The See, Listen and Read Better Podcast Episode 3 – Running, TV Journalism and Rest

Running, TV journalism and Rest The See Listen Read (SLR) Better Podcast

Sharing suggestions for a See, Listen and Read each week so that you can See, Listen and Read better. This week I suggest watching HasGeek TV’s Run, Run, Run, listening to The Seen and The Unseen episode on journalism and reading Leo Babauta’s blog post on taking rest.

  1. See – Run, Run, Run – HasGeek TV and QnA
  2. Listen – What Happened to our Journalism?
  3. Read – The Lost Art of Taking Rest

The See Listen Read Better Podcast Episode 2 – Rest, Cal Newport and The Vault of Vishnu

Running, TV journalism and Rest The See Listen Read (SLR) Better Podcast

  1. See – Matt D’Avella – The Most Overlooked Way to be More Productive
  2. Listen – Cal Newport on the Rich Roll Podcast
  3. Ashwin Sanghi – The Vault of Vishnu (2020)

The SLR Better Podcast – Episode 1

Running, TV journalism and Rest The See Listen Read (SLR) Better Podcast

See

Zettelkasten Learning Method – Simply Explained

How to Take Smart Notes – Zettelkasten Method in Roam Research

Listen

The Moving Curve – the podcast episodes and show notes.

Read

In the podcast, I kept calling the book Seven Lessons instead of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics!!

Here is the link to my blog post about the book.

SLR Better Podcast – Episode 0

Running, TV journalism and Rest The See Listen Read (SLR) Better Podcast

This is a trailer episode for my new podcast.

This is a recommendations podcast. I have been trying out different iterations of this podcast since December 2019 but never got around to it. An episode will be out each Wednesday.

Pragati Podcast #138 Prem Panicker

These are show notes from Episode 138 of the Pragati Podcast with Prem Panicker (Twitter). I thought this episode is an equivalent to an MBA course on starting an online publication in India today. My show notes are only points from the podcast that are of interest to me.

Image Credit: The Pragati Podcast/IVM Podcasts

Prem is talking about his time at rediff.com. He says that they had limited resources and so the news desk they developed had to sort and prioritise news flow. For press conferences and coverage of events, they could rely on news agencies who will cover these events. They had to decide when to send in a reporter to the field.

He says they used data to maintain customers and to make sure they are not losing readers but the current news organizations are being run from Excel sheets.

They designed their story pages like home pages because people were landing there directly. Their pages were modelled like a shopping mall is. The customer is made to walk by some stores as he moves up or down the stairs or escalators in the mall. This is for randomly discovering stuff one might not otherwise consume. Similarly they share stories that the reader reaches a page is also shown news content that they might like to read.

Prem talks about his time with Yahoo! They knew that they could not compete with other news organisations. They went for thoughtful long form pieces. Some of the news stories that emerge are like the ones by Arati Kumar-Rao while she travelled along the Brahmaputra river.

He says that we cite short attention spans of the reader. But, this is more the journalism houses excuse for not providing long form journalistic content. He cites examples of various journalism house pivoting to long form journalism. Even Buzzfeed!

The “class” even had a case study with Barkha Dutt’s new venture – MoJo TV.

For some examples of online content done well, he suggests his own website, peepli.org stories from 2014 for which he is presently trying to raise money.

For data visualisations, he suggests work done by Bobby Ghosh for the Hindustan Times, circa 2014. Ghosh is presently with Bloomberg Opinion.

He suggests the podcasts of Amit Varma’s The Seen and the Unseen and Rukmini’s The Moving Curve.

The show ends with a number. Prem thinks that INR 120 crores would be a safe amount to have to start your own news venture.

3 Things – Taking care of your mental health

I wrote in the last post that I handled the information overload I faced by whittling down the sources of information. 3 Things from Indian Express is one of the podcast that I kept. I listened to Episode 851 – Taking care of your mental health. There was a previous episode that also spoke of taking care of your mental health. Both episodes begin by expressing that during a crisis feeling anxious is normal.

These are my notes from the show. I suggest you listen to the show yourself as your takeaways may differ.

The episode features an interview with Aakriti Joanna of Kaha Mind, an online counselling service provider. Neha Mathews is the interviewer.

There are three areas they cover that was of interest to me – myself, relationships and work.

Self

Aakriti says that taking care of yourself first is the most important thing to do right now. We may be anxious about the future but there isn’t much we can do about it. The only thing we have control over is the present. For doing this, she first suggests maintaining healthy habits during the lockdown (waking up on time, exercising, staying hydrated etc.) that you may have had in the time before the lockdown. She suggests tracking where you are, having a basic to-do list and not comparing yourself with others.

There are several challenges on social media and advertisements to make yourself better on social media and other online channels. Aakriti says that we are just doing our best to survive this crisis and not participating in any of these online social media challenges does not make us any worse.

Relationships

Aakriti says that we are currently spending an inordinate amount of time with someone (spouse, relative or friends) whom we may or may not like. This is not something that we are used to. To survive this phase, Aakriti suggests that the only key is open respectful communication. She suggests being open about letting the other people know when you are not feeling well. In case of fights, she suggests that we focus on finding solutions rather than winning the argument.

In case friends are involved, Aakriti suggests checking in with them once in a while. She suggests we remain respectful about communication and don’t over do it.

Different people are coping with the situation in different ways.

Work

Neha shares an important message that is being shared on social media now-a-days among people who are working from home.. “You are not working from home. You are at home during a crisis trying your best to work.”

Aakriti adds that circumstances have changed a lot but expectations at work have not. People are trying to be as productive at work as they were when they travelled and went to a physical office. She suggests that our productivity during a crisis may suffer but the impact may change as per the nature of our work.

Coping Mechanisms

There are two sets of exercises that Aakriti suggests for creating an awareness of the present. She suggests that the present is the only thing we have control over. The exercises she suggests helps us come back to the present.

The first exercise is a practice called Grounding. Aakriti suggests we do this with a practice called boxed breathing. The exercise can be done any time we feel anxious but also good to practice it before we go to sleep or after we wake up. The exercise involves counting to 4 while we breathe in, hold the breath and breathe out.

The second exercise is the five senses exercise. She suggests a simplified form where we limit ourselves to observing using just one sense. For example, the smell of a scented candle or applying body lotion to sense how it feels on our skin. It could be anything related to sight, smell, taste, touch or hearing.

Another practice that Aakriti suggests is gratitude. By this, Aakriti says, she means being grateful for the little things. She suggests that we don’t force ourselves to be grateful but observe the little things that we could be grateful for. She says that this practice leads to a sense of feeling connected to others.

Counselling

Neha ends the show by suggesting that taking counselling or therapy has become easier now-a-days with online counselling becoming available. Many such online platforms also accept pay-as-you-can offerings if you are not able to afford it. Aakriti says therapy can help anyone who is not able to perform their daily functions properly.

Do Nothing (2020)

The following are notes of a podcast interview Brett McKay did with Celeste Headlee. Headlee is a radio journalist and author of the books We Need to Talk and Heard Mentality besides Do Nothing.

Do Nothing
Image Credit: Celeste Headlee

It has only been about 200 years since the industrial revolution that human beings are living the way we do now. Before the industrial revolution and for a large part of human history, human beings worked in spurts. There were spurts of intense activity and work and then there were long periods of relaxation. As an example, Headlee says that peons and serfs worked less than a year.

From Task-based to Time-based Work

With the onset of the industrial revolution, work switched from being task based to being time based. Before the revolution, people worked on a task and then rested till they got their next task. With the coming of factories, people worked by the hour. Their pay was not by the output they produced but by the amount of hours they worked.

Earlier people demonstrated their wealth by the amount of time they spent in leisure. Now, people demonstrate their wealth by showing off how busy they are. Headlee says that people were almost brainwashed, perhaps by the education system, to believe that we are considered more productive by working more hours. This belief is unsubstantiated by research.

Research, even from the 1950s, show that people who worked 12-20 hours per week were more productive than people who worked 50-60 hours per week. It was noticed that employees who work 50-60 hours per week and took little time-off, vacations and paid leaves were less effective and got only a 6% pay-raise compared to employees who worked 12-20 hours per week.

Also, changing pay from a time-based method to a task-based method has advantages for both the employer and the employee. Task based methods are more efficient as the employee tries to spend the least time to get the work done and leave. Task-based method is considered more humane, boosts morale on accomplishment of task and gives joy on completion of the task. Employees on time-based method of payment may spend more time on other pursuits while completing the task.

Taking a Break

Headlee says that taking a break should involve a break from all screens. She says that when we open our smartphones and check email, shop or stay on social media, our brain thinks that we are still working. It cannot distinguish between these activities, done for work or pleasure. So, when we think we have taken rest, we have actually not taken any. When we keep pings from our email program or notifications on our smartphone on, the brain goes into a ready mode all the time expecting and ready to do a task.

Home Work

Headlee says that at the end of a long day at work, we don’t look forward to coming back home. She says that the reason could be not having anything to do at home. Some people fell lonely at home or even isolated. Some also treat home as something they have to work on or even as a chore. They treat all home work to be top of the class with each thing to be shared with the world. As an example, it can’t just be a simple garden, it has to be the ultimate garden with all the bells and whistles. We are not satisfied with what we have.

Earlier, people used to return home to spend time with family and participated in tasks or hobbies that did not have a capitalist value. Women sew and men worked on their workbenches and fixed things. Now, when the call came for stitching cloth masks at home, we didn’t have sewing machines at home and if anything broke, we could not fix our own stuff without help from a technician. Headlee suggests that we do something that you simply enjoy as a hobby and which may not have any capitalistic value.

Means Goals and End Goals

Time-based tasks created the efficiency cults we see today. One way to escape this based on examples like sewing and fixing our own stuff is to understand the difference between Means Goals and End goals. Means goal follow the SMART acronym whereas End Goals do not follow the SMART acronym. We must try to create End Goals and use it to trim the Means Goals by seeing if the latter helps in the accomplishment of the former.

Using a Phone as a Phone

One of the radical ideas that Headlee suggests based on research is that one uses the phone as a phone. As discussed above, a smart phone tricks the brain into thinking that we are working when we think that we’re taking rest. Besides this, she says that the human voice carries information and depth that other humans know to identify immediately. Text can lead to a lot of misinterpretation that a call can solve in minutes. She says that listening to a person making a case for a point of view makes a person with an opposing view more considerate about the person’s stance. It fosters connection.

Headlee thinks that people are getting disenchanted by the over-use of video calling services like Zoom because the presence of a screen indicates to the brain that it is work. This makes us feel more tired after a video call. Teleconferencing has been proven to be as effective as being in the same room with other people.

Human connection

Humans are pack animals. We need a sense of belonging-ness. If the need for human connection is not fulfilled, it has been shown to lead to earlier death besides having several health consequences during a person’s lifetime.

Headlee thinks that when we re-emerge after the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to rethink the human connection to work. She hopes there is a global reconsideration of working hours, having a healthy work-life balance and creation of more pro-human habits (habits that don’t kill us).

She hopes that in going back, we don’t just go back to an era before smart phones but to an era before the industrial revolution.

Dr. Vivek Murthy – COVID-19, Anchors and Loneliness

The latest (#417) episode of The Tim Ferriss Show is with the former Surgeon General of the United States of America, Dr. Vivek Murthy. He spoke of various things that made this episode an enjoyable listen – how he would have handled the COVID-19 pandemic, anchors and loneliness.

I just loved listening to his calm voice. I hope he takes Tim’s suggestion of starting a podcast seriously.

From his suggestions on how he would have handled the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Lead with Science in your decision making and Scientists in your communication.
  2. Be transparent with the public. This is key to building and maintaining trust. This also creates accountability.
  3. Provide resources needed by the people in the front line. This means things like providing Private Protection Equipment to people in the front line.

Dr. Murthy says “Remember your anchors” is a reminder he developed when he was serving time in residency dealing with life and death on a daily basis. He defines anchors are forces that anchors his life. These are people, in his case, like his parents and friends. He tries to stay connected with his anchors because he found that the times when he found himself to be anxious and worried was usually the times when he had lost touch with his anchors.

Dr. Murthy’s friend provides a definition of friendship that I particularly liked. A real friend is someone who reminds you of who you are even if you forget.

Dr. Murthy said that he had begun writing and talking about loneliness when he found that people at his workplace did not step out of their place to help others. He instituted a practice of sharing an employee’s non-work related life once a week. This 5 minute practice, over time increased helpfulness among employees and productivity at the workplace. He says, the lack of connection has an effect on health and also is a basis of social connection.

He thinks that organisations should work on loneliness at the workplace because it has an impact on the organisation’s retention capability and profitability. He said asking employees if they had a friend at the workplace showed an impact on their engagement at the workplace.

His book, Together (Amazon Affiliate Link) , to be released on April 28, 2020, called Together, is about loneliness but also deals with workplace loneliness.

In passing, Tim Ferriss mentioned an essay by Tim Urban called the The Tail End. Tim says this essay had an impact on the more time that he spent with his family since reading the essay.

In the essay, Tim Urban says that he would spend less than a year’s worth of time with his parents for the rest of his life compared to the first 18 years of his life. Hence, he says that he is down to the last 5% of the total time he would spend with his parent. He says that he is at the tail end in terms of time he would spend with his parents. Hence he says he wants to improve the quality of time that he spends with them.

Paul Davies

[It took me well over a week to write this all down. The best way to digest this information is to consume it in podcast form and read the transcript for clarity. I thought the podcast was so information-packed that it took me 19 revisions and 2785 words to put this all down. I started with in-depth exploration in the beginning but took to compressing ideas into paragraphs later. There’s still a lot that I don’t understand about the subject. Writing this also kept me away from writing any other post in the meanwhile. My thanks to Mat Kaplan for this wonderful interview. – Pradeep]

Paul Davies is the Regents’ Professor of Physics and Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University. He is a physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist and author who has written thirty books.

The following is my podcast notes of the interview that Mat Kaplan did with Paul Davies for Planetary Radio [+transcript]. They are talking at University of California San Diego’s Arthur C Clarke Center for Human Imagination studio. This is a huge podcast episode at almost an hour and ten minutes. The podcast discusses his latest book, The Demon in the Machine: How hidden webs of information are solving the mystery of life (Amazon Affiliate Link).

Photo by Ahmad Fikri on Pexels.com

Context

Kaplan first tries to understand the context in which this book is written. There is a fundamental difference that we see in Living Matter and Non-living Matter. Davies suggests that this fundamental difference is information. He gives us an equation to understand this:

Life = Matter + Information

Paul Davies

Davies suggests that the present Physics cannot provide a solution for helping us understand this issue. We need or need to discover a new Physics to understand the problem. We need to dive back into some history for this context.

History of Context

The hero of this story is Erwin Schrodinger (famous more for his thought experiment with a cat). Schrodinger is an Austrian who succeeds Max Planck in 1927 in Berlin. In 1933, he leaves Germany and moves to England. He is invited to Ireland to establish Institute for Advanced Studies in Dublin by the then Prime Minister of Ireland, Éamon de Valera. He moved to Clontarf, Dublin as Director of the School for Theoretical Physics in 1940. He stays here for another 17 years. Ireland is neutral during World War II. He gives what are a string of lectures about life (in the biological sense). Davies calls Biology the next frontier of Physics.

Schrodinger is the architect of Quantum Mechanics. His theory works really well for non-living matter. It explains almost everything from atoms to stars. Where it does not explain things is when it comes to living matter. In 1944, these are compiled into a book called What is Life? This book has an immense influence on the field of molecular biology.

In 1944, he wrote What Is Life?, which contains a discussion of negentropy and the concept of a complex molecule with the genetic code for living organisms. According to James D. Watson’s memoir, DNA, the Secret of Life, Schrödinger’s book gave Watson the inspiration to research the gene, which led to the discovery of the DNA double helix structure in 1953. Similarly, Francis Crick, in his autobiographical book What Mad Pursuit, described how he was influenced by Schrödinger’s speculations about how genetic information might be stored in molecules.

From the Wikipedia entry on Erwin Schrodinger

Davies says that biologists however got distracted and involved in the field of molecular biology and lost track of the bigger picture. In the past two decades, the focus has gone back to the bigger picture.

Information is the secret sauce…

What differentiates non-living matter and living matter is the information. Davies says that the use of the word information here differs significantly from the way we talk about information in our daily life. He says that when defined in Physics, information becomes a part of the laws of physics much like energy does. Information enters Physics through the Laws of Thermodynamics.

Here, we go further into the past. We go to the mid-nineteenth century. James Clerk Maxwell who was working on concept of heat at King’s College in London. In a letter he sent to a friend, he asked that his friend consider a diminutive being that could see and follow molecules. The being could then use a shutter mechanism to sort fast and slow moving molecules. Slow and fast moving molecules determine temperature. So, by sorting the molecules, the being has created a difference in temperature. An engineer could, in principle create an engine that could do work. This being that Maxwell discusses is called Maxwell’s Demon. It is this demon that the title of Davies book references in the title of his book.

Maxwell’s suggestion created a perpetual motion machine, in effect and went against the First Law of Thermodynamics. In the podcast, Davies says it goes against the Second Law but then describes it as, “We can’t get something for nothing”. I think he’s going after the First Law. Maxwell’s thought stood as a thorny issue in Physics for a long time.

However, in the last two decades, scientists have been able to create these Maxwell demons at the nano level. However, they have not yet been able to scale it up. However, this introduces information into the realm of Physics.

Entropy

The Laws of Thermodynamics predicts that entropy (the level of chaos or disorder) in a system goes on increasing. However, information seems to reverse this trend in living systems. In the words of Schrodinger, “Order from order, evermore order.” This, is used as an example of a miracle.

However, Davies suggests that order in living systems is paid for by disorder in the environment. And so, overall, things are balanced. He says living beings are open systems. In Thermodynamics, that means a system that allows transfer of energy and mass.

Davies then jumps to the life at molecular level where Davies says that Maxwell demons are working to get the most thermodynamic efficiency in living systems. He now gives examples of this nearly 100% efficient Maxwell demons enabling replication of the DNA. The most exciting example that Davies cites for this efficiency is the human brain. A megawatt capability supercomputer is operating at such efficiency that it works at the energy level of a dim light bulb.

Original World Wide Web

In Biology, Davies says, information also plays a managerial or supervisory role. Information flow scales up from signalling (chemical, mechanical and electric) mechanisms between cells, to decision making among insects, to co-ordination between birds in a flock all the way up to the planetary scale. Another key Davies line spoken here is,

And I like to say that the biosphere is the original worldwide web.

Paul Davies

A New Physics

Davies says that the information flow in biological systems is more than just simple information flows. He says that information is encrypted and has to be decrypted for use by cells. Information has to be read and expressed in a certain way and biological systems express this. Physicists have not found a way to incorporate this into Biology and hence, this is where Davies think the New Physics that he thinks is required will come from. Information makes a difference to the way that an organism behaves. Davies thinks this has a physical effect.

Complexity

Davies now arrives at the topic of complexity of biological beings. Kaplan discusses his high school biology experience of the complexity involved in a single cell. Davies responds by saying that scientists don’t have a way to measure the complexity at say the level of the biosphere or even the organism. He says we don’t yet know if the complexity increased with time or is there a fundamental law that defines the growth of complexity and other problems related to Complexity. However, he says at the root of it all are atoms, whose Physics we know well.

[To me personally, there seems to be a relationship between Complexity and Entropy.]

Davies says however that talking about things at the molecular level and then seeking to get answer about complexity has a parallel in the world of computer science. A scientist trying to explain complexity in terms of molecules would be like a software engineer trying to explain his code at the level of electrons flowing through computer hardware. Davies says that there are people like Paul Nurse who are seeking to explain Complexity in a language and precise terms of code that software engineer uses.

Epigenetics

Kaplan asks about the change in our understanding genes express themselves as the understanding of DNA not as a ROM but as a read/write memory. Davies says that there has been a change in Biology in the last 30 years. He says that people have moved away from the assumption that genetics alone explains life. Expression of the genes also plays an important role. This is explored in the field of Epigenetics.

Things like an external physical force, physical environment, growth of cell in space, etc. seem to affect how the genes express themselves and this has an impact on how cell structure or the organism grows and develops. So, genes are somehow expressing themselves differently based on the information about their surroundings.

Davies cites the work of Cheryl Nickerson at Arizona State University in the impact of gut bacteria in astronauts. He says that the bacteria that are passive on Earth’s surface somehow get active in the environment of weightlessness and makes an astronaut throw up.

Davies also cites the work of Mike Levin at Tufts University who works with planaria worms. He says that planaria worms are cut at different parts of the body and they grow back up in the correct way. He says that using electrical patterning, they are able to grow worms with two heads, two tails etc. He says this proves that something more than just genes has a role to play in the way genes express themselves.

Information Flows

Davies says that Physics inherently has a bottom up structure of explaining things. Biology, on the other hand, explains things both ways, in terms of bottoms up and from the up down to the bottom. He says that Physics needs a way to do this. Davies says that thinking of information flows may be the simplest way of doing this. A cell gets information about its environment from the organism and changes the way it expresses itself. Things like electronics and gravity seem to affect the expression of the genes of a cell.

As an example, Davies says that in eukaryotic cells, the genes are in the chromosomes. There is complex structure and mechanism within the chromosomes that switches on and off the genes that get expressed depending on the environment.

Darwinism 2.0

Darwin suggested that the mutation in the organisms that evolved was random. Davies suggests it is not. He says that at the cellular level, that the way cells edit their genes have been shown to be statistically non-random. He says that Epigenitics explains the new biology much better than Darwin’s theory. He says Epigenetics is to Darwin’s theory what Einstein’s Physics is to Newton’s Physics. He says that Science replaces with even more approximate views of the World.

Cancer

Davies has a special interest in our ways of curing cancer. He says that in the beginning about 2 billion years ago, only single cell organisms existed. Their only job was to replecate endlessly. At some point in time, multi-cellular organisms came into existence. There is a contract of sorts between the cell and the organism. Cells perform specialised functions and in exchange the organism exists. He says Cancer is a return to single cellular nature of the cell, a breaking of the contract in multi-cellular organisms.

He says current treatment of Cancer targets the uncontrolled replicability of the cells. However, cells have learnt over 2 billion years how to overcome obstacles placed in the replicability of the cells. They learn to overcome radiation and there could possibly be chemotherapy resistance.

Davies suggests the ideal way to think of treatment of cancer is to “reason” with the cell. The cell does not realise that its replication while good for the cell, is bad for the host and could eventually lead to it getting killed. Davies suggests that one has to download a patch or reboot the system in order to manage the Cancer, in a way similar to Diabetes. In the end, its a way of making the cells behave better. This hasn’t been done in practice. It’s still all theory.

Quantum Biology

Quantum Biology is a field that has come into existence in the last 10-20 years. Life exploits quantum mechanics for little quirks. Davies sits on the fence about whether there is space for quantum biology. They’re currently at a place where they could be at the tip of the iceberg or it could be just small quirks of living beings.

The issue with quantum biology is the lack of ease of doing experiments. Davies says that there is a lot of thermodynamic noise in systems at room temperature. He says that’s the reason why quantum mechanics experiment happen at very low temperature. Here the effects are clearly visible. Not so much at room temperature. Also quantum mechanics involves simple systems but life is a very complex system.

Photosynthesis as an example of Quantum Biology

Photosynthesis is the process by which plant uses sunlight to break water molecules to create energy for the plant. However, what has been noticed is that there is some molecular distance between the place where solar energy is captured and where the break of the water molecule happens. Energy to break the molecule has to be transported with minimum loss of energy. It has been found that this transmission takes place using a principle called quantum coherence. Study in this field was begun and is ongoing under Graham Fleming at UC Berkley.

Consciousness and Quantum Mechanics

It is thought that Quantum Mechanics will either explain consciousness or it will not. Thinking currently is that at the quantum level, atoms live in a universe of multiple possibilities and parallel universes. However, when one brings in the act of observation, these multiple possibilities are brought into one defined reality by consciousness. There is also another school of thought that is looking at things from outside in and asking the question whether quantum effects exist in the brain. People like Roger Penrose at Oxford University and Stuart Hameroff at the University of Arizona are working to figure out whether there are quantum goings-on in cells and more importantly in the human brain that explains consciousness. Davies says that personally he is skeptical but open-minded about the possibilities.

Davies suggests that a quantum pathway could be a possibility for explaining the link between non-living molecules to living molecules.

Extremophiles

It is believed that one of the possible origins of life on Earth is in the depths of the ocean. It is kilometers below the surface of the ocean where perhaps even sunlight would not reach it. Davies suggests that life discovered the use of quantum coherence discussed above in these depths and improved and perfected it when it reached the surface. Other possibilities include origin of life outside Earth with comets and meteorites seeding the planet.

Phylostratigraphy

Phylostratigraphy is a new field of study where it is believed that genes can be dated. There are ancient genes and some recently evolved genes. It sheds light on how life evolved on the planet.

Miller Urey experiments

Chemists have been trying to cook up life in laboratories by mixing various organic chemicals but without any luck. Stanley Miller tried to experiment using simple organisms from chemical substances. Davies thinks this is a stretch and the wrong way to do things.

How does life code?

Davies says that the real question is how does life code. Going back to the computer analogy, he thinks that life is the software which codes. It’s the way which life processes information. He believes that this is the boundary between non-life and life. But there is no answer as to how these cells learn how to code. Cells store information, process information and encodes this information and passes it on.

New ways of thinking

Davies suggests that life is so complex that we need new ways of thinking about life to break this code. His way of thinking is to think about parallels with the world of computers.

His craziest paper has been a submission to a journal Nature on the quantum origin of life. He suggests that the original code existed on an interstellar dust of grain existing at 3 degrees above absolute zero, the temperature that existed in the cosmic microwave background. He suggests that life code existed here and coded in q-bits. It made copies that got stored in organic molecules that seeded Earth and is possibly seeding other planets as we speak.

Davies suggests that such crazy ideas are necessary as we think about that jump from non-life molecules to living organisms.

Tiny Habits

Brett McKay talks to Dr B J Fogg for Episode 581 of the Art of Manliness podcast. Below are my show notes for the episode. The episode discusses Tiny Habits (Amazon Affiliates link), a book that Fogg has written.

Tiny Habits

Fogg proposes the Tiny Habits method of behavior change. He talks of habits not in terms of breaking them but in terms of untangling them. Think of behavior change the way you would untangle the mess of wires to straighten out your headphones. Changing habits is a process where you move from the easiest to the most difficult.

Fogg suggests that long lasting behavior change happens by changing really small habits as part of a routine. Imagine you want to make a tiny change. Fogg suggests identifying a routine attached to the change that you require. Inserting the habit as part of the routine and then slowly increasing the number of repetitions.

As an example, if you want to inculcate the habit of flossing your teeth, he suggests flossing just one tooth after brushing your teeth (routine). He suggests that we stay with one tooth as long as we want. He also gives us the freedom to do more when we want to. The number can go up. You can floss three teeth or just one. The over-achievement on the day you flossed three teeth acts as motivation for you to do just a little more. This turns this into a behavior change of flossing the teeth after you brush it.

The Three Elements – Motivation, Ability and Prompt

Behavior change here involves three elements – motivation, ability and prompt. Fogg defines motivation as the driving force which energizes you to certain behavior. He suggests that there is a compensatory relationship between motivation and ability. Ability here stands for you knowing how to do a certain task. He says that when it is harder to do something, the motivation needed is more. When it is easier to do something, you don’t need too much motivation. He recognized this compensatory relationship over an eight year period of study! He warns us that we over-estimate our future motivation to do certain things. Hence he warns us from depending on motivation as a way to change habits.

He also warns us from thinking of our aims in abstract terms. Losing weight, reducing stress etc are outcomes. He suggests that tweaking systems and processes will lead to these desired outputs. He believes that the habits should involve less time, less effort and little cost to implement to be successful.

Here, he brings the concept of prompts. He thinks that there are three types of prompts – personal prompt, context prompt and action prompt. He says that personal prompt involves you or someone else reminding you that you need to do a habit. Context prompt is a notification that alerts you to do a habit. An action prompt involves using a routine as a prompt. In our example above, brushing your teeth is a prompt for flossing them. He says personal and context prompts are not effective. He thinks that action prompts are the most effective way to initiate long lasting habit change.

In My Opinion…

Listening to this podcast, this seemed like a more scientific version of Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits. It also seemed similar to James Clear’s Atomic Habits but with different terminology. Saurabh also spoke in his blog about changing habits for the new year and hence I thought this might be worth sharing. I would personally, rather follow James Clear method.

I loved what he says about celebration, though. This is his value addition to the habit change journey, in my opinion. He suggests that celebrating these small habit changes with a celebration make you feel successful. He says that these emotions get attached to the habits and re-wires your brain that converts these habits into part of your life. He suggests teaching children to celebrate after their every small habit change.