~12 min read · Jan 26th · I travelled the world and trawled the archive to unearth the hidden lessons from history’s most brilliant people
if you seek the truth, consult the original primary sources; the rest is simply hearsay
The secret to her success? Elizabeth not only read books voraciously (three hours a day was her wont) but also people. She read, she studied, she observed, and she kept her mouth shut
Thus, a last class takeaway applicable to all: be on guard if there’s a genius in your midst. If you work for a genius, you might be berated or abused, or you could lose your job. If someone close to you is a genius, you might find that his or her work or passion always comes first. Yet to those so abused, made miserable or redundant, exploited or ignored, sincere thanks is in order for ‘taking one for the team’, the team being all of us who subsequently benefit from the greater cultural good that ‘your’ genius has done. To paraphrase the writer Edmond de Goncourt: almost no one loves the genius until he or she is dead. But then we do, because now life is better.
~13 min read · May 18th · You cannot be reduced to a body, a mind or a particular social role. An emerging theory of selfhood gets this complexity
What philosophers call ‘4E views’ of cognition – for embodied, embedded, enactive and extended cognition – are also a move in the direction of a more relational, less ‘container’, view of the self.
The point is that who you are is more complex than any one of your identities. Thinking of the self as a network is a way to conceptualise this complexity and fluidity.
The self is a cumulative network because its history persists, even if there are many aspects of its history that a self disavows going forward or even if the way in which its history is relevant changes. Recognising that the self is a cumulative network allows us to account for why radical transformation is of a self and not, literally, a different self.
~14 min read · 2020-08-18 · Renowned for his pessimism, Arthur Schopenhauer was nonetheless a conoisseur of very distinctive kinds of happiness
What her line of 13 December doesn’t reveal is that Johanna simply couldn’t tolerate Arthur: ‘All your good qualities,’ she wrote on 6 November, ‘become obscured by your super-cleverness and are made useless to the world merely because of your rage at wanting to know everything better than others … If you were less like you, you would only be ridiculous, but thus as you are, you are highly annoying.’ He was, in short, a boorish and tiresome know-it-all
He defended himself against loneliness with the belief that solitude is the only fitting condition for a philosopher: ‘Were I a King,’ he said, ‘my prime command would be – Leave me alone.
Schopenhauer’s pessimism is based on two kinds of observation. The first is an inward-looking observation that we aren’t simply rational beings who seek to know and understand the world, but also desiring beings who strive to obtain things from the world. Behind every striving is a painful lack of something, Schopenhauer claims, yet obtaining this thing rarely makes us happy. For, even if we do manage to satisfy one desire, there are always several more unsatisfied ones ready to take its place. Or else we become bored, aware that a life with nothing to desire is dull and empty. If we are lucky enough to satisfy our basic needs, such as hunger and thirst, then in order to escape boredom we develop new needs for luxury items, such as alcohol, tobacco or fashionable clothing. At no point, Schopenhauer says, do we arrive at final and lasting satisfaction. Hence one of his well-known lines: ‘life swings back and forth like a pendulum between pain and boredom’.