The sentence with most information

The supremely entertaining and smart physicist, Richard Feynman, was once tasked to giving introductory physics lectures to Caltech students. Feynman being Feynman started by posing this question:

“If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generations of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words?”

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What Exactly Is a Virus?

Viruses are themselves an enigma that exist on the edges of life. That’s how John Barry describes viruses in his excellent The Great Influenza, which describes the events around the 1918 Spanish Flu. Barry has the knack for explaining biological concepts. In the era of the coronavirus, I thought it would be good to know what a virus actually is and his description is one of the best I’ve read. I’ve extracted the relevant parts from the book and you’ll see what I mean:

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The coronavirus has covered everything.

As we continue living in isolation, the words of Albert Camus in The Plague keep coming back to me. It was published in 1947, yet it captures the mood we are in today so well. I guess plagues and pandemics affect people in the same way, no matter what era we live in. Here are some excerpts and I replace the words ‘plague’ with ‘coronavirus’ and ‘pestilence’ with ‘pandemic’ to make it feel more current:

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Tips to mentally survive the COVID lockdown

I was recently asked by a friend what tips I had to stay mentally strong during these uncertain times. Here’s what I suggested:

1) I’ve been reading and watching plague-related content! So for example, I read Camus’ The Plague and I recently watched the Korean show Kingdom (historical drama with zombies!). They give me a visceral feeling of much worse situations which makes our current situation look better.

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Pandemics And Wars Always Find People Equally Unprepared

With markets crashing and virus fears escalating, I’m getting lots of questions on my take on the world. So I thought I’d share a short piece I wrote for Macro Hive:

“Public opinion is sacred: no panic, above all no panic”

“There have been as many plagues in the world as there have been wars, yet plagues and wars always find people equally unprepared”

Those are words from Albert Camus’ classic 1947 novel, The Plague. Frankly, it should be the book of our times. It’s a reminder that something as primitive and ancient as viruses and bacteria can up-end any civilization, no matter how sophisticated. In current times, our dream was an age of  exponential technological development, spouted especially by the Silicon-Valley utopianists. But we got the nightmare of an exponentially growing coronavirus instead.

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Life in the time of coronavirus

It’s as if we’ve crossed a threshold into a new world. If someone sneezes, you recoil. If someone reaches out their hand, you waver. If someone asks to meet, you hesitate. Wash your hands often. Don’t touch your face. Get a face-mask. Don’t get a face-mask. Welcome to the COVID coronavirus era.

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Time to join a survivalist community?

With fears growing of a COVID-19 pandemic, many are now thinking like a doomer, prepper, primitivist, romantic, survivalist, millennialist or catastrophist*. These are all types of people that believe one way or another that civilisation as we know it is coming to an end.

That path has been well-trodden. Many have taken joined or set up communities that would survive such an outcome. Dylan Evans was one such person. In 2006, he quit his job as an academic and sold his house to fund the “Utopia Experiment” – a post-apocalyptic styled community in the Highlands of Scotland. Continue reading “Time to join a survivalist community?”

Want to know how the Big Bang sounded?!

My head hurts when I think about the Big Bang  – the moment when the universe started. How did something come out of nothing? Is there a beginning to time? Is there a multiverse? Well, I didn’t quite get the definitive answers to these questions when I attended a lecture by Professor Andy Parker, the head of Cambridge University’s particle physics department, but I did learn what the Big Bang sounded like!

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