You must rely substantially on the content of other human minds

You can make a free bike out of junkyard scrap

One compelling way to threaten someone in the olden times was to use a phrase along the lines of “Watch out or I’m gonna tan your hide!”. The implication here is that the person making the threat is going to dish out a whooping, as it were, onto the person they are making the threat towards.

I think this phrase opens the door to a cool thing to do if you were in a community of actual leather workers who were regularly tanning animal hides in chemicals. You could wait until you were at the local saloon and there was some other leather worker person there with you, and you could get into a verbal altercation with them. Maybe you pretend they were ogling your lady or you didn’t like the song they put on the jukebox or something. Then when you are both in the midst of trading barbs and making threats, you could make sure to use the expression “… or I’m gonna tan your hide” as part of one of your threats.

Crucially, you’d make sure that the spat did not escalate into an actual physical fight, and you’d probably also make sure to “lose” the altercation. You could just wait until the other guy said a nice insult toward you and then act humiliated and back down from the thing and let the whole bar laugh at you.

But this is where the plan kicks in! You’d slip out of the bar appearing dejected and defeated, but the unbeknownst to the rest of the patrons instead of going back home to sleep off your defeat you’d move along all sneaky peaky to the other guys leather tanning setup where he keeps all his chemical vats and animal skins and whatnot. Under the cover of darkness, you’d literally tan all of his hides, working all night long to turn them into vibrant pieces of artisanship eligible for high margin sale to the general public. Then you’d leave and go back to your own house.

A week or so later or whenever you were all back in the bar again, you could be like “Hey Gretzky! Notice anything interesting in your warehouse this week!?” (in this scenario the other guy is Wayne Gretzky, I guess) and then you’d just start laughing maniacally with the knowledge that you tanned his hides.

The lunar observatory is orbiting the sun and solar observatory is orbiting the moon

When it comes to decision making, the framework that you find yourself in will often impact how easy or hard it is to make the decision or choose the path to take or even just have a position on an issue or whatever.

If a person or group is starting from the perspective of “it didn’t have to be this way” or “it could have been so many other ways” or whatever — they are correct in a very important but mostly intellectual sense, but then they are also stuck analyzing a whole host of things which are probably not relevant or possible. For example, if there’s a small disaster somewhere and you are trying to help out the victims … but you get hung up on talking about all the ways in which the disaster might have been prevented, or the other people that it could have happened to, or ways to prevent it in the future … you are saying true and valuable and maybe even relevant things, but you are not helping the people in the disaster.

On the flip side, if you are in a mindset of “here’s a bunch of people that need help” then it’s often pretty easy to just jump into action and immediately know what to do to help without much in the way of soul searching or analysis. This might be less intellectually satisfying, but it probably helps the people more directly and more quickly.

The first mindset is more about anonymized statistics and outcome distributions. The latter is more about actual physical logistics and events.

A typical Phish concert emits as many notes as all music ever performed before the invention of fire

There’s a famous thought experiment in economics teaching where the lecturer offers a scenario like “If Bill Gates walked by a quarter, is it worth it for him to stop to pick it up?” and asks the class to figure it out. These thought experiments are from an era when Bill Gates is still a working software CEO, and not a philanthropist covering the world with 5G vaccines or whatever. The narrow premise here (and the math the class is doing) is to figure out how much money per unit time Bill Gates is earning, and then do the math on how long it would take someone to bend down and pick up a quarter, and then calculate whether the opportunity cost in dollars that Bill Gates has lost from doing his actual work and earning those dollars is worth it given that he’s only getting $0.25 by picking up the quarter.

Depending what numbers you use and which year you pick and how long you think it takes to pick up a quarter you can come up with different magnitudes here, but generally you come to the conclusion that Bill Gates should not stop to pick up the quarter and then doing so would be a net negative for him in terms of earnings per moment of time. In some examples (again, this depends a lot on what you assume for current net worth and rates of return and so on), Bill Gates earns something like ± $100 per second, so if he saw anything larger than a $100 bill he should stop and pick it up, but anything less he should walk right by.

Of course, this is really dumb because that’s not how earnings work. For Bill Gates specifically (or any other person who is relatively speaking compensated more for their ownership and less for their hourly wage labor) there might be massive daily fluctuations in their wealth day to day that have almost nothing to do with what they’ve actually done that day but have everything to do with larger market trends. Separately, to the extent that whatever Bill Gates is doing is actually adding or removing value from the business in a given day, it’s not coming from his operating a machine in a factory or boxing things up in a warehouse, it’s coming from his creativity, planning, thinking, etc. His stopping to pick up a $50 will not impact the earning on the already existing wealth.

It’s utterly plausible that Bill Gates taking a walk around town, daydreaming, letting his idle thoughts go all over the place, stopping to feed pigeons, stopping to pick up quarters, etc — is actually a very productive use of his day! His subconscious may stumble upon a cool new way to make pivot tables in Excel or something.

Anyway, whenever I’m in my kitchen in the morning pouring milk into my coffee I try to think about whether there are more efficient ways to pour milk into my coffee that might shave off a few moments here or there. I think about my net worth and the massive gains piling in every second. I think about how if I could just shave off one second per day from milk pouring, that’s about 6 minutes per year, which is about an hour of potential time I could get back per decade of living/working time. I then think about my hourly rate and my passive earnings per second, and realize that my future will be utterly un-impacted by my milk preparation.

The flip side of all this of course, is — what if Bill Gates thinks of really good ideas while he’s picking up quarters?! What if some of my most visionary moments come while pouring coffee? We’d probably want to get me a larger mug so that I could pour even more milk into every morning. The accumulated and compounded returns from this extra idle time could be compelling.