Tag 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.

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

Facebook’s ‘Like’ and Conspicuous Consumption

Wondering why we freely and often make our tastes public (specifically, our brand preferences through Facebook’s ‘Like’ mechanism), Nicolas Baumard discusses how we purchase goods to display our good taste:

In a way, Facebook can be seen as a handy device to send a lot of very precise signals about your opinion and your values! (The average user becomes a fan of four pages every month, according to Facebook). Note that this theory of marketing is just a form of honest signal theory, advocated previously by Veblen in social sciences and Zahavi in evolutionary biology. The difference is that, instead of being focused on the display of wealth, this bourdieusian explanation is interested by other qualities that also need to be adverstised by individuals such as intelligence, social connections, moral disposition, etc.

To conclude, people may buy razors advertised by Beckham not because they think that these razors made Beckham successful or because they trust Beckham is such matters but because buying a razor linked to Beckham convey a certain message about their distinction.

I feel that the ‘Like’ functionality is an expense-less method of conspicuous consumption: signalling your likes and brand preferences without having to actually purchase anything (we are saying “I aspire to be the type of person who likes x, y, z” or maybe more accurately “I want you to think I’m the type of person who likes x, y, z”).

I particularly like the introductory section on how Facebook’s ‘Like’ functionality has doubled brand integration on the site, compared to the old ‘Become a fan’ method. It has apparently reduced the mental barriers (lowered the “threshold”, they say) for users to signal their brand preferences, making sharing easier. And that last bit is key for Facebook.

via The Browser

On Being Wrong: Estimating Our Beliefs

Following the forced retirement of Helen Thomas following her controversial comments on Israel and Palestine, Felix Salmon discusses how being wrong–and more importantly, the willingness to be wrong–is an admirable trait that should be applauded.

In discussing this, Salmon points to a conversation between Tyler Cowen and Wil Wilkinson, where Cowen proposes:

Take whatever your political beliefs happen to be. Obviously the view you hold you think is most likely to be true, but I think you should give that something like 60-40, whereas in reality most people will give it 95 to 5 or 99 to 1 in terms of probability that it is correct. Or if you ask people what is the chance this view of yours is wrong, very few people are willing to assign it any number at all. Or if you ask people who believe in God or are atheists, what’s the chance you’re wrong – I’ve asked atheists what’s the chance you’re wrong and they’ll say something like a trillion to one, and that to me is absurd, that even if you think all of the strongest arguments for atheism are correct, your estimate that atheism is in fact the correct point of view shouldn’t be that high, maybe you know 90-10 or 95 to 5, at most.

Salmon continues:

I try hard to believe […] that many if not most of my opinions are wrong (although of course I have no idea which they are), and that many of the most interesting and useful things I write come out of my being wrong rather than being right. This is not, as Wilkinson noted to Cowen, an easy intellectual stance to hold: he calls it “a weird violation of the actual computational constraints of the human mind”.

via The Browser