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Made You Think

Sep 11, 2020

Scale by Geoffrey West focuses on the the principles and patterns connecting the ways that cities, organisms, and companies grow. West, a theoretical physicist, studied the way in which sizes of mammals related to their life expectancy, and further connected these laws to the growth and longevity of cities and the world of business. Nat and Neil unpack these laws and principles on today's podcast episode.

We cover a wide range of topics including:

  • The idea of '1 billion heartbeats' per lifetime
  • How COVID has impacted growth of cities and business
  • Human life expectancy
  • Paradigm shifting innovations
  • Growth in its relation to socioeconomic factors

And much more. Please enjoy, and be sure to grab a copy of Scale by Geoffrey West!

Links from the Episode

Mentioned in the show

Books mentioned


People Mentioned

Show notes:

0:27 - Using Readwise to gather your notes to export to other sites. Scanning book pages of physical books. Nat and Neil discuss their preferences surrounding digital vs. physical books.

6:32 - Re-reading books. The difficulty of finding a ‘mind-blowing’ book to read. If you have any book recommendations for a future podcast episode, send them our way!

8:45 - Airr - Highlight audio as you listen to podcasts. How to make podcast listening more educational for yourself. Purposes of podcasts can be both educational and entertaining. The massive market for “How To” content.

14:08 - This week’s episode is on the book Scale: The Universal Laws of Life, Growth, and Death in Organisms, Cities, and Companies by Geoffrey West. The book talks about how things grow, continue to grow, decline in growth, or decay. The author primarily focuses on growth of organisms, cities, and companies, as the book title suggests, but also within these large structures are smaller substructures that grow and change, too. Some of the same laws of growth apply in seemingly different systems.

20:31 - There are many things that scale along with size that are not growing at a 1:1 ratio.

The number of heartbeats in a specific mammal’s life is roughly the same across species. Neil describes an article in which each species receives an average of 1 billion heartbeats per lifetime. The heart rate varies on size of the being.

Different lifespans between species. From an objective standpoint, an elephant tends to live longer than a mouse, but subjectively, do life spans feel the same length to each individual creature?

23:45 - How humans fit into this research of lifespan vs. body size. Differences in lifespan pre-technology vs. today’s era. Life extension - whether or not the maximum life expectancy can be extended. The age of 125 seems to be the maximum at this point according to West.

28:02 - Entropy and natural decay in the cell’s ability to replicate. You can bring things from disordered back to ordered, and with that creates externalities. Example: the waste created when we use the bathroom. Are there ways to minimize that?


30:46 - “The problem is that the theory also predicts that unbounded growth cannot be sustained without having either infinite resources or inducing major paradigm shifts that reset the clock before potential collapse occurs. We have sustained open-ended growth and avoided collapse by invoking continuous cycles of paradigm shifting innovations, such as those associated on the big scale of human history with discoveries of iron, steam, coal, computation, and most recently digital information technology.” (pg. 31)

This quote is talking about finite-time singularity. This leads into a discussion in paradigm shifting innovations in today’s world. Resetting the paradigm clock.

35:45 - The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin - One thing brought up in this book is that humans, technologically, are an exponentially developing species. Geoffrey West brings up the possibility of hitting a wall and running out of paradigm shifts. To continue growing at an exponential rate, do we have to keep discovering this innovations at an exponential rate?

37:12 - Growth and the way society is structured. A shrink in population would pose the issue of how a generation smaller in numbers would have to be paying Social Security for the generation above them. Continued growth is ‘built-in’ to the system, and if it doesn’t grow at the anticipated rate, a collapse is possible.

41:09 - Across different cultures and countries comes different values: community, family, the state, society, tradition, religion. In America, it’s perceived that one’s self is the most valued, also referred to as individualism.

45:06 - The release of new inventions and technology in the ‘80s and ‘90s: computers, digital cameras, cell phones, and laptops. From big, clunky, and colorless inventions to high-speed and attractive new pieces of technology. It becomes interesting to think about how unique and magical these inventions feel at the time they come out, and also how quickly the next piece of upgraded technology follows.

52:11 - There are products that improve and add more features at a higher rate, and products where that growth is not as rapid. As noted in the book, these paradigm shifts happen, there’s a massive spike, and new innovations slowly come from that spike. The spike jump starts the innovations, and the innovations slow until there’s another spike.

54:26 - Discussions over whether COVID will bring a new spike. There have been many changes in our society with the way we work, make money, education, etc. that it poses the question on what will follow. Making use of underutilized resources. It comes down to what is more efficient.

56:34 - Intellectual capital has been opened up in a new way since COVID, as we are no longer expected to be in the same place. The downfall of Silicon Valley between COVID, remote work, and being on literal fire. With people working remotely now more than ever, it seems to point us in the direction of growth in the digital space and information innovation.

1:00:07 - How these changes in the way we live and work will affect the scaling laws discussed in the book. Urbanization in the U.S. People moving out of big cities. Changes in the way companies and their employees are now working.

1:06:05 - Companies and their current policies: remote, in-person, or a mixture of both. Depends on the needs and what industry they are in. Coworking spaces and working remotely around people, without actually working with them.

1:10:10 - Human’s ability to regulate their internal body temperature. West brings up global warming, and how an increase of 2 degrees Celsius could increase the pace of all biological lives by 20-30% - living and dying faster. Inversely, if you could lower your own body temperature by 1 degree Celsius, you could enhance your life span by 10-15%.

1:14:32 - Growth of cities and its relation with socioeconomic factors: wages, innovation, crime, pollution, etc.

“The multiplicative compounding of socioeconomic interactivity engendered by urbanization has inevitably led to the contraction of time. Rather than being bored to death, our actual challenge is to avoid anxiety attacks, psychotic breakdowns, heart attacks, and strokes resulting from being accelerated to death.” (pg. 332)

1:20:03 - Population size in cities and productively interacting with others - discussions on whether innovations can come from a city that stays stagnant or even decreases in size. Commute times and the ‘one hour’ rule.

1:25:03 - Shared ideologies from across the world without a way to bring those people together. Sense of community from these shared interests and ideas, even if there is no physical meeting place for all to share.

1:29:58 - The next book we will be reading and discussing is Energy and Civilization by Vaclav Smil. Feel free to pick up a copy of the book to read along with us before the next podcast episode!

If you enjoyed this episode, let us know by leaving a review on iTunes. As always, let us know if you have any book recommendations! Find us on Twitter @TheRealNeilS and @nateliason. The best way to stay up to date on future episodes and show updates is to join our email list at Made You Think Podcast.

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