Sunday Wisdom No. 43

Life is a death sentence. We all die eventually. It can be sooner or later, but die we will. With that information, we can either get busy living, or get busy dying.

Happy Sunday!

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Last week was shocking! Sushant Singh Rajput, the 34yo actor hanged himself in his Mumbai apartment. He was a good student as a kid, a talented actor, and a versatile person who dabbled in many subjects—from philosophy to quantum physics. He was allegedly suffering from depression.

I would be lying if I say that I understand depression. The closest I’ve come to encounter depression is from reading Matt Haig’s recount on Reasons to Stay Alive. It’s a tough read, but it paints a detailed picture of what depression feels like. The word gets passed around casually, but it’s very different from what we have been led to believe.

Depression is not just the presence of bad thoughts. It’s the total absence of any good thoughts. It’s a state when you lose all capability to process or experience any kind of joy. It’s a state when just being alive becomes painful, almost impossible. It’s when your head is full of so many negative thoughts that you aren’t even sure if these are actually yours or somebody else’s. We’ve all experienced bad episodes, but unless one has had an episode of depression themselves, it is literally impossible to understand what it feels like.

There doesn’t necessarily have to be any specific reason to suffer from depression. Sometimes a traumatic event can set it off. Often there may not be triggers. And like Alzheimer’s or Schizophrenia, it can be genetic as well.

The biggest problem is that nobody takes it seriously enough. Most of us neglect it. We don’t talk about it openly. It often goes undiagnosed. Tomorrow if you wake up with a back pain, you would make sure to sit correctly the whole day so that there’s not much pressure on it. If there’s too much pain, you would do some light exercise to work on it. If it’s severe, you’ll have to apply ointment. If it’s chronic, you’ll have to go see a doctor. Make sure to treat your mind the same way. It gets fatigued and bored. It needs nurturing. It needs your care to recover.

“Arnold, you’re an idiot,” I told myself. “You spend all this time on your body, but you never think about your mind, how to make it sharper and relieve the stress. When you have muscle cramps, you have to do more stretching, take a Jacuzzi, put on the ice packs, take more minerals. So why aren’t you thinking that the mind also can have a problem? It’s overstressed, or it’s tired, it’s bored, it’s fatigued, it’s about to blow up — let’s learn tools for that.” 

— Arnold Schwarzenegger, Total Recall

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📝 What I Wrote

In the last two editions of Sunday Wisdom, I wrote on the superbias called inside view a on the importance of being a generalist. In this week’s essay I talk about mental health and living.

Life Is A Death Sentence: You Can Either Get Busy Living, Or Get Busy Dying

Life is a death sentence. We all die eventually. It can be sooner or later, but die we will. With that information, you can either get busy living, or get busy dying.

A good life depends on your mental wellbeing. And mental wellbeing is never unplanned. It’s not something that just happens. It’s a conscious choice that you make, and it takes considerable effort. It starts off by getting to know yourself. Continue reading.

📖 Read "Life Is A Death Sentence" Here

Once you are done reading, I would love to hear what you think about it. If you agree and want to add to it, I’m all ears. If you disagree, I look forward to hear your point of view. We can have collective growth only through a collective exchange of dialogues and ideas. Therefore, do share your thoughts in the comments.

💡 Little Bit of Wisdom

Richard Feynman cared about the physics, not the physicist. If somebody said something absurd he called it crazy right away. It didn’t matter if that person was a Nobel laureate. On the other hand, if somebody says something smart, it didn’t matter if they were a janitor.

Don’t bow to the expert. They are either lucky or good storytellers. There are really no “experts”. Listen to reason, and reason alone.

👉 More LBWs

📑 I Enjoyed Reading

On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs — “If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath—a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path.”

On Coding, Ego and Attention — “My thoughts on coding, ego and attention. How I learned to get out of my own way by learning about this link between ego and attention.”

Who Are the Elites? — “Elites are a small segment of the society who concentrate social power in their hands. What is social power? The ability to influence other people’s behaviour.”

The list of all the articles I’ve written can be found here. And the past three editions of Sunday Wisdom are here: 4241, and 40.

🔍 An Interesting Find

The importance of afternoon nap in Traditional Chinese ...

Most adults I know sleep in a monophasic pattern—one long and single bout of slumber at night. But in certain cultures, especially in the Bengali culture where I come from, it’s very common to sleep in a biphasic pattern—long sleep period at night followed by a thirty- to sixty-minute nap in the afternoon. Whenever I visit my parents in Kolkata, I find myself taking a good sixty-minute nap in the afternoon. To be honest, it’s very refreshing.

Contrary to what I thought, the practice of biphasic sleep is not cultural per se; it is deeply biological. All humans have a genetically hardwired dip in alertness that occurs in the mid-afternoon hours. Ever attended a post-lunch meeting?

But if this is our natural pattern, are there any health consequences due to our abandonment of the biphasic sleep? Let’s find out!

In the 1980s, the Greeks were known for their siesta culture. Shops were closed at noon, say from one p.m. to five p.m. for the owners to enjoy a refreshing nap. But during the turn of the millennium, there was an increasing pressure to abandon this habit—all in the name of increasing productivity.

Researchers from Harvard University’s School of Public Health jumped at this opportunity, and decided to quantify the health consequences of this radical change in more than 23,000 adults. They focused on cardiovascular outcomes—tracking the group across a six-year period as the siesta practice started coming to an end for many of them.

Interestingly, none of the individuals had a history of coronary heart disease or stroke at the start of the study—indicating the absence of cardiovascular ill health. However, those that abandoned regular siestas went on to suffer a 37 percent increased risk of death from heart disease across the six-year period—relative to those who maintained regular daytime naps.

As Matthew Walker writes in Why We Sleep:

Apparent from this remarkable study is this fact: when we are cleaved from the innate practice of biphasic sleep, our lives are shortened. It is perhaps unsurprising that in the small enclaves of Greece where siestas still remain intact, such as the island of Ikaria, men are nearly four times as likely to reach the age of ninety as American males. These napping communities have sometimes been described as “the places where people forget to die.”

The most interesting fact from the Greek study (or perhaps the Greek tragedy) was that the effect of abandoning afternoon siestas was especially strong in working men—the ensuing mortality risk of not napping increased by well over 60 percent.

If you have the luxury of working from home during the lockdown, you know what to do in the afternoon. And if your boss is making you attend post-lunch meetings, do share this fact with them.

📹 I Enjoyed Watching

This week I watched too many videos on comic books and movies. Here are a few that stood out.

Snowpiercer: Can We Build a Better World? — This is one of those movies where the more you think about it, the better it starts getting. I’m a sucker for multilayered storytelling. “Bong Joon Ho is all the rave and rightly so. That’s why we thought it’d be a good time to take a look back at his 2013 film, Snowpiercer. At first an apparently simple critique of global capitalism, we discovered there’s SO much more than meets the eye.”

Iron Man vs. Captain America — The 11-Year Character Arc — “The Marvel Cinematic Universe, also known as the Infinity Saga, features multifaceted, three-dimensional characters. In particular, Iron Man and Captain America have compelling and complete arcs that span the series’ impressive run.”

Watchmen Explained — Alan Moore created something very different with the original Watchmen in 1986. It’s a superhero story that questions the very idea of a superhero. The story is set around flawed characters, moral ambiguity, philosophy, and politics—which was unusual at the time.

🤔 Worth Thinking About

We knew that Google was going to get better every single day as we worked on it, and we knew that sooner or later, everyone was going to try it. So our feeling was that the later you tried it, the better it was for us because we’d make a better impression with better technology. So we were never in a big hurry to get you to use it today. Tomorrow would be better.

— Sergey Brin

🤓 What I Did Last Week

I read In Defense of Food. It’s a bit odd that food needs defending. But once you read it you start to understand what we are eating isn’t really food. At least not how nature meant it to be.

Pollan mainly talks about the American diet and the western disease, but it isn’t a problem that is limited to the US alone. Here in India as well it’s the same, especially in the metros. If there’s a supermarket, chances are they aren’t serving real food. They serve processed or synthetic food.

The sheer novelty and glamour of the Western diet, with its seventeen thousand new food products every year and the marketing power—thirty-two billion dollars a year—used to sell us those products, has overwhelmed the force of tradition and left us where we now find ourselves: relying on science and journalism and government and marketing to help us decide what to eat.

My main goal is to read Pollan’s Food Rules. I’ve treated this book as a precursor to that. Yes, I definitely enjoyed reading it. Pollans talks about “nutritionism” which is very similar to Taleb’s scientism. This book is a study of research done badly and unethically to serve capitalism. I’ve got nothing against capitalism, but I’ve got a tonne of disregard for people who are devoid of ethics, don’t have skin in the game, and follow reductionist methods in the name of research.

Go read the book. If you won’t, at least eat food; not too much; mostly plants.

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P.S. All typos and grammatical errors are intentional.