Apperceptive Mess #12: Materialism and The European Renaissance, Commodified Relationships, and Philosophical Meditation

Hello friends!

I am into week 8 of my quarantine here in Arizona, and I am happy to report that I am finally finding some cadence around this life!

This week I published an essay titled How The European Renaissance Shifted Humanity’s Relationship with Art. While it started as just another innocent writing assignment from school, the themes John Berger explores around our image-centric diet struck out to me.

7 reasons why you should watch of John Berger's Ways of Seeing ...

From the essay:

My favourite chapter of the book was when Berger articulated how the object-centricity of the European Renaissance found a way to its art and humanity’s relationship with images. Illuminating how materialism came to bear on art through a rising middle class, the chapter featured their perspective of owning a painting of a thing being the same as owning the item itself. This shift in the way of seeing art, Berger suggests, enveloped art’s traditions with cynicism and, by extension, our social fabrics. Exhibiting the way paintings evolved through this new perspective, Berger is hopeful that keen observers will be able to distinguish outstanding art from the average.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did putting it together. Approaching art will never be the same for me ever again. I have since even enrolled myself in an Art History class for the second half of the semester!


Meditation of The Week: Social Scripts (Narratives) and Authenticity

In the past week, I've spent a substantial amount of time thinking about the relationship between our well-defined social scripts and authenticity.

Now that most of our interactions take place over video conferences, I cannot help but wonder if the feelings of isolation fatigue may be attributed to the fact that our social interactions are now dominated by performance, rather than just being.

The option to sit behind a screen and carefully curate and organize your social interaction during the day does feel robotic. Now that serendipitous social interactions are fewer and farther between, combined with the Internet becoming the de-facto "brokerage" of our human relationships, signaling now encompasses a majority if not all our activity.

That scares me.

Read of The Week: How to Get Out of a Rut in About 20 Minutes

If you're anything like me, work can sometimes feel like waves over waves of anxiety washing over you until a tsunami comes at you without warning. You feel like driftwood struggling to keep your head above the water.

This article introduces a potential solution to alleviate those feelings of anxiety: philosophical meditation. By clearing our mental desktops, it all starts with three simple questions:

  1. What am I anxious about?

  2. What am I upset about, and with whom?

  3. What am I currently feeling excited or ambitious about?

The exercise follows-up with more in-depth inquiries, and actively engages the individual to dig deeper within their consciousness and reveal what's really bothering them beyond initial associations and impressions.

I have started incorporating this exercise into my Morning Pages routine, and have already seen it pay great dividends in helping me regulate my anxieties, provoke a deeper creative relationship with myself, and help me prioritize the things I want to achieve daily.

For those of you suffering the same waves of work anxiety as I do, I highly encourage you to try that out with any tool of your choice and let me know how that goes!


That is all we have for the week! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. If you have any questions, suggestions, complaints, or feedback, please feel free to reach out by replying directly to this email!

Liked this newsletter? Be sure to share it with your friends and subscribe now if you haven’t done so!

It is the best way to keep in touch as I share the comings and goings of what I am working on and thinking about.

See you next week 👋

Apperceptive Mess #11: Virtual-Brokered Reality

No, Not The Type That Requires Goggles

Hi friends,

It is day god-knows-what of “the new normal”. Truth be told, I’m already ready to call it “the old normal” now. I am on the last day of Spring break, and have spent much of the past week meditating about what it means to be alive in our new virtually-brokered reality.

At home, I am candid. I wear sweatpants, spend the first 15 minutes everyday in bed scrolling Twitter, and hold a lower standard of appearances compared to when I’m in school. In a sheltered-in-place environment where social interactions are now brokered through virtual tools, a magnifying glass has now been placed over my pretend-world before coronavirus.

Forced to consider where on the spectrum my new normal places me on the sweatpants-to-dress pants spectrum, I cannot help but wonder: while we speak about the artificiality that surrounds our new reality brokered through virtual environments, has that not always existed?

Defining Dress Codes – What to Wear for Every Occasion - Wexler Events

In the “previous normal”, where I actually got to hang out in a campus and go to restaurants, I exhausted a lot of effort to present myself to the world, and that’s not just because I live in Los Angeles. From business pitches to casual hang-outs, dressing certain ways provided a thin veneer of cover that helps me socialise with less friction.

“All societies end up wearing masks.” — Jean Baudrillard (1929 - 2007), obviously not talking about the mask you’re thinking of.

There is nothing wrong with that: taking time to dress up can signal how important you treat a client, sporting exclusive sneakers can serve as a conversation starter with other sneaker enthusiasts, and “athleisure” helps us show our parents that we are both successful in the workplace and in taking care of ourselves. We rely on signals and other ready-made narratives to help us socialise.

However, a perfect frictionless social environment is like a stand-up comedy special on Netflix: there are no awkward moments, and you are led to believe that the entire performance is candid and unrehearsed. There are no stutters, no awkward silences, no tasteless jokes that make everyone around the table nervously sip on their drink. Every line is followed by laughter and applause — but that is not the world we live in.

I miss hanging out with friends, but cannot help but be of the opinion that nothing much has really changed other than the fact that we are now forced to become more in touch with our selves in solitude. That is and should be uncomfortable: solitude forces us to consider our most insecure selves, and become more considerate with what our own intrinsic motivators are. By learning to be content alone, we stop projecting our own subjectivities on others and attempt turn what we need others to be onto them; a recipe for what is otherwise known as a “toxic relationship”.

For those of us fortunate enough to be in the company of family, I am sure candid, awkward, and inconvenient conversations have become the staple now. They keep us in touch with the identity we are most comfortable with under our skin, and provide an almost-irrational love assurance policy to be fond of each other regardless of how ugly it may be.

If you know someone who needs a family, call them! Show up on Zoom with just your underwear, lay in bed with unkempt hair, and just let the words flow. In our virtually-brokered reality, this as human as it gets.


That is all we have for the week! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. If you have any questions, suggestions, complaints, or feedback, please feel free to reach out by replying directly to this email!

Liked this newsletter? Be sure to share it with your friends and subscribe now if you haven’t done so!

It is the best way to keep in touch as I share the comings and goings of what I am working on and thinking about.

See you next week 👋

Apperceptive Mess #10: Meditations on Changing Economic and Ideological Environments

Hello friends,

I have been busy trying to keep my head above the water articulating the profound effects that Ways of Seeing is bringing to my understanding of the world.

Armed with more knowledge than ever about the European Renaissance and the golden age of oil paintings, the book has given me a new perspective on the relationship between human behaviour, social norms, and the struggle between traditions and “good work”.

As a matter of fact, reading the book has produced visceral effects to my being and I have struggled to untangle the internal commentary that has overshadowed my consciousness over the last month. Seeing societies throughout the globe go through different versions of an existential crisis under the same stressor of a pandemic has been eye-opening, and I am trying to make a teacher out of this crisis of a generation as a 22-year-old.

This week’s newsletter will not retain its the standard format, but below I will share my most candid thoughts as always. They are definitely half-baked, and you should take my words like how you will listening to a friend at a dinner table.

Here are some Spring flowers to brighten up this rather desolate mood I have set up.


The world is on a value exchange holiday. In our "socially distanced" environment, we are now bearing witness to evidence that markets are social institutions, not just "embeddings" within our social fabrics. Without markets, there can be no visits to restaurants and bars, workout classes, travel, museums, and theatres.

The labour of money is not just the function of exchanging goods for money, it also serves as our means to facilitate sustained social contact with each other. For the first time in my adult life, I am bearing witness in direct exposure the true brunt of not just an economic crisis, but also an existential one that I suspect will shift society's way of seeing in a manner that makes the European Renaissance look like child's play.

Like any person with an ounce of humanity in them, I live and read in fear and paranoia for the people who found themselves in these times of uncertainty with limited or no means of navigating it. But there is much to be learn in this great school of experience where worthwhile experiences can be redeemed.

As we navigate around determining which services in our society are "essential", we find ourselves confronted with the phenomena of fading of boundaries of charity and markets. Capitalist societies have started to acknowledge across political spectrums that we have been under-appreciating our childcare workers and grocery store check-out assistants.

The distinction between these jobs and bullshit paper-pusher ones now appear plain as ever. It is somewhat heartening to notice today that it is becoming universally uncontroversial to be sympathetic to our teachers, postmen, care-takers, front-line healthcare workers, and all the other professions to keep our world moving.

I am anxious for the world and it's people, but am even more anxious to learn the lessons this great crisis has to teach me.


That is all we have for the week! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. If you have any questions, suggestions, complaints, or feedback, please feel free to reach out by replying directly to this email!

Liked this newsletter? Be sure to share it with your friends and subscribe now if you haven’t done so!

It is the best way to keep in touch as I share the comings and goings of what I am working on and thinking about.

See you next week 👋

Apperceptive Mess #9: Black Swan Territory, Thriving in Isolation

Hello friends!

I continue to write to you from Arizona, where social isolation continues into its 3rd week. It has been a crazy week, but I was thankful that Ari planned out an entire road trip for us to get out, continue to be in relative isolation, and see the beautiful sights that Tonto National Forest has to offer.

We live in truly uncertain times. And it was all triggered by a “black swan” event — the COVID-19 outbreak.

California is now in lockdown, Singapore has closed its borders to short-term visitors, France recorded 30% jump in COVID-19 deaths just yesterday, and the New York Stock Exchange tripped the circuit breaker twice within a week.

The ideas presented in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Incerto has never been more important to investigate closely. We are dealing in the territory of tail events now; where the minority of things will drive and shape the majority of the world’s outcomes.

There is a lot to learn and unpack here, not just objectively with the systems that have succeeded or have failed to respond, but also personally; as we get taken out of our normal operating behaviours to fight the virus.

Underneath all the mass hysteria, blatant racism, the inadequacy of federal and local governments across the globe to serve its people, it is more important than ever to remind ourselves: we are all on the same side.

Now pause, take a deep breath, and hit play on this amazing video of a dog playing the drums to the intro tune of The Office:


Thought Of The Week: Revelations of a Simple Life

To keep ourselves safe and distanced, my girlfriend and I left our house in Los Angeles two weeks ago to spend time with her family here in Arizona.

And we are not the only ones with the same idea for staying away from density during this pandemic: I know people who have driven in all directions of the metropolitan cities they live at into remote cabins in nature, and the LA Times also reported an increase in amount of reservations for campgrounds.

Most of you will have either gone home to be closer to family, or have started spending more time with your selves, and this can feel totally weird. It certainly did for me! I miss my bookshelf, pull-up bar, going to the gym in the morning, and being able to order from any one of LA’s assortment of wonderful restaurants. This has all changed so quickly.

There is nothing to fret though, people have lived through times in isolation and thrived: Isaac Newton laid the foundations for early calculus and optics while playing with prisms in his bedroom. William Shakespeare wrote ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, ‘King Lear’, and ‘Macbeth’, while he was put out of a steady job from the bubonic plague in London.

When we remove structure and obligation, and combine it with free time for the right amount of playful leisure, it slips us into a state of greater happiness and sets the stage for great things to happen. For the first time, many fortunate enough to work/study from home are starting to have an inconvenient truth illuminated: most of us have been living a life of commodified aliveness, mistaking making a living for having a life.

As Richard Dawson writes in his book, The Quest of the Simple Life:

Man is a bundle of tastes and appetites, some lofty, and some ignoble, but all crying out for satisfaction. Wisdom lies in the discernment of essentials.

As we make adjustment to our lives, we will uncover the essentials that we take for granted: company of friends, love of family, social dining and drinking, and the ability to do whatever you want with whomever you want whenever you want.

My experience in “social distancing” so far has certainly illuminated that for me: I am thankful that is has brought me closer to my girlfriend’s family, allowed me to practice the joys of eating food made of my own hand, and the joyful quality of social bonding from just being able to sit together at a dining table every evening.

It is needless to say I feel a pinch of homesickness wash over me, but being in the presence of a family has filled my brain with all the endorphins I need to feel at ease, healthy, and optimistic about the future.

While this time can be unpredictable and uncertain, it can also be the best thing to happen to you; as it normally does for most life-orienting events.

Quote of The Week

The ultimate meaning of the active life is to make possible the happiness of contemplation.

— Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture


That is all we have for the week! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. If you have any questions, suggestions, complaints, or feedback, please feel free to reach out by replying directly to this email!

Liked this newsletter? Be sure to share it with your friends and subscribe now if you haven’t done so!

It is the best way to keep in touch as I share the comings and goings of what I am working on and thinking about.

See you next week 👋

Apperceptive Mess #8: COVID-19 Discontinuity Plans, Lucretius as a Scientist, and The Domestication of Modern Life

Hello friends,

As you may have already not notice, there wasn’t a regularly scheduled newsletter sent last week. And you will be right. Last weekend, in a truly Singaporean “kia-see” way, we drove 6 hours from our house in Los Angeles to join my partner’s family here in Paradise Valley, Arizona.

Granted, a substantial amount of lifestyle changes had to be made as we settled down into a socially-distant life in the desert: we stopped going to restaurants, only ordered food for pick-up, washed our hands at every intervening juncture, and started home-cooking a lot more.

I suspect this coronavirus outbreak will, if anything, be making us much better (and cleaner) chefs out of all of us.


Conversation of The Week: (???)

In light of being in the middle of the desert and exercising my civic-responsibility of “social distancing”, there will not be any conversations of the week going forward (or will there?)

I’m still in the midst of figuring this all out as I settle into a routine here — I may just hop on the Zoom bandwagon and do it on there instead.

Meditation of The Week: Art as The Frontier of Ideas

Inspired by Lucretius, I have started to challenge my perception of reality by thinking about the history of modern inventions beyond tangible objects. That has lead to the following lines of questioning that have since lodged themselves deep within my internal brain-chatter:

Was Lucretius a pioneering physicist, and Aristotle a computer scientist?

As a thought exercise, they sound naively preposterous until we consider the influence their ideas have had on their modern applications.

Here is Lucretius’ attempt at explaining the fundamental law of Nature:

(on Nature) her first principle: that nothing’s brought Forth by any supernatural power out of naught … Nothing can be made from nothing — once we see that so, already we are on the way to what we want to know

— Nature of Things (I, 149 - 158)

and Wikipedia’s definition of the law of conservation of energy:

energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another. 

The Nature of Things was written by Lucretius in mid-century BC, while Galileo demonstrated the conservative conversion of potential and kinetic energy with his famous “interrupted pendulum” demonstration in 1639.

You can also observe the same analogous relationship between Aristotle’s The Organon (2nd century BC), with much of its evolution then taking place with George Boole to give us Boolean Logic (1864), Claude Shannon that mapped Boolean logic onto the physical world with electronics (1938), and of course, Alan Turing who showed us how to design the computer (1936).

Underlying these examples demonstrates a bit of a meta takeaway: all breakthroughs, like Lucretius’ proposal of how nothing can be made of naught, is an iterative and progressive work in progress through time horizons beyond our mortalities.

Accrediting institutions confer diplomas that separate Arts and Sciences, and we show up with an impression that Art is the lagging field while Science is the frontier. That is simply not true. Just as the adage that says the philosophy of this generation is the common sense of the next, Lucretius’ proposal a thousand years before Galileo’s discovery of the pendulum demonstrates why we undervalue the Arts.

Art is a medium in which we express our imaginations of today, and without it, there will be no science and technology for tomorrow. Art is the frontier.

Read Of The Week: Children today are suffering a severe deficit of play

Everyone knows that play is good for growing up, but no one is brave enough to fly the banner that it has a part to play in being an effective contributor to society.

Told through the lens of how modern life has affected the way children grow up today, this article is also a must-read for anyone who has also found themselves domesticated by modern life: the preference for standing chairs over just taking a walk, using a Kindle to cope with eye-strain as opposed to being disciplined enough to step away, and an increasing reliance on food-delivery as opposed to making your own food.

There are larger mental health repercussions at play here as we try to optimise away the little things that keep us sane.

Quote of The Week

“Survival” means different things. It means having a strategy whose downsides you’re preemptively familiar with, so you’re prepared both psychologically and financially when they occur.

Morgan Housel


That is all we have for the week! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. If you have any questions, suggestions, complaints, or feedback, please feel free to reach out by replying directly to this email!

Liked this newsletter? Be sure to share it with your friends and subscribe now if you haven’t done so!

It is the best way to keep in touch as I share the comings and goings of what I am working on and thinking about.

See you next week 👋

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