Words of Wisdom

The director, actor and comedian Woody Allen says that artists exist to explain and deal with the meaninglessness of life. Why is life meaningless? Because our existence on earth is limited. All the political scandals, our partner’s cheating, a bad grade in school, the loss of a job, the loss of a house, but also the great things like a promotion to a desired job, the best sex in life, an enjoyable vacation, the acquisition of material goods are going to be wiped out with the end of our life. Allen tells us that we still have a reason to get up and enjoy life. We produce and consume artistic creation: films, paintings, videos, comedy.

The entertainer Bryan Callen explains that we are trapped in the existential rut. We breed, eat, sleep and do that in an endless cycle. That makes humans similar to animals. What makes us different is our capacity to enjoy and create artwork. We can contemplate good paintings, music, interesting stories, literature (starts at 1:55:00).

The neuroscientist Christof Koch explains his experience of going rock-climbing, which is a way of entering the “zone” and forgetting the negative feelings and various thoughts about daily life that cloud our human existence. Go find your passion and allow your mind to focus (starts at 36:43).

Joe Rogan explains how the lack of physical threat results in some human beings developing aggressions and the desire to target fantasy enemies. It would make sense to redirect one’s energy to creative and useful endeavors, which humans are very much capable of (starts at 28:00).

Brian Greene explains how playing music in the background allows him to focus and get new and creative ideas when he is writing a book. He has a quiet retreat; no neighbors, only his dog; music in the background, while is typing away at his book (starts 1:53:00).

Below my favorite quotations

A distanced point of view is what you do in zazen meditation.  Zen practice differs from most other forms of yoga or Buddhist meditation in that it is done with your eyes open rather than closed. More exactly, you meditate with your eyelids half-closed, not looking at anything but with your gaze focused somewhere in empty space in front of your face. Not closing your eyes avoids falling into a dream-like state or seeing hynogogic imagery. These are distractions from the pure consciousness of just gazing,  your mind and eyes like a piece of clear glass. In zazen meditation, one can attain the feeling of looking down on your body, as if your point of view were located in the back of your head, and you are sitting back seeing the world at a distance. A distanced point of view is exactly the right way to put it.

Randall Collins, Blog, January 7, 2019

We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.

Buckminster Fuller

An unexamined life is not worth living.

Socrates, in Plato, The Apology

Let us consider also in the following way that there is much hope that being dead is something good. For to be dead is one of two things: either it is like being nothing and the dead person does not have any perception of anything, or, as they say, it is some kind of change, namely relocation, of the soul from here to another place.

Socrates, in Plato, The Apology

The way according to which the people conduct their lives is this: If they have a secure livelihood, they will have a secure mind. And if they have no secure livelihood, they will not have a secure mind. And if they have no secure mind, there is nothing they will not do in the way of self-abandonment, moral deflection, depravity, and wild license. When they fall into crime, to pursue and punish them is to entrap them. How can such a thing as entrapping the people be allowed under the rule of a man of humanity [ren]?

Mencius 3A1, translated in Chan, 67

When you observe goodness in others, then inspect yourself, desirous of cultivating it. When you observe badness in others, then examine yourself, fearful of discovering it.

Xunzi, Ch.2, Cultivating Oneself

Let us finally imagine, for a change, an association of free men, working with the means of production held in common, and expending their many different forms of labour-power in full self-awareness as one single social labour force. All the characteristics of Robinson’s labour are represented, but with the difference that they are social instead of individual.

Karl Marx, Das Kapital

Then [Bill Clinton] asked [Nelson Mandela], “But when you were [leaving jail and] walking to freedom, didn’t you hate [the prison guards] again?” With wonderful candor he replied, “Of course I felt old anger rising up again, and fear. After all, I had not been free in 27 years. But I knew that, when I drove away from the gate, if I continued to hate them, they would still have me. I wanted to be free, and so I let it go.” Whenever I feel anger and resentment rising inside myself, I try to think of what Mandela said, and follow his example. We’d all be a lot happier if we could do that.

Bill Clinton, Vanity Fair

An intellectual man in complete solitude has excellent entertainment in his own thoughts and fancies, while no amount of diversity or social pleasure, theaters, excursions and amusements, can ward off boredom from a dullard.

Arthur Schopenhauer, Wisdom of Life

Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again. Wanderer, there is no road– Only wakes upon the sea.

Antonio Machado, Campos de Castilla

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.

Bertrand Russell

The wise man does not expose himself needlessly to danger, since there are few things for which he cares sufficiently; but he is willing, in great crises, to give even his life–knowing that under certain conditions it is not worth while to live. He is of a disposition to do men service, though he is ashamed to have a service done to him. To confer a kindness is a mark of superiority; to receive one is a mark of subordination… He does not take part in public displays… He is open in his dislikes and preferences; he talks and acts frankly, because of his contempt for men and things… He is never fired with admiration, since there is nothing great in his eyes. He cannot live in complaisance with others, except it be a friend; complaisance is the characteristic of a slave… He never feels malice, and always forgets and passes over injuries… He is not fond of talking… It is no concern of his that he should be praised, or that others should be blamed. He does not speak evil of others, even of his enemies, unless it be to themselves. His carriage is sedate, his voice deep, his speech measured; he is not given to hurry, for he is concerned about only a few things; he is not prone to vehemence, for he thinks nothing very important. A shrill voice and hasty steps come to a man through care… He bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of his circumstances, like a skillful general who marshals his limited forces with the strategy of war… He is his own best friend, and takes delight in privacy whereas the man of no virtue or ability is his own worst enemy, and is afraid of solitude.

Aristotle, Ethics

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Man, the bravest animal and the one most inured to suffering, does not repudiate suffering in itself; he desires it, he even seeks it out, provided that he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose for suffering.

Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

Life, as we find it, is too hard for us; it brings us too many pains, disappointments and impossible tasks. In order to bear it we cannot dispense with palliative measures… There are perhaps three such measures: powerful deflections, which cause us to make light of our misery; substitutive satisfactions, which diminish it; and intoxicating substances, which make us insensible to it.

Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is—other people!

Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit

If this idea of a radical transformation is to be more than idle speculation, it must have an objective foundation in the production process of advanced industrial society. In its technical capabilities and their use. For freedom indeed depends largely on technical progress, on the advancement of science. But this fact easily obscures the essential precondition: in order to become vehicles of freedom, science and technology would have to change their present direction and goals; they would have to be reconstructed in accord with a new sensibility–the demands of the life instincts. Then one could speak of a technology of liberation, product of a scientific imagination free to project and design the forms of a human universe without exploitation and toil. But this gaya scienza is conceivable only after the historical break in the continuum of domination–as expressive of the needs of a new type of man.

Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation, 1969

The greatest benefit we owe to the artist, whether painter, poet, or novelist, is the extension of our sympathies…. Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot.

George Eliot, The Natural History of German Life, 1856

In a moment, when I throw myself down among the absinthe plants to bring their scent into my body, I shall know, appearances to the contrary, that I am fulfilling a truth which is the sun’s and which will also be my death’s. In a sense, it is indeed my life that I am staking here, a life that tastes of warm stone, that is full of the signs of the sea and the rising song of the crickets. The breeze is cool and the sky blue. I love this life with abandon and wish to speak of it boldly: it makes me proud of my human condition. Yet people have often told me: there’s nothing to be proud of. Yes, there is: this sun, this sea, my heart leaping with youth, the salt taste of my body and this vast landscape in which tenderness and glory merge in blue and yellow. It is to conquer this that I need my strength and my resources. Everything here leaves me intact, I surrender nothing of myself, and don no mask: learning patiently and arduously how to live is enough for me, well worth all their arts of living.

Albert Camus, Nuptials at Tipasa, p.69