Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Trap in my little universe

A year passed by since I wrote about my insignificance in this universe, my thoughts on the topic haven’t changed much (except becoming more skeptical of any significance I might truly have). I feel like I’m creating my own little universe through which I interact and see the world. It’s like a movie, which I view as an abstraction of the world. Movie tends to focus on a certain aspect of life it wants to emphasize and manipulate the temporal and spatial experience to convey a story. Similarly, we tend to abstract from our experience to create a story we like to live, and our brains help us to achieve this through our subjective memories and experience of time. Science, religion, cultural and moral teachings as well as popular media all help shape the story we want to create in life and the way we see and experience things.


Now I don’t think there’s any particular meaning in asking the meaning-of-life type questions. I’m also content to know that there’re lots of things I’ll never be able to know and probably won’t matter (life as we know will eventually cease to exist). I don’t think there’re any absolute moral or ethical standards. They exist to serve a purpose but are easily dispensable by most people under conditions where survival’s essential.


So what am I left with? I probably can’t escape from creating story that satisfies my hypocrisy. But I’m content to make it consistent enough so I can enjoy myself and strike a balance between transient, superficial/sensual pleasures and the sustained, deeper satisfactions gained from accomplishment brought by personal effort.


On that slightly cynical note, I’ll end this year’s entry. Happy new year to all.

*it’s likely I’ll disappear for a while again to reorient my life and focus on my studies.



‘All scientific view of the world is really just in our minds. When you look at it carefully, it is not something that is out there in the real world.’


-Robert Aumann

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No one is the same

Why do people care about personal identity so much? We like to define ourselves in certain ways, want to be associated with certain qualities or belong in certain categories. But does identity exists? Is my self really a consistent self? Every experience I have and actions I take change me in some ways. It’s not too absurd to think of myself in different time as a different being connected only by some shared memories, experience, and similarities in thoughts, appearance, and personalities. Appearance changes, thinking changes, personalities change, even memories tend to alter through time. So is there anything in me that will remain unchanged? If I’m never the same person, what defines me then? If I wake up tomorrow and decide to be a different person and act in a completely different way, am I still me?   We usually afraid or don’t like the thoughts that our close friends or loved ones change. Perhaps it is because these are people who share similar interests, values, or activities with us, and we’re afraid that changes will alter this similarity and put a distance to the closeness. Maybe our closest or best friends are just people we’re confident that even if we know we’re going to change, the changes are unlikely to be substantial enough to alter our shared interests or similarities. That may be also why we want to maintain come kind of consistency within ourselves. If my self at present and in the future are different selves, I probably wouldn’t want to change too much as that may create the strangeness among these beings (or in friendship terms, to maintain the close friendship for my present and future selves). The greatest loneliness may come from losing these closest friends of ours.   I guess I’m not making sense anymore, but doesn’t matter, just some weird thoughts that came to me.

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People generally think it’s good to be happy, and many of us want to be happy and expect ourselves to be happy. But we seldom think about what happiness is. Is happiness a subjective state for the moment, or is it about life as a whole? Even if we know what it is, why should we value it highly or consciously seeking it anyway?


A lot of self-help books around these days tell us what a happy life is and ways to find happiness. Some advices may give us insights to our life, but their doctrine of happiness shouldn’t be our expectation of happiness. Unrealistic expectation of happiness such as being happy all the time is unlikely to make us happier.  And since happiness is an abstract and subjective thing, we should find and give our meaning to it.


Here’s a suggestion on finding happiness I came across lately from a review on a book about history of happiness. I think the suggestion is fairly sensible. See what you think.


“Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness: on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.”


-John Stuart Mill

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I’ve been reading a book called The Great Philosophers in the past few days. I found it insightful and well-written, and would recommend it to people who’re interested in philosophy but don’t have much background (http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/019289322X/qid=1135115310/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl/026-4346327-3098835).  Here’re a few ideas I found interesting or want to think more about.


One is Schopenhauer’s view on art.  He sees the world as a miserable place that people can’t do anything about, and the only temporary escape from this hostile and horrible world is through art. Since it’s only then we don’t consider our self-interest or desire but see things from the aesthetic point of view. For him, art’s less about expressing emotion but convey insight into universal nature of things, which in turn may move people emotionally. To quote Magee, it’s “the general behind the particular, yet in terms of the uniquely specific.” Although I like artistic activities, but so far I don’t have my own view/philosophy about art, so Schopenhauer’s writing may be a good place to begin developing my thought in the subject.


Another interesting idea is Heidegger’s view on nihilism, which if I understand correctly, said that as history progress and people try to explain everything, we reach a stage where there’re no guidelines for actions anymore.  For example, in Greek society, there’re heroes and villains, victory and disgrace, and this cultural paradigm acts as guidelines for leading good lives. Or in medieval society when most people believe in God, they have saints and sinners, salvation and damnation, so people know what to expect or do. He thinks we reach a point where there’re no more guidelines, no more goals. What people concern’s only to become more and more efficient, and strive for efficiency for its own sake.


Though I don’t agree with all he said, I think there’re some truths in it. It seems that people are easily lost when there’s no concrete thing to strive for, and it can happen when society doesn’t provide clear values about the meaning of life. That may be a reason why many people enjoy immersing themselves in the fantasy world of video games where values and purpose in life are clearly defined. At many times I also found myself think of things in term of efficiency. For examples, I may think of socializing with others as networking activity and getting potential contacts for future use, or exercise and health as improving my efficiency in doing other things. Everything may be regarded as a mean to something else, but that something (i.e. goals, aims in life) may not be well defined or exist at all. I think life would be better if I learn to appreciate things in life such as friendship, art or other activities more for their own merit than as means.


Although there’re ideas from other philosophers I identified with, Hume’s view and attitudes toward life are overall closest to my ideal, and I would like to read more about him if have time. But for now, I guess I spent enough time reading philosophy (probably it’s time to get back to my economics study to avoid failing miserably in the coming midterm). I’ll continue learning about life, and at the same time enjoy my journey and treasure the experience and friends I’ve even though what I perceive may not be real. After reading various comments posted, I feel grateful to have many good friends. I believe life’s more than finding answers to things, if there’re any.

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