“To me, the definition of hell is simple: it is a place where there is no understanding and no compassion. We have all been there. We are acquainted with hell’s heat, and we know that hell is in need of compassion. If there is compassion, then hell ceases to be hell. You can generate this compassion yourself. If you can bring a little compassion to this place, a little bit of understanding, it ceases to be hell. Hell is here, all around us. Your practice consists in generating compassion and understanding and transforming the suffering around us.”
Like all living things, humans are organisms, biological entities that function as physiological aggregates whose constituent parts operate with a high degree of cooperation and a low degree of conflict. But unlike other organisms, humans possess a rogue component – a brain network that can, at will, choose to defect and undermine the survival mission and purpose of the rest of the body. This is the network that underlies human consciousness, and especially our capacity for autonoetic, or reflective, self-awareness, the basis of the conceptions that underlie our greatest achievements as a species – art, music, architecture, literature, science – and our ability to appreciate them.
“The next time you face a daunting challenge, think to yourself, “In order for me to resolve this issue, I will have to fail nine times, but on the tenth attempt, I will be successful.” This attitude frees you and allows you to think creatively without fear of failure, because you understand that learning from failure is a forward step toward success. Take a risk and when you fail, no longer think, “Oh, no, what a frustrating waste of time and effort,” but instead extract a new insight from that misstep and correctly think, “Great: one down, nine to go—I’m making forward progress!” And indeed you are. After your first failure, think, “Terrific, I’m 10% done!” Mistakes, loss, and failure are all flashing lights clearly pointing the way to deeper understanding and creative solutions.”
Most folks feel like imposters at least some of the time. That is especially the case when we’re thrust into new experiences and feel out of our depth.
The way out, I’ve observed, is not to push the feeling away or attempt to resist it in some way. Instead, folks who deal with these feelings well remind themselves that it is just another manifestation of fear.
And, the way out of fear is to take action with the knowledge that there’s no getting rid of fear.
Action, it turns out, is simply our way of acknowledging that there are things more important than fear.
(Via A Learning a Day)
My study of Stoicism was partially driven initially by this sense of imposter’s syndrome. I grabbed on to the ending of this article by Massimo Pigliucci:
So take those failures, and those moments of doubt, as additional opportunities to exercise virtue and become a better human being:
“The art of life is more like the wrestler’s art than the dancer’s, in respect of this, that it should stand ready and firm to meet onsets that are sudden and unexpected.” (Meditations, VII.61)
“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?” – Marcus Aurelius
When you find a fault in someone else, are you sure that you don’t have the same fault? Maybe you haven’t committed the same exact act, but are you sure you haven’t failed in a similar way at some point?
Once you see that, it’s pretty easy to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Is a bunch of negativity really going to help here? What will help?
While this doesn’t excuse someone’s fault, it does help you to understand it, and understanding it is often the key to making a situation work. You can’t expect to be perfectly on the same page with everyone all of the time; sometimes, all that takes to get you close enough to the same page is a little bit of this kind of understanding.
Along these same lines, I’ve been trying to catch myself and say something similar. They are on their own journey, which goes beyond the above. The idea is that everyone has their reasons for things, even if I don’t agree or wouldn’t make the same decision based on my journey.
The hidden attribute is that there is often missing information, best exemplified by the Internet Rage Machine.
Existentialism has a reputation for being angst-ridden and gloomy mostly because of its emphasis on pondering the meaninglessness of existence, but two of the best-known existentialists knew how to have fun in the face of absurdity. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre spent a lot of time partying: talking, drinking, dancing, laughing, loving and listening to music with friends, and this was an aspect of their philosophical stance on life. They weren’t just philosophers who happened to enjoy parties, either – the parties were an expression of their philosophy of seizing life, and for them there were authentic and inauthentic ways to do this.
For de Beauvoir in particular, philosophy was to be lived vivaciously, and partying was bound up with her urge to live fully and freely, not to hold herself back from all that life had to offer. She wrote that sometimes she does ‘everything a little too crazily … But that is my way. I have rather not to do the things at all as doing them mildly.’
That joie de vivre doesn’t come up in the early paragraphs says something about the quality of Cleary’s writing (and says something else about mine).
This is my favorite piece of the article:
Parties can cultivate our connections to others, bring meaning to one another’s lives, and reveal the world with them. They can also confirm one another’s existences, serving as a reminder to friends that they matter, and that one matters to one’s friends. Moreover, the warmth and laughter that authentic partying sparks can help people cope with the chaos of life.
This resonates with me as an introvert: the idea that just being in a place (a party) and interacting (to whatever level) provides a deeper meaning to friends – potential, new, and old – reduces the stress around the stressful activity.
And, life is short.
Clinical neuroscientists and neurologists have identified the brain networks responsible for this sense of free will. There seems to be two: the network governing the desire to act, and the network governing the feeling of responsibility for acting. Brain-damaged patients show that these can come apart—you can have one without the other. […]
The results may not map onto “free will” as we understand it ethically—the ability to choose between right and wrong. “It remains unknown whether the network of brain regions we identify as related to free will for movements is the same as those important for moral decision-making, as prior studies have suggested important differences,” the researchers wrote. For instance, in a 2017 study, he and Darby analyzed many cases of brain lesions in various regions predisposing people to criminal behavior, and found that “these lesions all fall within a unique functionally connected brain network involved in moral decision making.”
Nevertheless, the fact that brain damage affects moral behavior only underscores the reality that, whatever the “will” is, it isn’t “free.” The sense of freedom we have to act on our moral understanding is regulated and vulnerable, and can break. In a 2016 paper, Darby noted that people who have behavioral-variant frontotemporal dementia “develop immoral behaviors as a result of their disease despite the ability to explicitly state that their behavior is wrong.” This complicates how moral responsibility should be understood, he explains. People can be capable of acknowledging wrongdoing and yet be incapable of acting accordingly. Responsibility can’t hinge on any simple notion of “reason responsiveness,” Darby says, which is a view of how free will can be compatible with determinism—the idea, in the case of behavior, that brain activity causes feelings, intentions, and actions, moral or not. […]
The concept of free will doesn’t make any sense to me. As Kavka’s thought experiment shows, we don’t have much control over our thoughts. Take this article I’m writing: The words I’m committing to print pop into my mind unbeckoned. It’s less me choosing them and more them presenting themselves to me. The act of writing feels more like a process of passive filtration than active conjuration. I’m also convinced that humans can sensibly hold one another morally responsible even if we jettison the idea of free will. The reason is that, as a social mechanism, it has salutary effects. Generally, if people know that they will be held to account for moral violations, they will be less likely to commit them; and if they don’t know what the moral rules are, they will be motivated to learn them. Indeed, in the study on compatibilism, the researchers found that “participants reduced their compatibilist beliefs after reading a passage that argued that moral responsibility could be preserved even in the absence of free will.”
(Via Nautilus; Screengrab via The Good Place / YouTube; emphasis above is mine)
This article hit me at an interesting time. I strongly recommending reading the piece. There are many, many links for doing some more research if you’re so inclined.
I’ve long had the feeling that I’m of two minds when it comes to practices, routine, and such. Rationally I know I need to stay on my daily habits like exercise, journaling, and general moderation. Doing those things generally requires what we call will or discipline. One does not automatically lead to the other.
The opening quoted paragraph confirms my internal disconnected feeling is more than rationalization of what one could call laziness. Luckily, morality isn’t my shortfall in so far as mine’s been tested. Things like exercise I should do (similar to moral decisions though less weighty). The draw of Stoicism and similar philosophies might be the brain drying to bridge the gap.
At least Stoicism may be my brain trying to bridge the gap. I feel a bout of rumination on free will coming on.
Marcus Aurelius on your thoughts and your life
“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.” – Marcus Aurelius
Perhaps the single biggest revelation I had during the last ten years is that I have a ton of control over what I think about, and what I think about ends up shaping how I feel about a lot of things, how I react to things, and what I choose to do in life.
An example: if I spend my time thinking negative thoughts about working out, it’s not going to be long before I’m simply completely uninterested in working out and I’m going to stop any sort of workout routine. Rather, if I catch myself thinking negative thoughts about it, I intentionally kill them and start thinking positive thoughts instead. “This will feel good. This will make me healthier. This will be fun. Remember how much you enjoyed that workout a few weeks ago? What did you do during that? Let’s recreate it!” Thinking thoughts like that intentionally gets me more excited about exercising, makes it go better, and makes me feel better about it afterwards, and eventually I don’t really have those negative thoughts any more.
This is true for everything. You have so much power over what you choose to think about things, and if you choose to think negative thoughts about the better but more challenging things in life, things will go poorly. Save your negative thoughts for the things that actually harm you and then let them fly, but give positive thoughts to the good things in life, like the person who’s nice to you even when you feel grumpy. That person is awesome. Think about how awesome that person is.
A periodic reminder about mistakes to self: Do not fear mistakes. Instead, if we must go down the path of fear, fear only – i) the repetition of the same mistake because we didn’t learn from it and ii) the absence of a creative, constructive, and corrective response to the mistake.
(Via A Learning a Day)
I like to go a step further. I wake up in the firm knowledge that I will make mistakes. The measure of them is what I do with them.
“Everything changes and nothing stands still.” As quoted by Plato in Cratylus, 402a
“It is harder to fight against pleasure than against anger.” As quoted by Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics, Book II (1105a)
“Time is a game played beautifully by children.” As quoted in Fragments (2001) translated by Brooks Haxton
“War is the father and king of all, and has produced some as gods and some as men, and has made some slaves and some free.” Hippolytus, Ref. haer. ix. 9 (Fragment 53). G. T. W. Patrick, 1889
“Though wisdom is common, yet the many live as if they had a wisdom of their own.” Fragment 2, as quoted in Against the Mathematicians by Sextus Empiricus
“Much learning does not teach understanding.” Fragment 40
“The road up and the road down is one and the same.” Fragment 60
“You cannot step twice into the same rivers.” Fragment 91. Plutarch, On the EI at Delphi
“Dogs, also, bark at what they do not know.”_
“It is better to conceal ignorance than to expose it.” Fragment 109
“Character is destiny.” Fragment 119