Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Nirvana Myth

What do peopel mean when they talk about happiness?

I believe people think about this elusive eternal feeling of endless happiness.
Another approach is the story thing (concept rather than the feeling) [1] like knowing that at the end of life one will be able to say "this was a happy person" like that of Solon and many others (Solon told the king that he cannot be declared happy until his end, which is nonsense, if we look for momentary happiness, or even the story of every moment.)

In practice, we are fairly limited. We can improve many small things in life (so I hope). But these large gains are next to impossible.

When this fantasy takes precedence, one gives up any hope, at least practically.

Sleeping another half hour a day, does not sound an improvement for life. It sounds a small thing, a technicality. Nobosy cares if it will improve life quality. But I guess the main point is that it does not fit into the huge dream of happiness. It is not going to make you a prime minister, give you eternal bliss, or bring you ultimate love (another overstated dream).

PS. I can find rationalization for concentration on the big dreams. And life calculus are too complex to form an opinion. These are just my natural thuoghts. There are also complex topics on our subjective meanings and all kinds of psychologicval constructs. Just mentioning it to confuse you.

[1] story vs. feeling. Kahneman termed it "Living vs. thinking about it". (read the paper, it is provocative, althought I am informed that Kahneman has even more interesting surprises in store) We have an experience, and we have thoughts etc. Humans tend to take thoughts too seriousely. While much of life is about the espeience, not the story.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Unhappy Socrates and the happy pig. Is Socrates indeed better? and other tales

John Stuart Mill says that
"It is better to be unhappy Socrates than a happy pig"
Why indeed?

Mill claims that there is asymmatric information. The philosopher knows what it is like being "high minded" but the pig does not know the alternative. We have two judges of which only one knows both options.

This logic, however, is not convincing.
1) The philosopher actually does not know what it is to be a happy non-philosopher. At best he may observe it from afar throught other people. (I assume philosophers are born - not made. Even if made people tend to forget and distort their past experience).
2) Ecology of judgement. Abstract knowledge of options is insufficient. It is the overal personality attitudes etc. that determines a person's ultimate opinion. Socrates experiences another kind of existence, but this very existence along with all his personal featuers etc. may have bent his opinions toward valuing this kind of existence.

There is also a selection bias in the professional philosopher making a judgement. There may have been others who experienced Socrates for awhile and retired back into moviegoers. They tried both options, made the choice, but you do not name them for philosophers who knew.....

Sour grapes. When the fox cannot reach the higher grapes, he says they are sour. When the philosopher is too nerdish to practially enjoy life (fill in yourself), he invent a story where wisdom is more improtant.

Misleading statement.
"happy pig" sounds bad + it is extreme (ad absurdum problem - Reductio de absurdum proves only that the rule is not extremey absollute, it says nothing about the rule itself in normal conditions).
i.e. Maybe we would prefer to be a unhappy Socrates rather then a happy pig. But pig is an extreme. We may still prefer happy regular person over unhappy Socrates.

PS. It took relatively long time to write it. Because I preffered to go to the beach, chat with freinds etc. (happy pig). Only when I decided that this writing has a happy pig side to it (social attention, and joy of writing) I resolved to go into writing.
I hope the reader got some material joy from reading this.... I love only happy pig, not frowning philosophers.

We should also remember the aesthetic bias and the "prominence" distortion.
Aeatheic is that we consider certain ways of livign and thinking as nicer. We automaically translate it to better. A mistake. I tend to have an especiay good intuition about the life quality and wisdom of sexy women. Took me long to realize that since I see beauty first, I a misleading myself seriousely (kahneman did forma work proving that).

"prominence" distorion is that we want to be smart and sound smart. After we have some intuition about what terms are more prominent in whatever sense, we give them more essential attributes. After a series of self cheating and distortions, we end up really beleivinig these smart sounding things. (Same for morality. Long story by itself how morality distort opinion).

Off-topic. Experience vs. story
An important feature of this is the experience vs. story question. We experience one thing moment by moment. But remember it in a different way. Also the story we have in head about our whole life and certaini experiences, is many times altogether different from actual experience. People care a great deal about their story (kahneman).
Is story central? or experience central?
I feel kahneman's approach is the right one. That is, people want actual experience AND story. I still do not feel clear about the the topic, however.

more references.
Loewenstein 2008 what makes life worthwhile
measurements issues 1999 WB volume