Why Discrimination Is Reasonable, According to Karl Popper

A while ago, I had a discussion with a friend of mine: we were talking about how people from different cultures interacted with each other. My friend claimed – and he was quite serious about it – that ‘All Moroccans are aggressive’. ‘How do you know?’ I asked him, ‘Have you met all Moroccans?’. ‘No’, he said, ‘but the ones I’ve met, were all aggressive’. Well that seems discriminating, doesn’t it? But while he said this, an idea popped into my mind: Karl Popper’s falsification theory. And I came to a rather unexpected conclusion…

You might have heard of Karl Popper. He is a big name in (the history of) philosophy of science. Popper was a proponent of a tenet called ‘critical rationalism‘, and he is best known for the notion of ‘falsifiability‘ he came up with, in which falsifiability refers to ‘the inherent testability of a scientific hypothesis’. Popper used the notion of falsifiability as a criterium to distinguish science from what he called ‘pseudo-science’, in which a pseudo-science would be any possible ‘science’ that makes unfalsifiable claims – claims that cannot be refuted. An example of an unfalsifiable claim would be: God exists. It is impossible, by means of empirical investigation, to falsify this claim. Therefore, according to Popper, religion – or at least this religious claim – is not scientific.

Given that there are unfalsifiable claims, there must also be falsifiable claims. An example of the latter would be: All swans are white. You can see why this claim is falsifiable: if you would come to see one swan that is not white, this claim has shown to be false. And even though you are unable to prove that the claim ‘All swans are white’ is true, you can prove that it’s not true – thus falsify it. The assumption underlying the notion of falsifiability is that, as long as a falsifiable claim is not falsified, it should for the time being be accepted. There is after all no reason to say it is false.

Now, let’s go back to my friend and his seemingly discriminatory beliefs. Because if you take a closer look, it appears that discrimination and falsifiability are two sides of the same coin. Why is that? Well, let’s assume that we would state the claim ‘All Moroccans are aggressive’ – like my friend did. This claim is clearly falsifiable: one not aggressive Moroccan is sufficient to prove the claim to be false. Now, let’s assume my friend and I go to a bar and meet a few Moroccans. And, as my friend expected, they are indeed aggressive. Thus far, Popper couldn’t blame my friend for holding on to the claim ‘All Moroccans are aggressive’. After all, the claim hasn’t been falsified yet.

The point being: doesn’t my friend apply the same method as is used in the sciences? Making bold conjectures and, based on data, either refute them or not? We don’t seem to have a problem with claiming that ‘All Swans are white’, until it has been proven to be false. So why would a claim applying the same ‘scientific’ methods, when applied to members of our own species, suddenly be discriminating? Isn’t it utterly reasonable to hold on to your claims until they’ve proven to be false? Or in the case of my friend: to hold on to his unfalsified ‘discriminatory’ belief?

Note that I am not claiming that discrimination is reasonable in itself. What I am claiming however is that we cannot accuse people of holding unreasonable beliefs if they (these people) haven’t been proven wrong in holding this belief. For example: although we might have had good experiences with Moroccans, they – my friend, for example – might not. And, given Popper’s theory, this makes their beliefs no less reasonable to hold than ours.

What do you think?

Public Opinion and Information: A Dangerous Combination

‘That guy is an asshole. The way he treated his wife is absolutely disgusting. I’m glad she left him, she deserves better…much better.’ That’s the response of society when it finds out that a famous soccer player has hit his wife, and that the pair consequently decided to split the sheets. But based on what does society form this judgment, or any judgment for that matter? Based on information of course! It heard from the tabloids what has occurred, it processes this information, and then comes to the most ‘reasonable’ conclusion/judgment. It’s pretty much like science, in that it bases its conclusions on data and reasons. But the prime difference between science and gossip/public opinion is that the latter doesn’t actively try to refute its conclusions: it solely responds to the data it receives. And this has some striking consequences.

Because what happens whenever the data changes? What happens when one or two lines in a tabloid form a new and ‘shocking’ announcement? What if it appears that – while the football player and his wife were still together – the wife had an affair with another guy? Then suddently the whole situation changes. Then suddenly the wife deserved to be hit. Then suddenly a hit in the face was a mild punishment for what she did. Then suddenly most people would have done the same whenever confronted with the same situation. Suddenly there is new data that to be taken into account. But what are the implications of this observation?

The public opinion can be designed and molded by regulating the (limited) amount of information it receives. And this goes not only for gossip, but just as much for more urgent matters like politics and economics. It isn’t society’s duty to gather as much data as possible, compare evidence for and against positions, and come to the most reasonable conclusion. No, society only has to take the final step: forming the judgment. And if you understand how it is that this mechanism works, you can (ab)use it for your own good. You could if you were in politics ‘accidentally’ leak information about a conversation the prime minister had with his colleagues, and thereby change the political game. The prime minister will be forced to respond to these ‘rumors’, thereby validating the (seemingly) importance of the issue. For why else would he take the time to respond to it? And suddenly, for the rest of his days, he will be reminded for this rumor, whether it turns out to be true – as it was in Bill Clinton‘s case – or not: where there’s smoke, there is fire.

But let me ask you something: don’t you think that famous people make mistakes everyday? Even if only 1 percent of the wives would get hit by their famous husbands every year, that would still be more than enough to fill each tabloid for the entire year. But what if – from all the ‘beating cases’ – only one or two would become public a year? Then – and only then – the guy who did the hitting becomes a jerk. Why? Because even though it might have been the case that the guys hits his wife, even if we don’t know it, now we have the data to back up our judgement. And since we’re reasonable creatures who only jump to conclusions whenever we’ve got evidence to do so, we are suddenly morally allowed to do so.

We find ourselves to be reasonable creatures for solely basing our judgments on the data we receive. We find this a better way to go than just claiming things even though we don’t know them for sure. And although this might very well be the reasonable way to go, we have to remind ourselves that we’re slaves to the data, and therefore vulnerable to those providing the data. We have to be aware that even though we don’t know about the cases we don’t have data about, this doesn’t imply that the cases aren’t there. It merely means that the parties involved – whether this is the (ex) wife of a famous soccer player or anyone else – saw no reason to leak the data. It only means that their interests were more aligned than they were opposed. And we should take people’s interests – and the politics behind it – into account when jumping to judgments based on the data we receive.

But what do you think?

So Little to Say in So Many Words

I just returned from a lecture in Philosophy of Language, which is a course I attend at my university. It’s a course in which the ideas of the “big thinkers” of 20th century analytical philosophy of language are dealt with. And although I find the topic very interesting, I couldn’t help but become annoyed by the overdose of irrelevant digressions of the lecturer. It made my thoughts wander off to a more fascinating – and less annoying – place.

Let me ask you: why do people use so many words while saying so damn little? Why do people seem to think that the most important “thing” in communication is for them to convey their message, and that they should do so regardless of how long their “elucidation” would become? Don’t people see that using more words, especially when saying the same thing in multiple ways, deflates the value of each of the words said? How can we – the listeners – know what’s relevant and what’s not if relevant and irrelevant words are mixed into one act of communication? Don’t people see that the use of more words increases the risk for the totality of words to convey a contradictory message? That more words implies more meanings, and that more meanings implies more opportunity for confusion to arise?

Being succinct in communicating your thoughts is harder than being elaborate. It is as Einstein once put it, “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler”. Only by making things simple you can convey the core of what you mean to say. But it is often the fear of the second part of Einstein’s claim (of making things “too simple“) that makes us digress about – what could have been – a very simple idea. We believe that by showing the broadness of our vocabulary, we are able to show our true intelligence. But, to use another quote of Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. And that’s completely true. Only in the realms of academia, in which nuance and exceptions should be praised, is the use of “complex” terminology or digressions required – and therefore legitimized. But even then one should try to keep the number of words used at an absolute minimum.

That’s why I decide to end this article at this point. I could have written another 200 words but I don’t think the increase in the value of my message would weigh up against the extra words you’d have to read.

But what do you think?

The Ego and The Id: Beauty and The Beast

There it is again: that feeling of purposelessness. What to do about it? I might go on with whatever it is that I’m doing right now, hoping that the feeling will eventually fade away. But I know that that won’t help: it never does. Or I might try to grab some sleep and possibly feel fresh and productive again when I’ll wake up. But I don’t want to waste my precious little time on this planet sleeping just to get through the day. I might go read something, and possibly become inspired by some great stories. But there’s not that much interesting stuff around to read, at least not much that really gets down to the core of where it’s all about. So, what choices do I have left? Not many. So I guess I just have to face the feeling head on. Get my head straight, figure out why it is that I have this feeling, and possibly – as in a therapeutic Freudian manner – calm down my unconscious drives by ‘channeling’ them through my Ego. The drives won’t leave by themselves, so it’s better to find a way to use them in a constructive fashion, than to suppress them and let them linger on in my life. So that’s what I’m trying to do by writing this article.

In a sense my entire blog is a quest to do just that: channel my uncontrollable and inexplicable drives by promising to give them what they want: answers. And even though my Ego knows that there are no answers, or at least no definite ones, my unconscious Id doesn’t know. My Id is retarded in the sense that I can’t think properly, given that it would be able to think at all. The Id is an iPhone you carry around all day and that starts beeping when a new message is received. And although you don’t want to listen to it, because you just want to go on with your life, you just can’t ignore whatever it might have to say. Because, although it might be smart, the Ego can’t set any goals. The Ego is like a calculator, calculating the most efficient route to whatever goal you might have. And this ‘whatever goal you might have’ is determined by the Id, the part of you that bases its decisions on evolutionary induced impulses, pushing you to the refrigerator and to the internet (if you know what I mean).

But what if they could work together? What if they could live happily ever after in harmony, dividing the mental labor as if Adam Smith was there to delegate it? That would be great: Beauty and The Beast working together. Beauty being so consciously aware of its environment, and the Beast just taking her wherever he wants to. Great, let’s do that!

What do you think?

Beliefs, Desires and Coming Up with Reasons

A normal logical inference looks something like the following: (1) C leads to A, (2) C leads to B, (3) A and B are present, so (4) C might be true. In other words, you have got reasons – (1), (2) and (3) – for believing something, and these reasons make you think that something else – (4) – might be true. This is an example of an inference to the best explanation. But do we always act so rationally? Do we always come up with reasons before we come up with the conclusion that is supposed to follow from the reasons? Or do we – sometimes – come up with the conclusions first and then start searching reasons for validating these conclusions? Like, when we really want to buy that television and then start reasoning why it would be good for us to have that television? Let’s take a look at that.

There’s a difference between having beliefs that are based upon reasons (like ‘I see rain dropping of the window’ + ‘I see people wearing trench coats’ so ‘It must be raining outside.’) and longings or desires (like ‘I want a television. Period.) Where we need reasons to believe the beliefs, the desires are just there. What we can see here is a difference in the chronological order for coming up with reasons for a belief or desire: in case of beliefs we come up with reasons before getting at the belief, and with desires we have desires s and then start coming up with reasons for why we should give into that desire.

But there is another difference – beside the difference in order – between ‘belief reasoning’ and ‘desire reasoning’. The belief reasoning eventually leads up to an idea, while the desire reasoning eventually ends up with an action (or not). The rational component – that is, the Ego – that has do deal with all the inputs or impulses entering our conscious and unconscious mind, is called for in different stages of the reasoning trajectory. Where the Ego is apparent in first stage of the belief reasoning – the part in which we’re thinking whether or not we consider a belief to be true – it becomes apparent in the desire reasoning only after the belief has settled.

So what? Is this a problem? Well, not necessarily: not if the two types of reasoning stay completely separated. Not for as long as beliefs are preceded by reasons, and not for as long as desires are – or are not – acted upon based upon reasons. It only becomes dangerous when the two become intertwined: especially when we just happen to believe something and then start coming up with reasons for why it is that we just happen to believe this something. Since unlike desires, beliefs aren’t something you just have. Beliefs are there solely because you’ve got reasons for them. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be beliefs, but merely desires.

So, what we can conclude from this? Well, a conclusion could be that you should watch out for those people that – in a discussion, for example – just seem to believe something and then start coming up with reasons for why it is that they just happen to believe this something. Since, if these people are confusing the notions of belief and desire, it can be very difficult – or even impossible – for you to change their (unreasonable) beliefs. After all, desires are just there, which is reason enough for having them, while beliefs require reasons. And if this isn’t realized, the discussion might get stuck at the level of implementation: the level at which is being decided how the belief should be implemented – that is: validated by society – instead of reasoning whether or not the belief is reasonable in the first place. And we don’t want that to happen, or that’s at least what I believe.

But what do you think?

Ethics and Mathematics: The Love for Absolute Rules

Ethics is not mathematics. For, unlike mathematics, ethics cannot function solely based on a set of axioms, or ‘absolutely true staring points for reasoning,’ like a + b = b + a. Based on axioms, we can build an entire world  (‘mathematics’) in which we can be sure that, only by following these rules of inference, we will always end up with the truth, the truth and nothing but the truth. Hence it’s understandable that philosophers have thought to themselves: ‘Damn, how cool would it be if we could apply the same trick to ethics; that we, confronted with any action, could decide whether the action would be right or wrong?’ Surely: society has tried to build its very own rule-based system, the system of law. But is this a truly axiomatic system? Are there truly fundamental rights from which the rules of justice can be inferred? Let’s take a look at that.

Immanuel Kant made the distinction between hypothetical imperatives and categorical imperatives. These are two ‘kinds of rules’, with the first ‘being applicable to someone dependent upon him having certain ends‘; for example, if I wish to acquire knowledge, I must learn. Thus we’ve got: desired end (‘knowledge’) + action (‘learning’) = rule. Categorical imperatives, on the other hand, denote ‘an absolute, unconditional requirement that asserts its authority in all circumstances, both required and justified as an end in itself.’ We can see that there is no desired end present in this kind of rule; only the ‘action = rule‘-part.

But how could a categorical imperative be applied in practice? A belief leading up to a categorical imperative could for example be: Gay marriage is okay. Period. That would imply that, you believe that, irrespective of the conditions present in a particular environment – thus no matter whether there is a republic or democratic regime, whether the economy is going great or not – gay marriage is okay. However, as it stands, it is not yet a categorical imperative, since this claim doesn’t urge you (not) to do something (such as ‘You shall not kill’, which is a categorical imperative). The rightful categorical imperative would be something like (G): ‘You should accept gay marriage.’ This is an unconditional requirement that asserts its authority in all circumstances and is justified as an end in itself

Now: let’s assume that you’re talking to someone who doesn’t agree with (G). Because now it gets interesting, for now you have to make a decision: you either stick to (G) or you reformulate (G) into a hypothetical imperative. The first option is clear: you just say ‘I believe that gay marriage should be allowed always and everywhere. Period.’ Seems fair, right? But what if the person you’re talking to would respond by saying, ‘Okay…so even when citizens would democratically decide that gay marriage is unacceptable?’

Now you have got a problem, for this might be situation in which two of your categorical imperatives are contradictory, such as (G) and (D): ‘Decisions coming about through a democratic process should be accepted.’ Both (G) and (D) are unconditional rules: they should be acted on irrespective of the situation you’re in. But this is clearly impossible, for (G) forces you to accept gay marriage, while (D) forces you to do the opposite.

You could of course say that (G) is merely your belief (you believe that gay marriage should be accepted, not that this particular democratic society should find this too), but then you seem to fall into a form of moral relativism. Given that you don’t want that to happen, you have to decide which one is the true categorical imperative: (G) or (D)? And which one can be turned into ‘merely’ a hypothetical imperative?

You could of course decide to turn (D) into (D.a): ‘Only if you believe that a decision has come about through a democratic process and is a good decision, you should accept the decision.’ Or you could turn (G) into (G.a): ‘Only if the decision has come about through a democratic process, gay marriage should be accepted.’ But is this really how we form our moral judgements? Is (D.a) truly a rule you believe to be ‘fair’? And (G.a): do you truly believe that gay marriage is okay only if it is accepted by society? That is: do you make the moral value of gay marriage dependent upon the norms prevalent within a society? I doubt it.

So we are stuck; stuck into a paradox, a situation in which two absolute rules are contradictory, and the only way out is through turning at least one of them into an unintuitive and seemingly inadequate hypothetical imperative. So what to conclude? We’ve seen that categorical imperatives look powerful; as if they can truly guide our lives for once and for all; no more need to search for conditions that might be relevant to our judgements. But we’ve also seen that when two categorical imperatives are contradictory – that is, when two rules cannot be followed at the same time – changes have to be made: at least one of them has to be turned into a hypothetical imperative. In order to do so, a certain ‘value hierarchy’ is required, based upon which these categorization decisions can be made. Hence it seems that even Kant’s absolute ethics – with its absolute categorical imperatives – seems to be relative: relative to (the value of) other imperatives, that is. Therefore mathematical ethics, as presented above, seems to be impossible.

But what do you think?

If You Ask a Question, You Should Expect an Answer

‘Well, If you didn’t want an answer, then you shouldn’t have asked me a question.’ That’s what I often think when people ask me about my point of view on a particular topic, and – subsequently – respond by looking disgusted and saying something along the lines of: ‘No, that is never going to work’, or ‘How can you ever think that?’

Every scientific discipline is divided in two groups of people: those who are prepared to utter original ideas and those that seem capable only of smashing down these ideas. This ‘force field’ between the forces of creativity and destruction is most prominent in philosophy, and then in particular in what I call ‘definition battles’. With the term ‘definition battle’ I mean philosophical discussions about – as you might expect – the definition of a term. ‘What is life?’ could be a question triggering a definition battle. But also questions such as ‘What is pleasure?’ or ‘What is altruism?’ are likely to lead to a definition battle. Let’s focus ourselves at the example of ‘What is life?’

I remember a philosophy teacher of mine asking the class what we believed to be ‘life’ is. With no-one seeming to make the effort to answer his question, I decided to give it a go. I came up with my interpretation – or definition – of life as ‘a natural process that has an end and a beginning and that is capable of keeping itself functioning solely by means of metabolic processes.’ You might find this definition inaccurate, but I hope that you can at least agree with me on the fact that it is a definition; a definite statement based upon which one can distinguish living from non-living entities.

After having given this definition of life, other students looked at me in disbelief, as if they saw fire burning. And then one of them asked: ‘But, according to your definition of life, a comatose patient wouldn’t be alive. After all, a comatose patient isn’t ‘alive’ solely by means of his metabolic processes; it’s is being kept ‘alive’ by means of external interventions (medical machinery etc.).’

I replied by saying: ‘Yes, I indeed believe that a comatose patient is not alive anymore.’ Then hell broke loose and students kept on saying that my point of view was wrong. Note: saying that my point of view was wrong; not saying why my point of view was wrong. Because how could they ever say that my point of view was wrong? It was, after all, my point of view, right? It was my definition for which had – and gave – reasons.

I believe this case is exemplary for the manner in which people interact with each other: people ask each other about each others point of view, but whenever people really give their point of view, it gets – no matter what the point of view might be – shot down. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem; not if the opponents of the point of view have good – or at least any – arguments against the point of view. But what often seems to be the case is that the ones who criticize others don’t dare or unable to take a stance for themselves. Hence, whenever such an instance occurs, I always ask to myself: how can you criticize others, if you don’t know – or you don’t even dare to express – your own position? Based on what view of the world are you criticizing the position of others – in this case myself? And if you don’t even have a view on the world, how then can you say my views are wrong? Wrong based on what? Teach me. Please. How can I make my beliefs more reasonable?

I say that we should dare to make choices, even when it comes down to such delicate questions as ‘What is life?’ For if you ask a question, you should expect a definite answer. Because if you don’t expect to reach a definite answer, no matter how counter-intuitive this answer might be, you will inevitably get lost in an everlasting and non-value adding discussion. And worst of all: if you aren’t prepared to listen to any (definite) answer a person gives you, then you aren’t taking this person seriously. You ears are open but your mind is not. And lastly, as I mentioned before, you simply cannot judge others without occupying a position for yourself. So you need to have some sort of reasonably firm position in order to be able to criticize others. So please…share your position with us.

But what do you think?

A Game of Tetris: That’s All the World of Chemistry Is

“Let’s see; where can we put this fine little atom? Is there still some space left, there, next to the Oxygen element? No hmm…okay; that means we’re done for now! We’ve made ourselves a water molecule.”

That’s the way the world of chemistry works; it’s nothing more than a big game of Tetris, played either by nature or by members of our own kind. Measuring and thinking; pushing and retracting; we build ourselves the little worlds we want to. Of course, we have to comply with the rules nature set for us. We can’t make a water molecule by adding only one Hydrogen element, but that’s merely a side-note, right? A little side-effect of the Tetris kind of game Nintendo’s part of Mother Nature has build for us. And who knows: maybe, when we enter the next level, a can of new possibilities will open.

Incredible, right? The way in which nature works? As if it is made for us to understand. It almost makes you presume the existence of a creator; the Nintendo God of chemistry; the one who determined the compositions and configurations in which we are allowed to put the elements together. But maybe something different is going on; maybe we have created this game of Tetris for ourselves in our own little minds; just to make sure that “we understand” the world. After all, isn’t it suspicious that electrons are “too small to see”? That they “just can’t seem to be reflected by light”? And that we have to come up will all kinds of mind-boggling constructions, like light being both “waves and particles”, in order to keep up this facade of knowledge?

Don’t be silly. Of course atoms and subatomic particles exist. Why else would they be so useful to us? Why else does nuclear energy provide us with the power it does? Are you saying that, only because we cannot “see” everything we’re talking about, these “undetectable” things don’t exist?

Well, we can’t see God can we? And still we can attribute many effects to this “cause”: it is God who has made us; it is God who determines our fate; and it is God who makes sure that you go to heaven and I go tell. That’s an elaborate and simple explanation, right? It would surely pass Occam’s razor because of the absolutely minimal number of assumptions it makes: only God has to exist and all of our sorrows can be explained. But does this make God real? Or is it merely a “useful” construct?

But let’s not take this route; let’s keep it “scientific”. Science is, after all, true; and religion isn’t, right? Right?! And let’s be honest; the predictability of the “it’s God’s will” argument isn’t that high, right? Our subatomic particle theory can at least, although it is by means of probabilities, give us a clue about what might happen when we start messing around in “our” world.

So, what’s the conclusion of this article? The conclusion is that we will keep on playing Tetris; no matter who set the rules of the game: whether is Mother Nature or ourselves.

But what do you think?

Why Are We?

Before you embark on reading this article, I have to warn you upfront that this article might appear to be depressing. And if it does, it might be because it is in fact a depressive article. Having said that, here we go.

Do you ever ask yourself where all of this is about? Not only why we are here on this planet of ours, but why we really are: why we are capable of experiencing; why we are capable of tasting; why we are capable of complaining. We are ‘just’ living our lives, and going with the flow, but do we ever think about what this ‘living’ might actually consist of? Let’s take a look at that.

‘Purpose’ is an inherently unstable concept. The reason for this is that the Purpose of everything – from which all other purposes (which a small ‘p’) can be derived – will always lie outside of our reach. Whenever we embark on the journey of trying to grasp this Purpose, we’ll inevitably end up in an infinite regress. It’s like a diver trying to reach the bottom of the sea, but each time he thinks the bottom is near is forced to return to the surface to grasp fresh air. Our human limits will deter us from reaching the limits – either of our Purpose or of the sea.

We only have a (very) limited framework of beliefs within which we can claim to ‘know’ things: within which we can claim to ‘know’ that the world consists of particles; in which we can claim to ‘know’ that we descend from the fish; in which we can claim to ‘know’ that we are alive. But how big is this limited framework of beliefs in the scope of which we believe to know? That’s an unanswerable question, since we don’t know what we don’t know, and therefore we cannot have a benchmark to measure our sense of ignorance (or omnipotence) against. We believe we know a lot, but we can never know how much we actually know.

Don’t you find it – at times at least – frustrating that we cannot deny the fact that we’ve got no clue about all of the things we don’t know? That we can try all we want to unravel the mysteries of the universe, but that we don’t know if we’re getting any closer to ‘the truth’? Closer to the way the world really is? Closer to the true Purpose of all of this? It’s like we’re forced to always look into one direction, and that even within that direction our line of sight is inherently limited by the horizon set by our human limits.

A depressing thought? Maybe or maybe not. Since there are two ways to deal with this thought: either (1) by drowning in it and feeling the total absurdity and seemingly insignificance of our existence, or (2) by shutting of the part of our minds this thought resides in, and keep on ‘shooting for another perfect day.’ But, irrespective of the option we choose, we’ve got to remember that closing our eyes doesn’t hide the truth; it only makes us (temporarily) incapable of seeing it.

Are you happy? Are you content with the way you’re living your life? And if so, why are you happy? Are you ‘just’ happy because you don’t allow yourself to see the only absolute truth in our existence – the meaningless of life? Or are you happy for other reasons? If you are happy because of the former, then that’s a noble – or at least understandable – sense of ‘constructive’ happiness. But have you ever thought to yourself: why should I even be happy in life? Just because it’s a nice feeling – or at least nicer than unhappiness? And aren’t we making it a little too easy for ourselves by striving for nothing more than a feeling of ‘just being happy’?

What if it’s just one big joke whatever it is that we’re doing here? What if there are just a couple of aliens that have put our ancestors (the monkeys) on this planet just so that they – the aliens – could have some fun? Just to be ‘happy’ for themselves? Maybe. All we know is that we are.

But what do you think?

Why Would You Ever Study Philosophy?

I am curious to know how many of the people reading this article studies – or has studied – philosophy. I guess the percentage is rather low. And that’s a pity. It truly is. Because although philosophy doesn’t necessarily make you a multimillionaire, it can give you a great sense of satisfaction. Getting down the most fundamental of fundamentals of your thinking, and slowly starting to see things make more and more sense, is pretty much like an orgasm to the mind; or, to put it less sex-oriented, like candy to the mind. Personally I believe that philosophy should be the number one course taught to children. Starting on high school, since primary school is for chasing girls…

I am not saying that philosophy is the ‘one and only discipline seeking for the truest of truths’. No, there are many more disciplines sharing this ambition. What I am saying, however, is that philosophy is an ‘activity – not a topic – that can be very helpful in thinking within the conceptual frameworks of any discipline around. You can compare it to riding a bike; riding a bike is useful in a wide variety of environments: the city, the forest, at a farm…You get it. That’s how it is with philosophy as well: no matter where you are situated, no matter whether you are a mathematician or a physicist: you will benefit from philosophy.

When people ask me, ‘What exactly is philosophy?’ I tell them – like a true philosopher – that there isn’t ‘some thing’ that can be called philosophy. Philosophy is not a subject: it’s a manner of thinking. A manner of thinking that can be applied irrespective of the particular subject at issue. That’s why well-known philosophers have been – or are – involved in so many different disciplines: one philosopher can ‘easily’ be involved with such apparently different subjects as the mind-body problem (psychology and neuroscience), rationality (economics) and scientific realism (physics, chemistry and more). That is because philosophy is a ‘system of thinking’ one can apply to the world; it’s an angle from which you look at the world.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I am telling you this because philosophy has truly changed my life. It has made me – I believe – a more respectful person: more understanding towards opposing points of view. It has forced me to think about why I believe what I do, which made me appreciate my beliefs much more. And I am convinced that – besides the intellectual merits – philosophy has a therapeutic value. By that I mean that philosophy can ease your mind when you feel lost; when you need a shoulder to cry on. Pretty much like music, but then aimed straight at the mind.

Use philosophy like a hammer for the mind; to hit the mind it in the right shape. The ‘right shape’? What does that mean? To be honest: I don’t know. But it sounds philosophical, doesn’t it?

But what do you think?

People Spend 1/6 of their Lives In Front Of the Television

The average person spends 4 to 5 hours a day in front of the television. That means that, in a 65-year period, the average person would have spent 9 years glued to the tube. That’s quite a lot, isn’t it? But that’s not all, since there is – on average – 18 minutes of commercial airtime during an hour-long broadcasted television program. Thus, a simple calculation shows that the average person – given that he only watches commercial airtime – spends almost 2,5 years (!) of his life watching commercials on television. Add to that the Tel Sells of this world, and you’ll come to even more years of commercial television usage. So, let’s make this very clear: on a global scale, people are spending more than 1/6th of their lives in front of the television, and possibly more than 1/24th of their lives watching commercials on television.

Imagine what the world could be like if – instead of sitting in front of the television watching commercials – people would be doing something useful with their time: helping their neighbors, teaching their children, taking care of their garden etc. Then we would gain 1/24th of ‘extra’ human life, and even more if we would stop – or at least lessen – our television usage at all. We could in the time saved by not watching television (commercials) help people in Africa, think about what we’re going to do about global warning or play games with friends. We could, instead of watching people promote their books on television, actually read a book. That would surely be a better use of our time, wouldn’t it? Surely it can be pleasant to just relax and watch something on autopilot; to not think about anything for a while. To just let the ‘entertainment’ of television blow you away. But don’t you mind that – in this time that you’re ‘not thinking about anything’ – you’re in fact (unconsciously) being indoctrinated with thoughts and desires about deodorant, ice-cream, cars and beer? Don’t you mind being used as a puppet; companies using your precious time supporting their own wealth?

There are, as always, exceptions to the rule: there are documentaries broadcasted on television that might actually widen your perspective on the world, instead of narrowing it. Documentaries that actually teach you something and therefore might actually be worthy of your time. But – given that there are such documentaries – can’t we just watch them online, without having to suffer from any commercial breaks whatsoever? There are plenty of sites (Top Documentary Films and DocumentaryHeaven, to name only two) that provide you with such documentaries for free. And if you want to watch less educational programs (series etc.), there are equally many sites at which you can stream your favorite series for free. That might save you a lot of time watching commercials; time that can be used to watch more of your favorite series. However, as you might have noticed, many of such series – like Californication – are interwoven with implicit advertisement (Why does Hank Moody drive a Porsche? Why does he smoke Camel?). But that’s the price we’ve got to pay for entertainment.

But what do you think?

The Nonsense of Feeling Regrets

Have you ever done something at a particular point in time that you didn’t consider to be the best thing to do at that particular point in time? I am not talking about looking back on something you did and, while you are looking back, you come to realize that it might not have been the most reasonable thing to do. No, I am talking about deciding at a particular point in time to do some something: something you believe to be the best thing to do at that particular point in time. Now, let me ask you: given that you always do what you consider to be the best thing to do at a particular point in time, how then can you – at a later point in time – decide that what you choose to do was not the best decision after all? How can you regret having made a decision that you considered to be reasonable at the point in time when you actually had to make the decision? Is it even reasonable to have regrets? And if so, when? Let’s take a look at that.

You choose to go study Business after you finished high school. After a year or two, you come to realize that this is not where you heart lies: you are not as enthusiastic anymore as you were when you started the study. You decide to switch studies: you go study philosophy. Now, two years after you’ve started studying, you finally have found the area where you heart lies. You start thinking about how nice it might have been if you would have started studying philosophy right away. And then you ask yourself the ultimate question: do I regret my choice for studying Business? And although you might be inclined to say that you did, you cannot speak the words out load. And the reason you can’t do so is the following: you have chosen to do what you considered to be best at that particular point in time. You have consciously thought about the options you had and you decided – given the information and feelings you had at that particular point in time – to go study Business. Now, looking back on those two years, you have come to realize that this study doesn’t fit who you really are. But this looking back experience isn’t something you had when you started your academic journey. You feel relieved: you have come to understand that you simply cannot regret the decision you have made.

The thing that is at work here is time and its ever forward flowing motion. And a consequence of this unstoppable and uni-directional movement of time is that you cannot escape it; you always are positioned somewhere within time. And since time – like a moving train – is always in motion, you cannot escape the fact that the world you live in keeps on changing. Today is different from tomorrow, just like the landscape a train moved through two hours ago is different from the one it is driving through right now. And it is because of this inherent change of the world we live in, that you constantly have to make decisions. After all, why would you have to keep on making decisions if nothing in you world would have changed? You would only have to decide once, right? Once; at the start of your journey. And this is where the analogy with the train breaks down; because where the train has to follow the track as it is layed down in front of it, we are free (or doomed) to choose where we want to go. The only thing we cannot choose, is not to chose. Because even if we decide not to choose, we are in fact making a choice.

But what has this to do with having regrets? Well, given that you are at a certain point on your very own track called life, and you are forced to make a decision where to go next, how then can you ever regret the choice you make at this particular point in time? Not based on the “unintended consequences” that came about, right? Because you didn’t know the unintended consequences and you didn’t choose for these unintended consequences, right? You didn’t choose for Business turning out not to be your kind of study. That simply was an unintended consequence of your decision to start studying Business. But even in case of more severe (negative) unintended consequences, this line of reasoning holds; even if you were driving in your car, taking a side-turn and suddenly hit a drunk woman that recklessly crossed the street and she would die, you cannot regret your decision to have taken this side-turn. You were forced to make a decision in time and you chose to take the turn. Why? Because that was the direction you had to go to in order for you to reach your destination. But what about the girl? She died, right? That seems something that could make you regret your decision? Well, you didn’t choose to hit the girl, right? It was an unintended consequence of your decision. A consequence that you didn’t choose for at the point in time you had to make the decision. It was not a consequence you could have reasonably taken into consideration.

The moral of this story? Don’t regret what you did not choose for. Shit happens. As long as you were not choosing the shit that happened, you cannot blame yourself.

But what do you think?