Weekly I/O #31

Wittgenstein’s Ruler, Beyond Smart, Lose Time and Money, Wittgenstein and Language, Monogamy and Bacon

Cheng-Wei Hu | 胡程維
4 min readFeb 9, 2022

Weekly I/O is a project where I share my learning Input/Output. Every Sunday, I write an email newsletter with five things I discovered and learned that week.

Sign up here and let me share a curated list of learning Input/Output with you 🎉

The below is extracted from the email sent on February 6, 2022

Here’s a list of what I’m exploring and pondering this week.

1. Wittgenstein’s ruler: Unless you have confidence in the ruler’s reliability, if you use a ruler to measure a table, you may also be using the table to measure the ruler.

Book: Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets

If you are not certain about a ruler’s reliability, the less you trust the ruler, the more information you are getting about the ruler and less about the table. Likewise, unless the source of a statement has a high qualification, the statement will be more revealing of the author than the information itself.

This concept is called Wittgenstein’s ruler by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, which can be applied to book reviews and book recommendations. Like in my Books I Read in 2021, the readers should view the recommendation as a mix of the book’s quality and my personal preference. The less you trust my judgment, the more information you will be getting about my own taste and less about the books.

This idea can also be used to handle compliments and criticism. When viewing others’ feedback on our work, we can also take it as we are using our work to evaluate others’ feedback. Also, feedback from an anonymous person might be more likely all about that person, while that of a qualified person might be more useful for us.

2. There’s a huge gap between being smart and having important new ideas, but most people who want to be smart might think the two are identical.

Article: Beyond Smart

What made Einstein special was not his intelligence but his ability to have significant new ideas. Being very smart might be necessary for having those ideas, but the two are not identical. Many smart people don’t achieve very much since there’s a huge gap between being smart and having important new ideas.

Most people value intelligence and have the desire to be smart. However, if we can pick between “being very smart but discovering nothing new” and “being less smart but discovering new ideas”, most people will surely choose the latter.

According to Paul Graham, “The illusion of being smart matters is fostered by the fact that intelligence is much easier to measure than the value of new ideas and we were constantly being judged by this during childhood. Intelligence is the only game in town.”

3. The way to lose a fortune is through bad investment, not through excessive expenditure. Similarly, the way to lose time is by doing fake work, not by having fun.

Article: How to Lose Time and Money

It’s hard to spend a lot of money without noticing. Therefore, most fortunes are lost not through excessive expenditure but bad investments.

Similarly, the most dangerous way to waste our time is not to spend it having fun, but to spend it doing fake and inefficient work.

When we spend time having fun, we know we’re being self-indulgent. Our internal guilty alarms will kick off to remind us. Nonetheless, when we spend time doing fake work, we think we are disciplined. Therefore, the alarm won’t tick.

4. We use language to think, and we cannot think through those we cannot express in language. Language is both the tool that helps us think and the limitation that confines our thinking.

Book: Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius

According to Ferdinand de Saussure, widely considered the father of modern linguistics, our thought would be an amorphous and indistinct mass without language. Primarily, it is language that is responsible for perceiving hypothetical concepts. Language itself is also restricting our perception and expression of thoughts.

Also, as Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” and “All I know is what I have words for”.

5. “Monogamy is like being a vegetarian. You can choose to be healthy, you can be ethical, it can be a wonderful decision but because you’ve chosen to be a vegetarian doesn’t mean bacon stops smelling good.” — Dr. Christopher Ryan


This quote is also related to the book The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy. See my notes for an introduction to this interesting book about polyamory, open relationships, sex, and love.

That’s it. Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy it. If you would like to receive the content every Sunday, sign up below 😎



Cheng-Wei Hu | 胡程維

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