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🤯Unknown Unknowns #106 - Philosophical Wild Goose Chases
There’s an old joke about a man who was stranded in a rapidly rising flood. He prayed to God for help, but whenever help came he refused it, saying he trusted in God to save him. When he died and got to heaven, he asked God why he forsook him. God answered, “I sent you boats and helicopters, what more do you want?”
This joke sums up my experience with philosophy.
When I was in college, wondering about my place in the world, my friends and I would debate the meaning of life. With our limited experience, the debates were abstract and focused on pointing out the gaping holes in our friends’ arguments, oblivious to the equally large holes in our own. What did old men, dead for millennia, know anyway?
Later, frustrated with my job and the seeming meaninglessness of life, I sought answers for the nihilism that rationalism led to. I understood that meaning could be found in the decisions that we made but this was too subjective for me. With some losses and experience behind me, I understood that subjectiveness is necessary, but I was fixated that that subjectivity could justify any behavior. I sought a set of rules that were universal. What good is philosophy if a serial killer could use it to justify his actions?
I thought philosophy would explain the meaning of life, but I struggled to find meaning in the world through philosophy. Philosophy always ended in pseudointellectual navel-gazing.
Luckily, I didn’t turn away the next time philosophy knocked. Interestingly, it took learning about Buddhism to take this step.
I had a simplified understanding of Buddhism. Suffering comes from desire, therefore remove your desires and therefore you won’t suffer. I thought this was overly simplistic and ineffective. What I didn’t understand was the answer isn’t to deny desires. It’s to understand where our desires come from. Once we understand where our desires come from, we often realize we don’t actually desire them. Same goes for our fears. Courage comes not from denial, but from acceptance.
And this unlocked philosophy for me. I can understand the world only by understanding myself. Life can only be experienced through the lens of my own experience, so only through self-reflection could I understand.
Unhappiness is when expectations don’t match reality.
Knowing yourself is how expectations approach reality.
And this explained why every philosopher and philosophy speaks about the importance of knowing yourself. It’s true - see Quotes of the Week.
Too often, we think that philosophy is trying to make sense of the world when it’s actually making sense of ourselves.
I found this essay to be somewhat unsatisfying, but it’s also publishing time. I feel like there’s a deeper understanding that I’m not conveying well. If you’re confused, please ask questions in the comments so I can go deeper.
1️⃣ Michelle Khare samples different trade schools and makes YouTube videos on them. Here, she tries butler school. Another student in the class, Mr. Busani, is actually a tech worker who’s taking the course to ground himself.
Attending something like this is also an ego check for yourself. You've probably heard about the technology surge in San Francisco and New York. Navigating that life, am I just getting too comfortable? How many people would love to have my job and my salary? I started to ask myself like am I really improving myself not only financially, but as a human being?
I'm going down to the very basics, right? You know, the way down is the way up. It's like if you really can humble yourself to do work like this you're very much in a position to be a leader. - Mr. Busani
The necessity of removing your ego is reinforced over and over again in this video. I’m conflicted, it’s disturbing that people would do this but at the same time, sometimes life is not about you. If you weren’t being paid, but instead just wanted to make someone happy, could you remove your ego?
Visa and Patrick McKenzie talk about satisfying family status needs with as little effort as possible. Patrick uses the example of fulfilling the expectation for a Ph.D. by getting an authorship credit on a paper. Another of his examples was to take a 6-week honeymoon instead of getting an expensive diamond engagement ring. In Japan, such a long vacation is extremely rare, but since Patrick has a flexible work situation, it was easy for him. It was an easy arb for him to buy a cheaper diamond and still gain respect in the family.
I’m reminded of Clayton Christiansen‘s idea of Jobs-to-be-Done. Customers have jobs that need to be done. Businesses that focus on these jobs ignore features that customers don’t need. An example is Instagram. You might think that Instagram is to help people share photos. The real JTBD is creating FOMO among your friends. That’s why the functionality is filters and transient stories,
Back to Visa and Patrick, what is your family looking for? Usually, it’s a high status. That’s why your parents used to want you to be a doctor, lawyer, or Indian Chief. Figuring out how to make your parents happy while not wasting your resources (time, money) will help you to be happy.
Quotes of the Week:
Know Thyself - Oracle of Delphi
At the center of your being, you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want. -Lao Tzu
Those who realize the Self are forever free from the jaws of death. - Katha Upanishad
This is true knowledge, to seek the Self as the true end of wisdom always. To seek anything else is ignorance -Bhagavad Gita
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! - 2 Corinthians 13:5
Fall within yourself, because inside of man lies the truth - St Augustine
The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself - Montaigne
Self-consciousness is the fount of truth - Hegel
Wherever we go, whatever we do, self is the sole subject we study and learn. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate. - Carl Jung
I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult? - Herman Hesse
No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life. There may be countless trails and bridges and demigods who would gladly carry you across; but only at the price of pawning and forgoing yourself. There is one path in the world that none can walk but you. Where does it lead? Don’t ask, walk! - Friedrich Nietzsche
You can find more of my writing at chr.iswong.com.
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Leaving you in peace,