Nathan Baschez

(mis)Translating the Buddha

You know you’re in for a treat when you stumble upon a five-thousand word essay in 13px font on a Blogger site that looks like it belongs in 2004. I don’t remember how I found this (probably Twitter), and I have no idea who wrote it, but let me tell you, this is a gem. If you’re even a little interested in Buddhism or “mindfulness,” check it out.

The basic idea is that many of the English words we use to talk about Buddhism (desire, suffering, enlightenment, etc) actively get in our way of understanding the underlying concepts, and so we’re treated to a guided tour of some of the rich, nuanced, specific meaning behind Pali terms like Tanha, Dukkha, and Nibbana. I’m grateful to have read it.

I, Pencil

Look around the room you’re in. Pick a random object. Think about what it’s made of. How many different materials? How many different techniques, practices, and processes evolved over how many years to make this object possible? How could any one person hope to comprehend the complexity, let alone master it and produce the object from scratch on their own?

I, Pencil is a classic essay that explores these questions from the perspective of a pencil. If that sounds boring, there is a banger quote from G.K. Chesterton in the opening of the essay that will set you straight: “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.” Read this, and you’ll never see a pencil—or anything else—the same way ever again.

Paradigms All The Way Down

It might be the shortest thing Scott Alexander has published. Easy to mistake for a throw-away. But to me this post was incredibly important. I think it points towards a “theory of everything” of human behavior.

We expect the world to work a certain way, but of course things are way too complicated to model with perfect accuracy, so reality violates our expectations all the time. But we mostly stick with our models anyway, because we don’t expect anything significantly better is out there, and we’re invested in our current ways of thinking and acting. Usually if we incorporate new ideas and learn new things, it’s because they fit in with our prior beliefs. It’s paradigms all the way down.

Podcast: Exponent #122 — From Intel To Disney

I remember when this episode came out. I was living in New York and working at Gimlet at the time. I have a vivid memory of riding the F train home from the office and rewinding parts of this podcast this over and over to try and understand it. It felt like some important law of business physics was here, if only I could see it.

This sent me down a deep rabbit hole of studying Clay Christensen, and ultimately culminated in my own attempt to write a simple explainer of his most underrated idea, the topic of this episode, the law of conservation of attractive profits.

Crony Beliefs

Have you ever met an otherwise intelligent person who believes something outlandish? An idea that can’t possibly have any functional merit, like Steve Jobs eating nothing but fruit. Perhaps we have some of these beliefs ourselves. This essay is about one reason why this can happen, and imagines ideas as employees that “work” for us. It’s a classic.

Night Of The Ginkgo

Less than a year before he died, Oliver Sacks wrote this lovely little piece for the New Yorker. It’s about Ginkgo trees and how wonderful and weird they are. I’d put it in the same category as I, Pencil—taking a seemingly ordinary thing and filling it with mystery—but this one is just a short and sweet note. I always found it surprisingly touching.

Video: Crash Course Word History, Episode 1

You probably know John Green as the guy who writes novels like The Fault In Our Stars and Turtles All The Way Down. But for me, John Green will always be the guy who hosted Crash Course World History.

The whole series is worth watching, but especially the opening monologue in the first episode—an impassioned plea to his mostly high-school-aged audience to care about learning for its own sake, rather than just passing tests and jumping through hoops—will always stick with me.