What is the meaning of life? You have probably heard this question before, perhaps you have even asked this question yourself. However there is an inherent problem with this question. It is very vague. This question could actually be asking a variety of things. Does life (at the cosmic scale) have a purpose? Does my life have a purpose? Are we here for a reason? For what reason am I living?
There are a variety of ways you can answer these questions. From my perspective, there is no overall grand purpose to life. There is no objective meaning that we can find. Life and the universe just happened randomly, with no overarching purpose or goal. If you are of a religious orientation, you probably disagree with me on this point. You would be inclined to think that God has given humans a purpose and meaning to their lives. However, for those of us that do not attribute the creation of the universe to a deity or cosmic energy, the seeming meaninglessness of life is something that we must grapple with.
This is an idea that makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable. That life just kind of happened, and there is no overall meaning to it. No guiding hand of providence. Humans are very good at recognizing patterns. Sometimes, we even fool ourselves into thinking that we see patterns when there actually are none. How many times have you seen a “sign” that helped you make a decision, or reflected back on the past and said, “oh, that must have been a sign of things to come”. It is very difficult for us to escape this story making mentality. This is how I personally view most religious attempts to answer this question.
The struggle in dealing with the meaningless of existence is encapsulated in the views of Absurdism, Existentialism, and Nihilism. These views, all to some degree, state that life has no objective meaning, but humans will forever look for meaning in a meaningless existence. We are all Sisyphus, forever pushing a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down again.
This is the Absurd that we rebel against in Absurdism. This is the freedom that liberates us in Nihilism. This is the blank canvas that we can use to craft our own meaning in Existentialism.
As the philosopher Jean Paul Satre famously said, we are “condemned to freedom”. Having some freedom with some choices is nice, but having too many choices available can be a nightmare.
I am inclined to agree with the Existentialists here. Perhaps the Existential Nihilists to be specific? I too think that there is no objective meaning to life. In the first place we assign meaning to things, not the other way around.
Take a look at this sign. What does it mean?
It means, ‘be careful of deer crossing the street in this area’. Why does it mean this? It means this because we have assigned this meaning to the sign and agreed upon it. Even these tiny little letters combined in a specific sequence on your screen that you are reading right now mean something to you. But they only mean something because we have assigned a meaning to them. The meaning did not magically exist beforehand. We assign meaning to things, not the other way around.
Existence precedes essence.
– Jean Paul Satre
Because we as humans assign meaning, we can craft our own individual meaning of life. Nobody is going to simply hand over the meaning of your life to you on a silver platter. It is something that you must search for and create yourself. How do we create our own meaning in life? I am not sure, I am still working on that myself…
I was fortunate enough to attend STOICON this year, so I decided to do a write up about my thoughts and experiences from the event.
Being a native New Yorker who currently lives in Brooklyn, it was pretty easy for me to hop on the subway and head down to where STOICON was being held, at the Houston Street Center in Lower Manhattan between Little Italy and East Village.
I had never been to the Houston Street Center before, the best way I can describe the center is that it almost feels like a YMCA. It has a large gym for basketball, a workout room with exercise equipment, and a few small classrooms scattered throughout the building.
Upon arriving at around 8:30am I was prompted by the organizers to find my name tag from those alphabetically sorted on a table. I was then told to insert my name tag into a plastic pouch, and was provided with an untied shoelace. Combine all three of these things together and you get yourself a lanyard!
This process seemed a little strange to me as I have been to my fair share of conventions before, such as PAX East and NYCC, where they tend to go all out with the lanyards and badges. I am sure doing it this way allowed the organizes to save money on materials, and provided an interesting exercise in knot tying for the attendees.
They had also printed out a very nice convention guide booklet which contained a schedule of the days activities along with mini bios of all the speakers. In addition it contained a page of Greek terms that might come up during the conference, as well a list of basic Stoic resources, on the web and elsewhere, that would be helpful for people who are new to Stoicism.
I was surprised that as I entered the convention, nobody checked my ticket. My guess here is that the organizers believed that anybody interested enough to attend a conference about Stoicism, where people would be talking about morality and virtue, would not be so immoral as to attempt to sneak in without paying, or steal somebody else’s name tag.
The convention itself was setup inside a large basketball court, with a podium up front, a projector, and seats laid out throughout the court floor. Massimo Pigliucci came up first to do a quick welcome and introduction, mentioning that there were about 330 attendees at the conference that day, ostensibly being the largest gathering of Stoics in all of history, an amusing fact to ponder.
From the beginning it seemed as if the Stoic gods, if there are any, were testing us. There were constant issues with the microphones and sound, making it difficult to hear many of the speakers at times throughout the conference. It was also very difficult to see many of the presentation slides due to the lighting in the room. I do think however, that everyone got through these issues fairly well, without anybody losing their cool. Stoicism at work!
There were three speakers arranged to talk in the initial morning session, from 9am – 10:30am consisting of Donald Robertson, Julia Annas, and Bill Irvine. I found all of the speakers in this session to be interesting and engaging, as each approached Stoic philosophy from different perspectives.
Donald Robertson talked about Stoic Mindfulness and how it relates to many of the techniques practiced in CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy).
Julia Annas approached the Stoic philosophy more directly, taking about how the Stoics viewed virtue and vice along with their ideal sage. She tackled the rather off-putting concept of how the Stoic philosophers say there are no degrees of virtue, you either wholly virtuous or wholly vicious, and explained why the Stoic philosophers thought of it that way. I found this talk helpful in resolving some of the common “Stoic Paradoxes” that come up as you dig deeper into the philosophy.
William Irvine talked about using Stoic techniques, and applying them so that you could become an “insult pacifist”, basically somebody who is unperturbed by insults. He mentioned some of his own personal stories where he had been able to apply these ideas to his own life, and also mentioned stories where he had failed to live up to those standards. William’s speech was probably taken the most well received by the audience out of first few presentations due to the humor and personal perspective he provided.
After the first three speakers had finished, we took a quick 15 minute break to get up, stretch, and walk around. During the break I noticed Matt Van Natta, author of the Immoderate Stoic blog as well as the Good Fortune podcast. I had listened to his podcast before, so it was cool to see him there. I was able to talk to him for a little while during the break time.
Convention Morning Part 2
After the break, we had another series of speakers setup to talk from 10:45am – 1pm. The speakers included Lawrence Becker, Debbie Joffe Ellis, Chris Gill, Cinzia Arruzza, and Jules Evans.
Lawrence Becker was unable to attend in person, so instead a Skype call was setup so that he could address everyone at the convention. As you might expect, there were issues initiating the Skype call, glitches with the audio skipping at times, and they were unable to get the video to work until about half way through the talk. It is difficult to pin down exactly what Lawrence talked about, as he bounced around from topic to topic, mentioning how Stoic philosophy is really an evolving philosophy, giving examples of Stoic philosophers, such as Posidonius, who took the philosophy in different directions at times.
Debbie Joffe Ellis talked about her late husband, Albert Ellis, and how he used many ideas from the Stoic toolkit to develop REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy) which helped many people throughout his career. She also mentioned how he lived as a good example of how you should live, as he always sought to help others throughout his life even into his 90s while he was ill.
Christopher Gill talked about whether Stoicism conflicted with political activism in any way, with the conclusion being that Stocism actually encourages political activism instead of passivity which it is commonly misconstrued as suggesting. His speech felt very much like a good old fashioned college lecture, which makes sense since he is indeed a Philosophy Professor.
Cinzia Arruza talked about using enabling us to use Stoicism to take better care of ourselves, along with Stoic exercises in relationship to French Philosopher Michel Foucault. This lecture went beyond me at times, digging deep into Foucault, who I was not really familiar with. There were some helpful insights at times about inspecting your impressions, trying to evaluate your issues from different perspective (such as a cosmological perspective) and that often we much change ourselves internally before we can change the external world.
Jules Evans was probably the most lively of all the speakers, encouraging everyone to stand up, stretch, high five the person next to them, along with other shenanigans. Jules talked primarily about his own life experiences, how throughout and after college he ran into a lot of anxiety issues, discovered CBT which helped him to mitigate his anxiety issues quite a bit, and went on to discover how the root of CBT came from ancient Stoic philosophy.
We were then dismissed from around 1:00pm to 2:30pm to go off and find lunch. I had scoped out some nearby pizza places before and ended up trying to get some food at Prince Street Pizza. Their spicy pepperoni squares were highly recommended so I decided to try that. They did not have any available when I showed up, but they gave me a waiting ticket (#5) and said that more should be ready in 10 minutes. I had some time to kill anyways so I figured it would be fine to wait.
About 10 minutes passed and a pepperoni pie finally came out. However, it was only enough to serve # 1 – 3 who arrived there before me. Apparently I would have to wait a little longer. It was now 1:55pm and I had been waiting for Pizza for at least 35 minutes. I decided that in-order to get back to the conference in time for the 2:30pm workshops, I might as well hand in my #5 ticket, forego the pepperoni pizza, and get something else. I ordered two slices of margherita pizza instead. After I had received and paid for my two slices I saw them pulling two pies of pepperoni pizza out of the oven. Again, it seemed as if the Stoic gods, if there are any, were testing me, or at least they had a sense of humor. I basically went “oh well” and continued on with my margherita pizza, which was rather good anyways.
There were 6 potential workshops to choose from that would last from 2:30pm – 4pm, and you had to sign up in advance to indicate which workshop you wanted to attend. I decided to attend Tim LeBon’s workshop titled “Trump for President? A Stoic response”.
The first great test of the workshop was finding it…I was able to find all the other workshops in the building but could not seem to find the specific one I wanted to attend. After wandering around for a few minutes I eventually bumped into Time LeBon, who also was confused and looking for the workshop room. Eventually we found a staff member who was able to direct us the workshop room, which ended up being on a different floor in a back room.
The room was pretty small, having enough space for about 16 charis. There were around 12 people in total attending Tim’s workshop. The patience of this group of Stoics was again tested, as there were many difficulties setting up the presentation. Tim had brought his own laptop with an HDMI cable, however the projectors they had only took VHS. The staff then brought in another laptop that had a VHS port, but Tim could not load his presentation on to the laptop, as it would not recognize his flash drive. Three different laptops and two flash drives later, we could still not get the presentation setup properly.
Eventually Tim realized that he had his presentation on his website, and was able to download it onto one of the working laptops. Unfortunately he only had it in pdf format, not power point, which made it a little awkward to present. Did I also mention that the projector was crooked the whole time? It was almost like being in an absurdist play where everything goes wrong. However, we did get through it and went on with Tim’s presentation.
To quickly summarize Tim’s presentation, we essentially did a bunch of negative visualization training. First we imagined what it might be like if Trump became President, imagined what moods and emotions we might feel at the time, as well as what we would feel like doing. Some emotions that people listed out were disappointment, fearfulness, and depression, along with taking actions such as hiding in your room under your bed to escape reality.
We then moved on to examine how a Stoic might react to the situation, taking into account what we could or could not change at that moment, and how we might use the Stoic virtues in ways that would be helpful. We could not change the fact that Trump was president, but we could change our reactions along with our actions. We could use the virtue of temperance to make sure that we do not go on an angry tirade, the virtue of courage to take action against decisions we disagree with, and practical wisdom to determine what actions we might take to lessen any potential damages that might occur due to a Trump presidency.
The idea here was that, if we visualize how we might react to the situation, and rehearse how we should behave after we have those reactions, we would be better equipped to deal with the situation if it did occur. Obviously these techniques can be used for any potentially upsetting situation, which was the main point of this workshop. You need not let your initial impressions dictate your reactions.
After all the workshops were over, we all headed back to the gymnasium for the Keynote speech, which lasted from around 4:15pm to 5:15pm. The speaker this time was Ryan Holiday, who is probably one of the more well know speakers, since he has written a handful of books on various topics ranging from social media manipulation to overcoming obstacles in your life.
He told us how he personally encountered Stoicism back in college, by reading a copy of Marcus Aurelieus’s Meditations. After regaling us with a variety of Stoic quotes from Marcus, Seneca, and Epictetus he elaborated on his belief that Stoicism really is a philosophy for the common person, and the we should push it into the mainstream as much as possible, so that others may also benefit from it as we have.
He then talked about his new book The Daily Stoic which contains quotes from many of the great Stoic philosophers with detailed comments on each quote, the idea here being that every day you would read one page from the book and focus on that Stoic principle for the day. Ryan was also kind enough to give everyone at the conference a free copy of his new book, which was a nice surprise.
And thus ended my long day at STOICON.
If you are interesting in hearing what the speakers had to say for yourself, most of STOICON was live streamed and put on YouTube to watch here and here. The audio is not great at times, but I am sure you can use many of the techniques mentioned in this post to help you deal with it. You can also read more about what happened at STOICON on Massimo’s blog here.
In the end I would consider STOICON to have been a successful event. It was great to see the various perspectives that people approached Stoicism with, learn more about the Stoic philosophy as a whole, and to see the philosophy at work in action.
The philosophical debate on whether or not humans have free will has been going on for thousands of years. In this blog post I do not intend to settle the debate once and for all. People much smarter than me have already tried. Here I will simply expound upon my own personal thoughts behind the concepts of causality, determinism, and free will.
First I think we need to define a couple of terms to get started.
Causality is the basic idea that all events have causes. When every event is caused completely by prior events and their causes, it leads to the idea of determinism. A causal chain links all events to earlier events in a limitless sequence.
Determinism is the idea that everything that happens, including all human actions, are completely determined by prior events. There is only one possible future, and it is completely predictable in principle, most famously by Laplace’s Supreme Intelligent Demon, assuming perfect knowledge of the positions, velocities, and forces for all the atoms in the void.
Indeterminism is the idea that some events are uncaused, specifically that they are random accidents with only probabilistic outcomes.
Libertarianism is a school of thought that says humans are free, not only from physical determinism, but from all the other diverse forms of determinism. Libertarians believe that strict determinism and freedom are incompatible. Most libertarians in the past have been mind/body dualists who, following René Descartes, explained human freedom by a separate mind substance that somehow manages to act indeterministically in the physical world. Religious libertarians say that God has given man a gift of freedom.
Free Will is sometimes called Freedom of Action. Libertarian Free Will includes the availability of alternative possibilities and the ability to have done otherwise. How you define this term is tricky, as there can be various interpretations of the term, and depending on these interpretations, you may end up confirming or denying free will.
Thoughts on Determinism
Lets take a look at determinism first. Do I think that determinism is true? Well, no. At least, not in the sense of pre-determinism, the idea that the entire past (as well as the future) was determined at the origin of the universe.
I think that there is potentially such a thing as self-caused events, or at the very least, a probabilistically caused event. Why do I think this? Well essentially, it is based off my interpretation of quantum mechanics. Based on our modern conception of physics, the Laws of Nature are not deterministic. They are probabilistic due to the underlying quantum mechanics that has replaced classical mechanics as the proper description of the universe’s fundamental particles. Probability is the explanation for alternative possibilities and unpredictable uncaused causes.
I believe that adequate determinism it the most apt way to describe our universe. This is the idea that macroscopic objects are adequately determined in their motions, giving rise to the appearance of strict causal determinism. Where as microscopic objects show the probabilistic consequences of indeterminism, due to quantum mechanics. These probabilistic effects usually average out in large objects, leading to the illusion of strict causal physical determinism, the powerful idea of deterministic laws of nature.
Essentially I think that ontological randomness (true randomness) does indeed exist, at the very least, on the microscopic or quantum level.
Even if you deny the idea quantum mechanics implies ontological randomness, I have a simpler, albeit more naive argument for you. Take a look at the chains of causality. If you follow the chain of causality all the way back to the beginning you need to ask yourself the question, well what caused that beginning? What created the first link in the chain? What is the primary cause?
Really, for me, the only thing that makes sense here is that we have an uncaused cause or a self-causing cause. If you really wanted to, you could say that this self-causing cause is God. This is the idea behind Artistotle’s “prime mover” or “unmoved mover”. I take this a step further and say, why stop at one prime mover? Why can there not be more than one? Why limit it to the very beginning of the causal chain? We could have uncaused causes filtered throughout chains of causality. This would then lead back to the idea of ontological randomness.
The universe is adequately determined, essentially meaning that there are both factors of determinism and indeterminism at play here.
Thoughts on Free Will
So how does the idea of adequate determinism fit in with the idea of free will? Well this really depends on how we define free will. You can define it as the ability to have done otherwise. Meaning that if you reset reality back to the exact state it was 5 minutes ago, before you made the decision to choose between vanilla and chocolate ice cream, you could actually make a different choice here.
A hard determinist would say that no matter how many times you rewind the clock, you will always make the same choice. You will always choose chocolate. Due to adequate determinism I say that, if you do rewind the clock, there will be some times that you choose chocolate and other times that you choose vanilla. To most people this change in choice is simply random, and not actually a case of free will. If I just randomly choose one flavor over another, it cannot be said that my choice here is really free. Technically though, I would say that this fulfills the requirement of ‘being able to do otherwise’.
Think that the criticism of the ice cream example, saying ‘that isn’t really free’, is a valid criticism based on that specific idea of free will. However I do not think that this idea of free will gets us anywhere, as it does not actually exist in any real sense. We have a much more plausible idea of free will that we use on a day to day basis. When you go to sign a legal contract, and the witness asks you, “are you signing this contract of your own free will?”, and you say “yes”, this is essentially what we mean by free will, that you are free from outside coercion.
More specifically I would define free will as essentially being reasons responsive. What does this mean? Reasons-Responsiveness describes an agent who has the kind of control needed to initiate or originate an action. Being “reasons-responsive” and taking ownership of the action means the agent can say the action was “up to me.”
To put it a little more simply, you could say it literally means that you are response to other reasons. For example, lets pretend that you plan to go on a bike ride outside to exercise. Your reasons for this is that riding your bike will help you burn calories and become healthier. You then hear on the news that there is going to be a heavy thunderstorm outside in 15 minutes. Due to this, you decide to not go on your bike ride, and instead stay inside. In this case you were responsive to other reasons as to whether you should ride your bike or not. Therefore it can be said in this case that you exercised your free will.
Lets take the same case but modify it a bit. Pretend that you now have a diabolical fitness instructor that has brainwashed you into thinking that you must always ride your bike outside no matter what. Even though you hear on the news that there is going to be a heavy thunderstorm outside in 15 minutes, you will still go outside and ride your bike regardless. In this case, you were not response to other reasons, and it cannot be said that you exercised your free will.
Some people might think of this idea of free will as a type of cop out, but for me, this is the only concept of free will that really makes sense, and it useful to us as humans. This concept of free will is common to those who embrace compatibilism. Compatibilism essentially argues that determinism is compatible with human freedom. This allows us to take responsibility for our actions, including credit for the good and blame for the bad.
My full view on the matter is more accurately described as that of comprehensive compatibilism. You can read a whole lot more about comprehensive compatibilism in this PDF on page 385. The following is a simplified definition:
Comprehensive compatibilism is the belief that free will can be reconciled both with adequate determinism and with indeterminism. Free will is not a metaphysical mystery or gift of God. It evolved from a natural biophysical property of all organisms. Comprehensive compatibilists believe that normally actions are adequately determined by deliberations prior to a decision, including one’s character and values, one’s feelings and desires, in short, one’s reasons and motives. They believe that free will is reasons responsive. Comprehensive compatibilists put limits on both determinism and indeterminism. Pure chance, irreducible randomness, or quantum indeterminacy in the two-stage model of free will is limited in the first stage to generating alternative possibilities. But also note that sometimes we can “deliberately” choose to act randomly, when there is no obvious reason to do one thing rather than another. Comprehensive compatibilists believe that humans are free from strict physical determinism, or pre-determinism, and all the other diverse forms of determinism. They accept the existence of ontological chance, but believe that when chance is the direct and primary cause of actions, it precludes agent control and moral responsibility.
Essentially, it is a complex two stage model of free will. In the first stage, ontological randomness is able to generate additional possibilities. This can be simply expressed as additional thoughts popping into your head, or changes in your memories as you try to recall them in-order to make a decision. Ontological randomness also ends up being a core component of creativity in the human mind. Then in the second stage, we use our adequately determined will to choose from these potential possibilities, or potential reasons. This in the end, give us free will.
I hope you think that I have made a somewhat compelling case for comprehensive compatibilism. It has taken me much time, deliberation, research, and existential panic to decide that this conclusion makes sense to me.
I would also like to point out that the majority of modern day philosophers consider themselves to be compatibilists, and that indeed the ancient Stoic philosophers were some of the earliest proponents of compatibilism.
I tried to keep the ideas in this post as simple as possible so that they might be accessible to people who are not as familiar with the free will debate. It is possible that in the process of keeping things simple, I have done a disservice to the complexity of certain ideas and viewpoints. Again I implore you to look into these ideas yourself, and see what conclusions you reach.
I have been re-considering a lot of my long held beliefs recently, and the idea of man made climate change appears to be next on on my list of beliefs that are in need of re-evaluation.
For a while I have held the belief that man made climate change is a real problem, and that we have to do something about it. Why did I hold this belief? Well, like many others I am sure, that simply seemed to be the consensus among the majority of people that I knew, along with what I was hearing from the media.
It also seemed to me that most people in my generation had the same opinion. Apparently that is true, 76% of the people in my generation believe that climate change is indeed a serious problem. You can read about the survey with this data here and here.
However, believing in something simply because the majority of the people you know also believe it, isn’t really the best way to go about things. I need more of a foundation for beliefs in matters such as this.
So I went off looking for some information on climate change. But where should I look for this info? Who should I trust? Well since I am an American citizen, one of the first organizations that popped into my mind was NASA. There are a bunch of scientists there, they have launched rockets into outer space, put people on the moon, they seem to know what they are doing, so lets take a look and see what they have to say.
Ok, so it looks like they have a whole page of evidence supporting climate change along with a page saying that the scientific consensus is in favor of man made climate change. On the page, NASA also mentions that 97% of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.
The 97% Consenses
This figure of 97% has been the rallying cry of many liberals, but it has also been largely questioned by conservatives. For example articles from the WSJ,Forbes, and the National Review question this figure. In general though, I have found much more recent support in favor of the 97% figure in general. The most recent study, done in 2016, seems to confirm this figure. You can read more about the scientific consensus on Politifact, FactCheck, and Wikipedia.
It is interesting to see that The Guardian posted an article in 2013 saying that the 97% figure appeared to be false, but they seem to have changed their position recently (or perhaps it is just the fact that the articles were written by two different journalists).
After looking into it this much, I am more inclined to agree with the 97% figure, but would say it really closer to a range of 90% – 97%. That is still a rather large majority of scientists though.
I have seen some people go so far as to say that, even though the majority of climate change scientists say that climate change is likely due to human actions, there is no guarantee that they are correct, that scientists as a whole have been wrong in the past about a lot of things, and they could be wrong this time.
This statement is technically correct. It is within the realm of possibility that the majority of scientists are mistaken. However, this is a very flawed argument for not believing in climate change. We should not believe people simple because there is a chance they are incorrect? What? Since when do we have 100% knowledge about anything? We could all just be brains floating around in a vat, attached to computers that simulate reality.
All we can really do is take the evidence that we have, figure out what is most probable, and continue forwards. If 90%+ of climate change scientists (experts) say that climate change over the past century is very likely due to human activities, I am going to have to side with them until proven otherwise.
While browsing around the Internet and NASA’s pages, I found that NASA was citing a lot of material from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). I didn’t really know who they were so I looked them up. You can read about the IPCC on their website here. To take an excerpt from their page the IPCC is:
The international body for assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.
Those are some hefty credentials. To summarize once again the IPCC:
Was formed by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme.
Was formed back in 1988.
Was created to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change.
Ok, these people are supposed to inform world leaders and governments about climate change, surely they can inform me. What do they have to say?
Well the IPCC gives a report about climate change every few years. What do the reports have to say? You can read a summary of their latest report here, which essentially says the following:
Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. It is extremely likely (95-100% probability) that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
I don’t know about you, but that seems like a fairly definitive answer to me.
How to Refute?
Even with all of this information that seems to be in favor of climate change, it is still possible to refute the claim. How would you do this? You would need to do the following.
Prove that NASA is wrong, misinformed, or manipulating information.
Prove that there is no majority consensus among climate scientists.
Prove that the IPCC is wrong, misinformed, or manipulating information.
Well fancy that, the Daily Wire just wrote up an article that supposedly does all of that and more as of yesterday!
Personally, I believe there is more evidence to disprove refutation #2, as it appears to me that there actually is a scientific consensus in favor of man made climate change.
What about refutation #1? NASA?
Well, there have been some articles floating around saying that NASA has been fudging their temperature data to invoke a false man made climate warming narrative. You can read articles criticizing NASA on fudging their temperature data on The Washington Times and Fox News.
This however seems to not actually be the case, if you believe what is said by FactCheck and PolitiFact. This would indicate to me that the claims that NASA and other organizations are explicitly trying to manipulate temperature data is on the whole false.
What about refutation #3? The IPCC?
Well it seems like there was an email scandal with regards to the IPCC dubbed ‘Climate-gate’ where the IPCC had their emails hacked into and exposed. The contents of those emails seemed to indicate that scientists manipulated climate data and attempted to suppress critics. You can read about criticisms of the scandal on the Washington Post and the WSJ.
People were pretty upset by this scandal, and so were a lot of governments. In the end there were eight major investigations made into the scandal, and none of them found any wrongdoing. You can read more about the scientists being cleared of suspicion via articles at the NYT, BBC, FactCheck, and Nature. There is also Wikipedia which has a nice breakdown and summary of the entire event.
All of the evidence and sources that I have been able to find would seem to indicate that it is extremely likely that humans are the dominant cause climate change. This would mean that we need to make some changes to avoid environmental issues in the future.
I certainly don’t know everything, or even very much for that matter. But based on what I have learned here, I believe that this is a reasonable conclusion. What do you think? Is this a reasonable conclusion? Did I miss anything? Make some mistakes? If you find new evidence or better information, let me know!
If anyone can refute me-show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective-I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.
It is easy to become disillusioned with our appearances due to the constant barrage of media, advertising, and commercials that show us what “beautiful people” are supposed to look like.
Being exposed to this constantly can skew our view of reality. Due to this, we may become dissatisfied with our own looks, simply because we do not appear the way that the media, or perhaps even society, tells us to.
If you want to reset this depressed image that you have of yourself, go hang out at Penn Station in NYC, or any other public area that gets heavy foot traffic. Step to the side, and just watch people walk by for about 30 minutes. I have done this myself while waiting for trains to arrive, and you will quickly come to realize, that pretty much all of us look fairly funky in some way.
The world is not made up of movie stars and models who look good 24/7 (primarily because they have a team of people who’s job it is to make sure they look that way). The world is made up of common, everyday people, who dare I say, look a little strange. But the oddities of others can often be very charming in their own ways.
I am not saying that you should not care about the way you look at all. The way you dress, your appearances, do communicate a message about yourself to others. If you are wearing a t-shirt with your favorite video game character on it, you are saying to the world, “Hey everyone, I really like this video game!”, or if you are wearing shorts, flip flops, and sunglasses, you are saying “I am casual, relaxed, and ready to have some summer fun.”
Your appearances aren’t simply about “looking good”, if that was the case, we would be wearing fancy clothes such as tuxedos and ornate dresses all the time.
However, when you are choosing what to wear, you should keep this little idea in the back of your mind, “What I am trying to communicate to everyone today?”
Most people are probably familiar with the idea of Utilitarianism. I have recently started to read about various moral theories, and I wanted to write down some of my thoughts about Utilitarianism in particular. You can read more about Utilitarianism here on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy and decide for yourself. What follows is a simplified definition of Utilitarianism.
A moral theory with the core belief that the purpose of morality is to make life better by increasing the amount of good things (such as pleasure and happiness) in the world and decreasing the amount of bad things (such as pain and unhappiness).
The theory is based on consequentialism, meaning that an action is considered to be morally right or wrong depending solely on the effects of the action.
There are two distinct forms of Utilitarianism, there is Act Utilitarianism, and Rule Utilitarianism. An Act Utilitarian, takes the core ideas of Utilitarianism, and applies them directly to individual actions. This means that for an Act Utilitarian, an action is morally correct if it creates the most overall well-being (utility) compared to other potential actions. The Rule Utilitarian, instead, tries to create general rules that, when followed by everyone in society, create the largest amount of overall utility.
It might surprise you to learn that, for the most part, I reject Utilitarianism as a valid moral theory in both of these forms. I will now try to explain why.
Feeding People to the Lions
Lets say that we have a society, that contains some racial minority group. They make up 10% of the population. This minority group is frequently rounded up by the majority, thrown into a coliseum, and fed to hungry lions for their entertainment. In addition, the majority group in this society feels immense pleasure when they see somebody in the minority group being eaten by the lions. They also feel no remorse for the people being killed, for them this activity is no different than going to the movies to watch an entertaining summer blockbuster.
If we follow the core ideas of Utilitarianism here, they would say that this is situation is morally correct. The suffering of the minority group pales in comparison to the amount of pleasure and happiness that the majority receives.
Now at this point, some Utilitarians might object to this scenario, saying that these action do not in-fact benefit the society in the long run, as the majority will become desensitized to violence, leading them to commit atrocities against each other, decreasing overall happiness, or that the minority at some point could revolt, start a war, and again, decrease overall utility.
Sure, that is possible and a potentially a realistic scenario, but lets say the the Government in this imaginary society has strict laws and programs in place, to the effect that such events would never unfold. The imaginary society can exist this way forever without any threat of collapse from within or without. In this situation, is it morally correct for them to continue to persecute this minority, simply because it produces the greatest amount of pleasure and utility? Most of us would say no, this is not correct, a society should not function this way.
That example was a little extreme, let us try a simpler example. Imagine that there is a runaway trolley, barreling towards 4 people who are stuck on the track. You and another bystander, are observing the potential disaster from a bridge, overlooking the track that the train will pass through. They bystander is a rather large individual, and if you push him off the bridge, he will be hit by the trolley first, get caught between the trolley and the tracks, and stop it from running over the 4 other people, at the expense of the bystander’s life. You just saved 4 lives at the cost of one, was this the morally correct action?
Most people again, would say no here. The Utilitarian could say that, this action would not increase overall utility, because if it became the norm, then people would frequently fear for their lives when they are nearby strangers and runaway trolleys, decreasing overall happiness. Again, if we put ourselves in the idealized scenario where this decrease in utility does not occur, most people will agree that the of pushing the bystander off the bridge is not a morally correct action.
The main issue with the above examples, is that Utilitarianism completely ignores an individual’s right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, as we would say in the United States. Utilitarian does not care about individual rights at all. It only cares about the benefit to society as a whole, at the expense of the individual. In a pure Utilitarian framework, you have a right to nothing.
Now imagine that you have a co-worker, Bob, and he has really been getting on your nerves lately. He works very hard, and takes all the promotions and raises that you feel belong to you, even though you have not worked nearly as hard or as competently as Bob. You finally snap in a fit of jealousy at Bob and decide to kill him by pushing him off the top of your office building.
The next day, it is discovered that Bob had plans the blow up the entire office building with everyone in it, essentially killing thousands of people. Was it morally correct for you to kill Bob, even though you had no clue about his plans? Are you a hero now?
Again most people are going to say no here. You had no clue about Bob’s plans, it was completely accidental that you ended up killing him before he could enact his plans. As far as you are concerned, it didn’t matter what he was going to do the next day, you just wanted him dead.
Utilitarianism does not care about your intent at all. If you accidentally end up increasing the overall utility for society out of malice or greed, great! Keep up the good work! In the same vein, if you accidentally ended up injuring your child, you are just as guilty as a potential criminal who would injure your child out of a sense of maliciousness. The only factor that matters, is the consequence of your action. Your intent does not factor into the equation.
Utilitarianism also asks, that you make predictions about the future. Since your intent to do good does not matter, and only the consequences of your action matter, you better hope that you are real good at predicting which actions will produce the greatest amount of utility for everyone.
I don’t know if you noticed, but it is really difficult to predict the future. I cannot even predict at what time I will wake up the next morning, let alone predict the consequences of my actions. I am not saying here that we should not try to predict the consequences of our actions at all. I am saying however, the it is inherently difficult to do such a thing, as often, the final results of our actions are out of our hands. We can try our best with the information that we have, but due to circumstances outside of our control, we may fail, or we may end up hurting people more than helping him, even though that was not our intent.
Determining whether an action will produce greater overall utility is also a very subjective matter. It could be that right now, the action you took produced greater utility, but in the long run, it will produce greater overall suffering. The reverse is also true. Utilitarians themselves also often disagree about whether certain actions would indeed increase overall utility or not.
This is mainly true for act utilitarianism, but what about rule utilitarianism? I think that rule utilitarianism is essentially not much different than act utilitarianism, and that in the end, it crumbles back into the very subjective act utilitarianism. You could have a rule saying, always do x except when x does not provide maximum overall utility. To determine when x does not provide maximum overall utility however, you have to fall back on act utilitarianism. In the end, the two are not very different at all.
To summarize, my issues with Utilitarianism are as follows:
It does not respect an individuals rights.
It can easily be used to oppress minorities.
It is only concerned with the result of an action, not the intent of an action.
It asks you to predict the future, which is inherently difficult, and often, out of our full control.
There is subjective disagreement over whether certain actions do indeed provide maximum utility or not, even among Utilitarians.
If you do consider yourself to be a Utilitarian, you could take the stance that feeding minorities to the Lions, and pushing people off bridges into runaway trolleys is the correct moral action, and that our common sense morality is simply misguided, that we are just being squeamish, and cannot face up to the reality of what the situation demands.
I disagree, I think that there are more competent moral theories out there that can free us from many of the problems that Utilitarianism has. However, I will save those ideas, for another time.
I would like to remind the political right, that making fun of someone who is physically ill, is one of the scummiest things you can do.
And I would like to remind the political left, that making fun of how somebody looks, is one of the many intolerances that you have been fighting against this whole time.
Please try to think with just a little more compassion, before you like some random meme style image on Facebook.
The vast majority of Americans, on both sides of the political spectrum, are genuinely pushing for what they believe to be right. They do however, have different perspectives on what this may mean, and how it is best accomplished.
I believe that this is true for the majority of our Politicians as well. However, it can be very easy for them to get lost in the means of winning, and forget for what end they decided to pursue these ideals in the first place.
Please remember that we are not enemies of each other, but fellow citizens, and fellow human beings. Thanks.
The above is from a post that I made on Facebook just yesterday. I was scrolling through my feed and saw that some of my Facebook friends had liked various meme style images and cartoons that made fun of Hillary Clinton, after a video of her nearly collapsing due to exhaustion from campaigning and fighting off pneumonia had surfaced on the Internet. Recently I had also seen people making fun of Donald Trump, saying fairly unkind things about the color of his skin and the authenticity of his hair.
I did not like what I was seeing on my Facebook feed related to politics at the time, with how both Democrats and Republicans seemed to be constantly at each others throats, making fun of and demeaning each other.
To be honest I lean more Democrat than Republican, however I am a registered independent, and I am currently in the process of re-evaluating my political beliefs to make sure that they are in line with everything else I claim to believe and stand for.
With the amount of information overload we receive from the media about politics, I think that it is easy for us to forget that we are all really on the same side here, and that we should not forget to care for each other as fellow humans first and foremost.
Whenever somebody says, “I am struggling in my attempts to be physically healthy”, most of us are more than happy to tell the person how they should exercise or what they should eat.
But when somebody says, “I am struggling in my attempts to be mentally healthy”, we fall silent. What does it even mean to be mentally healthy?
As we grow up, we are frequently taught that we should eat well, exercise often, and that we must look after our physical well-being, especially when we hurt ourselves or become ill. Very rarely are we taught what to do when our mental well-being is challenged in the same way.
What should I do when things don’t go my way? How should I react to and cope with disheartening news? How should I treat difficult obstacles in my path? You will have to answer these questions repeatedly throughout your entire life. We often stumble around, trying to figure out these answers for ourselves as we move forward.
The answers to these questions are far more important than the answers to “How can I gain more muscle?” or “How can I lose more weight?”. That is not to say that physical health is not important, it should simply take a back seat to our mental well-being.
We often have many answers on hand for the questions related to physical health, but very few answers prepared for our mental health, for our overall well-being.
Physical health has undergone an awareness explosion in the past few years. More and more people are focusing on how to eat and exercise properly. I feel that we also need an awareness explosion in the realm of mental health.
These are important questions that we need to ask ourselves, and find real answers to, if we are ever to truly understand how we can live well.
We need a philosophy of life to guide us, otherwise we risk losing our way.
The above is taken from a post that I made on Facebook a few months ago. During that time, I had been noticing a trend among my Facebook friends, that many of them were posting about physical fitness, and how it is very important to eat right and exercise.
At the time, I was looking into what it meant to be mentally healthy with a little help from The School of Life, and I wondered why we are often so quick to talk about physical health in a social settings, but very reluctant to talk about mental health.
The obvious answer is that it is much easier for us to gauge somebody’s overall physical health at a glance, as opposed to their mental health. I also think that modern day society has made it taboo to an extent, to talk about mental health. Talking about such things is often seen as a weaknesses.
Because we do not talk about these issues much, people often struggle in dealing with mental and emotional problems. They do not have strategies on hand that will tell them how to process these problems when they arise. We know of so many different strategies that can tell us how to lose fat and gain muscle, but we are often left wanting when mental issues arise.
Philosophy can help us with this problem. I have found that philosophy, specifically ancient Greek and Roman Stoicism, to be very helpful for me in this regard. We must share these ideas on how to handle these problems with each other and not be afraid to talk about these issues if we are to benefit from them, together.
Would you have known the most efficient way for you to strengthen your abs if nobody had told you how? Sure, you might have been able to figure it out on your own after some trial and error, but why not ask in the first place?
We can all learn from each other, why not share what we know?
Hey, so you found my blog! Great! Your first question is probably “What the heck is a Prokopton? Is that a new Pokemon or something?” Well…uh…no. It is not a new Pokemon, at least not yet? I think?
Prokopton – One who is making moral progress.
Prokopton is a word that was used by the ancient Greek Stoic Philosophers to describe an individual that has accepted the claim that ‘Virtue is the Sole Good’, and has decided to apply this to their daily life.
What did the Stoics mean by virtue? Well, when they said virtue what they really meant ‘excellence of character’. They thought that one who seeks to have an excellent character would intentionally act according to the virtues of courage, justice, wisdom, and temperance.
The prokopton seeks that all of his actions align with these virtues. However, one of the key aspect of being a prokopton is that his (or her) actions are not always perfect. He will sometimes become angry with others due to minor grievances. He may become bitter because things did not turn out exactly the way he wished. He may even wrong another for his own benefit at times.
But the prokopton tries to learn from each of these mistakes, and attempts in earnest to not repeat them. He makes it his goal to improve his behavior, his character, and he takes steps towards this goal every day. This is what a prokopton is, one who is making moral progress.
And then, because I’m not naturally gifted, shall I therefore abandon all effort to do my best? Heaven forbid. Epictetus won’t be better than Socrates; but even if I’m not too bad, that is good enough for me.
– Epictetus, Discourses 1.2.35
I think that we should all strive to be a prokopton in our daily lives, in the sense that we should all strive towards an ‘excellence of character’. Too often do we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of every day life. We need to take time to reflect on our actions, and check on ourselves to make sure that we are behaving in a way that is consistent with our morals and our beliefs.
We should also examine what we believe, and why we believe it. We often go through life, picking up unintentional baggage along the way, without realizing what exactly we have picked up, or why we even decided to pick it up in the first place.
Philosophy can help us to examine ourselves and our beliefs, as well as guide us on how we should live our lives.
The unexamined life is not worth living.
I will primarily be using this blog as a notebook for myself, but also as a sounding board for my own beliefs on what I think it might mean to live a good life, along with other Philosophical ideas. You may disagree with me at times, and that is ok. I am by no means an expert on any of this. Feel free to voice your opinion respectfully in the comments. We cannot discover the best way to live through introspection alone, a discourse with others, especially those of differing opinions, is often required for us to truly examine ourselves.
The topics I post on may jump around from time to time, but the goal of this blog, and Philosophy, is to explore what we believe, why we believe it, and how we can ask the right questions that will lead us on a journey towards a good life, whatever that may entail.