Reflections on Aphorisms #94

I didn’t have a super-productive day today, but part of that’s just down to sleep (again), going to see Toy Story 4 (which I will probably do an in-depth analysis of), and also just not feeling my best (in large part due to lack of sleep).

I’m not going to beat myself up over it. Tomorrow will be a better day.

Aphorism 132

The head cannot long play the part of the heart. (Maxim 108)

François de La Rochefoucauld


One of the things that people overlook in this modern age is that we’re built and wired to function a certain way. We try to force ourselves into a particular mode of being.

I’ve recently talked about the issues that surround the idea that one can live a rational life.

One of them is that the value that can be derived from things is not clear by logic.

Let’s take for example the art of taking a vacation.

No matter who you ask, you will get a different response to the proper process.

I like to go in basically unknown. I’ll look at maps and try to see if there’s any particular risk associated with my choice of lodging or route, but I don’t bother with a planned-out itinerary or anything like that. I’ll choose a thing or two I want to do each day, and if I can get them done, that’s great. If not, I’ll do whatever I feel like.

My father is the polar opposite of this, and I can recall countless trips with him that involved enough activity to make the return to daily life a welcome break from the vacation. He has vacations that run on timetables.

Lest I make him sound too unbearable, he’s grown a lot more conscious of others’ needs in the past few years, so this is more of a childhood reflection than something that is a current issue I’m just griping about on the internet.

Part of the reason that I don’t plan my trips other than just picking potential destinations and not even being particularly faithful to them is that it makes it a lot easier to follow my emotion, rather than my reason. I’ve had great experiences in lowly places.

The philosopher/investor Nicholas Nassim Taleb once wrote that he went out to an expensive and fancy dinner that he hated, then went and got cheap pizza, and he could never figure out why the pizza didn’t cost as much as the expensive dinner.

I’m the same way. I’m just as happy with a couple dollars worth of pizza as I am with the best experiences, and part of the reason for this is that I don’t let reason get in the way of planning my life.

Sure, there might be restaurants in San Francisco that I’ve never gone to that would have been within my reach, but Jenny’s Burgers by Golden Gate Park offer a nice half-pound burger that doesn’t break the bank and leaves me happily sedated with satiation.

Part of the problem with reason replacing emotion is that reason looks outside the self. My first epiphany of this was when I decided to become a teacher instead of a pharmacist. Both professions are worthy of respect, but one of them didn’t hold the same value to me. I knew that no matter how much I helped people as a pharmacist, I wouldn’t have a personal connection with the vast majority of them, and I wouldn’t get to see them grow.

Of course, I’m also unlikely to be getting a sports car any time soon, but I’m satisfied with my old early-2000s Honda Civic (even if the airbags are in a perpetual state of product recall). It’s a coupe, which is sexy in its own way even if it’s not a fancy car, and it drives really well.

Putting reason into things can reveal all the issues with them that we put up with.

However, our reason is not solid, and we very quickly wind up compounding its errors. Our emotion is just as flawed, but we’re intuitively aware of this. They work together, not separately. With both emotion and reason, we can balance our observations, thoughts, and responses. With just one or the other, they quickly wind up astray.

I read one of Jonathan Haidt’s books in which he mentioned that people who have damage to the part of the brain that produces emotion have a hard time making decisions and wind up making really bad decisions.

Even if logical thought remains intact, the driving force that orients us to our goals is always going to be emotion. A vacation that turns into a forced march doesn’t feel like a vacation (in fact, it’s turned into a common trope of stories centered on youth in America), and a life that turns into calculated mathematics doesn’t feel like life.


Balance my emotions with my reason.

Remember why I do things.

When planning, think about what the result will feel like.

Reflections on Aphorisms #80

One of the best things in life is to sit still and enjoy it. There are always worries, and always problems, but a single good thing is worth living for even if all else falls away.

It’s not a matter of hedonism, it’s a matter of potential. If there’s something good in the universe, it stands to reason that there can be more good things in the universe.

Aphorism 118

Passions often produce their contraries: avarice sometimes leads to prodigality, and prodigality to avarice; we are often obstinate through weakness and daring though timidity. (Maxim 11)

François de La Rochefoucauld


I think a lot about passionate emotion. In the past I’ve expressed terror of it, but I don’t think that’s the best way to describe it.

My relationship with emotion is something akin to respect, sort of like how people translated the biblical injunction to be faithful to God as a command to “fear the Lord” though I don’t take it to the same extent.

One of the things that comes up with passions is that you act in ways that go against your set goals.

Just this morning I recall getting really upset about an injustice, and it got to a point where I was almost yelling while in a one-sided conversation with my mother (despite the fact that she had nothing to do with it and was actually in agreement with me about it).

Now, I don’t think this really did any harm to me, and I actually value my ability to feel for those who suffer at the hands of oppressors, but I also felt a twinge of bitterness and vitriol.

It occurred to me that in that moment I was walking down a path that would enable me to justify an unacceptable action against those who I was ranting against, that I would let myself oppress them if given the chance. My desire turned away from the protection of the innocent and toward the punishment of the guilty.

That’s not to say that there isn’t some merit in punishment; it plays a key role in keeping the world spinning, but it’s also not a goal unto itself. That’s just revenge, and righteous indignation is great for turning people into bloodthirsty mobs.

My passion for protecting the weak quickly transformed into a passion for vengeance.

I’m not sure that I want to attribute this to some inherent law; there are certainly passions that don’t have an opposite and no law that says that one passion transmutes into another one, but there is definitely something to be said for passion evoking a state that leads us to further passion.

I think that this can also be said of consuming goals. Often what we desire to bring us the good life gets in the way of living (e.g. being passionate about a project), and it’s possible to abandon what is really good for the sake of something that promises to improve what will be long gone by the time it is complete.


Don’t let passion drive the show without slowing down to check what I’m doing.

Control the emotions which lead to passion.

Operate on principle, not reaction.