The First Noble Truth

In Buddhism, the first noble truth is that “all existence is dukkha” with dukkha usually being translated to suffering. But can also be understood as being incapable of being satisfied. That while there is the “common” suffering of old age, illness and death, there’s also this yearning or craving for more that we can’t satisfy.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

Albert Einstein

We keep having these expectations and these hopes. We expect that this new shiny thing will bring us happiness, a new game, a new car, a new “thing”, a new relationship, a promotion, a bigger house, a vacation, etc…

But it never does. We’re always wandering and craving for these impermanent things and transitory states that are ephemeral. We continually grasp at the shadow of happiness, and are left disappointed.

Bookshelves and what they tell others about ourselves

I used to have many physical books and bookshelves along with DVDs prominently displayed in my living room. A colleague mentioned their bookshelves recently and while there is a quote I like:

“We enjoy dreaming up a library that reflects every one of our interests and every one of our foibles—a library that, in its variety and complexity, fully reflects the reader we are.” Such a library is “an assembly of titles that, practically and symbolically, serves [to define us].”

Alberto Manguel (via Lucas Cherkewski)

Interestingly enough, that is in part why I gave away all my books and all my DVDs. While yes there was a practical reason to it, I never really re-read a book and the movies I had a copy on a hard drive. The real reason is that I was using it as a way of defining me to others.

At first blush there doesn’t seem to be anything sub-optimal with that, but I realized that for me, it was a vanity project. I wanted to appear erudite (smart, but like, for wankers), to show off my “depth”, how intellectual I was, how well read, how spiritual, how pragmatic, how emotionally mature etc etc.

And the problem with that, with culturing the image you want to project is that, for me anyway, it takes the focus away from being that deep, emotionally mature, intellectual person to giving that perception.

I don’t need folks to see my library, (I need to resist name dropping “smart” books here that would only serve the exact purpose as what the paragraph above talks about) for them to know who I am. They can figure that out relatively quickly.

I understand the appeal of signalling and it’s benefits. Yes it’s easier to know who you’ll have many things in common with. But does that actually grow my understanding of the world? Will it help me be exposed to new ideas and new opinions if I only interact with folks I think are like-minded.

I know that last paragraph is a bit of a jump, from the image we project with our bookshelves to getting out of our filter bubbles. But I think it’s related in that if we want to better understand the world, we need to let others better understand us, and that means not necessarily using simple signalling to categorize and simplify what is at it’s core an incredibly complex individual.

Edit: I realize this may seem like a hit piece against people who have bookshelves prominently displayed. That’s not my intention, if you have bookshelves that’s great, I just wanted to talk about why I no longer do, doesn’t mean I think you’re vain if you have bookshelves.

… That no one can take for us or spare us

I posted a quote a few days back. But I think I should of expanded on what it means to me. To explain why I find that quote appealing.

“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.”
“On ne reçoit pas la sagesse, il faut la découvrir soi-même, après un trajet que personne ne peut faire pour nous, ne peut nous épargner.”

Marcel Proust

There are a few implications, and they all stem from the last few words, “that no one can take for us, or spare us”.

The first is that it means that we need to accept that we cannot learn, we cannot become wiser, without adversity. We can read all the books, but we won’t find wisdom. We’ll find information, we may even find knowledge, but we won’t find wisdom.

That wisdom has a cost. It has an emotional toll. It has some painful introspection. It may lead to some self delusions that were protecting us shattering.

The second implication is that we cannot transfer wisdom. The corollary is then, that I can’t stop something that needs to happen. To do that is to rob that person of the wisdom it will bring. It’s often a bitter pill to swallow since we’d prefer to protect the individual from the inevitable pain that will accompany this, but at times it’s the only option.

Who am I?

Perhaps I am this stuff here, i.e., the ordered and chaotic collection of molecules that comprise my body and brain.

But there’s a problem. The specific set of particles that comprise my body and brain are completely different from the atoms and molecules than comprised me only a short while (on the order of weeks) ago. We know that most of our cells are turned over in a matter of weeks. Even those that persist longer (e.g., neurons) nonetheless change their component molecules in a matter of weeks.

So I am a completely different set of stuff than I was a month ago. All that persists is the pattern of organization of that stuff. The pattern changes also, but slowly and in a continuum from my past self. From this perspective I am rather like the pattern that water makes in a stream as it rushes past the rocks in its path. The actual molecules (of water) change every millisecond, but the pattern persists for hours or even years. [read more]

Ray Kurzweil

Approximate Answers

“I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything, and many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here, and what the question might mean. I might think about it a little bit, but if I can’t figure it out, then I go on to something else. But I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t have to… I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.”

Phillip Richard Feynman