[Link] Crazy New Ideas

Paul Graham on why he asks questions – rather than voice his opinions – when someone who’s a domain expert comes up with crazy new ideas

Few understand how feeble new ideas look when they first appear. So if you want to have new ideas yourself, one of the most valuable things you can do is to learn what they look like when they’re born. Read about how new ideas happened, and try to get yourself into the heads of people at the time. How did things look to them, when the new idea was only half-finished, and even the person who had it was only half-convinced it was right?

But you don’t have to stop at history. You can observe big new ideas being born all around you right now. Just look for a reasonable domain expert proposing something that sounds wrong.

Tech Tales

Jack Clark’s Tech Tales need a section all on their own. From Import AI 240

Tell me the weight of the feather and you will be ready
[A large-scale AI training infrastructure, 2026]

When you can tell me precisely where the feather will land, you will be released, said the evaluator.
‘Easy’, thought the baby artificial intelligence. ‘I predict a high probability of success’.

And then the baby AI marked the spot on the ground where it thought the weather would land, then told its evaluator to drop the feather. The feather started to fall and, buffeted by invisible currents in the air and their interplay with the barbs and vanes of the feather itself, landed quite far from where the baby AI had predicted.

Shall we try again? asked the evaluator.
‘Yes,’ said the baby. ‘Let me try again’.

And then the baby AI made 99 more predictions. At its hundredth, the evaluator gave it its aggregate performance statistics.
‘My predictions are not sufficiently accurate,’ said the baby AI.
Correct, said the evaluator. Then the evaluator cast a spell that put the baby AI to sleep.
In the dreams of the baby AI, it watched gigantic feathers made of stone drop like anvils into the ground, and tiny impossibly thin feathers made of aerogel seem to barely land. It dreamed of feathers falling in rain and in snow and in ice. It dreamed of feathers that fell upward, just to know what a ‘wrong’ fall might look like.

When the baby woke up, its evaluator was there.
Shall we go again, said the evaluator.
‘Yes,’ said the baby, its neurons lighting up in predictive anticipation of the task, ‘show me the feather and let me tell you where it will land’.
And then there was a feather. And another prediction. And another comment from its evaluator.

In the night, the baby saw even more fantastic feathers than the night before. Feathers that passed through hard surfaces. Feathers which were on fire, or wet, or frozen. Sometimes, multiple feathers at once.

Eventually, the baby was able to roughly predict where the feather would fall.
We think you are ready, said the evaluator to the feather.
Ready for what? said the baby.
Other feathers, said the evaluator. Ones we cannot imagine.
‘Will I be ready?’ said the baby.
That’s what this has been for, said the evaluator. We believe you are.
And then the baby was released, into a reality that the evaluator could not imagine or perceive.

Somewhere, a programmer woke up. Made coffee. Went to their desk. Checked a screen: “`feather_fall_pred_domain_rand_X100 complete“`.

Things that inspired this story: Domain randomization; ancient tales of mentors and mentees; ideas about what it means to truly know reality

[Link]: A Checklist to Find Your Way Back

Some wonderful questions to ask any time I suppose.

  • What’s been eliminated or greatly reduced in my life that I really miss and want to add back? How much of that do I want to add back?
  • What’s been eliminated or greatly reduced in my life that I don’t really miss and want to keep it that way?
  • What have I started doing during the pandemic year that has been beneficial and that I want to keep doing? How much of that do I want to do?
  • What have I been doing during the pandemic year that’s draining and not sustainable over the long-run that I want to stop doing?
  • How and when should I continue to capture the value of meeting virtually without the added overhead of travel time and expense?
  • What have I stopped doing during the pandemic year that has improved the quality of my life and work?
  • What really makes me happy and feeling like I’m really living and leading at my best?


[Link]: Allowing Ourselves to Feel Joy

Leo Babauta has a suggestion I think we can all try.

Joy and wonder are two emotions we shut down, for so many reasons: it’s safe, it’s not allowed, we’re worried about ourselves, we’re stressed. But wouldn’t we like to live a life that has joy every day? That feels wonder at the incredibleness of this world and the richness of humanity?