All Posts Tagged “philosophy”

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!

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


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.

Travel University: Practical Philosophy 101

Practical Philosophy 101 

What is your purpose?

What is the point of your life? And while we’re at it, who are you? Who are you really?

You may not have answers on the top of your head. These are deep, philosophical questions.

You may not have taken the time to sit down and answer them, but as an acting human being you are communicating your answers. And if you haven’t answered them for yourself you are probably living with someone else’s answers.

Be More Practical

Have you seen “I Am Not Your Guru?

It’s the new Tony Robbins documentary on Netflix following six days at a Tony Robbins Seminar.

It’s good movie, but there is one point that stuck out. One sentence, hidden in the middle of the documentary, that struck me.

Tony was telling the story of his childhood. His mother was violent and unstable. Tony was talking about it and said, “I had to learn practical psychology.”

Practical psychology.

Tony didn’t have time for fancy ideas, for debates about what the ego means, to take classes, or to write papers. He didn’t have time to learn the history of psychology. He needed some fucking good ideas. He needed them right away.

Will You Choose Your Dream Life?

It was August 2011, and my girlfriend Amanda and I were staying in a hostel in Interlaken, Switzerland. It was more of a hostel complex than a hostel. Four or five quaint wooden buildings. The type of small, two-story buildings that you think of when you imagine houses in the Swiss Alps.

On one of our last days in Interlaken, we were sitting a table in the main reception and lounge building of the hostel. We happened to sit down with an American guy in his late twenties.

He was lanky and tall, maybe six foot two with dark brown hair and he was wearing a flannel shirt, the lumberjack/ hipster type. He was sitting at the same table, doing some work on a black IBM laptop, while Amanda and I scrolled through Facebook on our phones.

The three of us eventually started talking about life. Where we were from and what we did at home.

The conversation eventually turned to the work that he did. He was a web developer. He worked remotely as a freelancer. For the last week or so he had been working from Interlaken.

Cause and Effect

I started to get momentum in why life when I stopped thinking about why I was where I was. I started to learn about why I was failing at things. Why I couldn’t find my passions. Why I would start something new and then fail.

I started digging into my childhood. I began to understand the things I didn’t like about myself were not things that are inherent about who I was, but rather things that I had learned growing up.

Once I learned that these behaviors came from somewhere, there seemed to be less pressure about making them go away. I was able to accept them more. I was able to understand the behavior since I could see where it came from. And eventually, the things I didn’t like about myself started to go away.

Even today there are things that I am struggling with. I keep fighting them. Trying to resist and pretend it is not a problem. Eventually, I realize that the way out is by diving in. That I will only be able to change once I accept where I am at, and understand the causes of the things I want to change.

Have You Answered These Questions?

As we move through life we need to have a reason for why we are doing the things that we are doing. For me, I didn’t start answering any big questions until I was almost finished university. I hadn’t thought about the answers but, even though I didn’t have conscious answers I had answers. I absorbed answers from the situation that I grew up in.

It became painful to answer big questions because I had spent so much time not doing it. My whole life was not something I had chosen, but rather something that I had fallen into.

Have you answered these questions?

Enjoy Life More | Lose Yourself

I keep reminding myself that I shouldn’t take life so seriously. I shouldn’t end up feeling so stressed. I tell myself that in the long run, all of this little stuff I’m stressing about won’t matter, so I should feel relaxed. I should feel happy, but it doesn’t work.

I have these moments of clarity when everything seems to make sense. I notice that I feel happy, I notice that I feel alive. I have these positive emotions and in my mind, I continue to make note of how I’m feeling. I tell people, “I feel really happy right now” and I keep saying it in my head. I notice that I feel happy, and then I fell happy that I feel happy.

I get caught in a trap. I enjoy the effects of positively reinforcing emotions, so the habit is continually practiced. Then when I start to feel down, I try to stop this habit of judging my emotions. It doesn’t work, though. I’ve already practiced it too much.

I notice myself feeling stressed and I feel stressed about feeling stressed. I notice myself feeling sad and feel frustrated about feeling sad. Instead of just accepting how I feel at the start, I compound the feeling by trying to avoid it.

Then there is the second layer of the problem. The second reason that judging your emotions leads you to anxiety and depression.

When I am noticing that I am feeling happy, I am judging that emotion in comparison to the way I felt before. Happiness then isn’t a state like a speed reading on a speedometer. Happiness becomes the acceleration of my mood.

To notice myself feeling happy, I need to be judging my current state against a feeling of less happiness. Feeling’s don’t last for long, so you don’t have a long time frame to compare against. I end up comparing to how I felt in the hours or the days before. If I’ve been feeling decent the entire time, it is easy to trick myself into thinking that I’m not happy, even if I had been experiencing the same mental state.

My good moods get normalized. So when I start to feel less happy, I get frustrated, or sad, or just generally worried about it. By judging my emotions, I end up making myself miserable.

The trick to enjoying life more is to stop trying to enjoy life more. Stop judging the way I’m feeling all the time; worrying about if I am happy, or sad, or stressed. Enjoying life is not about noticing that you are happy; it is about getting lost. Getting past that part of your mind that wants to compare everything to everything else, and getting lost in the moment.

When you get lost in an activity or in learning a new skill, you aren’t judging the way you are feeling, you are just living. You get lost in your life, and you are experiencing what it is like to be alive.

About Time

I watched the movie About Time last night. If you haven’t seen it — you should — but it is about a 20 something who learns that he can travel back in time and relive moments of his own life. He can go back and change things that went wrong, that he didn’t like, or he can just choose to relive the moments of his life.

The movie covers about ten years of his life. Moving out of his family home, finding love, starting a family, and experiencing death of a loved one.

I originally came across the movie by fluke. Amanda and I were on a bus in Peru. Traveling from the desert oasis of Huacachina to Lima, the capital. This movie just happened to be playing. I fell in love with the message. Towards the end, I was sitting there on the bus crying. Touched by the father and son relationship. Feeling grateful to be alive.

There are some plot holes. Some questions that come up about the mechanics of the time travel. But, there is also a great message you can take from the movie. The message told through this story is to savor life. To be aware of the magic of living and to enjoy it, instead of getting wrapped up in the stressors that don’t actually matter when you consider the fact that you are going to die.

It shows death, not as something to fear, but as an excellent way to remember to experience life.