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Optimism vs. pessimism, stillness of mind, self-help and objectivism

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I always thought myself rational however after examining my thought process I realised I had a number of cognitive distortions. For instance I would make assumptions of how people percieved me when objectively I have no way of knowing this. I have always had an introvert personality which makes me prone to depression. I have always wished for happiness above all else, when asked in school on my goals for life I would say "to be happy".

After becoming depressed after my first year of university I reviewed a number of self-help materials. All self-help authors seem to write in 300 pages what could be expressed in a few sentences and write multiple books that are basically rephrased duplicates. I almost got into spirituality after looking at loads of "what the bleep" style trash. Understandably, this was after I was mugged. Have you ever noticed people turn to religion/spirituality after a traumatic incident? Why? They are simply escaping reality! I was escaping reality; reality isn't so cruel if it doesn't exist. I also procrastinated, which is another way of escaping reality.

Self-help materials give you too much to work with: 10 steps to this, 8 steps to that, the 1001 habits yada yada, give me a break! They make it sound like there are stone tablets that all happy successful people read when in reality they consciously don't know any of it. They just get on with life. Self-help stuff could even be detrimental because t gets people into the"I need help" and "I have a lot to learn" state of mind. Also I can't bare reading NLP and hypnosis stuff. People do well without this and it just seems like all the people promoting it are money-grabbing hucksters. Hypnosis has strong ties to mystical thinking. Have you ever read a hypnosis book? I dare you to extract a meaningful sentence. They write in confusing styles to trick and decieve people and to have them in the palm of their hands paying $$$ for seminars.

Now, onto my main point which is on the way we think. Is introspection completely pointless? I used to look down on people who did not think deeply but in retrospect was I wrong? Extroverts rule this world because they live in it. I used to think extroverts were just less intelligent but again in retrospect their behavoir is far less foolish then introverts as they think of only what is necessary. Introverts such as artists become depressed very frequently. Being an introvert could move further us from the truth due to fabrications of our mind. Is an over-active imagination a hindrance to an objectivist?

Is there a way to still our thoughts? To think only what is necessary? I frequently stew and create negative false scenarios. If our minds cannot be stilled and our minds are perpeptually fabricating wouldn't it be good to adopt optimism since happiness is the moral purpose of our life?

Also, maybe pessimism is natural as it is essential survival? These hostile fabrications about my fellow man, about how people are trying to bring me down make me somewhat of a reject. But a long time ago this may have helped me because people WOULD be planning to take me down. I just wish I had the nonchalent pessimism some have. Hell, even if its a dissillusion, it is practical for this life.

I appreciate any input to this. It may seem like I am rambling. This is the exact reason why I feel the need to post, to create some concrete ideas from this confusion.

Cheers

Edited by Magitek
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Unfortunately Magitek, I think I'm going to have to be rambler #2 here, because I've been going over these exact same concepts over my xmas break. I'm in my first year of college, and now that I finally have a moment to breathe, have been thinking back over my social interactions and how I balance my extroversion and introversion.

Is there a way to still our thoughts? To think only what is necessary? I frequently stew and create negative false scenarios. If our minds cannot be stilled and our minds are perpeptually fabricating wouldn't it be good to adopt optimism since happiness is the moral purpose of our life?

I know exactly, let me emphasize, exactly what you're feeling. Over-analyzing everything is a fault of mine and creating negative scenarios is very often the case. However, I believe the outlook of just "optimism" does the same thing as self-help books; you're escaping evil. It's Pangloss in Voltaire's Candide; thinking everything is for the best is ignoring incredible evil and ultimately holding evil as an integral part of our lives. Shining bright rays of sunshine on every aspect of our reality very often blinds us to it. Optimism in the Howard Roark sense of the word, however, which I believe is a complete belief in the nature of rationality and its ultimate prevalence over evil, is very healthy.

Extroverts rule this world because they live in it.

Whenever I stress about false scenarios, I usually realize them to be things outside of my control and ultimately empty. What certain people think about me, how I came off to someone, etc, etc. It's tough because I'm both an extrovert and an introvert which makes me care how I come off to people, as its who i am and essential for my future careers in investment banking and venture capitalism to be an outgoing, fun, likable man's man. But then there's the objectivist rebuttal saying one should never climb the business ladder through anything other than pure productivity, creativity, and intelligence. But minus the captains of industry throughout the gilded age, namely rockefeller, vanderbilt, and JP Morgan (what men), pretty much all highly successful CEOs are huge extroverts and very likable in order to motivate their employees and work well with others in expanding their industry. So I still go back and forth as to how I approach social relationships and settings, and if anyone has some advice, great.

And my last comment: you are not wrong to criticize people who do not think deeply as to their actions and way of life. That is, in my opinion, the greatest weakness of mankind. Going to Stanford, I thought the biggest change would be that everyone there knew exactly why they were there, how they got there, for what reasons, and towards what purpose. Ummm I was wrong. It was really just complete excellence in whatever field with an undying passion, but why that passion was there and to what goal it was directed, most of my fellow peers were clueless. The most glaring example of this, for me, is drinking in college. So many people, even some who are pretty introspective, drop it all when it comes to not just drinking but the entire social scene. Once they're surrounded by people, confidence flies out the window and alcohol takes its place. I have never been given a rational answer to drink in college, and I believe that to be a sick example of how a lack of deep thought as to one's every action is the source of some of the greatest evil in our world.

Edited by Robert L. Pothier
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Now, onto my main point which is on the way we think. Is introspection completely pointless? I used to look down on people who did not think deeply but in retrospect was I wrong? Extroverts rule this world because they live in it.
I don't know what you intended by your first question. "Introspection" refers to looking into your mind, for example if you love someone, to investigate within yourself why you love them, or if you enjoy a certain activity, to think about what facts about the activity you enjoy. Or, on a more mundane front, if you know how to tie your shoes, can you make that knowledge objective, i.e. describe the process by thinking about what you know. Rand has a short appendix on introspection in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, and she points out how very difficult introspection is. In fact, introspection is essential to a rational life, so it's not at all a waste of time. OTOH, given what you're talking about, I wonder whether you really mean "introspection". It sounds to me like you mean "being an introvert" (we don't have a noun for that... introversion??).
I used to think extroverts were just less intelligent but again in retrospect their behavoir is far less foolish then introverts as they think of only what is necessary. Introverts such as artists become depressed very frequently.
But this might also be true of artistic extroverts. I think it's important to distinguish between a certain world-view / perspective vs. behavior. As far as I can see, superficial behavior isn't a highly reliable guide to someone's personality, although it's not totally unrelated. The fundamental issue, as far as the introversion / extroversion issue is concerned, is whether you see value inside of yourself or outside of yourself. And in particular, I think this comes down to judgment: to what extent do you trust your own judgment?

One extreme view is that your own judgment is unreliable, and you need to seek the judgment of others, to get at the truth. Another extreme view is that your own judgment is infallible, and the judgment of others is irrelevant. These views are both in error. The proper viewpoint is an existo-centric one, which sees that which exists (reality) as central, subordinates judgment to existence -- meaning, wishing doesn't make it so, so the facts are what they are, regardless of how you would like things to be -- and which recognises but is not paralyzed by man's non-omniscience.

Is there a way to still our thoughts? To think only what is necessary? I frequently stew and create negative false scenarios. If our minds cannot be stilled and our minds are perpeptually fabricating wouldn't it be good to adopt optimism since happiness is the moral purpose of our life?
Snuffing out thought is not a good thing. But equally, fabricating reality and stewing is not a good thing. Now here's the section on applied Objectivist epistemology. There are various ideas that may come into your head, for whatever reason, and you need to evaluate them. Are these ideas true, or false? Or, arbitrary? Let's take your relationship with Sally (just in case you know a Sally and have a relationship with her, I'm making up names for the sake of the argument, so don't freak out that people are watching you). Suppose you get it into your head that she hates you: is there solid evidence to that effect? If she emails you saying "I hate you you evil pig don't ever call me again" and then she throws dead squirrels at you, I think you can assume she hates you. If she doesn't return your email as quickly as you wished she had, does that mean she hates you? Well, it's possible that she does, but the evidence doesn't really support that conclusion. Maybe, then, the conclusion you're reaching is arbitrary -- lacking in suitable evidentiary support.

So I would conclude that "thinking only what is necessary" is not what you ought to be striving for. Instead, I suggest that you should only be concluding that for which there is good evidence: if the evidence clearly shows X, believe X. If X is only scantily suggested by the the evidence, the conclusion X would be arbitrary, and you should instead say "At this point, I don't know".

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Hi Magitek and welcome to the forum.

A couple things occured to me while reading your post. One is that when describing the extravert/introvert dichotomy you seemed to be conflating concrete/intuitive personalities with introvert/extravert. Extravert and concrete often go hand in hand, but not always. I suggest looking into meyers-briggs personality typecasting for some increased understanding of what is going on in other people's minds if it interests you or would put your mind at ease. I think it does a good job of breaking down motivations and patterns of thought for different sorts of people.

Second, personally, I experienced a similiar discomfort when I began working in construction. I would tend to day dream and wander in my thoughts because the work was never challenging to me, mentally. What I eventually realized was that my advancement to more thinking based parts of the job(foreman and now owner of my own company) were dependent on me doing my job quickly and well-not just understanding it. At the time, despite my high oppinion of my mind and abilities, I was performing on par with other people I worked with in terms of output. The reason, I discovered, was the aforementioned daydreaming. Daydreaming is another way of saying unfocused. So what I did was make a concious decision to stay in the moment. To stay focused on what I was doing right then. To be 100% present mentally and physically. Even if easy and boring, I could make it more interesting to see how quickly I could do it. When I cam to a block I would try to invent some new way of performing the task. I became a scientist with regard to my work. So needless to say, my productivity went to between 4 and 5 times average(I am fortunate enough to have a job that is accurately quantifiable). It wasn't long(3 months)before I was a foreman.

So again, try not to conflate unfocused daydreaming with having an intuitive mind. That powerful mental aspect you possess when sharpened and brought to bare is the best tool you have. Just be sure to keep it directed on what you are doing. Note that daydreaming and the occasional escape is OK if it does not interfere with any of your values. The more concrete bound mentalities seem to have an advantage in that they are always acting in pursuit of their values without effort. This advantage is easily and quickly outweighed by the creative ways an intuitive mind can tackle complex problems when it is in focus. Combined, of course, with action.

I have been making an effort recently to stay present in this way, in other aspects of life then work. In conversations, while reading, while playing with my dog, listening to music, etc. I am finding that I learn a lot more, I enjoy a lot more, I get more out of the experience, and I really live a lot more.

Best Regards,

Gordon

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Is there a way to still our thoughts? To think only what is necessary? I frequently stew and create negative false scenarios. If our minds cannot be stilled and our minds are perpeptually fabricating wouldn't it be good to adopt optimism since happiness is the moral purpose of our life?

As DavidOdden pointed out, there is a big difference between 'thinking only what is necessary' and ignoring thoughts that have no bearing on your life (arbitrary ones.) The first one is repression, which does nothing but make it more likely that the irrational thought will intrude (pick a random topic now, like polar bears, and try to avoid thinking about it for the next minute. Go!) The second is dismissal, when you allow the thought to happen, remind yourself it's irrational, and continue with your life. I think it's the stewing that's creating problems for you much more than the original thoughts. (Ex- 'I don't think Billy likes me. Maybe he hates me. I wonder if he's a serial murderer. He looks like that type. I bet he goes after me next. I wonder how he'll do it?' etc. Soon you're thinking everyone's out to get you. By thinking 'But I don't have any evidence for that, so I'll ignore it for now' right after that first thought, you can avoid the rest of the chain. If you do have evidence for Billy's dislike, you probably don't know whether or not he hates you, so you break the chain there.)

As for optimism vs. pessimism: in my own opinion, there are good things and bad things about both. Being pessimistic means you'll probably be better prepared for situations, though it also means you think things won't work out right no matter how much you plan; optimism is good because you know that you can positively affect your surroundings and are therefore more likely to try, but you're also more likely to assume things will 'just work out' rather than preparing or planning. I'm an optimist in that I know I can usually find solutions to problems, but I'm not so optimistic that I think they'll just solve themselves. This is all dependent on the way you view the world and your sense of life, so 'adopting' one or the other or something in between is probably going to be difficult. Although, if you're going to stew and create false scenarios, by all means try to create pleasant ones.

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The most glaring example of this, for me, is drinking in college. So many people, even some who are pretty introspective, drop it all when it comes to not just drinking but the entire social scene. Once they're surrounded by people, confidence flies out the window and alcohol takes its place. I have never been given a rational answer to drink in college, and I believe that to be a sick example of how a lack of deep thought as to one's every action is the source of some of the greatest evil in our world.
Do you mean drinking at all or heavy drinking? I hate alcohol but I feel I need it in some scenarios. I know, I know, "you don't need alcohol to have a good time". True. BUT you do to get into a certain state unless you are very socially confident. I know people who are confident socially but when in a club situation they look nervous and lost. I used to drink very heavily in order to fit in and my friends thought I was awesome but the more I did it the more I hated myself. I started drinking less for health reasons also. I suppose I could say I use alcohol as an ergogenic aid for club/party-style (mindless) socialising at the moment.

I don't know what you intended by your first question. "Introspection" refers to looking into your mind, for example if you love someone, to investigate within yourself why you love them, or if you enjoy a certain activity, to think about what facts about the activity you enjoy. Or, on a more mundane front, if you know how to tie your shoes, can you make that knowledge objective, i.e. describe the process by thinking about what you know. Rand has a short appendix on introspection in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, and she points out how very difficult introspection is. In fact, introspection is essential to a rational life, so it's not at all a waste of time. OTOH, given what you're talking about, I wonder whether you really mean "introspection". It sounds to me like you mean "being an introvert" (we don't have a noun for that... introversion??).

Yes I mean introversion. Sorry, I was unclear.

What I'm confirming from the input I'm getting is that it comes down to focus. Let me share an anecdote to illustrate this. I met someone at my university who was into self-help. I talked AT him for a long time about findings and he said how I should take up meditation. I was reluctant of his advice due to the religious ties it can have and also the "what the bleep" style tripe I almost subscirbed to. Now I realise why he said it: I lacked focus. Meditation (as far as I understand) is about focus. When talking to him, I was spacing out trying to make sense of the self-help slurry swishing around in my head and dicatating whatever came up. Rather then actually communicating with him I was giving a one-way stream of conciousness speech. I'm reading a book called "Getting Things Done" at the moment and while not a self-help book per se it seems it would be very helpful for reducing anxiety as well as making life more productive. Anxiety is caused by being unsure and lack of action. The antidote to anxiety? Introspect(I see now why this IS good) then do.

Aequalsa, nice little anecdote. I had a manual labour job and my focus was terrible, my mental and physical capacities were up to par but my focus was terrible and most my time was spent thinking about my past experiences or how much of a jerk the manager was. I can't think this helped, maybe I have a slight case of ADD and need to train myself out of it. I can understand focus at work but whatabout when I have nothing to occupy my focus? For instance walking home or waiting for something, as this is prime time for fantasies of me being interogated and denounced or me doing it back.

Edited by Magitek
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Well, I've only heard, never having had that experience myself;

I hate you, you evil pig, don't ever call me! *Throws dead squirrels at David*

Ahhh...see...you don't want to go through life without experiencing that. Now you're life is complete. Anyone who hasn't had a woman throw a dead squirrel at him just hasn't lived, IMHO.

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Aequalsa, nice little anecdote. I had a manual labour job and my focus was terrible, my mental and physical capacities were up to par but my focus was terrible and most my time was spent thinking about my past experiences or how much of a jerk the manager was. I can't think this helped, maybe I have a slight case of ADD and need to train myself out of it. I can understand focus at work but whatabout when I have nothing to occupy my focus? For instance walking home or waiting for something, as this is prime time for fantasies of me being interogated and denounced or me doing it back.

Like I mentioned...it's not always bad to drift. If you have a lot of time waiting in line or for the bus or whatever, and have too much negative self-talk, you might try to decide on something to think about during those moments, conciously. Something you don't understand or are trying to figure out.

For example, I'm a martial arts affectionado, so often times while walking I play with posture and balance...Or perception. Walking by a group of people and trying to ascertain their number without looking directly at them. Close my eyes and try to imagine the terrain with all of the objects around me, then opening my eyes to see what I missed. Sometimes some mild parkour(making a straight line for your destination without regard to obstacles-be very careful with that game :) ) That sort of thing.

If waiting in line or at the bus, forcing yourself to try and make conversation with strangers is very helpful at learning to be more extraverted. Occasionally, though admittedly not often, you meet someone interesting. The nice thing about strangers is that no matter how much of an idiot you come off, it doesn't matter much since you are not likely to see them again. At the least it will give you a more accurate notion of what all those people you worry about are actually thinking. As opposed to what you imagine them to be thinking.

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After becoming depressed after my first year of university I reviewed a number of self-help materials. All self-help authors seem to write in 300 pages what could be expressed in a few sentences and write multiple books that are basically rephrased duplicates. I almost got into spirituality after looking at loads of "what the bleep" style trash. Understandably, this was after I was mugged. Have you ever noticed people turn to religion/spirituality after a traumatic incident? Why? They are simply escaping reality! I was escaping reality; reality isn't so cruel if it doesn't exist. I also procrastinated, which is another way of escaping reality.
If you're looking for insightful self-help material that is to the point and from an Objectivist perspective, I would highly recommend Dr. Ellen Kenner.

It's funny, I had almost the opposite experience from you with being mugged. Once, when I was a teenager, I was mugged by someone after an attempt at being a Good Samaritan, which, being religious, I felt it my duty to do. After this experience, it was quite clear to me how disastrously impractical this type of approach to morality was. It was in part my search for a more practical code of ethics that lead me to Objectivism and precipitated my abandoning religion. In my case, it was (in a sense) attempting to escape reality and the practical necessities of life on earth that led to me getting mugged, and afterwards I was eager to be more realistic. Not that I think the bastard who mugged me did me a favor or anything--I wish I hadn't learned the hard way, but I did.

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  • 2 weeks later...
I appreciate any input to this. It may seem like I am rambling. This is the exact reason why I feel the need to post, to create some concrete ideas from this confusion.

I don't like to suggest something without being available to give a lot more backup, which I can't do right now due to an imminent cross-country move. But I'm reading your post right now, and thinking how it's so similar in some crucial respects to the way I was at university 10 years ago. So let me just say: consider medication a possibility. Talk to a doctor; talk to ten of them if that's what it takes to get one who is knowledgeable and answers your questions. But don't rule it out. Some things cannot be fixed by willpower. I speak from experience.

--Schefflera

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I'm reading a book called "Getting Things Done" at the moment and while not a self-help book per se it seems it would be very helpful for reducing anxiety as well as making life more productive. Anxiety is caused by being unsure and lack of action. The antidote to anxiety? Introspect(I see now why this IS good) then do.

I found that most of the preface in that book was useless rambling, and the actual meat of the book (where he actually describes his method instead of just 200 pages of his autofellatio) is a better idea simply to skip to. But the method works well, and it's nice to see that PDAs are incorporating features that work with GTD method.

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Schefflera Arboricola- I don't think I need medication. Is what I'm saying not applicable to our lives? Let me explain.

Aren't we all thinking to much? Is it really necessary to read Rand and to formulate concrete ways to live our lives? Rands teachings seem like the way a man would think had he been independant enough to stand against socialism or acculturation. So I conclude Rands work not as necessity(unless you need to have intellectual discussions on such topics as your function) rather as an andidote to the philosophical BS is taught or formulates. By "formalates" I mean introspecting and asking why we live and for what purpose for instance. Needless, impractical, intellectual questions. Thinking about such matter will get you nowhere because you are working with abstract concepts, and any revision on such a thought will have no more logic then the last. It is yet another abstract formulation. Questions like: "is there a God", "what is the meaning of life" should only take a second to be answered(or unanswered) and then left to be. No matter how long you mull over such matters a more objective conclusion will not be reached. If anything the quickest answer you give will be the most reliable. Rand said:

"My philosophy in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."

A lot of happy and productive people have never read philosophy nor know what "philosophy" refers to yet live this way. My friend at university is like this. Sometimes, I will talk to him about serious political issues for instance and he'll listen and a minute later he'll be enjoying himself or doing something productive while I am deep in thought like some kind of "tortured genius". He's got the right idea. When asked whether he believes in God, he says "I don't know" or "I don't care". The hours I or anyone else spent thinking about such a matter could not have come up with a better answer then that.

Edited by Magitek
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By "formalates" I mean introspecting and asking why we live and for what purpose for instance. Needless, impractical, intellectual questions...

A lot of happy and productive people have never read philosophy nor know what "philosophy" refers to yet live this way.

It is tempting, when standing on one side of a false dichotomy, to muse that the grass is greener on the other. But it's not.

Your thoughts above are so completely Empiricist that it hurts. Makes me think your problem is likely Rationalism.* But anyway, I can guarantee you the solution does not lie in rejecting thought and abstraction, but in properly integrating them to purpose. Making your mind work for you and not against you, rather then stabbing it with a q-tip, as you seem to be considering. (10 points to whoever gets the reference there...)

*for more on this, check out The DIM hypothesis (free, on the ARI website!)

Edited by Inspector
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