Category Archives: philosophy

The Source of Happiness

When, after twenty years of mar­riage, Laura Mun­son’s hus­band told her “I don’t love you any­more. I’m not sure I ever did.”, she chose to not believe him. Not because it did­n’t hurt or that she was­n’t tak­ing it per­son­ally, but because this was­n’t about her – it was about unmet expect­a­tions.

In yet anoth­er touch­ing Mod­ern Love column (is there any oth­er type?), Mun­son tells an enthralling story of mar­it­al and famili­al dis­quiet, but also man­ages to cut to the core of hap­pi­ness: that the source is not to be found through extern­al val­id­a­tion.

I’d finally man­aged to exile the voices in my head that told me my per­son­al hap­pi­ness was only as good as my out­ward suc­cess, rooted in things that were often out­side my con­trol. I’d seen the insan­ity of that equa­tion and decided to take respons­ib­il­ity for my own hap­pi­ness. And I mean all of it.

My hus­band had­n’t yet come to this under­stand­ing with him­self. He had enjoyed many years of hard work, and its rewards had sup­por­ted our fam­ily of four all along. But his new endeavor had­n’t been going so well, and his abil­ity to be the bread­win­ner was in rap­id decline. He’d been miser­able about this, felt use­less, was los­ing him­self emo­tion­ally and let­ting him­self go phys­ic­ally. And now he wanted out of our mar­riage; to be done with our fam­ily. […]

I saw what had been miss­ing: pride. He’d lost pride in him­self. Maybe that’s what hap­pens when our egos take a hit in mid­life and we real­ize we’re not as young and golden any­more.

When life’s knocked us around. And our child­hood myths reveal them­selves to be just that. The truth feels like the biggest suck­er-punch of them all: it’s not a spouse or land or a job or money that brings us hap­pi­ness. Those achieve­ments, those rela­tion­ships, can enhance our hap­pi­ness, yes, but hap­pi­ness has to start from with­in. Rely­ing on any oth­er equa­tion can be leth­al.

My hus­band had become lost in the myth.

The Virtues of Rationality

The name Eliez­er Yudkowsky imme­di­ately con­jours in my mind the word ration­al­ity (thanks to his addict­ive piece of fan fiction, Harry Pot­ter and the Meth­ods of Ration­al­ity). On a recent vis­it to his site, this con­nec­tion has now be strengthened after I saw his excel­lent essay on the twelve vir­tues of ration­al­ity:

  1. Curi­os­ity: A burn­ing itch to know is high­er than a sol­emn vow to pur­sue truth.
  2. Relin­quish­ment: Do not flinch from exper­i­ences that might des­troy your beliefs.
  3. Light­ness: Sur­render to the truth as quickly as you can.
  4. Even­ness: You are not a hypo­thes­is, you are the judge. There­fore do not seek to argue for one side or anoth­er.
  5. Argu­ment: In argu­ment strive for exact hon­esty, for the sake of oth­ers and also your­self […]Do not think that fair­ness to all sides means bal­an­cing your­self evenly between pos­i­tions; truth is not handed out in equal por­tions before the start of a debate.
  6. Empir­i­cism: Always know which dif­fer­ence of exper­i­ence you argue about.
  7. Sim­pli­city: When you pro­fess a huge belief with many details, each addi­tion­al detail is anoth­er chance for the belief to be wrong.
  8. Humil­ity: To be humble is to take spe­cif­ic actions in anti­cip­a­tion of your own errors.
  9. Per­fec­tion­ism: The more errors you cor­rect in your­self, the more you notice.
  10. Pre­ci­sion: More can be said about a single apple than about all the apples in the world. The nar­row­est state­ments slice deep­est.
  11. Schol­ar­ship: Each field that you con­sume makes you lar­ger.
  12. The Void

I believe that the ninth vir­tue, per­fec­tion­ism, is the most eleg­ant and I implore you to read the full essay if only to read that descrip­tion in full (and, I guess, to dis­cov­er what The Void is). How­ever the elev­enth vir­tue of ration­al­ity, schol­ar­ship, almost per­fectly describes why I write here and may go some way to explain­ing my diverse read­ing habits:

Study many sci­ences and absorb their power as your own. Each field that you con­sume makes you lar­ger. If you swal­low enough sci­ences the gaps between them will dimin­ish and your know­ledge will become a uni­fied whole. If you are glut­ton­ous you will become vaster than moun­tains. It is espe­cially import­ant to eat math and sci­ence which impinges upon ration­al­ity: Evol­u­tion­ary psy­cho­logy, heur­ist­ics and biases, social psy­cho­logy, prob­ab­il­ity the­ory, decision the­ory. But these can­not be the only fields you study. The Art must have a pur­pose oth­er than itself, or it col­lapses into infin­ite recur­sion.

Douglas Coupland’s Thoughts on the Future

Through­out his most pop­u­lar nov­els, Douglas Coup­land defines terms that come to define gen­er­a­tions and also man­ages to cre­ate stor­ies that per­fectly describe and con­nect with a cer­tain cul­ture at a cer­tain time.

In a series of recent art­icles, Coup­land has done this once more, but looks toward the future, instead.

One, an art­icle cov­er­ing Coupland’s proph­ecies for the com­ing ten years:

Try to live near a sub­way entrance: In a world of crazy-expens­ive oil, it’s the only real estate that will hold its value, if not increase.

In the same way you can nev­er go back­ward to a slower com­puter, you can nev­er go back­ward to a lessened state of con­nec­ted­ness.

It is going to become much easi­er to explain why you are the way you are: Much of what we now con­sider “personality” will be explained away as struc­tur­al and chem­ic­al func­tions of the brain.

And two that togeth­er form an extens­ive gloss­ary of terms for this com­ing peri­od:

Ikeas­is: The desire in daily life and con­sumer life to cling to “gen­er­ic­ally” designed objects. This need for clear, uncon­fus­ing forms is a means of sim­pli­fy­ing life amid an onslaught of inform­a­tion.

Omni­science Fatigue: The burnout that comes with being able to find out the answer to almost any­thing online, usu­ally on your phone.

Pseudoali­en­a­tion: The inab­il­ity of humans to cre­ate genu­inely ali­en­at­ing situ­ations. Any­thing made by humans is a de facto expres­sion of human­ity. Tech­no­logy can­not be ali­en­at­ing because humans cre­ated it. Genu­inely ali­en tech­no­lo­gies can be cre­ated only by ali­ens. Tech­nic­ally, a situ­ation one might describe as ali­en­at­ing is, in fact, “human­at­ing”.

Situ­ation­al Dis­in­hib­i­tion: Social con­triv­ances with­in which one is allowed to become dis­in­hib­ited, that is, moments of cul­tur­ally approved dis­in­hib­i­tion.

via @vaughanbell and Kot­tke

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

The First Law of Fan­fic­tion states that every change which strengthens the prot­ag­on­ists requires a cor­res­pond­ing worsen­ing of their chal­lenges. […] stor­ies are about con­flict; a hero too strong for their con­flict is no longer in tense, heart-pound­ing dif­fi­culty. […]

The Ration­al­ist Fan­fic­tion Prin­ciple states that ration­al­ity is not magic; being ration­al does not require magic­al poten­tial or roy­al blood­lines or even amaz­ing gad­gets, and the prin­ciples of ration­al­ity work for under­stand­able reas­ons.

That’s Eliez­er Yudkowsky in an intro­duc­tion to his acclaimed Harry Pot­ter fan fiction, Harry Pot­ter and the Meth­ods of Ration­al­ity.

The piece of “seri­al fic­tion” looks at cog­nit­ive sci­ence and ration­al­ity in a Harry Pot­ter-type world where Harry, hav­ing been raised by a sci­ent­ist step­fath­er, is a ration­al­ist, enter­ing the wiz­ard­ing world “armed with Enlight­en­ment ideals and the exper­i­ment­al spir­it.”

Cur­rently 63 chapters long–including chapters such as A Day of Very Low Prob­ab­il­ity, The Stan­ford Pris­on Exper­i­ment, The Unknown and the Unknow­able and Title Redac­ted, Part I–the Meth­ods is a fant­ast­ic read.

There’s a “book-style” PDF avail­able, ePUB and MOBI ver­sions for those on e‑readers, and a great TV Tropes entry. You can find more resources on the unof­fi­cial homepage,

Although listen to Eliez­er when he says “This fic is widely con­sidered to have really hit its stride start­ing at around Chapter 5. If you still don’t like it after Chapter 10, give up”.

via Hack­er News

Understanding Wisdom

In a review of Steph­en Hall’s Wis­dom, Book­slut’s Jessa Crispin asks ‘Can we under­stand wis­dom?’ and looks at the evid­ence for and against.

Wis­dom is not the same as know­ledge, and so it seems odd it has attrac­ted the atten­tion of sci­ence. There is such a thing as “wis­dom stud­ies” now, and in his book Hall talks to research­ers and neur­os­cient­ists in a search for the latest inform­a­tion about wis­dom. Sci­ent­ists treat wis­dom the way they treat any­thing else. They break it down into its smal­lest com­pon­ents to identi­fy and test, and they attempt to fig­ure out how it works, how to obtain it, and what it is. [Hall says:]

To be wise is not to know par­tic­u­lar facts but to know without excess­ive con­fid­ence or excess­ive cau­tious­ness. Wis­dom is thus not a belief, a value, a set of facts, a cor­pus of know­ledge or inform­a­tion in some spe­cial­ized area, or a set of spe­cial abil­it­ies or skills. Wis­dom is an atti­tude taken by per­sons toward the beliefs, val­ues, know­ledge, inform­a­tion, abil­it­ies, and skills that are held, a tend­ency to doubt that these are neces­sar­ily true or val­id and to doubt that they are an exhaust­ive set of those things that could be known.

Accord­ing to Hall and the research­ers he has spoken to these are the eight “attrib­utes of wis­dom”:

  • Emo­tion­al Reg­u­la­tion
  • Know­ing What’s Import­ant
  • Mor­al Reas­on­ing
  • Com­pas­sion
  • Humil­ity
  • Altru­ism
  • Patience
  • Deal­ing with Uncer­tainty

via Intel­li­gent Life