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I’ve been thinking a lot about this scene from one of my favorite films by Wong Kar-Wai called In the Mood for Love. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, excruciatingly slow, and almost nothing actually happens. It is, quite literally, two and a half minutes of two people being people — only crossing paths and exchanging a long lingering glance in the last 15 seconds. But the friction-filled punch those 15 seconds pack is apparently potent enough for some of us to want to write an essay about it.
Admittedly, it’s a cheap shot1. Anyone can put romantic music over muted footage of peoples’ small interactions and immediately hotwire the human brain to ascribe a deeper meaning. But I still think there’s something interesting to unpack here about how people exchange acknowledgements of each other’s existence.
The little things you do for others that remind you both of who you are, matter. They’re what define the thread count of the human experience. It’s micro gestures like small smiles, arm squeezes, and “hey you”s that root us in our sense of self without committing to the relationship’s definition beyond momentary shared space. As Philippe Rochat puts it in Others in Mind, “such simple, yet constant social acknowledgment amounts to the experience of tremendous relief.”
Providing this acknowledgement for the people you love is something that I think we could all get better at. Validating the other person’s perspective, reacting and explaining your own, maybe sending a smile. Just like the silence in Wong Kar-Wai’s corridor scene, it’s not just about what is said, it’s about what is unsaid: I see you, I’m here for you, I love you. This is something that for the most part, I don’t think technology can ever fully satisfy — it’s just too frictionless. Acknowledging existence requires real, personalized effort — something that tapping your screen to heart react will never fulfill…
How to be a Precious Snowflake by Venkatesh Rao
Required reading for anyone figuring themselves and their motivations out. So… all of us. The follow-up, Productivity for Precious Snowflakes, is also good.
Quit Your Job by Wolf Tivy
Slightly unfortunate title since the piece itself gracefully explores so much more than work. Nonetheless a huge fan of the spirit of self-discovery, duty, and rejecting the status quo — I highlighted almost every sentence.
The Inner Ring by C. S. Lewis
A true classic: “As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion; if you succeed there will be nothing left. Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.”
The Trouble with Wilderness by William Cronon
I was recently reminded of this environmental classic, revisited it, and damn is it still good. Massively interesting from a sociological, psychological, and religious standpoint — less so a scientific one.
An Incomplete List of What the Cameraperson Enables by Kirsten Johnson
This list lives in the back of my brain and pops up anytime I see someone capturing someone else. I think we should talk more about how much power the person framing the narrative possesses and what we should be doing with it.
Scientists Recount their Shared Pasts
E.O. Wilson (or as I call him, “half earth dude”) nails it: “The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology.”
Mathematics as a Creative Art by P. R. Halmos
A truly lovely portrait of a discipline — something I wish every field would commit to continually producing as an open invitation for others to join. I like thinking about disciplines as languages that expand your thinking via vocabulary, a la linguistic determinism. Putting that language to use, wouldn’t it be lovely if every discipline kept a running lists of their unsolved problems?
Aspirational Futures by Clem Bezold
Speaking of interesting disciplines, 2009’s version of progress studies (called the “Futures” field) had a few things to say on the importance of dreaming big. This piece reads somewhat like a playbook on how to enable a group of people to do what David Lynch describes best as “going dreamy” together.
Things you’re allowed to do by Milan Cvitkovic
I really, really love this. Perhaps we could all use a list that continuously reminds us of all the things that we’re allowed to do.
Alan Kay emails reflecting on innovation funding
"It strikes me that many of the tech billionaires have already gotten their ‘upside’ many times over from people like Engelbart and other researchers who were supported by ARPA, Parc, ONR, etc. Why would they insist on more upside, and that their money should be an ‘investment’? That isn't how the great inventions and fundamental technologies were created that eventually gave rise to the wealth that they tapped into after the fact.”
Quora question: “The world we live in has conditioned us to not think for ourselves. Why is it so hard to think for ourselves?”
Venkatesh Rao: "The easiest way is to start making up words. The best way, which is quite a bit harder, is to make up your own language.”
Licorice Pizza by Paul Thomas Anderson (film)
New PTA movie! The actors look like real human beings! The story’s fun and rings true! Do I really need to go on?
The Beauty of the Flower by Richard Feynman (video)
"[Science] adds a question - does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms?… a scientific knowledge only adds to the excitement, mystery, and the awe of a flower.”
Interview with Mark Zuckerberg in 2010 (video)
No commentary, just interesting to see how much he’s changed.
Photography by Eric Kogan (photos)
Semi-surrealist and solidly satisfying photography.
Return of the Mack by Mark Morrison (song)
Terrific timeless energy.
“The brain appears to possess a special area which we might call poetic memory and which records everything that charms or touches us, that makes our lives beautiful ... Love begins with a metaphor. Which is to say, love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory.”
― The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera