I divide history reading into two categories: micro and macro.
The best example of macro history books is Homo Sapiens which is full of mental models applicable to different historical contexts and therefore our times.
Microhistory include books that focus on individual experiences (like fictions), and they are used as wisdom-training tools. When reading these books, I pause and reflect: given the existing data, what would my next action be if I were the protagonist.
This is an important mental model that I have been building over the past few years.
Interesting means attention-capturing. Attention is the currency that we are trading in the information age. Thus, the value of almost everything can be assessed on whether they are interesting.
Being interesting has two components: relevance and uniqueness.
To me, a film star’s divorce is unique but not relevant; medical school applications from a student with straight-A grades but nothing else is relevant but not unique.
I see myself as a rational person, which is the direct opposite of being superstitious. However, as a student of Taoism, it is silly to deny something at its face value, so I have figured out two ways that superstitions can help in my life.
Fortune telling A common form of superstition is fortune-telling. However, by reading the book I Ching, an ancient Chinese book often used by traditional fortune tellers, I came to realise that fortune-telling can be useful at times.
Being an extremely (>3 s.d.) future-focused person, I have been conditioned to think that unpleasant things can be good for my future, medications, running the last lap etc. There is of course a bias here. Unpleasant things are much more reflection-provoking than pleasant things. I am more inclined to ask myself “why am I going through all these” when things are unpleasant.
Unpleasant things also provoke learning. I learn much better (or so I think) when I have a question that I want to seek an answer to.
The learning of philosophy is to see things as they are. To possess no internal judgement over external things. In Buddhism, there is a saying “无明是苦”, which can be translated to “suffering comes from the lack of clarity”. Incidentally, 明, or clarity, is part of my Chinese name, so I am constantly reminded that things can be a bit clearer than they are.
Learning philosphy has no destination. One question that has bothered me for a while is why we are constantly searching answers for the same questions.
I like good films, but I do not always desire to watch them. I enjoy flowers blossoming in the botanic garden, but I do not always desire to bring them back home and keep them for myself.
Liking something or someone means there is concordance with your value. It is natural. There is no need to suppress it. All we have to do is to acknowledge its existence and also acknowledge that this idea, like any other, is flowing down our thought stream, and we should not mistake it as ourselves.
“What does your name mean” was the first question I got during the most important interview in my life. This also becomes the question that I like to ask others. I enjoy listening to these backdrop stories of a person’s life and what meanings they derive from it.
I was born to Chinese parents who hardly speak any English. By family tradition, like everyone else in my generation, my name should have a character “明 Ming”, or clarity in English.
Dividing my days into phases is one of my favourite habits.
The basic idea of phasing is to divide our awake hours into phases and devote each phase to a single project and nothing else. Conversely, the projects will be attended only during their designated phases. Here are the few benefits that I have found.
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion - Parkinson’s Law
Cutting all my hair away has become a regular practice during the lockdown.
The practical reasons include hygiene and convenience. Long hair takes a long time to groom. The whole process of delicate grooming as the first thing in the morning takes away too much willpower and decision-making capacity that could have been better spent elsewhere.
There are also schools of philosophy that I am constantly reminded of by this new haircut.