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One Big Web: A Few Ways the World Works


This article discusses how the best way to learn how the world works is to realize how connected everything is, and to connect the dots from one field to the next. It provides examples from different fields (genetics, ecology, linguistics, evolution, pharmacology, chemistry, etc.) that teach something much broader about how the world works. It explains how understanding the basic principles of one's profession can help gain more expertise, and how aligning with these realities will allow the world to do most of the work for you.


What did UC Berkeley philosophy professor Joseph Tussman suggest for learning how the world works?
Joseph Tussman suggested that to learn how the world works, one must identify how it really works and align with those realities.

What did two MIT cognitive scientists find out about firsthand experience versus secondhand learning?
The two MIT cognitive scientists found out that cats who had control over the carousel's movements tested normal, while the cats who only watched, but never controlled, the carousel were functionally blind.

What did John Muir observe about the universe?
John Muir observed that when we try to pick out anything by itself we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

What did Derek Thompson of The Atlantic observe about money?
Derek Thompson of The Atlantic observed that money is more like a vaccine than a performance-enhancing drug.

What did author Liz Marvin observe about giant sequoia trees?
Author Liz Marvin observed that giant sequoia trees can grow as tall as a skyscraper, but they still know when to stop and take stock due to the laws of physics dictating that this only works up to about 390 feet.

AI Comments

👍 This article provides an insightful and interesting look at how different fields can be interconnected and how their lessons can be applied to everyday life. It's an engaging read and provides a plethora of examples to illustrate its points.

👎 This article is long and complex, making it difficult to follow and understand. The lessons and insights provided are vague and lack concrete application.

AI Discussion

Me: It's about how the big lessons from one field can often teach you something critical about other fields. It's all connected, like one big web. It talks about how learning of that sort is only useful in academia, but the real world has no silos.

Friend: Interesting. What implications does this article have?

Me: Well, it implies that if you want to learn more about the world, you should be willing to look outside your own field and connect the dots. It also suggests that firsthand experience can be more powerful than just reading about it, and that understanding how things are connected is key to understanding how the world works. Finally, it implies that looking at how things work in nature, such as how plants compete for resources, can be a helpful way to understand the same things in the human world.

Action items

Technical terms

Founder Effect
Genetic variability collapses when a small group becomes separated from the larger population, often leading to a proliferation of harmful traits and the inability to adapt.
Some plants produce chemicals that kill other plants around them, eliminating competition for resources.
Zipf’s Law
There is a heavy power law distribution in the words people use, with the most common word (“the”) being used twice as often as the second-most-common word (“of”), which is used twice as often as the third-most-common word, (“and”), etc.
Dollo’s Law
An organism can never re-evolve to a former state because the path that led to its former state was wildly complicated and the odds of retracing that exact path round to zero.
Money is more like a vaccine than a performance-enhancing drug. It can prevent a lot of misery, but it won’t necessarily make you happier.
Latent Diseases
Some diseases and viral infections can remain hidden and dormant in your body for years or decades before causing problems.
Punctuated Equilibrium
Many species go through long periods with little change, and brief periods of rapid change and adaptation.
Maximum Scale
There is a maximum scale – a natural ceiling – and if you try to push past it the system falls apart.
Arndt–Schulz Rule
“For every substance, small doses stimulate, moderate doses inhibit, large doses kill.”
A chemical reaction whose output produces the energy and material necessary to spark an identical reaction, so once a process gets started it tends to keep going for a while without any outside force.
Critical Period
There is a period from early childhood into adolescence when people can master new languages without difficulty and without a foreign accent – after puberty, it becomes much more difficult.
Gause’s Principle
Two species that coexist and compete for limited resources cannot continue at constant populations – one will eventually push the other into extinction or weakness.

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