Shane Parrish, founder of the fantastic Farnam Street blog, recently hosted Naval Ravikant on his Knowledge Project Podcast. Naval is the CEO & Co-Founder of AngelList, and one of the most interesting thinkers of our time. We’ve compiled some of our favorite learnings below — but the whole episode is a must-listen.
Richard Hughes-Jones on foundational values
I would define values, first of all, as a set of things that you will not compromise on. Foundational values to me are things that I’ve looked at very, very carefully about myself and I’ve deliberately chosen and said, “You know what, this is a habit. This is a way of life. I’m not going to compromise on it. I’m going to stay this way forever. I don’t want to live life any other way.
What Naval said about foundational values hit me hard.
Kajal Sanghrajka on Unconditioning Yourself
“I think you can uncondition yourself. You can untrain yourself. It’s just hard. It takes work. It takes effort”
I’ve realised the older we get the harder it is to unlearn. Though we can create new neural pathways, many of the existing ones can be become stubbornly entrenched. I’ve met many people who are learning machines but far fewer who can unlearn as quickly.
“My number one priority in life, above my happiness, above my family, above my work, is my own health. It starts with my physical health.”
I met an old school friend last week who teaches Thai boxing to people in homeless shelters in London. She commented on how each of her students gain confidence in all aspects of their lives by being stronger physically. Naval’s discussion on this drove home this point — physical fitness is foundational. I certainly need a daily reminder of this.
Tom Wang on Weakening the Sense of Self
I do not want my sense of self to continue to develop and become stronger as I get older. I want it to be weaker and more muted so that I can live much more in present every day reality and accept nature and the world for what it is and appreciate it.
Loved this one, though it sounded odd to me at first.
Weaker sense of self sounds like a strange concept, but I thought about all of the self-judgements my mind leans towards and how they could limit me: I’m great at x, I suck at y, I’m the dude who does z.
The extra awareness can help recognize advantages, but I want to unpack that and be more open minded. It limits myself to a thin shell and reinforces bias, I can be much more dynamic than just who I think I am. I could live a more present, abundant life if I break that habit.
Red Gaskell on Memories & Order
Who really sits there, years later, and goes back and looks at all their trip photos and gets nostalgic? Go take your next trip. I just don’t believe in anything from the past. Anything. No memories. No regrets. No people. No trips. Nothing.
This was an interesting thought since I’m always taking photos and documenting and I find a lot of value in them personally and I feel my friends and small audience of strangers do too. I think here he looks at the thing itself and not what it means or what it could be for people. This also read as hypocritical to his earlier statement about “always” and “never”
In other words, for every $200 worth of books I buy, I actually end up making it through 10%. I’ll read $20 worth of books, but it’s still absolutely worth it.
This seemed like a terrible win rate but then he’s getting the 10% that he needs that adds value to his life. Skipping to the parts of the books he finds most interesting or fits his needs gets him what he wants and saves time. Never would’ve lumped books and instant gratification together.
Actually my note taking is Twitter.
This is just great on its own, no explanation needed.
Khe Hy on Judgment
This is all normal and healthy. It’s part of being the human animal. I think at some point it gets out of control and then we are constantly talking to ourselves in our head. We’re playing little movies in our heads, walking down the street, but no one’s actually there. Of course, if we started voicing this thought in your head that you’re always having, you’d be a madman and they’d lock you up.
The reality is if you walk down the street and there are a thousand people in the street, I think all thousand are talking to themselves in their head at any given point. They’re constantly judging everything that they see. They’re playing back movies of things that happened to them yesterday. They’re living in fantasy worlds of what’s going to happen tomorrow. They’re just pulled out of base reality.
It’s good for the survival and replication machines that we are. I think it’s actually very bad for your happiness. In my mind, the mind should be a servant and a tool, not a master. It’s not something that should be controlling me and driving me 24/7.
I’ve taken on this idea that I want to break the habit of uncontrolled thinking, which is hard. If I say to you, “Don’t think of a pink elephant”, I just put a pink elephant in your head. It’s an almost impossible problem. It’s more something that has to be guided by feel, than guided by actual thinking or thought process. I’m deliberately cultivating experiences, states of mind, locations, activities, that will help me get out of my mind.
I think this part was captured a few times by peers. I resonated deeply about walking around playing movies in our head, thinking of the past or the future. I think this has hit me harder as I think about Harari and the power of stories. To some extent, we’re playing out these stories, that we’ve fabricated for ourselves. Then, not only have we fabricated them, we play them in our heads and NO ONE HEARS THEM. There’s something really banal abut that all, yet reinforces that all we have is the present moment. I struggle to reconcile this Buddhist ideal with responsibility around family, health, basic financial well-being — but even as I write that, I see the slippery slope that this thinking can engender.
Lev Naginsky on External Validation & Self Doubt
No one in the world is going to beat you at being you. You’re never going to be as good at being me as I am. I’m never going to be as good at being you as you are. Certainly listen, absorb, but don’t try and emulate. It’s a fool’s errand. Instead, each person is uniquely qualified at something. They have some specific knowledge, capability, and desire that nobody else in the world does. That’s just purely from the combinatorics of human DNA and development.
Your goal in life is to find out the people who need you the most, to find out the business that needs you the most, to find the project and the art that needs you the most. There is something out there just for you. What you don’t want to do is be building checklists and decision frameworks built on what other people are doing. You’re never going to be that. You’ll never be good at being somebody else.
It reminded me of a point Khe made on David Perell’s “The North Star” podcast about finding your own “true north”. You shouldn’t spend time having self doubt or worry or have jealousy of your friends’ accomplishments. You certainly shouldn’t wish they fail because it would make YOU feel better, which is a huge net negative to everyone involved.
Alex Hardy: Foundational Values & Short-Termism
Honesty: never wanting to disconnect what I’m feeling from what I’m saying.
Avoiding short-term thinking & dealing: all benefits in life ($, relationships, love, health, habits) come from compound interest.
Pure (not hierarchical) relationships
Rejecting anger: anger is a hot coal you hold in your hand while you wait to throw it at someone.
Freedom: I used to want freedom ‘to do’ things, now I want freedom ‘from’ things.
This section made me think a lot about my foundational values as a guidepost for day-to-day living. I’ve been most focused on internalizing: power of compound interest, equanimity (rejection of anger), and freedom ‘from’ arbitrary & self imposed constraints.
It’s the mark of a charlatan to explain simple things in complicated ways, and the mark of a genius to explain complicated things in simple ways.
In my firsthand experience dealing with people in different professional settings (finance, technology, academia, others) this is pretty close to an immutable true.
Tom Morgan on the Default State of Happiness
I read the short story That Hell Bound Train when I was 8, and it has stayed with me my whole life:
‘Martin is a young criminal with a fondness for trains. One night, as he is considering whether to abandon crime, a large unmarked black train pulls up beside him. The train conductor offers Martin anything he wants, in return for which he will “ride that Hell-Bound Train” when he dies. Martin requests the power to stop time, which he plans to use at the happiest time of his life. The conductor accedes to this request; however, over the years that follow, Martin discovers that he cannot choose which moment is his happiest.’
I think that after this life, it’s very much like before you were born. Remember that? It’s going to be just like that.
Both simple but effective.
Dave Levine on Negotiations & the Meaning of Life
I don’t have a typical day, nor do I want a typical day.
I admire this way of thinking and aspire towards the same.
I think working with your values is long-term selfish.
Think this is a great way of thinking about it. It is like redefining the game to be a long term game.
Negotiations with high-integrity people are usually very easy. You’re giving each other things to make sure the other person is happy enough that the deal survives.
Love this insight on negotiations.
There is no meaning to life. There is no purpose to life.”
Naval seems dismissive of religious thinkers. I find this deeply troubling. It troubles me that someone as smart as Naval would dismiss religious thinkers without fully engaging with the best religious thinkers.
He seems to exercise intellectual curiosity about things he doesn’t know about except when it comes to Religion.
I also think he neglects concepts like Hermeneutics, Interpretation and Dialectic which are all important alternatives to a purely Analytic logic.
The main mistake he seems to make is only focusing on Popper’s falsifiability test as the only philosophical idea that matters for his epistemological mind-space, when in fact there are many more important ways to think about the world.