Weekly Newsletter

December 28, 2014

Stoicism

Stoicism has been at the forefront of my thoughts this break. I’m most of the way through Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic: Epistulae Morales AD Lucilium, a primary source for Stoic philosophy and recently finished Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is the Way, which presents a simplified version of Stoicism that caters to modern audiences.

The first article about Stoicism in this newsletter, Indifference is a power, reveals Stoicism’s tenets and discusses its application both by its founders during Roman times and in modern cognitive behavioral therapy (the creator of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy struggled as a psychoanalyst until he remembered the teachings of ancient Stoicism, citation.) This article surpasses prior articles I’ve included on Stoicism by providing a unique combination of fascinating anecdotes about practicing Stoics and practical techniques for applying Stoic ideals to your life.

In the first article, the author cites Vice Admiral Stockdale, a former Navy commander and Vietnam prisoner of war, as an archetypal example of a modern Stoic. Intrigued, I tracked down the speech he mentions in the article: Courage under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior. The author’s story acts as a case study for how to practice Stoicism when life becomes hell and provides an ultimately inspiring story about overcoming great hardship.

Neuroscience

The Mind’s Eye: What the blind see.
Oliver Sacks contrasts two cases of brain changes resulting from adult-onset blindness. I’m fascinated by the effect blindness, or any sensory deprivation for that matter, has on the brain, and I found this study fascinating for two reasons. First, Sacks tells of a man who lost his sight but continued to visualize intensely and to build complex visual models of his surroundings – an ability that appears to have applications outside of this narrow scenario. Second, after discussing this case and one other, Sacks introduces the profound idea that, below visualization, a more fundamental language of thought may exist. I’d never considered this possibility before, and it’s certainly rattled my model of how the brain works.

Biology

The Surprising Power of an Electric Eel’s Shock
Dissects the mechanisms behind the electric eel’s shock and expounds upon the tactics electric eels use to hunt and catch their prey.

A Mini Farm That Produces Food From Plastic-Eating Mushrooms
Profiles the work of a team of designers and scientists, who are engineering mushrooms that convert plastic to food, or at least harmless organic material. Our understanding of mushrooms and their complexity continues to grow and this study shows the potential for increased practical applications. To put this in context, imagine if, in addition to compost, you had a plastic digestor bin in your house. You’d place plastic bottles and wrappers into the bin and close the lid. Then, a few days later, you’d open the bin’s lid and find edible mushrooms. This sounds eerily similar to how I’ve always imagined the future of food production.

Preparedness

I will survive
Discusses the culture of survivalism in America. Presents a balanced view on an oft-mischaracterized group.

Other Contributions

Why is everyone so busy? (David Wylie)
Accompanying this article, David sent me this blurb, “I’ve been intrigued by the changing dynamics of the labor/leisure tradeoff and this article does a really good job of analyzing the changing value of “free time” as economies grow and how it’s perceived and distributed.” I share David’s fascination with the “changing dynamics of the labor/leisure tradeoff” as it’s a phenomenon that writers often allude to but rarely explain. More importantly, it’s a phenomenon with which almost all of us will or already do experience firsthand.

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.