka Bheeman’s love stories in the movie seem interesting choices. Be it the one-way or the love-to-get-your-work-done with the Railway Engineer or the girl who seemed to be waiting for him to make a proposal. Does the presence of martial arts in this movie and in Minnal Murali point to something?
I enjoyed the climax fight scene involving not your usual suspects. I did not understand the animation for the intro scene of the movie. I guess like other Malayalam movies of the day, I would need to read reviews to understand these nuances.
I had a lot of plans for 2022. Like everyone else. One thing that 2021 illustrated was not to say yes to too many things. You end up disappointing others and yourself.
This informed me when I was filling up the YearCompass and I chose to select two things to focus on for 2022. Writing and reading.
I write for a living. I write field documentation and manuals for a living. I want to practice writing more type of documents to expand my horizons. I also want to write fiction. I want to contribute by writing documentation for open source software.
But, as I shared above, I want to focus on two things at a time. I want to first improve my skills in writing field documentation and fiction.
The other thing I want to focus on, is reading. Through 2021, I had stopped reading. I could not read anything long. I wanted to get back to reading. I started by listening to the audiobook version of Dune. I followed that up by listening to the audiobook version of the Neuromancer.
Towards the end of 2021, I started reading Indian Philosophy, inspired in part by the work that Ryan Holiday does with Stoicism. So, one branch of my reading will be spent reading/listening to fiction and another reading Indian Philosophy.
I had subscribed to Brain Pickings a long time ago. I used to have the time to read this newsletter before the time there were so many newsletters. I was thinking of names when I learnt that Maria Popova changed the name of her newsletter from Brain Pickings to The Marginalian. Somehow, it pushed me to take the time to read her newsletter every Sunday, her weekly digest.
In a post written on December 7 (coincidence?), she had an article on Carl Jung. The post was on Jung’s advice on how to live and do the next right thing. This post seems to have triggered some avalanche inside me.
We long to be given the next step and the route to the horizon, allaying our anxiety with the illusion of a destination somewhere beyond the vista of our present life.
I think when I read non-fiction, this is what I sought. An answer that will help me take the next step and provide me with a destination. But, as I read, an author would convince me to change my next step and even the destination.
Jung says that death is the only destination or horizon that is real. There are many ways to get there. We have to take the next step intuitively. There is uncertainty in this. But, uncertainty is the price we pay for beauty. Integrity is the only compass we have to point to the right direction on this uncertain landscape. Popova summarizes Jung more poetically in her post above.
This reminded me of my interest in Samkhya that I had shared here earlier. But, I felt that I wanted to place my study in the context of the wider Indian philosophy.
I have started reading the Sarva Darsana Samagraha. This is an English translation from 1882 but is a surprisingly easy read. While looking for other similar books, I found a suggestion among Nitin Pai’snotes for Chatterjee and Dutta’s Introduction to Indian Philosophy. I am listening to that book on Audible so that I can get through the content once.