To explore or exploit?

The exploration-exploitation dilemma is one of the most basic yet frustrating trade-offs in nature. The dilemma consists of a dichotomy that involves “exploiting” existing opportunities to gain short-term known gains versus using that time and  “exploring” new opportunities in the hopes of gaining large long-term payoffs. The dilemma can be succinctly summarized by the age-old question of whether to go eat at the known restaurant that serves consistently good food or trying the new restaurant that could potentially reveal unknown gustatory pleasures – to exploit or explore?  In looking back at 2017, my year was mostly spent inwardly exploring. The exploration consisted of three overarching activities. I spent a lot of time reading books (43 books, ~14000 pages). I also embarked on a goal of developing python programming skills and finished DataCamp’s data science program. I also continued my goal of writing monthly essays that looked to integrate my reDSCF0284.jpgading with my medical practice and my informatics background. Just as important to my inward exploration was tinkering my training regimen to include more functional and strength based exercises. Thereafter, I challenged myself with a mountaineering expedition to Mount Baker.

This time commitment to “inward exploration” has been infinitely rewarding as it has yielded new ways of looking at the world in all facets of my life from the personal to the professional. Rekindling my passion for reading, in particular, has vastly opened up perspectives as I read books from greats in their fields such as Donella Meadows, Daniel Kahneman, Stephen Jay Gould, and Marvin Minsky. Ideas such as systems thinking, cognitive biases, the humbling role of historical contingencies in evolution, and modules of the brain were big, transformative ideas that are shaping science and society. Maybe fields such as evolutionary biology, neuroscience, cognitive psychology, chaos theory, network theory, complexity theory can bring about the consilience that famed biologist E.O. Wilson talked about and carry humanity to untold frontiers? It is fun and interesting to think about the future, however, looking back at the classics and history has its own set of enchantments and discoveries. The Greek philosophy of the Stoics and Aristotle have untold wisdom on living the virtuous and eudaemonic life. Interestingly, almost contemporaneously to Aristotle, the Buddhist developed psychologically insightful concepts such as  “no-self” and “mutual interdependence” that yield unprecedented insight into the human psyche. It was mind-boggling to think that these concepts were borne out of a 2500-year-old contemplative tradition that looked inwards with the goal of uncovering the roots of human suffering. Looking back ~200,000 years to the cradle of humanity, the Kalahari bushmen and their culture of affluence without abundance created a society without material wealth but with an abundance of equality and contentment. Maybe inequality, no holds barred competition, zero sum games are not an inevitability of human cultural evolution?

Will Durant said that “the only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character, the only real emancipation is individual.” I look forward to that journey in the upcoming year. I will continue burrowing deeper into the themes from the previous year and maybe will come across new themesWith that said, my goals for the upcoming year include the following:

  1. Continue expanding and refining my mental models 25-35 books
    1. 10-12 essays
  2. Begin a Vipassana meditation practice
  3. Continue my training regimen Physically challenging mountaineering or hiking trip
  4. Continue expanding my data science and python programming skills

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said, “there is a mutual relationship between goals and the effort they require. Goals justify the effort they demand at the outset, but later it is the effort that justifies the goal.” In looking back at my goals of 2017, this relationship held true and as I look forward to continuing that process in 2018.

Reading List 2017

On Intelligence The Medici Effect
Home Deus Movement Matters
What Does Not Kill Us Algorithms to Live By
Willpower So Human An Animal
Lessons of History The Drunkard’s Walk
The Undoing Project Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Way We Gain Insight
Why Information Grows Consilience
Fallen Leaves How to be Stoic
Thinking Fast & Slow Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best & Worst
The Quest for a Moral Compass Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind
The Enigma of Reason Answers for Aristotle
The Half-Life of Facts The Emotion Machine
Complexity: A Guided Tool Why Buddhism is True
Affluence Without Abundance Contemplative Science
Small is Beautiful Society of Mind
For Rulers Sixth Extinction
The Ego Tunnel Limits to Growth
The First Bite Thinking in Systems
Wonderful Life 1491
Against the Gods Linked
At Home in the Universe Felt Time
  Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory

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