“There is simply constant change, continuous adjustment, and random selection in an eternal present.” – Andrew Sullivan, The Conservative Soul
Few things in life are as revered as the human imagination, and for good reason. All of our great stories, works of art, systems of cooperation, and technologies were birthed and nurtured in the imaginings of human minds. Without imagination we would be an impoverished species, vastly limited in our possibilities. For many people, this connection – between imagination and human possibility – has made imagination a kind of synonym for limitless freedom; imagination can set a person free, whether they’re a student daydreaming in class, a single mother dreaming of a better life, or a prisoner of war dreaming of life back home.
However, because we idolize imagination we rarely appreciate how, more often than not, it leaves us feeling trapped. Continue reading “Time as Change in the Present”
“People with a lot of talent and an inclination to work hard are extremely fortunate.” – Robert H. Frank, Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy
The Myth of Cosmic Justice
Life is challenging. Without exception, it involves hard work, difficult choices, and painful losses, spread against a backdrop of insecurity and uncertainty. We deal with life’s challenges as best we can, establishing islands of certainty and security to hold its turbulence at bay. Through work, friends, and family, we insure our basic material and social needs. Through art, entertainment, and personal pursuits, we search for spiritual satisfaction. But no matter how carefully we structure our lives, we live under the light of an unsettling fact, which is that life is fundamentally unfair. Continue reading “Luck and the Meaning of Life”
“The only reason, for example, that you are not a rattlesnake is that your mother and father weren’t rattlesnakes. You deserve very little credit for being what you are – and remember, the people who come to you irritated, bigoted, unreasoning, deserve very little discredit for being what they are.” – Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
Knowledge comes through many channels. It can be acquired by conscious effort, per academic ways of learning. It can accumulate unconsciously, seeping in through exposure to various cultures and contexts. It can arise suddenly, via flashes of insight produced by the veiled churnings of the subconscious mind. Or it can develop over aeons of natural trial and error, resulting in dispositions suited for survival in an oft-unforgiving world. But for all its different modes and forms, every bit of knowledge shares one crucial requisite: a dependence on intuition. Continue reading “Four Arguments for the Nonexistence of Free Will”
[NOTE: If you find that I’m stating the obvious at the beginning of this essay, I encourage you to scroll down to the section titled “Exploring Unfamiliar Ground” before you give up on the piece.]
“Anger and intolerance are the twin enemies of correct understanding.” – Mahatma Gandhi
“Making an indictment may be easier and more emotionally satisfying than following the ancient admonition, ‘With all your getting, get understanding.’” – Thomas Sowell, History versus Visions
Living with Disagreement
We talking apes have always been a contentious bunch. From squabbles about food and fashion to momentous disputes about politics and religion, we never hurt for issues on which to disagree. In the face of unreckonable disagreements, though, we cope with each other surprisingly well. But this has not always been the case. For millennia, violence was a fashionable means to settle civil disputes, and has only recently fallen out of style. Now, instead of violence, we rely on words, so as to better understand disagreements before taking action. This remarkable cultural shift – from violence to diplomacy – is not an entirely natural state of affairs and, as such, we regularly struggle with it. Continue reading “Political Tribalism, Hatred & The Value of Understanding”
“… no sharp line divides thinking from feeling, nor does thinking inevitably precede feeling or vice versa (notwithstanding the century of debate within psychology over which comes first).” – Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works
“I’m hooked on a feeling; I’m high on believing.” – Blue Swede
As we puzzle out the world, we are often slow to grasp how the pieces fit together. Our picture of reality is a perpetual work in progress, consistently undergoing revision. This revision frequently requires us to reassess relationships between phenomena, as we learn which parts of nature directly affect each other, and which do not. We humans are easy to fool, regularly overlooking even the most basic connections around us. For instance, we rarely notice how seemingly separate concepts, such as inside and outside, up and down, and left and right, are actually interdependent: the existence of an outside entails an inside, up only exists relative to down, and left delineates right. Our mental landscapes are peppered with such dichotomies, tricking us into thinking that interrelated phenomena are entirely exclusive.
Continue reading “Are We Ruled by Thought or Emotion?”
“Why should I be frightened of dying? There’s no reason for it – you’ve got to go sometime.” – Pink Floyd, The Great Gig in the Sky
Life is often compared to a burning candle whose luminosity is bookended, past and future, by eternal darkness. At first blush, this metaphor seems apt: consciousness comes into existence, illuminates a lifetime of experience, then dissolves, replaced by the abyss whence it came. But such a comparison is wrongheaded, emblematic of prevailing attitudes towards death which are unimaginative and unduly negative. Continue reading “Rethinking Death”
“Most of our world is mind-spin.” – Stephen Levine
“But if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options.” – David Foster Wallace
An Unsatisfying Present
We are conflicted about the present moment. As children we want the freedom enjoyed by adults. After growing up, we come to envy the carefree nature of childhood. Thinking of generations past, we envision a world unblighted by modern technology and capitalistic greed. Projecting to the future, we see glimmers of our salvation in green technology made by conscionable business. Whether romanticizing the past or exalting the future, we often wish to be someplace other than the here and now.
Continue reading “Why Bother Meditating?”