A 2,000-year-old treatise about living a wonderful life

herman and rosie

 

This quote was taken by a 2,000-year-old philosophical work by Seneca, ‘On The Shortness of Life’. Long before there were Napoleon Hill, Anthony Robbins, or any other speakers alike, and so long before human life expectancy was dramatically improving like now this century (which could also be one defining factor), the Roman philosopher had offered us timeless advice (and also a cautious warning) on how to make the best use of our time as long as we are still alive in this world:

 

You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply — though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last. You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire… How late it is to begin really to live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!

 

Read more about his work in Brain Pickings.

“To deal with climate change… make people smaller”

matthew liao

 

Three American and British scientists (including one on the picture above, named Matthew Liao) have figured out one extreme, hypothetical solution to solve the decades-old climate change that has hampered the entire world, severely affected its currently fragile ecological balance: create a brand-new human race that is, physically speaking, small. Small in the sense that they will be smaller than us, the already small, tiny creatures now relying on machines of monstrous enormity in satisfying our consumerist needs and desires. But that is ‘infinitesimal’ compared to their ongoing ‘attempts’ to purify humanity’s moral values, their perception of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and what’s more, the alteration of humankind’s view on philosophy.

Source: Improbable Research. You can read their proposed human-engineering research paper in Matthew Liao’s personal blog.

Excerpt (I’ll take one example of their envisioned solutions):

 

Making humans smaller

……. 

One way is through preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). While genetic modifications to control height are likely to be quite complex and beyond our current capacities, it nevertheless seems possible now to use PGD to select shorter children. This would not involve intervening to change the genetic material of embryos, or employing any clinical methods not currently used. It would simply involve rethinking the criteria for selecting which embryos to implant.

Another method of affecting height is to use hormone treatment either to affect somatotropin levels or to trigger the closing of the epiphyseal plate earlier than normal (this sometimes occurs accidentally through vitamin A overdoses (Rothenberg et al. 2007)).  Hormone treatments are used for growth reduction in excessively tall children (Bramswig et al. 1988; Grüters et al. 1989). Currently, somatostatin (an inhibitor of growth hormone) is being studied as a safer alternative (Hindmarsh et al. 1995).

Finally, a more speculative and controversial way of reducing adult height is to reduce birth weight. There is a correlation between birth weight and adult height (Sorensen et al. 1999), according to which birth weight at the lower edge of the normal distribution tends to result in the adult’s being ≈5 cm shorter. Birth height has an even stronger effect for adult height. If one is born at the lower edge of the normal distribution of height, this tends to produce ≈15 cm shorter adult height.  Gene imprinting has been found to affect birth size, as a result of evolutionary competition between paternally and maternally imprinted genes (Burt and Trivers 2006).  Drugs or nutrients that either reduce the expression of paternally imprinted genes, or increase the expression of maternally imprinted genes, could potentially regulate birth size.

What Epictetus would like to say to flatterers

epictetus

 

“This hammer is reserved only for sycophants and hypocrites…”

 

Had the Greek philosopher lived up to 21st century, and looked at what happens to the world today, he could have seen his own sayings survive for more than two millennia, and goes on reverberating to the future, far, probably very far beyond.

 

“If you throw some nuts and cookies on a road, you will eventually see children come, pick them up, and start to argue and fight for them. Adults would not fight for such things. And even children would not pick up the nuts’ empty shells.

For a wise man, the wealth, the glory, and the rewards of this world are like sweets or empty shells on a road. Let the children pick them up and fight for them. Let them kiss the hands of the rich men, the rulers, and their servants. For the wise one, all these are but empty shells.” 

 

Bonus: Epictetus died in 135 AD. And his words still ring true, and hard, thousands of years beyond his demise.

‘Praying to stop being an atheist’

tmawson2

 

Tim Mawson, the man behind this report.

 

A British philosopher wants to convince atheists to start praying again to stop being atheists. Download the full report in Springer.

Source: Improbable Research

Excerpt:

“In this article, I consider what states of knowledge of the value of outcomes are consistent with a classical theist’s praying to God that He bring about those outcomes. I proceed from a consideration of the cases which seem least problematic (the theist knows these outcomes to be ones which would be, at least after they’ve been prayed for, best or at least good), through a consideration of cases where the outcomes prayed for are ones the goodness and badness of which the theist is agnostic about, to consider finally praying for outcomes that the theist knows would be bad at the time he or she is praying for them. I conclude that even prayers of this last sort should, albeit only on rare occasions, be prayed.” 

Rethinking death

death

 

 

Death remains one of the universe’s most enigmatic mysteries ever happening to us. Death itself can penetrate an individual in a sluggish pattern, either from a disease or a debilitating physical and/or psychological abnormality, but at times it can also inconspicuously take place in an abrupt, either in an accident or a murder coming out of the blue.

Is death itself a disease? The most sophisticated medical advances today can barely answer that question. Is death absolutely inevitable? There have been numberless attempts to leapfrog the fate, and the solution itself is seemingly buried in mare’s nest. Is immortality the key to avert death? Thinking at it on a deeper level, we can infer that instead immortality brings us more liabilities than rewards.

Whether death itself should be explained or not is, in ethical context, out of the question; we ascertain the fact that only through the manifestation of death, we become aware of how we should accomplish our lives in proper manners. We fathom the intended purpose the death is presented to us: we should, despite all the hindrances and adversities, struggle for what life is meant for. We do not even know whether the life we are living is a mere stupefaction, until death wakes us up. We do not even know if there is going to be afterlife. We are only ‘reminded’ to live to our fullest extents.

In brief, the definition of death itself lies beyond our own Plato’s Caves.

 

A philosopher writes about how he struggled to come to terms to his father’s death, and how the death taught him about living a meaningful life. Read it on Aeon Magazine.

 

I have seen the full stop of death, closing the final chapter of a life, making it possible to stand back, look at the whole, and say that it was good. Of course, any life story is littered with mistakes, bad times and failures, as well as successes. But in the case of my father, and of some others I have known who have died in recent years, there has been some comfort in the knowledge that the overall story was a good one. Maybe there were some decent chapters that still might have been written, but there could equally have been a cruel twist or two in the tale that would have led to a less happy ending. For the protagonist, better a good short novel than a tragic epic.

There is nothing automatically soothing about this, of course. The reaper can, and often does, choose to type ‘The End’ after pages of misery, without bothering to bring any resolution. The last full stop that allows the ‘life well lived’ to be appreciated can also expose the life gone badly for all the horror that it was. That is just one reason why secular humanists should not overstate the extent to which a good, happy, moral life is possible without God. Of course it is. But bad and unhappy lives are also possible, and all too common. Philosophy provides little consolation for these, other than the knowledge that the pain is over.

How Taleb defines ‘stable’

taleb

 

 

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a financial analyst-turned-philosopher shares his ubiquitously ‘anti-mainstream’ thoughts about what it means to be ‘stable’. Having experienced life in tumultuous and tranquil places (he spent his childhood in war-ravaged Lebanon, and adulthood in Wall Street), he expresses his viewpoints in Epiphanies, a sub-section about idea-shower from the world’s leading thinkers, by Foreign Policy magazine.

 

Excerpt:

 

The most stable country in the history of mankind, and probably the most boring, by the way, is Switzerland. It’s not even a city-state environment; it’s a municipal state. Most decisions are made at the local level, which allows for distributed errors that don’t adversely affect the wider system. Meanwhile, people want a united Europe, more alignment, and look at the problems. The solution is right in the middle of Europe — Switzerland. It’s not united! It doesn’t have a Brussels! It doesn’t need one.

I just came back from Lebanon, which I feel is the most stable place in the whole area. Every risk is visible to the naked eye there; you can’t be harmed by something like that. The homicide rate is much lower than that in the United States. The media says it’s chaos — but it’s not. In the end, it’s stable because Hezbollah and the Shiites know that they have to live with the Sunnis and the Christians. It can’t fall apart because it’s a perfectly controlled mess.