Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Gossip, rumor, innuendo

People like to speak about the affairs of others. This is as true today as it was back in my beloved Athens. Often what they say about other people amounts to nothing more than rumor, innuendo, or gossip. This is surely not worthy of our time. So, when someone comes to you eager to share some information, ask first: Are you certain that what you want to tell me is true? Then ask, is your statement going to be good or kind? Then ask, is it necessary that I know this piece of information?

If your friend's information is neither true, nor kind, and is unnecessary to you, tell them to please say nothing at all.

- Socrates

Thursday, October 7, 2021

What can we do?

I hear many people complaining about having to wear a mask and having to social distance. They even complain about receiving an injection containing protection from the plague. But imagine being sent to war. Imagine being exiled from your country. These were realities for many people in my time and the years since. 

Some ancients saw such events as an opportunity to do good. For example, Musonius was exiled to the island of Gyara. Rather than complain about the loss of his comfortable life style, he chose to help the locals. He discovered a new water supply which improved the lives of all in the village.

What can we learn from this? Perhaps only that we too have a choice. We can focus on our individual inconvenience and complain, or we can take the opportunity to do something for the greater good. Because wearing masks, social distancing, and taking vaccinations can help reduce the risk the virus poses to people - which we want to do - we should stoically accept the small inconvenience and get on with life.

I am reminded of the wisdom of one of your recent leaders. J.F. Kennedy (1961) said "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country". A simple statement that deserves some consideration.

- Socrates

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Let it go

As you walk past that same fence you've walked past a hundred times before, notice how it's aging. It degrades over time. Now consider the family pets you've shared your home with over the years. They've lived their lives and are now gone. And here you are, still alive, a witness to the passing of time. A witness to the truth that nothing lasts forever.

We find ourselves strongly attached to our habits and possessions. And because of our attachments, we feel a sense of anxiety and despair when we realize that one day these things will be taken from us. This is especially evident when we consider that we will one day lose the very thing that we are most attached to; the most precious thing of all - our own life.

How can one minimize one's sense of loss? Perhaps the solution comes only in this - the realization and acceptance that all things come to an end. Try to relieve yourself of strong attachments. Remind yourself of the passing of time. Next time you walk past that fence, look closely as it deteriorates, smile, and let it go.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Your messages can wait

Walking the city streets of the 21st Century is fascinating. Sometimes I stand alongside two intersecting roads and watch people queue in their vehicles, awaiting permission to move. This permission is granted by an unseen entity, but is signaled with a light.

Frequently I observe people hurredly reaching for their phones so that they may quickly check recent correspondance while they wait for the light signal. Some people even continue to gaze at their phones after the signal to move has been given. By the gods, what an urge. People must place great importance on checking for correspondance every few minutes.

I am reminded of an anecdote from a philosopher who lived around 400 years after my bodily death. His name was Seneca. He practiced a philosophy that was founded by the people who gathered and talked at the Stoa Poikile, a nicely decorated area near the Agora where I spent my time. He found it amusing to watch people waiting for letters to arrive by ship. They had been waiting for weeks to hear from their family and friends, and one might think that waiting a few minutes more would make little difference. But no. They would stampede towards the boat in a frenzy, just to get their letter a minute or two earlier. As if that would make any real difference. Seneca would quietly wait for the rabble to move on before finding his letters in peace.

It seems that people have not changed much in 2000 years. But I think the pressure we put on ourselves to always be available, to constantly check for news, and to immediately respond to correspondence, can be a cause of stress. Next time you're tempted to pick up your phone while driving, ask yourself "will waiting 15 minutes to read the message cause any real harm in the world?" or "will the person who sent the message think any less of me for not reading it while in charge of a car?" If you're honest with yourself, you may find that the sense of urgency to read the message is a product of your own mind and is something you can change.

Drive safely, and may Tyche (Fortuna) help you avoid heavy traffic.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Relish your mistakes

Many people have a fear of making mistakes. This fear can lead to an unrealistic demand for perfection in themselves and other people. While it is true that some mistakes can lead to a harmful consequence, and should be avoided (if possible), we are only human and we must accept that we are imperfect. Still, most mistakes don’t sit in this category. Everyday mistakes in reasoning don’t usually lead to immediate harm. These are the mistakes I relish. Why? Because they help me learn. 

I have always said that we should follow arguments to their conclusions, no matter whether we like or dislike those conclusions. But sometimes an argument yields a conclusion that appears absurd. In such a case we may have made a false assumption - a mistake in the initial premises. Discovering this mistake is a joy because it allows us to look more carefully at why, exactly, we held that premise to be true. We can then either abandon the premise or refine it as needed.

In some cases we may find that our premises are good. In this case we must take a closer look at the bizarre conclusion and try to understand why we think it is false. Accepting the conclusion may require us to jettison some other beliefs. This is something in which I take great pleasure. To learn that I have been carrying false beliefs is, to me, a great good and something to celebrate. 

So, please do not fear the discovery of mistakes in your reasoning. Mistakes can help us examine our beliefs. They help us learn how to examine our lives. After all, the unexamined life is not worth living. 

- Socrates

Friday, April 9, 2021

Don't ruminate

If you are treated unjustly, try not to ruminate on it. That is the path to resentment and anger, which is the path to acting unjustly yourself. Don’t allow your soul to be damaged thus. Move on and focus on your own good character. Be an example. Let other people ruminate on how justly you treat them.

- Socrates

Why get upset?

Why get upset if someone forms a falsely negative impression of you? When someone interprets a true statement as false, the statement itself is not harmed. It will continue to be whatever it is. And the same is true of you. A person's false belief about you cannot harm your character. Your character remains as it is despite their thoughts. So let them believe whatever they want, for you have no control over their thoughts. Move on. Live your life well and maintain your good character. After all, that is within your control.

- Socrates

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Too much Political Correctness?

I am often confused by the language used by you moderns. Recently I encountered the phrase PC gone mad. It was used as an accusation. As I am eager to learn, I asked some very wise people what is meant by the phrase. They told me that term PC means Politically Correct and that the phrase gone mad means that is has gone overboard. In other words, they said, there is too much of it.

I understand what it means to have too much of something, but I was still confused about the term Politically Correct. My friends told me that Political Correctness means reducing racism and sexism. They explained that a Politically Correct person does not like racism and sexism, and thus seeks to reduce them. My friends argued that racism and sexism are unjust behaviors. I accepted their arguments and am ashamed to admit that these things did not concern us in ancient times. We did practically nothing to be Politically Correct. But over the centuries people have made progress and have come to abhor the practice of racism and sexism.

But now I am even more confused. You moderns have come to understand that racism and sexism are not good, and yet I hear the complaint that PC has gone mad. People seem to think there is too much PC. In other words, people think that there is too much reduction of racism and sexism. Do you moderns believe that there is an optimal amount of racism and sexism? Do you think that removing more racism and sexism will be a bad thing? If so, it seems that you believe that some racism and sexism is good. 

I am old and unwise. Perhaps I have misunderstood. Or perhaps you have not made quite as much progress as I thought.

-- Socrates

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Escaping the cave

Yesterday I found myself participating in a most interesting dialogue about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Plato's beautiful allegory, it seems, has become a central discussion point in many philosophical dialogues. It has also served as a premise upon which many of your modern story tellers describe the challenge of escaping our clouded, indoctrinated version of reality to see the world for what it truly is.

I shall not provide an overview of the allegory here, save to say that although Plato presented it in my voice, it was not my idea. It was his. But I would like to mention a point raised in our discussion. Our dialogue turned to the notion of science and its attempt to provide certain knowledge. Now, I am not convinced that the scientific process will ever provide the sort of certainty my friends were talking about. That, my friends, sits more in the realm of mathematics and philosophical reasoning. Still, science does seem to give us an increasingly detailed explanation of reality. Interestingly, my discussion partners suggested that this is not necessarily a good thing. They claimed that our search for certainty is misguided. Perhaps, they said, it is better to embrace a level of uncertainty. As if doing so contributes to our humanity.

At this point I asked "Does this mean we should not attempt to turn from the shadows on the wall of the cave? Should we remain fixated, staring at the cave wall?" As I saw it, they were falling into the very trap that Plato's allegory warns us of, i.e that we are so enamored by the shadows on the wall, we shun any attempt at gaining knowledge and moving out of the cave. My question prompted a certain amount of back tracking and defense. But I think it revealed a tension between the desire for knowledge and the seduction of the shadows.

I very much enjoyed our dialogue. There was much discussed and I am pleased to say that I learned a great deal. I learned that after all this time, people still find it immensley difficult to turn their back to the cave wall.

- Socrates

Friday, February 12, 2021

Where to find happiness

Some people seem to be highly focused on money. They make it a priority. When I ask why they need it, they usually reply that they want to buy food and drink; clothing; technology; and various other things. Some items on their list seem quite important for survival, while others appear to be of little real importance.

I ask why they want these things. What are they really looking for? Almost universally people say that they want these things because they bring happiness—as if happiness is something that can be pushed into us by external objects.

I wonder if happiness does indeed come from the things we buy, or whether it comes from our thoughts about the things we buy. If the latter is true, then it seems to me that happiness can come from within rather than from external objects. It is true that we need food and drink to live. But other material goods may not be necessary for bringing about happiness. 

Let us reconsider how we think about walking in the park. Let us reconsider how we think about sitting in the sun. Let us reconsider how we think about casual conversation with friends. We may find that happiness can be attained quite inexpensively in the simple things life has to offer.

— S

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Real Beauty

Many people devote their time to beautifying their bodies while neglecting the health of their soul. Why focus so much on the transient appearance of beauty at the expense of real beauty? The health of your soul, or character, will endure far longer than your physical appearance. It is surely more deserving of your attention.

- Socrates

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Insatiable Desire

It seems obvious that our shoes should fit our feet. There is little point in wearing over sized shoes. The shoe should match the needs of the foot. Is it not also true that our other possessions should match our needs? We may be tempted to excess — to own more than we need, but there is little point. And in doing so, we may be depriving someone else of something they need. 

Think carefully about your needs. Beware the trap of insatiable desire and excess. Insatiable desire can never be satisfied and thus will never lead to contentment. 

- S


Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Conspiracy Theories

A recent philosopher by the name of Karl Popper observed that a single piece of evidence can falsify a scientific theory. I, myself, made a similar observation back in Athens while dialoguing with friends in our search for true definitions. I found that a single counter example could serve as a refutation to a general claim. For example, while discussing friendship with my friend Lysis, we proposed that friendship could be defined as “like being attracted to like”. But when I suggested that bad people can’t really be friends with anyone — including other bad people — our initial idea was refuted, thus requiring us to find a better definition of friendship. So, it would appear that a claim is only good until counter evidence is discovered. This is a rule that underpins much reasoning in science and philosophy.

Now, here is my confusion. I have been looking at collections of ideas that you moderns call “conspiracy theories”. These are interesting phenomena to me because they seem to violate what I have said above. When conspiracy theorists are presented with counter evidence, they do not reject their theory. Rather, they take the counter evidence as further support of their theory. They reframe the counter evidence as evidence of the sophistication of the theory — as if the conspiracy was so well orchestrated that it includes its own counter evidence as a mechanism for covering up the truth. In this way, it seems that no evidence could ever be presented to refute a conspiracy theory. They are immune to counter example.

What should I conclude from this? If nothing else, I believe that there is little point in dialoguing with conspiracy theorists about the truth or falsity of their claims. For the conspiracy theorist, their claims should only ever be considered true. So there is nothing to discuss with them.

-- Socrates