From 2018 to 2021 I experimented with writing a monthly newsletter to track what I’d been reading and thinking about that month. Same sort of stuff as the blog, but normally a bit earlier in the thinking process. I’m currently not doing this (my main current writing experiment is a notebook blog), but I got a lot out of it and may go back.
I originally got the idea from The Monthly Newsletter as Thinking Tool by moridinamael, and mainly find it useful for the same reasons as he does: it provides a bit of healthy pressure to get something finished every month, it gets me to take better notes on what I’ve been doing, and most importantly it gets me to actually think new thoughts instead of just rolling the same old ones around my head again and again. As he puts it:
Your thinking on a given topic will “advance” in a way that it otherwise wouldn’t. You’re forced to finish and polish the stubs of thought processes that you may have thrown in. (A lot of this finishing and processing is happening subconsciously throughout the month. If you know you’re going to have to share it at the end of the month, your brain will give you something worth sharing. Without that pressure, your thoughts just tend to continue on, going in circles for years without ever resulting in anything useful to even yourself. Or at least, mine do.)
I’ve cannibalised these newsletters pretty heavily for blog posts, so there is a fair bit of overlap between the two, but also a lot of extra fragments that didn’t make it to the blog.
I had a break from the newsletter, then moved it to a Substack for a bit.
Notes on Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford. Year-in-review stuff: blog, newsletter, physics.
Non-local boxes and negative probability.
Navel-gazing about the newsletter format. Philip Pullman’s Daemon Voices.
Cognitive decoupling and banana phones. Brian Cantwell Smith’s On the Origin of Objects, and his ideas of ‘flex and slop’ and ‘the middle distance’.
The shitpost-to-scholarship pipeline. Definitions of entropy.
Rushed infodump on chalk streams as an excuse note for not writing a proper newsletter.
Like a call for papers, but looking for new things to do instead. Solstice of Foundations summer school thoughts.
Dan Piponi’s negative probability toy model and an interesting way of decomposing the result (warning: this explanation is a mess, read the blog post instead). A few quick notes on The Master and His Emissary.
A month off my RSS feed and Twitter, and what I read instead. Wittgenstein thoughts – overlapping of many fibres, vagueness. Gowers on Wittgenstein and mathematical definitions. Ryle’s Knowing How and Knowing That.
Turkle and Papert on bricolage again. Getting Anki hype. Grudging admission that thinking is actually a good thing and not a bad thing.
Highlighted bits of The Eureka Factor that didn’t make the review. The Agre/Empson quotes from December again.
The Basic Research Community for Physics. ‘Intermediate work’ between physics and philosophy of physics. More notes on Tasić’s Mathematics and the Roots of Postmodern Thought. Another attempt at understanding wtf Derrida is talking about.
Mermin on Bell’s theorem. A weirdly similar pair of quotes from William Empson and Phil Agre. Lots of end-of-year navel-gazing about the newsletter, learning physics, etc.
Vladimir Tasić’s Mathematics and the Roots of Postmodern Thought. The Radon transform. More than two types of mathematician.
Long rambling braindump on Empson, Derrida, the New Critics, and baroque music. The Cognitive Reflection Test.
Pretty much what it says. A few other links at the end.
Derrida, Rousseau, Rameau. Wave momentum. Miscellaneous links.
Website testers wanted. Donald Schön’s The Reflective Practitioner. Huw Price’s Time’s Arrow and Archimedes’ Point.
Apples and sheep. Para-academia. Dreyfus, Heidegger, Eddington.
Quantum mechanics on phase space. Time-frequency analysis and musical notation. Arcane Wigner function lore. Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head. SimCity. Some links.
Cognitive decoupling followup. Popper, Deutsch and critical rationalism.
The Thing Structure of Clusterspace and the symbol grounding problem. The Spekkens toy model and an interesting extension. Rényi entropy.
Initial test newsletter. Negative probability and Merleau-Ponty.