Deconstructing the Meaning of Life

 

Here is a simple list of questions (and some feasible answers) presupposed by the great but oft misunderstood query ‘What is the meaning of life?’:

 

Q1: Why do I, everyone else, and the Universe itself exist?

A1: This is presently unknown. With regard to the existence of humans our most plausible explanation is some variant of Darwinism. We seem to be part of an evolutionary environment, equipped with regular instinctual drives to fulfill just like the animals (and if not fulfilled overcome through adaptation) but with no single common purpose. An answer may lie in the study of Earth’s prehistoric history as to why an animal with such markedly high intelligence (in comparison to other animals) came into being. Now, the reason for the Universe itself existing is such a complicated question with so many possibilities our answers derive largely from informed speculation. Considering this, acquiring even an approximate answer will probably require significant scientific progress in multiple areas before an attempt can be made to ascertain the underlying comprehensive truth, assuming one does even exist.

 

Q2: Do I have a purpose? Is my life path determined in a way which exposes me to certain experiences, to create a purpose to improve humanity in some way and then achieve that goal in the course of a lifetime?

A2: Perhaps. The assumption that you will have only one purpose to fulfill may be too simplistic in a multifaceted environment like planet Earth. Moreover, there is no way of telling exactly how your own life path fits into the overarching narrative of human progress. From a pessimistic perspective your role in human affairs could simply be a culmination of particular arbitrary circumstances, while from an optimistic perspective reality may at all times be formulating itself around you in a way which allows you to make a considerable contribution to humanity (if that is what you desire to achieve).

 

Q3: If we are apparently alone in the Universe are we then able to construct our own meaning for objects and experiences?

A3: Yes and no. We can identify the things and activities we find desirable and work towards maintaining our relationship with them but we do not have a firm grasp of the extent to which we create and control our original desires (“Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.”   —   Schopenhauer). Meaning seems to be found or created in the process of experience but enjoyment relates directly to our (probably) inherent temperamental affinity for certain types of experiences. On the other hand certain activities are almost unanimously found to be meaningful; such as helping or bringing joy to others, experiences which relate to the bodily functions (good food, sex, even alcohol!) or more curiously pursuits such as music/dance and sport. Many existentialists would argue that the ideal way to cope with a lack of absolute, codified meaning is to develop then pursue your own idea of what is meaningful.

 

Q4: What is the meaning of (or reason for) the perpetual suffering in the world, both mental and physical? Why isn’t life ‘fair’ (e.g. why are some lives longer or shorter than others)?

A4: This is perhaps an inquiry into the lack of suggested inherent morality. While morality is not necessarily entirely relative or just a social construct, we can perceive no definite punishments for behaviour which is deliberately hurtful or injurious to others (e.g. a murderer is not immediately smote for ending another person’s life). However, there could certainly be some sort of underlying imperceptible karma-like system where ‘good’ decisions lead to enjoyable future experiences and ‘bad’ decisions to less enjoyable ones, but we don’t yet have the evidence for such a principle. Again we are essentially restricted to speculation here. You can make an argument that, counter-intuitively, mental suffering can turn out to be a positive experience to go through (“…That our pains are thus unendurable, means not that they are too great, but that we are sick. We have not got our proper life. So you perceive pain is no more necessarily an evil, but an essential element of the highest good.”  —  James Hinton) but physical suffering is very rarely seen as anything other than an unwanted experience. All we can hope for is that somehow these aspects of existence are connected in a way which proves there is some justification for the madness of life and death.

 

Q5: What would be the implications of knowing the meaning of life? Would life immediately lose its lustre upon understanding exactly how reality fits together? Is there a great advantage in striving for but never reaching a finished comprehension of things?

A5: This is probably true, but we can’t know for sure until some polymath genius stumbles upon an integrated awareness of the way reality functions, then explicates this for the world to see. It could even be the case that the meaning of life has already been found! Perhaps the simulation hypothesis is actually correct but not provable at this time. The problem here is the recognition that humans generally need a clear sense of purpose to function correctly. Once that purpose has been reached in most cases we almost immediately need another one or else we can lose motivation. If meaning is related to our subjective valuation of the importance of a certain goal, finding the solution to the ultimate question, the meaning of life, could ironically render most of human conduct utterly meaningless (all conduct which doesn’t fulfill the revealed particular purpose). Yet it’s difficult to see this in a way which precludes the ongoing search for an increased understanding of absolutely everything the Universe has to offer.

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An Absurd Universe, An Absurd Existence

 

One characteristic of philosophy which can distinguish it from other disciplines is the admission that the barest facts of life are unbelievably odd…” (Watts). Below is one attempt to outline some of the most mystifying absurdities regarding the nature of existence and the composition of this planet we subsist on.

 

  1. A cannibalistic Earth:  [Alan Watts quote continued from above] As Aristotle put it, the beginning of philosophy is wonder. I am simply amazed to find myself living on a ball of rock that swings around an immense spherical fire. I am more amazed that I am a maze—a complex wiggliness, an arabesque of tubes, filaments, cells, fibers, and films that are various kinds of palpitation in this stream of liquid energy. But what really gets me is that almost all the substance of this maze, aside from water, was once other living bodies—the bodies of animals and plants—and that I had to obtain it by murder. We are creatures rearranged, for biological existence continues only through the mutual slaughter and ingestion of its various species. I exist solely through membership in this perfectly weird arrangement of beings that flourish by chewing each other up.”
  2. The nature of conscious perception:  Where exactly is the self located? Do you identify yourself as your entire body? Or just your mind? Through your eyes? Finally as posed by Aldous Huxley, when you move your arm who is doing the moving?
  3. The harmony of natural phenomena:  It is curious how perfectly our Earth operates (this does not necessitate ID however). For instance plants, trees and other vegetation provide us with almost fully formed meals ripe for digestion. What’s more the vegetables regrow themselves! We also have the other necessary nutrients to sustain ourselves (water, oxygen) conveniently provided for us (oceans, respiring flora). This provokes an interesting question: to what extent is human and animal life intimately linked to the sustainment of planet Earth?
  4. The birthing process:  You as a conscious being arose from the culmination of the sperm and the egg plus stores of converted energy (among other materials). Not only does this pose the elective affinities problem (how can consciousness or ‘living matter’ arise from ‘dead matter’?) but the very idea that each of us has come into being from close to nothingness is altogether bizarre.
  5. Our habits and individual motives:  Try as we might to avoid repeated behaviours we are wired to follow routine. The consequence is that many of us end up victims of stagnant lives but unable to separate ourselves from hedonistic habits. What’s more, we struggle to pinpoint the exact source of our greatest desires and ambitions (most likely formed in childhood, but specifically how is a mystery) giving rise to the supposition that perhaps we aren’t in full control of our destinies.
  6. Other stars, planets and galaxies:  If Earth or the solar system was really the centerpiece of our Universe what would be the reason for the existence of other star systems and planets? The resulting confusion is that we should dismiss human morality in the face of wonders far, far larger and older than ourselves, yet at the same time our very existence implies humanity is probably not a mistake so our morality could end up being valid (and simply of low value to other species, or to aliens!).
  7. The need to sleep:  We spend a great portion of our lives motionless. We also know that sleep is impossible to avoid for an extended period of time otherwise the body peculiarly begins to shut down. What purpose might sleep serve? While sleep does foster physical growth in young people it seems excessive for humans to require up to eight hours of sleep per day for optimal performance.
  8. The force of gravity:  At any moment you are in contact with the ground the force of gravity is quite strongly pulling you towards the centre of the Earth. Of course this force is necessary as not only does it keep us and our possessions grounded but it affects arrangements such as the Earthen tides and planetary orbits. This vital force is one of many confounding elements of existence we perceive only indirectly through invisible effects.
  9. Our primal bodily urges:  We may at times consider ourselves intelligent and advanced beings, however our often uncontrollable bodily functions suggest otherwise. Each of us needs to sleep, eat, drink and dispose of our waste; not to mention make way for hormonal and sexual urges. In human terms we are a strange amalgamation of animal and machine.

It Slips Away

 

To lose what you never had, is there anything more pointlessly tragic?

The cynical cycle: desire, hope, failure, despair, desire, hope, failure…

Years of grasping at invisible straws; neither the years nor the straws are recoverable.

But the future is just as murky when it’s founded on an intangible fleeting past.

That leaves the present, unknowable and unrelenting in its harrowing habituation of helplessness.

So as you go about your day blissfully unaware of your own suffering, let alone your neighbour’s, at least spare a thought for lost time.

It’ll slip away before you have the chance to catch it. Even then, when you finally attain some success it’s already time to move on…

 

The man who never tried

Neither lived nor died

Who was left to honour him?

Just the wind.

Aphorisms and Approximations

 

What follows is a rough diary-type list of maxims aiming at an underlying truth, interspersed with questions and speculations on the structure of society and the nature of reality.

 


November 2017


 

  • A possible definition of adulthood: The moment reality becomes more frightening than fantasy.
  • As long as we remain slaves to our desires not one of us can be properly called a master of their fate.
  • One effective means of motivation is to exhaust every source of pleasure until you’re forced to seek out new ones.
  • Don’t focus on what you should do, focus on what you could do.
  • Almost any action half well-considered is better than no action at all.
  • How can a person start from nothing?
  • Why people crave externals: Eventually your external reality will (in most cases) come to represent the depth of your internal character. Aiming straight at externals is often an attempt to cheat the character building process.
  • Is one day spent in total reflection superior to one spent in completing habitual tasks?
  • Life would be infinitely interesting and meaningful if we had the chance to experience multiple perspectives.
  • Complexifying and systemising reality can be ruinous for us as often we become addicted to the mental systems we create. In many cases we become “mere walking bundles of habits” (William James) while opportunities to live the life we could have led pass us by.
  • Especially with the advent of automation can society be designed so as to allow citizens to pursue occupations they are competent and interested in but without excessive specialisation limiting their potentialities?
  • Can equality of outcome and equality of opportunity be congruent by finding a way to incentivise workers beyond monetary reward?
  • A difficulty in life is that it is much easier to identify paths you shouldn’t take than paths you should take.
  • Don’t choose the route of maximum freedom over responsibility. Eventually your conscience will pay the price.
  • Is it better to live courageously without direction or securely with some direction?
  • A fundamental question to ask yourself: How can I best contribute to the improvement of society and/or the reduction of suffering in a sustained, concrete way?
  • Desire has no upper limit.
  • To know real triumph you have to know real hardship.
  • No life is without its mistakes and imperfections. Most of these are unnoticed or omitted from the record books.
  • The environment you are placed in is an inescapable factor in the formation of your character as it sets the opportunities and limitations for you to make something of yourself.
  • Nihilism = You don’t know the value of your life, assume nothing is meaningful. Existentialism = You don’t know the value of your life, assume most things are meaningful.
  • Possible reasons why practical experience can be more valuable than abstraction: 1. Abstraction cannot adequately account for unknown variables. 2. Abstraction deals with universals which do not invariably explain contextual differences. 3. Abstraction generally operates without the direct influence of other people, potentially narrowing your scope of knowledge.
  • Theory: As an agent with infinite potential your duty as a living being is to at all times work towards realising a lifestyle you perceive as attainable and worthwhile which supports the commonweal. Not to do so may result in guilt and disappointment.
  • Losing your passion for life and its many pursuits is equivalent to or worse than death.
  • Why failure is so critical for success: Without failure you can’t comprehend your limitations.
  • Theory: Over half the problems we face are imaginary or yet to occur.
  • If you have a vague sense of something other you could or should be doing with your life on the road to relieving the suffering of others, is not doing so morally wrong?
  • You’re haunted by everything you aren’t more than everything you are.
  • How do you let go of time ill spent?
  • A negative aspect of free-market capitalism: it generally does not discourage placing our own often unnecessary wants before the necessary needs of others.
  • A sad fact of reality: It has no relevance what your life situation could have been. It only matters what your situation is in the present moment, and what it may become.
  • There are in fact shortcuts in life but we perceive them only in retrospect, revealed through inaction or failure, so they are useful only for teaching others to avoid your own mistakes.
  • ‘Work harder’ is one of the most useless pieces of advice you can give someone. ‘Work’ is an extremely vague term and has too many interpretations attached to it to convey any sufficiently meaningful information. Not to mention telling someone to ‘work harder’ does not address the real solution they are after: ‘in what direction am I to work harder in?’
  • Idea: A public ownership society where an online database is kept of every member of society (whether they are a student, employee, unemployed, retiree etc.) with information on each profitable occupation available (so we have a dynamic online record of every job vacancy and its requirements). Near the end of their schooling years students take aptitude tests to determine a list of twenty or so occupations they would enjoy and be competent in. Thus the transition from school to higher education or working life is streamlined, giving the students the opportunity to try a variety of occupations before settling on the one they prefer.
  • Theory: Often when you criticise someone you are really criticising one of your own faults reflected in the other person’s behaviour.
  • A person’s greatest fear ought to be dying as someone ordinary, before they have made a significant contribution to human progress.

 


December 2017


 

  • When the company of people you are with seem insane, making you the insane one, remember that genius shows itself in difference from the multitude and is at first difficult to delineate from madness.
  • The strength of the individual can be measured by their fortitude in the face of ridicule.
  • If we are slaves to our habits the least we can do is ensure they are useful ones.
  • There’s little use in sacrificing the majority of your life for only the possibility of assisting humanity in the future. What is of pragmatic use lies only in the present so live to help others from within your current domain, however dire and imperfect it may be.
  • Does the highest good result from subjecting your character to new experiences?
  • One of the most difficult steps to overcome in improving yourself is having the courage to sacrifice your own life contentment in order to work towards improving the happiness of others.
  • Why is life full of apparently meaningless suffering? Must life necessarily be this way? What can we do to withstand it?
  • Theory: The easiest way to achieve consistent happiness is to entirely simplify your desires then to slowly complexify them.
  • This is what it means to be a philosopher: every human value and convention is up for questioning.
  • Your prior experience determines almost every aspect of your current life. Perhaps the more you succeed, the more likely you are to succeed in the future; while the more you fail, the more likely you are to fail in the future.
  • Your time is infinitely valuable but without a sense of what to do with it your time is infinitely worthless.
  • What is the most effective way of finding an occupation you enjoy and are sufficiently skilled at? Is it a better use of time to contemplate your ambitions or to experiment with a number of jobs you think you might enjoy?
  • The greater your knowledge and life experience the murkier your perception of existence becomes as you realise the potentialities you could fulfill, or the ones which are already out of reach.
  • Question to ask oneself: Is my current pathway in life enabling me to directly help a large number of people? If not, what course of action could I take which would allow me to, at least indirectly, help a small number of people every day?
  • A core issue with free-market capitalism is the inherent wealth disparity between workers. There would be no problem if each of us was paid the same amount for the same amount of hours we work (which arguably represents the same amount of effort, although there are exceptions) however since wages are decided by the share we get from the output produced (decided largely by what consumers are willing to pay for it) within our company or organisation there will always be an unjust disparity between people in different occupations (“But for those that are equal to have an unequal share and those that are alike an unlike share is contrary to nature, and nothing contrary to nature is noble.”  —  Aristotle). Thus one solution could be the process of all earnings going directly to the government, who divide the total earnings equally and give a equal share to each worker (but factoring in the hours they have worked).
  • A sufficient reason to abandon the standard 9 to 5 lifestyle: life is simply too short to spend an extended period of time in the exact same location (unless circumstances force it upon you or your life is consistently meaningful).
  • Can a person be both wise and a person of action?
  • A list of significant traits which distinguish one person from another: difference in physical appearance, beliefs, experiences, behaviour and achievements (“Character is most subtle, elusive, changing and contradictory—a strange mingling of habits, hopes, tendencies, ideals, motives, weaknesses, traditions and memories—manifest in a thousand different phases.”  —  William George Jordan).
  • The qualification paradox: On the one hand knowledge and skills are available to everyone so having a qualification in a certain field does not guarantee your greater competence; on the other hand if this was ubiquitously the case the qualification would lose its value.
  • New experiences are necessary as they create new shades of meaning in the same phenomena. For instance, the word ‘hardship’ has meaning to you proportional to the different types of hardship you have experienced. Experiences can be artificially created by an advanced imagination, but these types of experience will always be inferior to real experiences because you lack the real memory of what has occurred.
  • A sad truth: Many treat success as a zero-sum game. Any venture which is not immediately successful is soon considered a failure.

 


January 2018


 

  • One aspect which makes life worth living are the successive realisations we experience regarding our day-to-day lives. With new knowledge and experiences new dimensions are added to our understanding so that what has gradually become dull can be rejuvenated until it is interesting again, now that we see the same phenomenon in a new light.
  • Discontentment is often the price you pay for comprehension. This is one reason practicing philosophy can be at times both good and bad for you; you gain a deeper understanding of reality but sacrifice your peace of mind upon discovering the inescapable and inexhaustible absurdity of things.
  • If life really was some sort of dream or simulation the majority of us wouldn’t want to find evidence in favour of it (we would take the blue over the red pill) as knowing the truth would probably destroy our perception of free will.
  • Live as though success is the only realistic alternative.
  • Every great person was made, not born into high esteem. Attempting to entirely replicate their efforts is futile as the demands of the present day are too different to be directly compared with the distant past. What we can do is further their attempts to improve civilisation and work on increasing the wealth of our universal knowledge.
  • For me one of the greatest philosophical questions is a pragmatic one, similar to this speculation by Kierkegaard: “What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act…The crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.” The greatest use of philosophy is its application to the self finding life direction (equating to partial success in overcoming meaninglessness) in order to maximise one’s potential to improve the rest of humanity.
  • The transition from youth to adulthood often mirrors the transition from idealism to pragmatism.
  • Why having new positive experiences could be considered one of the highest goods imaginable: By a certain age your perception of time and reality begins to speed up, leaving you with few memories but those most important to you. All you have left is a selection of meaningful excerpts from your past.
  • How can we delineate the virtue of a tranquil life from the vice of a stagnant life?
  • Considering the brevity of an average lifetime (“At bottom, every human being knows very well that he is in this world just once, as something unique, and that no accident, however strange, will throw together a second time into a unity such a curious and diffuse plurality: he knows it, but hides it like a bad conscience.”  —  Friedrich Nietzsche) we should not criticise those who believe they are special. In fact, each of us should act as if we are special (but not in terms of entitlement, rather our humanitarian output should be of the highest quality imaginable). A person’s individuality is one of their most precious characteristics so should not be vilified.
  • People naturally want to hear about your successes and not your failures. But if you’ve only experienced failure and had no successes who will help you then?
  • Perhaps counter-intuitively the life of unwanted hardship is only marginally worse than the life of unwanted ease. In the former case you are anchored to necessity (stuck in the finite) but the anchor is too heavy and overbearing to escape from. In the latter case you have been set free from the anchor but have drifted too far away, losing sight of necessity altogether (lost in the infinite).
  • The way to give up unwanted habits is not to focus on giving up the habit but to find a cause so worthy of your time the habit seems trivial in comparison to it.
  • Regularly in everyday life it appears that we can use apparatus or principles with little or no understanding of how they operate. In this way it could quite easily be the case that many of the fundamental axioms of reality we take for granted (even certain natural laws!) could be entirely false. Again and again we need to remind ourselves of our fallibility and our ignorance.
  • A day was valuable if you (1) had at least one new experience (2) had at least one new realisation, (3) brought happiness to others or (4) made significant progress on a personally meaningful goal.
  • One of the saddest things known to man is the repetition of unnecessary avoidable suffering perpetuated through ignorance of alternative courses of action.
  • Minimising your desires can lead to short-term satisfaction but long-term dissatisfaction.
  • For most people the plunge into nihilism is a camouflaged valuable phase in their personal development. To know that everything is permissible is simultaneously freeing and limiting; freeing in that you are open to the infinite range of possibilities available to you but limiting with the realisation that this set of possibilities contracts as you progress and overcome the vicissitudes of life. It is however important for many of us that we overlay existentialism on top of a nihilistic philosophy in order to salvage some order in our daily conduct, lest the infinitude of possibilities paralyses us until “the abyss swallows up the self” and “the individual becomes for himself a mirage” (Kierkegaard).
  • Can we conceive of a world where the pursuit of goodwill comes before the pursuit of money?
  • How cruel it is that for many their greatest regret is the time they’ve spent grieving over lost time.

 


February 2018


 

  • The realisation that much human progress relies on little more than an individual’s consecrated time and effort emphasises the mental aspect of achievement. There is not much separating you from greatness. You simply need a set of worthy ideals, the means and circumstances to accomplish them, and unerring perseverance towards completing your goals.
  • Pessimism should underlie optimism just as nihilism should underlie existentialism.
  • The only way to truly overcome ignorance is through practical experience. Intellectualism will open up new avenues of knowledge within your prior experience but fails to generate a realistic comprehension of that which you haven’t experienced first-hand.
  • Is it a problem that money appears to hold the fabric of society together? A minority respond with a firm ‘yes’, the rest with a firm ‘no’. But the majority are either entirely apathetic to the way wealth is appropriated (taking it for granted that what is ought to be so) or view it as a just and necessary system of value.
  • Is there a way to stimulate our higher passions without coming into direct contact with that we are lacking in? The greatest obstacle to human progress may be our own contentment (Content makes the world more comfortable for the individual, but it is the death-knell of progress…”  —  William George Jordan) as well as our tendency towards habituation (seemingly a mirror of our cerebral circuitry). Escaping sources of relatively meaningless pleasure becomes incredibly difficult considering the longer the habit is perpetuated the more familiar and dependent on it we become.
  • Considering we have not yet discovered an underlying objective meaning to existence it appears to be a mistake to put value only on the practical consequences of an action instead of the action itself. In this vein we cannot easily dismiss simple pleasures such as witnessing a child’s joy or the beauty of a stunning landscape. The existentialist creed may suggest that meaning is found or created through applying our subjective valuations to experience and meeting our own expectations of what constitutes success.
  • Happiness often results from one’s ability to successfully delineate what is necessary from what is expedient, or what is worthwhile from what is trivial.
  • Life is simultaneously a formidable challenge to be overcome and a great well of multifarious pleasure.
  • One mistake we commonly make is accepting that our contribution to humanity is presently sufficient for our circumstances. As long as you continue to exist there is no theoretical upper limit to what you may achieve.
  • A second mistake is lacking the awareness that at any given moment your life could tend in an entirely different direction if only you willed it to. Instead many of us follow familiar routines with only minor variations in our conduct, leaving our character with only a few rare chances to test itself.
  • Is true understanding of a phenomenon (or as close to truth as we can muster) better correlated with optimism or pessimism? On the one hand we have the brilliance of optimists such as Epicurus, Leibniz and Emerson; on the other the brilliance of pessimists such as Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.
  • Equally terrible as a life full of physical suffering is a life full of mental suffering. Hell is a life without ambition.
  • The first step towards greatness is the awareness of what you may achieve and what it requires to get there.
  • When what we once perceived as chaotic is no longer so we first feel confidence, then much later boredom in relation to it. Just as we should “Leave something to wish for, so as not to be miserable from very happiness.” (Baltasar Gracián) it is imperative to maintain a state somewhere between anxiety/wonder regarding that we don’t know and confidence/apathy regarding that we do know.
  • The difference between pro-capitalist and anti-capitalist thought appears to be the (generally capitalistic) assumption that the ‘harder’ a person works, the more resources they should be allocated (based on the supposition that the worth of people can be accurately compared). That is a baseless assumption considering the way our society operates through specialisation. Why should a doctor earn more than a mechanic, for instance? The occupations are too different in practice to be directly comparable.
  • The foremost problem in attempting to establish a ubiquitous moral system is roughly that “every real dilemma is in literal strictness a unique situation; and the exact combination of ideals realized and ideals disappointed which each decision creates is always a universe without a precedent, and for which no adequate previous rule exists” (William James).
  • According to our constitution there is no easy solution to the quintessential problem of philosophy: the meaning of life itself. What we know so far is that we are built to enjoy the striving, more than the attainment, of self-decided ends.
  • Why the incredible exponential rise in power and popularity of computer and VR technology is an awe-inducing but frightening prospect: We find computer systems alluring and addictive as they seemingly replicate our brain’s organic operations. The pleasure we receive from gaming, for instance, is just as powerful as that of any other hobby and is one of the most easily accessible.
  • Theory: Our poor sense of morality ensures it is more easy to identify actions which are wrong to us than actions which are right, and so we create a sense of right actions by inverting the definition of actions we determine to be wrong.
  • Happiness seems to be prevalent in situations where we individually pose worthwhile goals and then do our utmost to accomplish them. The problem with the education system (and often society in general) is that it often does a poor job of teaching us how to construct individual ambitions in relation to the needs of the rest of society.
  • Can we balance care with freedom from care, content with dissatisfaction? Having cares while being perpetually dissatisfied appears to be the ideal in terms of maximising our individual contribution to humanity, however we can’t force ourselves to be dissatisfied nor is it in our immediate interest to do so. The problem may be that we need to force ourselves to be motivated despite the possibility of there being no external reward for our efforts.
  • Genius is primarily measured by a person’s ability to simplify complicated phenomena, usually by establishing common principles behind its inner workings before analogising it.
  • The greatest character combination is an indomitable will with a penetrating intellect.
  • The problem with the common practice of resumes/job interviews (although we don’t have a better replacement solution) is that applicants are forced to overrate themselves and their abilities. It is advantageous to them to only admit their strengths and not their shortcomings. The unfortunate result is a society composed of many individuals who (1) see life as a competition or a zero-sum game and (2) wrongly perceive themselves as superior to others.
  • To uncover life’s presently hidden secrets may require a unification of the ‘is’ of science with the ‘ought’ of philosophy and the ‘is’ of the external world with the ‘ought’ of internal perception.

 


March 2018


 

  • To be able to recognise the truth you can’t be afraid to occasionally risk losing your sanity.
  • What is the difference between an emotional belief and a moral judgement?
  • The most likely psychological determinant of motivation appears to be explained by a fusion of Expectancy Theory with Maslowe’s Hierarchy of Needs (perhaps expectancy, instrumentality and valence are embedded within each level of the hierarchy).
  • The danger of conservative behaviour is that failing to expose oneself to new experiences and/or landscapes can gradually stupefy a person’s will while degrading each of their once resolute hopes. Eventually their cognitive abilities can suffer as the domain of their competency has been restricted to familiar surroundings, arguably granting less room for character development.
  • Some form of suffering afflicting you at regular times of your life is inevitable and usually inescapable. If you attempt to avoid suffering through a simpler life the guilt of not achieving your maximum potentialities can overcome you. On the other hand if you live a more courageous life you are exposed to the dangers of risk and desire.
  • Perhaps the cure for relativism/nihilism/subjectivism is acting as though the values others take to be necessary, are actually necessary, even though you may believe otherwise.
  • One of the common mistakes geniuses make is framing those of lesser intelligence as ‘the other’ and incorrectly going on to dismiss their ambitions and pursuits as inferior to those of the intellectually gifted (Schopenhauer was one notorious example of this). Not only does this display a lack a humility but it can also be harmful for the genius. Ostracising the self from concrete realities is often necessary to reach a sufficient level of abstraction to solve universal problems, but the cost can be either an unjustified heightening of the ego or a diminution of the self.
  • Real intelligence is having the ability to perceive your past mistakes and present weaknesses, and then being able to decipher exactly how you can rectify these defects in your character.
  • Theoretically if there is an underlying universal truth each of us will reach approximately the same or similar conclusions regarding the great life questions.
  • Why are we prone to creating ‘air castles’ (see The Power of Truth by William George Jordan) without living in them? It’s a shocking realisation how stark the difference can be between the way you believe you should live and the concrete reality you face everyday.
  • With the supposition that suffering may be a necessary good (Little inconveniences, exertions, pains — these are the only things in which we rightly feel our life at all. If these be not there, existence becomes worthless, or worse; success in putting them all away is fatal.”  —  James Hinton) can we then assert that we do in fact live in the best of all possible worlds? A life where our desires are met instantaneously, if we could even conceive of one, would probably be unfulfilling.
  • A problem we face when trying to create a comprehensive system of morality is that reality is changeable over time and its meaning seemingly discovered in the process of experience, rather than inherently knowable.
  • A simple way of coping with death: You know how you entered the world but not why, thus you can possibly assume that whichever forces are controlling your destiny will guide you towards the lifespan necessary for you to accomplish whatever needs to be accomplished.
  • Perhaps the ultimate working model (in terms of governing how careers are chosen) would be one where the range of occupations available to a person is determined primarily by their personality type/temperament (either ‘Myers-Briggs’ or ‘Big 5’ models) identified near the end of their formative years.
  • Life is so absurd that maintaining a casual demeanour is often the best way to take life seriously.
  • The ‘Paradox of Action’: Knowing what to do with your life is best generated through the course of experience, but to undergo new experiences requires you have knowledge of that which you’d like to experience (which you don’t have a proper comprehension of until you’ve already had the experience). Thus we generally struggle to comprehend the various possibilities available to us.
  • There is a perverse pleasure in subjecting oneself to negative experiences and then overcoming them.

 


April 2018


 

  • What can a person do when their innermost being — many of their thoughts, aspirations and behaviours — appear to be in direct opposition to the wishes of the multitude? Should they attempt to remould the world or accept humanity’s many perversions (e.g. the apparent obsession with money and status) by conforming to that they oppose but can’t currently change? Is conformity an example of courage or cowardice?
  • Is an equanimous view of the world (often one which acknowledges it is impossible to judge certain values and pleasures as superior than others) a helpful or unhelpful way of dealing with the world? Intuitively it seems like a positive attribute to have, however, this calmness in the face of adversity can quite easily transform into a state of apathy (in Greek the word equanimous roughly translates to apatheia). Additionally equanimity does not bode well in modern society where apathy regarding vain pursuits is commonly mistaken for laziness.
  • When we attempt to analyse the meaning of life we can break it down into two separate questions. The first is more objective, an inquiry akin to ‘what is the reason for the existence of the entire Universe and all its inhabitants?’ (or Heidegger’s ‘why are there beings at all instead of nothing’?). The second question is more subjective, perhaps a query such as ‘what is the reason for my own existence and what might my destiny become?’. Both questions are intimately related so if one question is ‘solved’ it is more than likely that at least a partial explanation to the other question will be revealed.
  • Maybe the ideal situation would be if our lives were in fact completely determined but most us believed otherwise.
  • There is a downside to scepticism: the inability to commit to a single hypothesis can restrict that person’s ability to effectively act in the world (“A philosopher should not be afraid of scepticism, but should go on bruising his jaw.”  —  Lev Shestov).
  • One of the great challenges in life is deciding not to give in to selfishness upon realising that selfishness is often better rewarded than altruism.
  • We live in a society where categorisation, namely of people and experiences, is now completely out of hand. Categorisation is a useful method of attempting to qualify and quantify the raw data of primary experience, but when we apply this strategy to human beings (commonly through stereotyping) we generally fail to construct a genuine conception of their wildly varying inner lives.
  • “All things are possible.” — This is the truth which simultaneously frees and corrupts the will, the truth at the heart of nihilism. For if every potentiality has the possibility of being actualised (the options available to us aren’t necessarily infinite but they are infinite in the sense of being so vastly different from another and so innumerable we can’t always prepare for them) how on Earth are we to come to a decision about anything? This may be one case where it’s better to stay ignorant considering we can act more effectively with the belief that our options are more limited than they really are.
  • It is probably better to live with the fear of death than without it.
  • Why is failure often evaluated to be equal with success? It is because the nature of existence teaches us that growth is favoured above all else. Thus even a change in one’s circumstances which in hindsight seems to be a negative change can in many cases be superior to no change at all. At the cost of time and perhaps some mental or physical pain what is gained is valuable knowledge and experience regarding the operations of the world.

 


May 2018


 

  • The key error made by a significant proportion of civilisation is that constructed human systems, traditions and values are naively treated as though they are just as infallible as the laws of nature.
  • Humans possess a remarkable ability to adapt to technologies without needing to understand how they operate (e.g. how many of us know exactly how our plumbing system works?). What does this mean in the context of advancing areas such as A.I. development?
  • To what extent does a new experience transform our understanding of the world?
  • The consistent application of Descartes’ principle of Cartesian doubt will in many cases drive a person to madness at at least one point of their life. In a world where truth is seemingly nebulous and changeable the persistent pursuit of truth is consistently problematic for all who choose to undertake it.
  • Is one resounding success worth fifty soul-crushing failures?
  • As much as you are defined by your experience, in the eyes of others you are equally defined by your ‘non-experience’ or lack of experience in various areas.
  • Once the futility of attempting to solve life’s impossible questions has been properly realised, what then? Can a philosopher ever fully relinquish the desire for definite metaphysical answers?
  • We live in a universe which as a harmonious whole we perceive to be an awe-inducing plurality of interrelated (and perhaps at base inextricable) phenomena. However, when we attempt to assess this universe’s moral qualities (if intersubjective morality can somehow be applied to the nature of Being itself) we get varying answers which suggest the Universe is sometimes moral, sometimes immoral, but altogether amoral. Why is this a problem? As creatures who are fully reliant on this planet for survival we need to understand the relationship between our internal worlds and the external world we inhabit (roughly the field of axiology). In fact, it may be possible that we have already begun to formulate our ethical systems in the wrong way. We approach reality as something we are familiar with, when really if we are to understand the reason for existence we need to approach reality as if it is something totally alien to us.
  • There is no absolute limit to what you don’t know. Even if you were to reach the pinnacle of present human knowledge there are seemingly always new combinations of ideas to be made and truths to be uncovered.

The Greatest Life Imaginable

 

Similar to Nietzsche’s idea of a fictional superman, here I will propose a number of positive characteristics a person may strive to exhibit throughout their lifetime (I have used masculine terms only for ease of writing, these attributes are attainable by anybody).

 

  1. The Great Man…  is a good mixture of pragmatist and idealist but never lets one take complete precedent over the other. He doesn’t live within other people’s imaginary boundaries unless he firmly agrees they are an accurate reflection of reality. In turn, he never allows himself to force his own values onto others, no matter how true he perceives them to be.
  2. The Great Man  lives by a well-founded agenda constructed by his present ideals. If some disturbance or opportunity arises a logical alteration to that agenda is made in accordance with his long-term values to determine the correct course of action.
  3. The Great Man  finds a way to consistently expose himself to new stimuli, namely through trial and error, and thus constantly discovers new aspects in familiar and unchanging stimuli.
  4. The Great Man  acts as an inspiration to all of those he comes into contact with. Not only is the magnanimity of his aura felt through his past achievements and depth of personality, but also because he is able to communicate the key to his success in a way which resonates and appears accessible to others.
  5. The Great Man  has an abundance of purpose underlying every thought process and resulting action meaning he is only held back by the finitude of time available to him. He knows the Universe is malleable which gives him no reason to give into the constraints others perceive in their environment.
  6. The Great Man  manages a multiplicity of responsibilities and commitments to others which he enjoys carrying out, motivated by the joy he is bringing and the burden he is alleviating from others.
  7. The Great Man  works only towards his own measure of success. He is free from the judgement of others in that he alone must perceive the inherent value in each task he chooses to complete.
  8. The Great Man…  strives to achieve “the great and the impossible” (Nietzsche) by framing goals which are likely to extend beyond just one person’s lifetime. The steps he takes towards achieving these extraordinary goals may be gradual as long as they are kept in mind at all times, through every manner of experience.
  9. The Great Man…  constantly seeks to identify existing problems with the way society is constructed and how it functions. He attempts to rectify them through a combination of theoretical reasoning and practical challenges to the barriers separating the ways things are from the way they could be.
  10. The Great Man…  avoids procrastination by learning to perceive time as a continuous stream, rather than breaking it down into segments which would give him the opportunity to excuse himself from jobs he would prefer not to be doing.
  11. The Great Man…  appreciates the value of time and therefore experience as a defining facet of a person’s character. He first absorbs the wisdom of inspirational figures, then applies this wisdom to his own life.
  12. The Great Man…  is adaptable and highly skilled in a number of worthwhile pursuits. Thus he is able to play a number of supportive roles with great proficiency. He recognises that each person is affected by the people they interact with and so he consciously adopts the most valuable traits of each person he comes across (“Every man I meet is my superior in some way, in that, I learn of him.”  —  Emerson).
  13. The Great Man…  will always be dissatisfied with his present lifestyle unless at all times he has the opportunity to contribute to the progress of society. In situations where he is not able to take immediate action he simultaneously enjoys the present moment but imagines alternative realities where he would be better able to assist others. He then strives to achieve those realities.
  14. The Great Man…  is never overburdened by the apparent meaningless and futile nature of life. Instead, he is grateful this ambiguity of objective purpose allows him the freedom to experiment with new transformative methods of increasing the happiness of other people, which in turn will contribute to his own happiness.
  15. The Great Man…  does not get caught up in externals. He refrains from tying his identity to possessions or plots of land, each of these is temporary. Losing his home, the minuscule patch of the Earth most of us occupy and pretend we have permanent control over, would be of little consequence. The Universe is his home.
  16. The Great Man…  recognises his own vices and is constantly seeking to substitute these activities for ones of greater usefulness. Time misspent can never be regained.
  17. The Great Man…  always attempts to improve and align his internal and external circumstances. If internals outweigh externals he is left with false confidence. If externals outweigh internals he is left with false egoism. Striking a balance here is vital to long-term happiness.
  18. The Great Man…  opts for simplicity over complexity if at all possible. He is able to distinguish his positive qualities from his negative qualities, eliminate the negative qualities, then replace them with new determinations.

 


NB: This is a dynamic list. You can put your ideas in the comments below and I’ll add them to the list