Discover more from Everything Is Amazing
Season 4 Is Done! What Now?
Apart from me getting loads of sleep, I mean?
Hello! This is Everything is Amazing, a newsletter about curiosity - and that was its fourth season.
Here’s what we’ve covered - and a little about what comes next.
Seeing…What’s Under The Waves
“But here’s the startling thing: most of the surface of our planet is covered with water. About 71%, to be precise. More than two-thirds of our homeworld is waterbound….
Because of how we’ve adapted to live in the open air, we’re biased to fixate on that remaining 29%, and to consider it the most important thing for us to learn about. And in doing so, in tuning out the primary defining feature of the surface of our planet - exactly how much are we missing here?”
““When we got the first predictions, I was very surprised and thought maybe something was wrong with the formulations,” Garcia-Castellanos later told Nature. “If the model was correct, we would expect to find traces of the flood erosion preserved under the sedimentary layers in the strait.”
So he and his team went looking - and found the marks of a cataclysm.”
This story is why the majority of you are reading this newsletter. On the 8th February, sat in a Scottish cafe with a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich, I pieced together a Twitter thread about it - and it quickly took on a life of its own, getting shared in all timezones by all sorts of really interesting people. Some were complimentary, others… less so. 😄
After 3 days, it had an audience of 9 million, signups to Everything Is Amazing had gone super-bananas - and I hadn’t slept for about 72 hours.
I haven’t quite felt caught up with myself (or indeed anything!) since this happened. So grateful - but also, even now, I’m a little charred at the edges.
“Perhaps you know about the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, source of the loudest noise in human history (it circled the globe seven times). That explosion blasted so much rock, ash and debris into the atmosphere that triggered a volcanic winter in the Northern Hemisphere and darkened the skies worldwide for years afterwards…
How much rock, debris etc? About six cubic miles of the stuff.
In comparison, the Mesolithic Storegga event (Old Norse for “Great Edge”) saw the collapse of an 180-mile-wide stretch of shelf in a gargantuan underwater torrent of rock and earth that slid nearly a thousand miles, into the Norwegian Sea’s abyssal plain. That’s an estimated 840 cubic miles of shelf material on the move - transferring an unimaginably vast pulse of kinetic energy into all the seawater it thrust aside.”
“It’s a weird thing to think that our bodies don’t exactly need the air we breathe. They absolutely need the oxygen it contains - but as long as that oxygen gets into our bodies somehow, that should be enough to keep us alive.
For this reason, it was recently proposed that human beings could - now here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write - ‘breathe’ through their rectums.”
“Both these maps do convey the staggering magnitude of what we’re looking at: a rift valley comparable to the Grand Canyon, but stretching for … how far? The Atlantic portion is about 16,000km, but it’s also connected to other oceanic trenches of a similar nature, creating a continuous chain running for 65,000km.
It is, by far, the longest mountain range on our planet - and also, arguably, the least accessible.”
The Twitter thread for this two-parter is here.
“White towers, some of them a hundred metres tall or more, spread over an area comparable to a city block….
Welcome to one of the strangest and mysterious places on our planet, filled with secrets that could change our understanding of how life gets started - including the kind that might exist elsewhere in our Solar System.”
“Bioshock’s Rapture is one of the greatest inventions in videogame history, with an extraordinary sense of place that’s both giddily expansive and nerve-shreddingly claustrophobic. It’s an intoxicating creation, and the gaming world went nuts over it. Who wouldn’t be fascinated with such a place?
And that leads to the inevitable thought: hey, what if someone actually built Rapture for real? Or, putting it another way: barring all the stuff that went wrong, is this how you build a city at the bottom of the sea?
Let’s find out.”
“What was needed was a project so ludicrously ambitious, yet so immeasurably beneficial to all the European powers, that it would at last force them to put aside their differences and cooperate, if they wanted to reap the spectacular rewards on offer.
(And if it was expensive enough - wouldn’t that make it impossible for them to keep throwing all their money into building new armies, navies and air-forces? Wouldn’t it engineer peace?)
This is why Herman Sörgel decided it would be best for everyone if he drained the Mediterranean.”
9. Taking Stock For A Hot Minute (Paid Subscribers Only)
“We know what usefulness looks like: it makes you money, it tells you how to fix your car or bike, it helps you get stuff for free or on the cheap, it brings your monthly bills down, it improves your health, it teaches you to play guitar. It tries to hold politicians accountable for their words and actions. You know - useful things.
(There are quite a lot of us doing non-”useful” things on Substack and on other newsletter platforms…and trust me, we know it’s an uphill battle. And that means we’re even more grateful for the attention you give us. Double thank-yous in abundance.)”
“Therein lies the thrill for confident, ambitious young students with no sense of proportion: what if I found a way to overturn a first principle, or something near it? What if I discovered a new branch of science and changed the world FOREVER?
Well, the only way that’s possible is to know how all the existing models are constructed - and to do that, you have to be able to retrace everyone’s steps, from the very beginning of modern science. You have to understand whole arguments from scratch, in as close to the orginal author’s words as possible, including with those theories that are so universally accepted that hardly any non-scientist gives them a second thought these days…
And to do all that, you need all those original “wrong” science books.”
“All this got turned into a kind of shame about using the word ‘research’. Oh RLY, you’ve been doing your ‘research’, have you??? - with the implication that you’ve copied & pasted your thinking from some dodgy wellness influencer on Instagram.
But this can feel really unfair, because it includes anyone who is doing any level of reading on something that they haven’t made a professional career around. Which includes almost all of us. It certainly includes enthusiasts like me, writing newsletters like this, trying to convey the fun of this stuff in a hopefully credible way without mangling the facts too much in the service of a good story.”
“So, to call what I do sports - well, sports are always focused on the people who are the best at it. But I’ve found it's more interesting to me to find the commonalities we all have. I would almost always rather do something than watch something. I enjoy baseball, I may enjoy a little bit of watching basketball, and I can respect the athletic accomplishments of the people. But finding that commonality, what is it like? What does it feel like to be really uncomfortable? Or what if, instead of winning the marathon, we're just a person who wants to survive running 5k? What is that experience? That's interesting stuff to me, to capture those common feelings and try to find where we all are coming together, as opposed to looking for ways to divide ourselves, which is a really easy thing to do nowadays.”
13. The Science Of Keeping Going (Paid Subscribers Only)
“Knowing my past tendencies to drop creative infatuations like hot potatoes when they actually show signs of turning into actual hard work, how can I get across the Chasm of Ughh to where I really fall in love with this thing, at which point it feels so much easier because it’s less something you’re doing and more something you just are?
For answers, I turned to the work of two behavioural economists, one science writer and one ultrarunner.”
“Grant found this pattern repeated again and again in the workplace studies he looked at. The Givers were storming ahead - but they were also the ones left furthest behind. What gives here?
Grant believes the difference is down to the ability to be “otherish,” which is at the other end of the scale from selfishness. It’s where you can really put yourself in someone else’s shoes and consider their needs from their perspective. To me, this sounds a lot like empathic curiosity being put into action.
But he also spotted that generous Givers who were selfless - ie. ignoring their own needs - quickly burned themselves out. These are the ones that get left behind, and it makes sense: without healthy boundaries, helpfulness is a way to get taken to the cleaners by every Taker in the world. If you can’t empathize with yourself, then how is that treating yourself (and your time, and your energy) with the same respect you’re giving others?”
“I get back sometime later, a sweaty mess, shoulder strained, knees wobbly, cursing the whole venture. Stupid bloody idea, dragging coal around like this, what am I, Thomas the Tank Engine?
But then I realise, yet again - I’d forgotten about everything except the (awful) task at hand. It’d been a proper rest. One that I now feel I needed, so I could get back to it all.”
I posted more pics of my stress-relieving coal foraging on Twitter here.
16. 50 Stupid Ways To Discover The Unknown (Paid Subscribers Only)
“So here is a long list of….well, are they challenges? Curiosity prompts? Something to fill a few hours this coming weekend? A ridiculous call to ridiculous adventure? A daily prompt for your curiosity for the next month? A fine excuse to do something that takes your mind off other things for a few deliciously inconsequential hours?
That’s entirely up to you & whatever damn-fool scheme you can cook up around them.”
So - What’s Next?
First, I need to come up for air.
It’s been a whirlwind. Around Christmas, I made a plan for the readership I wanted to build around this newsletter, and decided on a number by the end of this year, and another by the middle of 2023. And then the Zanclean Megaflood struck, and I blew past both numbers in less than a week.
This has required…a certain amount of readjustment.
Back at the start of season 1, I figured Everything Is Amazing would be solely about curiosity and attention, and the biases that get in the way of them. (And science fiction! Forgive me - as a massive nerd, I’ll always find a way to creep that in. This was happening when I was a travel writer as well…)
But along the way, it’s also become about the delicious mechanics of awe. And then it became about questions (and the way that our upbringing affects our ability to ask them). And then I realised that kindness was a part of it - and hopefulness too…
My reading list for all this has gone from somewhat manageable to LOL-not-a-chance. I need a little time off from writing this thing, because the reading has become a problem. (The nicest of problems! Oh no, too much cake! But still, I need to get caught up, and I’m just … not. So, from next week, I’m taking a short break to do that.)
Along the way, I think Everything Is Amazing has turned from a “here’s some cool things to distract you from all that Uggh” newsletter, into a “actually, a lot of the world’s pretty great (ditto the people in it) so let’s count the ways” newsletter…
And now, maybe it’s something else?
There’s nothing in here that will solve the big issues of our Age. It won’t make you loads of money or put food on the table (actually, scratch that last point: do this, it really works!)…
But I think I can help you feel a little more awe & wonder about what you don’t yet know. I can supply you with at least a few good Wows that will brighten up your day - and maybe, in that way, I can help you show up, so you can better do the important stuff in the world you’re here to do.
If that happens, I will count this newsletter a roaring success.
Clearly, I’d be a colossal idiot to stop doing what I’m already doing - and while I am a colossal idiot, I've also learned enough from other people to know that’s a bad idea.
So. If you’re on my Free list, you’re still going to get 80% of everything I’m doing here - and you always will. If you’re taking the time to read me, I’m enormously grateful and hope that I can continue to make it worth your while. Your attention is worth more than you probably know (which is why advertisers are always trying to hijack it!). Thank you so much for giving it to my writing.
How Paid Works
If you upgrade to the paid version of Everything Is Amazing (see below), you’ll get access to all the paywalled posts (already-published and upcoming) - plus free entry to the two things I promised at the start of this season:
a non-fiction storytelling course, which I’m adapting from a course I previously ran with over a hundred students (which comprises of everything I’ve learned and am bringing to this newsletter)
chapters of my upcoming first book, How To Be Rained On.
Disclaimer: because of brained-getting-fried-by-Megaflood things, I’m currently not where I planned to be with both of these! I’ll be catching up with them during this between-seasons break. But they’re coming, and I’ll be fulfilling that promise to those already on the paid list, plus anyone newly joining it.
But also, I’m going to resurrect one of the most fun things I did during the first season : the “Everyone Is Amazing” 1-to-1 calls, where we (you and I) can book a slot to talk online about anything and everything. I chatted with about 50 of you this way - which back then was a large percentage of all of you! - and it was, without exception, utterly delightful.
So. I’m doing this again, but with a difference:
- opening up a small number of them for everyone, just every now and again (since there are nearly 10,000 of you, this could go a bit mad, so I’m being very careful here)…
- having a regular, ongoing window of appointments blocked out in my schedule for chatting to anyone on the Paid list who would like to talk.
We’ll see how all that goes. More details soon.
If any of that sounds appealing - or if you just like the idea of helping me show up to make this thing - would you come on board & become a supporter of Everything Is Amazing?
To this end, from now until the end of Monday (4th July), a yearly subscription is $54, which is 10% off the normal rate of $60/year:
Thank you. It’d really mean an awful lot.
Back in a few days!