All Posts in “Philosophy”

Gaining Perspective

It’s easy to get frustrated when a situation doesn’t go your way.

Whether it is a lead that doesn’t buy your product or a client that is doing something unexpected, the natural reaction is to feel frustrated.

From your perspective, you can see a better way. Events could have gone differently and a whole lot smoother. But they didn’t and now you are left with a challenge that makes your life more difficult.

It’s easy to externalize this feeling of frustration. To place blame on people other than you, whose actions could have made your life easier. It’s easy, but it is unproductive.

In these situations when you start to feel frustrated about the current course of events, the way forward is to step back and gain perspective. To depersonalize the situation.

Instead of being stuck in the first person and being frustrated by the challenges you are now facing, you can choose to see your situation in the third person. You can view the challenge as an obstacle in a heroic tale. You can see yourself as the hero in a movie, a story, or a video game, and accept the obstacles that lye in front of you.

And of course, there are obstacles. It would be terribly boring without them. You would have no opportunities to grow and gain power if everything was smooth sailing. If you customer did exactly what you wanted them to do, you would have no opportunity to improve your skills in communication and persuasion.

When the short term is less challenging, the long-term is less prosperous.

When you take the mental step back and gain perspective the challenges become a lot less frustrating and a lot more fun. They become puzzles to crack instead of roadblocks slowing you down. They become a critical part of what makes your life interesting and what makes your current situation a valuable experience.

Introducing: Game of Thrones Philosophy Breakdown

I’m excited to release the first season of the Game of Thrones Philosophy Breakdown!

Game of Thrones is one of my favorite shows, so with the seventh season approaching, I decided I wanted to do something extra.

There are a million Game of Thrones recap podcasts and YouTube channels, but none focused on talking through the philosophy and ethical dilemmas that come up in the show. So I reached out to my good friend James Walpole and asked if he was up to do a weekly podcast breaking down each episode.

Each Monday during the summer we linked up and talked out some of the most interesting moments and ethical dilemmas that come up in the show.

From revenge to the Red God we hit on a TON of different questions. Some a lot more uncomfortable than others.

Now they are all online and available for your listening pleasure!

Trump and Scapegoats

This is a meta-blog post. It is a section of my notes on a blog post by Blake Master’s which was his notes on Peter Thiel’s course at Stanford. You should absolutely read Blake / Peter’s essay in full. All images are from Blake. 

In Peter Thiel’s lecture Founder as Victim, Founder as God he focuses on scapegoating as it relates to startup founders. He extends the work of Rene Girard into company culture. Thiel only touches on politics briefly, but I found it a fascinating framework with the outrage and hero worship around Trump.

Men of Opinion vs. Men of Action

I’m currently re-reading Atlas Shrugged along with a group of other people in the Praxis community. We just completed chapter 8, the beginning of the resolution to the first act of the book. Near the start of chapter eight, there is a short conversation between Henry Reardon (a major character) and Paul Larkin (a minor character) that demonstrates an important divide between people.

In the story, the government has recently passed a law that makes it illegal for one person to own more than one business. Reardon, who was a titan in the steel, coal, and iron ore industries is forced to sell his iron ore business to Paul Larkin.

Larkin feels guilty about the law and desperately offers his reassurances to Reardon. He promises to always sell the ore to Reardon, to act like Reardon is the rightful owner.

Existence vs. Consciousness

Does reality exist? Or is it just a delusion? A long-term dream that others appear to be sharing.

This is an important question, and the answer seems pretty obvious, but many people have thought themselves out of the obvious answer.

Primacy of existence is a crucial concept in the metaphysics of Objectivism. Peikoff puts it like this,

“Things are what they are independent of consciousness – of anyone’s perceptions, images, ideas, feelings.”

We are conscious of the world around us and able to decipher stimuli around us using our senses, but the things that we are sensing do exist, and they would continue to exist even if we could not sense them.

We can change the world around us, but we can only change it by acting. Sitting on a couch will not make your problems go away.

A common example used to bring doubt on our perception of reality is a colorblind person.

Someone who is colorblind is unable to see the difference between some colors. If we can perceive the same thing as being different, doesn’t that mean that reality is dependent on our perceptions?

Our ability, or inability to perceive stimuli does affect us, but it doesn’t affect the entity that we are observing. If one person sees a tree as green, and another as gray, it doesn’t change the fact that they are both perceiving the same entity reflecting the same spectrum of light.

Contrast primacy of existence against primacy of consciousness. Peikoff describes primacy of consciousness like this,

“In this view, the function of consciousness is not perception, but creation of what is. Existance, accordingly is dependent; the world is regarded as in some way derivate of consciousness.”

This is an idea that many people interpret as coming from many eastern religions. I don’t know anything about the metaphysics of Buddhism, but many people come away from eastern philosophies with the idea that since the only way we know the world around us is through our senses that it seems possible that if we were not sensing it might as well not exist.

Another common train of thought is about reality being drastically different than how we perceive it. That we may be in a simulation, that there may be invisible aliens, or that we may be emitting aura’s that only the spiritually enlightened can see.

None of this changes that there is existence separate from our consciousness.

Just because reality may be different than how we perceive, it does not mean that it does not exist.

We can use tools to expand our senses, and when we do we are able to identify things that exist that we were not aware of before. Like atoms, radio waves, or electricity.

The idea’s of pop-eastern philosophy can be very useful and productive. Recognizing the way you can control your perception of an event that was out of your control is a valuable skill, so long as it opens possibilities for action.

These are useful thought experiments, so long as they motivate you to take action. But the change you experience is not from your thoughts changing existence, but from you taking action and making change happen.

“A simple example of the primacy of existence orientation would be a man running for his life from an erupting volcano” – Leonard Peikoff

Many people claim supernatural abilities to influence reality, but put any of them in front of a lava flow, and they will all recognize that lava exists and that it is dangerous, and they will run.

So, how can you know for sure that what you are experiencing actually exists?

You know implicitly. From the actions that we all take. Anyone who denies reality will still act to avoid the lava. That should tell you all you need to know about their view of reality, regardless of what they say.

“We can ignore reality, but we cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.” – Ayn Rand

 

Axioms of Objectivism

I’ve been a fan of Ayn Rand for three years. Atlas Shrugged and the Fountainhead are among my favorite books. I’ve read every published work of fiction by Rand but never delved into her non-fiction, or Objectivism.

From the outside, Objectivism appears to be an extremely clear philosophy. From Atlas Shrugged, you pick up on a lot of it, but it is through the medium of a story, so there are aspects that are easy to miss.

Recently, to continue my education in philosophy, I’ve begun reading Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff.

A former colleague of mine, who identifies as an Objectivist, and who runs a popular Objectivist forum, recommended the book to me. In his words, it is the best place to gain a full understanding of the philosophy.

In my orbiting of Objectivism, something I have found interesting is that almost every Objectivist I meet has solid understanding and criticism of opposing world views. Finding your way into a less popular school of thought means that you have to have a lot of basic discussions and arguments with people who disagree with your conclusions. It helps you build a stronger foundation for your knowledge because it is challenged and you have to learn to communicate your arguments clearly.

On the other side, I have yet to meet someone who is well educated on more popular, or conventional philosophy who has solid arguments against Objectivism. Or that has even read any Objectivist books.

Their arguments are about surface level misunderstandings of concepts Rand used, or taking the term Objectivism and simply arguing about objective vs. subjective.

So as I’ve orbited the ideas I’ve been more and more drawn to believe that there is something to objectivism, and something flawed with the critics who are so afraid of engaging with it.

Objectivism points out three fundamental axioms. These are self-evident and inescapable facts about life.

  1. Existence
  2. Consciousness
  3. Identity

Existence

Rand states this simply, “existence exists.” Our sensations tell us that something exists. It is not nothingness because nothingness cannot be sensed. Our senses may not give us a completely accurate view of what exists. There are some things that we can only sense with the use of tools, but those things still exist.

Consciousness

We are conscious because we are conscious of what exists. There is no consciousness if nothing exists. Consciousness is presupposed by any act of living.

Identity

Aristotle taught the law of identity in it’s most simple form, “A is A”. Things are what they are.

This has always confused me. I’ve never really understood what it meant because I wasn’t thinking about this as a statement about concepts. For example, squares and circles are two concepts that we use to describe things. There are attributes and characteristics about a thing. A thing without those characteristics is necessarily not that thing.

Something with the characteristics of a circle is a circle, no matter what you wish to call it. Something without the characteristics of a circle is not a circle. A square circle is the equivalent of a non-circle circle. It is possible to say, but it doesn’t mean anything.

Peikoff describes the difference between existence and identity as, existence is something vs. nothing, identity is something vs. something.

We can use words the play tricks about what things are, tree is just a word after all, but it doesn’t change the fact that the thing we describe as a tree exists, that we are conscious of it, and that it is different from the thing we call a whale.

Idealism and Supporting the State

Libertarians are often dismissed as being overly idealistic. Critics compare the vision of a world free of government to an unrealistic utopian vision, impractical, and unlikely to work.

While dismissing the principled views of libertarian thinkers as unrealistic they don’t realize that the policy’s they support are based on idealistic views of the institutions in our society.

The libertarian position on government is that it is incompatible with human nature. A group of people that form the government with the power to avoid justice and exploit society for their personal benefit will naturally be self-interested. The self-interest of those in power will result in harmful and parasitical consequences for society. Since the state is incompatible with human nature is it possible that society would function well without the state?

The position of those who support the state is to deny the reality of institutional problems. They attribute the problems of government to problems of people. They imagine a world where the state isn’t occupied by self-interested humans, but by noble beings with moral perfection (and that agree with their political views). They deny human nature and the failure of policies they supported, and attribute the failure to people, not institutions.

Which viewpoint is truly idealistic?

The one that supports removing failed institutions?

Or the view that the institutions which have failed over and over again will be saved by the right politician coming along?

Think Before You Search

I’m working on a piece about eating ethically.

In writing this, I want to be thorough. I want to come to a conclusion that makes sense to me. And I want my answer to be clear enough that someone who disagrees can see that I am using logic and clear arguments.

So I set out to write, and my first thought was I should do some reading. I should find the leading thinkers in this field, read what they have to say, and then form my opinion.

This is a reasonable mindset for learning a new skill, but for philosophical questions, this is not the most productive mindset to have.

If I wanted to learn how to code, it makes sense to go out and find some resources. I need to learn the rules of the game before I can even engage with it. I save a massive amount of time by not fiddling around trying all sorts of random letters and symbols trying to get something to happen on my computer.

But philosophy is different. We all instinctively know the rules of the game. Some people may be better at it, and some may communicate it better, but we all know how to think. When we come to a question like, is it ethical to eat meat? We all possess the tools to come to a conclusion.

My instinct was not to think. It was to look for the answers of experts. To dismiss my judgement, and the work involved in thinking through a question.

When you nourish the habit of exercising judgement, you improve your judgement. You improve your ability to think. You improve your trust in your ability to think, and you improve your ability to live.

Of course, you will overlook things, and come to some shaky conclusions. Reading other perspectives and conclusions can only improve your judgement if you have exercised your judgement in the first place.  We would be fools not to learn from people who have devoted their lives to thinking in certain fields of study. But the best way to learn from them is to approach their ideas with ideas of our own.

Deciding to think through and write about a topic without researching is the complete opposite of the way we were taught to write in the school system. Most of us were taught to feel incapable of coming to our own conclusions, so the habit we learned was to piggyback on the opinions of others. We learned to be lazy in our thinking, and slowly we lost trust in our judgement.

Now we are faced with the task of rebuilding our intellectual confidence. Reversing the habit to hide from thinking, the habit of searching for authority before thinking for ourselves, and issue by issue remodeling our worldview.

Act On Principle

Philosophy has massive practical applications for decision making.

Take for example the debate between consequentialism and deontology. These are two big jargony words that bearded philosophy professors toss around to make themselves sound smart. Academics argue about them, and write papers no one reads about the backwardness on deontology and how technology is moving us towards a utilitarian wonderland.

But don’t dismiss the idea because of the douchebaggery. These ideas can reform how you think about making decisions, and particularly how we think about making decisions in the future. 

Murder and Mass Imprisonment | This is What Good Government Looks Like

People in the U.S. complain about the two party system. Wall Street runs the country because there are only two parties. They say a multi-party system would be better.

People in Canada complain about the parliamentary system. The representation isn’t fair. Proportional representation would be better.

People in Europe with proportional representation are complaining about something else. Austerity, immigration. There is always something wrong. There is always something to fix, something that could be better.

I’m all for fixing things, but sometimes you just need to throw something out. Sometimes the effort and resources required to fix something don’t make sense.

There are certainly problems with the way the U.S. is governed. People look at the corruption and the absurdity of a two party system, they look at all the corporate money going to politicians, and they say well there is obviously a problem here. They compare it to the few well-functioning countries in Europe and say “we need to be more like that.”

Instead of comparing to the few best governments around the world, why don’t we compare to all governments?

There are so many things wrong with the U.S. government. Killing innocent people abroad, imprisoning millions of people at home, and cops shooting unarmed teenagers. These are things that people legitimately should be angry about, but instead of saying it is a problem with THIS government, people should realize that this is a problem with government in general.

If you look around the world at the various governments, you see that the horror of this one is pretty good in comparison. All of this corruption, immorality, and violence, and this is actually what a reasonably good government looks like. For the vast majority of people in the world, it is WAY WORSE than this.

Comparing to the broad spectrum of government makes it easier to see that all these problems were trying to fix aren’t things that have broken and can to be fixed, but rather issues that are inherent in the system. When you try to control the world you end up with corruption and chaos.

When you look at government as an experiment, you see that the result is corruption, killing, and chaos. The conclusion should be a question, what are the alternatives?