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How should I measure my life?

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I am planning on writing an essay on how one measures life and would appreciate some input. Is a man's life measured simply by the days spent in existence, or is it the substance that is sqeezed into these moments on earth? Is there sometimes a contradiction between what can gratify one's mental well-being and what prolongs life?For example, f someone uses stimulants (coffee, amphetamines), which may be harmful to health, to acomplish more in a day and as a result has a more fulfilled, flourishing life at the expence of a slightly shorter one, has he made a mistake?

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I am planning on writing an essay on how one measures life and would appreciate some input. Is a man's life measured simply by the days spent in existence, or is it the substance that is sqeezed into these moments on earth? Is there sometimes a contradiction between what can gratify one's mental well-being and what prolongs life?For example, f someone uses stimulants (coffee, amphetamines), which may be harmful to health, to acomplish more in a day and as a result has a more fulfilled, flourishing life at the expence of a slightly shorter one, has he made a mistake?

Your question might be easier to answer if you clarify it. For example, you ask how "man" measures life. Actually, "man" is an abstraction. Abstractions don't measure anything.

Perhaps you mean either ...

(1) How should I measure life?

(2) How do other people measure life?

Also, you might consider these questions, again, for clarification:

(3) Are you speaking of the fact of life or the value of life or both?

(4) What is your purpose in making the measurement? (Purpose often sets context, and context may determine what means of measurement you choose.) For example, are you a biographer who is trying to make an assessment of a particular person's life as a whole? Or are you a sociologist comparing the lives of whole populations in exuberant Classical Greece to those in ennui-ridden Western Europe?

The essential question is: What is your purpose?

Edited by softwareNerd
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Your question might be easier to answer if you clarify it. For example, you ask how "man" measures life. Actually, "man" is an abstraction. Abstractions don't measure anything.

Perhaps you mean either ...

(1) How should I measure life?

(2) How do other people measure life?

Also, you might consider these questions, again, for clarification:

(3) Are you speaking of the fact of life or the value of life or both?

(4) What is your purpose in making the measurement? (Purpose often sets context, and context may determine what means of measurement you choose.) For example, are you a biographer who is trying to make an assessment of a particular person's life as a whole? Or are you a sociologist comparing the lives of whole populations in exuberant Classical Greece to those in ennui-ridden Western Europe?

The essential question is: What is your purpose?

I'll rephrase it as "how should I measure my life?"

I'm not sure if I can make the purpose much clearer... Take another look at the example I provided. That situation presents the essential context, though not exclusive.

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I'll rephrase it as "how should I measure my life?"

I'm not sure if I can make the purpose much clearer... Take another look at the example I provided. That situation presents the essential context, though not exclusive.

This clarification helps, but I have more questions. (Back and forth is inevitable in most conversations, especially this kind -- where there is no quantizable, formulaic answer.)

So, I see that you are not asking: "How can I measure the value of my whole life?" You can't "measure" that until you are at the end, looking back.

Apparently you are asking, "How should I measure the worth to me of the way I am living right now in the context of my overall life's goals?"

In other words, you are looking for a way to calculate the trade-offs -- if that is what they are -- of actions that supposedly bring you happiness (or progress toward happiness) versus possible, probable or certain shortening of your life by some amount due to choices you make now. Is that it?

Are you trying to decide how to "balance" the quality of your life now with the length of your life?

I don't have a calculus for doing that. I can offer suggestions though: First, beware of false dichotomy when considering particulars such as stimulants (amphetamines, for example) or choices in foods (artery pluggers, for example) or choices in types of recreation (climbing glacier walls alone).

My goal is to live as long as possible and as well as possible. I see no inherent conflict in working toward both goals simultaneously. The reason is that I know now, at 60, that my happiness does not depend on any particular moment, any particular food, or any particular activity. Instead, my happiness depends on basics -- Am I achieving my basic philosophical values (reason, purpose, and self-esteem) and personal values (my objectively chosen work, friends, and leisure activities)?

If I were to choose dangerous friends or dangerous work or dangerous leisure activities, then I would be threatening my happiness not achieving it. Of course, "dangerous" is a sliding term. There is some danger in anything. But I would evaluate particular situations and ask myself whether that particular approach is the best long-term way to achieve my basic values. Or are there other approaches that offer a greater probability of success for the long-term. That is where happiness comes from: long-term success. We may feel joy on the short-term, but that does not inevitably lead to happiness.

Second, I would seriously doubt that anything which you can prove will shorten your life can actually add to the basic quality of your life as a whole, for long enough to justify its use. In the case of doper drugs, for example, my experience and observation tell me that their detrimental effects on the quality of my life -- while I am still alive -- are a bigger problem than shortening my life would be. If using drug X for a year rots my brain permanently but only shortens a mindless life by a little, which is the worse factor? In other words, I have found that every stimulant has a corresponding negative effect on the quality of life as well as possibly on the length of it.

A classic example is cigarette smoking. I smoked for eight years. I stopped for two reasons: I suspected it would shorten the length of my life, and I knew it was diminishing the quality of my life (everything from expense to coughing to shortness of breath to stained fingers). I found out two years later that it probably had contributed to the heart disease I had (at age 30!), and I found out 22 years later, at age 50, that it almost certainly caused the small amount of emphesyma that I still have (but probably won't kill me). Yes, there is a benefit to smoking. It does indeed seem to stimulate thinking. But I found other ways to improve my thinking without smoking and without all its dangers.

You have raised a fascinating and valuable topic. I hope discussion will continue, and I hope that -- at the least -- I have provided a useful target.

Edited by softwareNerd
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I just read this, and you might find it useful:

From "History of Alexander" by Quintus Curtius Rufus:

This passage is near the end of the book, after Alex's endless victories and famous actions. Now, at this point in the narrative, he has just been engaged in an action that was highly hazarous to his life; his army was unsuccessful in besieging a town, so Alexander jumped alone from the walls into the town proper, was surrounded by the entire hostile army, and was almost killed. Still, his action was successful, and the town was taken solely because of him and his daring. His friends speak to him after the battle:

Craterus thus said, "Do you imagine that we are more disturbed by the coming of the enemy, although they even now stood on our rampart, than through care for your safety, on which you seem to set little store? However great a force of all nations should unite against us, should fill a whole world with arms and men, should cover the sea with their fleets, should brung against us beasts never seen before, it is you that will make us invincible. But who among the gods can promise that this prop and star of Macedonia will be lasting, when you so eagerly expose your person to evident dangers?

That an obscure village should be bought at the price of your life who could endure, not to mention your own soldiers, but even the citizen of any barbarous nation who knows your greatness? My soul shudders at the thought of the scene which we witnessed a short time ago. I fear to mention that the most worthless of hands would have polluted the spoils stripped from your invincible body, had not Fortune been compassionate and saved you for us."

Ptolemy spoke too about the same purpose, and the rest used similar language. And now with mingled tears and cries all besought him that at last from satiety he should set a limit to the pursuit of glory and have regard for his safety.

Alexander replied,

To you indeed, most faithful and most loyal of my fellow citizens and friends, [...] I must confess that my life has never been so dear to me as it has begun to be now that I can enjoy your companionship for a long time. But the thought of those who wish to die for me is not the same as my own, since I think that I have long since won this goodwill of yours through deeds of valor. For you would wish to enjoy me for a long time, and perhaps forever, whereas I measure myself by the extent of my glory rather than that of my life. I might, content with the kingdom of my father, within the limits of Macedonia amid idleness have awaited an obscure and inglorious old age. And yet even the indolent cannot control their destiny, but a premature death often surprises those who consider length of days the only blessing. But I, who count not my years but my victories, if I keep a correct account of Fortune's favors, have already had a long life.

Beginning my reign in Macedonia, I hold dominion over Greece; I have subdued [the many barbarians around it]; I've conquered and came to rule numerous foreign nations; [i have conquered innumerable armies of the Persians, and the terrifying forces of the Indians, and thus have also come to possess most of Asia.] And now I am not far from the end of the world, and passing beyond this, I have resolved to open to myself a new realm of Nature, a new world. From Asia I crossed into the bounds of Europe in a single hour. Having conquered both continents in the ninth year of my reign, and the twenty-eight of my life, does it seem to you that I can pause in the task of completing my glory, to which alone I have devoted myself? I at least shall not be found lacking in my aims, and wherever I shall fight, I shall believe that I am in the theater of the whole world. I will give fame to unknown places. I will open to all nations lands which Nature had moved to a far distance.

Let the gods favor us, and still greater things await us. But those tasks which we have not yet undertaken will be ours only if we consider nothing small in which there is room for great glory. Do you only keep me safe from intestine treachery and domestic plots; I will meet unterrified the hazard of war and of Mars.

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This clarification helps, but I have more questions. (Back and forth is inevitable in most conversations, especially this kind -- where there is no quantizable, formulaic answer.)

So, I see that you are not asking: "How can I measure the value of my whole life?" You can't "measure" that until you are at the end, looking back.

Apparently you are asking, "How should I measure the worth to me of the way I am living right now in the context of my overall life's goals?"

In other words, you are looking for a way to calculate the trade-offs -- if that is what they are -- of actions that supposedly bring you happiness (or progress toward happiness) versus possible, probable or certain shortening of your life by some amount due to choices you make now. Is that it?

Are you trying to decide how to "balance" the quality of your life now with the length of your life?

I don't have a calculus for doing that. I can offer suggestions though: First, beware of false dichotomy when considering particulars such as stimulants (amphetamines, for example) or choices in foods (artery pluggers, for example) or choices in types of recreation (climbing glacier walls alone).

My goal is to live as long as possible and as well as possible. I see no inherent conflict in working toward both goals simultaneously. The reason is that I know now, at 60, that my happiness does not depend on any particular moment, any particular food, or any particular activity. Instead, my happiness depends on basics -- Am I achieving my basic philosophical values (reason, purpose, and self-esteem) and personal values (my objectively chosen work, friends, and leisure activities)?

As I think more on this topic, I feel it is no longer about finding a yardstick to gauge life, but is becoming a question of that "false" dichotomy you mentioned. It seems that there are situations when this presents itself. A high stress job, for example, can be hazardous to one's health. I am currently attending UIUC and studying in pre-dental. Dentists (and male physicians in general) are known to have an abnormaly high rate of suicide. This reflects the high amount of stress involved with the occupation which, while I know would never lead me to suicide, can have other harmful physiological ramifications.

The image that comes to mind is Ayn Rand's own characters. Their fervor for their work is so passionate and inspiring, and at the same time doesn't portray the ideal of eating right or getting one's eight hours of sleep. I feel that these character's zeal is their greatest virtue, but it gives the impression of a conflict with the requirements of mere physical survival.

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[...] I am currently attending UIUC and studying in pre-dental. Dentists (and male physicians in general) are known to have an abnormaly high rate of suicide. This reflects the high amount of stress involved with the occupation which, while I know would never lead me to suicide, can have other harmful physiological ramifications.

[...]

Though I suspect you already know this, I should point out several factors:

(1) The suicide rate among dentists (presumably in long-term practice?) is twice as high as among males in general. That doesn't say how high the rate is though. Do 100% of all dentists kill themselves? Doubtful. 50%? I suspect that it is much lower, and that mostly the relative rate is startling.

(2) And if not all dentists kill themselves, then the question of causation -- rather than mere correlation -- arises: Why do some dentists kill themselves, but other dentists don't? Is stress the only possible cause? What about the obvious one of greater availability of drugs so that suicide becomes more of an act of opportunity? What about the destructive effects of conflicting values and therefore emotions in some individuals -- e.g., wanting to be an altruist and make a lot of money too.

(3) Even if stress is the cause of those few who kill themselves, another question arises: Why do they allow the stress to make that decision for them? Why don't they quit the profession instead, for example? Or why don't they learn stress handling techniques (as Dr. Edwin Locke discusses in his audiotape lecture series available at The Ayn Rand Bookstore)? Most importantly, why do many dentists not kill themselves?

The death statistics for dentists certainly should raise questions. But I see no evidence that dentistry for an objective person is of itself dangerous.

The same approach to the problem would apply to the question of physiological damage short of suicide. Are all nonsuicidal retired dentists physical wrecks? If some aren't, then why?

I am familiar with this general problem because many of my former clients -- I was a writer, editor, and publications manager -- were professional sales people who dealt with very high stress. Doctors and dentists encounter depressing conditions as part of their daily routine. They see people at their worst.

Sales people don't do that but they do encounter a phenomenally high social rejection rate -- about 95%, according to the ones I have talked to. Many people can't handle that constant stream of "no" answers. They either kill themselves (directly or through drug abuse) or drop out. However, a few thrive on the challenge. That shows there is nothing inherently destructive about the sales business.

If career X is one's love, then suicide or similar statistics should be a caution flag about learning how to handle certain conditions, but they shouldn't by themselves be a deterrent to entering a particular field.

Of course, if one doesn't love a field, why go into it?

Being in love with a field of work, of course, does not mean being exhilirated with every moment of the work. To the contrary, every career involves moments -- or longer -- of pain, boredom, tedium, frustration, and -- as Ayn Rand noted (Art of Nonfiction) -- even agony.

Edited by softwareNerd
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People often say that " the true measure of a man is how that man treats someone who can do him absolutely no good. "

I would say to that... "That's not true.  If a person took what you said seriously (practiced what they preached) and wanted to be the best person he could be, according to your standards, then the person could only be great if he had no food, no job, no money, no significant other, no friends etc. because that person knows that in order to be great he has to leave those things for other people to have...  I don't have to say how ridiculous that would be.  Maybe you just mean being kind to strangers?  There is nothing wrong with that, as long as you aren't sacrificing a great value like your child's life by being kind to strangers. Even then however, that shouldn't be the measure of a man.  The true measure of a person is how well that person lives his life for himself as determined by nothing else but that person's best rational judgment.  A rational judgment is a judgment not based on whim, instinct, intuition, or emotion but a judgment based on the facts of reality..."

 

Obviously I'm still learning... I've been here for a while, but, I only recently started seriously studying philosophy and to top that off, I'm not really of the intellectual sort... so I'm curious to know how a more experienced Objectivist would respond to that common bromide other than "read this and that..." (assume the person was still open to reason and was basically just repeating what he heard all his life)... feel free to take it further than I did.

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On 19/11/2004 at 0:48 AM, Dentist85 said:

I am planning on writing an essay on how one measures life and would appreciate some input. Is a man's life measured simply by the days spent in existence, or is it the substance that is sqeezed into these moments on earth? Is there sometimes a contradiction between what can gratify one's mental well-being and what prolongs life?For example, f someone uses stimulants (coffee, amphetamines), which may be harmful to health, to acomplish more in a day and as a result has a more fulfilled, flourishing life at the expence of a slightly shorter one, has he made a mistake?

A person measure life in different ways, for example, a person may say they had a great life because the worked, had fun, relaxed, and had a balance. Also a person may say they had a great life and all they did was adventure and travel throughout the world, so I believe it's relative how you measure someone's life. 

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On 11/18/2004 at 8:48 PM, Dentist85 said:

... For example, if someone uses stimulants (coffee, amphetamines), which may be harmful to health, to accomplish more in a day and as a result has a more fulfilled, flourishing life at the expense of a slightly shorter one, has he made a mistake?

I think so, yes, provided he knew those stimulants would shorten a flourishing life.  I think a flourishing life doesn't seek to end itself prematurely.  There's always a balance between what one can do and what one ought to do, and in response to your example, I would suggest that accomplishing more in the day of a self-shortened life is less admirable than accomplishing more in a life extended by healthier pursuits of happiness.

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I love you idea for the essay! Nevertheless, i believe you can dig a little bit deeper... 

If you want to measure someones life use the number of years, days, hours, minutes and so on to calculate the time it has spent on earth. In addition, look for the number of people it has spoken to, the number of lives it has reached to, how many people it had made laugh or cry or made angry... Everyday we communicate, exchanging thoughts and ideas with who ever surrounds us. Also, calculate the numerous times the person has loved, hated, cried, cheered, misunderstood something or even hide their feelings... 

Life is something difficult to understand, it has a lot of sections that interrelate one another. So i believe it will be extremely hard to measure someones life, because there is more to it than what meets the eye. 

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