Aug, 2020

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

The Big Idea: Europeans conquered the world because they existed in a temperate climate and in a long East-West axis connected to the Fertile Crescent and Asia. This geographic starting point led to a faster development of agriculture, which led to larger populations, which led to faster technological development and stronger militaries.

How did Europeans (and those of European ancestry) come to dominate every continent?

Environmental advantages led to more higher food production which led to technological and military advantages that allowed Europeans to colonize other continents.

Why is agriculture such an advantage?

Agriculture provides food surplus, which enables higher populations, more population density, development of writing, development of technology, stronger militaries, improved transportation and global exploration.

What factors lead to advanced levels of agriculture?

Temperate climate, wild plants suitable for domestication, wild animals suitable for domestication.

Why did Europe and Asia develop agriculture first?

They had more positive factors present (suitable climate, more domesticable plants and animals). Other regions had little or no animals that could be domesticated, occasionally because they were hunted to extinction during hunter-gatherer stages of development.

Why were Europe and Asian people immune to diseases that decimated people in other continents during first encounters and colonization?

European and Asians had many centuries in which to develop immunity to various diseases that originally came from the animals they had domesticated.

How did geographic orientation also favor Europeans and Asians?

A longer East-West axis in Europe/Asia (vs North-South axis in Africa and Americas) allowed greater exchange of plants and animals, more exchange of domesticated plants and animals, and more trade overall.

Why didn’t people from the Fertile Crescent dominate the world, even though they had the earliest agriculture?

Their advantage in agriculture decreased over time as land eroded and became less and less productive.

Why didn’t people from China dominate the world, even though they had the earliest agriculture?

Europe had enough division to encourage competition between nations that led to faster technological advance. China was politically unified and didn’t have the same competitive pressures to advance technology as quickly.

Unstoppable by David Hauser

The Big Idea: Adopt a low-carb, high-fat diet. Early to bed, early to rise. Move more throughout the day. Lift weights. Practice yoga. Limit social media. Meditate regularly. Prioritize experiences, friends, and family. Get healthy, start finding your answers to questions like how much does the bar weight at the gym?

Identify => Measure => Improve => Evolve
Identify (pick a new health habit to test) => Measure (how do you know if it works for you?) => Improve (decide whether it’s worth keeping or discarding) => Evolve (add it to your lifestyle)

We usually just accept what doctors tell us without pushing back, even if things seem wrong. A concierge doctor has very different incentives than most doctors. Functional doctors often serve as a solid foundation for building your medical dream team .

Avoid processed sugar, processed foods, refined carbs, fried foods, vegetable oils, legumes, traditional flour, farm-raised fish, GMO foods, cheap grains.

Eat whole foods, organic foods, healthy fats, unlimited vegetables, foods that are in season, fruits sparingly, nuts, avocados, healthy oils, almond/coconut flour, sea/Himalayan salt, wild-caught fish, pasture-raised chicken, grass-fed beef, olive oil on cold food, butter, ghee, lard, tallow, suet, avocado oil,

Drink coffee sparingly and avoid alcohol.

Do these two essential things: 1) prevent insulin resistance, the catalyst for Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease; and 2) dramatically reduce inflammation, which causes a host of ailments.

Lower your protein consumption and raise your fat consumption.

Intermittently fast, typically by skipping breakfast.

Finish eating at least three hours before bed.

Steam vegetables and other foods instead of microwaving them or boiling them.

Find and remove foods that cause allergic reactions.

Before you do any supplementation, get a baseline blood panel.

Get your D3 level tested.

Get more omega-3, perhaps through krill oil if you’re not getting enough through your diet.

It’s critically important to balance the amount of both omega-3s and omega-6s in our diet.

Prebiotics (chicory and fermented foods) are specialized plant fibers that help to grow healthy bacteria in the gut.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your digestion.

Improve your sleep and you waking hours will be much more productive.

Go to bed early (dusk) and get up early (dawn).

Track sleep with an Oura ring.

Avoid blue light before bed by removing the TV, getting blue-blocking glasses, or installing f.lux.

Don’t eat within three hours of bedtime.

Invest in a high-quality mattress and pillow.

Keep your bedroom as dark as possible.

If you snore a lot, you may have sleep apnea and might want to get a CPAP.

Focus on moving when you can throughout the day, instead of bursts of exercise.

Focus on diverse workouts that build your strength, and don’t obsess as much over doing endless amounts of cardio.

The important thing to target is your heart rate variability (HRV).

Participating in endurance sports can damage your body.

Invest in a standing desk, go on a walk, do a few push-ups after your conference call to get the blood flowing.

People have been getting massages for hundreds of thousands of years.

Take a cold shower.

Turn off fluorescent lights.

Take a walk. Whatever you do, never sit at your desk or remain inside for the entire day.

Put a process in place. If you’re struggling to optimize your productivity and haven’t read Getting Things Done by David Allen, stop what you’re doing and get yourself a copy now. This book is a classic for both productivity and process.

Learning to delegate is a skill that you can develop both intellectually and emotionally. Delegation freed me up to do more valuable work that was more in line with my primary skillset, and also positioned others to take more ownership of the company’s success.

Get an assistant or virtual assistant.

Stick to your routine and what works for you.

Keep it simple.

Turn off ALL notifications on your phone and computer.

The only thing that pops up on any of my devices are calendar notifications — necessary interruptions to remind me of meetings.

Put everything in your calendar.

I’d take an email over a phone call any day.

Yoga helped me to realize that mindfulness was the missing link in my life.

Build meditation into your routine, but don’t let it become something that you set out to “check off” your to-do list.

Practice regular box breathing.

Wim Hof, whom I referenced earlier, incorporates breathing exercises with cold exposure.

Practice Stoicism

Prioritize: experiences, friends, and family,

To give kids a break from electronics, try playing board games, making arts and crafts, building something new and interesting, or competing in a sport outside.

Cut out television, social media, and news, especially in the evenings.

Limit social media.

Consider another way to accomplish the tasks you don’t love to.

Remove negative and stressful people from your life.

Read, learn, and rejuvenate your mind.

Replace the background sounds of television and news with TED Talks and audio books.

The Precipice by Toby Ord

The Big Idea: The chance of an existential catastrophe in the hundred years is 1 in 6. Man-made risks far outweigh natural risks. We need global cooperation, continued work, and deep reflection to prevent the end of our species and reach our true potential.


Safeguarding humanity’s future is the defining challenge of our time.


Given everything I know, I put the existential risk this century at around one in six.


The world is just waking up to the importance of existential risk .

Management of existential risk is best done at the global level. But the absence of effective global institutions for doing so makes it extremely difficult.



The existential risk from asteroidal impact has been studied in great detail and shown to be vanishingly low. Astronomers have succeeded so well in tracking asteroids that it may be time to switch some of their attention to comets.


Supervolcanic eruptions have occurred in the past, but they are extremely difficult to predict. There is very little known about how to prevent or delay an impending supereruption. Even the largest eruptions would be very unlikely to lead to extinction or unrecoverable collapse.


Existential risk from a supernova is very small.

Another ice age would cause significant difficulties for humanity, but is effectively ruled out over the next thousand years.


We face about a thousand times more anthropogenic risk over the next century than natural risk.


The world’s major crops would fail, and billions could face starvation in a nuclear winter.


The most extreme climate possibility is known as a “runaway greenhouse effect,” where warming continues until the oceans have mostly boiled off.

The best I can say is that when accounting for all the uncertainties, we could plausibly end up with anywhere up to 13°C of warming by 2300.

Warming at such levels would be a global calamity of unprecedented scale. Major effects of climate change include reduced agricultural yields, sea level rises, water scarcity, increased tropical diseases, ocean acidification and the collapse of the Gulf Stream.

None of these threaten extinction or irrevocable collapse. Direct existential risk from climate change appears very small, but cannot yet be ruled out.


While possibly calamitous and painful, loss of biodiversity and resource scarcity don’t appear to pose any direct risk of destroying our potential.

However, nuclear war, climate change and environmental damage each probably pose an existential risk that is higher than that of all natural existential risks put together.



During the twentieth century, fifteen countries are known to have developed bioweapons programs.

Since biotechnology (CRISPR and gene drives) can be misused to lethal effect, democratization also means proliferation.

An escape of a pandemic pathogen is a matter of time.

Most of the remaining existential risk would come from the threat of permanent collapse: a pandemic severe enough to collapse civilization globally.


Asked when an AI system would be “able to accomplish every task better and more cheaply than human workers,” on average experts estimated a 50 percent chance of this happening by 2061 and a 10 percent chance of it happening as soon as 2025.

There is good reason to expect a sufficiently intelligent system to resist our attempts to shut it down.

AI may also help make our longterm future brighter than anything that could be achieved without it.

AI progress may come very suddenly: through unpredictable research breakthroughs, or by rapid scaling-up of the first intelligent systems.


Unrecoverable dystopia means a world with civilization intact, but locked into a terrible form.

Examples: a totalitarian state, environmental degradation, a world that completely renounces technological progress, a world ruled by a single fundamentalist religion.


Nanotechnology that allow small-scale production of new weapons of mass destruction.

Space exploration that results in back contamination of Earth.

Malevolent alien civilizations visiting Earth.

Radical scientific experiments with consequences we can’t predict.


Asteroid or comet impact within next 100 years: 1 in 1,000,000

Supervolcanic eruption within next 100 years: 1 in 10,000

Stellar explosion within next 100 years: 1 in 1,000,000,000

Nuclear war within next 100 years: 1 in 1,000

Climate change within next 100 years: 1 in 1,000

Other environmental damage within next 100 years: 1 in 1,000

Naturally arising pandemics within next 100 years: 1 in 10,000

Engineered pandemics within next 100 years: 1 in 30

Unaligned artificial intelligence within next 100 years: 1 in 10

Unforeseen anthropogenic risks within next 100 years: 1 in 30

Other anthropogenic risks within next 100 years: 1 in 50

I think the chance of an existential catastrophe striking humanity in the next hundred years is about one in six.


Spend the resources allocated to existential risk in such a way as to reduce total risk by the greatest amount.

Prioritize risks that will not have a warning shot, where little effort has already been made, and where we can reduce the risk the greatest.

Reduce risk indirectly by preventing wars, by promoting global cooperation, by building new institutions, by improving education.

Start early. Focus resources.


We can deliberately choose to have no catastrophes at all . — Isaac Asimov


  1. Reaching Existential Security: prevent fires
  2. The Long Reflection: decide what future we want for humanity
  3. Achieving Our Potential: perhaps includes space exploration and settlement


We can’t rely on our current intuitions. We cannot afford to fail even once.


Safeguarding humanity is a global public good. We need international coordination and everyone needs to share the costs.


Our technology has progressed faster than our collective wisdom. Our civilization needs to mature and grow wiser.


Help organizations working on existential risk, donate money to a cause, participate in public conversation about the future of humanity.



Human history so far has seen 200,000 years of Homo sapiens and 10,000 years of civilization .

On average, mammalian species last about one million years.

Within 100,000 years, the Earth should be almost fully recovered from the climate damage.

Eventually, our species will be succeeded by another species. Perhaps the evolution will involved deeply implanted technology.

Without the carbon dioxide from volcanoes, scientists estimate that in about 800 million years photosynthesis will become impossible in 97 percent of plants, causing an extreme mass extinction.

In 8 billion years our Sun itself will die.


The best reason to settle other planets in other solar systems is to achieve some additional protection from existential risks.

The biggest challenge will be surviving on Earth for the century or two until it becomes technologically feasible.

If we could travel just six light years at a time, then almost all the stars of our galaxy would be reachable .


Human life is on the whole much better today than ever before.

Human civilization has probed only a tiny fraction of what is possible.


It’s time to relfect on our future.

Imagine people 10,000 years ago, sowing their first seeds and reflecting upon what opportunities agriculture might enable.

The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb

The Big Idea: A Black Swan is an outlier event with low probability and extreme impact. We act as if Black Swans do not exist, but, even though they are impossible to predict, they occur with regularity.

A black swan has three traits: it’s an outlier, it carries an extreme impact, it is explainable after the fact.

Forecasting the future, given knowledge of the past, is dangerous.

From the point of view of a turkey living on a turkey farm, Thanksgiving is a black swan.

Why are we vulnerable to black swans? The error of confirmation (billionaire drop outs), the narrative fallacy (anecdotal evidence, stories stick), history jumps not crawls, history distorts silent evidence (eg. survivorship bias), and tunneling (overreliance on math models instead of observation).

Mediocristan is a world of normal distribution. Extremistan is a world where Black Swans are possible. Most of our world is actually Extremistan (net worth), though we behave as if it’s mostly Mediocristan (height).

We should try to turn black swans (unknown unknowns) into grey swans (known unknowns) by developing humility, awareness, and resilience. To turn Black Swans into Grey Swans, consider the future to be based on Mandelbrotian Randomness.

Take advantage of positive Black Swans and reduce your exposure to negative Black Swans. For example, keep 85% of your worth in low risk assets like cash, unexposed to Black Swans and keep 15% of your assets in high-risk assets like early-stage startups.