This time, I have to recommend another blog that brings up a wide variety of topics and has made me think thoroughly about many of them ever since I got aware of it. About half a year ago, a friend of mine brought my attention to Wait But Why, saying something to the effect of “that’s gonna be your kind of thing” – and he was quite right…
Tim Urban is the main writer of the texts on WBW, and he brings several properties with him that make his texts click with me:
- he’s a fine writer (in the sense of producing easily readable texts; certainly much more easily readable than mine)
- he’s curious on various topics
- he can be mesmerized by ideas and concepts to the point that he can transfer his own fascination to his readers
- he can be hilarious, both in his texts and his self-drawn figures
On top of that, he is a horrible procrastinator; a property that he has been writing and talking about quite often. He seems to have accepted that trait of his, and he acknowledges it openly.
There are, of course, some posts that caught me more than others did. For instance, the series on Elon Musk (“the world’s raddest man”) was really interesting, as I knew almost nothing about this man and his projects – in particular, I had no idea that both SpaceX and Tesla were companies of his. On WBW these projects are considered to be the hottest spots in town, and they are described in much detail. Expect to bring some time when you wish to read those. But don’t expect a fully neutral description – Tim Urban says himself that he is some sort of fan of Musk in general and Tesla in particular. The texts are biased towards these projects and to why they are deeply necessary. Personally, I tend to agree, especially since it is important to have someone rich and interested in the world such as Musk who brings attention to certain problems and drive into their solution. In the post, the reader can learn not only about what Tesla and SpaceX do, but why it is actually important: there’s a lot on the finiteness of fossil energy, where energy comes from and where it goes, and so forth. Highly interesting, even if you might start at a slightly higher level of knowledge at the beginning – the post will catch you.
Other posts may shift your perception of the world, or of history.
For example, the post on artificial intelligence is both exciting and scary about the prospects of humanity; same holds for the post on the Fermi Paradox (“Where is everybody?”) – it made me think really deep about where humanity stands and where it goes.
The post on sound gave me thrills, when I read that “our brains send information to other brains through complex patterns of air pressure waves. Have you ever stopped and thought about how incredible that is?” – Well, no, I haven’t. It is incredible indeed.
Similarly thrilling is the post on numbers – up to Graham’s Number (one of the largest numbers used in a serious mathematical argument). In some way, numbers don’t scare me, being a mathematician: I am well aware of the concept that there are infinitely many numbers after any given number. But the twist was: considering how unfathomable numbers can get – I don’t want to live forever, I do want to die at some point; even though death comes way too early (thinking of the “tail end“-post), living forever would be really scary.
The posts on the American presidents, however, is not scary at all – but it is highly funny and insightful. Quite the same holds for the post on “horizontal history“, giving a wholly new perspective of what happened somewhere in the world at the same time (which is not totally new to me – I own a “Kulturfahrplan” which is a bit more thorough than WBW, but lacks some small highlights :-)).
I couldn’t even start to agree on the post on cryonics – it doesn’t catch me content-wise (which holds, of course, for several other posts, for that matter). But I learned many things nontheless.
I have to mention the stick figures briefly – they are put into the posts and certain places to underline the text and to produce some comic relief. So simple and so effective… I, personally, know my limits and therefore omit any drawings that might or might not happen while I think about new posts…
And what totally makes my day, that’s how WBW can create memes and “mind-shortcuts”, not just the stick figures but also the metaphores like the “instant gratification monkey” in the procrastination post, for instance.
For all those reasons: check out WBW 🙂