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Jonathan Weissberg

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  1. “Thou hast become dark and cannot hear me. When I die shall I not be like Enkidu? Sorrow enters my heart. I am afraid of death.”—The Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh. This awareness seems to affect people differently at different points in their life: "For some of us the fear of death manifests only indirectly, either as generalized unrest or masqueraded as another psychological symptom; other individuals experience an explicit and conscious stream of anxiety about death; and for some of us the fear of death erupts into terror that negates all happiness and fulfillment." - Staring at the Sun, Yaalom. Yaalom thinks that we find ways to 'repress' this fear, although I would distinguish between dealing with this fear by finding rational meaning that makes life worthwhile on its own and irrational attempts at finding meaning through what he calls 'immortality projects' like having children or seeking to create another kind of legacy (specifically when motivated by this fear, rather than some other reason). I quote this before, but it's relevant again: See Also 'Death of Ivan Illych': So rational values pursued, internalized and embodied lead one not to even raise these kinds of questions is my take-away. One can setup irrational 'defense mechanisms', i.e., unreal explanations and life projects engaged in out of fear of this death rather than love of life, which reality constantly presents counter evidence for, and which eventually will result in an 'existential meltdown' (Like a Jim Taggart moment). In what sense did you mean one becomes aware of the place of one's own eventual non-existence in one's life? That would be a case for what Yaalom is claiming when he says that it's important to "derepress" this fear if it has been smothered with irrational coping mechanisms.
  2. I've seen this a lot. Someone experiences an "existential meltdown" / a nervous or mental breakdown and they are suddenly deep into (usually mystical) philosophy. Behind the scenes is an intense focus on death, which the Russel Brand quote captures well. Apart from comedians, it happens to successful businessmen, athletes, friends, anyone. Why is it usually mystical philosophy that is pursued? Because God is Dead: God is dead. And philosophies that are mystical offer comfort, if you can buy into their premises. A more naturalistic, this-worldly-only philosophy like Objectivism is rare, but it would also be a much more potentially bitter pill to swallow at first—because what if it's too late? what if you can't make meaning? Of course everyone's answer to this experience varies, but the experience usually prefigures significant psychological change. What is going on here in philosophic terms? The best understanding I could make of it is that there is (forced) complete re-evaluation of values, of one's life, and that the judgement is negative. If one has lived by (and is embodying) what one now judges as wrong values, has one ever really lived or only meaninglessly existed? will one still have a chance to experience living? There is some complication here because, as far as I can tell, it's not only a complete re-evaluation of values that leads one to this state: Unless by this he means that the situation forcefully leads to the re-evaluation of all values. What are the two most basic motivations man can have? a love of life, of (his) values or fear of death, fear of dis-value. If one is stripped of values then all that remains is to stare into the abyss? But saying this feels like a mathematically deductive reductio ad absurdum not appropriate to this enquiry. Why the intense focus on death that many experience in the wake of an "existential meltdown?"
  3. I agree that if I'm speaking of a specific unknown that would not make sense. But I'm speaking of unknowns as such. Unknowns as such are entities with attributes. Everything that exists has identity. Not all entities and their attributes under all conditions are conducive to life. So if I say that it's possible that some unknowns can be harmful to you that's the equivalent of saying "it's possible that some planes will crash." Does this make sense?
  4. I see what you're getting at and I like it: a chain of abstractions that, when subconsciously held, results in a particular emotional sum.
  5. I see as I review and respond to these replies, I get clearer on what I was thinking about, but the kind of question I have about the whole thing changes. If the benevolent universe is only a matter of "success is possible to me" vs. "success is impossible" then I don't think my question relates to it anymore. I may need to set aside time for a different line of thought. But here's what I've got so far: It's a good point to make and I agree with you. It's especially illuminating with respect to the phrase "fear of the unknown" as capturing either unidentified fears or a metaphysical fear (but that's a different discussion). And no, I don't see the unknown itself being harmful, but as having potential for harm. And this capacity itself is "in the nature of things." Also I don't think it's the quantity of benign unknowns that matters, but the severity of the harmful unknowns. There millions of unknowns that are irrelevant to me, e.g., the number of hairs on Joe Biden's head or the thread count of his mask, as you pointed out. But the fact is that one bad unknown can end or crush my life. That too is written into reality, into the nature of things. I suppose we can call it an "accident", but I don't think it's the right way to think about it, i.e., statistically. Why is this devastating unknown, not also considered a "norm" or "essential" about life? Both it and success, together, are in the nature of things. I can imagine this attitude wouldn't even be a question for someone who has implicitly reached it, but the conceptual stepping stones are necessary for anyone who wants to get there or keep it. I only saw your other posts later, but I do think you can develop the attitude by beginning with it conceptually and then applying that knowledge to choices small and large throughout your life. I do wonder if "risk aversion" is even a good way to think about this. Consider these: Is a North Korean watching bootlegged American movies at the risk of being sent to a labor camp "aggressively risky"? Or is art just such a deep need that he can't live without it? Is a businessman who hires someone because he wants to expand his business "risk tolerant" or does he just value growing his business and acknowledge that hiring is part of that process? Is a paranoiac who refuses to leave his house for fear of asteroids "risk averse"?
  6. My summarized take after reading all your responses: The Benevolent Universe Premise describes an attitude that views man as empowered to survive in an intelligible universe: he can discover facts, causal connections and the unknown. He is equipped with a tool that, when applied correctly, allows him to build an ever-growing context of knowledge which, rather than being threatened by new knowledge, is strengthened by it. It's also helpful to make a few distinctions that clarify thinking about the kind of world we live in: (1) the metaphysical vs. the man-made; (2) the unknowable vs. the unknown; With respect to distinction #1: The differences between men and objects are consequential enough (a badly styled outfit is capable of being visually irritating, a badly developed soul is capable of murder) to separate them out for analysis. With respect to distinction #2: A quote from John Galt's speech describing the feeling of living in an unknowable universe: Actually, this is something I had in mind originally too. According to the quotes below we consider “accidents” as not being the essence or the “norm” of human life. It’s still not really clear to me what kind of conceptual stepping stones I need to jump over to be fully convinced of this. I can see that we have a tool to discover the unknown, but there is still the unknown—and the unknown can include causes of negative, deadly consequences and this fact is "in the nature of existence." I don’t think I’ll get an answer until I explore lots of real-world examples of how men actually dealt with the unknown, e.g., the case of discovering blood types compatibility and how that unfolded. This is what Greg pointed out with exploring “positive reinforcements” too. Some quotes: With respect to distinction (1), the man-made: Rearden reflecting in Atlas Shrugged: “The Inexplicable Personal Alchemy:" With respect to distinction (2), an unknown as opposed to unknowable universe: Leonard Peikoff's lectures:
  7. Principles are about fulfillment, not specific negative consequence for their violation? I understand the Objectivist conception of morality to be that choices and actions guided from rationally self-interested moral principle are good for living a happy, fulfilled, flourishing life; and I understand that choices and actions which violate those same moral principles are bad, i.e., self-destructive or inching oneself closer to death. But when I look out into the world, I’m not able to clearly perceive this in a concrete way. I perceive some cases where someone is unprincipled and incurs a penalty, but I also perceive plenty where the opposite appears to true, at least when you expand the time horizon by which you judge it. I’m looking for some different angles to think about this and for feedback on my thought process. There are some questions at the bottom. Consider these examples: (1) A man who spent his 20’s robbing banks. He violated principles of independence, productivity, rights, etc. In one of his attempted robberies was shot & was killed by the police; (2) A man who spent his 20’s robbing banks. He violated everything: honesty, integrity, independence, rights, etc. He was arrested but then managed to escape to India where he lived out so great an adventure that he became a famous novelist and had great commercial success. He made amends for his crimes by serving out his remaining sentence and lived an incredible life thereafter. In the example above you can see that both men have violated moral principles. One incurred a penalty: his life. The other incurred some penalties, e.g., the paranoia about being caught, the beatings from police, subsequent involvement in the underworld, etc., but judged on the whole and looking back at his life from the vantage point of his making amends and his current success, all his errors, stupidity, evils, have provided him with so many exciting and fascinating tales and a kind of ‘character’ that he would’ve otherwise not have had. From the vantage point of his current position, having made amends, it’s like the bad choices contributed to a good whole. If he never robbed banks and escaped to India, would he have become a famous novelist? Would he have had the commercial success he has now? Obviously, alternatives are difficult to project. So, I couldn’t actually tell you what man two would’ve become had he been rationally self-interested and principled on that basis. Am I right to say that the only thing one can draw from a validated principle is that his life would’ve been more fulfilling had he been principled? But the concrete details we just can never project? Am I right to say that when thinking about principles the consideration is the kind of life lived rather than the perceived penalties or rewards? Am I also right to say that the appeal of the ‘irrational’ (some instances of it, like the one above) in our culture are usually due to a conventional morality that often packages good and actual evil? E.g., a strong, ambitious, dangerous, sexually appealing character who engages in multiple love affairs might be viewed as made up of a lot of conventionally morally bad elements but on a rational morality might actually be principled and good?
  8. Is the fact that I don't constantly observe and experience "unforeseeable accidents" evidence of a benevolent universe? If I want to fly from Sydney to New York, I can say that I will certainly land when I’ve checked my situation against the conditions (standard of proof) required for planes to land. Sometimes however there may be something outside of my context of knowledge, a new factor or qualification. In the plane example, let’s say the military mistakenly shoots down my plane because of a bureaucratic error from their military command-control: in this case, even if I somehow survived, I was right to conclude what I did and be certain, but reality introduced some new unforeseen condition (military error). Another example would be discovery of blood type compatibilities and then only discovering additional qualifiers or conditions (RH factor) after someone has died through blood transfusion. At first this idea frustrated and confused me: “Oh what, so we can walk around saying I’m certain of this and that and then suddenly we die because of the introduction of a factor previously outside of our specified context of knowledge!!!???” The answer I later discovered is yes, but more so the answer is that to agitate against this is actually to implicitly hold onto omniscience as a standard of certainty. We can only be guided by what we know. We need a standard of certainty that is actually functional for life given our nature as non-omniscient, fallible beings. The only alternative is arbitrary considerations qualifying as evidence which, in principle, leads to dysfunctional paranoia. But there is something else I thought: I don’t seem to live in a universe where there are constantly new unaccounted for conditions introduced into my context of knowledge that results in death or injury. It seems like there’s some kind of fit between my mind and the universe such that people are not constantly being hit and dying because of unanticipated asteroids, unknown diseases, or dangerous unknown insects. Is this part of what we mean by a benevolent universe? That yes, we’re non-omniscient, and so there can be unaccounted for factors in reality but we’re not so fragile that we’re always being killed by them (at least not in developed, relatively free countries)? I feel like there’s some link, but I also am not sure because I realize that in observing that people seem to be thriving and not falling victim to “unknown, unforeseen factors” all the time, I’m making a statistical observation and saying that “most of the time” our mind is able to deal with reality and not fall victim to an “unknown factor.” Is it right then to make this observation to support one’s conviction of a benevolent universe—to observe the times man is confronted with some new, previously unknown factor and survived it?
  9. Thank you Boydstun & StrictlyLogical for clarifying this. Here is my summarized understanding after having read both your replies. The assumed context here is that man survives by a particular method of thought and action.You cannot evaluate an object when it is obtained by irrational action because it is moral principle that sets the context (a commensurable standard) for evaluating that object in relation to your other values. You can evaluate the method as good or bad, i.e., this is for my life or against my life, but not the object. Similarly, in epistemology, a proposition accepted on faith cannot in some sense be evaluated on its own, but in terms of method. An example with StrictlyLogical's breakfast: If I obtained the breakfast by cheating a shop keeper and he later hits me with a rock does it make sense to say the breakfast was good because I enjoyed it while it lasted? Or what about if I suffered no immediately perceivable consequences but began obtaining more things in the future through fraud? In either case I can't really make sense of the situation by looking just at the breakfast (evaluating the object in terms of my other values) but only by looking at how I obtained it (against moral principle, bad when evaluated in terms of action or method).
  10. There's a passage from OPAR I'm finding interest but not understanding. It states that some objects have no evaluative standing: If an object is obtained through behavior in conflict with moral principle isn't it the case that the object is evaluated as bad? Why is it that the object is deprived of "any evaluative standing"? I'm not really following how you can say an object can be detached from evaluation in the same way that a conclusion can be detached from cognition.
  11. Hah hah, yes, true, although I was questioning specifically scenarios where something is already metaphysically possible, e.g., a plane crashing or "dying tomorrow", and not something that is metaphysically impossible, e.g., the existence of the non-identity of consciousness. In the plane example, you could've checked all the conditions required for a safe flight and said to yourself it's impossible (epistemologically) for this flight to crash. You don't consider or think about metaphysical possibility when deciding whether or not to fly. So you fly because it's impossible for the plane to crash, but then the Chinese Air Force shoots your plane down, which was the unconsidered, unknown factor that actuated the metaphysical possibility of the plane crashing. This factor was 'arbitrary' when you made your decision. My understanding is that to agitate against this is to implicitly hold onto omniscience as the standard of certainty. The whole point of advocating a certain thinking method and mentally pushing aside the metaphysically possible but epistemologically impossible is to simply provide the best possible guide to action given our fallibility and non-omniscience. And it so happens that we do not live in a universe where we are constantly destroyed by metaphysically possible but epistemologically impossible ("arbitrary") factors—perhaps this is part of what is meant by an "auspicious" universe.
  12. @Easy Truth, @MisterSwig, @StrictlyLogical Sorry, I see there were some typos and inaccuracies in my original post. Eiuol filled in the blanks and was correct. There's more context I could've originally provided so I'll do it now. The rest will take me some more time to think through before replying. Keep in mind the majority of what I'm about to write was in the context of a discussion about asking the question of "will this flight that I'm about to catch crash?" and how to think about such a statement. Yes, I meant to say man is non-omniscient and fallible. LP said fallibility is addressed by logic. And that non-omniscience is addressed by specifying the context, i.e., by implicitly acknowledging for complex items of knowledge (inductive generalizations) that your statement is preceded by “within the available context of my knowledge”. He states that this does not mean anything else is possible or “maybe I will discover something to upset this”, but only: “everything now known supports this and I acknowledge there is more to learn. If my method is right, the more I learn will not contradict what I have so far.” The more knowledge you have that’s relevant to your current context will simply mean the addition of new conditions, e.g., the discovery of the Rh factor blood as relevant for blood type compatibility (from the OPAR chapter on Reason.) LP says that there are two ways to be wrong: (1) you’ve applied the method of objectivity correctly and specified a context, but new knowledge teaches you a qualification which doesn’t contradict the old context; or (2) you’ve erred in your method and new knowledge will contradict your old knowledge. Metaphysical possibility and epistemological possibility are different concepts. LP says that metaphysical possibility refers to a capacity or capability or potentiality, e.g., a plane has the capacity to crash but a feather does not. A metaphysical ‘possibility’ is a statement about the nature of the entity and an epistemological possibility refers to advancing a hypothesis about a situation. You cannot say it's impossible for the plane to crash metaphysically, but you can say it's impossible epistemologically with no evidence of causal factors or conditions that actuate that metaphysical possibility. Yes, I think this is what I was getting at. 'Certainty' is epistemological. A plane crash is metaphysically possible, but may be epistemologically impossible. If, on principle, you're concerned about the metaphysically possible as a guide to action but with no evidence of epistemological possibility then you end up paralyzed and unable to act.
  13. After listening to Peikoff's 'Art of Thinking' Lecture, I've been thinking a lot lately about the importance of hypotheticals and specifically the kind of hypotheticals one asks and how that affects the quality of one's actions and decisions. I have some questions from this lecture which I'm going to number. Feel free to answer only one or whatever interests. (1) Why does ‘metaphysical’ possibility not imply ‘epistemological’ possibility in any given case? Paraphrasing LP: ‘Context does not eliminate the possibility of error. No philosophy is going to make you infallible. You can follow the method to the utmost that is originally possible to you, you can specify your conclusion and still be wrong.’ Let’s assume no error in method, but a situation where some unaccounted for factor is causally relevant. We know that such a situation is metaphysically possible, so then why do we not say given this general fact, it ‘may’ be possible in any given situation? Isn’t there some similarity here to statistics, which is applicable to concretes of which you have no knowledge? So the metaphysical knowledge of possibility is applicable to your ignorance of unknown causal factors (just as statistics is applicable to concretes which you are ignorant of). My understanding is that ‘epistemology’ is about method and if we were to use our minds to consider something which we cannot consider, e.g., an unknown factor that is causally relevant, we then cannot mentally function since we will be paralyzed on any given inductive generalization for fear of the ‘possibility of being wrong.’ Is this correct? That we dismiss ‘possibility’ epistemologically on the basis of it not allowing us to function well? (2) Given the above, does it ever make sense to consider a hypothetical of metaphysical possibility but epistemological impossibility for the purpose of informing action? I think no because then you’d need to consider a meteorite hitting you when leaving the house and you’d be completely paralyzed. LP later says statistics applied when there’s no basis to hypothesize some specific phenomenon results in total paranoia so I assume this applies. (3) What’s the epistemological status of “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die?” I recently overheard a conversation in which someone was talking about working hard to save money and the other person replied that they should just make sure they spend it all before they go into the grave which might be tomorrow because who knows. What is the epistemological status of such a statement? (4) Why is it only philosophy that makes long-range predictions? LP makes the case that long-range predictions, e.g., 50 years out or longer, are out of the question because so much can change and many new factors relevant to your prediction cannot be anticipated or accounted for. But he says that this is not true for a philosopher making a prediction like “this country will ultimately become a dictatorship?” What is the justification for this? My understanding is that a philosophical prediction has fewer conditions to consider in making such a generalization, but even so aren’t those few conditions dependent on the free will of many people, which one cannot predict? (5) Without an explicit theory of induction, is error inevitable? We are both omniscient and fallible. Specifying context addresses omniscience, logic fallibility. Given that there’s no explicit theory of induction, then isn’t error an inevitability when making inductive generalizations, just as it was pre-Aristotle’s discovery logic when discovering new knowledge?
  14. Does it take courage to act on one's own judgement? If yes, what would be the reason for it? Is it only the uncertainty of an outcome which demands courage? To take a concrete example we can refer to, I'm specifically thinking of the first run of the John Galt line which Dagny & Rearden both participate in. Later, Francisco tells Dagny that every act of saying 'it is' and acting on one's own judgement (I assume especially when you are the first on a new path) requires courage. I define courage as an act of integrity. It's acting with integrity when confronted by fear in pursuit of a value. There's a relevant quote from Atlas Shrugged where Francisco is talking to Dagny. I understand that I personally might feel fear when acting on my own judgement in some specific situations, especially when confronted with vigorous opposition, but take a completely rational being with correctly integrated subconscious premises and let me try to apply Objectivist epistemology to him (with the above examples of the John Galt line & Francisco in mind). If this rational being came to his newly found conclusion and discovery by a process of logic, including both reduction to observations or first principles and integration by essentials to the rest of his knowledge, what would the fear to act on his judgement, which requires courage to be overcome, be based on? "they might be right, I might be wrong" would be arbitrary since there's no evidence for your judgement being wrong; "I might get hurt"—isn't that also wrong, since on what evidence would there be for you getting hurt? Is the issue here my definition of courage? or have I overlooked something?
  15. What is the relationship between good philosophy (specifically, a highly integrated, habituated correct epistemology) and excelling in other fields? In my current context of knowledge, the fundamental methods of thinking are: (1) Purpose: this provides a standard by which to judge the value & relevance of all other thoughts and questions. (2) Logic: this includes reduction back to the perceptual level or ‘fundamentals’ (similar to Elon Musk’s need to reduce everything to ‘first principles’ and ‘back to physics’) and it also includes contextual integration as an additional way to identify contradictions. The next two are less clear to me, but I’ll do my best: (3) Thinking in principles: this means trying to identify what principle is operative in any given behavior, action, event. (4) Thinking in fundamentals: this means identifying that causal factor or characteristic that is most causally significant in an entity, behavior, action, event. Is there anything I’ve missed here? I’m curious if anyone has found self-consciously adopting, integrating, habituating these principles significantly helpful in any other productive fields? And if you had not adopted them where do you think you’d be? How much do you think a disregard for these principles causes people to have difficulty learning in (any) field? Are the principles less relevant to some pursuits, e.g., to learning piano or to drawing?
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