Reflections on Aphorisms #42

After a day of dubious productivity, sometimes the best you can do is resolve to be better the next day. Today was one of those days.

I’m hoping to get some good sleep and make sure to get a walk in first thing in the morning so that I can really energize and prepare to get some stuff done tomorrow.

Aphorism 66

Truths turn into dogmas the instant they are disputed.

Chesterton

Interpretation

Truth is a funny thing. Everyone thinks they’ve got it, even if they say they don’t, and usually they don’t actually have it.

The problem is that a lot of our truths are wrong.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

I see three great threats to truth (there are other ones, but they’re not immediately significant).

The first is our own human limitation. We form concepts based on what we think we know, but these are actually quite shaky and fluid. They reconfigure themselves to fit the situation, and they’re not nearly as detailed as we think they are.

Put frankly, we don’t know as much as we think we know, and even though we’re very good at faking it on a practical day-to-day basis, we’re not so good at faking it in the big picture. This is why the characteristics that lead to success are universal attributes (e.g. determination) and not usually a particular bit of knowledge or fluke of circumstance.

There’s a lot going on around us that we can’t even perceive, and the best we can do is hope that we’ve got it right.

Second is the society in which we live. We’ve got a limitation in terms of information that is available to us, and we generally rely on others.

This is wise. Everyone gathers information, and bringing lots of independent sources together is valuable. However, information propagates both ways, and it’s almost certain that one will wind up in a bubble, or an echo chamber, or any other sort of social structure that leads to misinformation growing stronger.

It’s not a question of whether one is in a bubble, but how they are. Just today, undercover reporting showed that Google is politically manipulating search results (not that this is much of a surprise).

Last but not least is the sum limit of human information. Carl Jung has interesting theories about this, but I’m not sure that I necessarily agree with him in substance regarding the evolution of human knowledge over the years. I think it likely that people have more or less the same level of knowledge as they have had historically, but where that knowledge lies is very different.

Because we’re social creatures, it looks like society has learned, when we really have more specialized individuals who all have more or less the same amount of information. Actually, better nutrition and childhood medicine may actually have improved modern peoples’ intelligence versus historical people, just as it has increased height, but this isn’t a radical shift as opposed to something that could have happened at any point.

However, even with so many people, there’s still a finite amount of knowledge in the world, and infinite (or effectively infinite) things to know. We’re always going to be playing catch-up.

Resolution

Respice post te. Hominem te memento.

Avoid relying too much on those I trust without considering whether they come from every sphere.

Never assume that everyone collectively knows everything.

Aphorism 67

Money is human happiness in the abstract: he, then, who is no longer capable of enjoying human happiness in the concrete devotes himself utterly to money.

Schopenhauer

Interpretation

The image that springs to mind (metaphorically speaking; thanks aphantasia!) is of a miserly dragon looking over a hoard of gold.

Hayek talks about the role that individuals play in creating value, and Jeffrey Tucker also talks about this quite a bit (sadly, his book A Beautiful Anarchy, which I recommend, no longer seems to be in print).

One of the things about money is that it’s an intangible holder of value. If there’s an exchange of money, it’s a way of saying that one appreciates the work that someone has done.

This is the idea that fuels capitalism. One person makes something and receives something in exchange. That system can’t govern literally everything (since, after all, you will have people who don’t want to follow the rules and no single system can provide for the totality of human existence), but it’s a great way of exchanging goods and services.

The idea that one hoards money comes from two possible desires: fear and greed.

Fear is, I think, more common than others point out. I’ve got experiences with fear (thanks to a couple phobias and an entirely reasonable fear of heights), and I think that it satisfies Schopenhauer’s points in a way that might not be immediately apparent.

When you’re close to a source of your phobia, your number one response is aversion. Even if you exist right at the edge of your comfort zone, you can’t contemplate the source of your distress. I find myself averting my focus from such things when I encounter them, and no amount of logical reason can make me do anything more than philosophical contemplation at an existence. Actually physically engaging with a source of a phobia requires pressing need, and is accompanied by the same stress that a much more dangerous situation would induce.

If you fear not having money, you’ve lost the plot. You’re not able to use it for its intended purpose because the transfer of money away from yourself becomes something to be feared and reviled. The happiness it should buy (within its limited capacity to do so) is eclipsed by a desire that does not bear fruit.

Likewise, greed is a focus on money, rather than its utility.

The importance of all things is their utility, though utility need not be merely materialistic.

Resolution

Never forget the purpose of things.

Fear and greed both kill value, and not only of their object.

Cultivate humble pleasures.

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