Sunday Wisdom No. 76
Mastering thought experiments can not only help us stretch our minds, but also make better decisions by confronting difficult questions.
Welcome to Issue 76
👋 Hi, I’m Abhishek. Welcome to Sunday Wisdom, a weekly newsletter packed with timeless insights and actionable ideas from a wide range of disciplines. I appreciate you being here! If you are loving Sunday Wisdom, you can buy me coffee or share this newsletter with a friend.
Conduct Your Thought Experiments
A Thought Experiment is a mental tool that helps us investigate the nature of things. They help us engage in deliberate reasoning by exploring various circumstances and (often impossible) situations, and predict their implications and outcomes without conducting any real life experiments. In most cases, real life experiments aren’t feasible. Mastering thought experiments can not only help us stretch our minds, but also make better decisions by confronting difficult questions.
In the 16th century, the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei is said to have dropped two spheres of different masses from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to demonstrate that their time of descent was independent of their mass. Contrary to popular belief, Galileo never actually climbed the tower. He didn’t have to.
The quality of our thinking is proportional to our ability to interconnect various ideas in our head. The more connections, the varied our thinking, and the more likely we are to see reality. In short, it isn’t just the variety of information we consume that matters, but also how we use them to form new ideas.
You see, most of us are specialists. Each of us sees something different. We are like the blind men who feel a different part of the elephant’s body and form our world views accordingly. None of us are wrong, but all of us miss the big picture. By default, an engineer thinks in systems; a psychologist thinks in terms of incentives; and a biologist thinks in terms of evolution. We’re only looking at the problem one way. We’ve got a blind spot, and blind spots often lead to bad decisions. But if we can put these disciplines together in our head, we can walk around the problem in a three-dimensional way, and start seeing the elephant
To learn everything about interconnecting ideas, you can join RE:Thinking, my online school of structured thinking.
How to Become World Class
If you want to become world-class at something, there are two paths you can take: you can either try to become the very best—the one and only—at one specific thing, or you can aspire to become just above average at two or more complimentary things. Which one should you choose? That’s what this video is all about.
India’s Crypto Future
India should launch a digital rupee — and back it with digital gold. More broadly, India should champion decentralised cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum to safeguard national security, prevent deplatforming, attract international capital, strengthen monetary policy, deter financial fraud, accelerate technological development, and hasten India’s ascendance as a global power.
Crypto isn’t just an economic sector, it’s a civilisational advance on par with the internet, and — if embraced rather than banned — can actually solve many of the issues facing modern India. Starting with national security.
A recent bill introduced in the Indian parliament proposes a ban of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin in favour of a digital rupee. A digital rupee would be a centralised currency controlled by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), while Bitcoin and Ethereum are decentralised international cryptocurrencies that no single actor has control over. The administrators of the digital rupee at RBI would be able to issue wallets, freeze accounts, and reverse transactions. But Bitcoin is more akin to digital gold, and cannot be frozen or seized by any state.
Given sufficient negative press, American technology companies may ban the Indian Prime Minister or Indian citizens not just from entering the US, but from much of the internet itself. And not just from communicating over the internet, but from sending and receiving payments over US-controlled platforms like SWIFT, PayPal, or Google Pay.
A network that cannot be shut down by any state is a network that India and its diaspora can rely upon in times of conflict. It is a matter of national security for India, Israel, and every other country to maintain a sovereign communications channel for their leaders to reach their people directly. The world cannot be ruled by American corporations.
Twitter is closed state, so you can’t download every tweet. It’s also closed execution, so you can’t look at Twitter’s server to see what it’s doing in realtime. This means Twitter can ban you from viewing its tweets, or downrank your tweets silently so that you don’t know if people are seeing them.
Part of the solution will be national replacements for Twitter, but non-Indians won’t be on Indian Twitter, and India will still need to get messages out to the world on neutral international platforms. That’s what crypto permits.
Blockchains provide open-source alternatives to many financial services as well. You can use Bitcoin instead of SWIFT, stablecoins instead of PayPal, crypto crowdfunding instead of Kickstarter, and much more.
India holds 600+ tons of gold, worth tens of billions of dollars. Every national currency trades against every other currency in a global foreign exchange market. Excessive money printing can devalue a currency. And this is part of the reason why central banks around the world say they continue to hold gold: because it’s a hedge against inflation, highly liquid, a safe haven in a crisis, and internationally accepted.
If India issues a digital rupee, it’s going to want to acquire digital gold. Because, the digital transformation of the economy won’t just stop halfway. Digitisation of national currencies will be accompanied by digitisation of precious metal reserve equivalents.
Just like the internet digitised books, movies, newspapers, and music, blockchains enable a financial internet that is digitising currencies, commodities, stocks, bonds, real estate, and every imaginable variety of financial instrument.
Gold has always been an asset for India. And Bitcoin is valuable for all the same reasons gold is valuable. It’s an internationally accepted store of value, it’s highly scarce, and it’s a so-called bearer instrument that can’t be seized with a keypress. Like gold, it even has industrial utility; for example you can store files undeletably on a blockchain, or use it to prove the existence of a digital file for the purposes of establishing priority. But most importantly, like gold, Bitcoin will soon be the asset that sovereigns use to back or supplement their national digital currencies.
Not only that, putting all financial flows on-chain would reduce corruption, increase trust in the financial system, and attract more foreign direct investment because international investors could be confident in the accounting.
Blockchains can reduce the burden on regulators by allowing them to write programs that certify that financial actors are continuously in compliance with regulations.
Unlike America and China, which will try pressuring nations to accept the dollar or digital yuan respectively, India can recognise that each country will ultimately want to use its own national currency domestically and a neutral platform internationally. Bitcoin and crypto protocols provide that neutral platform, a demilitarised zone suitable for international trade and communication, similar to the role that gold played in the past and that the Law of the Sea plays today.
But unlike the dollar or yuan, the digital rupee is not a candidate to become the reserve currency of the world. Thus, while India can be in charge of the digital rupee domestically, internationally it would prefer that no one be in charge — least of all the increasingly unpredictable US or China. And that equates to a preference for the use of cryptocurrency in international finance. Indeed, every sovereign that isn’t the US or China will likely eventually align behind crypto for international trade because it’s an acceptable second choice, a platform where you can’t be deplatformed.
Indian founders ten to move abroad in search of better opportunities. The millions of Indians who emigrated to the US, UK, Canada, and Australia over the last 50 years did quite well in that game. Major crypto exchanges like Coinbase, Binance, and Kraken are already worth many billions of dollars; so are cryptocurrency mining companies and new digital currencies like Ethereum. All the Indian analogs to those services would happen overseas, as Indian founders are once again forced to move abroad.
Also, with 400 million Indians newly online in a newly remote world, India is poised to become even more formidable as a global exporter of software, finance, and media talent. Neutral crypto platforms will allow India to export these digital goods into every country, while simultaneously being provably fair to all parties. This is the spirit of Atmanirbhar Bharat. Unlike the US or China, India wouldn’t just be playing to win, it’d be playing to win/win.
India has the talent to pull this off. Such a move would make international headlines, attract global support from the world’s technologists and financiers, differentiate India from the increasingly zero-sum economic policies pushed by America and China, and put the country at the forefront of a trillion dollar industry.
The first step is simple: India should buy Bitcoin, not ban it.
How to Change Minds
Don’t try to change someone else’s mind. Instead, help them find their own motivation to change.
When we try to change a person’s mind, our first impulse is to preach about why we’re right and prosecute them for being wrong. Yet experiments show that preaching and prosecuting typically backfire — and what doesn’t sway people may strengthen their beliefs.
Much as a vaccine inoculates the physical immune system against a virus, the act of resistance fortifies the psychological immune system. Refuting a point of view produces antibodies against future attempts at influence, making people more certain of their own opinions and more ready to rebut alternatives.
Instead of trying to force other people to change, you’re better off helping them find their own intrinsic motivation to change. You do that by asking open-ended questions and listening carefully, and holding up a mirror, so they can see their own thoughts more clearly. If they express a desire to change, you guide them toward a plan.
Psychologists find that when we listen carefully and call attention to the nuances in people’s own thinking, they become less extreme and more open in their views.
It’s not your place to change anyone’s mind. All you can do is try to understand their thinking and ask if they’re open to some rethinking. The rest is up to them.
👋 That’s All!
As always, please give me feedback. Did any of the stories resonate with you? Do you disagree with anything? What do you want more or less of? Any other suggestions?