FF Daily #389: Meaning of life

June 4, 2021: Jennifer Doudna on life’s dilemmas; 5 best books; Life, attitude, relationships; Hussain and Chaurasia

Founding Fuel

[Photo by Jean Carlo Emer on Unsplash (cropped)]

Good morning,

In April, we had shared a vignette from The Code Breaker, Walter Isaacson’s biography of Nobel laureate Jennifer Doudna. We thought the book was unputdownable. That is why we were delighted when D Shivakumar listed it in the books he recommends. This is a good a time as well to revisit some compelling questions Isaacson stumbles upon in the dilemma’s Doudna has had to wade through.

“[E]ven if we agree that we want to rid humanity of schizophrenia and similar disorders, we should consider whether there might be some cost to society, even to civilization. Vincent van Gogh had either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. So did the mathematician John Nash.

“To what extent does dealing with mood swings, fantasies, delusions, compulsions, mania, and deep depression help spur, in some people, creativity and artistry? Is it harder to be a great artist without having some compulsive or even manic traits? Would you cure your own child from being schizophrenic if you knew that, if you didn’t, he would become a Vincent van Gogh and transform the world of art? (Don’t forget: Van Gogh committed suicide.)…  

“What is the aim or purpose of life? Is it happiness? Contentment? Lack of pain or bad moods? If so, that may be easy. A painless life was engineered by the overlords in Brave New World, who made sure the masses had soma, a drug that enhanced their sense of joy and allowed them to avoid discomfort, sadness, or anger. Suppose we could hook our brains to something the philosopher Robert Nozick called an ‘experience machine’, which allowed us to believe that we were hitting home runs and dancing with movie stars and floating in a beautiful bay. It would make us always feel blissful. Would that be desirable?

“Or does the good life have aims that are deeper? Should the goal be that each person can flourish, in a more profound fashion, by using talents and traits in a way that is truly fulfilling? If so, that would require authentic experiences, real accomplishments, and true efforts, rather than engineered ones… That might entail sacrifice, pain, mental discomforts, and challenges that we would not always choose.”

Complex questions! 

Stay safe and have a good day.

In this issue

  • The 5 best books
  • Sam Altman on life, attitude, relationships and ideas
  • [Music] Zakir Hussain & Rakesh Chaurasia

The 5 best books this summer

That D Shivakumar is a voracious reader is something we’ve always known. He follows it up by creating a gist and shares it among friends. We’ve now made it a habit to publish all of what he shares on Founding Fuel

“My top 5 books for the summer of 2021 have something to do with dealing with pandemics, and dealing with change.”

A few days ago, we asked Shiv that of all the books he consumed this summer, what got his attention and why. As always, Shiv was quick off the block and got back with a list of five books he recommends wholeheartedly. It includes The Code Breaker, Choosing Courage, How to Change, A Question of Leadership and Changing Gear.

And as always, he has articulated his reasons why he likes them.

Dig deeper      

Sam Altman on life, attitude, relationships and ideas

On browsing through Twitter earlier this week, Sam Altman’s feed greeted us after a long while and in turn that led us to his blog posts. The 36-year-old is CEO of OpenAI and a former partner at Y Combinator. Two of his posts got our attention. 

The first one dates back to when he had turned 30 and contains his reflections on the decade that had gone by.

On Life: “Life is not a dress rehearsal—this is probably it. Make it count. Time is extremely limited and goes by fast. Do what makes you happy and fulfilled—few people get remembered hundreds of years after they die anyway. Don’t do stuff that doesn’t make you happy (this happens most often when other people want you to do something). Don’t spend time trying to maintain relationships with people you don’t like, and cut negative people out of your life.  Negativity is really bad. Don’t let yourself make excuses for not doing the things you want to do.” 

On Attitude: “Don’t let yourself get pushed around. As Paul Graham once said to me, ‘People can become formidable, but it’s hard to predict who’. (There is a big difference between confident and arrogant. Aim for the former, obviously.)  

On Relationships: “Don’t screw people and don’t burn bridges. Pick your battles carefully.” 

“It’s also important to think about what you’re well-suited for.”

A more recent post is focused on ideas because how to generate good ones is a question entrepreneurs ask him often.

“You want to be able to project yourself 20 years into the future, and then think backwards from there. Trust yourself—20 years is a long time; it’s ok if your ideas about it seem pretty radical. 

“Another way to do this is to think about the most important tectonic shifts happening right now. How is the world changing in fundamental ways? Can you identify a leading edge of change and an opportunity that it unlocks? The mobile phone explosion from 2008-2012 is the most recent significant example of this—we are overdue for another!

“In such a tectonic shift, the world changes so fast that the big incumbents usually get beaten by fast-moving and focused startups.” 

Dig deeper

Still curious?

[Music] Zakir Hussain and Rakesh Chaurasia 

When two masters are in flow and engage in a jugalbandi, the outcome is pure magic. This recording featuring Zakir Hussain on the tabla and Rakesh Chaurasia on the flute is one that I had stumbled across a few years ago and since then it has been a constant on my playlist. It isn’t just uplifting, but a reminder about what teamwork, camaraderie and appreciation for each other can do. - Charles Assisi

What’s helping you get through these tough times? Send us the song, poem, quote that is your balm now. And we will share it through this newsletter.

And if you missed previous editions of this newsletter, they’re all archived here.

Bookmark Founding Fuel’s special section on Thriving in Volatile Times. All our stories on how individuals and businesses are responding to the pandemic until now are posted there.

Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

(Note: Founding Fuel may earn commissions for purchases made through the Amazon affiliate links in this article.)

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About the author

Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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