Bit of a Tangent
015 | You have no Choice in the Matter

015 | You have no Choice in the Matter

September 18, 2019

This is Part 1 of the series on Free Will. In this episode, Gianluca and Jared dispel the assumption that humans have Free Will by presenting the argument from Determinism—popularised by Sam Harris. They discuss the evidence from physics, neurology, and the famous Libet experiments; before laying the groundwork for later conversations about what this implies morally and societally. You have no choice but to listen.



Sam Harris’s “Free Will:

Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life (and some of his other fantastic shorts):

Arrival, the film adaptation of Story of Your Life:

Principle of Least Action:

Chaos Theory:

Good primer on the Libet experiments that preempted decision making:

The original Libet publication [paywalled]:

Details of more recent versions of the Libet experiments with 7 second preempting and some predictive capability:

A recent “debunking” of the Libet results:

A popular article on the Libet experiments in the light of the new model:

Great CGP Grey video on split brain experiments:

Decent primer on Sperry’s split-brain experiments:

“Behave” by Robert Sopalsky:


014 | The Art of Looking - Part 1 of ??

014 | The Art of Looking - Part 1 of ??

September 9, 2019

Jared and Gianluca try something new on this episode! We read passages from Robert Pirsig’s wonderful novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, reacting and discussing as we go! Along the way, we explored the limits of conceptual understanding (a.k.a. Shut up and taste the wine!), how the words we use to describe reality also end up defining it, limiting it or expanding it, and why cliches are so easy to dismiss and when they shouldn’t be (hint: your gran was right - there’s nothing a good night’s sleep won’t solve). We also discuss what it means to truly understand something, and how our intuitive sense of what is excellent can guide us to cook great food, write beautiful code, and be delightful people!


As a bonus, we drop some hints about an exciting upcoming episode, and at the end we each share the advice we’ve heard that has the highest impact with the fewest words!


Listener feedback can be recorded here:



Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig: 

The Stranger by Albert Camus: 

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: 

Fountainhead by Ayn Rand: 

The Philosopher’s Toolkit by Julian Baggini: 

Fermat’s Enigma by Simon Singh: 

The Cook & The Chef - Elon Musk’s Secret Sauce by Tim Urban: 

How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie: 

Michael Nielsen’s personal blog: 

Venture Stories podcast with Michael Nielsen: 

Tyler Cowen on The high-return activity of raising others’ aspirations:

013 | How To Learn Anything!

013 | How To Learn Anything!

September 2, 2019

We’ve all heard about the importance of learning. We’ve all heard about the importance of learning how to learn. Well, on this episode Gianluca and Jared dive into both of these topics. They discuss the philosophies of learning they’ve encountered on their own journeys, and share several key tricks that they’ve found most helpful over the years! Along the way they discovered a new way to think about how to keep your knowledge up to date in an ever changing world!

Listener feedback can be recorded here:



This essay by Michael Nielsen is what spurred me to say we might need a follow up. It’s definitely worth a read: 

Cultural evolution primer by Scott Alexander: 

Tim Urban’s Elon Musk blog posts: - the last post in the series changed Jared’s life

Poor Charlie’s Almanack:

Shane Parrish on Chauffeur knowledge:

The Sequences by Eliezer Yudkowski: 

We’ve include some relevant essays from the sequences to today’s conversation below:

Taboo Your Words:

Cached Thoughts:

Replace The Symbol with The Substance:

Truly Part of You:

Living By Your Own Strength:

Learning How to Learn course: 


r/medicalschoolanki decks: 

Jared used in his earlier years of medschool

Testing effect: 

Deliberate practice: 

Desirable difficulty: 

Method of Loci: 

Expecting Short Inferential Distances by Eliezer Yudkowski: 

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter: 

Conversations with Tyler podcast:

012 | How Deep Learning Does Magic

012 | How Deep Learning Does Magic

August 26, 2019

This is a discussion about why deep neural nets are unreasonably effective. Gianluca and Jared examine the relationships between neural architectures and the laws of physics that govern our Universe—exploring brains, human language, and linear functions. Nothing could have prepared them for the territories this episode expanded to, so strap yourself in!



AlphaGo beating Lee Sedol at Go:

OpenAI Five:

Taylor series/expansions video from 3Blue1Brown:

Physicist Max Tegmark:

Tegmark’s great talk on connections between physics and deep learning (which formed much of the inspiration for this conversation):

Universal Approximation Theorem:

A refresher on “Map vs. Territory”:

Ada Lovelace (who worked on Babbage’s Analytical Engine):

Manifolds and their topology:

Binary trees:

Markov process:

OpenAIs GPT-2:

Play with GPT-2 in your browser here:

Lex Fridman’s MIT Artificial Intelligence podcast:

The Scientific Odyssey podcast:

011 | Slack, attention and focus - or why more is less

011 | Slack, attention and focus - or why more is less

August 19, 2019

This week on Bit of A Tangent we discuss the little known but unbelievably important concept of ‘slack’ - what it is, why having too little of it can be deadly and how to get more of it!

We also discuss the difference between attention and awareness and how can help you live a more engaged life, a simple rule of thumb to know when you’re using your time on earth well, and a quick trick to train your mind to dive straight into deep focus when you need to!

Lastly, we discuss how we’ve set up our personal devices to get the most out of them while minimising distractions and as a bonus this episode we mention two other podcasts we’re loving at the moment!




Slack and the Sabbath sequence by Zvi on Lesswrong:

Main Lesswrong post on ‘slack’:

Farnam Street Mental models: 

Lying by Sam Harris: 

Jared’s essay on Algorithms: 

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport: 

The Mind Illuminated by Culadasa: 

Naval Ravikant’s tweetstorm (some ideas mentioned definitely came from here): 

Deep work by Cal Newport:: 

Stayfocused (android app): 

StayFocusd - chrome website blocker: 

David Epstein – Wide or Deep? - [Invest Like the Best, EP.133] 

Good One: A Podcast About Jokes: 

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