Reflections on Aphorisms #49

Good day today. Not perfect by any means, but I was a lot more productive than usual and didn’t feel like I was stressing myself out to do it.

That’s a good place to be in.

Now I just need to get around to doing some final formatting and posting some of the writing I’ve been doing.

Aphorism 79

What organized dating sites fail to understand is that people are far more interesting in what they don’t say about themselves.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Interpretation

One of the things that Carl Jung talks about is the notion of the shadow and the idea that there’s a large part of us that we just don’t see.

An experience I recently had was a reflection upon my life in which I realized that a lot of what I’ve done in the past has been lost to me, to the point that I just don’t remember it.

The deepening of my appreciation for Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels notwithstanding, one of the things that feeds into this is that we really are poor judges of ourselves.

Our brains seem to function through comparison a lot of the time. We use schemas and heuristics that are based on having a concept of something, and then taking individual instances of those concepts and finding the similarities and differences (e.g. we would refer to a cat that has lost a leg as a three-legged cat, though it is not fundamentally less a cat and more a biped for the absence).

In our lives, these idiosyncrasies don’t tend to be the primary way we think about ourselves. We may be incredibly aware that other people are not like us, and deeply conscientious, but even then our methodology for comparison is mediocre.

Some of this is because we’re not fully capable of understanding ourselves (can a brain understand a brain?) but also because our whole context is centered on personal experiences, with rare exceptions stemming from literature and arts.

Another part of this is, in line with the Jungian way of thought, that we don’t really want to know ourselves. To see ourselves in total objectivity may liberate us, but more likely it would annihilate us because we’re not as good as we desire ourselves to be and I suspect that a lot of people don’t have the will to confront who they really are. That’s why people burn out before seeking radical change in their life.

Resolution

Spend time looking for my own unseen qualities.

Remember that the self is impeded and bolstered by hidden factors within it.

Embrace change when it is promising.

Aphorism 80

The strength of a man’s virtue should not be measured by his special exertions, but by his habitual acts.

Pascal

Interpretation

Following a path isn’t about a two-minute sprint.

Life has no fixed destination; every minor change will cause a different outcome.

The problem with this is that it is impossible for a single action to set the moral current of a life (or, for that matter, almost any other major defining factor in life). Even things that seem to be a single action may indeed be a product of a bunch of different factors.

For instance, you’ll often hear people say that getting married is the most important event in their life.

However, the impact that a good marriage has is not centered on a single event; there’s the initial meeting, dating, engagement, actual wedding, and life together that all come together to make a marriage good.

The relationship will in that case be built up of countless small actions, often not even the result of conscious decisions, rather than a single large action. There may be symbolically significant moments, often those that have the highest conscious valuation, but these are not the defining elements. Nobody has a happy marriage because their wedding ceremony is fantastic. There may be an association, but it is not a causal one.

There’s a second element of Pascal’s statement that should not be overlooked.

People often do one thing that earns them the disgust and hostility of everyone around them, or have one moral flaw that seems to tarnish everything about them.

Of course, generally the people who let themselves be overcome by their vices have not done a very good job of cultivating their virtues. There is also another point here: as with a good marriage, a descent to the worst crimes and immorality may be made up of several small and seemingly insubstantial and unnoticed elements.

Ive lost the trail of where I was going with this, so I’ll just state it clearly:

It’s always possible to redeem oneself by pursuing the right path, but it’s a constant, conscious effort.

Resolution

Do not foster in yourself little vices; they grow up into large and ugly creatures.

Remember that existence is a marathon, not a sprint. One achievement can’t sustain a lifetime.

Look for the hidden virtues and cultivate them; eradicate the hidden vices.

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