The Nicomachean Ethics (Aristotle)

  • Those states that are praiseworthy we call virtues.
  • The end is no doubt happiness, but views of happiness differ.
  • Moral virtues, like crafts, are acquired by practice and habituation.
  • Without friends, no one would want to live, even if he had all other goods.
  • The pleasures arising from thinking and learning will make us think and learn all the more.
  • With the truth, all given facts harmonize; but with what is false, the truth soon hits a wrong note.
  • Wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else.
  • But what is happiness? If we consider what the function of man is, we find that happiness is a virtuous activity of the soul.
  • The self-indulgent man craves for all pleasant things… and is led by his appetite to choose these at the cost of everything else.
  • Virtue lies in our power, and similarly so does vice; because where it is in our power to act, it is also in our power not to act…
  • By common consent, the beginning is more than half the whole task, and throws a flood of light on many of the aspects of the inquiry.
  • By common consent, the beginning is more than half the whole task, and throws a flood of light on many of the aspects of the inquiry.
  • These virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions … The good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life.
  • What is the good for man? It must be the ultimate end or object of human life: something that is in itself completely satisfying. Happiness fits this description.
  • Rash people are impetuous, eager before danger arrives but shifty when it is actually present; whereas courageous ones are keen at the time of action but calm beforehand.
  • The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion, and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else.
  • The beauty of the soul shines out when a man bears with composure one heavy mischance after another, not because he does not feel them, but because he is a man of high and heroic temper.
  • There is a further qualification [for attaining eudaimonic happiness]: in a complete lifetime. One swallow does not make a summer; neither does one day. Similarly, neither can one day, or a brief space of time, make a man blessed and happy.
  • There is a further qualification [for attaining eudaimonic happiness]: in a complete lifetime. One swallow does not make a summer; neither does one day. Similarly, neither can one day, or a brief space of time, make a man blessed and happy.
  • This much, then, is clear: in all our conduct it is the mean that is to be commended. But one should incline sometimes towards excess and sometimes toward deficiency, because in this way we shall most easily hit upon the mean, that is, the right course.
  • This much, then, is clear: in all our conduct it is the mean that is to be commended. But one should incline sometimes towards excess and sometimes toward deficiency, because in this way we shall most easily hit upon the mean, that is, the right course.
  • We must not listen to those who advise us ‘being men to think human thoughts, and being mortal to think mortal thoughts’ but must put on immortality as much as possible and strain every nerve to live according to that best part of us, which, being small in bulk, yet much more in its power and honour surpasses all else.
  • So too it is easy to get angry—anyone can do that—or to give and spend money; but to feel or act toward the right person to the right extent at the right time for the right reason in the right way—that is not easy, and it is not everyone that can do it. Hence to do these things well is a rare, laudable and fine achievement.
  • So too it is easy to get angry—anyone can do that—or to give and spend money; but to feel or act toward the right person to the right extent at the right time for the right reason in the right way—that is not easy, and it is not everyone that can do it. Hence to do these things well is a rare, laudable and fine achievement.
  • The man who shuns and fears everything and stands up to nothing becomes a coward; the man who is afraid of nothing at all, but marches up to every danger becomes foolhardy. Similarly the man who indulges in pleasure and refrains from none becomes licentious (akolastos); but if a man behaves like a boor (agroikos) and turns his back on every pleasure, he is a case of insensibility. Thus temperance and courage are destroyed by excess and deficiency and preserved by the mean.
  • What is evil neither can nor should be loved; for it is not one’s duty to be a lover of evil or to become like what is bad; and we have said that like is dear to like. Must the friendship, then, be forthwith broken off? Or is this not so in all cases, but only when one’s friends are incurable in their wickedness? If they are capable of being reformed one should rather come to the assistance of their character or their property, inasmuch as this is better and more characteristic of friendship. But a man who breaks off such a friendship would seem to be doing nothing strange; for it was not to a man of this sort that he was a friend; when his friend changed, therefore, and he is unable to save him, he gives him up.
  • Now our definition is in harmony with those who say that happiness is virtue, or a particular virtue; because an activity in accordance with virtue implies virtue. But presumably it makes no little difference whether we think of the supreme good as consisting in the possession or in the exercise of virtue: in a state of mind or in an activity. For it is possible for the state to be present in a person without effecting any good result (e.g. if he is asleep or quiescent in some other way), but not for the activity: he will necessarily act, and act well. Just as at the Olympic Games it is not the best-looking or the strongest men present that are crowned with wreaths, but the competitors (because it is from them that the winners come), so it is those who act that rightly win the honours and rewards in life.
  • Internally, too, the Ethics has a structure. It may be summarized thus: Our task is to become good men, or to achieve the highest human good. That good is happiness; and happiness is an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue (Book I). Virtue is therefore to be analysed, and the conditions for virtuous action determined (Books II-III); and the various virtues, ‘moral’ and ‘intellectual’, must be described (Books IV-VI and VIII-IX). Pleasure, intimately tied to virtue by more than one cord, must also be anatomized (Books VII and X). And finally, the nature of happiness and the means of ensuring it can be laid down (Book X). The key concepts here, which are not perfectly represented by the English words ‘virtue’ and ‘happiness’, will call for elucidation later on; but their structural interrelations are immediately discernible, and it is these which provide the internal frame of the Ethics.”
  • A cardinal rule: right conduct is incompatible with excess or deficiency First, then, we must consider this fact: that it is in the nature of moral qualities that they are destroyed by deficiency and excess, just as we can see (since we have to use the evidence of visible facts to throw light on those that are invisible) in the case of health and strength. For both excessive and insufficient exercise destroy one’s strength, and both eating and drinking too much or too little destroy health, whereas the right quantity produces, increases and preserves it. So it is the same with temperance, courage and the other virtues. The man who shuns and fears everything and stands up to nothing becomes a coward; the man who is afraid of nothing at all, but marches up to every danger, becomes foolhardy. Similarly the man who indulges in every pleasure and refrains from none becomes licentious; but if a man behaves like a boor and turns his back on every pleasure, he is a case of insensibility. Thus temperance and courage are destroyed by excess and deficiency and preserved by the mean.”
  • A cardinal rule: right conduct is incompatible with excess or deficiency. First, then, we must consider this fact: that it is in the nature of moral qualities that they are destroyed by deficiency and excess, just as we can see (since we have to use the evidence of visible facts to throw light on those that are invisible) in the case of health and strength. For both excessive and insufficient exercise destroy one’s strength, and both eating and drinking too much or too little destroy health, whereas the right quantity produces, increases and preserves it. So it is the same with temperance, courage and the other virtues. The man who shuns and fears everything and stands up to nothing becomes a coward; the man who is afraid of nothing at all, but marches up to every danger, becomes foolhardy. Similarly the man who indulges in every pleasure and refrains from none becomes licentious; but if a man behaves like a boor and turns his back on every pleasure, he is a case of insensibility. Thus temperance and courage are destroyed by excess and deficiency and preserved by the mean.
  • Since all knowledge and every pursuit aim at some good, what do we take to be the end of political science — what is the highest of all practical goods? Well, so far as the name goes there is pretty much agreement. It is ‘happiness,’ say both ordinary and cultured people; and they identify happiness with living well or doing well. But when it comes to saying in what happiness consists, opinions differ, and the account given by the generality of mankind is not at all like that of the wise. The former take it to be something obvious and familiar, like pleasure or money or eminence, and there are various other views; and often the same person actually changes his opinion: when he falls ill he says that it is health, and when he is hard up that it is money. Conscious of their own ignorance, most people are impressed by anyone who pontificates and says something that is over their heads. Some, however, have held the view that over and above these particular goods there is another which is good in itself and the cause of whatever goodness there is in all these others. It would no doubt be rather futile to examine all these opinions; enough if we consider those which are the most prevalent or seem to have something to be said for them.
  • Greatness of soul, as the very name suggests, is concerned with things that are great, and we must first grasp of what sort these are. It makes no difference whether we consider the disposition or the person who corresponds to it. Well, a person is considered to be magnanimous if he thinks that he is worthy of great things, provided he is worthy of them; because anyone who esteems his own worth unduly is foolish, and nobody who acts virtuously is foolish or stupid. The magnanimous man, then, is as we have described him. The man who is worthy of little consideration and thinks that he is such is temperate, but not magnanimous, because magnanimity implies greatness, just as beauty implies a well developed body… The man who thinks that he is worthy of great things although he is not worthy of them is conceited; but not everybody is conceited who has too high an opinion of his own worth. On the other hand the man who has too low an opinion is pusillanimous: and it makes no difference whether his worth is great or moderate or little, if his opinion of it is too low. Indeed the man whose worth is great might be regarded as especially pusillanimous, because what would his behaviour be if his worth were not so great? So although the magnanimous man is an extreme as regards the greatness of his claims, as regards its rectitude he is a mean, because he estimates himself at his true worth. The others show excess and deficiency.
  • The wise man does not expose himself needlessly to danger, since there are few things for which he cares sufficiently; but he is willing, in great crises, to give even his life–knowing that under certain conditions it is not worth while to live. He is of a disposition to do men service, though he is ashamed to have a service done to him. To confer a kindness is a mark of superiority; to receive one is a mark of subordination… He does not take part in public displays… He is open in his dislikes and preferences; he talks and acts frankly, because of his contempt for men and things… He is never fired with admiration, since there is nothing great in his eyes. He cannot live in complaisance with others, except it be a friend; complaisance is the characteristic of a slave… He never feels malice, and always forgets and passes over injuries… He is not fond of talking… It is no concern of his that he should be praised, or that others should be blamed. He does not speak evil of others, even of his enemies, unless it be to themselves. His carriage is sedate, his voice deep, his speech measured; he is not given to hurry, for he is concerned about only a few things; he is not prone to vehemence, for he thinks nothing very important. A shrill voice and hasty steps come to a man through care… He bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of his circumstances, like a skillful general who marshals his limited forces with the strategy of war… He is his own best friend, and takes delight in privacy whereas the man of no virtue or ability is his own worst enemy, and is afraid of solitude.
  • There are three kinds of constitution, and an equal number of deviation-forms–perversions, as it were, of them. The constitutions are monarchy, aristocracy, and thirdly that which is based on a property qualification, which it seems appropriate to call timocratic, though most people are wont to call it polity. The best of these is monarchy, the worst timocracy. The deviation from monarchy is tyranny; for both are forms of one-man rule, but there is the greatest difference between them; the tyrant looks to his own advantage, the king to that of his subjects. For a man is not a king unless he is sufficient to himself and excels his subjects in all good things; and such a man needs nothing further; therefore he will not look to his own interests but to those of his subjects; for a king who is not like that would be a mere titular king. Now tyranny is the very contrary of this; the tyrant pursues his own good. And it is clearer in the case of tyranny that it is the worst deviation-form; but it is the contrary of the best that is worst. Monarchy passes over into tyranny; for tyranny is the evil form of one-man rule and the bad king becomes a tyrant. Aristocracy passes over into oligarchy by the badness of the rulers, who distribute contrary to equity what belongs to the city-all or most of the good things to themselves, and office always to the same people, paying most regard to wealth; thus the rulers are few and are bad men instead of the most worthy. Timocracy passes over into democracy; for these are coterminous, since it is the ideal even of timocracy to be the rule of the majority, and all who have the property qualification count as equal. Democracy is the least bad of the deviations.

 

A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living (Joseph Campbell)

  • Follow your bliss.
  • Destruction before Creation.
  • Awe is what moves us forward.
  • The spirit is the bouquet of nature.
  • The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.
  • You can’t make an omelet without breaking the eggs.
  • If you want resurrection, you must have crucifixion.
  • Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it.
  • Whatever the hell happens, say, ‘This is what I need.’
  • The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.
  • The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.
  • There is no security in following the call to adventure.
  • You should be willing to be eaten also. You are food body.
  • What will they think of me? — Must be put aside for bliss.
  • Nothing is exciting if you know what the outcome is going to be.
  • The warrior’s approach is to say ‘yes’ to life: ‘yea’ to it all.
  • You become mature when you become the authority of your own life.
  • The best way to help mankind is through the perfection of yourself.
  • The hoarder, the one in us that wants to keep, to hold on, must be killed.
  • So that’s what destiny is: simply the fulfillment of the potentialites of the energies
  • Life will always be sorrowful. We can’t change it, but we can change our attitude toward it.
  • The distance of your love is the distance of your life. Love is exactly as strong as life.
  • We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
  • To refuse the call means stagnation. What you don’t experience positively you will experience negatively.
  • One great thing about growing old is that nothing is going to lead to anything. Everything is of the moment.
  • The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.
  • Sri Ramakrishna said, ‘Do not seek illumination unless you seek it as a man whose hair is on fire seeks a pond.’
  • In marriage you are not sacrificing yourself to the other person. You are sacrificing yourself to the relationship.
  • Vegetarianism is the first turning away from life, because life lives on lives. Vegetarians are just eating something that can’t run away.
  • Don’t think of what’s being said, but of what’s talking. Malice? Ignorance? Pride? Love? The goal of the hero’s journey is yourself, finding yourself.
  • In choosing your god, you choose your way of looking at the universe. There are plenty of Gods. Choose yours. The god you worship is the god you deserve.
  • Want to pick up a great book or two this season? Check out our recommendations of hot books selected by your fellow readers, bestselling authors, and more!
  • People say that what we are seeking is a meaning of life. I don’t think this is what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.
  • A bit of advice given to a young Native American at the time of his initiation: ‘As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It’s not as wide as you think.’
  • Every moment is utterly unique and will not be continued in eternity. This fact gives life its poignancy and should concentrate your attention on what you are experiencing now.
  • The only way you can talk about this great tide in which you’re a participant is as Schopenhauer did: the universe is a dream dreamed by a single dreamer where all the dream characters dream too.
  • Writer’s block results from too much head. Cut off your head. Pegasus, poetry, was born of Medusa when her head was cut off. You have to be reckless when writing. Be as crazy as your conscience allows.
  • You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or a path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.
  • Then, when looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You’ll see that this is really true. Nothing can happen to you that is not positive. Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not. The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes.
  • The call is to leave a certain social situation, move into your own loneliness and find the jewel, the center that’s impossible to find when you’re socially engaged. You are thrown off-center, and when you feel off-center, it’s time to go. This is the departure when the hero feels something has been lost and goes to find it. You are to cross the threshold into new life. It’s a dangerous adventure, because you are moving out of the sphere of the knowledge of you and your community.
  • Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again. You really don’t have a sacred space, a rescue land, until you find somewhere to be that’s not a wasteland, some field of action where there is a spring of ambrosia—a joy that comes from inside, not something external that puts joy into you—a place that lets you experience your own will and your own intention and your own wish so that, in small, the Kingdom is there. I think everybody, whether they know it or not, is in need of such a place.
  • Nietzsche was the one who did the job for me. At a certain moment in his life, the idea came to him of what he called ‘the love of your fate.’ Whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, ‘This is what I need.’ It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment—not discouragement—you will find the strength is there. Any disaster that you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life. What a privilege! This is when the spontaneity of your own nature will have a chance to flow.

 

 

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (William B. Irvine)

  • Indeed, anger can be thought of as anti-joy.
  • Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes.
  • One reason children are capable of joy is because they take almost nothing for granted.
  • It is, after all, hard to know what to choose when you aren’t really sure what you want.
  • What, then, must a person do to have what the Stoics would call a good life? Be virtuous! 
  • The easiest way for us to gain happiness is to learn how to want the things we already have.
  • the easiest way for us to gain happiness is to learn how to want the things we already have.
  • It is impossible that happiness, and yearning for what is not present, should ever be united.”3
  • We need, in other words, to learn how to enjoy things without feeling entitled to them and without clinging to them.
  • One wonderful way to tame our tendency to always want more is to persuade ourselves to want the things we already have.
  • Pre-Socratic philosophy begins … with the discovery of Nature; Socratic philosophy begins with the discovery of man’s soul.
  • Your primary desire, says Epictetus, should be your desire not to be frustrated by forming desires you won’t be able to fulfill.
  • The problem is that bad men obey their lusts as servants obey their masters, and because they cannot control their desires, they can never find contentment.
  • A grand goal in living is the first component of a philosophy of life. This means that if you lack a grand goal in living, you lack a coherent philosophy of life. 
  • Stoic tranquility was a psychological state marked by the absence of negative emotions, such as grief, anger, and anxiety, and the presence of positive emotions, such as joy.
  • To be virtuous, then, is to live as we were designed to live; it is to live, as Zeno put it, in accordance with nature. The Stoics would add that if we do this, we will have a good life.
  • If we seek social status, we give other people power over us: We have to do things calculated to make them admire us, and we have to refrain from doing things that will trigger their disfavor.
  • Besides advising us to avoid people with vices, Seneca advises us to avoid people who are simply whiny, who are melancholy and bewail everything, who find pleasure in every opportunity for complaint.
  • After expressing his appreciation that his glass is half full rather than being completely empty, he will go on to express his delight in even having a glass: It could, after all, have been broken or stolen.
  • Rather than being passive individuals who were grimly resigned to being on the receiving end of the world’s abuse and injustice, the Stoics were fully engaged in life and worked hard to make the world a better place.
  • Stoicism, understood properly, is a cure for a disease. The disease in question is the anxiety, grief, fear, and various other negative emotions that plague humans and prevent them from experiencing a joyful existence.
  • Instead of spending our days enjoying our good fortune, we spend them forming and pursuing new, grander dreams for ourselves. As a result, we are never satisfied with our life. Negative visualization can help us avoid this fate.
  • According to Epictetus, the primary concern of philosophy should be the art of living: Just as wood is the medium of the carpenter and bronze is the medium of the sculptor, your life is the medium on which you practice the art of living.
  • …we can do some historical research to see how our ancestors lived. We will quickly discover that we are living in what to them would have been a dream world that we tend to take for granted things that our ancestors had to live without…
  • Throughout the millennia and across cultures, those who have thought carefully about desire have drawn the conclusion that spending our days working to get whatever it is we find ourselves wanting is unlikely to bring us either happiness or tranquility.
  • By contemplating the impermanence of everything in the world, we are forced to recognize that every time we do something could be the last time we do it, and this recognition can invest the things we do with a significance and intensity that would otherwise be absent.
  • Before Socrates, philosophers were primarily interested in explaining the world around them and the phenomena of that world—in doing what we would now call science. Although Socrates studied science as a young man, he abandoned it to focus his attention on the human condition.
  • We humans are unhappy in large part because we are insatiable; after working hard to get what we want, we routinely lose interest in the object of our desire. Rather than feeling satisfied, we feel a bit bored, and in response to this boredom, we go on to form new, even grander desires.
  • If we are overly sensitive, we will be quick to anger. More generally, says Seneca, if we coddle ourselves, if we allow ourselves to be corrupted by pleasure, nothing will seem bearable to us, and the reason things will seem unbearable is not because they are hard but because we are soft.
  • Although modern philosophers tend to spend their days debating esoteric topics, the primary goal of most ancient philosophers was to help ordinary people live better lives. Stoicism, as we shall see, was one of the most popular and successful of the ancient schools of philosophy.  William B. Irvine
  • Modern individuals rarely see the need to adopt a philosophy of life. They instead tend to spend their days working hard to be able to afford the latest consumer gadget, in the resolute belief that if only they buy enough stuff, they will have a life that is both meaningful and maximally fulfilling.
  • Modern individuals rarely see the need to adopt a philosophy of life. They instead tend to spend their days working hard to be able to afford the latest consumer gadget, in the resolute belief that if only they buy enough stuff, they will have a life that is both meaningful and maximally fulfilling.
  • Stoicism, understood properly, is a cure for a disease. The disease in question is the anxiety, grief, fear, and various other negative emotions that plague humans and prevent them from experiencing a joyful existence. By practicing Stoic techniques, we can cure the disease and thereby gain tranquility.
  • I wrote this book with the following question in mind: If the ancient Stoics had taken it upon themselves to write a guidebook for twenty-first-century individuals—a book that would tell us how to have a good life—what might that book have looked like? The pages that follow are my answer to this question.
  • Indeed, pursuing pleasure, Seneca warns, is like pursuing a wild beast: On being captured, it can turn on us and tear us to pieces. Or, changing the metaphor a bit, he tells us that intense pleasures, when captured by us, become our captors, meaning that the more pleasures a man captures, the more masters will he have to serve.
  • Negative visualization, in other words, teaches us to embrace whatever life we happen to be living and to extract every bit of delight we can from it. But it simultaneously teaches us to prepare ourselves for changes that will deprive us of the things that delight us. It teaches us, in other words, to enjoy what we have without clinging to it.
  • We are social creatures; we will be miserable if we try to cut off contact with other people. Therefore, if what we seek is tranquility, we should form and maintain relations with others. In doing so, though, we should be careful about whom we befriend. We should also, to the extent possible, avoid people whose values are corrupt, for fear that their values will contaminate ours. •
  • If you consider yourself a victim, you are not going to have a good life; if, however, you refuse to think of yourself as a victim—if you refuse to let your inner self be conquered by your external circumstances—you are likely to have a good life, no matter what turn your external circumstances take. (In particular, the Stoics thought it possible for a person to retain his tranquility despite being punished for attempting to reform the society in which he lived.)
  • I mentioned in the introduction that some of the things that attracted me to Buddhism could also be found in Stoicism. Like Buddhists, Stoics advise us to contemplate the world’s impermanence. All things human, Seneca reminds us, are short-lived and perishable. Marcus likewise reminds us that the things we treasure are like the leaves on a tree, ready to drop when a breeze blows. He also argues that the flux and change of the world around us are not an accident but an essential part of our universe.
  • For the Stoics, however, the near impossibility of becoming a sage is not a problem. They talk about sages primarily so they will have a model to guide them in their practice of Stoicism. The sage is a target for them to aim at, even though they will probably fail to hit it. The sage, in other words, is to Stoicism as Buddha is to Buddhism. Most Buddhists can never hope to become as enlightened as Buddha, but nevertheless, reflecting on Buddha’s perfection can help them gain a degree of enlightenment.
  • The Stoics thought they had an answer to this question. They recommended that we spend time imagining that we have lost the things we value—that our wife has left us, our car was stolen, or we lost our job. Doing this, the Stoics thought, will make us value our wife, our car, and our job more than we otherwise would. This technique—let us refer to it as negative visualization—was employed by the Stoics at least as far back as Chrysippus. It is, I think, the single most valuable technique in the Stoics’ psychological tool kit.
  • By contemplating the impermanence of everything in the world, we are forced to recognize that every time we do something could be the last time we do it, and this recognition can invest the things we do with a significance and intensity that would otherwise be absent. We will no longer sleepwalk through our life. Some people, I realize, will find it depressing or even morbid to contemplate impermanence. I am nevertheless convinced that the only way we can be truly alive is if we make it our business periodically to entertain such thoughts.
  • The Stoics believed in social reform, but they also believed in personal transformation. More precisely, they thought the first step in transforming a society into one in which people live a good life is to teach people how to make their happiness depend as little as possible on their external circumstances. The second step in transforming a society is to change people’s external circumstances. The Stoics would add that if we fail to transform ourselves, then no matter how much we transform the society in which we live, we are unlikely to have a good life.
  • Our most important choice in life, according to Epictetus, is whether to concern ourselves with things external to us or things internal. Most people choose the former because they think harms and benefits come from outside themselves. According to Epictetus, though, a philosopher—by which he means someone who has an understanding of Stoic philosophy—will do just the opposite. He will look for all benefit and harm to come from himself. In particular, he will give up the rewards the external world has to offer in order to gain tranquility, freedom, and calm.
  • Alternatively, we can do some historical research to see how our ancestors lived. We will quickly discover that we are living in what to them would have been a dream world—that we tend to take for granted things that our ancestors had to live without, including antibiotics, air conditioning, toilet paper (!), cell phones, television, windows, eyeglasses, and fresh fruit in January. Upon coming to this realization, we can breathe a sigh of relief that we aren’t our ancestors, the way our descendants will presumably someday breathe a sigh of relief that they aren’t us!
  • For the Stoics, a person’s virtue does not depend, for example, on her sexual history. Instead, it depends on her excellence as a human being—on how well she performs the function for which humans were designed. In the same way that a virtuous (or excellent) hammer is one that performs well the function for which it was designed—namely, to drive nails—a virtuous individual is one who performs well the function for which humans were designed. To be virtuous, then, is to live as we were designed to live; it is to live, as Zeno put it, in accordance with nature. The Stoics would add that if we do this, we will have a good life.
  • We humans are unhappy in large part because we are insatiable; after working hard to get what we want, we routinely lose interest in the object of our desire. Rather than feeling satisfied, we feel a bit bored, and in response to this boredom, we go on to form new, even grander desires. The psychologists Shane Frederick and George Loewenstein have studied this phenomenon and given it a name: hedonic adaptation. To illustrate the adaptation process, they point to studies of lottery winners. Winning a lottery typically allows someone to live the life of his dreams. It turns out, though, that after an initial period of exhilaration, lottery winners end up about as happy as they previously were. They start taking their new Ferrari and mansion for granted, the way they previously took their rusted-out pickup and cramped apartment for granted.
  • The negative visualization technique, by the way, can also be used in reverse: Besides imagining that the bad things that happened to others happen to us, we can imagine that the bad things that happen to us happened instead to others. In his Handbook, Epictetus advocates this sort of projective visualization. Suppose, he says, that our servant breaks a cup. We are likely to get angry and have our tranquility disrupted by the incident. One way to avert this anger is to think about how we would feel if the incident had happened to someone else instead. If we were at someone’s house and his servant broke a cup, we would be unlikely to get angry; indeed, we might try to calm our host by saying It’s just a cup; these things happen. Engaging in projective visualization, Epictetus believes, will make us appreciate the relative insignificance of the bad things that happen to us and will therefore prevent them from disrupting our tranquility.

 

 

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (Yuval Noah Harari)

  • For religions, spirituality is a dangerous threat.
  • Religion is a deal, whereas spirituality is a journey
  • Soon, books will read you while you are reading them.
  • The most common reaction of the human mind to achievement is not satisfaction, but craving for more.
  • To attain real happiness, humans need to slow down the pursuit of pleasant sensations, not accelerate it.
  • Yet in truth the lives of most people have meaning only within the network of stories they tell one another.
  • The better we understand history, the faster history alters its course, and the faster our knowledge becomes outdated.
  • People are usually afraid of change because they fear the unknown. But the single greatest constant of history is that everything changes.
  • History isn’t a single narrative, but thousands of alternative narratives. Whenever we choose to tell one, we are also choosing to silence others. Human
  • If pupils suffer from attention disorders, stress and low grades, perhaps we ought to blame outdated teaching methods, overcrowded classrooms and an unnaturally fast tempo of life.
  • There are no longer natural famines in the world; there are only political famines. If people in Syria, Sudan or Somalia starve to death, it is because some politician wants them to.
  • If Marx came back to life today, he would probably urge his few remaining disciples to devote less time to reading Das Kapital and more time to studying the Internet and the human genome.
  • And what is ‘sensitivity’? It means two things. Firstly, paying attention to my sensations, emotions and thoughts. Secondly, allowing these sensations, emotions and thoughts to influence me.
  • No clear line separates healing from upgrading. Medicine almost always begins by saving people from falling below the norm, but the same tools and know-how can then be used to surpass the norm.
  • Anyone who has ever dealt with the tax authorities, the educational system or any other complex bureaucracy knows that the truth hardly matters. What’s written on your form is far more important.
  • Medieval crusaders believed that God and heaven provided their lives with meaning; modern liberals believe that individual free choices provide life with meaning. They are all equally delusional.
  • If Kindle is upgraded with face recognition and biometric sensors, it can know what made you laugh, what made you sad and what made you angry. Soon, books will read you while you are reading them.
  • We do not become satisfied by leading a peaceful and prosperous existence. Rather, we become satisfied when reality matches our expectations. The bad news is that as conditions improve, expectations balloon.
  • Religion cannot be equated with superstition, because most people are unlikely to call their cherished beliefs ‘superstitions’. We always believe in ‘the truth’. It’s only other people who believe in superstitions.
  • Islamic fundamentalists could never have toppled Saddam Hussein by themselves. Instead they enraged the USA by the 9/11 attacks, and the USA destroyed the Middle Eastern china shop for them. Now they flourish in the wreckage.
  • Climbing Mount Everest is more satisfying than standing at the top; flirting and foreplay are more exciting than having an orgasm; and conducting groundbreaking lab experiments is more interesting than receiving praise and prizes.
  • The greatest scientific discovery was the discovery of ignorance. Once humans realised how little they knew about the world, they suddenly had a very good reason to seek new knowledge, which opened up the scientific road to progress.
  • If you want to make people believe in imaginary entities such as gods and nations, you should make them sacrifice something valuable. The more painful the sacrifice, the more convinced people are of the existence of the imaginary recipient.
  • No investigation of our divine future can ignore our own animal past, or our relations with other animals – because the relationship between humans and animals is the best model we have for future relations between superhumans and humans. You
  • For the first time in history, more people die today from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals combined.
  • Terrorists are like a fly that tries to destroy a china shop. The fly is so weak that it cannot budge even a single teacup. So it finds a bull, gets inside its ear and starts buzzing. The bull goes wild with fear and anger, and destroys the china shop. (p.21)
  • This is the best reason to learn history: not in order to predict the future, but to free yourself of the past and imagine alternative destinies. Of course this is not total freedom – we cannot avoid being shaped by the past. But some freedom is better than none.
  • Sapiens rule the world because only they can weave an intersubjective web of meaning: a web of laws, forces, entities and places that exist purely in their common imagination. This web allows humans alone to organise crusades, socialist revolutions and human rights movements.
  • In 2012 about 56 million people died throughout the world; 620,000 of them died due to human violence (war killed 120,000 people, and crime killed another 500,000). In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes. Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder.
  • You want to know how super-intelligent cyborgs might treat ordinary flesh-and-blood humans? Better start by investigating how humans treat their less intelligent animal cousins. It’s not a perfect analogy, of course, but it is the best archetype we can actually observe rather than just imagine.
  • What some people hope to get by studying, working or raising a family, others try to obtain far more easily through the right dosage of molecules. This is an existential threat to the social and economic order, which is why countries wage a stubborn, bloody and hopeless war on biochemical crime.
  • This is the paradox of historical knowledge. Knowledge that does not change behaviour is useless. But knowledge that changes behaviour quickly loses its relevance. The more data we have and the better we understand history, the faster history alters its course, and the faster our knowledge becomes outdated.
  • religion is created by humans rather than by gods, and it is defined by its social function rather than by the existence of deities. Religion is anything that confers superhuman legitimacy on human social structures. It legitimises human norms and values by arguing that they reflect superhuman laws. Religion
  • Every day millions of people decide to grant their smartphone a bit more control over their lives or try a new and more effective antidepressant drug. In pursuit of health, happiness and power, humans will gradually change first one of their features and then another, and another, until they will no longer be human.
  • Capitalism did not defeat communism because capitalism was more ethical, because individual liberties are sacred or because God was angry with the heathen communists. Rather, capitalism won the Cold War because distributed data processing works better than centralised data processing, at least in periods of accelerating technological change.
  • Traditionally, life has been divided into two main parts: a period of learning followed by a period of working. Very soon this traditional model will become utterly obsolete, and the only way for humans to stay in the game will be to keep learning throughout their lives, and to reinvent themselves repeatedly. Many if not most humans may be unable to do so.
  • When Epicurus defined happiness as the supreme good, he warned his disciples that it is hard work to be happy. Material achievements alone will not satisfy us for long. Indeed, the blind pursuit of money, fame and pleasure will only make us miserable. Epicurus recommended, for example, to eat and drink in moderation, and to curb one’s sexual appetites. In the long run, a deep friendship will make us more content than a frenzied orgy. Epicurus
  • Humans nowadays completely dominate the planet not because the individual human is far smarter and more nimble-fingered than the individual chimp or wolf, but because Homo sapiens is the only species on earth capable of cooperating flexibly in large numbers. Intelligence and toolmaking were obviously very important as well. But if humans had not learned to cooperate flexibly in large numbers, our crafty brains and deft hands would still be splitting flint stones rather than uranium atoms.
  • In essence, terrorism is a show. Terrorists stage a terrifying spectacle of violence that captures our imagination and makes us feel as if we are sliding back into medieval chaos. Consequently states often feel obliged to react to the theatre of terrorism with a show of security, orchestrating immense displays of force, such as the persecution of entire populations or the invasion of foreign countries. In most cases, this overreaction to terrorism poses a far greater threat to our security than the terrorists themselves. Terrorists
  • As of 2016, humankind indeed manages to hold the stick at both ends. Not only do we possess far more power than ever before, but against all expectations, God’s death did not lead to social collapse. Throughout history prophets and philosophers have argued that if humans stopped believing in a great cosmic plan, all law and order would vanish. Yet today, those who pose the greatest threat to global law and order are precisely those people who continue to believe in God and His all-encompassing plans. God-fearing Syria is a far more violent place than the atheist Netherlands.
  • The glass ceiling of happiness is held in place by two stout pillars, one psychological, the other biological. On the psychological level, happiness depends on expectations rather than objective conditions. We don’t become satisfied by leading a peaceful and prosperous existence. Rather, we become satisfied when reality matches our expectations. The bad news is that as conditions improve, expectations balloon. Dramatic improvements in conditions, as humankind has experienced in recent decades, translate into greater expectations rather than greater contentment. If we don’t do something about this, our future achievements too might leave us as dissatisfied as ever. On
  • The Theory of Relativity makes nobody angry because it doesn’t contradict any of our cherished beliefs. Most people don’t care an iota whether space and time are absolute or relative. If you think it is possible to bend space and time, well be my guest. …In contrast, Darwin has deprived us of our souls. If you really understand the Theory of Evolution, you understand that there is no soul. This is a terrifying thought, not only to devote Christians and Muslims, but also to many secular people who don’t hold any clear religious dogma, but nevertheless, want to believe that each human possess an eternal, individual essence that remains unchanged throughout life and can survive even death intact.
  • After all, when ‘the Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become’ He resolved to ‘wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created – and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground – for I regret that I have made them’ (Genesis 6:7). The Bible thinks it is perfectly all right to destroy all animals as punishment for the crimes of Homo sapiens, as if the existence of giraffes, pelicans and ladybirds has lost all purpose if humans misbehave. The Bible could not imagine a scenario in which God repents having created Homo sapiens, wipes this sinful ape off the face of the earth, and then spends eternity enjoying the antics of ostriches, kangaroos and panda bears.
  • Fiction isn’t bad. It is vital. Without commonly accepted stories about things like money, states or corporations, no complex human society can function. We can’t play football unless everyone believes in the same made-up rules, and we can’t enjoy the benefits of markets and courts without similar make-believe stories. But stories are just tools. They shouldn’t become our goals or our yardsticks. When we forget that they are mere fiction, we lose touch with reality. Then we begin entire wars `to make a lot of money for the cooperation’ or ‘to protect the national interest’. Corporations, money and nations exist only in our imagination. We invented them to serve us; why do we find ourselves sacrificing our life in their service.
  • The most famous lenders in nature are vampire bats. These bats congregate in the thousands inside caves, and every night fly out to look for prey. When they find a sleeping bird or careless mammal, they make a small incision in its skin, and suck its blood. But not all vampire bats find a victim every night. In order to cope with the uncertainty of their life, the vampires loan blood to each other. A vampire that fails to find prey will come home and ask a more fortunate friend to regurgitate some stolen blood. Vampires remember very well to whom they loaned blood, so at a later date if the friend returns home hungry, he will approach his debtor, who will reciprocate the favour. However, unlike human bankers, vampires never charge interest.
  • By equating the human experience with data patterns, Dataism undermines our main source of authority and meaning, and heralds a tremendous religious revolution, the like of which has not been seen since the eighteenth century. In the days of Locke, Hume and Voltaire humanists argued that ‘God is a product of the human imagination’. Dataism now gives humanists a taste of their own medicine, and tells them: ‘Yes, God is a product of the human imagination, but human imagination in turn is the product of biochemical algorithms.’ In the eighteenth century, humanism sidelined God by shifting from a deo-centric to a homo-centric world view. In the twenty-first century, Dataism may sideline humans by shifting from a homo-centric to a data-centric view. The
  • Each and every one of us has been born into a given historical reality, ruled by particular norms and values, and managed by a unique economic and political system. We take this reality for granted, thinking it is natural, inevitable and immutable. We forget that our world was created by an accidental chain of events, and that history shaped not only our technology, politics and society, but also our thoughts, fears and dreams. The cold hand of the past emerges from the grave of our ancestors, grips us by the neck and directs our gaze towards a single future. We have felt that grip from the moment we were born, so we assume that it is a natural and inescapable part of who we are. Therefore we seldom try to shake ourselves free, and envision alternative futures.
  • In fact, as time goes by, it becomes easier and easier to replace humans with computer algorithms, not merely because the algorithms are getting smarter, but also because humans are professionalising. Ancient hunter-gatherers mastered a very wide variety of skills in order to survive, which is why it would be immensely difficult to design a robotic hunter-gatherer. Such a robot would have to know how to prepare spear points from flint stones, how to find edible mushrooms in a forest, how to use medicinal herbs to bandage a wound, how to track down a mammoth and how to coordinate a charge with a dozen other hunters. However, over the last few thousand years we humans have been specialising. A taxi driver or a cardiologist specialises in a much narrower niche than a hunter-gatherer, which makes it easier to replace them with AI.
  • However, once technology enables us to re-engineer human minds, Homo sapiens will disappear, human history will come to an end and a completely new kind of process will begin, which people like you and me cannot comprehend. Many scholars try to predict how the world will look in the year 2100 or 2200. This is a waste of time. Any worthwhile prediction must take into account the ability to re-engineer human minds, and this is impossible. There are many wise answers to the question, ‘What would people with minds like ours do with biotechnology?’ Yet there are no good answers to the question, ‘What would beings with a different kind of mind do with biotechnology?’ All we can say is that people similar to us are likely to use biotechnology to re-engineer their own minds, and our present-day minds cannot grasp what might happen next.
  • True, hundreds of millions may nevertheless go on believing in Islam, Christianity or Hinduism. But numbers alone don’t count for much in history. History is often shaped by small groups of forward-looking innovators rather than by the backward-looking masses. Ten thousand years ago most people were hunter-gatherers and only a few pioneers in the Middle East were farmers. Yet the future belonged to the farmers. In 1850 more than 90 per cent of humans were peasants, and in the small villages along the Ganges, the Nile and the Yangtze nobody knew anything about steam engines, railroads or telegraph lines. Yet the fate of those peasants had already been sealed in Manchester and Birmingham by the handful of engineers, politicians and financiers who spearheaded the Industrial Revolution. Steam engines, railroads and telegraphs transformed the production of food, textiles, vehicles and weapons, giving industrial powers a decisive edge over traditional agricultural societies.
  • If we think in term of months, we had probably focus on immediate problems such as the turmoil in the Middle East, the refugee crisis in Europe and the slowing of the Chinese economy. If we think in terms of decades, then global warming, growing inequality and the disruption of the job market loom large. Yet if we take the really grand view of life, all other problems and developments are overshadowed by three interlinked processes: 1.Science is converging on an all-encompassing dogma, which says that organisms are algorithms and life is data processing. 2.Intelligence is decoupling from consciousness. 3.Non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms may soon know us better than we know ourselves. These three processes raise three key questions, which I hope will stick in your mind long after you have finished this book: 1.Are organisms really just algorithms, and is life really just data processing? 2.What’s more valuable – intelligence or consciousness? 3.What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?
  • Centuries ago human knowledge increased slowly, so politics and economics changed at a leisurely pace too. Today our knowledge is increasing at breakneck speed, and theoretically we should understand the world better and better. But the very opposite is happening. Our new-found knowledge leads to faster economic, social and political changes; in an attempt to understand what is happening, we accelerate the accumulation of knowledge, which leads only to faster and greater upheavals. Consequently, we are less and less able to make sense of the present or forecast the future. In 1016 it was relatively easy to predict how Europe would look in 1050. Sure, dynasties might fall, unknown raiders might invade, and natural disasters might strike; yet it was clear that in 1050 Europe would still be ruled by kings and priests, that it would be an agricultural society, that most of its inhabitants would be peasants, and that it would continue to suffer greatly from famines, plagues and wars. In contrast, in 2016 we have no idea how Europe will look in 2050. We cannot say what kind of political system it will have, how its job market will be structured, or even what kind of bodies its inhabitants will possess.

 

 

Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)

Don’t just exist, seek to be fully alive

  • Never put off till tomorrow the fun you can have today.
  • I want to know what passion is. I want to feel something strongly.
  • But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.
  • Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.
  • All right then,” said the savage defiantly, I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.” “Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat, the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.” There was a long silence. “I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.
.

It is better to live your own authentic life, than acting out of conformity

  • I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.
  • Isn’t there something in living dangerously?
  • No social stability without individual stability.
  • That is the secret of happiness and virtue — liking what you’ve got to do.
  • “I’d rather be myself,” he said. “Myself and nasty. Not somebody else, however jolly.”
  • Well, I’d rather be unhappy than have the sort of false, lying happiness you were having here.
  • Happiness has got to be paid for. You’re paying for it, Mr. Watson–paying because you happen to be too much interested in beauty. I was too much interested in truth; I paid too.
.

Don’t let potential remained unlived inside you

  • Not quite. I’m thinking of a queer feeling I sometimes get, a feel that I’ve got something important to say and the power to say it—only I don’t know what it is, and I can’t make any use of the power.
  • Did you ever feel, as though you had something inside you that was only waiting for you to give it a chance to come out? Some sort of extra power that you aren’t using – you know, like all the water that goes down the falls instead of through the turbines?
.

It can be difficult to be different from others

  • I am I, and I wish I weren’t.
  • If one’s different, one’s bound to be lonely.
.

Don’t wallow in remorse, pick yourself up and move on  

  • Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.
.

Words are a powerful tool for expressing the truth

  • Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.
  • I believe one would write better if the climate were bad. If there were a lot of wind and storms for example…
.

…but great truths are hard to express

  • Can you say something about nothing?
  • Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth.
.

Nature is the art of God

  • A love of nature keeps no factories busy.
  • God isn’t compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness. You must make a choice. Our civilization has chosen machinery and medicine and happiness.
.

Solitude puts you in touch with God

  • It is natural to believe in God when you’re alone– quite alone, in the night, thinking about death.
.

Humanity has great potential for both good and evil

  • The greater a man’s talents, the greater his power to lead astray.
  • Those who meant well behaved in the same way as those who meant badly.
  • When people are suspicious with you, you start being suspicious with them.
  • There was a thing called Heaven; but all the same they used to drink enormous quantities of alcohol.
  • I ate civilization. It poisoned me; I was defiled. And then,” he added in a lower tone, “I ate my own wickedness.”
.

Mass indoctrination is beliefs blindly accepted

  • People believe in God because they’ve been conditioned to.
  • We don’t want to change. Every change is a menace to stability.
  • One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.
  • It isn’t only art that is incompatible with happiness, it’s also science. Science is dangerous, we have to keep it most carefully chained and muzzled.
  • We are not our own any more than what we possess is our own. We did not make ourselves, we cannot be supreme over ourselves. We are not our own masters.
  • A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.
.

Mass indoctrination desensitises civilisation to their innate humanity & beauty

  • Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning, truth and beauty can’t.
  • Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.
  • In a word, they failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.
  • Back to culture. Yes, actually to culture. You can’t consume much if you sit still and read books.
  • …most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution..
  • What’s the point of truth or beauty or knowledge when anthrax bombs are popping all around you?
  • …reality, however utopian, is something from which people feel the need of taking pretty frequent holidays….
  • Round pegs in square holes tend to have dangerous thoughts about the social system and tend to infect others with their discontents.
.

A consumer society generates waste rather than quality

  • Ending is better than mending.
  • The more stitches, the less riches.
  • To be excited is still to be unsatisfied.

Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain (Michael S. Gazzaniga)

There is no absolute or free will

  • Baruch Spinoza, who said, “There is no mind absolute or free will, but the mind is determined for willing this or that by a cause which is determined in its turn by another cause, and this one again by another, and so on to infinity.”
.

We are not the masters of our brains

  • The brain has millions of local processors making important decisions. It is a highly specialized system with critical networks distributed throughout the 1,300 grams of tissue. There is no one boss in the brain. You are certainly not the boss of the brain. Have you ever succeeded in telling your brain to shut up already and go to sleep?
.

We falsely perceive being in conscious control

  • YOU is your vastly parallel and distributed brain without a central command center. There is no ghost in the machine, no secret stuff that is YOU. That YOU that you are so proud of is a story woven together by your interpreter module to account for as much of your behavior as it can incorporate, and it denies or rationalizes the rest. Our left- brain interpreter’s narrative capability is one of the automatic processes, and it gives rise to the illusion of unity or purpose, which is a post hoc phenomenon.
.

Our growing knowledge about the brain makes notions of volition and culpability deeply suspect

  • Robert Sapolsky, professor of neurology at Stanford, makes the extremely strong statement: “It’s boggling that the legal system’s gold standard for an insanity defense—M’Naghten—is based on 166-year-old science. Our growing knowledge about the brain makes notions of volition, culpability, and, ultimately, the very premise of a criminal justice system, deeply suspect.
.

Experiments show our choices arise before we are consciously aware of them

  • John-Dylan Haynes and his colleagues expanded Libet’s experiments in 2008 to show that the outcomes of an inclination can be encoded in brain activity up to ten seconds before it enters awareness! The brain has acted before its person is conscious of it. Not only that, from looking at the scan, they can make a prediction about what the person is going to do. The implications of this are rather staggering.
.
.

Free will (Sam Harris)

Free will is an illusion

  • Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control.
  • We do not have the freedom we think we have.
  • Either our wills are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them.
  • Our sense of our own freedom results from our not paying close attention to what it is like to be us. The moment we pay attention, it is possible to see that free will is nowhere to be found.
.

We are slaves to our conditioning and unconscious mental patterns

  • If we are a slave to our conditioning, we cannot be free.
  • You are not in control of your mind—because you, as a conscious agent, are only part of your mind, living at the mercy of other parts.
.

We do not even control our thoughts

  • A moment or two of serious self-scrutiny, and you might observe that you no more decide the next thought you think than the next thought I write.
  • Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control.
  • Unconscious neural events determine our thoughts and actions—and are themselves determined by prior causes of which we are subjectively unaware.
  • Thoughts simply arise unauthored and yet author our actions.
  • You are no more responsible for the next thing you think (and therefore do) than you are for the fact that you were born into this world.
.

Our choices are limited by our awareness

  • Your choices are really very limited. They are limited by your level of awareness. If you can change your level of awareness radically, then you can change your destiny. Frederick Lenz
.

Our choices emerge from unconscious causes…

  • Could I have “changed my mind” and switched to tea before the coffee drinker in me could get his bearings? Yes, but this impulse would also have been the product of unconscious causes.
  • The choice was made for me by events in my brain that I, as the conscious witness of my thoughts and actions, could not inspect or influence.
  • We make choices and decisions before we are consciously aware of it.
  • The intention to do one thing and not another does not originate in consciousness—rather, it appears in consciousness, as does any thought or impulse that might oppose it.
  • Some moments before you are aware of what you will do next—a time in which you subjectively appear to have complete freedom to behave however you please—your brain has already determined what you will do. You then become conscious of this “decision” and believe that you are in the process of making it.
  • I, as the conscious witness of my experience, no more initiate events in my prefrontal cortex than I cause my heart to beat. There will always be some delay between the first neurophysiological events that kindle my next conscious thought and the thought itself. And even if there weren’t—even if all mental states were truly coincident with their underlying brain states—I cannot decide what I will next think or intend until a thought or intention arises. What will my next mental state be? I do not know—it just happens. Where is the freedom in that?
  • But the next choice you make will come out of the darkness of prior causes that you, the conscious witness of your experience, did not bring into being.
  • A person’s “choices” merely appear in his mind as though sprung from the void.
  • Choices, efforts, intentions, and reasoning influence our behavior—but they are themselves part of a chain of causes that precede conscious awareness and over which we exert no ultimate control.  
  • The actual explanation for my behavior is hidden from me. And it is perfectly obvious that I, as the conscious witness of my experience, am not the deep cause of it.
.

…as experiments have shown

  • The physiologist Benjamin Libet famously used EEG to show that activity in the brain’s motor cortex can be detected some 300 milliseconds before a person feels that he has decided to move.
  • Subjects were asked to press one of two buttons while watching a “clock” composed of a random sequence of letters appearing on a screen. They reported which letter was visible at the moment they decided to press one button or the other. The experimenters found two brain regions that contained information about which button subjects would press a full 7 to 10 seconds before the decision was consciously made. More recently, direct recordings from the cortex showed that the activity of merely 256 neurons was sufficient to predict with 80 percent accuracy a person’s decision to move 700 milliseconds before he became aware of it.
  • If you don’t know what your soul is going to do next, you are not in control.
  • Unconscious neural events determine our thoughts and actions—and are themselves determined by prior causes of which we are subjectively unaware.
.

It is conceivable that scientists will be able to know what you chose before you do

  • Imagine a perfect neuroimaging device that would allow us to detect and interpret the subtlest changes in brain function. You might spend an hour thinking and acting freely in the lab, only to discover that the scientists scanning your brain had been able to produce a complete record of what you would think and do some moments in advance of each event. For instance, exactly 10 minutes and 10 seconds into the experiment, you decided to pick up a magazine from a nearby table and begin reading, but the scanner log shows this mental state arising at 10 minutes and 6 seconds—and the experimenters even knew which magazine you would choose. You read for a while and then got bored and stopped; the experimenters knew you would stop a second before you did and could tell which sentence would be the last you read.
  • The experimenters knew what you would think and do just before you did.
  • You would, of course, continue to feel free in every present moment, but the fact that someone else could report what you were about to think and do would expose this feeling for what it is: an illusion.
.

Where our intentions come from is a mystery

  • A voluntary action is accompanied by the felt intention to carry it out, whereas an involuntary action isn’t. Needless to say, this difference is reflected at the level of the brain. And what a person consciously intends to do says a lot about him. It makes sense to treat a man who enjoys murdering children differently from one who accidentally hit and killed a child with his car—because the conscious intentions of the former give us a lot of information about how he is likely to behave in the future. But where intentions themselves come from, and what determines their character in every instance, remains perfectly mysterious in subjective terms.
  • How can you explain your ability to respond to it? If you pay attention to your inner life, you will see that the emergence of choices, efforts, and intentions is a fundamentally mysterious process.
  • What I will do next, and why, remains, at bottom, a mystery—one that is fully determined by the prior state of the universe and the laws of nature (including the contributions of chance).
.

Where is the freedom when we do not choose our thoughts, desires or intentions?

  • Where is the freedom in being perfectly satisfied with your thoughts, intentions, and subsequent actions when they are the product of prior events that you had absolutely no hand in creating?
  • Where is the freedom when one of these opposing desires inexplicably triumphs over its rival?
  • And I cannot determine my wants, or decide which will be effective, in advance. My mental life is simply given to me by the cosmos.
  • People have many competing desires—and some desires appear pathological (that is, undesirable) even to those in their grip.
  • There is no way I can influence my desires—for what tools of influence would I use? Other desires? To say that I would have done otherwise had I wanted to is simply to say that I would have lived in a different universe had I been in a different universe.
  • How can we be “free” as conscious agents if everything that we consciously intend is caused by events in our brain that we do not intend and of which we are entirely unaware? We can’t.
  • I cannot choose what I choose. And if it ever appears that I do—for instance, after going back and forth between two options—I do not choose to choose what I choose.
  • Why did I order beer instead of wine? Because I prefer beer. Why do I prefer it? I don’t know.
.

We are also puppets of our background circumstances

  • Take a moment to think about the context in which your next decision will occur: You did not pick your parents or the time and place of your birth. You didn’t choose your gender or most of your life experiences. You had no control whatsoever over your genome or the development of your brain. And now your brain is making choices on the basis of preferences and beliefs that have been hammered into it over a lifetime—by your genes, your physical development since the moment you were conceived, and the interactions you have had with other people, events, and ideas. Where is the freedom in this? Yes, you are free to do what you want even now. But where did your desires come from?
  • All human behavior, is determined by a prior state of the universe.
.

Could we really do otherwise than what we do?

  • To say that I could have done otherwise is merely to think the thought “I could have done otherwise” after doing whatever I in fact did.
  • You will do whatever it is you do, and it is meaningless to assert that you could have done otherwise.
.

Letting go of the illusion of free will can have positive effects

  • Speaking from personal experience, I think that losing the sense of free will has only improved my ethics—by increasing my feelings of compassion and forgiveness, and diminishing my sense of entitlement to the fruits of my own good luck.
  • Losing a belief in free will has not made me fatalistic—in fact, it has increased my feelings of freedom. My hopes, fears, and neuroses seem less personal and indelible.
  • Getting behind our conscious thoughts and feelings can allow us to steer a more intelligent course through our lives (while knowing, of course, that we are ultimately being steered).
.

We become less judgemental

  • We can take no credit for what happens.
  • How much credit does a person deserve for not being lazy? None at all. Laziness, like diligence, is a neurological condition.
.

We would change the way we think about justice

  • Our system of justice should reflect an understanding that any of us could have been dealt a very different hand in life. In fact, it seems immoral not to recognize just how much luck is involved in morality itself.
.

We would incarcerate dangerous people to protect society, not to punish

  • Even the most terrifying predators are, in a very real sense, unlucky to be who they are.
  • Certain criminals must be incarcerated to prevent them from harming other people. The moral justification for this is entirely straightforward: Everyone else will be better off this way. Dispensing with the illusion of free will allows us to focus on the things that matter—assessing risk, protecting innocent people, deterring crime, etc.
  • Whether it is useful to emphasize the punishment of certain criminals—rather than their containment or rehabilitation—is a question for social and psychological science. But it seems clear that a desire for retribution, arising from the idea that each person is the free author of his thoughts and actions, rests on a cognitive and emotional illusion—and perpetuates a moral one.
.

More thoughts

  • There are more bacteria in your body than there are human cells. In fact, 90 percent of the cells in your body are microbes like E. coli (and 99 percent of the functional genes in your body belong to them).  Many of these organisms perform necessary functions—they are “you” in some wider sense. Do you feel identical to them? If they misbehave, are you morally responsible?

 

 

Beyond Good and Evil (Friedrich Nietzsche)

Religion and philosophy are prejudiced towards the views of the philosopher or the preacher

  • But this is an old and everlasting story: what happened in old times with the Stoics still happens today, as soon as ever a philosophy begins to believe in itself. It always creates the world in its own image; it cannot do otherwise; philosophy is this tyrannical impulse itself, the most spiritual Will to Power, the will to creation of the world, the will to the causa prima.
  • The noble soul reveres itself.
  • It has gradually become clear to me what every great philosophy up till now has consisted of – namely, the confession of its originator, and a species of involuntary and unconscious autobiography; and moreover that the moral (or immoral) purpose in every philosophy has constituted the true vital germ out of which the entire plant has always grown.
  • Their [philosophers] thinking is, in fact, far less a discovery than a re-recognizing, a remembering, a return and a home-coming to a far-off, ancient common-household of the soul, out of which those ideas formerly grew: philosophizing is so far a kind of atavism of the highest order.
  • Every philosophy also concealsa philosophy; every opinion is also a hideout, every word also a mask.
.

‘Free spirits’ of the modern age think for themselves

  • To him who feels himself preordained to contemplation and not to belief, all believers are too noisy and obtrusive; he guards against them.
  • Wisdom—seems to the rabble a kind of escape, a means and a trick for getting well out of a wicked game. But the genuine philosopher—as it seems to us, my friends?—lives ‘unphilosophically’ and ‘unwisely,’ above all imprudently, and feels the burden and the duty of a hundred attempts and temptations of life—he risks himself constantly, he plays the wicked game.
  • Every profound spirit needs a mask.
.

We must strike out against the herd mentality

  • One must shed the bad taste of wanting to agree with many. Good is no longer good when one’s neighbour mouths it. And how should there be a common good! The term contradicts itself: whatever can be common always has little value. In the end it must be as it is and always has been: great things remain for the great, abysses for the profound, nuances and shudders for the refined, and, in brief, all that is rare for the rare.
  • It is the business of the very few to be independent; it is a privilege of the strong. And whoever attempts it, even with the best right, but without being OBLIGED to do so, proves that he is probably not only strong, but also daring beyond measure. 
  • The great periods of our life occur when we gain the courage to rechristen what is bad about us as what is best.
.

Truth and thoughts are ever-changing

  • The strength of a person’s spirit would then be measured by how much ‘truth’ he could tolerate, or more precisely, to what extent he needs to have it diluted, disguised, sweetened, muted, falsified.
  • There is no such thing as moral phenomena, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena
  • To recognize untruth as a condition of life–that certainly means resisting accustomed value feelings in a dangerous way; and a philosophy that risks this would by that token alone place itself beyond good and evil.
.

Those who hold power may define truths today, but when power shifts, so too might the definitions of morality, good and evil

  • Physiologists should think before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength–life itself is will to power; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results.
  • He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.
  • A man who wills commands something within himself that renders obedience, or that he believes renders obedience.
.
.

The Prophet (Kahlil Gibran)

Love one another, but don’t let that love suffocate each other

  • Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. 
  • Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; For love is sufficient unto love. 
  • Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit.
  • Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
.

Discover the beauty within your own soul

  • Beauty is life when life unveils her holy face. But you are life and you are the veil. 
  • Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror. 
.

Love and appreciate your children as they truly are

  • Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. 
  • They come through you but not from you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. 
.

Sometimes, to find joy, you must experience sorrow

  • Some of you say, Joy is greater than sorrow, and others say, Nay, sorrow is the greater. But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
  • Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed. 
  • When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. 
.

Give of yourself and be free

  • You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. 
  • You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care, nor your nights without a want and a grief, but rather when these things girdle your life and yet you rise above them naked and unbound. 
.

Appreciate the sweetness of friendships

  • For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him always with hours to live. For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
  • And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
  • For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed. 
.
.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert M. Pirsig)

Find peace in your heart, first and foremost.

  • The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.
  • Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the centre of it all.
  • The way to see what looks good and understand the reasons it looks good, and to be at one with this goodness as the work proceeds, is to cultivate an inner quietness, a peace of mind so that goodness can shine through.
.

Do everything with a sense of care and quality.

  • Care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who’s bound to have some characteristics of Quality.
  • To an experienced Zen Buddhist, asking if one believes in Zen or one believes in the Buddha, sounds a little ludicrous, like asking if one believes in air or water. Similarly, Quality is not something you believe in, Quality is something you experience.
.

Seek the truth – religion is not necessarily the answer.

  • When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called a Religion.
  • You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.
  • The truth knocks on the door and you say, ‘Go away, I’m looking for the truth’, and so it goes away. Puzzling.
  • The real purpose of the scientific method is to make sure nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you actually don’t know.
.

Slow down and take your time – there’s no rush.

  • We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone.
  • You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.
  • Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive
  • To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.
.

Be wary of the assumption that the purpose of life is to stay alive.

  • It was the ghost of rationality itself … This is the ghost of normal everyday assumptions which declares that the ultimate purpose of life, which is to keep alive, is impossible, but that this is the ultimate purpose of life anyway, so that great minds struggle to cure diseases so that people may live longer, but only madmen ask why. One lives longer in order that he may live longer. There is no other purpose. That is what the ghost says.
.

Instead, find your Zen, and your true purpose.

  • The only Zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.
  • The solutions all are simple – after you have arrived at them. But they’re simple only when you know already what they are.
.