Chasing The Wind Episode 3 – Legacy



In the third episode of my podcast with Avi, we discuss what it means to have a legacy, how it can inform your daily choices, the legacies of some modern day people, and how legacy has changed as a motivation in scientific work.

Of the thirteen episodes we’ve recorded so far, I think this is my second favorite. I feel like I learned things while recording this.

Episode


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Podcast home: chasingthewind.libsyn.com

References

Theoretical yield (biology/chemistry)

The Predictive Part of Predictive Processing

[Prerequisite: a working understanding of Bayes’ Theorem, and ideally some time spent playing with other machine learning techniques]

One of my favorite blogs has a review of the book “Surfing Uncertainty”, a somewhat accessible text about Predictive Processing.

Avi’s Glean: Awesome! This is a good model of the brain, and you should read it. It (probably) allows us to attach hard numbers to any layer of cognitive science.

That said, I will be writing blurbs critiquing various sections of the book review, and eventually of the book. My long term intent is to refine the theory for myself.

“As these two streams move through the brain side-by-side, they continually interface with each other. Each level receives the predictions from the level above it and the sense data from the level below it. Then each level uses Bayes’ Theorem to integrate these two sources of probabilistic evidence as best it can. This can end up a couple of different ways.”

Assuming that’s actually the theory and not just Scott’s interpretation, I have an intuition that this piece is where the theory is most wrong, the use of Bayes’ Theorem specifically. I think Bayes’ Theorem is posited here because:

1. It’s accurate.

2. It’s simple.

3. It’s what we understand.

But I don’t think that’s going to be correct because:

1. The brain isn’t necessarily going for what’s accurate. Accurate and effective can be divorced for a variety of reasons.

2. Neural layers are capable of much more nuanced and complex modeling (in your and my intuitions, in commonly held neural models, and specifically in the predictive processing model, this is true).

3. Since we’re in the early days of applied probability, there’s no reason, except as a placeholder, to guess what we know instead of what we don’t.

A Cure for Hiccups

[Epistemic Status: Totally Speculative]

I rarely get hiccups, but the hiccups I get are relatively violent and they last a long time.

Over the last few cases of hiccups, I have developed a cure which works for me. Try at your own risk, N of 1, results may vary, etc, etc. Here’s my method:

Surfing, in the abstract, is controlling something on the leading edge of a wave.

A hiccup is a spasm. A spasm is a wave. I have control of the muscles that form this wave. So in theory, I can surf a hiccup.

When I get a case of the hiccups, I stop what I’m doing and focus as much as I can on breathing. I breathe deep, full breaths, as though I had no hiccups, but I breath them very slowly, and for a minute or so I just pay attention to the feeling of the hiccup spasms.

Once I have a sense of how the spasms feel and where they’re happening, I start to try to focus on the leading edge of each spasm. Instead of feeling the spasm as one discrete shock, I try to separate it into a rise, a crest, and a fall (or for the mathy: instead of feeling the spasm as a step function, I try to feel it as a sigmoid up and a sigmoid down).

Once I feel like I can recognize the leading edge, I try to ride it. I don’t fight to stop it, I don’t let it come uncontrolled. I try to squeeze my throat muscles just a little bit in front of the leading edge of the spasm.

When I get it right, what I feel is a sort of managed spasm. It still comes, but it’s not explosive. I feel as though the wave has less amplitude, but it’s wider.

After a few well managed spasms, the hiccups pretty much go away on their own.

That’s my hiccup cure! Good luck with it.

Chasing The Wind Episode 2 – Organization

My friend Avi and I are (still) making a podcast!

The podcast is about everything. Test audiences have reacted positively.

We crosspost to chasingthewind.libsyn.com.

The second episode is about organization – the systems we use to organize things in our lives, and how we might make improvements.

Credit goes to Avi for making the podcast with me, setting up the distribution system, and writing most of the descriptions and reference lists.

Episode


Download the episode: Chasing The Wind – Episode 2 – Organization

RSS: chasingthewind.libsyn.com/rss




References

The Man Who Was Paid Less

Once there were two men who chanced to join a large company on the same day. They sat in the same row on the same floor of the same office, and so became friends.

Both were good and honest workers, but it happened one day that the two men discovered that one was paid a dollar more than the other.

“Oh, haha, it’s really no matter,” said the man who was payed less, and he tried to put it out of his mind.

But days passed and he could not ignore the plain fact that he was paid a dollar less.

“Ah, I’ll work harder,” he said to himself. “That way my salary will increase, and I can put it out of my mind.”

So the man who was payed less began to work harder than his friend. He took shorter lunches, and stayed late nights, and was more diligent in his work.

Once his pay was raised, he contrived to compare salaries with his friend. But his friend’s pay had been raised too, and both men were surprised that it was still a dollar more.

The man who was paid less laughed it off, but he was still quietly troubled, and sought to fix the discrepancy.

“Maybe he’s a better negotiator,” thought the man who was paid less. “I’ll ask for a little more money. Then I’ll have the most, and I can put this out of my mind.”

So the man who was paid less asked for more money, and since he was hard working, his boss said yes.

The man who was paid less sought out his friend. “I asked for more money,” he said.

“That’s strange! So did I,” said his friend. And they were surprised to find that the friend was still paid one dollar more.

The man who was payed less put on a cheerful face, but he was furious, and immediately returned to thinking about how to catch up.

“Maybe he cuts corners,” thought the man who was payed less to himself. “That’s it. He cheats a little in his work. I’ll have to do the same to catch up.”

So the man who was payed less started to cheat his employer in small ways. He pretended to work late, but often snuck out. He made up numbers on some of his work sheets. But he wasn’t good at covering his tracks. His boss found him out, and he was forced to resign.

He happened to meet a recruiter around the same time, and the recruiter put him in touch with another company, who gave him a job for even more money.

He compared again with his friend, and was shocked to find the friend had gotten another raise and still made a dollar more.

The man who was paid less carried on like this for years. He tried everything he could to increase his salary, but his friend was always paid more. He tried good things and bad things. He tried switching jobs, many times. He tried praying. He even tried to let it go, but he could not.

Finally the man who was paid less gave up and retired. A while later, his friend retired two.

One day, when they were very old, the man who was payed less asked his friend how he’d managed to always make more.

“Did you work hard without my knowing it?” he asked.

“No. I think I did the average amount.”

“Did you cheat? Were you cleverer than me? Were you that much more savvy about office politics?”

“No. If anything, I felt like you became the clever and political one because of this. And I never cheated.”

The man who was payed less thought for a moment.

“That’s it! You must have been nicer than me! More decent, more deserving. If you’d been payed less, you would have accepted it gracefully. It wouldn’t have eaten at you like this.”

“Oh, not at all,” said his friend. “If anything I would have fared worse and been more jealous. That’s why I was always so polite and modest about it. I figured it must have hurt you, as it would have hurt me. Anyway, there’s nothing I could do about it.”

“There wasn’t,” agreed the man who was payed less.

Some time later, the man who was payed less passed from this earth. It is almost not worth mentioning that he had lived a decent life, had a nice family, or experienced many interesting things, since although these things were true, they were of little account to him personally.

The man who was payed less went to his afterlife, and was directed by an angel to wait in line to meet his maker. Far from fearing judgement, the man who was payed less waited eagerly, for he hoped to obtain an explanation from Kami.

When his turn came, he stepped confidently into Kami’s office and strode right up to the chair reserved for him. He didn’t wait for an introduction or a preamble, just sat down and asked, “Why did he always get a dollar more? What was the lesson in that? What was the reason?”

“Sometimes these things just happen,” said Kami.

The End.

If this tale offends your sense of how things ought to be, perhaps you feel differently than you thought about the meaning of life (or lack thereof).

The Quality of Political Conversations

[Conceptual prerequisites: signalingcounter signaling, recent speech controversies]

A friend of a friend recently opined, “I am coming to think that most educated Bay Area people are incapable of discussing politics at a level of sophistication above that of angry babies”.

An issue of signaling is the cost of not signaling correctly. If you project the wrong image (which might mean wrong clothing, wrong speech, wrong behavior, or other things), are you ignored? Ostracized? Punished? Killed?

In some places the cost is low. You project the wrong image in the busy part of New York. Who cares? I’m in a hurry. Venice Beach, Los Angeles. Who cares? People live and let live.

In some places the cost is higher. Yesterday I read an article about some gay students in Missouri who had their yearbook quotes scrubbed from their yearbook. My great grandmother was ostracized right out of her husband’s small North Carolina town for having a famous Yankee general as a relative. Personally, I found the signaling costs were unpleasantly high in the American south.

In some places the cost of wrong signaling is extremely, dangerously high. Stalin’s Russia.

I agree with my friend’s friend. I would say that the Bay Area, while not Stalinist, has gradually increased the cost of wrong signaling until it’s even higher than in the American south. Substantially higher, with the result that the quality of political discussion here is now worse than it is in the south.

Politics is the business of collaboration, of building human capital. Political discussion is the business of finding agreement and disagreement in politics. If the cost of looking wrong is a strong dose of ostracization, freely discussing politics risks losing at actual politics. So nobody will freely discuss politics. We live in an era of angry news, so the easiest fallback is to discuss angry news. It’s hard to discuss angry news (and only angry news) as anything other than an angry baby.

Chasing The Wind Episode 1 – Accessibility

My friend Avi and I are making a podcast!

The podcast is about everything. Test audiences have reacted positively.

We’ve been recording for a while to build up a buffer, and we have enough to go public. We’ll post episodes approximately when we feel like it.

The first episode is about accessibility – how to make things easy for other people to use, understand, and consume. In this episode we discuss how to make things accessible to many people, whether this is a good idea, and who does it well. In an effort to make things more accessible, we are including a list of references with every episode so folks can understand what we’re talking about!

This is my first experience making and posting shared content. It’s pretty fun! Credit goes to Avi for making the podcast with me, setting up the distribution system, and writing most of the descriptions and reference lists.

Episode


Download the episode: Chasing The Wind Episode 1 – Accessibility

RSS: chasingthewind.libsyn.com/rss




References


Slate Star Codex article on reversing advice you hear


Yegge article

How To Be A Good Person If You Find Yourself in a Fascist Society

(Originally published on March 1, 2016 on Medium.com)

We have let this man ride a wave of fear, and whether or not he wins the presidency, his brand of fascism is here to stay for a generation. He may fail, but someone else will be elevated by his followers, and then another, and another.

It’s time to take an honest look at the future. Someday, you may find yourself living in a fascist society.

If you want to figure out how to fight, read someone else’s essay. I’m going to talk about how to cope.

Accept It.

If it happens, don’t waste time pretending it’s not happening. Don’t waste time wishing it didn’t happen. That’s how we got here in the first place.

It’s okay. You can face this without losing sleep or hair. Most people survive even the worst things, and all bad things present opportunities to do good.

Even now, you can think about the possibility of a fascist America, and plan for it, and still tell yourself at the end of the day: in either case, I’m going to be okay.

Organize.

Organize informal communities, underground communities, and public communities, now, while it’s still a viable option. Fascists tend to come after free speech quickly, and he already likes to say he’ll make it easier to sue the newspapers for libel. It will take a more conscientious effort than usual to keep the culture free and open.

Don’t stop communicating with people who disagree with you, but reserve a portion of your energy for underground discussions with people who do agree. If you continue to have discussions in a pressure free environment, you can continue the exploration of good ideas, planting seeds for the progressive movements of the future.

Organize pragmatically. There’s going to be a lot of premature, stupidly organized protest. There’s going to be a temptation to run out and be a freedom fighter in the first organization you can find. Be patient, and make friends with careful people. Read a lot of history with an eye towards distinguishing useful disobedience and rebellion from useless disobedience and rebellion.

Simplify.

Live with less stuff. Be less of a consumer. This makes you more flexible and less beholden to a system which may hurt you.

Figure out where to hide people.

All that stuff you got rid of leaves you with space to hide people! And yes, it could come to that. He wants to deport Mexicans and Muslims. If you’re not a target, possibly the best thing you can do is provide sanctuary and shelter to people who are.

Think about this: you probably take time to plan for major storms. You have insurance to plan for being sick or injured. You wear safety gear when you do even mildly dangerous things. It’s cheap to plan for hiding people, and the payoff is enormous if you actually have do it.

Take a little time to plan for this possibility.

Actively maintain your ties to other nations.

Do you remember how unpopular America was just a few years ago? Whether he wins or loses, we already look that bad again, and we will look a lot worse if we actually become a fascist nation.

If you have friends in other countries, realize that they may not like America for a while, but they still like you. Keep talking to them, as much as you can. They will need decent Americans to engage with when this wave passes.

Also, it makes us look better.

Humanize the fascists.

Humanize the fascists. Humanize the other. Humanize your family and friends even when they say unspeakable things. Humanize your enemies, humanize the awful people you see on television.

Imagine others complexly. These people are people. They have complex lives, like you. They didn’t sit down and decide to be evil, and they’re not at all evil in their own minds. They have a different perspective and different priorities, and good intentions, and those things still led them down a dark path. Let that be a caution to help you govern your own thoughts, and let it preserve a flame of empathy in you, for everyone.

Fascism is a movement of dehumanization, and you oppose it by doing the opposite, by humanizing.

Believe in something.

Connect to a greater story than your own, preferably one that lasts after your death. It keeps you going. It keeps you happy! It keeps you strong.

Don’t beat them now.

If the worst happens, and we really do find ourselves in a fascist society, do not try to beat the fascists right now. Or next year, or in your youth, or even necessarily in your lifetime.

Historically, fascist movements have tended to run for about a generation each. They rarely end in anything other than violence, whether it be riots or the fall of a horrible regime.

Planning to beat them now is planning to throw yourself away impatiently.

Instead, plan for your children and grandchildren to be the ones who finish this fight. Teach them to be decent people. Train them to fight, if you like, but definitely train them to pick up the pieces and build something better.

Love.

Fundamentally, fascism is a hate movement, a cresting wave of hate.

You’ll be tempted to fight it with hate.

Don’t.

It takes a lot longer but the result is better.

1000 Miles of Bike Statistics

At the beginning of the summer, my friend Keith challenged himself to bike 1000 miles before the end of the year. I signed on to do the same thing. His challenge had a natural deadline; he lives in Minnesota, and biking season cuts off some time in the early fall. I gave myself an artificial deadline: 1000 miles from June 9 through end of September.

Keith finished his challenge a couple of weeks ago. I finished mine today. Wheeee! 1000 miles!

This isn’t a big number to bike boffins, but it’s more than I’ve done over a sustained period.

Since the challenge was numbers based, I kept statistics. Here they are:

Total miles: 1015.3

Total days: 106

Miles per day: 9.578

Total time: 5661 minutes, or 94 hours and 21 minutes.

Total rides: 137

Rides between 0 and 2 miles (aka GROCERY RIDES): 28

Rides between 2 and 10 miles: 80

Rides between 10 and 20 miles: 23

Rides between 20 and 30 miles: 5

Rides over 30 miles: 1

Average ride distance: 7.41 miles

Median ride distance: 6.8 miles

Average ride duration: 41.32 minutes

Median ride duration: 37 minutes

Average speed: 10.76 mph

Fastest ride (7 miles or longer): 14.1 mph, 18.8 miles, 80 mins

Slowest ride (7 miles or longer): 7.7586 mph, 7.5 miles, 58 mins

Average speed in Sisters, Oregon (few lights, few stops): 13 mph

Average speed in Los Angeles, California (many lights, many stops): 10.7 mph

Days off: 25

Days on: 81

Interesting things that happened:

– One bike stolen at UCLA

– One bike hit by Porsche and destroyed

– Three flat tires

Of particular note is this: I think I have biked slightly more miles than I’ve driven since moving to Los Angeles. I average on the order of 2 ocean trips a week, each about 30 miles of driving. I didn’t keep accurate track, but the number of miles driven and the number of miles biked are certainly comparable.

My three favorite ride views:

Here are my daily totals. gmap denotes distance calculated by gmap pedometerodo denotes distance calculated by bike odometer. x denotes a day I didn’t bike. na denotes a day that didn’t count (the days when my bike was destroyed and I was waiting to get a new one).

6/9/14: gmap 15.5 miles, 71 mins

6/10/14: gmap 15.5 miles, 69 mins

6/11/14: gmap 11 miles, 52 mins

6/12/14: x

6/13/14: gmap 11 miles, 53 mins

6/14/14: x

6/15/14: gmap 8 miles, 43 mins

6/16/14: gmap 3 miles, 20 mins; gmap 3 miles, 22 mins

6/17/14: gmap 6 miles, 45 mins

6/18/14: gmap 9 miles, 54 mins

6/19/14: odo 10.6 miles, 62 mins

6/20/14: odo 3 miles, 16 mins; odo 9.2 miles, 48 mins

6/21/14: odo 2.1 miles, 12 mins; odo 6.4 miles, 34 mins

6/22/14: odo 16.2 miles, 78 mins; odo 2.2 miles, 9 mins; odo 6.8 miles, 34 mins

6/23/14: odo 8.7 miles, 49 mins; odo 8.7 miles, 48 mins

6/24/14: odo 6.3 miles, 35 mins; odo 4.4 miles, 26 mins; odo 4.2 miles, 29 mins

6/25/14: odo 8.2 miles, 44 mins; odo 8.3 miles, 45 mins; odo 3.8 miles, 23 mins

6/26/14: odo 6.4 miles, 36 mins

6/27/14: odo 6.4 miles, 35 mins

6/28/14: odo 7.6 miles, 42 mins

6/29/14: x

6/30/14: x

7/1/14: odo 3.5 miles, 15 mins

7/2/14: odo 3 miles, 15 mins

7/3/14: odo 8.2 miles, 43 mins; odo 8.2 miles, 37 mins

7/4/14: odo 0.9 miles, 4 mins; odo 1.1 miles, 5 mins

7/5/14: odo 9.6 miles, 55 mins; odo 11.8 miles, 56 mins

7/6/14: odo 1.5 miles, 5 mins

7/7/14: odo 8.2 miles, 46 mins; odo 8.2 miles, 35 mins

7/8/14: x

7/9/14: odo 3.2 miles, 15 mins

7/10/14: odo 5.1 miles, 20 mins; odo 9.4 miles, 53 mins

7/11/14: odo 6 miles, 38 mins; odo 5.2 miles, 28 mins

7/12/14: x

7/13/14: odo 4.2 miles, 20 mins; odo 23.7 miles, 165 mins

7/14/14: odo 8.2 miles, 48 mins; odo 8.2 miles, 37 mins

7/15/14: odo 7.7 miles, 48 mins; odo 8.4 miles, 40 mins

7/16/14: odo 8.5 miles, 50 mins; odo 9.5 miles, 45 mins

7/17/14: x

7/18/14: x

7/19/14: odo 8.4 miles, 45 mins; odo 5.7 miles, 25 mins

7/20/14: odo 18.8 miles, 80 mins

7/21/14: odo 8.2 miles, 48 mins; odo 7.5 miles, 35 mins

7/22/14: odo 11 miles, 63 mins; gmap 3.7 miles, 20 mins

7/23/14: gmap 4.2 miles, 20 mins

7/24/14: x

7/25/14: gmap 1.4 miles, 6 mins; gmap 9.7 miles, 50 mins

7/26/14: gmap 1.4 miles, 7 mins; gmap 1.2 miles, 6 mins; gmap 1.2 miles, 6 mins

7/27/14: gmap 1.4 miles, 7 mins

7/28/14: gmap 2.5 miles, 12 mins; gmap 3.6 miles, 15 mins

7/29/14: x

7/30/14: gmap 1.4 miles, 7 mins; gmap 3.8 miles, 15 mins; gmap 1.4 miles, 7 mins

7/31/14: gmap 1.2 miles, 5 mins

8/1/14: na

8/2/14: na

8/3/14: na

8/4/14: na

8/5/14: gmap 10.7 miles, 60 mins; gmap 0.8 miles, 5 mins

8/6/14: gmap 3.7 miles, 18 mins; gmap 18.3 miles, 109 mins

8/7/14: gmap 7.7 miles, 54 mins

8/8/14: gmap 1.6 miles, 10 mins

8/9/14: gmap 0.9 miles, 5 mins

8/10/14: gmap 0.9 miles, 5 mins

8/11/14: gmap 12.6 miles, 75 mins

8/12/14: gmap 10.2 miles, 57 mins

8/13/14: gmap 32.2 miles, 188 mins

8/14/14: gmap 6 miles, 35 mins

8/15/14: gmap 7.8 miles, 50 mins

8/16/14: x

8/17/14: x

8/18/14: gmap 9.3 miles, 54 mins; gmap 9.3 miles, 52 mins; gmap 7.5 miles, 58 mins

8/19/14: x

8/20/14: gmap 9.6 miles, 60 mins; gmap 9.7 miles, 60 mins

8/21/14: x

8/22/14: x

8/23/14: gmap 26.1 miles, 145 mins

8/24/14: x

8/25/14: gmap 12.9 miles, 73 mins

8/26/14: gmap 1.0 miles, 6 mins; gmap 12.8 miles, 69 mins

8/27/14: gmap 1.0 miles, 6 mins

8/28/14: gmap 10.2 miles, 50 mins; gmap 9.6 miles, 50 mins

8/29/14: x

8/30/14: x

8/31/14: gmap 26.3 miles, 139 mins; gmap 6 miles, 40 mins

9/1/14: gmap 15 miles, 83 mins

9/2/14: gmap 9.5 miles, 53 mins; gmap 6 miles, 37 mins; gmap 9.3 miles, 45 mins; gmap 3 miles, 15 mins; gmap 1.0 miles, 6 mins

9/3/14: gmap 12.7 miles, 72 mins

9/4/14: gmap 2.2 miles, 10 mins

9/5/14: gmap 10 miles, 65 mins

9/6/14: gmap 5.2 miles, 30 mins; gmap 5.2 miles, 30 mins; gmap 1.1 miles, 10 mins; gmap 25.5 miles, 155 mins; gmap 6.8 miles, 39 mins

9/7/14: gmap 14.5 miles, 87 mins

9/8/14: x

9/9/14: gmap 14 miles, 75 mins

9/10/14: gmap 11.1 miles, 75 mins

9/11/14: x

9/12/14: x

9/13/14: gmap 12.8 miles, 70 mins

9/14/14: gmap 6.7 miles, 38 mins

9/15/14: x

9/16/14: x

9/17/14: gmap 1.4 miles, 8 mins; gmap 5.1 miles, 27 mins

9/18/14: gmap 7.7 miles, 40 mins; gmap 0.9 miles, 5 mins

9/19/14: gmap 1.8 miles, 10 mins; gmap 5.3 miles, 30 mins

9/20/14: x

9/21/14: gmap 9 miles, 57 mins; gmap 4.7 miles, 30 mins

9/22/14: gmap 1.0 miles, 6 mins; gmap 10 miles, 63 mins; gmap 5.4 miles, 32 mins

9/23/14: x

9/24/14: gmap 0.9 miles, 6 mins; gmap 0.6 miles, 4 mins; gmap 0.8 miles, 6 mins; gmap 12.7 miles, 76 mins

9/25/14: gmap 0.9 miles, 8 mins; gmap 0.9 miles, 5 mins; gmap 3.2 miles, 24 mins

9/26/14: gmap 26 miles, 160 mins

Edit: And as I pulled up to the ocean to finish mile 1000, this is what started playing on my headphones:

I swear, it was on random.

Be Yourself / Make Yourself

There’s a lot of writing about how obviously sensible or obviously stupid it is to tell someone, “Be yourself.” Almost all of this writing starts with something like, “Be yourself. What does that even mean?”

Be yourself. What does that even mean?

When I was an academic, that was me, but it was a version of myself that I chose and built. When I left that world and built an identity as a reluctant engineer, that was also a version of myself that I chose and built. Even basic things about me are the results of choices. I am volatile and creative in part because I encouraged the volatile and creative parts of myself. I am lazy because I have allowed myself to be lazy, and happy because I have repeatedly made the choice to work on my happiness.

It’s evident that each of us is in the process of making ourselves, all the time, every day. If you are who you’ve made yourself to be by choice and effort, then by definition, whatever you choose is right, and you are always being yourself. “Be yourself” is a meaningless tautology, already and always true. Right?

Well, not exactly.

Making yourself by choice and effort is an art. You are practicing the art of making yourself. You’ve been practicing it for most of your life.

Paul Graham says this about making art:

At an art school where I once studied, the students wanted most of all to develop a personal style. But if you just try to make good things, you’ll inevitably do it in a distinctive way, just as each person walks in a distinctive way. Michelangelo was not trying to paint like Michelangelo. He was just trying to paint well; he couldn’t help painting like Michelangelo.

The only style worth having is the one you can’t help. And this is especially true for strangeness. There is no shortcut to it.

As you make yourself, you do it with a personal style. This style emerges without your even trying; you can’t help but have your style.

In my case, some key elements are: I’m very flighty, interested in everything and prone to change topics really quickly. I’m always in a fight with myself to be better; I wake up every day and want to be more than I am. I’m passive for long stretches, needing hours of recharge time just to take walks, and sometimes having difficulty summoning the activation energy for the next good thing. I’m conscientious; I’ve payed a lot of attention to the quality of what I’m doing, and flat out quit several really nice parts of my life because they felt wrong. I’m usually pathologically honest and struggle not to be too blunt. I love to talk and can do so for hours and hours without stopping. When I set about making myself, I do it thoughtfully, I do it in bursts, I talk about it a lot. These things are my style.

That style is the real me. Your style is the real you. You’re a businessman? A nice person? A runner? An educated person? A tough person? That’s not you. The idiosyncratic way you went about making yourself into those things, that’s the real you.

“Be yourself” means “don’t fight against your natural style”.

I’ve fought against most of the parts of my natural style at one point or another. In each case I fought because I wanted to be a particular type of person, and that person required the opposite traits. Every time I’ve done this, it’s made me miserable and ineffective.

For instance, I always wanted to be an astronaut. Astronauts are uncommonly, uncannily disciplined people. I’m really undisciplined by nature. This is a weakness that needs shoring up, for sure, but there were points in my childhood and my early teenage years where I pushed myself to become the most disciplined person. I was sailing against a headwind, and if I’d persisted, I’d be sailing against that headwind for the rest of my life.

Contrast that with the times I’ve let myself be a writer. Writers are good at disassembling and reassembling concepts. They’re good at wordplay. They like to talk (even if it’s just in text form). They like to make up stories. I’m naturally inclined to all of these things. I write a few thousand lines of gchat with my friends every day, not because I push myself, but because I want to write. When I write, I’m sailing with a natural tailwind.

Here’s Paul Graham again:

A friend of mine who is a quite successful doctor complains constantly about her job. When people applying to medical school ask her for advice, she wants to shake them and yell “Don’t do it!” (But she never does.) How did she get into this fix? In high school she already wanted to be a doctor. And she is so ambitious and determined that she overcame every obstacle along the way—including, unfortunately, not liking it.

Now she has a life chosen for her by a high-school kid.

Be yourself. Pay attention to the style that comes most naturally to you. Shore up real weaknesses, but accept that you can’t remake yourself into absolutely anything. Don’t spend your whole life struggling against your real natural style. Instead, find things you want to be that suit your style.

[An aside just for teenagers: This is why we’re always telling you to be yourself. You’re just starting to understand your own style, and you face more pressure than anyone else to fight against it. If you’re bookish and thoughtful, someone is telling you to be more impulsive. If you’re creative, someone is telling you to be more focused. If you’re shy, someone is telling you to fake it until you make it. No! Pay attention to your natural style and protect it. It will get easier. Last week, my friend went surfing dressed as Batman. Nobody told him he shouldn’t do this. He’s grown up, he can do what he wants!]

Being yourself in this sense is the difference between repression and self improvement. Repression violates your natural style, the parts you just can’t help. It diminishes you. Self improvement synchronizes with your natural style. It amplifies you.

Go make yourself. Go practice your art. Go be yourself.

There’s a whole album based on this concept.