Michel de Montaigne

Maybe the most important book I read last year was “How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts” by Sarah Bakewell. She took inspiration from famous Montaigne’s essays, in which he tries to answer the ages-old questions of how to live a good life.  But he is not a preacher; He is more like a life-long companion, who tries to answer some of the practical questions one encounters through his lifetime. Montaigne does not judge, but simply analyses and tells this thoughts. Maybe the strongest moral point is that there are no rules in life, and each situation will demand a different reaction. But maybe the most important lesson from the book is the warmth it brings to the reader. You truly feel connected to the stories Michel tells, as they are happening to you, and would just like to clap him on his shoulders and tell him: “I feel the same, bro“.

Michel de Montaigne (via Wikipedia)

Maybe the thing I was thinking a lot about is the fact that he lived in one the darkest periods of human history: 16th century in Europe. It was the time of inquisition, civil wars, and in Montaigne’s case, prosecution of Huguenots in France. It was a period of terror and death, and it is quite amazing where did he find the force to write his beautiful essays. He was no ignorant, and was (often against his will) travelling to Italy and Paris. He was fully aware of pogroms.  But I really admire how he could put it on the side and focus on what he really cared about – a truly good life. He focused on the beauty in the darkest of times, which is a true virtue. The times you are born into determine you, willingly or not. Montaigne surpassed the negative vibe of the 16th century, which is something I would like to do one day, too. Not necessary the negativity, but the limitations of the time and age. Some things are beyond the limits of day-to-day life.

He started writing his essays soon after a tragic personal experience when he almost died at the age of 20 from a fall from a horse. And he was severely devastad by the death of his school friend and poet  Étienne de la Boétie (famous for his Discourse on Voluntary Servitude; people voluntarily give their power to the tyrants to rule over them). It is even possible that he started to write his essays from a strong need to communicate with him. There is 107 of them, varying in length. Their titles are: Of Fear, Of death, Of sleep, Of moderation, and so on. The beautiful thing about them is the clarity and modernity of the language. His text don’t feel archaic at all. Nowadays they are even available free on the internet.

During his explorations he often contradicts himself, and he is truly aware of that. To resolve it, he often concludes his essays with “je ne sais pas“, I don’t really know. It is not important. There are no many universal truths in life, and scepticism is good to cope with it. Just keep wondering and questioning. And if you ever feel lost in life, read him. He will be there on your side.

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Yanis Varoufakis on saving the EU

I found this TED talk of Yanis Varoufakis on his point of you of the key issues of  the EU.

He states that the current crisis is not a good time for federalisation, as, as he sees it, EU is collapsing on itself. I am not sure if I agree or not with him, but there are some interesting points:

  • there is a need of aggregate/common banking sector, (current) debt management, and investment; this means, that for the financial issues, Europe is seen as a whole.
  • strengthen national sovereignty, and make every country more responsible, not to hide under the EU rules, law, etc.

This way all EU countries will be able to run on balanced budgets and will learn to live within their means. When you put the money question of the table, countries may be able to focus on their “core business” – creating a safe and productive environment for their citizens.

It sounds a lot like how USA were forged. There was a federal government, in charge of fiscal issues, and there were semi-sovereign states, which could run their policies as they wished, but on the demand of having a balanced budget. If an asymmetric crisis struck one of the states, the others shared the burden via the common financial market, helping the poor one out.

Jeremy Howard on AI revolution

Just a quick post about this video from Jeremy Howard about the future of artificial intelligence. He explains that computers are progressing very fast in video and audio recognition, way faster than expected. He warns the same ways as Tim Urban, that the growth of computer intelligence will be exponential, and that they will reach human capabilities in around 5 years. Interesting is also his own work, as Howard focuses on machine learning for detection of tumors in medicine. Pretty interesting field.