On the Optimization and Quantification of Life – Assorted Pre-Salon Thoughts

This post is a preview of sorts to my Interintellect Salon on the 31st of July. This isn’t going to be a particularly in-depth post, it’s mostly to give some of my initial thoughts on the topic and to provide some more context to people who may be interested in the Salon but are on the fence about attending.

One of the main reasons why I think this topic is a timely one, especially as we slowly return to normalcy after the past year and a half is that now is a good time to think about how society operates, what some of the shortfalls are and how we can rectify this.

While I will in parts of the Salon touch on the quantification of work and professional life, this has been discussed almost ad nauseum elsewhere, and is not the main focus of what I had in mind for this topic. Instead, focusing on areas such as personal lives, leisure time and even hobbies is more of interest to me. Incidentally, one of the things which sparked this idea for a Salon was watching the Euros recently and noticing the extent to which stats, even ones which had at best peripheral relevance to what was happening, being a centrepiece of the broadcast. Having not paid close attention to football for a few years before the last few months, the number of new metrics and stats measured struck me as being bizarre at first, but also a part of a broader trend the more I thought about it. While a seemingly inoccuous thought at first, it did soon prompt me to think further on the issue which eventually led to me coming up with the idea for this Salon.

Particularly in the online spaces where I frequent, I find a lot of people trying to relentlessly optimize and quantify even their hobbies and interests. To an extent, this is a natural response to broader societal trends. However, it seems not only to be expressed through actions, but also through a more pervasive worldview.

As well as this phenomenon, I want to explore the other downstream effects of the relentless push for optimization and quantification, and how it may affect aspects of our lives which we didn’t even think about, or in different ways than we usually conceptualise. This thinking is reflected in some of the posts I have shared to read before the Salon in the event page for the event.

Again, this post is far from a comprehensive summary of my thoughts on the issue, but just a way to air out some of my initial thoughts on the topic as I continue to prepare for the Salon. In the days leading up to the Salon on the 31st July, I’ll likely discuss this more on avenues such as Twitter, the I.I discord and elsewhere.

For those who are interested, the link to the online event is below. Tickets are $10, which is a great deal for a 3hour+ event. It starts at 8pm Adelaide time on the 31st July, which is around 11:30am in the UK and early morning in the US if you’re up for a late start. Hope to see you there!


Getting reacquainted with art

For most of my life, I did not consider myself to be a particularly artistic person. I was never good at art subjects at school, although I did start to learn guitar in high school and take lessons for a while. Other forms of art, however, such as film, paintings, TV and so on I never really ‘understood’. Part of it was a lack of consistent exposure. The main reason, however, was a personal narrative that I had, which was that I was not an ‘artistic’ person.

I have started to challenge this over the past couple years, however. I’ve steadily become more interested in art, architecture, design and aesthetics more broadly. I was able to do it partly through leaning on my naturally analytical, inquisitive nature and by learning some of the basic techniques for looking at art. Crucially, however, I did not go overboard in doing this. In a rare move for me, I relied more on my intuition and allowing myself to be drawn to what appealed to me, rather than what I felt I needed to enjoy. It’s meant taking in new experiences, influences and ideas I would likely have overlooked or not been at all aware of otherwise.

A major factor behind this shift has been because of joining the Interintellect at the start of the pandemic last year. It was here that I was introduced to many people who were interested in all forms of artistic expression – music, poetry, painting, design and so on. Having had limited exposure to some of these forms in my daily life before then, I quickly became gravitated toward the people within the Interintellect who were interested in these things, as well as the Salons, or online discussions which they held. This is despite it previously not being a particular interest of mine. However, being part of this community clearly piqued my interest more so than any previous exposure to art had done.

In particular, the Salon “Visual Intelligence and Art – Learning to See”, hosted by Patricia Hurducas, creator of the Flaneuse Project (https://flaneuseproject.com/salons-hosted/) was crucial to developing this newfound interest. It was during this Salon, where we were invited to bring along an artwork that we particularly liked or that held personal significance that I finally felt comfortable talking about art. During the course of the discussion, where I spoke about the famous ukiyo-e artwork ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’, something in my mind clicked – that I could finally understand and appreciate art on a deeper level than I did previously.

File:The Great Wave off Kanagawa.jpg - Wikipedia
The Great Wave off Kanagawa

During what has often been a dreary and depressing year between lockdowns, difficult personal circumstances and general uncertainty about the future, this newfound interest and appreciation for art has been an unlikely but valuble source of novelty, spontaneity and curiosity. When the days would otherwise meld into one another, exploring art has been greatly enjoyable and beneficial. I’m not exactly sure where in particular this newfound interest will take me, but I’m excited to explore the possibilities nonetheless.

An Introduction to Cybernetics

Cybernetics, due to the complexity and scope of the concept, is often misunderstood, especially by non-specialists. Even during the course of researching this article, finding a relatively concise explanation of cybernetics that a general audience that were not already familiar with the term could grasp was difficult. Thus, the inspiration for this post arose.

Cybernetics, as a field, has been around roughly since the end of the second world war in the manner that it is referred to in a contemporary context. The term comes from the Greek term kybernetike, or governance. It is defined by Norbert Weiner, author of the book ‘Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine’ as “The scientific study of communication and control”. Its foundation as a formal field can be traced back to the Cybernetics Conferences held between 1946 and 1953. These conferences were aimed at pulling together the disparate scholars to create a formalised “general science of the workings of the human mind”. While they did not succeed at this stated aim at the time, these conferences had a significant influence on the development of cybernetics as well as fields such as cognitive science and systems theory.

Part of the complexity of understanding cybernetics as a beginner is that it is a concept that can be applied to almost any field one can think of. While it is primarily associated with computer science and related fields, it can be applied in many other ways. Its interdisciplinary nature, while making it a complex subject to approach, is also what makes the subject so interesting and worthy of study, due to its applicability in a broad swathe of areas. As a way to figure out some of the core thinkers, concepts and ideas behind cybernetics, I recently spoke to Maggie Appleton, a digital anthropologist and designer in order to learn more about the topic. During the course of our discussion, we came up with a board of ideas of these concepts, which can be seen below.

Cybernetics is closely related to complexity theory and complexity studies, and the overlap between the two often creates confusion for those new to cybernetics. Some scholars argue that rather than being two separate fields, they are merely different approaches to the same overall problem. One distinction that is generally made between the two is that systems theory focuses on the structure of systems, while cybernetics focuses more on their functionality and how they control themselves.

To help make more sense of what cybernetics is, I’ll explain one of the core concepts of cybernetic theory, which is the cybernetic loop. A cybernetic loop is the process of how a self-regulatory system works. An example of this can be in the context of a workplace. An initial input would be a task assigned by a manager, an order to fill from a customer or something similar. The response would be to then perform the required work, and the output would be the completed order or objective. During the process, there would likely be some form of feedback, such as further instructions from a manager or customer. Upon receiving this feedback of new information, the work performed would change and the output with it would change. This system is an example of a first-order cybernetic loop or control system.

This post of course barely scratches the surface of cybernetics. Further reading, especially of core texts such as Norbert Weiner’s Cybernetics are highly recommended for those who wish to take a deep dive into the subject. It’s a seminal text of the field and holds up to this day, even if it is somewhat inaccessible in parts.

This is also the first of a series of posts that I will be writing as a means of creating artifacts of learning after exploring topics as part of the Camp Curiosity series of events over at the Interintellect. Held monthly, these events are online-based gatherings of curious minds who want to go down rabbit holes of learning together in order to enhance their understanding of various topics of begin to explore something for the first time with the guidance of others. They will be on the first weekend of every month for the remainder of the year. A link to the next event can be found here, if you’re interested: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/down-the-rabbit-hole-the-infinite-curiosity-atlas-ii-intro-salon-tickets-137597813765

Interintellect Fireside Chat recap: “Reclaiming Control” Book Discussion

This is my first post in a while. Hopefully I’ll be able to write a bit more often going forward.

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of being a co-host of my first Interintellect (I.I) event, alongside the talented Alex Yao, a fellow I.I member. We spoke to Amy McMillen about her debut book, Reclaiming Control: Looking Inward to Recalibrate Your Life. The book is broadly about Amy’s journey from a fast-paced corporate lifestyle, her experience of professional and personal burnout and the subsequent process of reshaping her lifestyle (reclaiming control, if you will).
Over the course of around an hour and a half, the discussion touched on a wide variety of topics, from handling burnout, mental health in modern society, work-life balance, the process of writing and publishing a book independently and more. A small but highly engaged group of attendees were also in attendance, resulting in an intelligent and interesting discussion on the aforementioned topics.


I greatly enjoyed the chance to host an event, even if it was in a co-hosting role. Considering the effort and preparation required of such an event, having the support of Alex was a great help in being able to be a part of this event. It’s been a long process over the last several months since joining the Interintellect at the beginning of the pandemic to being at a place where I’m ready to start hosting. I’m greatly appreciative not only to Alex and Amy for allowing me to be a part of this event, but also to I.I founder Anna Gat and the entire I.I community for their support through some tough personal times. I can’t wait to host my own solo Salon sometime in the near future.

Amy’s book Reclaiming Control is a book I would highly recommend to people who have dealt with or are in the process of dealing with burnout and similar issues. Her style of writing provides an eye-opening account of some of the pressures of modern corporate life, interspersed with research on topics of mental health and wellness. It’s a short but engaging read and, as all good books do, will give you food for thought long after you’ve finished reading it.
Reclaiming Control can be found on Amazon in paperback and kindle formats.

On Accidental Philosophy

Recently, I attended an Interintellect salon on the topic of philosophy. The opening question to the discussion was, ‘Do you consider yourself to be a philosopher?’. In the course of my answer, I stated that I considered myself an ‘accidental philosopher’. By this, I meant that I was someone who, despite not explicitly thinking about philosophy and philosophical questions, as well as someone who does not have a formal background in philosophy, thinks about the fundamental questions of life.

I think there are a great number of people who fall into this category without realizing it. Philosophy is often associated with sitting around, pondering questions idly and contemplating the ideas of particular philosophers, which are often difficult to read and to comprehend. It’s generally not associated with the layperson or with routine, everyday life. Yet, when you think about it, there is a certain level of philosophical thinking that goes into peoples’ lives, even if it is not explicitly thought of as philosophy per se. For instance, a person does not have to know about Stoicism or think of themselves as a stoic in order to live like a Stoic.  

As far as I can tell, ‘accidental philosophy’ does not exist as a category of philosophy. The closest thing I can find to it is the idea of ‘Accidentialism’, the notion that events can occur haphazardly without a particular cause to ascribe the event. This is not what I’m trying to describe, however.

Is it even possible for one to be an ‘accidental’ philosopher? Or is philosophy inherently something that is done purposefully and intentionally? This is ultimately the question I’m finding myself pondering following this morning’s salon. It’s a question that I’ll likely be wrestling with for some time to come. This piece doesn’t fully articulate my thoughts on the idea and is likely not fully coherent. It’s an idea that’s very much in progress and more a patchwork of related ideas than a coherent view at this stage.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic. Do you think a person can be an accidental philosopher or practice philosophy unintentionally? Or is it something that must be done intentionally?

Connection and Community in the time of Isolation

One of the defining aspects of 2020 has been the temporary halt to everyday communities and means of connection. Almost as soon as the pandemic began and isolation began, online communities and meetups began to fill part of the void left by the lockdown.

Among these sources of online community is the Interintellect(I.I), an online community of curious, optimistic people seeking in-depth and intellectual discourse. Though the group began as a way for these people to meet in small face-to-face meetups, or ‘salons’, the I.I transitioned to socially-distanced gatherings with aplomb. In fact, it is due to this transition that I was even able to join in the first place and be able to interact with the community. As most of the group is based in the United States and Europe, very few members were from Australia, and certainly not enough here in Adelaide to run a salon of my own. I was fortunate to be able to join this community right as the Coronavirus pandemic started to take effect. Through the ups and downs of the last few months, groups such as the I.I have been a means of keeping socially connected in some capacity and providing a source of optimism and hope during moments of despair.

On the I.I Medium page, Alex Yao, a member of the community wrote an article, ‘You’re Part of History Now’ on a similar topic. He details how niche online groups such as the I.I as well as groups on mainstream platforms such as Twitter and Facebook collaborated to support one another during the early stages of the pandemic, providing medical advice as well as support through various distressing circumstances related to the pandemic.

As useful as these online communities have been, they are not a full substitution for face-to-face interaction, even for the most introverted and socially anxious among us. As great as being able to talk to people across the world on Zoom is, it’s also quite taxing in a number of ways. It’s a way of communication that we are not used to, and requires sustained attention in a way that is unusual compared to other ways of communication. Zoom Fatigue is an increasingly-reported issue among people frequently using video calling software.

Aside from issues with Zoom fatigue, the mental and physical health issues associated with being socially distanced and isolated are numerous. Countless studies can be cited to prove this fact. Yet, it doesn’t take a peer-reviewed study to be able to recognize the extent to which this has affected people, myself included. Despite this, the flexibility that online spaces have provided in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and will continue to provide have been of considerable benefit. Consider the advances made towards working from home. The pandemic has accelerated the movement and opened up opportunities, particularly in sectors such as IT which weren’t there previously.

If we take no other lessons from the last few months of lockdown, let the one we do take be the importance of community and connection. While we all, of course, lead busy lives with many competing priorities, the extent to which social connections and a sense of community have been reduced and minimized in modern society should be even clearer. A rebalancing is required, and we should aim to place a higher value on community and connection going forward, whether it be online or in face-to-face settings.