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, hpmor.com.

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