A first-principles perspective on life

I’ve been pulling on a thread of inspiration for a few months. It’s been hard to articulate even to myself exactly what it is — where this thread is going, what’s its value, what I’ll have to do along the way, etc. But my intuition is that it’s valuable. And I have the luxury of some time and space right now — plus a beautiful new house in the Presidio of San Francisco. So I’ve been giving myself the latitude to explore.

Inspired by Derek Sivers, I want to attempt an articulation of what I’m up to.

The short answer is that I’m refreshing my first-principles perspective on life.

I’ve been approaching this along a number of dimensions. Here I’ll look a three.

The first we might call existential. In college I went deep into the abyss with Nietzsche, and I grew terrified that I might never find my way out — that under an unmutable deconstructive gaze all sources of meaning, stability, and truth would be smashed, leaving me, or the fragments of what once was me, adrift, with no hope of a foothold with which to climb out. (I later learned of a name in the mindfulness community for the condition that befell me: the “dark night of the soul”.) But if I were to cease the exploration — to turn my back on the truth-seeking deconstructive process and direct my thinking to happy thoughts, it would be an act of cowardice. It was a difficult choice. I chose to set it aside. I vowed to never obligate myself to undertake an exploration that would be likely to kill me. That experience and the long recovery after was one of the most difficult periods of my life. But recently, after 15 years away from the abyss, I at last felt confident that I had the tools that would allow me to return to the abyss and safely find my way out. And so I did. It was terrifying. But I had the tools. The tools worked. Like a climber exploring a deep ice crevasse, I found my way out. Getting out was a choice. Now it’s a choice that I can make any time I want. Now I can be in touch with the void, but it’s not a slippery slope. I can build and sustain meaning at will.

The second we might call spiritual. The way that I understand and govern my mental world has constitutive influence on the quality of my experience. I’ve been looking pretty deeply into the nature of mind, value, and truth.

The third we might call professional. I believe that products and ideas can change the world. I think that there is enormous headroom to build products and ideas better. I believe that the design of my life has enormous influence on the subjective goodness of my life. I’m thinking deeply about this.

Writing on this blog has been a useful forcing function. I hope that some day the writing won’t suck, and that it will be useful for others. Until then I’ll keep writing what I can.