How does the world work?
How can we do a better job at living in the world?
Charles Chu has been trying to find increasingly better answers for these questions since he has was 15.
In recent years, he turned to writing to explore and expand on his ideas about these questions and many, many others.
Currently living in Japan, Charles spends a lot of your time reading (150+ books a year!), talking to people, taking notes, connecting ideas, and spinning them into clear, no-BS essays on the human condition and how we might improve.
The way Charles blends concepts from cognitive science, economics, philosophy, and other disciplines has provided me with much-needed moments for reflection. He’s also helped me gain a better understanding of mental models and how they can help us level up the way we think and the way we live.
This episode provided us with the chance to explore the effects of changes in perspective and what triggers them.
For example, the world became a lot less boring when Charles noticed that people in high-responsibility positions don’t know as much as he supposed they know and that there’s a lot to be improved in the way they make decisions.
I do have to apologize for the ambulance sirens you’re going to hear at one point, I know it will be a bit disruptive. Also, you may notice that I’m a bit low on energy on this episode. I was fighting an awful cold when we recorded this episode, so thank you for bearing with me.
Charles’ healthy skepticism about typical life stories and typical life paths let him to thoroughly question why people do what they do and what alternative paths there are.
Because he got a good response for his essays (he has 44k followers on Medium), Charles decided to make it a full-time job. He’s currently being supported by over 300 patrons on his Patreon page, where he provides them with exclusive content and perks.
In our conversation, Charles revealed that he dedicates a lot of time to introspection – often without a clear purpose. When’s the last time you wandered about – either outside or in our mind? I don’t remember either but I do believe a constant dose of this would help a lot with our mental wellbeing.
“I disagree a lot with my past work.”
“None of us has the complete view of how the world works, we all have perspectives.”
My guest reminded me of something I read a while back (can’t remember the source, unfortunately): not only are we wrong most of the time, but “we are wrong about what it means to be wrong”.
This taps into the recurring theme of this podcast episode, which is really pushing to get to the essence of things rather than just skimming them. Charles is adamant about truly understanding how certain things in life work because otherwise we just get stuck on knowing the name of things and not much else. This short video of Richard Feynman on being encouraged by his father to challenge conventional wisdom speaks volumes about this idea:
One way to be less wrong about things is to “reward yourself for detecting errors and making better decisions”, according to Charles. If you want to explore the rest, I highly recommend listening to the podcast episode and digging deeper into my guest’s work and the resources he shared.
Resources mentioned in the podcast:
- Richard Feynman’s bird story
- Mental Models, Dragonfloxes, and How to Think Real Good
- Charles’ best of
- My favorite tweet by Charles
- The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
- Sunk costs
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- Gary Klein’s books – known for the cognitive models
- Charles Darwin’s List of the Pros and Cons of Marriage
- Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer
- Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Philip E. Tetlock, Dan Gardner
- Farnam Street blog