Conversations, Arguments, and Intelligence

I have had this tab open on Chrome for a few days now and finally had an opportunity to read it. I didn’t want to peruse it because I knew that it will be of great value. Not something that would cause a dopamine rush in the immediate but something that I will have to read, let marinate, and then apply. This article/essay is written by Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI and the first president of YCombinator. His work has come across my newsfeed quite a few times. I don’t know how I feel about Paul Graham (who is the founder of YCombinator) but I really enjoy Sam’s opinions and work.

Good and bad arguments. Arguments are critical to growth but there can be good and bad arguments. I have tried to summarize a few thoughts about conversations in general.

The Impact of Good arguments:

  • Good conclusions
  • Learning new things for everyone involved (new ways of thinking)
  • Building new relationships with people that can challenge ideas
  • Philosophies rather than about particular scenarios

The Impact of Bad arguments:

  • No conclusions, illogical dialogue flow
  • About things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things (this might be the most important point)
  • No set rules for dialogue
  • Conversation in bad faith sometimes under the pretext of playing the “devil’s advocate”

Communication in General​

Knowing what to say and when i.e. the importance of communicating clearly stems from intelligence to absorb the situation quickly and generate insights. This is somewhat related to wit and coming up with humorous responses. However, keeping in mind a caution not to be generous to myself, and at the risk of indulging my narcissism I will say that this form is not the only form of intelligence. I say that because while I might not be the quickest to respond in a given situation, I do usually take a more holistic and complete view than do other people around me. I think both ways of thinking and/ or intelligence are important and one is not more important than the other. Also, in all candidness, it might also be important to say that awareness and slow thinking is sometimes more important to evaluate a given situation, especially if long-term thinking is of any value.

Most challenges arise out of a lack of understanding the situation clearly. The problem arises because challenges do not get defined at an early stage in the solution process. If there is one thing from my role in consulting it is to take 80% of the allocated time in understanding the problem at hand and 20% of the time in coming up with an answer. One could almost say that part of understanding the problem actually makes it easier to come up with an answer and that is why it only needs 20% of the time. A majority of which (the 20% time noted above) is basically a framing our understanding of the problem and its solution per the audience.

Cafe Kerfuffle

This past Saturday I was at a lovely cafe in Minneapolis. It was bright and sunny outside but the looks of it were deceptive. It was -19C or -5F outside and this was without the wind chill. I didn’t hate it, I visited Minneapolis for exactly this. In fact, despite spending two years hovering around cafes in Minneapolis this particular cafe still was a new place for me to visit and I liked it. The coffee was local and tasted great along with the burrito that I ordered.

Picture by Brenda Johnson on Google Maps

The conversation that accompanied this breakfast was excellent as well. I didn’t know my friend was passionate about the subject of American values and global leadership. He wasn’t cynical about it and in fact, was very logical in the way he broached the subject. Acceptance of the flaws of any system, while supporting the system is an indication of a well-balanced viewpoint. We were only discussing why a system like that of the Chinese Communist Party could be a good system. Could there be a scenario in which authoritarian dictatorships are beneficial? A simple and non-controversial topic!

I was playing devil’s advocate as I often do and of course, the system that is beneficial for a people depends upon their culture. The culture shapes the values of the citizens, who then frame the politics of the future and this virtuous circle goes on and on. The Chinese government has played a significant part not just in Asia but in global politics and every year their influence seems to be increasing. Different populations react to this growing influence differently depending upon how they are impacted in the near term by China’s growing influence on the global stage. Some see it as a natural decline of an aging global power (the US), while others see it as a cycle that comes about for each country.

From my individual experience, I know that the Chinese people are very aware of their very rich culture. This is true for many Eastern civilizations. The existence of a long line of traditions that have been passed down through the generations plays an important part in the pride of the citizens for the nation. Even in the case of India where more than 80 million people live in extreme poverty, there still exists pride in the traditions and the culture of the various religions. Even if those religions and practices might have given us a divided and broken system in the first place. People might not understand how their economy, modern technology, politics, the sewage system, nutrition in food or government works and that might set them back from making positive change but they will not forget to continue religious practices that have been handing down to them by their elders, for e.g. a housewife living in dilapidated housing even though mistreated by her husband and prejudiced by society will not forget to water the Tulsi plant or visit the temple twice a day. The grip of religion is impeccable and it is not temporary. The Chinese people are in the group of an ideology that is very similar to a religion. Authoritarian regimes anywhere in the world are not a good thing in the long term. One could argue that at a certain age of the citizenry an authoritarian government could be a positive thing, but in the long term, it could never be a good thing. Not for that particular country and not for the world around it.

Abosulte power corrupts and does so absolutely

John Dalberg-Acton

I think a country as prosperous (from a cultural and human resources perspective) as China should be allowed to set the rules for its people but the incumbents who have enjoyed the thrills of power for as long have a responsibility as well. It might seem to the uninquisitive eye that the fall of the US is due to internal factors and a change in the culture but that is not the whole picture. Technology has helped the proliferation of foreign intelligence across physical borders and nefarious activities are not the doing of powerful nations but allies as well. I don’t think I can talk much more about this subject because I am uninformed about the details and much of what I say could be opinions and not state the facts. However, I am informed enough to have learned from history and aware enough to keep an open mind.

In other news, jiu-jitsu seems to be coming along well. There’s a competition in another 39 days and I can’t say that I’m feeling prepared but I’m feeling confident about my abilities. I don’t know where this will take me but it’s something I’m adding to this crazy life. Also, homesickness is a thing. So is everything associated with having people around that understand things. The reality is everyone comes into this life with nothing but has only their actions to speak for in this dream-like existence. Questions will be asked about the actions and to be honest to oneself about those actions is a Herculean task nonetheless.

Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; cblessed be the name of the Lord.

Job 1:21

I am not much of a Christian or “Lord” fearing person myself but I think if you replace the Lord with the Universe it makes more sense. The entropy that causes the formation of elements and the combinations that led me to be sitting here today can all be encapsulated in one word and you could call that ‘the Lord’ if it pleases you or makes things easier to comprehend.

A Podcast and its Host

As an individual concerned about freedom of speech I have always appreciated what the US evolved into following its independence from the British colonies. As a consumer of balanced viewpoints, I appreciate what Joe Rogan contributes to the social consciousness. As a student of the scientific method data analysis, deep study of processes and implications is something that I appreciate as well. I have had many arguments with friends in which I have tried to convince them about the need for a platform like JRE.

I am not completely sure about where the responsibility of a podcast host lies in the spread of information. There are instances where I am convinced that the conversation he is having is just conversations. Not everything I talk about is backed by data. It is barely even structured conversation at times. However with a platform also comes a responsibility about the message you are spreading. Is it the host’s responsibility to ensure what is being conveyed is legitimate? What if it is just friendly banter? Don’t we have conversations where friendly banter becomes toxic? What do we do when that happens? We acknowledge our ignorance about the topic and resolve to visit the conversation again with more information. We back of and acknowledge the unintelligibility of that exchange of words.

As a frequent listener of the JRE show I am aware that exaggerations and hyperbole are part and parcel of the conversation. Sometimes just as times as when we have non-structured, non-factual conversations with friends. However, the only difference, in this case, is that the conversation is being conducted by 1.1M people and sometimes more, even if it is only one-sided. Many times I am left with a cursory understanding of the topic but a deeper understanding of the guests on the show. Who are those individuals, what makes them nervous, what are they excited about, and sometimes the reasons behind what drives them. If someone is a brilliant performer that show will not give you anything but a presentation. I am aware of this.

The reason I chose to write this short post is that for a long time now the example of Uttar Pradesh has been coming up on the show time and again. I am completely aware that the state is run by a corrupt politician who has the hopes to become a leader within the national political scene of the country. This is a fact which is far removed from the current state of the world, which classifies areas around the world by their response to COVID. Policies, how the people reacted, the numbers, the hospitals, the facilities, and all that comes along with the COVID conversations.

For me, the canvas is viewed from a different lens. I am aware that U.P. (Uttar Pradesh) is a state that is deeply divided based on a caste system, religions, and other political parties that are trying to grab and/ or consolidate power over the people in that state. Corruption is a word that should have been used in the first sentence when U.P. was mentioned but I am bringing it up now. Corruption is rife within the state. Nothing positive in my recent memory has ever come up about that state. U.P. has the largest number of crimes per capita in all India. One could say that’s probably because the state has a very developed population and they’re a law-abiding people. However, the sentence before that would directly contradict this hypothesis. Further, U.P. also has one of the lowest literacy rates in the country. I hope this provides some context about the state.

The use of alternative medicines like Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine to combat COVID. While I am writing this I hate the fact that this has become my corner to rant about COVID but I am torn by conflicting emotions about an individual who has shaped many of my ideologies. I grew up watching and listening to Joe Rogan. At first, it was Fear Factor, and then of course it was JRE. U.P. is one of those hell holes in India where I wouldn’t send any of my friends and families. I would do everything for them to avoid that state in the country. India is an amazing country where ingenuity and getting things done in the spirit in most but U.P. has never in the recent times been an example of anything positive.

I collected some very basic data here to contradict the claims of people like Bret Weinstein, Dr. Peter Corey, and Dr. Robert Malone. I have enjoyed listening to the conversations of all these people and I understand that most of these people feel like they have a ‘responsibility’ to shine the light on things that the ‘common man’ doesn’t understand. However, if they are good actors in the theater of JRE and other places the information they convey could be damaging. In certain instances, it has proven damaging and no one has paid the costs. So here’s the data about U.P. in comparison to two other states in the country.

Incomplete data in 12 rows that tells more of a story than a 3:06:17 hours long podcast

That 0.84% number which shows what part of the population had covid?! That’s the nail in the coffin for me. U.P. solved COVID before COVID even started. Like the rest of India that was banging utensils in March of 2020 and singing “go car-on-a go go” to stomp the epidemic U.P. had already started to stomp the pandemic by denying that there ever was a pandemic in the first place. In such a situation whether the state “covertly” used alternative treatments to rid the people of their ailments or connected with aliens to get a cure from the future it does not matter because COVID did not exist in the first place for them. They never actually tested the population at a rate that could determine the progress of vaccinations or medications. All their claims of cures and flattening the curve are based on slogans, marches, hand waving, and affinity towards whatever the public wants to hear on Instagram and other social media. To trust that something worked or did not work for that matter in that state is a disaster. If you don’t trust Fox or CNN you cannot even use the letter “t” for any conversation based on data from the U.P. government. In this case unfortunately there isn’t even any data available.

The Frequency Decreases… Yet Again!

No, I’ve been meditating for 66 days continuously now. If anything I can say that it has been having some or maybe no difference at all in my daily life. However, the one change I can definitely tell is that I don’t have any expectations from the practice. In fact, this post is written for the very purpose that I am not going to unravel some great mystery about the universe by this practice. However, I am going to continue to practice every day. I think the expectations one has from life, relationships within that life, and then the outcomes from those expectations are serious detractors in life. The frequency of posting here definitely has decreased and I will attribute that to work getting started all over again.

This post does however mark the merger of my own personal notes and the blog that I am now maintaining as my physical journal. My body of work which will remain after me. Hopefully, someone going through the same trials and tribulations will be able to use this as a reference and not make the same mistakes or perhaps use the steps I took to make it a wonderful life. For me, it was a poem that shaped many of my ideologies since I was young. Not all but some.

“A moment there my buoyant heart hung slack,

And then the glad, barbaric blood came back

Singing a livelier tune; and in my pulse

Beat the great wave that surges and exults …

Why I was there and whither I must go I did not care.

Enough for me to know

The same unresting struggle and the glowing

Beauty of spendthrift-hours, bravely showing

Life, an adventure perilous and gay;

And Death, a long and vivid holiday.”

‘Swimmers’ by Louis Untermeyer

In other news, I have a few drafts that are pending publication here on this blog but I am encouraged to write and write more often. I think I will now write with a sense of urgency because I know that all this privilege I have been afforded should not be wasted. In a related story about making life better each day, I am now almost back to regular running. I did feel something funny in my ankle today but hopefully, the little kinks will unravel as I get more time stamping the tender grounds. Aerobic in Zone 2 is the fad of the day. Perhaps I can get 8 kilometers in each day.