Paul Graham has two new essays up, and both are must-reads.
The first essay, The Top Idea in Your Mind, points out that our minds tend to fully engage with only one idea at a time, and that it’s easy to fritter away our mental power by worrying about money or petty disputes. “What you think about in the shower” may in fact be the most important thing in your life (in terms of problem solving and creative progress) and it’s important not to waste the power of our subconscious on mundane issues.
This overlaps with some of David Allen’s ideas — in Getting Things Done Allen states that the goal is to have a “mind like water.” You don’t want to use up your mental processing power with remembering to buy laundry detergent, and to call so-and-so back; you want to save your brainpower for creativity and problem solving.
Graham’s second new essay, The Acceleration of Addictiveness, discusses how technological progress is a dual-edged sword; we continue to make things that we want, but at the same time we make things we want but don’t want to want (like cigarettes). Since everything in modern life is so addictive (or at least alluring), a statistically “normal” modern lifestyle (enhanced by caffeine, alcohol, artificial light, processed foods, the internet, TV, video games, etc.) is not really normal or healthful in terms of our evolutionary biology. In fact you may appear to be eccentric if you take steps to be truly healthy.
As someone who takes steps to reduce my exposure to artificial light, and who favors a paleolithic diet, I can relate to this. Everyone in my life is quite tolerant (and in fact interested) in my lifestyle choices, but I still feel like an oddball at times.
Geneticist Spencer Wells has related thoughts on this topic — how every aspect of modernity is at odds with what is “normal” according to our genetic makeup (genetically we’re still paleolithic hominds, more or less).