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.
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.
- One possible definition of adulthood: The moment reality becomes more frightening than fantasy.
- An overabundance of knowledge can be damning for a person, imagining knowledge is like energy in that it can only be transferred or replaced and not created or destroyed.
- As long as we remain slaves to our desires, not one of us can ever be 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 come to represent the depth of your internal character. Aiming straight at externals is trying 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 other people’s perspectives.
- Realising the meaningless nature of reality gives it new meaning in of itself.
- Complexifying and systemising reality can be ruinous as we become addicted to the mental systems we create and sooner or later become ‘walking bundles of habits’ while life passes 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 rewards?
- 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.
- Theory: perhaps success is just a race against time.
- As we advance further from the subjective to the objective through the accumulation of collective knowledge will we eventually reach the point where our personalities are so similar specialisation is no longer possible?
- 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 everything is meaningful.
- Why is practical experience more valuable than abstraction?
- Possible answers to the above: 1. Abstraction cannot adequately account for unknown variables. 2. Abstraction deals with universals which do not invariably explain contextual differences. 3. Abstraction operates without the direct influence of other people, 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 for the commonweal. Not to do so may result in existential 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 it you can’t comprehend your limitations.
- 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 so than everything you are.
- How do you let go of time ill spent?
- A negative aspect of capitalism: it does not discourage placing our own (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.
- There are in fact shortcuts in life but we know them only in retrospect, through inaction or failure, so they are useful only when taught to others to avoid the mistakes you have made.
- ‘Work harder’ is one of the most useless pieces of advice you can give somebody. ‘Work’ is an extremely vague term and has too many interpretations attached to it to convey 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 every single profitable occupation available (so we have a dynamic online record of every job vacancy and its requirements). Near the end of their schooling life 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 have the opportunity to try a variety of occupations before settling on the one they prefer by their mid-twenties (eliminating current unemployment problems).
- 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.
- When the company of people you are with seem insane, making you in fact the insane one, remember that genius shows itself in difference from the multitude and is at first difficult to delineate from pure madness.
- The strength of the individual can be measured by their fortitude in the face of ridicule.
- The problem with prolonged tranquility, assuming you are spending most of your time in the same location, is that you are ignoring the other 99.9% of the world and its happenings. Thus the decision to go into tranquility often relies on the truth of the supposition that the singular is an accurate representation of the universal (and vice versa).
- 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?
- Idea: a government initiative where an agenda is issued stating where citizens should roughly be in life and what they could be working towards based on their age group (e.g. 13-17, 18-22, 23-27, 28-32, 33-37, 37-42). This could provide a good starting point for people who are directionless.
- One of the most difficult steps to overcome in improving yourself involves having the courage to sacrifice your own life contentment in order to improve the happiness of others.
- [In response to people who dismiss nihilism as childish without properly understanding it] Yes, it may be obvious that existence is futile, meaningless and full of suffering but that does not mean these facts are not worth addressing. Each aspect proposes a fundamental problem for each member of humanity to deal with at at least one point of their life: Why is life full of meaningless suffering? Must life necessarily be this way? What can we do to withstand it?
- Theory: the easiest way to achieve happiness is to entirely simplify your desires then to slowly complexify them.
- This is what it means to be a philosopher: every value and convention is up for questioning.
- Theory: your prior experience determines almost every aspect of your current life. Sadly 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. Thus a great divide is created between members of society where often the successful can’t sympathise with the unsuccessful, and since they have the rewards they aren’t always willing to share with those they can’t understand.
- Your time is infinitely valuable but without a sense of what to do with it your time is infinitely worthless.
- How can we simultaneously maintain a state of humility while striving towards greatness to the best of our ability?
- There is a ridiculous misconception out there that all work must necessarily be something you don’t enjoy, otherwise why would someone pay you for it? Well there are plenty of reasons an employer might pay someone else to work for them. They might not have the time or skills to complete the tasks themselves, for instance. Out of the many thousands of occupations out there it is highly likely there are many you would enjoy doing regularly. The real question is 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?
- Idea: increasing the minimum age of university entrance to 20 years of age. After high school students can spend 1-2 years working, travelling and doing volunteer work before deciding if they would like to pursue higher education. This may be one solution to the debt trap we are currently facing where teenagers are encouraged to go to university with only a vague idea of their career trajectory.
- A core issue with free-market capitalism is the inherent wealth disparity between workers (and employers etc.). 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 man/woman 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 ‘created’ artificially through an advanced imagination, but these types of experiences will always be inferior to real experience because you lack the real memory of it.
- A sad truth: we treat success as a zero-sum game (any venture which is not immediately successful is considered a failure).
- One aspect which makes life worth living are the successive realisations we experience regarding our day-to-day lives. With new knowledge and experience 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 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 epistemic 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 in order to maximise one’s potential to improve the rest of humanity.
- The transition from youth to adulthood mirrors the transition from idealism to pragmatism.
- Why 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 exponentially, leaving you with few memories but those most important to you; 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?
- 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.
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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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