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Sat, 23 Mar 2019
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


How to stop being busy all the time - Do fewer things, better

Why you can't stop being busy
© Jocelyn K. Glei
Why you can't stop being busy
If you are reading this, it's likely because you are feeling overwhelmed. Like most of us.

We keep pushing our limits wanting to do more and more. But, in the end, we feel guilty for not accomplishing everything we wanted. No matter how hard we try, we are just stretching ourselves too thin.

Busyness is a tricky state of mind - it's like getting caught in quicksand. The more you try to escape, the more you get sucked down.

So, how can you rescue yourself?

Comment: The dis-ease of being busy

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The Truth Perspective: The Theory Of Positive Disintegration, Or How Not To Be An NPC

npc meme
Memes. They're modern poetry, aphorism, political cartoonery, social commentary, and idle hilarity all mixed in one. They are also dangerously dehumanizing, apparently. Because some people just can't take a joke. Twitter has banned thousands of joke accounts propagating the NPC meme. It was fun while it lasted. Technically, it's still fun, because you can kill a meme account, but you can't kill a meme. Even if you're very, very outraged. And the NPC meme has its targets literally shaking with outrage right now. How come? Because the NPC meme is such an accurate representation of what it means to be social justice warrior. And the mirror of truth is difficult to behold. Seeing yourself as you actually are is a terrifying thing. The SJWs are being shown to themselves in a mirror, clearly, and they do not like what they see. And their response is humorously predictable: the very behavior being lampooned in the memes they're so offended by.

Today on the Truth Perspective we'll be discussing the 2018 greatest meme, and the surprising psychology beneath it. Why do some people actually resemble NPCs? Why can't they see that they resemble NPCs? Why are they so outraged? And is it possible for an NPC to become 'playable', to grow an actual sense of individuality and authenticity? Dabrowski's theory of positive disintegration has the answers!

Running Time: 01:14:29

Download: MP3


The lost art of concentration: being distracted in a digital world

watching TV watching you
© Illustration: Andrea Ucini
Constant fragmentation of our time and concentration has become the new normal.

We check our phones every 12 minutes, often just after waking up. Always-on behaviour is harmful to long-term mental health, and we need to learn to the hit the pause button.

It is difficult to imagine life before our personal and professional worlds were so dominated and "switched on" via smartphones and the other devices that make us accessible and, crucially, so easily distractible and interruptible every second of the day. This constant fragmentation of our time and concentration has become the new normal, to which we have adapted with ease, but there is a downside: more and more experts are telling us that these interruptions and distractions have eroded our ability to concentrate.

We have known for a long time that repeated interruptions affect concentration. In 2005, research carried out by Dr Glenn Wilson at London's Institute of Psychiatry found that persistent interruptions and distractions at work had a profound effect. Those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ, twice that found in studies on the impact of smoking marijuana. More than half of the 1,100 participants said they always responded to an email immediately or as soon as possible, while 21% admitted they would interrupt a meeting to do so. Constant interruptions can have the same effect as the loss of a night's sleep.

Comment: Some good advice and exercises in the above piece. However, one wonders if anyone had the attention span to actually read it in its entirety!

See also:


On the value of the evolutionary psychology model

sunset siloette woman
An ability to hold our instincts up to the light, rather than naïvely accepting their products in our consciousness as just the way things are, is the first step in discounting them when they lead to harmful ends.
- Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature
Big ideas often rock the boat, but few have rocked it as thoroughly as the idea of evolution by natural selection. The notion that humans evolved from non-human ancestors, through the survival of some mutations at the expense of others, offends countless cherished ideologies. Natural selection insults the religious conviction that our existence is divinely sanctioned, disturbs the progressive belief that selfish competition is a modern aberration, and disorients the widespread desire to find purpose and morality in the natural world. Given these transgressions, it's no wonder that evolution has serious public relations issues.

Comment: The author above takes a hard-line on Darwinian evolution, discounting the possibility that there are other factors at play. It's not a strong argument if one is up-to-date on the latest genetic research and drops the materialist outlook. Nevertheless, evolutionary psychology is a useful model from which to view the human condition, as long as one keeps in mind its limitations.

See also:


David Hume and the reason why you're probably wrong about everything you know

David Hume philosophy

Portrait of David Hume by Allan Ramsey 1754
If you judged David Hume the man by his philosophy, you may judge him as disagreeable.

He was a Scottish philosopher who epitomized what it means to be skeptical - to doubt both authority and the self, to highlight flaws in the arguments of both others and your own.

By all measures, however, in spite of his fierce attacks on all forms of dogma and certainty, it appears that in his personal life, he was a kind and thoughtful and admirable character. If we follow the trail of words from those who knew him, almost all had wonderful things to say.

Hume managed to accomplish something rare with his philosophy: Not only was it a robust theoretical framework for making partial sense of reality, but it helped him live well, too.

People 2

'Becoming Homeless': Virtual reality experience found to boost empathy

virtual reality game
© L.A. Cicero
Fernanda Herrera, left, watches as a fellow student navigates through the VR experience that begins with an eviction notice.
A study that forced participants to experience what it's like to lose their home has offered strong evidence that virtual reality can pierce people's cloak of indifference much more effectively than traditional forms of media.

The study by Stanford University aimed to examine how relatively new VR technology affected people's level of empathy. The team conducted two two-month-long studies with more than 560 participants aged between 15 and 88, representing at least eight ethnic backgrounds.

When participants were engaged in their seven-minute 'Becoming Homeless' VR experience, in which they lost their jobs and homes, the study found that they had longer-lasting compassion compared to those who read about it or saw it on the news.

The VR experience led participants through several scenes, including selecting items to sell in their apartment in order to pay rent, finding shelter on a public bus, and protecting their belongings from being stolen by a stranger.


Deepities and the Politics of Pseudo-Profundity

anti-Trump rally London
The word deepity, coined by the philosopher Daniel Dennett, refers to a phrase that seems true and profound but is actually ambiguous and shallow. Not to be confused with lies, clichés, truisms, contradictions, metaphors, or aphorisms, deepities occupy a linguistic niche of their own. The distinguishing feature of a deepity is that it has two possible interpretations. On the first reading, a deepity is true but trivial. On the second, it's false but would be mind-blowing if it were true.

Consider, for instance, the phrase "love is just a word." On one reading, this is true but trivial. It's no deep insight that "love" - like "Ethiopia" or "subdermatoglyphic" or "word" - is just a word in the English language. But on a second reading, "love is just a word" asserts something mind-blowing if true: there is no emotion called "love," and everyone who thinks they've felt love is either lying or self-deceived. If true, this would change everything we thought we knew about our emotional lives. But it's plainly false. Whatever love is - an emotion, an illusion, a pattern of neuronal firings - it's not "just a word." By virtue of its ambiguity, the phrase "love is just a word" doesn't even achieve coherence, much less profundity.

The problem with deepities is not that they are arguments that initially seem convincing but collapse under scrutiny; it's that they aren't even arguments to begin with. Once you disambiguate a deepity - that is, once you notice it has two distinct meanings - you see that it contains no real argument at all, only an empty space where an argument should be. (Think of phrases like "love trumps hate" and "everything happens for a reason." Do they seem both true and important after you disambiguate them?)

Comment: See also:

Light Saber

Fundamental truths that could change your life

Thinking man
© Getty
It's surprising how easy it is to lose sight of the important things in life. Busy schedules and regular routines have a tendency to put the brain on autopilot.

When things aren't going quite the way you'd like them to, it's often because you've lost focus on what really matters. But focusing on life's fundamental truths can be difficult, especially when they remind you that you're heading in the wrong direction.

The best things in life don't come easily, and failing to observe yourself carefully is a sure path to mediocrity. I believe that Socrates said it best:
"The unexamined life isn't worth living."
Socrates' observation also applies to business. When Eric Schmidt was CEO of Google, he famously said, "We run this company on questions, not answers."

Life and business run on questions, not answers. You should be asking yourself regularly if you're headed in the right direction.

Many of life's essential truths need repeating. We need reminders that help us to stay focused on them. Keep these truths handy and they're sure to give you a much-needed boost.


Stoicism: An old approach for living a new life happily

What have the Romans ever done for us? Well, obviously the roads - the roads go without saying. How about guidance for how to live in the 21st century? That seems less likely, but in fact the last few years have seen a flurry of interest in the work of three Roman Stoic philosophers who offered just that. They were Seneca, tutor to the Emperor Nero; Epictetus, a former slave; and Marcus Aurelius, himself emperor.

Modern books drawing on their ideas and repackaged as guidance for how to live well today include A Guide to the Good Life by William Irvine, Stoicism and the Art of Happiness by Donald Robertson, The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, and How to Be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci. What all these books share is the conviction that people can benefit by going back and looking at the ideas of these Roman Stoics. There's even an annual week dedicated to Stoicism.

Stoicism holds that the key to a good, happy life is the cultivation of an excellent mental state, which the Stoics identified with virtue and being rational. The ideal life is one that is in harmony with Nature, of which we are all part, and an attitude of calm indifference towards external events. It began in Greece, and was founded around 300BC by Zeno, who used teach at the site of the Painted Stoa in Athens, hence the name Stoicism. The works of the early Stoics are for the most part lost, so it is the Roman Stoics who have been most influential over the centuries, and continue to be today.


On biology, brains, and human suffering

Once upon a time, the first microorganisms appeared in our planet's water, and then eventually got around to evolving into complex life forms. Those life forms ate each other and had sex with each other in a frenzied orgy of chaos, eventually schlepping their way out of the ocean and onto land so they could eat each other and have sex with each other on dry dirt.

The organisms became more and more complex as they figured out better and better ways to eat each other and have sex with each other in the frenzied cacophony. Some of them said "screw this" and schlepped their way back into the ocean, and they got really big and evolved blowholes on the tops of their heads. Others evolved opposable thumbs for climbing up trees and, eventually, brains so large that they needed to be born while still completely helpless due to the massive size of their heads. Those brains are the most complex objects in the known universe to this day.

Comment: Being caught in stress induced cycles actually isn't just limited to humans. All animals have this capacity as Pavlov demonstrated in his experiments on transmarginal inhibition. Humanity is, however, faced with unique challenges in line with the complexity of our brains and the human mind. We have a creative ability that is beyond that of other animals. As can be inferred in Johnstone's article, this capacity can be diverted to feed elaborate narratives and imagined threats that keep us in cycle of stress where remain reactive rather than responsive to the world around us. But it can also be nurtured so we can take on the challenges of live using sensibility and reason rather than being stuck in endless cycles. Éiriú Eolas is a strong technique that readers can check out to turn down the stress response and utilize our creative capacities in a more productive manner.