“When we’re not self-expressing, and when we’re not sharing, it’s a tool problem, not a human problem, because I do think that all of us have something to say and something to self-express.”
– Ida Josefiina
About Ida Josefiina
Ida Josefiina is a self-described infopunk and the co-founder and CEO of the information social playground Sane. She also hosts the Reverb by Sane podcast.
What you will learn
- The alternative way of seeking knowledge (03:25)
- Importance of reflecting on existence and thinking about thinking (04:47)
- Meditative thinking and focused reading for learning and personal growth (06:57)
- Importance of existential risk on the journey toward collective intelligence (09:23)
- Introduction of Sane, as a platform that promotes collective intelligence (11:03)
- Sane and its features (14:14)
- Differences between The Brain and Sane (15:52)
- What shapes of knowledge means (19:51)
- The difference between knowledge and information (20:55)
- Sane’s mission of democratizing access to ideas and knowledge (22:49)
- Decentralization of tech platforms through collective media (25:41)
- Reflecting on existence as a way to gain motivation for participating in society (27:13)
- Book recommendations (28:30)
Ross Dawson: Ida, it’s a delight to have you on the show.
Ida Josefiina: Thanks so much for having me on, Ross. Happy to be here.
Ross: You have described yourself as an info punk. Tell me, what’s an info punk?
Ida: Well, an info punk is… actually, I have to give my co-founder Tina credit for that term. She’s the one who came up with it originally. But I guess the term came up when we were thinking a lot about the type of persona or a way of identifying yourself when you’re interested in thinking about thinking and challenging some traditional information dynamics or architecture and embracing a more alternative approach to seeking knowledge and being in the pursuit of ideas. For me, my background is I’ve never gone to university, so I haven’t had the most traditional educational upbringing in that sense, so I relate to that. The sentiment of an info punk, which is a little bit of a rebel, but very much in the pursuit of ideas and knowledge.
Ross: So alternative ways of seeking knowledge. What are some of those alternatives?
Ida: Honestly, it’s whatever you feel like. I’m not prescriptive about it at all. It just boils down to being curious and being connected with the world, whatever that means to you.
Ross: Following your own instincts?
Ross: As opposed to any prescribed courses for information seeking, and so on.
Ida: Exactly. I think that has a lot to do with just being open-minded, and trying to maintain that open-mindedness, which is so much harder than it sounds, and to constantly keep thinking that the world is much bigger than you imagined it to be and there’s so much to discover and explore, etc. So, yes, it just boils down to curiosity; and beyond that, it’s a pretty personal thing.
Ross: No doubt you found in your journeys some interesting ways to seek to find knowledge and information. I hope to get those a little bit. We talked about this thinking about thinking. Thinking tools are part of the vernacular now. We’d just love to hear some of your thoughts about how you think about thinking, and what are some of the frameworks we can apply to how it is we think usefully.
Ida: I’ve always been passionate about trying to find ways in which other people, all kinds of people have some access points or more channels or opportunities to think about thinking because they think thinking about thinking has also to do with reflecting on existence. I think reflecting on existence is so important and so interesting because it makes us somehow very cognizant about how special it is to be alive. When we’re very cognizant of that, it somehow feels, at least to me, quite empowering and something to be very grateful for, and it moves me at least.
Thinking about thinking thing is like… I’ve gone through several different pathways of trying to find mechanisms or ways in which I could pass on these cool, interesting ideas that I’ve somehow discovered or someone’s passed down to me, that has moved me to think about thinking and reflecting on existence. I honestly just don’t think that we have enough of that available for a large group or population of people; they seem to be somehow siloed away, whether it’s in academia or in tools that are quite inaccessible, or out of reach for a lot of people. I think breaking down some of those balls and figuring out different kinds of mechanisms and ways for people to have access to that is really interesting.
Ross: Yes. Recently, I came across some research showing that there are different brain areas involved with metacognition. There are specific parts of the brain that we use for thinking about thinking as opposed to just normal thinking. This also just relates to Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. That’s part of it. You’re thinking about who you are, what it is to be alive, and what it is to think, and that’s something that we don’t have enough of.
Ida: I completely agree. When I had COVID for the first time more than a year ago, and it was in that brain fog of COVID, maybe four or five days in that I was sitting in front of my bookshelf, and I was just staring at all the books, and my mind was working super slowly. I took a book. Instead of reading the book, I decided to just read a page and thought about that for a really long time. I was like meditating on the words rather than reading. It’s the same action as reading because I’m consuming something literary with my mind. But it was different because I let every word sink in. I thought about how I felt. I thought about different things that related to that. I’ve been thinking a lot about the term meditative thinking, and what that also means. If you can practice a different type of thinking by thinking differently. The word “thinking” is going to be mentioned in this podcast probably like 563,000 times. That was an interesting experience. I feel I learned more from studying that one page than I would have by reading 50 pages at that moment in time.
Ross: What that evokes for me is almost the tangibility of words. I mean, a word has a meaning but if you’re spending that time with it as opposed to skimming across million words, a word has something you can touch and feel.
Ida: Yes, exactly. It’s because you can start thinking about how certain phrases or decisions on how someone has decided to structure language, what it makes you think about, and what they could have meant by it. I feel like there’s a whole world to discover on a single page in a book. It’s very interesting.
Ross: Yes, we have the slow food. Instead of fast food, you got slow food, maybe we should go to slow reading as opposed to speed reading.
Ross: You have a company, a very interesting company called Sane. I’d love to hear about the journey. Because it sounds like it has been already a journey and continuing. Perhaps you can start from the beginning; how it started and how that’s evolving?
Ida: The whole journey, if I would summarize, it started when I was 15, and we moved to Finnish Lapland, where I’m originally from California. It was just quite hard for me because I grew up for six years before that in the San Francisco Bay Area in California, and we moved to Lapland, which was quite different. Long story short, I became super existential, I just started thinking a lot about things like, why am I here? This is insane. What is life? Where is everything going? Through that, I discovered the concept or the field of study of existential risks, and I’ve just never stopped thinking about that.
I’ve done a lot of different kinds of things since then. I started my career first working in politics, and then a bit later in tech, and bounced around a lot, moved to China, in different parts of Europe, etc., and then ended up back in Silicon Valley working at a data aggregation software company. I started thinking a lot about the role of data and information in existential threats and the future of humanity, and through that just basically came to the conclusion that collective intelligence or thinking about the foundational problem, above all the other problems, is the most important thing that we should be thinking about because, without that, it’s going to be very difficult for us to solve any individual existential risks such as climate change, or AI alignment, or whatever it may be.
Ross: You said “without that”, what’s that?
Ida: Without finding a better way that we can, as a society, work together, think together, collaborate together, so that we don’t keep coming up with new existential risks, that we heal the foundational layer because it’s quite telling that before 1953, I’m not sure if we had any existential risk. Then we did the first atomic bomb test with Oppenheimer’s Manhattan Project, not knowing 100% for sure that we wouldn’t ignite the entire atmosphere in fire. I think it’s just pretty telling that we’re living in this very much in this age of heightened risk, etc.
I’m not entirely optimistic that even if we solve one of these big threats we’re facing that it’s going to put us into any safer situation when it comes to our future. I’m obsessed with working on what I think is the foundational layer, which is collective intelligence. I see the internet as a massive opportunity, in making a very big difference and significant progress in working on this problem. That’s why, essentially, we’re building Sane, and our mission at Sane is to build the future of how we discover, create, and share ideas and knowledge online.
Ross: That’s awesome. Collective intelligence has been a central theme in almost all my work. The one thing I’d say there is around shared mental models and aligned mental models. I think even in small groups, that can be hard. That becomes harder as you move across cultures and countries and political parties, and so on. But I absolutely agree with you, until we can get aligned to whatever degree or shift towards more common ways of thinking, then yes, the risks are going to be massive.
Ida: Yes. Somehow the way that I’ve started thinking about it, or I guess just my approach to trying to solve the problem is going more toward the indirect ways of contributing to collective intelligence, which I think has a lot to do with just curiosity and creating opportunities and space for people to play with ideas and to fall down interesting rabbit holes, and to feel like they have avenues for self-expression, and that they have something to say that matters. Somehow since the inception of social media, I think it’s the first time in which we don’t really have those spaces because all of these different platforms have become very weird in many ways. I do feel like when we’re not self-expressing, and when we’re not sharing, it’s a tool problem, not a human problem, because I do think that all of us have something to say and something to self-express.
Ross: What is Sane? What is it as a part of someone goes in, goes on? Or how does it look? What do they see? What do they experience?
Ida: Yes, we are in private alpha right now, so people can’t really go and have a look yet, but they can sign up to request early access. But essentially, it’s a social platform, a social knowledge-sharing platform on a spatial interface. People go in Sane to build what we call spaces. In these spaces, you can create these minimalist knowledge graphs to showcase any type of idea or knowledge. One very simple use case of that could be that I could create an About Me space on Sane. It would be like hey, I’m Ida, and a text note like, I really care about the future and I consider myself to be existentially hopeful. I can connect a PDF that talks about existential hope there. I can add a picture of my grandmother’s house in Lapland, where I grew up, and say, this is where I grew up, spent my summers and I started thinking about X and Y. I can combine different images, video, text, audio, PDFs, etc., and visually organize them to show not just what I think but how I think. It’s quite an efficient, and I think, quite dynamic and forgiving way of organizing and creating and curating ideas rather than having to do it in a linear chronological format, where you have to structure ideas in a very specific way.
Ross: What are some of the contrasts with The Brain?
Ida: What do you mean?
Ross: The software product? The Brain? Are you familiar with that?
Ida: Yes, I guess The Brain is like knowledge… First of all, I’ve never used The Brain so I can’t speak in detail about it. But from what I’ve just seen, it’s just like this infinite knowledge graph of everything, and on Sane, it’s more like you’re building quite a minimalist space to showcase some kind of idea. You can create as many spaces as you want. One is maybe I have my About Me space, and maybe I have a space that’s my random collection of research on thinking about thinking and it’s more like a way of blogging that has to do more with curation rather than just creation, and being able to mix media as the central media. It definitely meets the principles and ideas of knowledge management, but with the intention of it being social and as a way of sharing information, collaborating with others, and ultimately publishing.
Ross: You call it spatial, does that mean that it goes beyond two dimensions as an interface?
Ida: Not yet.
Ross: But you’re going to get there?
Ida: I don’t know. It’s something that I’m definitely interested in, just as an idea, but we’re not there yet in terms of a roadmap.
Ross: I’m very, very keen. I actually had a company, a 3D information interface company quite some time ago.
Ida: Oh, wow.
Ross: The very short story there is still astoundingly, in 2023, we’re at just the beginning of exploring the use cases for 3D information, visualization, and interfaces. I thought we would be further along by now. I think part of it is that what seems cool and interesting is not necessarily as functional and as usable as you might think. But there are still some strong use cases. I’ll certainly be trying to play some more in that space.
Ida: I’m still not entirely sure if we’re ready to put on the headsets. That’s something where my resistance comes in with thinking about really doing something in augmented reality. But that being said, if we can get around that or find a more comfortable way of existing in 3D spaces, I’m really interested in that. But I think we’re still a little bit away from that. I think that there’s a lot of building and thinking that we can do in between the 2D and 3D worlds. I think we’re just getting used to like working with spatial interfaces in a 2D environment, thinking about the Figma, Miro, and Sanes of the world, where you are not in this linear chronological model, but you’re in a space, a spatial interface, but it’s not just 3D yet.
Ross: You’ve used the phrase “the shapes of knowledge”. I’d love to hear what you mean by that. What does that mean when you say shapes of knowledge?
Ida: To be honest, I’m bad at giving definitions for any specific term.
Ross: What comes into your mind? What’s in your head when you say that?
Ida: I guess I see this room with different ideas that turn into maybe like a house with different rooms with different ideas and all the rooms feel a little bit different from one another, and they have a certain shape to them because the idea has a certain feeling and sentiment, and then you find all of these different objects that relate with that idea, or in this metaphor, the room, that belong in that room. A friend of mine was asking me if I am a visual thinker, and I said, I don’t really know, I think through feeling and then the feelings turn into something visual as a translation, but it’s not maybe the primary first thing. The shapes of knowledge are maybe just that as well, it feels more like an exploration of different rooms that have different objects that relate to those rooms that then turn into these, in this metaphor, the shapes of knowledge.
I think that there’s something in the word knowledge as well, that’s different than information. We’ve been talking about how we can think about data that turns into information when there’s an added layer in that, information turns into knowledge and knowledge turns into wisdom because you add these components of sensitivity and complexity to it that ultimately turn that data into wisdom when you’ve processed it correctly. I think about that when it comes to knowledge and wisdom, that it’s more than just the data or information, it has this sentiment and context and added layer of human complexity to it.
Ross: It’s almost akin to anesthesia, as you say the feeling for… what I was saying before around tangibility of words or concepts or semantics.
Ida: Yes, exactly.
Ross: But if you’re talking about rooms, though, that is a spatial metaphor. You are imagining moving through space to look at that. We were just chatting before we started recording about how Sane is evolving, and part of it was around that a lot of the thinking tools which are out there at the moment are not for the masses. I’d just love to hear your reflections on how that’s influencing the way Sane is evolving, where thinking tools are today, and where they might need to go more generally.
Ida: Yes, like what I was saying earlier, I just feel really passionate about people that might not so easily always have access to certain cool things. I feel like when I come across certain ideas or concepts, I’m really into thinking about the hard problem of consciousness, for example. When I discovered that as a concept, as an idea, I just was so pissed off that I didn’t know about it before. Because I didn’t go to university, and I feel like I didn’t have certain pathways, that I could have more easily found out some of these ideas that just transformed the way that I relate or think with the world. I just want more people to be able to play with ideas and have access to them. I just think that that doesn’t happen by creating these tools for thinkers or thinkers creating more tools for thinkers. That’s great but it’s not the thing that I want to do or I care about.
I care about finding ways that we can take some of these mechanisms that are available to a certain subset of people, and make them accessible and feel magical and easy to approach so that a lot more people could have these same feelings, realizations, or capabilities, or playing with ideas and knowledge. That’s really the direction that Sane is heading to. I think blogging is a great example of that. It allowed a lot of people to play with it. When I talk about ideas and knowledge, I don’t mean something strictly academic, or intellectually important. I mean, honestly, anything, it’s just like a way of relating with ideas. I think blogging was such a great example of that. When I was 11 or 12, I was really into blogging, and I would just write these stupid blog posts about absolutely nothing like eating ice cream or something like that. But it made me feel good and made me feel like I had something to say, something to communicate.
With Sane, we’re thinking a lot about blogging, and how we can reinvent it and bring it to a modern age, and even further democratized access to those who feel like they can blog. Blogging doesn’t just have to be about writing linear long format text, it could be about curation, about connection, about playing with things like how one idea relates with another, maybe with some very intellectual basis for why that is, or maybe not, maybe it’s just intuition. I think that there’s a lot to explore within this realm of possibilities. That’s what we’re doing with Sane.
Ross: More generally, in the thinking tools, space, or software, or tools, is there anything else that you think is interesting in terms of either products or developments or things which are shifting, which people should be aware of?
Ida: I think that there are a lot of people, a lot of founders who are building in this space that I’m really happy for. I think that the future is going to look a lot less like very big tech, where it’s a concentration of just a couple of platforms that we’re all operating on. It’s going to be a lot more distributed. We worked with this concept called collective media. We launched this initiative with a group of other founders, there are about 14 other founders and companies who are all working within defining the future of social, so we’ve been calling it collective media, and it really stands for having alternative avenues for creating space for play and exploration and doing that with other people on the internet. I feel quite lucky to be sharing this time and space with other people who are building with similar principles in mind.
Ross: I think you’ve pretty fairly expressed in our conversation what an info punk is and your very individual perspective on information, information navigation, and how it is we can align ideas. I’d love to just get some suggestions, recommendations, and thoughts for anyone who’s listening around some habits, some practices, and some things they can try that they might find useful or enlightening as they navigate a world of unlimited information out there.
Ida: I’m really not good at giving tips for habits or things that people should do, because I don’t do anything myself that I probably should. But I think what I would say is that go read writings, books, and ideas that have to do with reflecting on existence. I think that that is so incredibly important. If anything, it’ll probably just make you feel grateful for being here in this period of space and time coexisting with the people that you’re coexisting with. For me, at least, it’s been such a factor of motivation and desire to participate in this society as it is today. That’s something that I would recommend people to do. There’s a great amount of literature that thinks about existence and consciousness and what it means to be and feel. What I mentioned earlier, the hard problem of consciousness, I just loved studying that. If you just Google hard problem of consciousness and read about the literature there, there’s the first paper about what it means to be a bat, that’s a great way to get started on just thinking about all these crazy existential things.
Ross: Can you just suggest a few books that you’ve found useful or enjoyable in that space?
Ida: I mean, go read the paper about what it means to be a bat. I would like this other paper called Sharing the World with Digital Minds by Nick Bostrom. Just because that was also a crazy, mind-bending experience, that’s imagining something so insane, and somehow beautiful and extraordinary. Then if you’re interested in thinking about existential risks and the potential of the future of humanity, I would also recommend reading The Precipice by Toby Ord. The concept of existential hope, for example, is something that he’s written about. He has a paper on that, that just defines the terms. I think those are pretty lovely ones to get started with.
Ross: I’ve been listening to your podcast, which I’ve been greatly enjoying, and can’t remember, Anders Sandberg, I think it was.
Ross: He was talking about the Grand Future, was it?
Ida: Yes. Grand Futures.
Ross: It sounds like existential hope on a bigger scale than you can possibly imagine.
Ida: Exactly. I think he’s writing a book about that now, that should be published in some time, not too distant future. I’m really excited about that one.
Ross: Yes. Any things you’d like to share, advice, thoughts, or requests?
Ida: Yes, I would love it if you guys can all head to sane.fyi and check out what we’re doing over there, request access to our early beta, we’re going to be launching more toward the public-ish in June of this year. I’m excited about getting all kinds of freaky and faux punks on the platform creating spaces about anything and everything interesting. If that’s something that would interest you, happy to also already onboard people now and start creating spaces for those that might be interested, so just visit sane.fyi. Also. I’m available at email@example.com over email if anyone has any questions, ideas, or thoughts, always happy to spur.
Ross: There are probably a few info punks listening.
Ida: I’m sure.
Ross: Thank you so much for your time. It has been really enjoyable. This exploration, these ideas, and bouncing things around, I’d love to keep in touch and to see what you’re doing with Sane, because I’m very aligned with the mission, and I want to do all I can do to support it.
Ida: Yes, thank you so much, Ross. I really appreciate your time and having me on. A great conversation.