Things I learned this week #37

This week I’ve been focusing on perspective and gratitude. It’s harder than it sounds if you feel things are unfair and not in your favour. But, to quote about a million throw cushions on Pinterest: you can’t control life, only how you react to it. So this week I am choosing to react by being grateful. Even if it has to start out feeling like a very pointed lie, or jibe to my less patient self. Anyway here are some things I learned this week:

  • This misunderstood emperor: Nero (AD 37-68) was the last roman emperor to be descended directly for Caesar Augustus, the first Roman Emperor. Nero has a reputation for being a little… callus. He’s the one who “fiddled while Rome burned” during the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64, and had his mother and (maybe) both of his wives murdered. But apparently much of what we know about him came from biased and vilified accounts of him and his life, which were pushed after he “committed suicide” (if you’re forced to commit suicide it’s more spiritually aligned to murder, I propose) and a new emperor came to power. And then three others after the first, all within the space of a year. When Nero tragically killed himself independent of any political pressures or personal accusations, the power-vacuum left by him had to be filled by other ambitious men. Taking the Roman Empire from stable and long-lasting (normally) emperors into this rocky period required some careful PR work, and a lot of work was done to legitimise and justify the need for his death and the change. Hence much of the accounts and writing left about him are vastly anti-Nero. Our knowledge is largely influenced by the survivorship bias: the things which have survived (like official records and accounts by historians of the time) are obviously walking the party line. However, evidence from graffiti and the common folk, reveal that Nero was actually pretty liked by people, and our image of him as a tyrant is maybe undeserved. He competed in the public games, and acted on stage… He was probably a well-known and well-liked figure at the time. Scandelous though it may be to have an emperor perform on stage and race a chariot. He did still kill his own mother and wives though, let’s not forget that. (source)
  • This health benefit of tea: Coffee will forever remain my first love, but as I mature into a young gentleman, I’m looking for any excuse to eat biscuits at about 4pm. Tea is one such excuse, but I ended up catching feelings for tea. Coffee gets a bad wrap for being full of caffein though, and although there are no negative health effects of chronic caffein consumption, I don’t want to be dependent on it. Tea, although containing caffein, is thought to boost our mood and calm us, despite caffein’s tendency to lead us towards jitters if we get a little over-buzzed. For instance, a study on South Korea found that adults who regularly drank tea were 21% less likely to develop depression over their life - the same effect as about 2.5 hours of exercise a week. It’s unclear if this is because of individual or mixed chemicals in tea (like epigallocatechin gallate or l-theanine), or the ritual of preparing and then consuming the tea itself. Don’t underestimate the fact that simply taking 5-10 minutes out of a day to sit down and not be stressed is probably good for us. Nevertheless, it does appear that drinking tea (and not a placebo) does help people a) feel more relaxed, and b) produce less cortisol (the stress chemical) - so in reality, it is likely some combination of the two. (source)
  • This bee weapon: Bees are cool and really useful. Did you know that they create their own air-circulation system? To keep the temperature in a hive a comfy ~30C, the bees beat their wings to circulate air around the hive. Unfortunately, bees are also under attack sometimes, and not just from cartoon bears with a hunkering for honey. One way that bees can defend themselves from invasive species, like wasps or hornets, is to gather around the invading individual and focus the hot air at the new guest. This essentially cooks them, or overheats them. That’s pretty hardcore, bees. (source)

What I’ve had on rotation this week

  • Something New Wake by WVNDER (2021, Pop Punk). It feels a little like cheating to call a seven-song twenty-four minute CD an “album” but I’ll take it. WVNDER not only have great album artwork (I had a little poke around and couldn’t easily find the credited artist). This is a tight little pop punk/emo pop album with clean vocals and lovely moments. (links)
  • Something Old Perotin by The Hilliard Ensemble (1989, Choral/Classical). This is one to listen to with headphones, or a good surround-sound. The medieval-era vocals are wonderful to work, walk, and exist to. (links)

Cool articles

  • Neuroscientist Christof Koch on How the “Qualia” of Our Experience Illuminate the Central Mystery of Consciousness by Maria Popova for Brain Pickings. Popova has a gift for merging the scientific and the poetic, though this is slightly easier where the two meet naturally. The study of consciousness is like that: we’re yet to have any functional answers. Instead it’s an area of science where interpretations reign supreme. If I was a cleverer man when I was sixteen years-old and chasing my studies, I would’ve chosen subjects that would let me into neuroscience. In this piece, Popova introduce’s the Romantic Reductionist approach to studying consciousness, adopted by Christof Koch. Koch is a currently-active academic in the realm of consciousness, and his approach merges the reductionist (“things can be explained as a system of discrete and interacting parts”) and romantic (“things are beautiful and not the sum of their parts”).
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