See also: the-fools-who-dream

  • In independent research, one often pendulums between two brains that drive your day-to-day
    1. Brain 1: I want to make change in the world, I want to ship and build
      • This is the beginners mind, it helps you escape the conceptual walls of today’s dogma.
      • Kuhn pointed out, the biggest ideas transcend the existing paradigm and create their own lane.
    2. Brain 2: I want to understand why this works the way it does
      • It is almost always Brain 2 thinking that leads to incredibly high payoffs in clarity and increased conviction.
  • Don’t have conviction that you are right because that will lead to disappointment. Have conviction that you will learn regardless. It is sufficient to do things to learn and to understand (even if just about yourself)
    • This comes with a certain level of self-confidence and/or foolishness
    • “Who am I to even try to solve this problem, when so many people smarter than me have tried and failed in the past?”
    • The people who succeeded had a healthy smidge of arrogance: a belief, perhaps irrational, that while they were not guaranteed to succeed, they had a fair shot.
    • If they also had the thought, would they have even tried their hand at the problem?
  • Often times, it is one core principle that if followed to its natural conclusion/end will result in a fundamental perspective shift (e.g. quantum mechanics).
    • What is that core principle that sits at the heart of everything you find interesting? The connection between the dots is only evident in hindsight so don’t spend too long thinking about it. But just follow your gut, it right more often than not.
  • On feedback and doing research in public. People often ask me if building in public is actually worth doing.
    • I’ve found a nice middle ground where I’m public enough about my work where anyone interested can find it without too much trouble but not public or frequent enough that my only reward/validation cycle is likes on Twitter
    • Still, being somewhat public about your work is good on two dimensions
      1. Breaking things into legible pieces is important. If not for other people, for yourself to have small wins and to crystallize thought into something that is mostly self-contained
      2. You will expand the realm of what is possible for others. People will look at you and be like “wow, I didn’t even know that was even an option”; that being whatever endeavour you are pursuing, whether that be independent research, film-making, or anything outside of the normal 9-5
    • Kasra puts this balance this very well in his piece on thinking but I think it applies to research more broadly as well: “When you have an idea, before you dump it onto the world, there is value in cultivating it, massaging it, rewriting it again and again … Do this in silence, and then bring it to others and get their thoughts.”
  • Communities and feeling lonely
    • I often say that independent research doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. I think many people wait around to kind of bump into the right community people that are the perfect mix of genuine, kind, and curious.
    • I’ve found the best way to do that is to not only active seek these people out, but to create watering holes where these people gather
    • Vonnegut similarly thought that community building was incredibly important: “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
  • Don’t get trapped in the mindset of having every little thing you do fit perfectly in your grand master plan. An effective hill-climber is one that sometimes goes in the wrong-direction! (see also: exploit explore)
  • What solitude gives you is an opportunity to study what personal curiosity feels like in its undiluted form, free from the interference of other considerations (Good Ideas, Henrik Karlsson)
    • Good ideas — actually, no, great ideas are fragile. Great ideas are easy to kill. An idea in its larval stage — all the best ideas when I first heard them sound bad.
    • [Grothendieck] could interface with the mathematical community with integrity because he had a deep familiarity with his inner space. If he had not known the shape of his interests and aims, he would have been more vulnerable to the standards and norms of the community—at least he seems to think so.
    • Pascal, self-teaching mathematics because his father did not approve, rederived several Euclidean proofs. There is also a lot of confusion and pursuit of dead ends. Newton looking for numerical patterns in the Bible, for instance. This might look wasteful if you think what they are doing is research. But it is not if you realize that they are building up their ability to perceive the evolution of their own thought, their capacity for attention.