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Mind Macros 61: Experiencing life through our perceptions, eudaimonia versus happiness, and the forcing bias
“It's beautiful to be alone. To be alone does not mean to be lonely. It means the mind is not influenced and contaminated by society.” — Jiddu Krishnamurti
Welcome to another issue of Mind Macros - I hope you find something of value.
Food for Thought
I. Cognitive Bias: Forcing (Why You Shouldn’t Trust Magicians)
“To grasp how insidious motivated reasoning is, it helps to know a little magic. One of the essential tools in a magician’s tool kit is a form of manipulation called forcing. In its simplest form, forcing works like this: The magician places two cards facedown in front of you. In order to make his trick succeed, he needs you to end up with the card on the left. He says: ‘Now we’re going to remove one of these cards—please pick one.’ If you point to the card on the left, he says, ‘Okay, that one’s yours.’ If you point to the card on the right, he says, ‘Okay, we’ll remove that one.’ Either way, you end up holding the card on the left, feeling like you chose it of your own free will. If you could see both of those possible scenarios at once, the trick would be obvious. But because you end up in only one of those worlds, you never realize. Forcing is what your brain is doing to get away with motivated reasoning while still making you feel like you’re being objective. Suppose a Democratic politician gets caught cheating on his wife, but a Democratic voter doesn’t consider that a reason not to vote for him: ‘What he does in his private life is his own business,’ she reasons. However, if the adulterous politician had been a Republican, she would instead have thought, ‘Adultery is a sign of poor character—that shows he’s not fit to govern.’ If the Democratic voter could see the way she would have reacted in that counterfactual world and compare it to her reaction in the actual world, the influence of her motivations would be obvious to her. But because she only ever sees one of those worlds, she never realizes that she’s being anything less than dispassionate.
“It’s easiest for your brain to pull the ‘forcing’ trick on topics you’ve never considered before, because you have no preexisting principles to get in the way of choosing whichever answer is convenient for you in the case at hand. You may have already formed opinions about how harshly to judge adultery, so how about this example instead: If you get sued and you win the case, should the person who sued you pay your legal costs? If you’re like most people (85 percent, in one study), your answer is yes. After all, if you’re falsely accused of something, why should you be out thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees? That wouldn’t be fair. However, when the question in that study was slightly reworded—’If you sue someone and you lose the case, should you pay his costs?’—only 44 percent of people said yes. Imagining yourself in the role of the person who sued and lost brings to mind alternate arguments. For example, you might have lost simply because the other side is wealthy and can afford better lawyers. It’s not fair to discourage victims from suing just because they can’t afford to lose, right? Both the arguments for and against the ‘loser pays’ policy have at least some merit. But which one comes to mind will depend on whether you’re the plaintiff or the defendant—and it will likely never occur to you that you could have thought of an opposing argument if you had been on the other side of the case.” — From The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't by Julia Galeg.
II. Experiencing Life Through the Cloud of Our Perceptions
“Imagine that you’re unwell and in a foul mood, and they’re taking you through some lovely countryside. The landscape is beautiful but you’re not in the mood to see anything. A few days later you pass the same place and you say, ‘Good heavens, where was I that I didn’t notice all of this?’ Everything becomes beautiful when you change. Or you look at the trees and the mountains through windows that are wet with rain from a storm, and everything looks blurred and shapeless. You want to go right out there and change those trees, change those mountains. Wait a minute, let’s examine your window. When the storm ceases and the rain stops, and you look out the window, you say, ‘Well, how different everything looks.’ We see people and things not as they are, but as we are. That is why when two people look at something or someone, you get two different reactions. We see things and people not as they are, but as we are.” — From Awareness by Anthony De Mello.
III. Eudaimonia: A Better Goal Than Happiness
“A term that originated in ancient Greece, eudaimonia was a word emphasised by renowned philosophers Plato and Aristotle and for me (and many others) it was a better word for ‘happiness’. This is because today we’re told the overriding rationale for our hobbies, work, relationships and the conduct of our daily lives is the pursuit of happiness. But ancient Greek philosophers believed this was too simplistic and the very term had many shortcomings. By relying too heavily on the word ‘happiness’ we are frequently (and wrongly) programmed to avoid discomfort, fatigue, fear and testing situations. This is why eudaimonia is better. Roughly translated as ‘fulfilment’, it’s different from happiness since it openly accepts that pain and struggling should form part of the process. It’s entirely possible to be fulfilled, but at the same time feel stressed and overburdened. This is a small yet significant psychological nuance that the word happiness doesn’t address, since it is difficult to speak of being happy yet unhappy (or happy yet struggling) but it’s why I believe we adventure.
“Even in life, this is why Plato and Aristotle did not believe the purpose was to be happy – the purpose was to pursue eudaimonia. All because this word encourages us to trust that many of life’s most worthwhile projects will come with a sizeable serving of suffering and struggle but are worth pursuing nevertheless. These could range from creating a new business, building your dream house or migrating reindeer 180 miles across some of the deadliest terrain Mother Nature has ever created. Essentially, happiness without fulfilment is a failure. This is why the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus famously once said, ‘The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skilful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.’
“More than a thousand years later, on 10 April 1899, the great American President Theodore Roosevelt stated in his famous speech ‘The Strenuous Life’: ‘I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labour and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.’ This is fundamentally why witnessing a sunrise following a 20 km vertical hike up a mountain is so much more fulfilling than watching it on a screen from the comfort of your sofa. In the Journal of Henry David Thoreau 1837–1861 the author, considered to be one of America’s great modern philosophers, wrote about his daily practices one Christmas Day of 1856 when he said, ‘Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary.’ Days later in his diary he expanded on this point and wrote, ‘We must go out and re-ally ourselves to Nature every day. We must make root, send out some little fibre at least, even every winter day. I am sensible that I am imbibing health when I open my mouth to the wind. Staying in the house breeds a sort of insanity always.’
“This term was inspired by the 1956 book The Outsider by Colin Wilson who wrote, ‘A man has achieved his present position by being the most aggressive and enterprising creature on earth. And now he has created a comfortable civilisation he faces an unexpected problem ... the comfortable life lowers a man’s resistance so that he sinks into an unheroic sloth ... the comfortable life causes spiritual decay just as soft sweet food causes tooth decay.’
“Finally, this idea of suffering for success isn’t just confined to the realms of philosophy. French-born, Nobel Prize-winning biologist Alexis Carrel believed that, ‘To progress again, man must remake himself. And he cannot remake himself without suffering. For he is both the marble and the sculptor. In order to uncover his true visage, he must shatter his own substance with heavy blows of his hammer.’” — From Blueprint by Ross Edgley.
Quotes to Ponder
I. Jiddu Krishnamurti on being alone:
“It's beautiful to be alone. To be alone does not mean to be lonely. It means the mind is not influenced and contaminated by society.”
II. Alan Watts on the meaning of life:
“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”
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