Past and Future Self

The question of personal identity is a tricky one and philosophers have argued about it for a long time, considering the Ship of Theseus and other analogies in that context.

One way to frame it is to think about past and future selves. Putting it this way is biased in the sense that it implies that these are not the same as the current self, thereby foregoing the conclusion. But it allows to ask questions like

How strongly do you identify with your past self?

or

How well do you treat your future self?

which can be quite helpful mental tools.

The secion on exactly this subject was what I found most intersting in the chat between Simone Collins and Spencer Greenberg that I listened to the other day. They talk about much more than this and at times it is quite funny (the good kind of funny).

Plus, they mention FutureMe, a site for writing letters to one's future self - what a wonderful idea!

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Wheat Beer

wheat-beer

It's been a while but today I brewed a new batch of beer, my 57th. A wheat beer, not quite according to any of the well-known German or Belgian styles, but just the way I like it. I hope, at least, since one never knows exactly how it will turn out until the first tasting, after fermentation and carbonation are done.

If you are into the details, the grist is 56% Pilsner malt, 34% wheat, 10% Munich and a smidge CaraAmber. Hops are Nothern Brewer, East Kent Goldings and a very small late addition of Citra. Yeast is Lallemand's "Munich Classic" which is the same as Wy3068, the most common wheat beer strain, and it well deserves this place. Originally I thought I would add some sugar later on, to bring it in the vicinity of Grosse Bertha, but I think I won't. I prefer weaker easy-to-drink beers, especially since this one is meant for the summer.

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Fast 'N' Run

Around ten years ago I was hanging out with some long-distance runners from time to time. I never made it much farther than the marathon myself, but some of the guys were doing ultras. I remember well that one time, meeting a group on a Saturday morning at a metro station in a Stockholm suburb, to run together for a few hours at a moderate pace, following the metro line to the city center and out on the other side, so that one could drop out at any time and easily get back home.

The pace allowed for conversations and someone told me that he hadn't eaten for quite a while before the run, in order to "optimize fat burning". This sounded like crazy talk to me at the time, after all it is common wisdom that one of the keys to being a good runner is to precisely manage nutrition intake.

It turns out though, that he kinda had a point. No matter how much you load up with carbs beforehand, the body's glycogen stores will eventually run out. In order to not "hit the wall" at that point, you better have the backup engine oiled and ready to go, that is switching to burning fat instead of sugar.

How quickly the body can convert fat into energy is apparently something that can be trained. If it never has to do this, not a rare situation in our world of abundant food, it gets worse at it over time. Enter fasting, which has been shown in recent years to have significant health benefits. (This more than one can say of most other nutritional science.) As far as I've read, which is not very far, it is unclear what the best fasting regime looks like; is 18h a day better than 24h once a week, or rather several days every quarter?

I found it easiest for myself to simply try out skipping breakfast, which turns the time from dinner until lunch into a ~18h long fasting period. (Black coffe in the morning does not count.) This works quite well for me, without negative consequences except that I frequently feel freezing cold in the hours before lunch, perfectly normal, they say. Already after a short while I did not feel hungly that easily or strongly anymore, which I already consider a benefit that offers extra freedom in meal timing by not being slave to cravings.

To make a long story short, I ran 10km at lunchtime today, in the middle of a spontaneous ~30h fast that I just ended with some great homemade meatballs and a German Weissbier. The run felt good overall, but I did take it a bit slower than usual. It's not like I'm in a hurry to get anywhere.

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Dumpster Dive

dumpster-dive

I work in a large university building that hosts physics, chemistry and some more applied technical research, which means that it is great fun to occasionally go down to the cellar where the trash is being collected. Usually there is not much interesting in the electronics bin, but over the years I have brought home, for example, a fully functional TV (720p) and a few magnetic stir plates that are useful for yeast propagation.

Some while ago I picked up the power supply that is pictured above. It looked useful for some home automation project or whatever, and I hoped it would be low-voltage DC, which is most useful in this context. I could not have been more wrong: It turns out it is AC, adjustable up to 5 kV! While I took enough care to not electrocute myself, the multimeter that I used got fried for good.

A look inside reveals some nice manually assembled circuits and the ID of central unit is searchable, confirming this is a high-voltage AC power supply. I have no idea what to do with it now, but I have not brought it back to the bin either. Ideas welcome!

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Pandemic Thoughts

I am getting impatient. It is difficult to admit to myself, but I am turning into a crank, a real old fart, whenever the topic turns to COVID in conversations with collegues or friends. I find myself pontificating and linking to opinion articles and statistics that show how things could be so much better, if we just got our act together.

Needless to say, I am not proud of this. Maybe the pandemic is finally getting to me, even though my work and life situation are such that the negative impact on me has been minor compared to many people, if not most. For that I am certainly grateful.

Still, I find it difficult to shake off this vague feeling of frustration over the fact that we are doing much worse than we could. Not so much because I think I know better than the experts, but rather because there is a wide range of opinions among people with expertise, and I am convinced more by the ones that want to widen the Overton window to doing things differently than before, because we can and because the dire situation warrants it.

Just to name one example, while the quick vaccine development is a great success, it could have been accelerated by months by allowing the routines for Phase-3-trials and approval to be adapted from the status quo. This is not even hindsight knowledge, but people argued for challenge trials at the time already.

I think a part of "the problem" is the general unwillingness to properly weigh risks againt each other. If some people will get harmed by a decision, like the hypothetical one not to suspend a vaccine due to suspected rare side effects, because it reduces harm for a much larger group, then it is the right thing to do and should trump the concerns. I understand that decision makers get much more easily blamed for action than inaction, but we should correct for this bias, not accept it.

A few related links:

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Aligned

aligned

Sometimes the stars align such that you have to run back inside to get the camera. From an early morning in February.

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What To Want

Michael Nielsen tweets:

There's a great line in an otherwise forgotten Reese Witherspoon movie: she asks a psychologist if there's any universally useful advice. He replies: "Figure out what you want, & learn how to ask for it." She replies: "Thanks!" Her face falls: "But both of those are really hard!"

This strikes a bit of a nerve with me. The second part, askng for help, I have always been bad at and while I realized it late, at least I think I have understood it by now. Just to give an example, my time as a PhD student would have gone soo much better if I had gotten over my instinct "not to bother" my supervisor and collegues. The whole thing with coming from a non-academic background probably plays into this, but that's a topic for another time.

Knowing what to want is the more interesting question to me. It is easy to get stuck in believing to want something, then this belief makes it true, in a self-fulfilling way. There are many reasons why we want, and most of them we do not understand ourselves, at least not very well, because even if we think we have good reasons, the chance that they are a rationalization after the fact is quite high. (I am currently re-reading The Elephant in the Brain because of just that.)

There was a time when I envied poeple who knew what they wanted. I think I never really did myself. There are pros and cons to this. For example, keeping the feeling of uncertainty alive made me getting used to and accept it. This can contribute to the continued feeling of wonder about the world and becoming more and more sceptical of people who are too certain of things. Overall this fits nicely with the scientific mindset.

In addition, there is the whole idea of "wanting is suffering" in Eastern philosophy. Being able to want less is a kind of superpower that not only let's you get off the hedonic treadmill, but also cultivate a sense of gratitude which is said to be a major factor in overall happiness. The Stoics were right in this regard.

On the negative side, wanting less and not know what to want can turn you into a drifter, not having an own agenda and simply going along with the flow. Are you fine with others ending up making decision for you instead? If you had more drive yourself, you might have a stronger sense of agency which contributes to life satisfaction. But then again, if you know that the direction of your striving is not really your own choice anyway, what's the point?

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Tear Down

I think my first outside project for the spring and summer is taking shape in my head: a shed extension to move the home brewery out of the kitchen and wardrobe.

The first step is, as so often, to make thing worse, before they bet better. Yesterday I tore down the the small firewood shed (before-picture) after having emptied it in recently.

tear-down

The area there measures about 3 by 4 metres which should be plenty for my rather modest brewing equipment, even if I decide to expand it somewhat.

But first I'll have to finish the removal of large rocks that are in the way. I started this more than a year ago, but granite is hard and heavy, slowing down the drilling and driving of wedges. Lifting the remaining pieces out of the way is good deadlift exercise though!

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Today

In my fresh attempt to blog daily, today is the first time that I don't know what to write about. I am sure this will happen frequently and getting over it is part of the point. Behaviours only become habits when you follow the rule.

I could tell you about that great podcast I just discovered, or the crappy film I watched last night, or I could show you a picture of where in the forest I put up the slaguggleholk this morning. But I won't do that today. Instead I'll just ramble on for a while. Stream-of-consciousness writing they call it, I think. This term might be something my brain just made up on its own but I won't look it up right now. If it isn't a real thing, it should be. James Joyce's Ulysses comes to mind in this context, but I might be wrong about that; I have never read it.

Damn, now I looked it up anyway: James Joyce's name had slipped my mind and of course Wikipedia tells you immediately that he is famous for stream of consciousness, so there's that.

Talking about consciousness, I used to roll my eyes when someone tried to tell that there is a point to "subjective first-person experience" as compared to the "objective third-person" perspective. I'm not so sure about that anymore, not because I've gotten into new-agey woo-woo kinds of things, but because it makes rational sense to me that there are things to learn about one's own mind by paying closer attention to what it does minute-to-minute.

More about that at a later time. For today this will suffice for me to feel good about having blogged something. Not setting goals too high at the outset of a new adventure is a good thing, they say. Whoever "they" are.

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Slaguggla

slaguggla

In November a Ural owl visited our garden. This might not be very spectacular, after all they are not that rare in middle and northern Sweden. But I had never seen one before and was glad it stayed long enough for me to go get the camera.

It is commom knowledge here that Ural owls can get pissy during the spring when they have offspring. The Swedish name for them is slaguggla which literally means "the owl that hits you".

Nevertheless I just built a nesting box this morning, from some scrap material: slaguggleholk

The cube of 30cm on all sides, plus a half roof, is meant to mimic a dead tree trunk that has rotted away on the inside, leaving a cavity. My little book on animal shelters says this is what Ural owls like to nest in. Now I only have to find a good spot in the forest and a way to put it up; it is quite a bit larger and heavier than it looks in the picture.

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