naval ravikant neal stephenson blockstack fall

A Fireside Chat with Naval Ravikant and Neal Stephenson at Blockstack Summit 2019

Key Takeaways

  • You should read Neal’s new book, Fall; or, Dodge in Hell
  • If you haven’t read Snow Crash yet… get to it
  • Two quotes to ponder:
    • “You only have so many days you’re alive; you should spend them in the most high-value way you know”Neal Stephenson
    • “It’s easy to look at war-torn parts of the world that are just a mess and think that those places are just different or they went down the wrong path… But, I think we’re always one or two generations away from being a failed state. Maybe that time is getting closer.” Neal Stephenson

Books Mentioned

Intro

  • This is a chat between Neal Stephenson (@nealstephenson) and Naval Ravikant (@naval) at Blockstack Summit 2019
    • Neal is arguably the world’s greatest author of speculative and science fiction
    • Naval is a venture capitalist, co-founder of AngelList, and co-host of both The Naval Podcast and the Spearhead podcast

Fall; or, Dodge in Hell

  • Fall, Neal’s latest book, revisits the idea of simulation theory, which was also a big piece of Snow Crash
    • How so?  One of the main characters dies, and his story continues in a simulated world, a sort of “digital afterlife,” if you will
  • The book also takes a look at the dark turn of the internet, referring to it by two names:
    • “The Din,” in relation to the internet’s addictive nature 
    • “The Miasma,” described by Neal as the “swamp of bad data that’s out there,” (AKA stuff put there by those trying to steer our national dialogue in one direction or another for their own purposes)
      • Going further: Don’t take everything you read on the internet at face value
      • One line in the book reads: “The Miasma behaves sometimes as if it expected every man, woman, and child on Earth to have a social media and PR staff on 24-call”
        • This is similar to social media today: When putting out a post, we’re often faced with angry mobs who disagree (especially if you have a large following)
  • Naval, having read the 900-page book, describes how every character is living in a slightly different reality based on the type of digital information they’re exposing themselves to
    • Bringing this to real life: “Pretty much every person in this room is subscribing to a conspiracy theory. It’s just a different one for each person based on who they follow, who they trust, and which rat hole they happened to fall into over the past week” Naval Ravikant 
  • “This is the kind of book where, if you want, you can stop on every page and think for a while” – Naval Ravikant 

A Few More Topics Discussed in the Book

  • Think About This
    • “It’s easy to look at war-torn parts of the world that are just a mess and think that those places are just different or they went down the wrong path… But, I think we’re always one or two generations away from being a failed state. Maybe that time is getting closer.” Neal Stephenson
  • Inter-Subjectivity
    • Humans are wired for inter-subjectivity – a lot of our reality comes from what others are thinking
      • “One of the reasons that solitary confinement is so terrible is because you lose the ability to compare notes with other people. It’s hard to know what’s real, at a certain point.” – Neal Stephenson

Can Neal predict the future?

  • “No one knows what’s going to happen next, but you [Neal] tend to have a lot of ideas that have a high probability of working out in the near future. So, for those of you building startups, it’s always invigorating, mentally, to look at Neal’s predictions.” – Naval Ravikant

Neal’s Writing Routine

  • “It’s a good day if I get 5 hand-written pages produced”Neal Stephenson
    • Yes… hand-written
    • One benefit of hand-writing: “Because it’s slower, I think each sentence or idea spends longer in the buffer before you commit it to any kind of fixed form. The first draft quality is higher, and editing is a lot faster.”
  • After stopping his writing for the day, Neal often finds ideas are more prone to pop into his head, which he captures via the voice recorder on his smartphone
    • Naval adds: “I find that when I’m trying to be creative or brainstorming, for efficiency sake, I sit down with my iPad or computer and type, but I have a hard time doing it. It’s much easier to be creative when you’re talking to someone else, or you have a whiteboard.”
  • After a few drafts, Neal will then type the content into Emacs

Protect Your Time

  • “You only have so many days you’re alive; you should spend them in the most high-value way you know”Neal Stephenson
    • “It’s easy away to fritter a lot of time doing email or stuff that, in the long run, doesn’t matter”

What keeps Neal awake at night?

  • “The breakdown of civil society”
  • A bit related: Neal recommends reading A Culture of Fact by Barbara Shapiro
    • The book explores where the idea of “facts” came from

Let’s Wrap

  • “Neal’s books are actually quite funny. They’re actually optimistic, and they have this rollicking movement to them where they just keep you going in a fun, adventurous way. I highly encourage you to pick them up and read them.” Naval Ravikant
  • One of Naval’s favorite quotes from Fall:
    • “Free minds are the only company worth having”

Additional Notes

  • Naval enjoyed Neal’s piece in Wired Magazine, Mother Earth Mother Board
  • Neal was recently accused of being the creator of Bitcoin, otherwise known as Satoshi Nakamoto
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