How do you measure meaning if not in terms of happiness? Aren't things that create more happiness for a longer time for a larger number of individuals better than those things who lack those qualities but are proclaimed to be personal achievements anyway? Does the scope of happiness make happiness meaningful to you or not? What are achievements good for if they aren't good at facilitating happiness? Imagine you wouldn't experience any pleasant or unpleasant emotions and would have to decide rationally what to pursue (assuming that is possible at all). Then what you want to do with your life? (Another way to formulate this question maybe would be to ask what's your grand strategy in that situation.)
I'm quite interested in your answers. I like that your blog posts are so outspoken. It's just that the message of this post is hard for me to grasp, as I'm pretty much utilitarian in my thinking.
Good questions. I'll go through it line by line.
How do you measure meaning if not in terms of happiness?
What's meaningful is a personal decision everyone makes. I'd recommend everyone learn a lot about a variety of things, analyze themselves and their talents, and think about what seems meaningful to them through careful, as-unemotional-as-possible analysis.
For me, I like humanity and I want to see our species thrive. I think a significant long term priority has to be diversifying our habitat - getting it so not all humans live on Earth, moving out through the Solar System and hopefully the galaxy after that.
That's going to take a mix of science, technology, engineering, commerce, governance, and a variety of other important things. I also think art has very high value in inspiring and expressing emotional states to people. On a personal level, I also enjoy beauty and aesthetics, but I'd prioritize it a bit lower than expansion.
Aren't things that create more happiness for a longer time for a larger number of individuals better than those things who lack those qualities but are proclaimed to be personal achievements anyway?
I don't think so, no.
See, it's hard to have this discussion with anyone from modern Western culture, because happiness-as-a-goal is so deeply engrained that people don't even realize it's just a subjective call about what's important. Actually, most people never critically examined happiness at all!
For me, I had a breaking out moment when I studied other cultures that had goals other than happiness. If you could talk to a 1600's samurai and tried to discuss with him what's important, he'd say loyalty, duty, and honor. If you said, "Wait, what about happiness? Isn't that more important?" - well, he'd think you're insane. He couldn't express why - it was just a culturally inherited belief.
Well, the same thing happens to me when I say that I prize, for instance, duty and loyalty over happiness. If I'm duty-bound in a situation, I'll aim to perform my duties as best as I can, happiness be damned. A lot of times, the best solutions aren't necessarily the largest number of happiness solution. (Again, trying to explain this to a person who grew up in a happiness-is-most-important culture risks making you seem off your rocker, just like a modern Westerner trying to explain that happiness is more important than duty and loyalty would seem crazy to a samurai.)
Does the scope of happiness make happiness meaningful to you or not?
I'm not sure what this question means.
If you're talking about different kinds of happiness, I think there are some yeah. There's "low happiness" which is just a pleasurable mix of chemicals. Dopamine, serotonin, etc. Honestly, I don't think having a certain biochemical mix is very important.
Imagine Rome in the year 150 AD. Now image a 25 year old farmer on April 20th.
Does it matter at all what his dopamine and serotonin mix was? I think, pretty much no, as long as it wasn't too low.
Mind you, I do think happiness is important. I think it's as important as respiration or blood circulation or other key health factors. That's really, really important. Happiness too low makes you ineffective, and happiness to zero probably becomes fatal. So, happiness is important, just like good health is. I just don't think it's worthy of being worshiped as the meaning of life.
What are achievements good for if they aren't good at facilitating happiness?
I'm on Team Human. I want to see our species thrive and grow. A lot of times, the people that pull humanity forwards do immense amounts of suffering and go through utter brutality to bring their views forth. I think that's worthy.
Imagine you wouldn't experience any pleasant or unpleasant emotions and would have to decide rationally what to pursue (assuming that is possible at all). Then what you want to do with your life?
That's exactly the question I asked myself, and it's what I'm working on. I don't usually laundry-list all the stuff I'm working on, because it's crass, but I'm in near constant training, producing, and looking to connect with people doing fantastic things. I'd like to see commerce improve, science improve, governance improve, culture improve, communications improve... I think the easiest way to have a huge positive impact on humanity is to have children and raise them well, so that's a priority for me.
I've been trying to lay the groundwork necessary to do things at a really high level, and largely succeeding... mind you, this isn't glorious or anything. It's just a bunch of scratching and clawing to improve my habits, consistency, health, knowledge, and ability to produce and serve. I don't have all the resources I need to do what I want to do yet, so I still do a good bit of contracting, building, selling, getting assets, and otherwise getting paid.
I've been trying to develop my scientific ability and learning more about experiment design, statistics. I'm particularly interested in neurology and biochemistry type stuff, but I'm really quite an amateur in that. So far, a lot of the experimenting I've been doing is pretty low level stuff (again, amateur and working on lots of other things), but I've figured a couple interesting things out here and there.
I write this site as a sideline thing I'm doing. I've been developing my mind and trade more. I read... I don't know, somewhere between 100 and 200 books a year? (Well, a third of those I listen to on audio, and another third I "fastread" which is somewhere between reading and skimming)
I've tried a little drawing and painting, but the mediums aren't for me. Writing works okay, though I'm still developing my craft as a writer.
I've connected with a few hundred people over the last year, which is good. Many excellent, exceptional people. I'm trying to figure out how to keep track of all of them and everyone, the people I've met are so cool and so good, but man, it's hard to keep track of 300 new interesting people in my life. I really need some sort of CRM-ish-software or relational database or something.
And then yeah, I'm traveling through pretty much every country in the world, seeing how their governance works, how their law enforcement works. I go for long walks through cities while listening to audiobooks, noting the mix of businesses in each region, what people wear, how they're dressed. I look at the law enforcement and military presences. I look for shipping docks and railroads and border crossings. I've been intending to meet government officials more often, and I've started doing that - in Mongolia, I toured the Mongolian Stock Exchange, Clearinghouse, and I also met some people at their Bureau of Tourism and Central Bank.
I've been meaning to walk into an Embassy or Consular and ask if I can be of service to the American State Department somehow, but I've been too... shy or something to do that thus far. In '09, I applied to be a reserve officer of the LAPD (volunteer police officering), but unfortunately I wasn't accepted at that time. That's something I still intend to do - I think intelligent law enforcement and foreign service are the backbone of domestic and foreign affairs, respectively. I'd like to put some time in protecting and serving.
Beyond that, I study law kind of casually and amateurishly (I've taken a couple courses in it, almost became a lawyer... I read regulations and decisions sometimes for the heck of it). I've been doing lots of reading on governance, statesmanship, law, and lots of history.
Business, of course. I've written about that plenty in the past. Lately I've been putting a lot of time into getting better at distribution and marketing, which I'm starting to think are of as of core importance to business.
Finance too. I was on a finance kick earlier this year.
I don't normally like to write stuff like this, because it tends to be taken the wrong way. You know, my friends and confidants and mentors and colleagues know that I've got a silly and ridiculous amount of ambition to to do things, build, accomplish, and serve. But this is a public facing blog, and you know, people... I don't know, a lot of times they don't like stuff like this.
You asked what I'd do if emotion didn't matter? That's exactly what I'm trying to do. I fall short a lot of the time, I still waste probably around 3-5 hours a day on average, but I'm getting better.
I'm quite interested in your answers. I like that your blog posts are so outspoken. It's just that the message of this post is hard for me to grasp, as I'm pretty much utilitarian in my thinking.
In short, I think:
*Low happiness is a bunch of chemicals, and I don't think it's particularly important beyond getting it to a satisfactory minimum level.
*I like humanity, I think our species is cool, and I want to see it thrive.
*I'm applying myself to build and serve that goal and do what I can.
*But everyone picks this on their own. My way works for me, but everyone picks their own terminal values and life goals. I do think it's worth seriously critically examining happiness as a core goal though - did you really pick happiness for yourself as the most important thing, or did you pick it by accident from your culture? Maybe some things are more important than happiness? I think it's worth thinking about.
This is the opposite of what I believe.
All I care about is the chemicals. What else could matter? I just want pleasure.
Happiness (and all of our emotions for that matter) are reactions based on what we value.
Whatever causes us happiness is what we've deemed desirable, and whatever causes unhappiness is what we've deemed unwanted. Those things that cause happiness or unhappines are what we've subjected to judgments--judgments which for the most part, we've inherited either from our parents and role models, and our culture or environment. Few people subject their subjective judgments to re-evaluation.
What I mean is, what makes us happy is dependent on what matters to us.
There is no happiness without meaning.
If we make happiness our meaning, then we create an ultimately unsustainable (I'm being too polite. FATAL, would be more accurate.) loop of behaviours.
Our meaning becomes nothing more than chasing neurochemical highs. Our lives become built on principles we ourselves didn't choose. We become button pushers. We let ourselves, who we are and what we do, dicated by someone or something outside of us.
Chasing happiness for its own sake means subservience.
And, oh, I don't know, maybe you're into that kind of thing. Perhaps. I wouldn't fault you for it.
But it is the kind of subservience which will take from you all that you have and give you nothing in return.
And for what?
All for an agenda.
So, what'chu gonn' choose?
Happiness undefined, or meaning imbued with happiness?
I'll take the latter. Hey! No one said meaning and happiness were mutually exclusive. ;)
Thinking about metrics, how to measure humanity: sum of years, maybe. One way to express it is product of population and average lifespan; latter variable maybe a decent marker for health and wealth, former decent for diversity. An aging population indicates wealth a couple of different ways: people aren't dying as young or having as many kids.
World's still mostly empty of people; not obvious, of course, because most the people are where most of the people are. ;-) 26 megacities, now....
Thanks for your elaborate answers on my questions. I really didn't expect that you would go so deep into detail. I am a little bit amazed about that.
You seem to have a really positive image of humanity. For me that was not the case for most of my life. I was rather preoccupied with the problems and faults of this world and of humanity. Whenever I observed my fellow humans behave in a stupid way I would suffer a lot. I'm especially sensitive when it comes to unfriendly conduct. Humans do have the potential to be very nasty. Of course, humanity has lots of positive sides, but I don't want a brutal and ruthless humanity see colonizing the galaxy. Before doing so, we better get as civilized as possible. Otherwise we will have the same mess (pointless wars, poverty and suffering, ...), just on a larger scale. I wish to help humanity become more noble.
As European I am indeed very much influenced by Western culture and philosophy. Aristotle, Bentham, and Nietzsche have left quite an impression on me. But also consider that Nietzsche was strongly influenced by Schopenhauer whose philosophy closely resembled Buddhism. Anyway, I try to think as independently as possible. I do not fully subscribe to any clear cut philosophy. Calling myself an utilitarian is a good approximation, but it's still just an imperfect approximation.
The reason why I think happiness is of central importance is following observation: We value things emotionally. There are things we prefer and things we want to avoid. That's how I divide emotions into positive and negative emotions. Experiencing more positive emotions and less negative emotions is better - at least if all else is equal. We can also have values which don't match this natural divide based on the "coloring" of emotions. But then, what's the point of those values? They just make things more complicated. I think that's an unnecessary complexity we add here. I prefer keeping things simple and "natural" (well, on a very abstract level that is). Perhaps it's inadequate to equate happiness with the class of all positive emotions, but I considered this to be a reasonable approximation. I know there are lots of problems with this utilitarian line of thinking. That's why I'm not a 100% utilitarian, and I understand that other perspectives are also valid (I'm a moral antirealist, I do not believe there is any single fixed "true" morality).
Please consider that I care about the feelings of others. Maybe I should have pointed that out in my previous comment. Actually, I had an extremely intense spiritual experience which overloaded me with almost unimaginable happiness (I thought I could die from that). Afterwards I could reproduce similar experiences which caused happiness on demand. That made personal happiness rather meaningless to me. But I realized that others are not as lucky as I was and they do struggle a lot with their negative emotions. I mainly want to facilitate happiness for others. My own happiness is almost only of instrumental importance to me.
Your scope of interests is fascinating. You seem to love details a lot. I rather want to see the big picture and understand the world more holistically. Besides personal development I'm mostly interested in mathematics, physics, philosophy and psychology. I also want to optimize our economic and political systems. Unfortunately I'm too much of an idle thinker and haven't had any impressive real life success yet. Instead, I'm more of an imaginary world builder and write a few science fiction stories. Some of my concepts can be found on http://Radivis.com
When reading your post I get two impressions: You really love learning, so you learn as much as possible about all kinds of stuff. But I feel there's no clear great vision. In fact, I think it's rather rare that anyone has a clear unifying vision. I'm still working on that myself.
In any case, your sheer amount of passion and ambition impresses me. I wished I had more of that. But I'm working on that, too. :)
Keep up the good work!
I think that your points are interesting. Lately, it seems like I been exposed to the concept of homeostasis from every angle. Though I am not a doctor, it seems to be a general principal that our bodies try to regulate us back from extreme levels to normal levels. Thus, we develop tolerance to drugs, etc.
Trying to maximize happiness, then, can be seen as a false goal. Of course, this requires that things that make us happy are subject to a homeostatic effect -- too much, and they don't make us as happy anymore.
I haven't thought about this that much before, but I have always had a sense that deep, lasting satisfaction is a better way to try to gain happiness, as opposed to the shorter, intense bursts of happiness. Community service, unselfishness, learning something that makes us understand the world more clearly are all things that seem to bring lasting happiness. While buying things and partying are fun, they don't last.
I'm sure I am conflating the reasons for all of these things, but I wonder if there is some truth, here.
I've got to be honest with you - I don't really like politics anyways. Governance, I like governance. I believe in good governance. But I don't believe in good politics - in fact, I don't even think there is such a thing as good politics. Politics can certainly be bad or stupid or destructive, but almost never good. Diplomacy can be good. Governance can be good. Politics can at best strive not to be bad, stupid, and destructive; it can't ever be good.
Yet, sometimes I'll see a discussion on some outpost of the internet that I visit, and then I might be tempted to jump in. From now on, new policy - no trying to persuade anyone of my politics. Instead, I'll look to share some historical background or references I've read or learned about that I find valuable, and let people mostly draw their own conclusions. Maybe I'll share my own views if I've already given a number of relevant examples.
But no more just trying to convince someone their politics are mistaken - it doesn't work, and besides, I don't like politics anyways. I should talk governance with people with historical examples, not politics. Governance is good. That's something I can get behind, good governance. Politics, not so much.
Seven years ago, I wrote a post called "How to Be Happy. Always." It's pretty poorly written, but starts off with an important concept-- we live in a society where happiness is the number one priority. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. No one really questions that, but maybe we should. Is happiness really the best goal we can come up with?
In the time that's elapsed between when I wrote that post and now, I've thought a lot about happiness, and I still think that maximizing it is a bad idea. But before I get into that, let's talk a little bit about what happiness is.
Happiness is an good state of mind. It allows you to be optimistic, to see the good in people, and to be productive. On the other end of the spectrum, when you're very unhappy, you have a lot of barriers between things like productivity and socialization. Clearly, being happy is much better than being unhappy. It's important to be happy. Is there such a thing as being too happy? I don't think so. I've never seen someone make a mistake because he was just too happy.
So what's my problem with maximizing happiness, then? Well, it's the method, mostly.