It is ten hours into 2017 and I am starting a personal writing project, to-be-formally-named but overall related to ‘intellectual honesty’. I am going to be generally pushing myself to write more about my life and ideas in freeform journal entries online, and will invite the reader to engage passively or actively as desired. I’ll go ahead and articulate as best as I can why I am spending time on this writing project:

  1. I believe that increasing the amount that I write, with less effort placed on precision of language, will help me become more intelligent, creative, and articulate.
  2. I believe that ‘thinking in public’ will invite greater scrutiny of my views and ideas, and will thus hold me more accountable in my intellectual honesty, as well as provide valuable feedback to challenge and improve my ideas.
  3. I would like to have a permanent record of the development of my personal philosophy and ideas, and this medium will help keep me motivated and organized at the same time.
  4. Publishing my writing online will provide the most accessible value to others, if there is any value to be found in my ideas, as this work will be a direct channel into my own intellectual journey.

While I suspect the center of gravity of my writing, in terms of topic areas, will ebb and flow, these are the topics I am currently interested in writing about:

  • Philosophy, by which I mean the meaning of life and the nature of truth, empiricism, reason, consciousness, morality, and ethics.
  • A major theme, probably a subset of philosophy, will be secularism, particularly how to derive morality and ethics without religion or dogma.
  • Science, particularly evolutionary biology, psychology, physics, and computing, as well as economics.
  • Politics and policy, using the framework of intellectual reasoning and honesty as a form of criticism of current events, and refinement of my own political views.
  • Art and culture.

But we will see how this goes! And if you are interested in my views on any specific topics, I’d love to hear your recommendations by email (derekouyang[at]gmail).

In personal news, this first week of January is still a bit of a break for me as teaching hasn’t begun yet, but I will be finishing up some curriculum preparation for the upcoming months, as well as moving my Common Ground project from Market Street SF to the East Bay. I’m also hoping to set up some personal accounting infrastructure for the year, including my financial bookkeeping and some new ‘life hacks’ I’ll be trying out. One is a daily ‘timesheet’ for me to record hours spent on various activities, including sleep, reading, writing, exercise(?), and my various projects. This is primarily for me to hold myself accountable to my timeshare goals: 30 hours/week on Stanford, 10 hours/week on Nueva, 10 hours/week on Stockton, 10 hours/week on other Cloud projects, and 10 hours/week on personal projects including this writing. But I also consider one of the major areas I can improve in productivity is by reducing wasted time (addictive browsing on Facebook, excessive sleep, etc.), which I am labeling ‘sloth’, so my timesheet will help me identify sloth each week and actively seek out ways to eliminate it. Another life hack is a weekly calendar reminder to connect with about 30 people I consider my closest family and friends, to help improve my poor habits of maintaining personal relationships. As my more traditional ‘New Year’s Resolution’, I will also be keeping close track of my diet with this personal plan of ‘4×4’, meaning at least 4 meals (lunch and dinner) per week that are vegetarian, and no more than 4 meals per week with red meat. I’m trying this diet primarily for environmental reasons, to reduce my carbon footprint, but also as part of my ethical journey, with my current views being that farm livestock like cows and pigs are conscious and capable of suffering, and are in fact suffering terribly in factory farming conditions, and therefore our moral responsibility if we care about minimizing suffering universally. Poultry and seafood are capable of suffering as well, but I am assuming their suffering to be far less than the mammals I mentioned, as well as having a far smaller carbon footprint. If any of you are thinking about your diet in interesting ways I’d love to hear from you.

I had a wonderful New Year’s Eve with a small group of friends, enjoying all-you-can-eat hot pot (which probably should count as 2 red meat meals…?) and some fun card games in my apartment: No Thanks and One Night Ultimate Werewolf. I love minimalist games that focus on game theory and interpersonal communication, and will be finding as many opportunities as I can to bring friend groups together to play. We in fact had so much fun playing that we missed the New Year’s countdown entirely.

Today I watched La La Land for the second time, and loved it just as much, literally swooning at the most magical scenes, but noted all the same flaws in character performance and pacing. I also finished Infinite Jest, which I had expected I would finish within 2016 but turned to have just 50 or so more pages to go. It was a really satisfying reading experience, and even though the ending was quite abrupt, I still consider this to be a work of genius that I will be thinking about for quite some time. Next up on my reading list: Sam Harris’s Lying, which I will certainly share thoughts on once I’m finished.



2 thoughts on “

  1. Instead of reading more books by atheists and liberals like Sam Harris, why not read books by people you (strongly) disagree with who are theists or conservatives?


    • Derek Ouyang says:

      I’m very willing to and would hope to be honest enough to apply the same level of criticism in either type of book. My only conditional would be that if I discover common fallacies in a different way of thinking, I will not necessarily continue to seek out books that employ the same fallacies in order to identify them; I would then rather seek out books that I believe would truly provide me with more knowledge and critical ideas. But I grant this is hard to subjectively determine, so some allowance for very opposing viewpoints is always healthy. I’d love any book recommendations you have; I’ll set up an anonymous feedback form on my site shortly. P.S. this Sam Harris book, so far, seems to have nothing to do with atheism or liberalism, and so I would recommend it generically.


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