Let’s do a small thought experiment.
Let’s teleport in the future and encounter the reality of what is known there as an experience machine.
Imagine that technology has reached a point where this machine could stimulate your brain in such a way that you could experience anything you desire. All you need to do is enter a floating tank and attach a bunch of electrodes in your brain.
However, the technology of the machine is developed in such a way that once you plug yourself in the machine, you can’t unplug.
Of course, while in the tank, you won’t know that you’re there; you’ll think that it’s all actually happening.
Would you go for it?
Would you plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life experiences, knowing that there is no way back?
This interesting thought experiment was suggested by philosopher Robert Nozick in his book “Anarchy, State and Utopia” in 1974. Nozick was notorious for his ability to challenge conventional wisdom and come up with contrarian ideas that could tantalize one’s reality.
The point raised via “the experience machine” is whether or not hedonism should be regarded as the most valuable human pursuit. Our proclivity to avoid pain, embrace paths of least resistance, and easily accept pleasure, wherever it comes from, presupposes that, for most, the experience machine would sound like a good deal.
Nozick, however, believed that pleasure is not the only intrinsic value and that, although one could go about experiencing life via a pleasure-seeking philosophy, pleasure shouldn’t be treated as an end but rather as a means to an end.
Regardless of whether or not you would go for the experience machine, our relationship with pleasure is rather weird. Sometimes even quite absurd.
We all have experienced at some point in our lives the aftermath of our pleasure-seeking tendencies. It could be that the brain cannot keep up with the production of serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins that seek to glorify the sensation of a certain experience. It could be that we grow tired of the lack of novelty entailed in a certain activity, habit, or relationship. It could be that ideas, notions, and theories, that were previously regarded as pleasurable, now seem more like a hindrance to our current state.
But isn’t this kind of absurd? The very drive that you have to seek pleasure can morph into a self-destructive force.
Reality is inundated with such contradictions, and this absurd landscape leads to questioning the very meaning of existence and it also creates bizarre living conditions for everyone partaking in it.
This is more or less how the idea of absurdism came about.
Existentialist philosophers like Soren Kierkegaard or Albert Camus kept bumping into predicaments that illustrated the conflict between the human desire to seek inherent value and meaning in life, and the human inability to actually discover these with any certainty.
The absurd is an omnipresent condition throughout the human experience.
Absurdism encompasses everything related to the fundamental disharmony between the individual’s search for meaning and the seeming meaninglessness of the cosmos.
In such a landscape, one has usually two options. Either allow absurdism to devour them and lose touch with meaning, or confront the absurd by developing their own existentialist philosophy.
And today I will reveal some aspects of my existentialist philosophy. Indulge.
Communal living and homogeneity
The tribal nature of human beings is unquestionable. The paradox that engulfs our social life, however, is that since we crave the presence of others, why is it so difficult to co-exist with them? There is no easy answer here. That is because one needs to take into consideration our ancestral past, the complexity of the cosmos and the power dynamics entailed in our hierarchical structures.
Throughout the years, I have been involved in the discovery of a solution to this conundrum and although I found myself hitting a wall numerous times, I came to realize something very important. When it comes to co-existence, a critical factor that will determine its success is the degree of homogeneity within a community.
Oftentimes, people choose to occupy new territories while taking into consideration quality of life factors such as economic environment, safety, environmental quality and the plurality of goods and services offered.
Yet, once people find themselves within the premises of this new territory, new problems emerge. These problems are a result of osmosis between the agents that comprise it. An amalgam of mindsets, habits, behaviors and belief systems can easily lead to friction and, consequently, to a lack of tolerance within an environment.
In my opinion, one ought to consider homogeneity within a community a life principle. I have traveled a lot in my life and I tend to stay longer in places I like so I can analyze the circumstances of each place in depth. I noticed that in places like Berlin, for instance, where specific parts of the city are inhabited by people with a similar background, age, ambitions and ethical framework, I tend to feel more centered and peaceful.
This is not a coincidence and also something one has to examine with enormous care.
Tame your analytical brain – Have skin in the personal development game
Becoming enamored with the way your brain operates can lead to a marvelous way in the way you manage it but also in the way you evolve it.
Although more information grants us access to more knowledge, our ability to analyze this information is predicated upon our ability to understand our cerebral makeup.
Think of your brain as a uber-sensitive tool that shapes its form and capacity in accordance with the information it gathers. Nowadays, the information torrent we have to face has increased dramatically and our brain struggles to keep up with this newness.
Instances of people who feel confused and don’t know what to do with all this information keep cropping up. You can see that most are lost in their thoughts and find it quite challenging to structure a well-articulated stream of reasoning.
The verdict is that we weren’t ready to deal with this predicament. Ergo, the adoption of methodologies relative to the taming of our brain becomes imperative.
Instead of going adrift and allowing technology to hijack our brain, leading to a future attention war dystopia, each one of us has the option to obstruct it.
When I decided to professionally pursue a career in blogging and creating YouTube videos, I couldn’t believe that this would become one of the most beneficial activities in that respect. Personal development, although it has gained steam over the years, with more and more people embracing its value, is a process that requires extreme discipline and dedication in order to reap its benefits.
I interact with many people who read my blog and I notice that although they are very excited with the information I provide, very few actually adopt a methodical approach to my suggestions. Most start with, let’s say, meditation or journaling, but, after a few days, they revert to their old habits.
I can’t blame them. Before my immersion in blogging, discipline and proper adoption of healthy habits was a very strenuous task. What was required for me to take this process seriously was to have skin in the personal development game. I quit my job, I went all in and I realized that the stakes were very high for me not to try and excel in all these areas. Healthy habits became life principles and a whole new mode of being emerged from this process.
Eventually, I realized that this was also the only sure way I could tame my brain; this was the only sure way to stay sane.
As a writer, I have been through many stages. I faced the struggle of starting and feeling like a crippled person with a crayon in his mouth. I faced the monotony of trying to come up with interesting topics. I faced the horror of writer’s block. I faced the criticism of people who were approaching my work from a diametrically opposite frame of mind.
I faced all these stages with an open mind and an audacious attitude.
But the stage I consider the most demanding, frightening and one I will never stop facing is the battle with clichés.
Clichés are everywhere.
They are like pre-warmed food that is served to us over and over.
They deluge our realities and they impede any ambitious attempt from our side to become more authentic.
My battle with clichés has taught me something extremely important.
What makes our work interesting and unique, is not necessarily the topic we decide to tackle, but more our ability to be genuine in the way we approach that topic.
All of us have a story to narrate and our story is what keeps people interested and allows them to engage with it.
Not all of us can live up to this responsibility and we rely on clichés to define our paradigms.
If you reject clichés and instead try to speak your truth and constantly attempt to refine your narrative, you expose yourself to a very scary reality.
We are not really used to this level of exposure and, therefore, we prefer the comfort of a cliché instead of the challenge of authenticity.
Through the process of exposure, though, one comes to realize that feeling uncomfortable should be viewed as a virtue, not a hindrance.
I would go as far as to say that is is an absolute prerequisite to genuine communication and thought.
Mitigate dark moments
Regardless of how hard you try and regardless of how much self-awareness you accrue over the years, dark moments are inevitable.
Especially if you are a creative and sensitive person, your proclivity towards darkness is going to affect your world in an intense way.
Once you recognize that, the moment of truth begins. When you stare at the darkness, the darkness stares back at you. It is a momentous instance in your life. You either allow it to own you or you fight back. There is no middle ground there.
The darkness has many forms. It can have the form of a shadow, as Jung put it, it can have the form of mental and physical pain, it can have the form of depression and a general disconnection from reality.
All these forms signify that one has let oneself go and surrendered to a dark reality that was imposed on him or her one way or the other. The escape is not easy.
A dark reality, usually, signals a lack of purpose and an astute lack of discipline throughout the daily grind.
Whether we like it or not, we are purpose-driven beings. Purpose is what allows us to add more structure to our lives and eventually have control over it. Purpose can manifest itself in many ways. It can be an obsession with arts in an attempt to satisfy the need for self-expression. It can be the ambition to change the world for the better. It can be whatever the individual decides it to be.
Once you identify your purpose, live it wholeheartedly. Create systems, processes, goals, and protocols around it. Find other actors who have similar purposes and engage with them.
Escape the banality of abstract living that is defined by others and assemble your life around your purpose. Do that in a disciplined and, if the circumstance demands it, obsessed way.
That’s how you overcome darkness.
When I created the 30 Challenges project, I did so with the intention of helping people bring more structure to their chaotic lives. 30 Challenges per day seem overwhelming, but that’s the goal. If one can go through the challenges and complete even half of them, daily, throughout this 30-day period, just imagine the impact this can have on one’s life.
Don’t follow the rat race, follow your body
Discussing the ramifications of a rat race-driven reality is one of my favorite topics. I do that very consciously, for I feel that the more I reduce its significance, the more I allow myself to disengage from it.
The rat race, despite how we end up portraying it, has a noteworthy use we tend to ignore. Adaptation and blending in is an integral component of our constitution. The fact that we need to keep up with a certain race or pursuit is felt in the bodily sensation we experience whenever we think that we are left behind. That has both a bad and a good use. A race is just race. Choosing our race will determine the quality of our life.
Keeping up with the Joneses and keeping up with great contemporary thinkers, can’t be seen under the same light. The selection of our “opponent” so to speak, molds the fabric of our reality.
Throughout this process, the best way to determine whether or not you are in the right race is to listen to your body.
Professor Jordan Peterson proposed an interesting exercise in that respect.
While you go about experiencing life, try and pay attention to how your body reacts to the things you say and hear. Listen to the words you utter and try to estimate whether or not what you say feels right and if it makes you feel solid. Ask yourself, are you subordinating to something? Are you hiding from something? If the answer is yes, you need to recalibrate and reevaluate your stance.
Carl Jung wrote that “everyone knows nowadays that people have complexes. What is not so well known, though far more important theoretically, is that complexes can have us.”
I know people who have experienced a rebirth through the process of bodily hearing that can even result in tears and breakdowns.
As British poet Anthony Anaxagorou put it, “The sadness of non-authenticity is lamenting and sitting in the back of your spirit and every now and then it taps on the back of your shoulder and says do something about it.”
The escape from that quandary is essential and can only be materialized via the process of listening and recalibration.
Internalize major psychological concepts
Psychology, despite its vastness and the different schools of thought comprising it, is an extraordinary cognitive tool.
Since the beginning of the last century, and the establishment of psychology as a scientific discipline, many pioneers in the field have proposed their theories and practices.
One can get lost in the endless approaches, but, at the end of the day, some fundamental principles can allow one to form a canonical interpretation of the topic and its use in his or her life.
I like to keep things simple, so, for me, the three main tenets of psychology are Freud, emotions, and biases.
Freud was the first to see a connection between childhood experiences and behaviors in adults. The way you interacted with various figures in your family environment has shaped most of your likes, desires, habits, and principles. A basic understanding of that concept can lead to a more healthy and balanced life. People who refuse to see this connection end up experiencing an endless circle of emotional suffering that leads to a toxic life for both them and their surroundings. Making connections to certain events leads to more awareness and awareness is key when attempting to escape absurdism.
Emotions are the most critical drivers of our actions. Our emotional world allows us to add more plurality to our experiences and connect with others in a special way. However, this is both a blessing and a curse. The increase in intensity of a certain experience can lead to uncontrolled emotional ups and downs that shape our reality. This can have detrimental effects on our well-being since we become fixated with certain affairs, but also become prone to emotional manipulation.
Biases blur our attempt to form a more objective interpretation of reality. They lead to systematic deviations from sound judgment and can bolster the degree of unorthodox choices we end up making. Biases are the toughest cognitive processes to handle. Even when one identifies the existence of a certain bias, the ability to overcome it requires tremendous psychological strength.
These three tenets need to act as a ubiquitous error-correcting mechanism that recalibrate problematic behavioral patterns that feed absurdism.
Humility, triangulation, and diversification
No matter how many books I read, the majority of deep thinkers across time and space will agree on one thing: A combination of humility, triangulation, and diversification can help humans go places.
Understanding that you might be wrong, despite your intelligence and seemingly sound beliefs, is a significant constituent of a well-examined persona.
Erroneous thinking is all around us and the instances of people who prefer to exploit it instead of rectifying it tends to become the rule, not the exception.
In that perilous landscape, one needs to be careful with how assumptions are formed and many points need to be taken into consideration.
Ray Dalio, in his podcast with Tim Ferriss, suggests that a technique he uses for capturing the whole picture of an idea, proposition, or argument, is to consider the opinion of at least three people relevant to the topic.
By doing that, and by capitalizing on his experience, knowledge, and intellectual humility, he ends up adequately informed in a plethora of topics and increases the potentiality of sagacious judgment.
This intellectual exercise eventually gives rise to the idea of diversification and the realization that one can escape absurdism by attaining a wide array of knowledge across various disciplines.
We go about living our lives quite mechanically and mindlessly. We allow things to happen to us and we consider the inevitability of absurdity a given.
Life principles are there to help us be more audacious, determined, and pragmatic whenever we face things that are out of our control, including the fallibility of memory, mortality, and the porous nature of time.
Life principles are engineered to allow one to escape the absurdity of reality and find solace in a well-examined life.
Modern life requires discipline, holistic thinking, soft skills, time management, and a proper day structure. I discuss all these and even more in the “30 Challenges-3o Days-Zero Excuses” workbook. Check it out. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain.
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