Your Unfair Advantage
The Wright Brothers joining us for our first flight.
“Nothing will ever please me, no matter how excellent or beneficial, if I must retain the knowledge of it to myself. And if wisdom were given me under the express condition that it must be kept hidden and not uttered, I should refuse it. No good thing is pleasant to possess, without friends to share it,” writes Seneca, the first century Roman philosopher, in a letter to his friend Lucilius.
I’m thinking about these words from Seneca as I kick off this newsletter.
Hi there! Welcome to Abandoned Curiosities. I’m Sumit. And lately, I’ve been on a quest to satisfy my curiosities — I’ve been reading a lot, that is to say. And, to Seneca’s delight, I often share my learnings with family and friends. Those conversations inspired me to start this newsletter.
Carl Sagan once said, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” Abandoned Curiosities is an attempt to create an entire library of incredible little things to complement my ever-growing book collection.
Included among the studies are artists, inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs, philosophers, poets, and whatnot. It’s a motley crew.
At a certain point in life, most of us quit trying to keep up with our infinite curiosities. But we never stop longing for those abandoned curiosities. As I continue to explore mine, I’ll be writing to you, every Thursday, with some of the exploits from my journey — lessons, reflections, obsessions, recommendations, incredible things.
Before we proceed, I’ve one last bit to add — my gratitude. I’ve been building this list for a while without offering much in return. In fact, some of you might not remember signing up, and my best guess is you know me from Twitter. But unlike social media, there’s a certain intimacy to an email newsletter. Once again, I’m incredibly grateful that you’re here — even if you’re a friend and I practically begged you to sign up.
Moving forward, here’s an anecdote on the importance of curiosity.
The Wright Brothers — Wilbur Wright (left) and Orville Wright — were American inventors credited with building and flying the world’s first motor-operated airplane. The story of the Wright Brothers is the story of the origin of human flight.
What I found most remarkable about the story is that the Wright Brothers “had no college education, no formal technical training, no friends in high places, no financial backers, no government subsidies, and little money of their own.” Also, they knew they could die trying. In fact, Wilbur and Orville had decided to never fly together, “that way, if one were to be killed, the other could still carry on with the work.”
Talk about commitment!
Actually, let’s not talk about commitment. Let’s stick to curiosity.
Years later, a friend once told Orville that he and his brother would always stand as an example of how far people with no special advantages could advance in the world. “But it isn’t true to say we had no special advantages,” replied Orville, “the greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity.”
The Wright Brothers grew up in a household that greatly valued reading and forming an informed mind. Everyone in their house read all the time. In fact, it was in between their reading that the brothers initially fell in love with the problem of flying.
Orville’s reply also reminds me of Albert Einstein, who once wrote to a friend, “I have no special talents, I’m only passionately curious.”
Of course, Einstein did have special talents. And so did the Wright Brothers. But what we could say is that it was their curiosity that fueled and enabled those talents…
In a world too busy to wonder, curiosity is an unfair advantage. Find it. Nurture it.
For the record, the Wright Brothers’ first successful flight was on December 17, 1903. And the invention of human flight has both literally and figuratively taken humanity to places: On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, he had in his pocket, a small piece of cloth from a wing of the Wright Brothers’ 1903 Flyer. In 2021, pieces of humanity’s first powered aircraft also made their way to the surface of Mars.
If you want to learn more about the invention of the human flight, consider reading The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. That’s where I’m coming from anyway.
I’m currently reading Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. Leonardo is the guy who painted the Mona Lisa — and apparently never finished painting it. But he was so much more than an artist. He was also an anatomist, architect, astronomer, botanist, cartographer, geologist, inventor, scientist, and so much more.
“He was also a bit of a misfit: illegitimate, gay, vegetarian, left-handed, easily distracted, and at times heretical.” Facts, that, according to Isaacson, make Leonardo more accessible to us. I’ll talk about him in the next issue. So stay tuned for that.
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Also this week: I stumbled upon this Harvard philosophy course called Justice by Michael Sandel. It’s on YouTube. In the first episode, literally titled “The moral side of murder,” Professor Sandel’s students face hypothetical moral dilemmas like “Will you kill one person to save five?” And it doesn’t end there. Sandel has additional twists cleverly designed to make the situation more difficult. To borrow the top YouTube comment for the episode, “This is the class we all really needed.”
I also saw King Richard. The movie is based on the inspiring true story of Venus and Serena Williams’ rise to the top of women’s world tennis with the help and support of their father, Richard Williams — played by Will Smith. My wife and I both really enjoyed the movie. It’s available on Prime or just look up your own region.
Finally, I’m always on the lookout for recommendations — books, movies, documentaries, music, YouTube videos, TikToks even, anything that you rank high enough. Send it to me by replying to this email, or leave a comment on Substack.
And that’s all from this first issue. Thanks for reading. See you next week!
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