Philosophy Works (Class Eight)

A Remedy for negative feelings

Class Notes:

ME is an imposter. He assumes any guise to suit any situation. He can be heroic or timid, assertful or bashful, triumphant or defeated. ME doesn’t mind what he is so long as he holds the center of attention. If he cannot be praised, then he will be blamed. He would rather be beaten than be ignored. ME is a false image of ourselves. He claims everything. ME is a creature of imaginings, false, fickle and inconstant. He is a denial of our true self.

Only the desire of truth, the love of truth that lies at the core of each of us can free us from the selfish ego’s falsity and lies. Remember, in order to tell a lie, you have to know one thing: the Truth. Wouldn’t we rather have people tell us the truth? After all, even thieves have a code of honor!

All negative feelings are the result of our habitual response to events and people who are not the way we want them to be.

Patanjali offers a whole new way of working. When we acknowledge and speak the truth about negative feelings, we simply let the truth work. In this way, we learn to trust the truth and the Truth will set us free.

Principles and Practices:

In order to discover the truth about ourselves, we must give up what is false. In order to be what we are, we must come out of what we are not.

Watch for antics of ME. When does ME appear? What banishes him?

The fruit of negative feelings is endless ignorance and suffering. To remember this is to cultivate the opposite.

Take note of the effect of your words and actions on others.

Negative feelings…are damaging to life, whether we act upon them ourselves, or cause or condone them in others. They are born of greed, anger or delusion, and may be slight, moderate or intense. Their fruit is endless ignorance and suffering.

Patanjali, Yoga Sutras II.34

Empty yourself of everything.

Let the mind become still.

The ten thousand things rise and fall

While the self watches their return.

They grow and flourish and then return to the source.

Returning to the source is stillness, which is the way of nature.

Lao Tze, Tao Te Ching

Negative thoughts happen when you leave present moment. If you don’t feed your thoughts, they disappear, their life time span is short. Pure consciousness is self-knowledge. Hell is pride and ego, and paradise is contentment and happiness.

Memory is the best attribute of a philosopher. We take for granted our power. The thing that you seek is what is looking.

You will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free.


Plato’s Future

New thinking is associated with the Golden Age. Before New Age there is always Dark Age, when nothing significant is created, because people are just focused on surviving so they don’t have time or interest in art, science or philosophy. But in order to start creating something completely new, you must have new vision first.

Buddha said “All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.”

Do you believe you can create a better tomorrow? Are you a realist or idealist, pessimist or optimist?

In “Republic” Plato talks about succession of governments. He explains that governments go through a cycle: aristocracy is followed by meritocracy, which is replaced by oligarchy, which is succeeded by democracy, then tyranny, and aristocracy again (which could also be called oligarchy) and it goes back to democracy, etc.

These are natural cycles, which should be understood. “Nature is wise, I love wisdom”, said Pythagoras. So “Occupy Wall Street” movement should not come as a surprise, as it was naturally coming. I recently reread “The Master and Margarita” by Bulgakov and I got two main ideas out of it:

1. It is our government’s responsibility to cultivate and bring forward its citizen’s best side that is goodness. There are no bad people or good people, they are always the same and they always have both sides in them (good and evil), but the government has the power to stimulate either one.

2. In every person’s life there is a moment when it is his/her chance to do the right thing even though it is not easy, like it was for Margarita and for Pontius Pilatus. If they don’t do what they feel is right, they will not find peace with themselves. When the government fails to do its job, there is more pressure on the individuals to correct what is wrong.

In Plato’s view Government/Republic is responsible for three things: defense, justice and education. The rest is up to every individual to find. There are four types of souls in the society, who contribute to one mutual goal, but they are in different stages.

Gold men– those, who are concerned with all human beings, have consciousness for all humanity, they express sympathy and help others, incorruptible.

Silver men – those who care about others, but maybe corrupted not with money but other things (name your price), have points of corruptibility.

Bronze men – those, who are interested in wellbeing of their own family and people they share something with (country, race, religion, etc.), corruptible.

Iron men – those, who are concerned with their own wellbeing and that of their family only, very corruptible.

These four archetypes are a concept, and even though Plato believed that each soul is of one metal, I believe that one person can go through several metals in one life time in no particular order, but there are also those who stick to one metal all their life.

Plato also said that depending on the metal Republic should tailor education for a soul and give roles/jobs in the society. Iron and bronze men should not be given jobs where they can take advantage of what they are entrusted with, because they can be easily bribed. Gold and silver men both can see the idea and work in the interest of humanity, not only their own. What comes to mind is a book “Rich man, poor man” by Irwin Shaw and its main character Rudy Jordache who was fighting corruption in the government and the Supreme Court.

Rich Man Poor Man

Besides its own metal every soul has its own talents and passions, and they should be taken into account. Education should not be identical for all, check this video Changing Education Paradigms. What does a soul want? If you don’t like certain subjects, you shouldn’t be forced to pursue them for many years. Education should be not too hard, not too soft. No learning goes without challenges, but challenges shouldn’t be too big, so that a soul gets discouraged, like in Hatter’s Castle by A. J. Cronin.

Role of Education is to awaken a soul, to teach it how to think first and then to choose a profession. Every person can find and learn something to do. And if we work together, it will be easier. Community participates in educating a soul. Then a soul will find a vocation it can be good at.

What is the power of human spirit?

Every individual should know its metal and learn to grow…We can teach ourselves to be better men and women and we can choose the government that helps us do it… but then we need to have gold men in it, not iron, bronze or silver. Before we do it, we need to envision it.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has” Margaret Mead.

Thank you, Stephanie, for leading this session at Acropolis Boston!

Philosophy Works (Class Seven)

I had all the intentions to skip this class, as I felt sleepy, but my curiosity in what next class brings prevailed. I was 20 minutes late and found no Meta, but a substitute instructor instead. I asked for class notes, but was given a surprised look as if class notes were a luxury philosophers could do without… New instructor was reading passages from several books and I struggled to stay awake and keep my attention focused, but was able to make some notes, which I’ll try to recreate now…

We suffer from distracted attention by thinking about things that are not present (either past events or contemplation of future events), but instead we can and should prolong moments of being in the present by paying attention to what we see. What have you observed by walking down the street? Very often we can’t recall what we passed by, because attention was given not to surroundings, but to our thoughts.

Then we were asked if we were happier when we were children and the answer was yes, almost unanimous. Normal child is observant and happy. Why is that? I said that children don’t have responsibilities…as adults do. But the answer was that yes, we do have responsibilities and things to do, but it makes a short list and could probably be done in seconds sometimes, if only we don’t dwell on it.

I also thought that children are not spoiled with desire yet, or their desires are still minimal. They don’t yet know what is out there possible and they are still learning about possessions, wants and needs, haves and hot haves. And they don’t have the pressure of expectations, maybe minimal. Expectations surely grow with age. We are supposed to pay back for what we were given during childhood, either by our parents or our society.

The instructor said that a child has less distracted thoughts. Attention is root of clear thinking. Children are always in present. That is why when we ask children what they want to be they don’t understand the concept of time (somewhere there). They want to be what they like now. There is no there and then for children, it is always now.

We continued our conversation about distracting thoughts, as surely we like to escape present sometimes, especially when we need to do something unpleasant (or so we think). We discussed washing dishes. It is a simple act, but we can focus all our energy on creating this negative vibe about it. Someone said it is a short activity; at least it is not long! I said that you can derive pleasure from seeing a stack of clean dishes and be proud of the results. I was wrong… We can find our bliss in present moment while we are doing dishes.

Bliss is one of the qualities of being/self; together with consciousness and knowledge, bliss is nature of self. Enjoyment is nature of experience, but bliss is inside us. Bliss only needs attention and stillness. Bliss is internal happiness or basic goodness. It is about taking one moment at a time. To find it we need to introduce stillness in our lives.

In Buddhism there are four main states: activity, sleep, consciousness and stillness. We don’t do last two enough.

The Self/Being/Absolute is truth, consciousness and bliss. The creation is for bliss. You can be blissful as a witness, not a doer (without getting involved). You can still be active, but you don’t have to be active in order to be happy, as your happiness is in stillness too- appreciating the world around you and our connection to it.

Today we have boundaries and little bliss in a little box called “me and my life”. The self is not satisfied with little bliss, but more bliss derived from consciousness and stillness. All we need to do is to be able to switch thinking from doing to observing, even during action so that we observe and attend.

The instructor suggested we do an unusual exercise – go for a walk and try to see beauty by being grounded (by paying attention to our feet on the ground and attention to everything around us). Think what you really see, not think of what you saw last time walking down the street.

It is amazing how 15 minutes of a stroll can be so powerful in showing you the beauty of the world we so underestimate. I was walking slowly, making sure I feel my feet touching the ground with every step.

No matter how strange it sounds, but I felt that I have legs! I was so aware of the fact that I’m able to walk and I was appreciative of that, as being able to walk is a luxury to some people.

I paid attention to everything I saw around me. I met one pigeon and two sparrows busy looking for food, several happy dogs, three lonely ghosts, several dozen pumpkins, about twenty humans, and a multitude of buildings and plants… and one huge sun shining brightly. It was a little cool but it was so pleasant that I couldn’t stop smiling. I went to see a house where I used to live years ago, and I found a new building still under construction instead of my old house. I talked to a man and his son about my living at that house, because I just wanted to share my experience with other humans.

When we came back to class, we all discussed our findings. One woman mentioned that she saw beautiful flowers that she didn’t think were still around in chilly November. We need to appreciate what we have both individually and as a group. There is so much beauty around that is unseen.

We think that if we are not doers, we are not useful and we are not worthy. But even in stillness we can find our usefulness by appreciating others and emitting positive energy. By rushing and thinking negative thoughts, we contaminate the environment with negative energy.

The question is: “Was the Buddha a useful person even if he wasn’t a doer in our modern way?” He said “I’m awake”, and by simply being that we can change the world for better.

The Evolution of Happiness: Improving Human Happiness (Part Three)

Increase closeness of extended kin

If being deprived of extended close kin leads to depression in modern environments, individuals can take steps to remain in closer proximity or to maintain greater emotional closeness to existing kin. Modern electronic communication, including email, telephone and video conferencing might be exploited to this end when physical proximity is not possible. With people living longer, opportunities to interact with grandparents and grandchildren expand, offering the possibility of strengthening the network of extended kin.

Develop Deep Friendships

According to Tooby and Cosmides, people may suffer a dearth of deep friendships in modern urban living. It is easy to be sometimes friend when times are good. It is where you are really in trouble that you find out who your true friends are. Everyone has experienced fair weather friends who are only there when times are good, but finding a true friend, someone that you know you can rely on when the going gets tough, is a real treasure. People take pains to express their appreciation, communicating that they will never forget the sacrifices made by those who helped them in their darkest hour.

The loneliness and sense of alienation that may feel in modern living, a lack of a feeling of deep social connections despite the presence of many seemingly warm and friendly interactions, may stem from the lack of critical assessment events that tell them who is deeply engaged in their welfare.

Several strategies may help to close this gap between modern and ancestral conditions to deepen social connectedness. First, people should promote reputations that highlight their unique or exceptional attributes. Second, they should be motivated to recognize personal attributes that others value but have difficulty getting from other people. This involves cultivating sensitivity to the values held by others. Third, they should acquire specialized skills that increase irreplaceability. If people develop expertise of proficiency in domains that most others lack, they become indispensable to those who value those competencies. Forth, they should preferentially seek out groups that most strongly value what they have to offer and what others in the group tend to lack, find groups in which their assets will be most highly cherished. Fifth, they should avoid social groups where their unique attributes are not valued. A sixth strategy involves imposition of critical tests designed to deepen the friendship and test the strength of the bond. Those who pass the tests and provide help during these critical times make the transition to true friends marked by deep engagement.

Selecting a mate who is similar – Reducing jealousy and infidelity

One strategy is to select a long term mate or marriage partner who is similar to you on dimensions such as values, interests, politics, personality, and overall “mate value”. A large body of empirical evidence supports the hypothesis that discrepancies between partners in these qualities lead to increased risk of infidelity, instability of the relationship, and a higher likelihood of eventual breakup. Selecting a mate who is similar, conversely, should lower the likelihood of infidelity, and hence the agony experienced as a result of jealousy. Because jealousy appears to be an evolved emotion designed to combat threats to relationships, anything that reduces its activation should reduce the subjective pain people experience.

Education about evolved psychological sex differences

Education about fact that men’s and women’s minds house somewhat different psychological mechanisms, and that the differences can be deactivated under certain conditions, may help to reduce the frequency of strategic interference.

Managing Competitive Mechanisms

Perhaps the most difficult challenge posed by our evolved psychological mechanisms is managing competition and hierarchy negotiation, given that selection has fashioned powerful mechanisms that drive rivalry and status striving. Status inequality produces a variety of negative consequences, such as the impairment of health. One potential method of reducing such inequalities is to promote cooperation.

Evolutionists have identified one of the key conditions that promote cooperation – shared fate. Shared fate occurs among genes within a body, for example – when the body dies, all the genes it houses die with it. Genes get selected, in part, for their ability to work cooperatively with other genes. A similar effect occurs with individuals living in some kinds of groups. When the fate of individuals within the group is shared – for example, when the success of a hunt depends on the coordination among all members of the hunting party, or when defense against attack is made successful by the cooperation of a group’s members – then cooperation is enhanced.

Axelrod, an evolutionary political scientist, suggested several ways in which this can be done. First, enlarge the shadow of the future. It could be accomplished by making interactions more frequent and making a commitment to the relationship which occurs, for example, with wedding vows. A second strategy is to teach reciprocity, which not only helps people by making others more cooperative, it also makes it more difficult for exploitative strategies to thrive. A third is to insist on no more than equity. Greed is the downfall of many. By promoting equity, tit-for-tat succeeds by eliciting cooperation from others. One more strategy is to cultivate a personal reputation as a reciprocator. Cultivating a reputation as a reciprocator will make others seek them out for mutual gain. The combined effects of these strategies will create a social norm of cooperation, where those who were formerly exploiters are forced to rehabilitate their bad reputations by becoming cooperators themselves. In this way, cooperation will be promoted throughout the group.

The Fulfillment of Desire

Just as humans have evolved adaptations that create subjective distress, they have evolved desires whose fulfillment brings deep joy. Studies of private wishes reveal an evolutionary menu: the desire for health, professional success, helping friends and relatives, achieving intimacy, feeling the confidence to succeed, satisfying the taste for high quality food, securing personal safety and having the resources to attain all these things. Success at satisfying these desires brings episodes of deep happiness, even if people might habituate to their constant occurrence. Having adequate resources to fulfill desires, making progress toward fulfilling them, achieving a state of flow in the process of achieving them, and succeeding in fulfilling them, and succeeding in fulfilling them in particular domains such as mating provide a few of the evolutionary keys to increasing human happiness.

From the article “The Evolution of Happiness” by David Buss (2000)

The Evolution of Happiness (Part Two)

Adaptation that Causes Subjective Distress

A second impediment to human happiness is that people have evolved an array of psychological mechanisms that are “designed” to cause subjective distress under some circumstances. These include psychological pain, varieties of anxiety, depression, specific fears and phobias, and specific forms of anger and upset. These are all proposed to be evolved psychological mechanisms designed to solve specific adaptive problems. If these hypothesis are correct, they suggest that part of the operation of the normal psychological machinery inevitable entails experiencing psychological distress in certain contexts. For example, jealousy exists today in modern humans because those in the evolutionary past who were indifferent to the sexual contact that their mates had with others lost the evolutionary contest to those who became jealous. As the descendants of the successful ancestors, modern humans carry with them the passions that led to their forbearers’ success. The legacy of this success is a dangerous passion that creates unhappiness, but the unhappiness motivated adaptive action over human evolutionary history.

Anger and upset, according to one evolutionary psychological hypothesis, are evolved psychological mechanisms designed to prevent strategic interference. These negative emotions function to draw attention to the interfering event, alert a person to the source of strategic interference, mark the interfering events for storage in and retrieval from memory, and motivate action designed to eliminate the interference or to avoid subsequent interfering events. Because men and women over evolutionary time have faced different sources of strategic interference, they are hypothesized to get angry and upset about different sorts of events. The subjective experience can be extremely painful and disturbing, reducing the quality of life a person experiences.

Adaptations Designed for Competition

A third impediment to happiness stems from competition inherent to evolution by selection. Reproductive differentiantials caused by design differences make up the engine of evolutionary change. Selection operates on difference, so one person’s gain is often another person’s loss. As Symons observed , “the most fundamental , most universal double standard is not male versus female but each individual human versus everyone else”. The profound implication of this analysis is that humans have evolved psychological mechanisms designed to inflict costs on others, to gain advantage at the expense of others, to delight in the downfall of others, and to envy those who are more successful at achieving the goals toward which they aspire.

Three Additional Evolutionary Tragedies of Happiness

These obstacles do not exhaust the evolved impediments to well-being. Evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker described several other tragedies of happiness. One is the fact that humans seem designed to adapt quickly to their circumstances, putting us on a “hedonic treadmill”, where apparent increments in rewards fail to produce sustained increments in personal happiness, simply nothing is ever good enough long-term.

A second tragedy of human unhappiness stems from the fact that evolved mechanisms are designed to function well on average, although they will necessarily fail in some instances – what maybe called instance failure. For example, mechanisms of mate guarding are designed to ward off rivals and keep a partner from straying. It means that even if mate-guarding mechanism succeeded on average over the relevant sample space of evolutionary time, it still may fail for individuals.

A third strategy of human emotions is the asymmetry in affective experience following comparable gains and losses. The pain people experience when they lose $100, for example, turns out to be affectively more disagreeable than the pleasure they experience when they win $100. As the former tennis star Jimmy Connors observed, “I hate to lose more than I like to win”. Evolved emotions may have been well-designed to keep people’s ancestors on track in the currency of fitness, but in some ways they seem designed to foil people’s efforts to promote long-term happiness.

From the article “The Evolution of Happiness” by David M. Buss (2000), Image by Chato B. Stewart.

Next Newer Entries

%d bloggers like this: