Weekly Newsletter

December 21, 2014

Psychology and Neuroscience

A Meditation on the Art of Not Trying
Introduces wu wei, the art of effortless grace. Taoists use wu wei to express the Tao (translates to “The Way”), while Confucians use it to express the grace that results from intense study and practice. Moreover, wu wei also resembles a state of mind which modern psychologists label “flow”. In addition to defining wu wei, the article offers a compelling hypothesis for why alcohol frequently accompanies business deal dinners, a phenomenon which I had never thought to explain. My amateur interest in Eastern Philosophy added a dimension of engagingness to this article.

What Makes Us Happy?
Dissects the results of a 72-year longitudinal psychology study examining a group of 1930s Harvard graduates. The Atlantic’s description of the piece surpasses any I could come up with:

“Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life? For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been examining this question, following 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age. Here, for the first time, a journalist gains access to the archive of one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history. Its contents, as much literature as science, offer profound insight into the human condition—and into the brilliant, complex mind of the study’s longtime director, George Vaillant.”

Foreign Policy

The case against Human Rights
Argues that the UN and other international bodies have failed in their pursuit of “human rights”. Despite the clickbait title, this article manages to present a nuanced view on what problems traditional approaches to human rights create and the solutions to those problems. Although I don’t agree with some of the final conclusions of the article, the author argues cogently.

Biomedical Innovations

The Blind Climber Who “Sees” With His Tongue
Illustrates the stunning power of our brains to adapt to patterned inputs using an example of a blind man learning to map spatial terrain with an apparatus that maps visual inputs to inputs to his tongue. The biomedical implications of this experiment are vast, but the real power of the story comes from its inspirational power.

Food Production

What to Eat After the Apocalypse
Interviews Joshua Pearce, an associate professor of materials science and engineering, and electrical and computer engineering at Michigan Technological University. Pearce discusses his findings regarding food sources that would most likely survive a global catastrophic event. I am consistently fascinated by the adaptable nature of the human gastrointestinal system. In that regard, this article does not disappoint. If you’ve ever wondered whether you could subsist on wood, insects, and bacteria, this article is for you.

Other Contributions

Should surgeons keep score? (Will Baird)
Presents a compelling case for why surgeons should receive detailed feedback on the outcomes of their procedures. It effectively illustrates the unexpected complexities of the product design process well and shows how well thought-out feedback improves performance.

Habits of Mind (Will Baird)
Asserts that the study and practice of history is valuable. The authors dispute the view of humanities as outdated. They contend that students who study history emerge from their studies equipped with skills and mental models which will serve them regardless of their future profession.

The Case Against Boycotting SodaStream (Andrew Lindner)
Alan Dershowitz argues against the recent Harvard food service boycott of SodaStream, a soda machine company with factories located in Israel.

Discussion, links, and tweets

I'm a software developer currently working at UberEats. I keep a low social media presence, but, if you enjoy what I have to say or want to rant at me, you should email me at stephenmalina@gmail.com. If you're interested in what I'm currently programming, check out my Github. I occasionally rant on Twitter as well.