Electric Dreams—Somethings

Also the value of ‘debates’, and the beauty of Liu Cixin’s writings.

Electric Dreams—Somethings

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💡Something I learned

Mining our way to hell

Electrification might not save the climate.

It is said that to bring our fossil fuels emissions under control, we would need to replace fossil fuel burning appliances with more efficient electric ones. Cars are mentioned, but also electric heaters/heat-pumps, induction cook tops, etc.

This creates another conundrum for the environment. From the dawn of metallurgy till today, we have mined 700 million tons of copper. We need to mine the same amount in the next 2 decades to electrify only part of the world. There are other minerals and metals that are required create this world. How is it feasible to even do it?

There is some hope. There was breakthrough in superconductors. Superconductivity was achieved at room temperature for the first time(though at very high pressure). However, we can’t hang our hopes on technological breakthroughs. The solution is simple, but difficult; consume less. Don’t buy a new car. Walk or cycle to the shop. Delete your Starbucks app.

📕Something to read

  • I want to lose every debate, Derick Sivers: I think I hate the term debate. It was always a medium for self-aggrandizing sophists. The age of TikTok and Instagram has made it worse. I even object to the usage here by Sivers. However it is a good, short read on listening to other people.

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🗣Some Quotes and Notes

I am doing something different this week. I am featuring quotes from a single source. The Three-Body Problem is a wonderful sci-fi novel by Liu Cixin. The english translation by Ken Liu captures the Asian character of the novel without alienating the rest of the world.

Gathering Peace

This quote is from the text itself. Our post-industrial world sees peace as isolation. Remote cabins, and mountain caves are considered the only way to achieve a peaceful state. However, peace comes from with in. You can’t control your environment. You can only control yourself.

The truly peaceful can find peace in a bustling city. And to attain that state, you need to empty yourself.” I said, “I’m empty enough. Fame and fortune are nothing to me. Many of the monks in this temple are worldlier than me.” The abbot shook his head and said, “No, emptiness is not nothingness. Emptiness is a type of existence. You must use this existential emptiness to fill yourself.”

— Liu Cixin, The Three-Body Problem

Unbreakable Chains

This passage is from the author’s post-script. The novel starts in the thicket of the Cultural Revolution. It is the throughline throughout the narrative. He calls the even his ‘chains’.

But I cannot escape and leave behind reality, just like I cannot leave behind my shadow. Reality brands each of us with its indelible mark. Every era puts invisible shackles on those who have lived through it, and I can only dance in my chains.

— Liu Cixin, The Three-Body Problem


One of my favorite novels is the 19th century Russian novel Crime & Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I have only read it once, almost 20 years ago. I still think about it every week. I have since found out that the translation veers a bit from the author’s original intent. I am still afraid to check out new translation. In essence the translator is the author of my favorite book, not Dostoyevsky. Would it be the same book?

This passage is from translator Ken Liu’s post-script section. He lays out how important it is to contextualize everything in the text itself.

Overly literal translations, far from being faithful, actually distort meaning by obscuring sense. But translations can also pay so little attention to the integrity of the source that almost nothing of the original’s flavor or voice survives.

— Ken Liu, The Three-Body Problem

Thank you for joining me this week. If you know some who might enjoy this, please forward this email to them. See you next week.

Mudassir Chapra

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