How To Spot Pseudoscience
By the end of this short piece of writing, you’ll know what pseudoscience is. It’s everywhere, and fortunately, it can be generalized to one sentence.
Here’s what pseudoscience looks like: “Do ten jumping jacks, and you might find ten bucks on the street. If you don’t, try again tomorrow. If you do, I’m right.”
What does jumping jacks and ten dollar bills have to do with pseudoscience? Well… nothing. But, you see, you can replace “jumping jacks” and “find ten bucks” with anything. That sentence is simply the pattern behind pseudoscience.
Perhaps these sentences are familiar:
- Sign up for this get-rich-quick program, and you might be rich next month! If you don’t, you need more time. If you do, please recruit your friends to sign up.
- Down this pill and you might lose ten pounds! If you don’t, you should buy this better pill. If you do, here’s our referral code to share with your friends.
- Work hard for ten years and you might be successful! If you don’t, you haven’t worked hard enough.
- Say this and you’ll enchant your partner! If you fail, say that instead.
- And on, and on, and on…
Here’s something a pseudoscience-spouter would say: “Oh, you haven’t found the ten bucks? Well, you just aren’t walking at the right time this morning. Your jumping jacks are done correctly, but, y’know, this thing needs more time. Nothing is instant; patience is key. Tomorrow morning, do the usual jumping jacks and start your walk three minutes and twenty-seven seconds earlier. You might find the ten bucks by doing it that way.” (The next day, after failing to find the ten bucks, the pseudoscience-spouter can just say “walk six minutes and four seconds earlier” or “instead of ten jumping jacks, do eleven”.)
Now that you’ve read this, you can see the “jumping jacks” and “ten bucks” around you, don’t you? If you don’t, read this again tomorrow…
P.S. To read more about this, look up the idea of good explanations by David Deutsch.
Distribution Is For Being First In The Mind
Growing an audience by writing or talking (podcast, video) is for having distribution. Distribution gives you the ability to put something in front of people’s eyes. It gives you genuine attention.
Advertisers sell distribution—they’ll take your thing and put it in front of people’s eyes. But that is faux distribution. Do you like it when an ad is shoved down your eyes? I don’t. Ad blocker exists for a reason. Genuine attention comes from real audience—people that know, like, and trust you.
Let’s say you’re an unknown creator and you just created something—a product, a piece of essay, an animation video, whatever. Great, you say to yourself, time to share it with the world. But… where, to who? No one trusts or knows you yet. So, you share it on social media by blasting random strangers, and all you get is crickets—or worse, you get blocked. What if you had ten, a hundred, or a thousand people who would be delighted to hear from you? If you had an audience to begin with, the works you release to the world would likely have a better outcome.
Non-obscure creators have distribution—when they talk, people listen. The zero-to-one for internet creators is being out of obscurity.
P.S. A rough way to measure distribution: If you post something then immediately put the phone down, how much do people see it?
P.P.S. Having built a profitable business also gives you distribution.
Creative Juice At Dawn
Those 4AM writing sessions were magical, y’know? Before those happened, I was always two inches from my dreams, head on my pillow. Then the mind unexpectedly went, “Bro, bro, I got this good idea. Wake up now, bro. Now. Now! You won’t regret writing this down!” Listening to my mind’s suggestion, I opened my super-bright laptop, letting it burn my eyes, allowing the words to gush out on its own.
And those were damn good work.
Compared to the works that were produced early in the morning, those late-night works were super-packed with emotions. Writing those felt like squeezing every drip of blood of my heart—it felt fiery; there was something primal about it. Once finished, I hit the pillow once again, exhausted, with a smile on my face.
(Until this day, I still have no clue where those creative bursts came from.)
What If None Of Your Wants Is Original?
Maybe you want to date her because she seems coveted; maybe you want internet points because others chase it; maybe you wanted that boba milk tea because the waiting line was long; maybe you want that job because your peers are aiming at it; maybe you started that business because the business-gurus are hyping about it; maybe you hate that group because your group hates it; maybe you want to “beat” others because you’re imitating them.
What if the desires that you think came from you were actually picked by your culture? What if you don’t really want what you say you want?
Fishes in a pond are funny. If you put your hands out, pretending to feed, they flock to you. They flock because other fishes flocked, not because of the presence of food. This herd-like behavior is common among humans.
If your business idea isn’t producing weird looks from people, it’s a common one, therefore the herd is already competing for it. People applaud you for starting a restaurant, but those same people would likely ridicule you for starting a commercial space travel business. It’s uncommon, it’s risky; “No one has ever done it before,” they say. The weird looks are a byproduct of not seeing what the founder sees. Being a YouTuber was weird a decade ago, but less so now. The more people understood what the internet is and what it’s capable of, the less weird “internet jobs” look. When space travel is commonplace, people will give you a “that’s cool” response for wanting to be a spaceship captain—the same response people give you now for wanting to be a YouTuber.
It’s not about being weird for the sake of being weird; weird simply means the herd hasn’t appeared. The idea might be worthless, but if it turns out to be valuable, it’s like the first person to find gold-rich land. (Execution is the efficiency of digging the gold, leverage are tools to increase efficiency. Another topic for another time.)
The question “how do I find good ideas?” doesn’t interest me. Here’s a more interesting, potent question: “Some people seem to produce weird, valuable ideas on a consistent basis. What sort of worldview do they have that enables it?” What if consistently discovering weird, valuable ideas is simply an inevitable byproduct of despising the herd and ruthlessly being oneself?
I like ponds. The fishes have taught me plenty of things.
Computers Are Cyberservants
Kings were wealthy because they had servants—one servant for feeding peeled grapes, one servant for sewing shirt from silk, one servant for cooking the best meal the kingdom could offer, one servant as a personal guard (with sword and shield), one servant for… you get the idea.
In the cyberspace, computers are cyberservants. They are instructed by coders, and they can be ordered to do anything—serve sites, securely accept money, render lewd graphics, create a happy-faced AI to talk about the weather, clean messy data, schedule blue light filter on 6 PM, DDOS some server, or even self-destruct. When you send an email, a cyberservant takes your mail and slides it down the recipient’s inbox, like a mailman; when you watch videos on YouTube, a cyberservant takes data from YouTube and displays it on your screen as audio and moving images; when you send Bitcoin, a network of cyberservants around the world mines the block to embed your transaction into the Bitcoin ledger; when you write on Google Docs with your colleagues, a cyberservant sends your keystrokes to your colleagues and displays your colleagues’ keystrokes to enable collaborative writing; when you use Photoshop, a cyberservant manipulates pixels for you; when you run a SaaS, a cyberservant delivers services to your customers and collects money on your behalf; when you encrypt a message, a cyberservant uses math to protect your message from being surveilled.
Computer operators are wealthy because they have an army of cyberservants working for them. Coders are wealthier because they can build any cyberservants they like.
You Have Inbox, But Have You Tried Outbox?
I have a file in my computer titled
outbox.txt. It’s like an inbox, but… out. Whenever I have something to do on the internet, whether it’s sending an email, or sharing a tweet, or opening an issue on a GitHub repository, or whatever, I put it in my outbox. When the outbox is “full,” I do everything all at once, just like how I do laundry only when the laundry basket is full. Doing things this way provides me a buffer between the intention to do something and the doing itself, which gives me time to rethink and reconsider. Sometimes the thing isn’t necessary, sometimes the thing is stupid, sometimes the thing is emotionally charged, sometimes the thing isn’t written well. This buffer nice; I can undo or edit the thing before it gets out to the world.
This outbox-based workflow wasn’t designed or planned—I didn’t even have a name for it when I first did it. It started small, and grew, and grew, and grew, until I have this intricate system. I don’t want to be distracted each time I want to do something on the internet. Writing email is a good example: If I want to write email, I have to open the email app, which contains a lot of distraction. Goddammit, I just want to write email in peace!
I like this outbox-based system. It has one weakness, though: Making this workflow works requires lots of manual, repetitive work. Perhaps I can automate it all with code…
P.S. This piece of writing made me build a small outbox prototype: https://silentroom.vinliao.com. (It can only handle email for now!)
What Are You Reading?
Reading can be turned into a signaling game. “What’s your favorite book?” “What are you reading?” “What’s your book recommendation?” I used to brag my “intelligence” by reading a ton of books and talking about it—it was a like a full-time hobby. It felt good. But that game is nonsense because most books are junk. Business books are mostly padded noise with a nice cover; spiritual books are mostly kumbaya with yoga pants. Skimming through junk is necessary to find the gems, but what’s the point of reading junk? Junk belongs to the bonfire.
Books worth reading are the ones that get deeper the more it’s read. It contains truth. Truth is timeless, and such books can stand the test of time. Some of them package truth in a raw fashion, some fictionalize it, but they speak truth nonetheless.
Now, with all that said, here are my favorite timeless books that I reread all the time. Please click the affiliate link below to show your support.
Friendship Ended With Firefox Now Vieb Is My Best Friend
I just found a web browser called Vieb (details: https://vieb.dev). This browser delights me so much that I have to share with you, even though you might not use it. Essentially, it’s a browser that can be used without a mouse.
But that’s not the point of this writing. I want to explore this question: Why am I sharing Vieb with you, even though you likely won’t use it? Because I feel delighted. Yes, yes, delighted! Perhaps what I want to share is not the browser itself, but the delight I feel for having found this browser.
Minimal, fully vim-based (
hjkl to move around,
y to yank links,
/ to search,
:q to quit the browser, etc), customizable (rc file). My god, this browser makes me so happy that I can’t stop yapping about it! As they say: A delighted customer (or user) is the best marketing force. I want to create things that make others delighted, like how Vieb delights me.
I’m Talking To You
The word “you” is direct and personal. When I use it, I’m talking to you—not him, not her, not other people.
The word “you” can make you feel nice when used appropriately (example: I like you), but it also can hurt your feelings: reading “he’s evil” has a different effect than reading “you’re evil.”
I’ve written a handful of fiction with “you” as a main character, and the main challenge is writing something relatable without hurting the ego. After all, if the reader feels insulted, they won’t read.
I just used “the reader” instead of “you.” How does that you-less paragraph feel? Here’s an experiment: I’ll substitute “the reader” with “you.”
I’ve written a handful of fiction with “you” as a main character, and the main challenge is writing something you can relate to without hurting your ego. After all, if you feel insulted, you won’t read.
You see? Personal and direct.