The Long Game 26: Air Quality and Cognition, Social Connections, The Decadent Society, Mental Models Checklist

🌇 The State of Charter Cities, Decentralizing Research Funding, Rejection, the Psychology of Fraud, and Much More!

Hi there!

Greetings from Montenegro 🇲🇪

If you missed the past episodes, you could catch up here.

In this episode, we explore:

  • Air quality and cognition

  • Social connections

  • Mental models checklist

  • Rejection

  • The Decadent Society

Let’s dive into it!

The Romans in their Decadence, Painting by Thomas Couture


🥑 Health

💨 Air Filters, Pollution, and Student Achievement

I found this paper on air quality and student achievement to be very interesting. Here’s the abstract:

This paper identifies the achievement impact of installing air filters in classrooms for the first time. I leverage a unique setting arising from the largest gas leak in U.S. history, whereby the offending gas company installed air filters in every classroom within five miles of the leak (but not beyond). Using a spatial regression discontinuity design, I find substantial improvements in student performance: air filters raised mathematics and English scores by 0.20σ. Natural gas was not detected inside schools, indicating that the filters improved air quality by removing common pollutants. On that basis, these results should apply more widely.

The impact of pollution in the air is very detrimental on cognition. This isn’t new information, but air quality is something that is never on my mind. Reading this paper made me think about all these parameters that impact health but that we aren’t necessarily paying attention to.

I’ve started exploring a little bit air quality monitoring sensors, but I haven’t finished my benchmark.

You’ll find some recommendations in the thread below (and if you have some ideas on the topic, let me know!)


🌱 Wellness

👥 Playing, Social Connections, Happiness, and Longevity

I was listening to James O’Keefe on The Drive earlier this week; it’s a fascinating discussion on preventing cardiovascular disease and the risk of too much exercise (I highly recommend this episode to people exercising a lot.)

During the conversation, James points out that the benefits from some physical activities can be much greater than from some others. These results are from The Copenhagen City Heart Study:

Multivariable-adjusted life expectancy gains compared with the sedentary group for different sports were as follows: tennis, 9.7 years; badminton, 6.2 years; soccer, 4.7 years; cycling, 3.7 years; swimming, 3.4 years; jogging, 3.2 years; calisthenics, 3.1 years; and health club activities, 1.5 years.

Based on this, James believes that the benefits of activities like tennis, badminton, and soccer are that they “combine two medicines instead of one” by combining exercise with social interaction.

More generally, it raises the question of social connections and their importance for our wellbeing, especially during a global pandemic. A huge part of the wellness industry focuses on the individual—better sleep, better recovery, etc.—but we often forget one of the most important parameters, connections with other human beings.

Johann Hari has a great book on this topic, Lost Connections, where he explains some of the causes of the mental health crisis we’re going through. The main thesis of the author is that most depressions are due to disconnections. Here are some of the disconnections he mentions in the book:

  • Disconnection from meaningful work

  • Disconnection from other people

  • Disconnection from meaningful values

  • Disconnection from childhood trauma

Then, the author explains that through the reconnection to people, social activities, and meaningful work we could alleviate the mental health crisis.

“Loneliness isn’t the physical absence of other people, he said—it’s the sense that you’re not sharing anything that matters with anyone else. If you have lots of people around you—perhaps even a husband or wife, or a family, or a busy workplace—but you don’t share anything that matters with them, then you’ll still be lonely.” 

We are social beings, and we shouldn’t forget this in the quest for better and healthier lives.

This article on why Hannah Arendt believed that loneliness could make people susceptible to totalitarianism is a great follow up read.

What prepares men for totalitarian domination in the non-totalitarian world is the fact that loneliness, once a borderline experience usually suffered in certain marginal social conditions like old age, has become an everyday experience.


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🧠 Better Thinking

✔️ Mental Models & Decision Making Checklists

Most of the time, the decisions we have to make come at unpredictable moments. It’s great to read and think about the skill of “thinking,” but I find it hard to remember things in the midst of a decision.

That’s why having checklists is very useful. Here are two checklists that I always keep with me and that I use when I need:

Mental Models Checklist:

  • Simplification

  • Translation

  • Reformulation (restate the problem into as many forms as possible)

  • Generalization

  • Inversion

Decision-Making Checklist:

  1. Outside view: Imagine advising a friend with the same choice.

  2. Do a full cost-benefit analysis, weighted by intensity, probability, and duration of each benefit/cost.

  3. Gather data about people who’ve made the same choice. Consider how different your situation is, but do not overestimate that difference.

  4. Poll good decision-makers in this area.

  5. Visualize options vividly.

  6. Maximize contrast.


⚡️ Startup Stuff

🚂 Persisting in the Face of Rejection

This week, I really enjoyed this piece about persisting in the face of rejection by Steve Schlafman, a professional certified coach, angel investor, facilitator, speaker, former operator, and recovering VC.

Here’s the reality: rejection is part of the entrepreneurial journey. Every founder experiences it at some point.

As an entrepreneur, rejection is something you’ll need to get used to. It’s fascinating to understand why it can be so hard to overcome rejection. Most of it has to do with an evolutionary mechanism:

Scientists believe that the feeling of rejection evolved as a survival mechanism. Early humans developed an internal defense system to protect us from being shunned by our tribes. If a prehistoric human was banished by their clan, they would likely die. Thus, our early ancestors developed a full-body response to rejection to ensure their behavior was accepted and would ultimately survive.

Steve gives multiple tips on how to handle rejection; here are some of them:

  • Give yourself permission to feel all of the feelings. Acknowledge the emotions. Be with them.

  • Remind yourself of the purpose of your company. What inspired you to get started?

  • Don’t let the opinions and decisions of others define your success and self-worth.


📚 What I Read

📉 The Decadent Society, by Ross Douthat

I just started The Decadent Society by Ross Douthat, and it’s excellent so far. The book does a great job of describing everything that’s wrong with Western society today.

The introduction retraces what went wrong since the 1960s, and the author presents the Apollo Program as the last initiative before the era of decadence.

“Since Apollo, we have entered into decadence.”

Another parallel Douthat draws is with the fall of the Roman empire, and this quote embodies his message perfectly:

“There was nothing left that could conquer Rome, but there was also nothing left that could improve it…It was the end of the world, and the worst of it was that it need never end.”

— G. K. Chesterton

Anirudh Pai that I talked to on the podcast, has a great response to the book. He calls for the combination of atoms and bits as the antidote to Ross Douthat's Decadent Society.

Here’s a great thread on the book by Dan Stern.


🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week

🎙 I’ve published two new episodes on The Long Game Podcast:

👨‍🔬 #5: Paul Kohlhaas on Decentralizing Research Funding and the Future of Science

Paul is the co-Founder and CEO of Molecule, a software platform to accelerate innovation in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry. It connects scientists, patients, and industry to advance drug development and therapeutics in an open market. To achieve this, Molecule employs Web3 and blockchain technology to leverage the power of distributed incentive-based ecosystems.

We start the conversation by talking about what Molecule is trying to achieve with scientific funding. Paul explains the current projects they're working on; then he explains why crowdfunding could help avoid the valley of death in science. We talk about the cultural and social aspects of science that will need to change in the future. My favorite part of the episode was to hear Paul's prediction about where science will be in ten years from now.

🌇 #6: Mark Lutter on the State of Charter Cities and the Future of American Governance

Mark is the founder of the Charter Cities Institute, which is building the ecosystem for charter cities. He is also the Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer for the Victoria Harbour Group, a firm building a new city for the people of Hong Kong. Before this, he worked as Lead Economist for a fund investing in early-stage charter cities. He has a Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University.

The whole work of Mark evolves around Charter Cities, which are cities where the governing system is defined by the city's own charter document rather than by general law.

Mark thinks charter cities are underrated because they:

  1. Spread good institutions which cause economic growth to help alleviate global poverty.

  2. Provide a regulatory sandbox for technological innovation.

  3. Demonstrate the power of cosmopolitan liberalism.

We start the conversation with the state of charter cities and what Mark is trying to achieve with the Charter Cities Institute; we talk about why creating an ecosystem of charter cities is essential. Then, we discuss why Silicon Valley and the tech world should start to think more about politics and institutions. We also explore all how charter cities would lead to more innovation. We finish the conversation talking about serendipity on Twitter.


🍭 Brain Food

🚥 Psychology Of Fraud: Why Good People Do Bad Things

The line between genius and fraud can be very thin. I found this article fascinating; it explores what drives people to do bad things through the story of Toby Groves. Some people think there are good people, and bad people, but this is not what research shows.

It’s sad to say, but everyone is capable of bad things, and it’s better to be aware of it to make sure it never happens.


🎥 What I’m Watching

🍣 Jiro Dreams of Sushi

I’ve watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi more than ten times. I can’t get over how good this documentary is. For those of you who never watched it, it’s the story of the chef Jiro, working relentlessly to improve the quality of his sushi and how he made his small restaurant in a Tokyo subway station a Michelin three-star.

The film critic Roger Ebert called it a "portrait of tunnel vision" and concluded:

While watching it, I found myself drawn into the mystery of this man. Are there any unrealized wishes in his life? Secret diversions? Regrets? If you find an occupation you love and spend your entire life working at it, is that enough? Standing behind his counter, Jiro notices things. Some customers are left-handed, some right-handed. That helps determine where they are seated at his counter. As he serves a perfect piece of sushi, he observes it being eaten. He knows the history of that piece of seafood. He knows his staff has recently started massaging an octopus for 45 minutes and not half an hour, for example. Does he search a customer's eyes for a signal that this change has been an improvement? Half an hour of massage was good enough to win three Michelin stars. You realize the tragedy of Jiro Ono's life is that there are not, and will never be, four stars.


🔧 The tool of the Week

🏇 Augur — Decentralized Betting Platform

Augur is a decentralized betting platform. I’ve been exploring Augur because I’m increasingly interested in prediction markets. They may be the best way for society to find the truth—a problem that is starting to become an existential threat to humanity.

"Blockchain-based prediction markets may be the one force strong enough to counterbalance the spread of incorrect information on social media. They give people a financial incentive to seek the truth and then protect them with the twin shields of pseudonymity and decentralization."

— Balaji S. Srinivasan

Here’s a great thread on prediction markets in the context of the US elections by Vitalik Buterin.


🪐 Quote I'm Pondering

“The ability to ask beautiful questions is one of the great disciplines of a human life. And a beautiful question starts to shape your identity as much by asking it as it does by having it answered.”

— David Whyte


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👋 EndNote

Thanks for reading!

I will see you next week. As always, if you're finding this newsletter interesting, give me your feedback; you can respond to this email or tweet at me!

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Have a great day,

Mehdi

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