Inspiration For Better Blogging

Tyler Cowen links to Gwern.

Upon first encountering his website, the similarities between he and I struck me immediately, but so did our many differences. Gwern appears to be an interesting fellow (unlike me), arguing for many Stationary Waves-isms (like me) such as an extended cognitive time-horizon and the use of daily blogging to categorize, build, and improve upon personal thoughts. Gwern also appears to be hopelessly lost in the “Rationalist” culture of Silicon Valley (unlike me, and about which I recently wrote here). A trip to Gwern.net is a journey inside the mind of Gwern (unlike a trip to StationaryWaves.com, which is more like a journey inside an hour or so of my daily thoughts). Gwern self-experiments with drugs, including illegal drugs; I don’t do that, and in fact I’m quite vocally opposed to the use of recreational drugs. I do, however self-experiment with nutritional supplements that have no recreational benefit (see posts here and here).

One important thing to learn from his website is Gwern’s criticism of blogs, which is that they are throw-aways meant to be read once and more or less instantly discarded. Gwern feels instead that blog posts should be written to serve the long-term future. This resonated with me right away, because Stationary Waves serves basically one main principle at this point, which is to catalog my ethical and philosophical views for the eventual benefit of my daughter, should she ever want to know who I was and what I thought.

I sometimes like to think of my blog as a sort of insurance policy. Suppose I were to die suddenly. My young daughter would spend most of her life not knowing who I was, and barely remembering what I was like as a person. She would never have the benefit of knowing anything about my adult thoughts. She would never benefit from the advice I would give to her as she grew older and encountered teenage and young-adult situations. Perhaps, like many people who lose loved ones, she would occasionally wish I were there to help. Were that to happen, my blog could provide her with some of that help. It wouldn’t be the same, but it would be better than nothing.

Beyond the mere insurance policy aspect of things, however, there is a real benefit to writing down your most philosophical and well-thought-out ideas, and that benefit is that they begin to fuse themselves into a comprehensive whole. Having a good idea is one thing, but having it, writing it down, and then referring to it later not only helps solidify the idea, but it also helps you understand the basis of your future ideas. In other words, I never realized what my comprehensive philosophy really was until I started writing it down. Had I never started blogging, I probably never could have fully articulated my moral philosophy. But I did start blogging, and eventually wrote it all out in four glorious posts here, here, here, and here.

This “body of work” concept is another thing we can learn from Gwern. More specifically as it applies to me, Gwern appears to do a much better job of cataloging prior ideas than I do. I think this Is something I could really stand to benefit from. Keep an eye on this space, then, because I’ll likely be rearranging things a little bit, to make it easier to find the most important information on the blog. I’ve done that a little bit with the links on the top bar of the page. I’ve linked to the best health and fitness information available on the site, and to my “lexicon,” and my album reviews. But I’ve dropped the ball when it comes to my philosophical ideas. I have some work to do there.

Finally, seeing how well-organized Gwern’s website is has inspired me to put more in-text links in my posts. I stopped doing that a while back, mainly because I figured that nobody clicks-through anyway. And for the most part, I believe that to be true. But in the interest of making it easier to navigate my ideas and understand where they come from, I ought to pick that habit back up again. That explains why you’re seeing so many in-text links in this particular post.

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