Rabalais uncovers the details behind Fox Conner’s background and his influence on military history, including General Pershing and Dwight Eisenhower. “The legacy of this quintessential man-behind-the-scenes indeed endures. As Black Jack Pershing’s chief of operations and Dwight Eisenhower’s mentor, Fox Conner left an unmistakable imprint upon his nation’s military history. Were they alive today, Pershing and Eisenhower, as well as George Marshall and George Patton—all titans of 20th-century American military history—would each offer eloquent testimony that Conner’s memory belongs within their ranks. As Eisenhower said of Conner in a 1964 interview: “In sheer ability and character, he was the outstanding soldier of my time.”
As Pershing’s chief of operations for the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) during World War I, Fox Conner directed the development and successful deployment of American combat forces in France. Pershing considered Conner to have been “a brilliant soldier” and “one of the finest characters our Army has ever produced.” Pershing paid tribute to Conner by telling him: “I could have spared any other man in the AEF better than you.” Fox Conner commanded Dwight Eisenhower when both were stationed in the Panama Canal Zone in the 1920s. Despite having been part of the high command that had helped win the “War to End All Wars,” Conner held the then-unorthodox view that the American Army would fight a second war in Europe within two decades. Conner imparted that belief to his protégé Eisenhower and transformed him from a struggling young officer facing a court-martial into one of the Army’s rising stars.
But as Fox Conner bore his burden in the cotton field, his daydreams carried him to fields of battle far away from Calhoun County. In Fox’s mind, his back carried a soldier’s pack rather than a burlap sack. Instead of stumbling behind a plow, he was marching behind a caisson. Even when raking manure in the Mississippi heat, Fox saw the pungent piles as the opposing lines of two armies; he maneuvered them with his rake as a general would move his divisions upon a map.
Conner believed he could compete academically; those that he could not outthink, he could outwork.
In the fall of 1897, Company A received a new tactical officer to enforce discipline in the company. The new “tac” himself had been the top graduate of the West Point Class of 1886; he knew all the cadet tricks, including the places where men hid to smoke.
Leavenworth’s “applicatory method” drew heavily upon military history to analyze the quandaries faced by an army’s high command and to devise solutions under rapidly changing conditions. Students learned, through map exercises, to plan and control the movement of troops from afar.
Conner also came to understand the shame that permeated the French Army over its defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, which resulted in France’s loss of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine in 1871. Despite the passage of four decades, France’s desire for revenge—and for recapture of the lost provinces—still smoldered.
President Wilson named one of his brightest generals to lead the incursion into Mexico: John J. Pershing. In a controversial move a decade earlier, Theodore Roosevelt had promoted Black Jack Pershing, over 762 superior officers, directly from captain to brigadier general. For the Mexican operation, Pershing selected several of the Army’s most promising young officers to accompany him, including George Patton.
Believing that Conner was “exceptionally well qualified” to carry out the critical planning functions required of the Operations Section, Palmer resolved to “pry him loose” from the Inspector General. Palmer took his request to Chief of Staff Harbord, who warned Palmer of a potential problem with Conner’s transfer to the Operations Section: Conner of the field artillery and the infantryman Palmer each held the rank of lieutenant colonel. Each arm of service, however, controlled its own promotions. If the artillery promoted Conner to colonel first, Palmer would then have to step aside and serve under the higher-ranking officer. “If that should happen,” Palmer told Harbord, “I would be very glad to change desks with Conner.” He added: “I recommended him for the job because I believe that nobody else is so well fitted to serve in that capacity and I certainly would not revoke the recommendation even if it should prove prejudicial to my own fortunes.” Palmer recalled that “Harbord smiled somewhat at my high-minded speech but agreed to let me have the man I wanted.” According to Palmer, “Fox Conner soon proved his worth many times over in the Operations Section.”
To begin lifting French morale, Pershing ordered his staff officers to display a sense of optimism at all times; a positive attitude became “a matter of duty,” as Conner put it.
Conner recognized that the inability of either side to advance on the Western Front had produced a stalemate that “showed most of the characteristics of siege warfare.” Pershing, however, did not intend simply to feed his men into the same trenches that had devoured the young British and French men before them. Instead, the American commander aimed to “force the Germans out of their trenches and beat them in the open.”
Summerall made enemies that day, but he also developed a much more important ally. Just as Pershing had not allowed the personal affront of a West Point cadet to affect his judgment as to Fox Conner’s suitability for duty on the AEF staff, he also looked past Charles P. Summerall’s arrogance. Impressed with the colonel’s abilities, Pershing asked the War Department to transfer Colonel Summerall to France for service in the AEF.
Six months earlier, Conner had been on mundane duty as an inspector. The combination of Palmer’s misfortune and Conner’s own perseverance placed Fox Conner in position to direct the development and deployment of an army that would number in the millions and play a decisive role in the deadliest war humankind had fought to that time. In James G. Harbord’s opinion, Conner “probably had no superior as an operations chief in the Allied armies. How much he contributed to the success of the AEF has never been adequately stated.” In time, historians would label Conner “the genius of operations,” and “the brains of the AEF.”
Eisenhower recalled that he mostly worked to “prevent the dry rot of tedious idleness.”
“Conner had long had his eyes on Marshall.” On July 13, 1918, George Marshall reported for duty in Conner’s Operations Section. Marshall faced an adjustment to what he termed the “strange atmosphere” of Chaumont. As his new colleagues discussed the broad details of planning an army of millions, Marshall found himself in a “different world” from divisional headquarters, which concerned itself much more with how Chaumont’s directives affected soldiers in the field. Marshall wrote of the different viewpoints of the GHQ and field officers: “Each man was living in his own little world, ignorant to a surprising degree of all that occurred elsewhere.”
Fox Conner had long-recognized the importance of Allied “unity of action.”
Among the American casualties on the first day of the attack was Lieutenant Colonel George Patton. With his tanks unable to advance, Patton located some lost infantrymen and began to lead them forward when a bullet from a German machine gun tore into his left thigh. The upward trajectory of the slug left an exit wound “just at the crack of my bottom,” as Patton described it to his wife Beatrice. Patton also relayed his doctor’s amazement that the bullet had not damaged any nerves or arteries in the area. He attributed his survival to “fate.”
By late October, as the French and British offensives to the west continued to succeed, Pershing and his staff began to recognize that Foch’s strategy to end the war in 1918 might actually work. Acutely aware of the AEF’s poor showing—and that jockeying among the Allies for postwar influence had begun—Pershing dispatched Fox Conner to meet the press and to tell the AEF’s side of the story regarding its contribution to the Allied cause.
“You can’t let up,” Conner argued. “In order to keep up the push constantly, all the time, you have got to keep divisions in longer than we would like to.”
At the war’s outset in April 1917, Fox Conner had been an undistinguished major, in one of the least glamorous bureaus of the War Department, whose primary battles had been against health problems. Nineteen months later, he wore a general’s star and sat in the inner circle that surrounded America’s most powerful soldier since Ulysses S. Grant. At age 44, Conner was only midway through his career. With Pershing’s sponsorship behind him, and another 20 years of military service ahead, Fox Conner stood poised to reach the pinnacle of his profession.
Conner stressed the war’s “one great lesson”—which he feared was “soon to be forgotten” as the nation returned to peace: “The unprepared nation is helpless in a great war unless it can depend upon other nations to shield it while it prepares,” a lesson he thought had been borne out by “every scrap of the history” of the AEF. The highlight of Conner’s postwar service in France came on June 28, 1919, when he had accompanied Pershing to the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles to witness the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Among other provisions, the peace treaty required Germany to pay billions of dollars in reparations and to cede Alsace-Lorraine and other industrial regions to France. The terms also limited Germany to an army of 100,000 with no conscription or air force or submarines. Germany accepted sole responsibility for starting the war. The treaty also created a new League of Nations to establish the principle of collective security to maintain world peace. Amid the smiles and congratulations exchanged among the victors that day, Fox Conner felt uneasy. Having witnessed how the shame of defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 had fueled the desire for revenge in his French comrades, Conner doubted how long the words of a treaty would quell the warrior spirit of the militaristic—and humiliated—German nation.
“From the beginning,” Eisenhower recalled in his 1967 memoirs, he and Patton “got along famously.” The two officers shared similar views concerning the potential of armored warfare. Although prevailing Army doctrine limited the tank’s role—and speed—to the support of advancing foot soldiers, Patton and Eisenhower each foresaw the tank’s potential to become the spearhead of an independent and rapid-attack force. According to Eisenhower, Patton predicted in 1919: “I’ll be Jackson, you’ll be Lee. I don’t want to do the heavy thinking; you do that and I’ll get loose among our – – – – [sic] enemies, and really tear them to pieces.” Patton and Eisenhower also became close personal friends. In their spare time, Eisenhower distilled gin while Patton brewed beer, which they enjoyed at “Club Eisenhower,” their name for Eisenhower’s quarters. Eager for advancement, the two officers also studied the exercises given students at the Leavenworth staff college. Mostly, though, Patton and Eisenhower talked tanks with “the enthusiasm of zealots,” as Eisenhower put it. Dwight Eisenhower had found a good friend in George Patton— as he would learn in the coming year.
In a 1967 monograph, Chynoweth recounted a conversation in which Eisenhower acknowledged his “guiding philosophy” for serving under Conner: “I forget my own ideas and do everything in my power to promote what he says is right.” Chynoweth asked: “Right or wrong?” Eisenhower purportedly replied: “The Commanding Officer is never wrong with me.”
Conner also interacted with his men on a daily basis as he made his rounds through the post on a horse named Old Bill. As Eisenhower put it, Conner “never abandoned the position—and no senior officer ever should—of being an instructor.” Once, Conner encountered some Puerto Rican soldiers on a work detail who did not know how to use a scythe to cut grass, so he dismounted and gave a demonstration. When a team of horses got a wagon stuck in jungle mud and would not move, despite the cursing and beating of their teamsters, Conner took the reins and calmed the horses; according to Eisenhower, Conner “just talked to them and they went right out of the mud.” Similarly, Betsey Conner’s 1987 letter recalled an instance in which her father worked with his troops to tame a gun-shy mule that bolted each time any cannon fired. Conner had the mule hitched to a sled loaded with rocks. When the guns resumed fire, the frightened beast kicked up a whirlwind of dirt as it tried to run but could not move. Eventually, the mule, like the men of the 20th Brigade, settled down under Conner’s firm leadership.
In Betsey Conner’s estimation, “Daddy really knew mules and horses and men.” Conner briefly discussed his views on the relationship between a commander and his troops in the foreword to a 1922 book, titled Principles of Command, by Major Ralph Jones. Conner began with the premise, borrowed from an Alexander Pope poem, that “the proper study of mankind is man.” He then addressed the importance, to a military commander, of a basic understanding of human psychology. Despite his view that “the usual text on psychology is so abstruse as to be understandable only to the professor,” Conner nonetheless believed that “the motives which control the majority of men and the mainsprings which actuate those motives are comparatively simple and few in number.” He then referred his readers to Major Jones’s book to learn the fundamental principles of applying psychological principles to command of troops.
Fox Conner did not speak to Eisenhower about Napoleon or any other great commander of the past, nor did he discuss the importance of history to the development of a well-rounded military officer. Instead, Conner drew three novels from the shelves of his collection and handed them to his assistant. “You might be interested in these,” Conner suggested in his quiet Mississippi drawl. Thus began what Eisenhower described in At Ease, as a three-year “graduate school in military affairs and humanities.”In his 1986 work, The Challenge of Command, former West Point history professor Roger Nye cited the examples of what “Eisenhower had in Fox Conner, Napoleon in de Guibert, and Philip of Macedon in Socrates,” as examples of how “a great teacher” can impart to a young officer the “insights and values” necessary for later success in high command. Professor Nye also lauded Fox Conner as “the most celebrated” example of a mentor—one whose “chief function is to cause his people to become better learners.” Eisenhower said as much of Conner, but in simpler terms: “He was my teacher.” As Eisenhower phrased it, his commander was a “smart, patient man, and he decided that I ought to amount to something; so he was going to see if I would.”
Conner loaned Eisenhower three works of historical fiction—The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (of Sherlock Holmes fame), The Long Roll by Mary Johnston (granddaughter of Confederate General Joseph Johnston), and The Crisis by American author Winston Churchill (no relation to the more famous Briton of the same name.)
Conner gradually led Eisenhower to a more advanced level of military study. The general introduced his assistant to the writings of the 19th-century Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, whose On War remains an influential treatise on warfare. Eisenhower struggled to grasp the military maxims set forth by Clausewitz, so Conner had Eisenhower read the book three times to drive home the lessons. Conner would quiz Eisenhower as to what each Clausewitzian principle meant. In a 1966 letter, Eisenhower identified On War as the book that had most profoundly influenced his military career. George Patton recounted one World War II debate over strategy in which Eisenhower became “very pontifical and quoted Clausewitz to us.”
Conner told his protégé: “In all military history, only one thing never changes—human nature. Terrain may change, weather may change, weapons may change … but never human nature.”
Eisenhower frequently used-two particular sayings he had learned from Conner: “Always take your job seriously, never yourself ” and “All generalities are false, including this one.”
“There is no question of his molding my thinking on this from the time I was thirty-one,” Eisenhower said in a 1964 interview. Eisenhower similarly recalled, in other interviews, that Conner “kept dinning into me that I had to prepare myself for command because the future of the nation depended on my readiness and that of men of my time.” According to Eisenhower, “the necessity of being prepared for war was a product of something that just seeped into me from the teachings of this man.”
Fox Conner also viewed Woodrow Wilson’s concept that the nation had actually fought a “war to end all wars” as a “mere slogan of propaganda.” In contrast to the isolationist sentiment then prevalent in the United States, Conner repeatedly told Eisenhower that American participation in another large-scale European war was “almost a certainty.” Again reflecting his admiration for the defeated Germans, Conner told his assistant: “You can’t take the strongest, most virile people in Europe and put them in the kind of straitjacket that this treaty attempts to do.” According to Eisenhower, Conner also foresaw a future German–Japanese alliance, which he thought the Soviet Union might join as well.
Regarding the necessity of junior officers being subordinate to their superiors, Chynoweth wrote: “There is a lesson in it. I never learned the lesson.”
Conner also addressed the inadequacy of military spending in a 1928 article titled “The National Defense.” True to form, Conner grounded his thesis in history, beginning with the War of 1812 and proceeding through the Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish–American War, and the recently concluded Great War. Conner quoted each era’s leading lawmakers, who had all argued—shortly before the outbreak of war—that military spending constituted an unnecessary waste. Conner pointed out that the same views prevailed in the America of the 1920s, again imperiling the nation’s defense.
In France, Eisenhower studied the areas of the Western Front he had written about in 1927; he then revised his guidebook. According to historian Carlo D’Este, “Eisenhower’s sense of history had been so well honed by Fox Conner,” that he was able to fully grasp the significance of the sites.
Fox Conner soon learned that he, as a high-ranking military officer during the 1930s, was almost as removed from the American mainstream as were his monastic neighbors. As noted in historian Russell Weigley’s History of the United States Army, a “gloomy, negative kind of pacifism, automatically hostile to any measure which might improve the Army” prevailed in the nation during the Great Depression. Bug recalled that when her husband opened a bank account, the teller “eyed him with great suspicion” and “was not impressed.” Despite a number of public appearances by Conner that were covered by the The Boston Daily Globe newspaper, Bug wrote that “the Proper Bostonians [did] not even know we were there.”
According to one newspaper article, Conner kept a schedule that “would have exhausted many a younger man.” He inspected each of the camps, several of which required treks into remote forest locations. Conner ate with the men to assure the quality of their rations; he also took the time to ask questions and listen to answers.
Marshall offered encouraging words: “With your literary ability, your general military knowledge and your comprehensive knowledge of affairs in France, coupled with your ability to reduce things to simplicities, you are better prepared to write such a book than anyone else I know in the Army.”
“Division, corps, and army commanders must be capable of sitting in front of a map and dictating a complete field order,” Conner proclaimed.
The president heeded their advice. On September 1, 1939—the day Germany invaded Poland to trigger World War II in Europe—George Marshall became the Army’s chief of staff. Marshall’s appointment reflected the president’s selection of yet another general in the mold of Fox Conner lead the Army.
Letter from Eisenhower to Fox: Dear General, More and more in the last few days my mind has turned back to you and to the days when I was privileged to serve intimately under your wise counsel and leadership. I cannot tell you how much I would appreciate, at this moment, an opportunity for an hour’s discussion with you on problems that constantly beset me
Eisenhower wrote in 1948: “Allied unity, and the ways and means of attaining it, constituted the principal war lesson”—as Fox Conner had told him it would be. In a 1967 interview with historian Stephen Ambrose, Eisenhower credited his many discussions with Conner, as well as his own reading on the history of coalition warfare, as the keys to his success in effective allied unity.
What I got out of it
I had hardly heard about Fox Conner before reading this book but his influence on military history is profound. He was a mentor to Pershing and Eisenhower, impacting how WWI and WWII were fought and prepared for. “He operated behind the scenes, so to speak,” Mac Conner wrote. “The general public was and is unaware of his value to the military and to the country … his true legacy stretched far beyond his own wonderful military career.”
There is a time and place for the “illogical” in complex human affairs. Not everything is bound by the laws of physics and it may benefit us to sometimes consider the magic which is cheap, illogical, and effective. “The whole point of this book is that just because something is irrational doesn’t mean it’s not right.”
Can avoid many mistakes by being silly and playful. Seeing things from a variety of angles and always keep top of mind that people are far less logical than they appear and that this drives much of our decision making. “Psycho-logic” aims for utility rather than optimality. It operates in the background of our consciousness and is far more powerful and pervasive than we realize
The trick is not understanding all universal laws, but seeing where those universal laws don’t apply. Doesn’t rely on logic but on things that work. Just because something makes sense does not mean it works. This 2×2 is important to keep top of mind. What works and doesn’t and what makes sense and what doesn’t. By trying to rely only on things which we can rationalize, we eliminate a very useful quadrant where the solutions to our problems may lie
In an age of extreme logic it is likely that the problems that have been able to have been solved by logic already have been. So, those that remain may require illogical solutions
Those in positions of power today are nearly all logical so someone illogical someone like Donald Trump can we hold tremendous power because he is unpredictable
Don’t criticize something just because you don’t understand it. Something may be valuable but not valuable all the time. Nature doesn’t take shortcuts and what may seem nonsensical to us may be perfectly logical from an evolutionary perspective. Often a more important question is not whether something makes sense but rather, does it work? The trick is always to remember and ask if something is smart both logically and psycho-logically
An unconventional rule that nobody else uses can yield greater results than a “better” rule that everybody else uses.
Logic is a good way to explain post hoc but it is not always a good way to arrive at creative solutions. If everyone is using logic, aim for the psycho-logic. With things in scarce supply, it can be beneficial to be a bit eccentric, to value things others don’t or overlook. The author prioritized architecture in his home rather than size or location and ended up with a small but beautiful and overlooked piece of real estate
Alchemy is not only what we do but what we don’t do. Approaching problems rationally is one club in the bag but we should also take into account psycho-logic and understand how people actually behave rather than how we think they should behave. We need time to disengage, to think, to wander, to play. Sutherland wrote most of this book on days where he wasn’t at work and his best work came when he was daydreaming. The modern workplace is incompatible with alchemical solutions.
Amazing story from Henry Ford: a visitor was walking through the Ford office with Mr. Ford when they passed the office of a senior executive whose feet were up on the desk. The visitor asked why Mr. Ford kept such a man on at such a high expense. Mr. Ford replied that this man had an idea several years ago which saved him $10 million dollars and as he remembered it, his feet were in that exact position.
There are four reasons why people behave seemingly illogically or psycho-logically: signaling satisficing, psychophysics, subconscious hacking
Economists seem to hate branding and advertising because they don’t understand it, but evolutionary biologists get it immediately. Expensive signaling has been around for millions of years and infers fitness and/or trust. The high upfront cost is expensive and unlikely to be undertaken unless repeat business is desired (flowers have expensive signaling for bees). Overcoming short term the desire for short term gains helps build trust and is done through signaling
Must be willing to ask the obvious and childish questions. Are you really trying to solve the problem or merely seem like you’re solving the problem? Most people care more about making a decision that they can defend rather than a successful decision
How you ask the question impacts the answers you get
A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points and the inability to change perspective is likely associated with stupidity
Never assume that 1×10 is the same as 10×1. In physics and math it is, but psycho-logically it is not. For example, it is much easier to fool 10 people once than one person 10 times
The process of discovery is not the same as the process of justification. There is way more serendipity and experimentation involved in discoveries than is often attributed to it
Creating a name for something drastically reduces pushback and increases acceptance. Creating a name creates a norm.
The conscious mind thinks it’s the oval office when in fact it is the press office. Post-rationalization is a huge part of human nature
Satisficing – much more worried about avoiding a disaster than making the perfect choice, so we choose something we trust which is “good enough.” This may seem lazy but it can also be robust in a Complex system. If there are strict metrics and incentives to meet, others will be neglected and perhaps fatally so. Having some “I inefficiency” may actually be very wise. People seem to bug and make decisions not necessarily because one product is better, but because it is less likely to be disastrous. This is a hugely important distinction and illuminates why expensive brand advertising works
Psycho-physics is the neurobiology of perception between different species and how that impacts our view of reality
An admission of inferiority adds credibility and trust to your product or service
The IKEA Effect is found everywhere adding a little bit of difficulty or friction increases peoples perceived value of the product or service
Perhaps it logically behavior comes first and then our attitude not the other way around. It is only the behavior that matters focus on that and I’ll peoples reasons behind it and you can harness alchemy
Give people more options and information and they will come out with an optimistic reason that serves their situation. For example, in the second and third years of the author’s university, there is a ballot for choosing rooms. If you’re at the top of the list in your second year, you choose first. However, if you’re on the bottom of the list, you get to choose your room first during your third year. What was amazing was that nobody was ever disappointed with this system
What works well on a small scale works on a large scale. Human behavior is amazingly fractal so the trivial details we pick up on in every day situations can help us better understand how to approach big decisions
Never denigrate an action as irrational until you consider what job it really serves. People spend an enormous amount of time money and energy advertising to themselves and once you understand this much irrational human behavior makes much sense. many of these things fall into placebo effect territory and the author argues that they often have to be expensive silly logical or rational in someway in order to work
It has been evolutionarily beneficial for us to be able to deceive ourselves so that we can more convincingly and consistently deceive others. That is why trial and error and then seeing what works is more fruitful than simply looking at what makes sense
To be truly customer focused you must ignore what people say and instead focus on how they feel because this impacts what they do
We cannot influence subconscious processes through a direct act of logic or will. It speaks a different language. Instead, we must tinker and change the things we can control which impact the things we don’t. We can change or design our environment to influence our emotional state. Evolutionarily, it is much more effective to bake in emotions rather than reason – instinctively afraid of snakes rather than each generation having to teach it to the next. This phylogenetic knowledge is not software, but hardware. It is on the Motherboard
How to become an alchemist
Given enough material to work on, people often try to be optimistic.
Example of economics department choosing office and parking spots Jura lotto and those who got the highest number got first choice in office but last choice in parking spots this allowed people to focus on where they did well and over-emphasize that This is an extraordinary finding in how to divided limited resources amongst a group of random people in order to maximize happiness.
The admission of a downside can help you convince people
What works on a small scale works on a large scale
Human behavior is surprisingly fractal. Adding cute animals helps increase sales and while this may seem like a silly example, using the lesson behind this can be helpful even on the largest scales
Find different expressions for saying the same thing
The way you ask the question impacts the response you get to the question
Create gratuitous choices
People seem to like choices for their own sake
Give placebo choices as often as you can
The logical answers, while safe and conventional, have likely been tried. So, if you’re still in a bind, you may need “psycho-logic” rather than logic
Dare to be trivial
Best Buy’s $300m button – rather than forcing people to sign in or create an account, Best Buy allowed people to continue to checkout rather than having to register. This shows that what matters is not what we’re being asked to do, but the order in which we’re asked to do them. The same thing can be seen as good or bad depending on context and framing
In defense of trivia trivia
The devil is in the details so it often benefits us tremendously to pay attention to them
The most important clues often seem irrelevant
With psycho-logic, the opposite of a good idea can be another good idea
People are great at rationalizing regrets. Sour grapes or sweet lemons. Either believing it’s not worth it or putting a positive spin on a bad situation
Context is everything. It is impossible to wholesale import a food, liquor, culture, or even political system from one context into another unexpected to work flawlessly
Think through the counterintuitive because nobody ever does
Akio Morita, founder of Sony, made the first pocket-sized radio but, rather than pushing the limits of the technology and making the radio smaller, he made the pocket on his employee’s shirts larger
The “Jacks of All Trade” heuristic makes people assume that something that does one thing is better than something which claims to do a lot of things plus that one thing. Many world-changing products arose from the removal rather than the addition of features. Sony Walkman first did not have a record function because they wanted people to understand exactly what the Walkman was for – they later introduced the record button. Google is Yahoo without all the crap, Twitter is blogging with a maximum text amount…
People will pay a high premium to remove uncertainty. The amount of time you have to deal with uncertainty impacts how likely you are to make a decision. Credit card companies approve or deny applications in less than 12 hours because they understand this human nature
The behaviors we adopt influence our attitude more than our attitude can influence our behavior. Behavior comes first and attitude later changes in order to keep up, keep consistent
Never think something irrational until you understand what the person is optimizing for
When Prussia was going through an economic downturn and war, the wealthy chose to make iron rather than gold desirable. The wealthy only wore iron jewelry and this trickled down to everyone else. Iron showed that not only were you wealthy (because you had gold that you traded for iron) but also that you were selfless and fighting for a greater cause
Prussia wanted to become less reliable on bread so they tried introducing potatoes. It failed miserably until someone (probably Frederick the Great) chose to have an “exclusive” royal patch of potatoes which was “loosely guarded.” Local people broke into the garden, stole the potatoes, and spread the potato to the masses
Getting people to do the right thing sometimes means giving them the wrong reason
What I got out of it
An extremely enjoyable book on human nature and psychology and how we can use “psycho-logic” to get better outcomes even though they might not be logical. Focus on what works over what is logical and “makes sense.” Nature favors utility and fitness over rationality and accuracy/objectivity
One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share.
It does seem fitting to construe carelessly made, shoddy goods as in some way analogues of bullshit. But in what way? Is the resemblance that bullshit itself is invariably produced in a careless or self-indulgent manner, that it is never finely crafted, that in the making of it there is never the meticulously attentive concern with detail to which Longfellow alludes? Is the bullshitter by his very nature a mindless slob? Is his product necessarily messy or unrefined? The word shit does, to be sure, suggest this.
However studiously and conscientiously the bullshitter proceeds, it remains true that he is also trying to get away with something. There is surely in his work, as in the work of the slovenly craftsman, some kind of laxity that resists or eludes the demands of a disinterested and austere discipline. The pertinent mode of laxity cannot be equated, evidently, with simple carelessness or inattention to detail.
Wittgenstein devoted his philosophical energies largely to identifying and combating what he regarded as insidiously disruptive forms of “nonsense.” He was apparently like that in his personal life as well.
Now assuming that Wittgenstein does indeed regard Pascal’s characterization of how she feels as an instance of bullshit, why does it strike him that way? It does so, I believe, because he perceives what Pascal says as being—roughly speaking, for now—unconnected to a concern with the truth. Her statement is not germane to the enterprise of describing reality.
Her fault is not that she fails to get things right, but that she is not even trying.
It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth—this indifference to how things really are—that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.
It does seem that bullshitting involves a kind of bluff. It is closer to bluffing, surely, than to telling a lie. But what is implied concerning its nature by the fact that it is more like the former than it is like the latter? Just what is the relevant difference here between a bluff and a lie? Lying and bluffing are both modes of misrepresentation or deception. Now the concept most central to the distinctive nature of a lie is that of falsity: the liar is essentially someone who deliberately promulgates a falsehood. Bluffing, too, is typically devoted to conveying something false. Unlike plain lying, however, it is more especially a matter not of falsity but of fakery. This is what accounts for its nearness to bullshit. For the essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony.
This points to a similar and fundamental aspect of the essential nature of bullshit: although it is produced without concern with the truth, it need not be false. The bullshitter is faking things. But this does not mean that he necessarily gets them wrong.
It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.
For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.
Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.
What I got out of it
Really relevant book given today’s context. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth—this indifference to how things really are—that I regard as of the essence of bullshit. The essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony. It is produced without the concern for truth, but need not be false
Loserthink has nothing to do with IQ but all to do with unproductive thinking. The aim is to gain deep experience from many fields, learning the mode and technique of thinking and not necessarily the facts. This books is broken down into various sections so that you can learn “how to think like a psychologist” and more. Thinking clearly is in fact rare and not the norm. You must learn the techniques for thinking from various fields, mitigating blindspots that even a smart person can have because of lack of exposure to a certain field. If you don’t have deep experience across many fields, you are prone to loserthink.
Thinking like a psychologist
The mind reading delusion – people are dreadful at reading other people and knowing what they’re thinking
Occam’a Razor – In science the simplest exclamation that fixed it fits the fact it’s quite easy to arrive at however nearly every other round this is in a good jurisdiction because everyone has a different opinion on what is a simple fact
Projection – people accuse others of having faults flaws or biases that they themselves have
Ego is a tool that you should be able to dial up and down if you want to accomplish something ambitious turn off your ego and if you’re dealing with loved ones turn it down. Don’t choose ego over effectiveness Put yourself and potentially embarrassing situations often as practice and realize how little somebody else’s embarrassment impact see it
Thinking like an artist
Failure of imagination – The best explanation to most things in life is something that has never occurred to you. Most people fail because of a failure of imagination
Thinking like a historian
History is extremely filtered and biased based on who wrote it. Every government writes its own version of history to brainwash its citizens no one history is objective everyone is slanted
Don’t forget about the past but it is more productive to look forward to understand what the paths to success are rather than what has happened
Slippery slope – things will continue on their path until they go too far. Almost everything can be considered a slippery slope so it’s more productive to look at forces and systems
Privacy is overrated. Sometimes it helps but context is important. When gay men started coming out, their lack of privacy helped their cause
Thinking like an engineer
A new expert will always call the work of the previous expert a joke
The one variable illusion – people look for a silver bullet when in reality almost always multiple variables matter
Thinking like a leader
Directional truth filter – truth has two important aspects: accuracy and direction. If you don’t know which one is more important, you might be falling to loserthink. Getting the direction right is almost always important but being 100% precise is only sometimes so
Confusing hyperbole with legitimate opinion – make sure you know which you are dealing with
Systems vs goals – a good system is doing something on a regular basis to increase your odds of doing something productive even if you don’t exactly know the final outcome
Thinking like a scientist
Coincidences are more than likely simply confirmation bias. We are surrounded by coincidences and most mean nothing at all
Anecdotes – beware drawing patterns or assigning too much confidence in anecdotes
Inversion – always ask what if the opposite were true. Beware forming opinions too early and always realize that you could be wrong
Judging a group by its worst members – beware falling for this mistake
Proving a negative – can’t be done and best you can do is say it hasn’t been detected or found up to this point
Thinking like an entrepreneur
Couch lock – do what you can do, not what you can’t do. This will give you a small step to take, leading to the next, building momentum. Small but steady and consistent steps is how big things happen in a lot of realms. The effort in totality is humongous but in any given day it is manageable
Leave your lane – pick up different skills from different realms. This makes you more valuable and gives you different perspectives
Sense of control – people who think they can control their situations are more likely to do so
Humility and testing – be aware that you are probably overconfident but this should not stop you from experimenting. You learn from failure as long as it doesn’t take you out of the game completely. Find ways to start small so that nobody gets hurt
Thinking like an economist
You can expect bad behavior when there is money to be had, when the chance of being caught is low, and lots of people are involved
The ends justify the means. Must consider all the costs and benefits that goes into a decision – ethically, morally, pragmatically, emotionally, financially…
How to compare things – this is a skill that can be learned but most people don’t even know this is a skill. Compared to nothing is the lowest rung of the skill ladder, compare to how someone else performed in the same/similar situation, compare to the next best alternative
Halfpinions – must compare full cost of the plan to the full benefit
Time value of money – those who only focus on the near term are childish and those who can look long term and understand the full costs and benefits are adults. Should discount things in the future back to the present to understand the trade offs. Money received in the future is worth less than money received today
Consider the alternatives – important for any decision
Confusopolies – companies in an industry are so complicated that knowing what is the best product or service is difficult if not impossible
Straight line predictions – the world is dynamic so assuming anything stays stagnant is by definition incorrect. Don’t assume that the future will look just like the past. Humans are not good at predicting but are good at solving important and slow moving problems. You should also look at industries that have a lot of entrepreneurial energy as these tend to stick around
Things pundits say that you should not copy
Pundits are almost always advocates so are biased. Do not blindly mimic what they say without understanding their bias
Moral equivalency – beware comparing two things which aren’t morally equivalent (even if you think they are). Somebody’s issues with their kids compared to your issues with your cat
Word-thinking – trying to win a debate or persuade by focusing on the definition of words. Instead, focus on the root of the problem, the morality of it. When people resort to word thinking, walk away as the chance of a good debate is low. Words are not reasons by themselves
The hypocrisy defense – just because the other side did something too, doesn’t make it right. If you screwed up, admit it, and communicate how you’ll solve it
Fairness – different for everyone and it can rarely be measured or doled out. People are spring loaded to prefer fairness but fairness is an illusion
Feels-the-same – just because one thing about a person or situation feels the same as something, doesn’t make it fair or right to compare the two. People are pattern recognition machines, and not good ones. Analogies cannot help you predict the future. Focusing on causation rather than simply patterns
Friction – adding friction of whatever kind changes behavior
Mentioning is not comparing
Do your own research – doing your own research is very helpful in many realms but in the most complex (politics, climate change) it may not and may simply lead to confirmation bias. Doing some research is likely better than no research, but don’t pretend that you can tell the difference between knowledge and confirmation bias
Be yourself – if who you are today isn’t benefiting your or those around you, you can change yourself. Be more positive and adapt your habits to become a better person
The Golden Age Filter
Bad news and drama sells, so most people don’t see or understand that the world is in a better place than it has ever been
Poverty has drastically decreased, overpopulation has been mitigated, unsolved crime has decreased, inexpensive homes are improving, wars seem to be less likely moving forward as the economic and political benefits have drastically decreased, climate change technologies are quickly improving, end of unemployment may be within our lifetimes as housing/energy/technology/etc. costs and improvements help everyone, healthcare innovations, race relations have improved although the press blinds us to this often
How to Break Out of Your Mental Prison
Cultural gravity – some cultures have low gravity so that people aren’t ashamed of learning and excelling. Seek to surround yourself with this as much as possible.
Knowing where to start – doing the wrong thing is an excellent place to start in order to learn how to do it right. Loserthink involves doing nothing until you knowhow to do it right.
Unfocused priorities – You have to get your own health and finances in order. Only then can you help and focus on others. Priority should be yourself, family, friends, community, state, country, and then the world
Context is hugely important yet most people ignore or are blind to the bigger picture
Fake news filter – can assume that if both sides present the same story that it is likely true, side that is out of power more likely to resort to fake news, beware mind reading and absurdity, be skeptical until the noise settles down a bit
Persuasion – humans are not rational but have the illusion that they are. Once you accept and see this, the walls of Loserthink will soften
Managing Embarrassment – getting comfortable with getting embarrassed takes training. Put yourself in the position to fail and be embarrassed and you’ll realize it won’t kill you. Learning that embarrassment doesn’t kill you is like a super power
Change what you do to change how you think – thoughts follow action, so be biased towards positive action
Judging the mistake versus the response – this is the best way to judge others
The 48 hour rule and the 20 year rule – new manners that the author proposes. Give people 48 hours to apologize, clarify, or update you if something didn’t make sense. Forgive what people did more than 20 years ago
How to break others out of their mental prison
The magic question – what one thing do you believe that you don’t think I believe? This question will frame the conversation so that you can respond to specific criticisms
Pacing – Agree with someone as much as you can at the beginning (without lying) to prove that you are an open and reasonable person. This will make future disagreements and discussions more productive
Define the weeds – define what is important and not
Describe the long-term – what does the future look like under your scenario? If they can’t answer that clearly, they aren’t looking out far enough
Call out the mind reading – by giving it a name and exposing mind reading, you will have more productive conversations
Framing issues – how you frame an issue is as important as the issue itself. make sure you are thoughtful about how you frame it
People gave greater weight to things that have names (why he created a new word in “Loserthink”)
Everyone is coming from a different starting point but the purpose of this book is to explain these core ideas and how you can use them in your own life
You must know not only how many times someone or something was correct, but how many times they were incorrect (the stockpicking scam where they send thousands of people productions and some salt small subset is blown away by how accurate they are and are conned out of money…)
Opinion stacking – tactic of fake news where you get several people with the same biased opinion together and only one dissenting opinion
What I got out of it
Different realms require different modes of thinking and Scott Adams gives some amazing tips and tools for how to be more productive and persuasive and how to not fall for “Loserthink.”
Latticework: success in investing based on a working knowledge of a variety of disciplines
Latticework is itself a metaphor. And on the surface, quite a simple one at that. Everyone knows what latticework is, and most people have some degree of firsthand experience with it. There is probably not a do-it-yourselfer in America who hasn’t made good use of a four-by-eight sheet of latticework at some point. We use it to decorate fences, to create shade over patios, and to support climbing plants. It is but a very small stretch to envision a metaphorical lattice as the support structure for organizing a set of mental concepts
Physics – Equilibrium
Physics is the science that investigates matter, energy, and the interaction between them – the study, in other words, of how our universe works. It encompasses all the forces that control motion, sound, light, heat, electricity, and magnetism, and their occurrence in all forms, from the smallest subatomic particles to entire solar systems. It is the intellectual foundation of many well-recognized principles such as gravitation and such mind-boggling concepts as quantum mechanics and relativity.
Equilibrium is defined as a state of balance between opposing forces, powers, or influences. An equilibrium model typically identifies a system that is at rest; this is called “static equilibrium.”
The concept of equilibrium is so deeply embedded in our theory of economics and the stock market, it is difficult to imagine any other idea of how these systems could possible work…One place where the question is being raised is the Santa Fe Institute, where scientists from several disciplines are studying complex adaptive systems – those systems with many interacting parts that are continually changing their behavior in response to changes in the environment…If a CAS is, by definition, continuously adapting, it is impossible for any such system, including the stock market, ever to reach a state of perfect equilibrium. What does that mean for the stock market? It throws the classic theories of economic equilibrium into serious question. The standard equilibrium theory is rational, mechanistic, and efficient. It assumes that identical individual investors share rational expectations about stock prices and then efficiently discount that information into the market. It further assumes there are no profitable strategies available that are not already priced into the market. The counterview from SFI suggests the opposite: a market that is not rational, is organic rather than mechanistic, and is imperfectly efficient.
The SFI pointed out 4 distinct features they observed about the economy: dispersed interaction, no global controller, continual adaptation, out of equilibrium dynamics.
Biology – Evolution
What we are learning is that studying economic and financial systems is very similar to studying biological systems. The central concept for both is the notion of change, what biologists call evolution. The models we use to explain the evolution of financial strategies are mathematically similar to the equations biologists use to study populations of predator-prey systems, competing systems, or symbiotic systems.
Complex systems must be studied as a whole, not in individual parts, because the behavior of the system is greater than the sum of the parts. The old science was concerned with understanding the laws of being. The new science is concerned with the laws of becoming
Social Sciences – Complexity, Complex Adaptive Systems, Self-Organized Criticality
Although Johnson’s maze is a simple problem-solving computer simulation, it does demonstrate emergent behavior. It also leads us to better understand the essential characteristic a self-organizing system must contain in order to produce emergent behavior. That characteristic is diversity. The collective solution, Johnson explains, is robust if the individual contributions to the solution represent a broad diversity of experience in the problem at hand. Interestingly, Johnson discovered that the collective solution is actually degraded if the system is limited to only high-performing people. It appears that the diverse collective is better at adapting to unexpected changes in structure.
Folly to think you can eliminate every waste, every performer who doesn’t meet the highest bar, and excel and survive. Can shift the entire bell curve to the right, but you still need the full spectrum
Notes: We have observed anecdotal evidence of emergent behavior, perhaps without realizing what we were seeing. The recent bestseller,Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of american Submarine Espionage, presents a very compelling example of emergence. Early in the book, the authors relate the story of the 1966 crash of a B-52 bomber carrying four atomic bombs. Three of the four bombs were soon recovered, but a fourth remained missing, with the Soviets quickly closing in. A naval engineer named John Craven was given the task of locating the missing bomb. He constructed several different scenarios of what possibly could have happened to the fourth bomb and asked the members of the salvage team to wager a bet on where they thought the bomb could be. He then ran each possible location through a computer formula and – without ever going to sea! – was able to pinpoint the exact location of the bomb based on a collective solution
It is when the agents in the system do not have similar concepts about the possible choices that the system is in danger of becoming unstable. And that is clearly the case in the stock market…The value of this way of looking at complex systems is that if we know why they become unstable, then we have a clear path to a solution, to finding ways to reduce overall instability. One implication, Richards says, is that we should be considering the belief structures underlying the various mental concepts, and not the specifics of the choices. Another is to acknowledge that if mutual knowledge fails, the problem may center on how knowledge is transferred in the system.
Psychology – Mr. Market, Complexity, Information
Another aspect of behavioral finance is what some psychologists refer to as mental accounting – our tendency to think of money in different categories, putting our funds into separate “mental accounts,” depending on circumstances. Mental accounting is the reason we are far more willing to gamble with our year-end bonus than our monthly salary, especially if it is higher than anticipated. It is also one further reason why we stubbornly hold onto stocks that are doing badly; the loss doesn’t feel like a loss until we sell
Philosophy – Pragmatism
Strictly for organizational simplicity, we can separate the study of philosophy into 3 broad categories. First, critical thinking as it applies to the general nature of the world is called “metaphysics”…Metaphysics means “beyond physics.” When philosophers discuss metaphysical questions, they are describing ideas that exist independently from our own space and time. Examples include the concepts of God and the afterlife. These are not tangible events like tables and chairs but rather abstract ideas that metaphysical questions readily concede the existence of the world that surrounds us but disagree about the essential nature and meaning of the world. The second body of philosophical inquiry is the investigation of 3 related areas: aesthetics, ethics, and politics. Aesthetics is the theory of beauty. Philosophers who engage in aesthetic discussions are trying to ascertain what it is that people find beautiful, whether it be in the objects they observe or in the state of mind they achieve. This study of the beautiful should not be thought of as a superficial inquiry, because how we conceive beauty can affect our judgments of what is right and wrong, what is the correct political order, and how people should live. Ethics is the philosophical branch that studies the issues of right and wrong. It asks what is moral and what is immoral, what behavior is appropriate and inappropriate. Ethics makes inquiries into the activities people undertake, the judgments they make, the values they hold, and the character they aspire to achieve. Closely connected to the idea of ethics is the philosophy of politics. Whereas ethics investigates what is good or right at the individual level, politics investigates what is good or right at the societal level. Political philosophy is a debate over how societies should be organized, what laws should be passed, and what connections people should have to these societal organizations. Epistemology, the third body of inquiry, is the branch of philosophy that seeks to understand the limits and nature of knowledge. The term itself comes from two Greek words: episteme, meaning “knowledge,” and logos, which literally means “discourse” and more broadly refers to any kind of study or intellectual investigation. Epistemology, then, is the study of the theory of knowledge. To put it simply, when we make an epistemological inquiry, we are thinking about thinking. When philosophers think about knowledge, they are trying to discover what kinds of things are knowable, what constitutes knowledge (as opposed to beliefs), how it is acquired (innately or empirically, through experience), and how we can say that we know a thing.
For pragmatism, anyone who seeks to determine the true definition of a belief should look not at the belief itself but at the actions that result from it. He called the proposition “pragmatism,” a term, he pointed out, with the same root as practice or practical, thus cementing his view that the meaning of an idea is the same as its practical results. “Our idea of anything, Peirce explained, “is our idea of its sensible effects.” In his classic 1878 paper, “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” Peirce continued: “The whole function of thought is to produce habits of action. To develop its meaning, we have, therefore, simply to determine what habits it produces, for what a thing means is simply what habits it involves.”
A belief is true, James said, because holding it puts a person into more useful relations with the world…People should ask what practical effects come from holding one philosophical view over another
If truth ad value are determined by their practical applications in the world, then it follows that truth will change as circumstances change and as new discoveries about the world are made. Our understanding of truth evolves. Darwin smiles.
So we can say that pragmatism is a process that allows people to navigate an uncertain world without becoming stranded on the desert island of absolutes. Pragmatism has no prejudices, dogmas, or rigid canons. It will entertain any hypothesis and consider any evidence. If you need facts, take the facts. If you need religion, take religion. If you need to experiment, go experiment. “In short, pragmatism widens the field of search for God,” says James. “Her only test of probable truth is what works best in the way of leading us.”
Pragmatism, in summary, is not a philosophy as much as it is a way of doing philosophy. It thrives on open minds, and gleefully invites experimentation. It rejects rigidity and dogma; it welcomes new ideas. It insists that all possibilities should be considered, without prejudice, for important new insights often come disguised as frivolous, even silly notions. it seeks new understanding by redefining old problems.
One of the secret to Bill Miller’s success is his desire to take a Rubik’s Cube approach to investing. He enthusiastically examines every issue from every possible angle, from every possible discipline, to get the best possible description – or redescription – of what is going on. Only then does he feel in a position to explain. To his investigation he brings insights from many fields…He continually studies physics, biology, and social science research, searching for ideas that will help him become a better investor…In an environment of rapid change, the flexible mind will always prevail over the rigid and absolute…Because you recognize patterns, you are less afraid of sudden changes. With a perpetually open mind that relishes new ideas and knows what to do with them, you are set firmly on the right path.
Literature – self-education of a Latticework through books, Adler’s Active Reading
We must educate ourselves and the vehicle for doing so is a book supplemented with all other media both traditional and modern…So we are talking about learning to become discriminating readers: to analyze what you read, to evaluate its worth in the larger picture, and to either reject it or incorporate it into your own latticework of mental models…We can all acquire new insights through reading if we perfect the skill of reading thoughtfully. The benefits are profound: not only will you substantially add to your working knowledge of various fields, you will at the same time sharpen your skill at critical thinking.
The central purpose of reading a book, Adler believes, is to gain understanding…This is not the same as reading for information.
Reading that makes you stop and think is the path to greater understanding – not solely because of what you are reading but also because of the process of reflection in which you are engaged. You are learning from your own thinking as well as from the author’s ideas. You are making new connections. Adler describes as the difference between learning by instruction and learning by discovery. It’s evident of in the satisfaction we feel when we figure out something on our own, instead of being told the answer. Receiving the answer might solve the immediate problem, but discovering the answer by your own investigation has a much more powerful effect on your overall understanding.
Adler proposes that all active readers need to keep 4 fundamental questions in mind: what is the book about as a whole, what is being said in detail, is the book true, in whole or in part, what of it? The heart of Adler’s process involves 4 levels of reading: elementary, inspectional, analytical, and syntopical. Each level is a necessary foundation for the next, and the entire process is cumulative.
Elementary reading is the most basic level, the one we achieve in elementary education
In inspectional reading, the second level, the emphasis is on time and the goal is to determine, as quickly as possible, what the book is about. It has two levels: prereading and superficial reading. Prereading is a fast review to determine whether a book deserves a more careful reading. Look at the table of contents, index, how much can you learn about the main themes through this overview. Next, Adler recommends systematic skimming. Read a few paragraphs here and there, read the author’s conclusion. These two activities should take between 30-60 minutes and help you determine if it is worth your time to read the book
Analytical reading is the most thorough and complete way to absorb a book. Through analytical reading you will answer what is the book about as a whole and in detail and provide you the most complete answer to if the book is true. It has goals: develop a detailed sense of what the book contains, interpret the contents by examining the author’s own particular point of view on the subject; and to analyze the author’s success in presenting that point of view convincingly. Take notes, make an outline, write in your own words what you think the book is about, write the author’s main arguments
The fourth and highest level is what Adler calls syntopical reading, or comparative reading. In this level of reading, we are interested in learning about a certain subject, and to do so we compare and contrast the works of several authors rather than focusing on just one work by one another. Adler considers this the most demanding and most complex level of reading. It involves two challenges: first, searching for possible books on the subject; and then deciding, after finding them, which books should be read
The challenge for us as readers is to receive that knowledge and integrate it into our latticework of mental models. How well we are able to do so is a function of two very separate considerations: the author’s ability to explain, and our skills as careful, thoughtful readers. We have little control over the first, other than to discard one particular book in favor of another, but the second is completely within our control
I believe in…mastering the best that other people have figured out, [rather than] sitting down and trying to dream it up yourself…You won’t find it that hard if you go at it Darwinlike, step by step with curious persistence. You’ll be amazed at how good you can get…It’s a huge mistake not to absorb elementary worldly wisdom…Your life will be enriched – not only financially but in a host of other ways – if you do. – Charlie Munger, Poor Charlie’s Almanack
Decision Making – Continuously add more building blocks to your knowledge base in order to build more robust mental models
Failures to explain are caused by our failures to describe
Our institutions of higher learning may separate knowledge into categories, but wisdom is what unites them.
What I got out of it
A beautiful book on how to approach being a multidisciplinary thinker as it applies to investing.
Over the last three decades, the Santa Fe Institute and its network of researchers have been pursuing a revolution in science. This volume collects essays from the past thirty years of research, in which contributors explain in clear and accessible language many of the deepest challenges and insights of complexity science.
Things can be hidden in space, and they can be hidden in time…But the way in which complex phenomena are hidden, beyond masking space and time, is through non-linearity, randomness, collective dynamics, hierarchy, and emergence – a deck of attributes that have proved ill suited to our intuitive and augmented abilities to grasp and to comprehend.
Linearity should not be an issue. Economic systems are obviously nonlinear, as are many, if not most, systems of current interest in physics. A more controversial question concerns the direction of feedback. Whereas a strictly linear system can have only negative feedback if divergence is to be avoided, positive feedback can occur in nonlinear systems of a saturation mechanism operates. Such systems tend to have multiple equilibria or resting points and great sensitivity to initial conditions. Traditionalists find it hard to relinquish uniqueness and global stability, but physicists are easily convinced and find positive feedback natural.
In 1966, Robert Paine introduced the concept of “keystone species,” top predators such as starfish and sea otters, whose removal can lead to cascading effects in system properties. Since then, the concept has been extended to species other than top predators. Some, for instance, consider the distemper virus that kills lions in Africa to be a keystone species. Levin cites “a quarter century of research on keystone species – predators, competitors, mutualists, pathogens, among others – demonstrates a diversity of situations in which individual species play critical roles, at least in determining community structure.
The authors wish to thank our co-organizer, Jennifer Dunne, for reminding us that the laws of life are hierarchical and must look upward to ecology as well as downward to physics and chemistry.
Ludwig Boltzmann, in about 1884, coined the term ergodic for situations with identical time averages and ensemble averages. Not every situation is like this, however; there exist “nonergodic” situations as well, and these are often as counterintuitive as the ergodic situations seem trivial. So, do we have to be more careful when we talk about expected returns and average performances? There are two averages, not one – two ways of characterizing an investment, two quantities with different meanings…Herein lies the danger: if we don’t actually play many identical games at once, then such an average only has practical relevance if it is identical to the quantity we’re interested in, often the time average. There may be many possible paths from here into the future, but only one will be realized. In our game, you are risking your entire wealth, which obviously cannot be done many times simultaneously, so the ensemble average is not really the relevant quantity. Technically, it stems from a thought experiment involving other universes
What is good for groups is not always good for the individuals comprising them. For example, both multicellular organisms and social insect colonies are functionally specialized and hierarchically organized collectives that are highly successful in maintaining and transmitting accumulated knowledge, in the form of genetic instructions, to the next generation; but they also have little regard for the fates of most cells or insects. This same pattern is apparent, in an attenuated way, in human societies. For example, economist George Steckel and anthropologist Jerome Rose (2002) examined health indicators for Prehispanic New World societies and found that the median health of individuals declined as societies grew more complex. This suggests social complexity emerges from mechanisms that promote coordinated behavior even if it is not in the best interest of each individual. In the case of multi-celled organisms and insect colonies, the solution was to make the coordinating individuals (cells, insects) genetics clones or siblings. That way, genes that promote cooperation could spread even if the most cooperative individuals left no offspring.
Instead of assuming agents were perfectly rational, we allowed there were limits to how smart they were. Instead of assuming the economy displayed diminishing returns (negative feedback), we allowed that it might contain increasing returns (positive feedback). Instead of assuming the economy was a mechanistic system operating at equilibrium, we saw it as an ecology – of actions, strategies, and beliefs competing for survival – perpetually changing as new behaviors were discovered.
Thermodynamics is the study of the macroscopic behavior of systems exchanging work and heat with connected systems or their environment. The four laws of thermodynamics all operate on average quantities defined at equilibrium – temperature, pressure, entropy, volume, and energy. These macroscopic variables exist in fundamental relationships with each other, as expressed, for example, in the ideal gas law. Thermodynamics is an extremely powerful framework as it provides experimentalists with explicit, principle recommendations about what variables should be measured and how they are expected to change relative to each other, but it is not a dynamical theory and offers no explanations for the mechanistic origins of the macroscopic variables it privileges.
This introduces two important concepts: first, the idea of scaling, which refers to how measurable properties of a system change with its size; second, the concept of economies of scale. The latter means that, as cities grow, they need less of something per person: roads, sewers, or gas stations, for example
The study of complex systems, like all of science, is a search for order. Traditionally, science seeks order by understanding the simplest parts of a system. How does a single gas particle behave given a certain temperature? Which gene in our DNA determines eye color? Scientists then try to develop theories that explain more general observations based on their detailed understanding of the individual parts.
We know from the application of the scientific method – that is, from observation, then explanation, then prediction, and finally verification – that gravity causes the apple to move toward the ground at a specific and constant rate of acceleration
What I got out of it
A series of articles on complexity that helps give a broad overview of the field and how far it has come in the last several decades. The physical book also has some fun and interesting ways to help categorize and organize the chapters and knowledge
John McPhee walks us through some lessons he has learned as a prolific writer and professor of writing at Princeton
That is no way to start a writing project, let me tell you. You begin with a subject, gather material, and work your way to structure from there. You pile up volumes of notes and then figure out what you are going to do with them, not the other way around
His role in life was huge. Quarter horses are much faster than Thoroughbreds, and a third of a minute after he opened the gate their quarter0mile races were over. A quarter horse had been clocked at fifty-five miles an hour, the world record for racehorses of any kind.
In some twenty months, I had submitted a half dozen pieces, short and long, and the editor, William Shawn, had bought them all. You would think that by then I would have developed some confidence in writing a new story, but I hadn’t, and never would. To lack of confidence at the outset seems rational to me. It doesn’t mater that something you’ve done before worked out well. Your last piece is never going tow rite your next one for you. Square 1 does not become Square 2, just Square 1 squared and cubed.
Structure has preoccupied me in every project it have undertaken since, and, like Mrs. McKee, I have hammered it at Princeton writing students across decades of teaching: “You can build a strong, sound, and artful structure. You can build a structure in such a way that it causes people to want to keep turning pages. A compelling structure in nonfiction can have an attracting effect analogous to a story line in fiction.”
Developing a structure is seldom that simple. Almost always there is considerable tension between chronology and theme, and chronology traditionally wins
Readers are not supposed to notice the structure. It is meant to be about as visible as someone’s bones. And I hope this structure illustrates what I take to be a basic criterion for all structures: they should not be imposed upon the material. They should arise from within it. That perfect circle was a help to me, but it could be a liability for anyone trying to impose such a thing on just any set of facts. A structure is not a cookie cutter
Often, after you have reviewed your notes many times and thought through your material, it is difficult to frame much of a structure until you write a lead. You wade around in your notes, getting nowhere. You don’t see a pattern. You don’t know what to do. So, stop everything. Stop looking at the notes. Hunt through your mind for a good beginning. Then write it. Write a lead. If the whole piece is not to e a long one, you may plunge right on and out the other side and have a finished draft before you know it; but if the piece is to have some combination of substance, complexity, and structural juxtaposition that pays dividends, you might begin with that acceptable and workable lead and then be able to sit back with the lead in hand and thin about where you are going and how you plan to get there. Writing a successful lead, in other words, can illuminate the structure problem for you and cause you to see the piece whole – to see it conceptually, in various parts, to which you then assign your materials. You find your lead, you build your structure, you re now free to write. Some of these thought son leads, taken from my seminar notes, were printed several years ago in the World Craft column of The Wall Street Journal. In slightly altered form, I’m including them here. I would go so far as to suggest that you should always write your lead (redoing it and polishing it until you are satisfied that it will serve) before you go at the big pile of raw material and sort it into a structure.
All leads – of every variety – should be sound. They should never promise what does not follow. You read an exciting action lead about a car chase up a narrow street. Then the article turns out to be a financial analysis of debt structures in private universities. You’ve been had. The lead – like the title – should be a flashlight that shines down into the story. A lead is a promise
Another way to prime the pump is to write by hand. Keep a legal bad, or something like one, and when you are stuck dead at any time – blocked to paralysis by an inability to set one word upon another – get away from the computer, lie down somewhere with pencil and pad, and think it over. This can do wonders at any point in a piece and is especially helpful when you have written nothing at all. Sooner or later something comes to you. Without getting up, you roll over and scribble on the pad. Go on scribbling as long as the words develop. Then get up and copy what you have written into your computer file.
Another mantra, which I still write in chalk on the blackboard, is “A Thousand Details Add Up to One Impression.” It’s actually a quote from Cary Grant. Its implication is that few (if any) details are individually essential, while the details collectively are absolutely essential. What to include, what to leave out. Those thoughts are with you from the start. While scribbling your notes in the field, you obviously leave out a great deal of what you’re looking at. Writing is selection, and the selection starts right there at Square 1.
I’ve come to the end, but in all the drafts and revisions and substitutions of one word for another how do I know there is no more to do? When am I done? I just know. I’m lucky that way. What I know is that I can’t do any better; someone else might do better, but that’s all I can do; so, I call it done
Editors and Publishers
Shawn also recognized that no two writers are the same, like snowflakes and fingerprints. No one will ever write in just the way that you do, or in just the way that anyone else does. Because of this fact, there is no real competition between writers. What appears to be a competition is actually nothing more than jealousy and gossip. Writing is a matter strictly of developing oneself. You compete only with yourself. You are developing yourself by writing. An editor’s goal is to help writers make the most of the patterns that are unique about them.
Use a voice recorder, but maybe not as a first choice – more like a relief pitcher. Whatever you do, don’t rely on memory. Don’t even imagine that you will be able to remember verbatim in the evening what people said during the day. And don’t squirrel notes in a bathroom – that is, run off to the john and write surreptitiously what someone said back there with the cocktails. Form the start, make clear what you are doing and who will publish what you write.
If doing nothing can produce a useful reaction, so can the appearance of being dumb. You can develop a distinct advantage by waxing slow of wit. Evidently, you need help. Who is there to help you but the person who is answering your questions? The result is the opposite of the total shutdown that might have occurred had you appeared glib and omniscient.
Students have always asked what I do to prepare for interviews. Candidly, not much. At minimum, though, I think you should do enough preparation to be polite
Frame of Reference
To sense the composite nature of frames of reference, think of their incidental aftermath, think of some old ones as they have moved through time, eventually forming distinct strata in history. At the University of Cambridge, academic supervisors in English literature would hand you a photocopy of an unidentified swatch of prose or poetry and ask you to say in what decade of what century it was written
Nobody should ever be trying that. We should just be hoping that our pieces aren’t obsolete before the editor sees them. If you look for allusions and images that have some durability, your choices will stabilize your piece of writing. Don’t assume that everyone on earth has seen every movie you have seen.
Draft No. 4
She had a point. It isn’t all like that – only the first draft. First drafts are slow and develop clumsily because every sentence affects not only those before it but also those that follow. The first draft of my book on California geology took two gloomy years; the second, third, and fourth drafts took about six months altogether. That four-to-one ratio in writing time – first draft versus the other drafts combined – has for me been consistent in projects of any length, even if the first draft takes only a few days or weeks. There are psychological differences from phase to phase, and the first is the phase of the pit and the pendulum. After that, it seems as if a different person is taking over. Dread largely disappears. Problems become less threatening, more interesting. Experience is more helpful, as if an amateur is being replaced by a professional. Days go by quickly and not a few could be called pleasant, I’ll admit…What I have left out is the interstitial time. You finish that first awful thing, and then you put the thing aside. You get in your car and drive home. On the way, your mind is still knitting at the words. You think of a better way to say something, a good phrase to correct a certain problem. Without the drafted version – if it did not exist – you obviously would not be thinking of things that would improve it. In short, you may be actually writing only two or three hours a day, but your mind, in one way or another, is working on it twenty-four hours a day – yes, while you sleep – but only if some sort of draft or earlier version already exists. Until it exists, writing has not really begun.
It is toward the end of the second draft, if I’m lucky, when the feeling comes over me that I have something I want to show to other people, something that seems to be working and is not going to go away. The feeling is more than welcome, but it is hardly euphoria. It’s just a new lease on life, a sense that I’m going to survive until the middle of next month. After reading the second draft aloud, and going through the piece for the third time (removing the tin horns and radio static that I heard while reading), I enclose words and phrases in penciled boxes for Draft No. 4. If I enjoy anything in this process it is Draft No. 4. I go searching for replacements for the words in the boxes. The final adjustments may be small-scale, but they are large to me, and I love addressing them…You draw a box not only around any word that does not seem quite right but also around words that fulfill their assignment but seem to present an opportunity. While the word inside the box may be perfectly ok, there is likely to be an even better word for this situation, a word right smack on the button, and why don’t you try to find such a word?
Writing is selection. Just to start a piece of writing you have to choose one word and only one from more than a million in the language. Now keep going. What is your next word? Your next sentence, paragraphs section, chapter? Your next ball of fact. You select what goes in and you decide what stays out. At base you have only one criterion: if something interests you, it goes in – if not, it stays out. That’s a crude way to assess things, but it’s all you’ve got. Forget market research. Never market-research your writing. Write on subjects in which you have enough interest on your own to see through all the stops, starts, hesitations, and other impediments along the way. Ideally, a piece of writing should grow to whatever length is sustained by its selected material – that much and no more.
Hemingway sometimes called the concept the Theory of Omission. In 1958, in an “Art of Fiction” interview for The Paris Review, he said to George Plimpton, “Anything you know you can eliminate, and it only strengthens your iceberg.” To illustrate, he said, “I’ve seen the marlin mate and know about that. So, I leave it out. I’ve seen a school (or pod) of more than fifty sperm whales in that same stretch of water and once harpooned one nearly sixty feet in length and lost him. So, I left that out. All the stories I know from the fishing village I leave out. Bu the knowledge is what makes the underwater part of the iceberg.” In other words, there are known knowns – there are things we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. Yes, the influence of Ernest Hemingway evidently extended to the Pentagon. Be that as it might not be, Ernest Hemingway’s Theory of Omission seems to me to be saying to writers, “Back off. Let the reader to the creating.” To cause a reader to see in her mind’s eye an entire autumnal landscape, for example, a writer need only deliver a few words and images – such as corn shocks, pheasants, and an early frost. the creative writer leaves white space between chapters or segments of chapters. The creative reader silently articulates the unwritten thought that is present in the white space. Let the reader have the experience. Leave the judgment in the eye of the beholder. When you are deciding what to leave out, begin with the author. If you see yourself prancing around between subject and reader, get lost. Give elbow room to the creative reader. In other words, to the extent that this is all about you, leave that out.
Creative nonfiction is not making something up, but making the most of what you have
What I got out of it
Some great tips from a legend in the field – it takes as long as it takes; writing is re-writing, writing is selection
Schopenhauer’s essays have stood the test of time, as relevant today as they were when he wrote them.
He did not ask to be listened to as a matter of courtesy but as a right–a right for which he would struggle, for which he fought, and which has in the course of time, it may be admitted, been conceded to him.
These essays are a valuable criticism of life by a man who had a wide experience of life, a man of the world, who possessed an almost inspired faculty of observation. Schopenhauer, of all men, unmistakably observed life at first hand.
he was a deliberate and diligent searcher after truth, always striving to attain the heart of things, to arrive at a knowledge of first principles.
Too much importance cannot be attached to this quality of seeing things for oneself; it is the stamp of a great and original mind; it is the principal quality of what one calls genius.
In possessing Schopenhauer the world possesses a personality the richer; a somewhat garrulous personality it may be; a curiously whimsical and sensitive personality, full of quite ordinary superstitions, of extravagant vanities, selfish, at times violent, rarely generous; a man whom during his lifetime nobody quite knew, an isolated creature, self-absorbed, solely concerned in his elaboration of the explanation of the world, and possessing subtleties which for the most part escaped the perception of his fellows; at once a hermit and a boulevardier. His was essentially a great temperament; his whole life was a life of ideas, an intellectual life. And his work, the fruit of his life, would seem to be standing the test of all great work–the test of time.
he was as little inclined as ever to follow a commercial career, and secretly shirked his work so that he might pursue his studies.
At any rate, one day in April 1805 it was found that he had either fallen or thrown himself into the canal from an upper storey of a granary; it was generally concluded that it was a case of suicide. Schopenhauer was seventeen at the time of this catastrophe, by which he was naturally greatly affected.
“Life is a difficult question; I have decided to spend my life in thinking about it.”
“Under my hands,” he wrote in 1813, “and still more in my mind grows a work, a philosophy which will be an ethics and a metaphysics in one:–two branches which hitherto have been separated as falsely as man has been divided into soul and body. The work grows, slowly and gradually aggregating its parts like the child in the womb. I became aware of one member, one vessel, one part after another. In other words, I set each sentence down without anxiety as to how it will fit into the whole; for I know it has all sprung from a single foundation. It is thus that an organic whole originates, and that alone will live….
Marriage was a debt, he said, contracted in youth and paid off in old age.
These symptoms developed during the next few months, and Dr. Gwinner advised him to discontinue his cold baths and to breakfast in bed; but Schopenhauer, notwithstanding his early medical training, was little inclined to follow medical advice.
There are, first of all, two kinds of authors: those who write for the subject’s sake, and those who write for writing’s sake. The first kind have had thoughts or experiences which seem to them worth communicating, while the second kind need money and consequently write for money.
It is only the man who writes absolutely for the sake of the subject that writes anything worth writing. What an inestimable advantage it would be, if, in every branch of literature, there existed only a few but excellent books!
A great number of bad authors eke out their existence entirely by the foolishness of the public, which only will read what has just been printed. I refer to journalists, who have been appropriately so-called. In other words, it would be “day labourer.”
In the third place, there are those who have thought before they begin to write. They write solely because they have thought; and they are rare.
But although the number of those authors who really and seriously think before they write is small, only extremely few of them think about the subject itself; the rest think only about the books written on this subject, and what has been said by others upon it, I mean. In order to think, they must have the more direct and powerful incentive of other people’s thoughts. These become their next theme, and therefore they always remain under their influence and are never, strictly speaking, original.
It is only the writer who takes the material on which he writes direct out of his own head that is worth reading. Book manufacturers, compilers, and the ordinary history writers, and others like them, take their material straight out of books; it passes into their fingers without its having paid transit duty or undergone inspection when it was in their heads, to say nothing of elaboration. (How learned many a man would be if he knew everything that was in his own books!) Hence their talk is often of such a vague nature that one racks one’s brains in vain to understand of what they are really thinking. They are not thinking at all.
No greater mistake can be made than to imagine that what has been written latest is always the more correct; that what is written later on is an improvement on what was written previously; and that every change means progress. Men who think and have correct judgment, and people who treat their subject earnestly, are all exceptions only. Vermin is the rule everywhere in the world: it is always at hand and busily engaged in trying to improve in its own way upon the mature deliberations of the thinkers. So that if a man wishes to improve himself in any subject he must guard against immediately seizing the newest books written upon it, in the assumption that science is always advancing and that the older books have been made use of in the compiling of the new. They have, it is true, been used; but how? The writer often does not thoroughly understand the old books; he will, at the same time, not use their exact words, so that the result is he spoils and bungles what has been said in a much better and clearer way by the old writers; since they wrote from their own lively knowledge of the subject. He often leaves out the best things they have written, their most striking elucidations of the matter, their happiest remarks, because he does not recognise their value or feel how pregnant they are.
Write books yourself which are worth translating and leave the books of other people as they are. One should read, if it is possible, the real authors, the founders and discoverers of things, or at any rate the recognised great masters in every branch of learning, and buy second-hand books rather than read their contents in new ones.
what is new is seldom good; because a good thing is only new for a short time.
A thought only really lives until it has reached the boundary line of words; it then becomes petrified and dies immediately; yet it is as everlasting as the fossilised animals and plants of former ages. Its existence, which is really momentary, may be compared to a crystal the instant it becomes crystallised.
other men. In almost every age, whether it be in literature or art, we find that if a thoroughly wrong idea, or a fashion, or a manner is in vogue, it is admired. Those of ordinary intelligence trouble themselves inordinately to acquire it and put it in practice. An intelligent man sees through it and despises it, consequently he remains out of the fashion.
nothing is easier than to write so that no one can understand; on the other hand, nothing is more difficult than to express learned ideas so that every one must understand them.
We also find that every true thinker endeavours to express his thoughts as purely, clearly, definitely, and concisely as ever possible. This is why simplicity has always been looked upon as a token, not only of truth, but also of genius.
Hence, the first rule–nay, this in itself is almost sufficient for a good style–is this, that the author should have something to say. Ah! this implies a great deal.
Men should use common words to say uncommon things, but they do the reverse.
If a man has something to say that is worth saying, he need not envelop it in affected expressions, involved phrases, and enigmatical innuendoes; but he may rest assured that by expressing himself in a simple, clear, and naïve manner he will not fail to produce the right effect.
True brevity of expression consists in a man only saying what is worth saying, while avoiding all diffuse explanations of things which every one can think out for himself; that is, it consists in his correctly distinguishing between what is necessary and what is superfluous.
a big diamond is cut up into pieces, it immediately loses its value as a whole; or if an army is scattered or divided into small bodies, it loses all its power; and in the same way a great intellect has no more power than an ordinary one as soon as it is interrupted, disturbed, distracted, or diverted; for its superiority entails that it concentrates all its strength on one point and object, just as a concave mirror concentrates all the rays of light thrown upon it. Noisy interruption prevents this concentration.
This is the result of [Greek: hysteron proteron] (putting the cart before the horse), since we are directly opposing the natural development of our mind by obtaining ideas first and observations last; for teachers, instead of developing in a boy his faculties of discernment and judgment, and of thinking for himself, merely strive to stuff his head full of other people’s thoughts. Subsequently, all the opinions that have sprung from misapplied ideas have to be rectified by a lengthy experience; and it is seldom that they are completely rectified. This is why so few men of learning have such sound common sense as is quite common among the illiterate.
And, in general, children should not get to know life, in any aspect whatever, from the copy before they have learnt it from the original. Instead, therefore, of hastening to place mere books in their hands, one should make them gradually acquainted with things and the circumstances of human life, and above everything one should take care to guide them to a clear grasp of reality, and to teach them to obtain their ideas directly from the real world, and to form them in keeping with it–but not to get them from elsewhere, as from books, fables, or what others have said–and then later to make use of such ready-made ideas in real life.
ON READING AND BOOKS.
When we read, another person thinks for us: we merely repeat his mental process. It is the same as the pupil, in learning to write, following with his pen the lines that have been pencilled by the teacher. Accordingly, in reading, the work of thinking is, for the greater part, done for us. This is why we are consciously relieved when we turn to reading after being occupied with our own thoughts. But, in reading, our head is, however, really only the arena of some one else’s thoughts. And so it happens that the person who reads a great deal–that is to say, almost the whole day, and recreates himself by spending the intervals in thoughtless diversion, gradually loses the ability to think for himself; just as a man who is always riding at last forgets how to walk.
For the more one reads the fewer are the traces left of what one has read; the mind is like a tablet that has been written over and over. Hence it is impossible to reflect; and it is only by reflection that one can assimilate what one has read if one reads straight ahead without pondering over it later, what has been read does not take root, but is for the most part lost.
One can never read too little of bad, or too much of good books: bad books are intellectual poison; they destroy the mind. In order to read what is good one must make it a condition never to read what is bad; for life is short, and both time and strength limited.
Every one has aims, but very few have anything approaching a system of thought. This is why such people do not take an objective interest in anything, and why they learn nothing from what they read: they remember nothing about it.
Any kind of important book should immediately be read twice, partly because one grasps the matter in its entirety the second time, and only really understands the beginning when the end is known; and partly because in reading it the second time one’s temper and mood are different, so that one gets another impression; it may be that one sees the matter in another light.
THE EMPTINESS OF EXISTENCE.
The scenes of our life are like pictures in rough mosaic, which have no effect at close quarters, but must be looked at from a distance in order to discern their beauty. So that to obtain something we have desired is to find out that it is worthless; we are always living in expectation of better things, while, at the same time, we often repent and long for things that belong to the past. We accept the present as something that is only temporary, and regard it only as a means to accomplish our aim. So that most people will find if they look back when their life is at an end, that they have lived their lifelong ad interim, and they will be surprised to find that something they allowed to pass by unnoticed and unenjoyed was just their life–that is to say, it was the very thing in the expectation of which they lived. And so it may be said of man in general that, befooled by hope, he dances into the arms of death.
That boredom is immediately followed by fresh needs is a fact which is also true of the cleverer order of animals, because life has no true and genuine value in itself, but is kept in motion merely through the medium of needs and illusion. As soon as there are no needs and illusion we become conscious of the absolute barrenness and emptiness of existence.
She pays the debt of life not by what she does but by what she suffers–by the pains of child-bearing, care for the child, and by subjection to man, to whom she should be a patient and cheerful companion.
The nobler and more perfect a thing is, the later and slower is it in reaching maturity.
It is by virtue of man’s reasoning powers that he does not live in the present only, like the brute, but observes and ponders over the past and future; and from this spring discretion, care, and that anxiety which we so frequently notice in people.
THINKING FOR ONESELF.
The largest library in disorder is not so useful as a smaller but orderly one; in the same way the greatest amount of knowledge, if it has not been worked out in one’s own mind, is of less value than a much smaller amount that has been fully considered. For it is only when a man combines what he knows from all sides, and compares one truth with another, that he completely realises his own knowledge and gets it into his power. A man can only think over what he knows, therefore he should learn something; but a man only knows what he has pondered.
This is why much reading robs the mind of all elasticity; it is like keeping a spring under a continuous, heavy weight. If a man does not want to think, the safest plan is to take up a book directly he has a spare moment.
Men of learning are those who have read the contents of books. Thinkers, geniuses, and those who have enlightened the world and furthered the race of men, are those who have made direct use of the book of the world.
it is a hundred times more valuable if he has acquired it by thinking it out for himself. For it is only by his thinking it out for himself that it enters as an integral part, as a living member into the whole system of his thought, and stands in complete and firm relation with it; that it is fundamentally understood with all its consequences, and carries the colour, the shade, the impress of his own way of thinking; and comes at the very moment, just as the necessity for it is felt, and stands fast and cannot be forgotten.
Reading is thinking with some one else’s head instead of one’s own. But to think for oneself is to endeavour to develop a coherent whole, a system, even if it is not a strictly complete one.
RELIGION. A DIALOGUE.
Religion is the metaphysics of the people, which by all means they must keep; and hence it must be eternally respected, for to discredit it means taking it away. Just as there is popular poetry, popular wisdom in proverbs, so too there must be popular metaphysics; for mankind requires most certainly an interpretation of life, and it must be in keeping with its power of comprehension.
Or, to take a simpler simile, truth, which cannot be expressed in any other way than by myth and allegory, is like water that cannot be transported without a vessel; but philosophers, who insist upon possessing it pure, are like a person who breaks the vessel in order to get the water by itself. This is perhaps a true analogy. At any rate, religion is truth allegorically and mythically expressed, and thereby made possible and digestible to mankind at large. For mankind could by no means digest it pure and unadulterated, just as we cannot live in pure oxygen but require an addition of four-fifths of nitrogen.
Simplex sigillum veri: the naked truth must be so simple and comprehensible that one can impart it to all in its true form without any admixture of myth and fable (a pack of lies)–in other words, without masking it as religion.
Hence religion must be regarded as a necessary evil, its necessity resting on the pitiful weak-mindedness of the great majority of mankind, incapable of grasping the truth, and consequently when in extremity requires a substitute for truth.
They require also a popular system of metaphysics, which, in order for it to be this, must combine many rare qualities; for instance, it must be exceedingly lucid, and yet in the right places be obscure, nay, to a certain extent, impenetrable; then a correct and satisfying moral system must be combined with its dogmas; above everything, it must bring inexhaustible consolation in suffering and death.
Perhaps the metaphysics in all religions is false; but the morality in all is true. This is to be surmised from the fact that in their metaphysics they contradict each other, while in their morality they agree.
Even Plato, without comparison the most transcendental philosopher of pre-Christian antiquity, knows no higher virtue than Justice; he alone recommends it unconditionally and for its own sake, while all the other philosophers make a happy life–vita beata–the aim of all virtue; and it is acquired through the medium of moral behaviour. Christianity released European humanity from its superficial and crude absorption in an ephemeral, uncertain, and hollow existence.
Accordingly, Christianity does not only preach Justice, but the Love of Mankind, Compassion, Charity, Reconciliation, Love of one’s Enemies, Patience, Humility, Renunciation, Faith, and Hope.
It is precisely what is most elevated that is the most open to abuse and deception–abusus optimi pessimus; and therefore those lofty doctrines have sometimes served as a pretext for the most disgraceful transactions and veritable crimes.
In general, any disproportion between the will and intellect–that is to say, any deviation from the normal proportion referred to–tends to make a man unhappy; and the same thing happens when the disproportion is reversed. The development of the intellect to an abnormal degree of strength and superiority, thereby making it out of all proportion to the will, a condition which constitutes the essence of true genius, is not only superfluous but actually an impediment to the needs and purposes of life.
What makes a man hard-hearted is this, that each man has, or fancies he has, sufficient in his own troubles to bear. This is why people placed in happier circumstances than they have been used to are sympathetic and charitable. But people who have always been placed in happy circumstances are often the reverse; they have become so estranged to suffering that they have no longer any sympathy with it; and hence it happens that the poor sometimes show themselves more benevolent than the rich.
People who do not go to the theatre are like those who make their toilet without a looking-glass;–but it is still worse to come to a decision without seeking the advice of a friend. For a man may have the most correct and excellent judgment in everything else but in his own affairs; because here the will at once deranges the intellect. Therefore a man should seek counsel. A doctor can cure every one but himself; this is why he calls in a colleague when he is ill.
METAPHYSICS OF LOVE.
anything artistically beautiful cannot exist without truth.
“Rien n’est beau que le vrai; le vrai seul est aimable.”–BOIL.
Every one will desire in the other individual those perfections which he himself lacks, and he will consider imperfections, which are the reverse of his own, beautiful.
Instinct everywhere works as with the conception of an end, and yet it is entirely without one. Nature implants instinct where the acting individual is not capable of understanding the end, or would be unwilling to pursue it. Consequently, as a rule, it is only given prominently to animals, and in particular to those of the lowest order, which have the least intelligence. But it is only in such a case as the one we are at present considering that it is also given to man, who naturally is capable of understanding the end, but would not pursue it with the necessary zeal–that is to say, he would not pursue it at the cost of his individual welfare. So that here, as in all cases of instinct, truth takes the form of illusion in order to influence the will….
The third consideration is the skeleton, since it is the foundation of the type of the species. Next to old age and disease, nothing disgusts us so much as a deformed shape; even the most beautiful face cannot make amends for it–in fact, the ugliest face combined with a well-grown shape is infinitely preferable.
Before a truly passionate feeling can exist, something is necessary that is perhaps best expressed by a metaphor in chemistry–namely, the two persons must neutralise each other, like acid and alkali to a neutral salt.
Indeed, the face of a man, as a rule, bespeaks more interesting matter than his tongue, for it is the compendium of all which he will ever say, as it is the register of all his thoughts and aspirations. Moreover, the tongue only speaks the thoughts of one man, while the face expresses a thought of nature. Therefore it is worth while to observe everybody attentively; even if they are not worth talking to. Every individual is worthy of observation as a single thought of nature; so is beauty in the highest degree, for it is a higher and more general conception of nature: it is her thought of a species. This is why we are so captivated by beauty.
The only valid moral reason against suicide has been explained in my chief work. It is this: that suicide prevents the attainment of the highest moral aim, since it substitutes a real release from this world of misery for one that is merely apparent.
COUNSELS AND MAXIMS. INTRODUCTION.
not pleasure, but freedom from pain, is what the wise man will aim at.
The happiest lot is not to have experienced the keenest delights or the greatest pleasures, but to have brought life to a close without any very great pain, bodily or mental. To measure the happiness of a life by its delights or pleasures, is to apply a false standard. For pleasures are and remain something negative; that they produce happiness is a delusion, cherished by envy to its own punishment. Pain is felt to be something positive, and hence its absence is the true standard of happiness. And if, over and above freedom from pain, there is also an absence of boredom, the essential conditions of earthly happiness are attained; for all else is chimerical.
We see that the best the world has to offer is an existence free from pain–a quiet, tolerable life; and we confine our claims to this, as to something we can more surely hope to achieve. For the safest way of not being very miserable is not to expect to be very happy.
Accordingly it is advisable to put very moderate limits upon our expectations of pleasure, possessions, rank, honor and so on; because it is just this striving and struggling to be happy, to dazzle the world, to lead a life full of pleasure, which entail great misfortune. It is prudent and wise, I say, to reduce one’s claims, if only for the reason that it is extremely easy to be very unhappy; while to be very happy is not indeed difficult, but quite impossible.
the golden mean is best–to live free from the squalor of a mean abode, and yet not be a mark for envy. It is the tall pine which is cruelly shaken by the wind, the highest summits that are struck in the storm, and the lofty towers that fall so heavily.
To estimate a man’s condition in regard to happiness, it is necessary to ask, not what things please him, but what things trouble him; and the more trivial these things are in themselves, the happier the man will be. To be irritated by trifles, a man must be well off; for in misfortunes trifles are unfelt.
Care should be taken not to build the happiness of life upon a broad foundation–not to require a great many things in order to be happy. For happiness on such a foundation is the most easily undermined; it offers many more opportunities for accidents; and accidents are always happening. The architecture of happiness follows a plan in this respect just the opposite of that adopted in every other case, where the broadest foundation offers the greatest security. Accordingly, to reduce your claims to the lowest possible degree, in comparison with your means,–of whatever kind these may be–is the surest way of avoiding extreme misfortune.
To make extensive preparations for life–no matter what form they may take–is one of the greatest and commonest of follies. Such preparations presuppose, in the first place, a long life, the full and complete term of years appointed to man–and how few reach it! and even if it be reached, it is still too short for all the plans that have been made; for to carry them out requites more time than was thought necessary at the beginning. And then how many mischances and obstacles stand in the way! how seldom the goal is ever reached in human affairs! And lastly, even though the goal should be reached, the changes which Time works in us have been left out of the reckoning: we forget that the capacity whether for achievement or for enjoyment does not last a whole lifetime. So we often toil for things which are no longer suited to us when we attain them; and again, the years we spend in preparing for some work, unconsciously rob us of the power for carrying it out.
The cause of this commonest of all follies is that optical illusion of the mind from which everyone suffers, making life, at its beginning, seem of long duration; and at its end, when one looks back over the course of it, how short a time it seems! There is some advantage in the illusion; but for it, no great work would ever be done.
Men of any worth or value soon come to see that they are in the hands of Fate, and gratefully submit to be moulded by its teachings. They recognize that the fruit of life is experience, and not happiness; they become accustomed and content to exchange hope for insight;
In their search for gold, the alchemists discovered other things–gunpowder, china, medicines, the laws of nature. There is a sense in which we are all alchemists.
If there is any merit or importance attaching to a man’s career, if he lays himself out carefully for some special work, it is all the more necessary and advisable for him to turn his attention now and then to its plan, that is to say, the miniature sketch of its general outlines. Of course, to do that, he must have applied the maxim [Greek: Gnothi seauton]; he must have made some little progress in the art of understanding himself. He must know what is his real, chief, and foremost object in life,–what it is that he most wants in order to be happy; and then, after that, what occupies the second and third place in his thoughts; he must find out what, on the whole, his vocation really is–the part he has to play, his general relation to the world. If he maps out… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Again, just as the traveler, on reaching a height, gets a connected view over the road he has taken, with its many turns and windings; so it is only when we have completed a period in our life, or approach the end of it altogether, that we recognize the true connection between all our actions,–what it is we have achieved, what work we have done. It is only then that we see the precise chain of cause and effect, and the exact value of all our efforts. For as long as we are actually engaged in the work of life, we always act in accordance with the nature of our character, under the influence of motive, and within the limits of our capacity,–in a word, from beginning to end, under a law of necessity; at every moment we do just what appears to us right and proper. It is only afterwards, when we come to look back at the whole course of our life and its general result, that we see the why and wherefore of it all. When we are actually doing some great deed, or creating some immortal work, we are not conscious of it as such; we think only of satisfying present aims, of fulfilling the intentions we happen to have at the time, of doing the right thing at the moment. It is only when we come to view our life as a connected whole that our character and capacities show themselves in their true light; that we see how, in… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
But the past and the future are, on the whole, of less consequence than we think. Distance, which makes objects look small to the outward eye, makes them look big to the eye of thought. The present alone is true and actual; it is the only time which possesses full reality, and our existence lies in it exclusively.
But in regard to the present let us remember Seneca’s advice, and live each day as if it were our whole life,–singulas dies singulas vitas puta: let us make it as agreeable as possible, it is the only real time we have.
Limitations always make for happiness. We are happy in proportion as our range of vision, our sphere of work, our points of contact with the world, are restricted and circumscribed. We are more likely to feel worried and anxious if these limits are wide; for it means that our cares, desires and terrors are increased and intensified.
is difficult to keep quiet if you have nothing to do.
The advice here given is on a par with a rule recommended by Pythagoras,–to review, every night before going to sleep, what we have done during the day. To live at random, in the hurly-burly of business or pleasure, without ever reflecting upon the past,–to go on, as it were, pulling cotton off the reel of life,–is to have no clear idea of what we are about; and a man who lives in this state will have chaos in his emotions and certain confusion in his thoughts; as is soon manifest by the abrupt and fragmentary character of his conversation, which becomes a kind of mincemeat.
To be self-sufficient, to be all in all to oneself, to want for nothing, to be able to say omnia mea mecum porto–that is assuredly the chief qualification for happiness.
There is no more mistaken path to happiness than worldliness, revelry, high life: for the whole object of it is to transform our miserable existence into a succession of joys, delights and pleasures,–a process which cannot fail to result in disappointment and delusion; on a par, in this respect, with its obligato accompaniment, the interchange of lies.
man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.
This demands an act of severe self-denial; we have to forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to become like other people. No doubt their company may be set down against our loss in this respect; but the more a man is worth, the more he will find that what he gains does not cover what he loses, and that the balance is on the debit side of the account; for the people with whom he deals are generally bankrupt,–that is to say, there is nothing to be got from their society which can compensate either for its boredom, annoyance and disagreeableness, or for the self-denial which it renders necessary. Accordingly, most society is so constituted as to offer a good profit to anyone who will exchange it for solitude.
It is really a very risky, nay, a fatal thing, to be sociable; because it means contact with natures, the great majority of which are bad morally, and dull or perverse, intellectually. To be unsociable is not to care about such people; and to have enough in oneself to dispense with the necessity of their company is a great piece of good fortune; because almost all our sufferings spring from having to do with other people; and that destroys the peace of mind, which, as I have said, comes next after health in the elements of happiness. Peace of mind is impossible without a considerable amount of solitude. The Cynics renounced all private property in order to attain the bliss of having nothing to trouble them; and to renounce society with the same object is the wisest thing a man can do.
Envy is natural to man; and still, it is at once a vice and a source of misery. We should treat it as the enemy of our happiness, and stifle it like an evil thought. This is the advice given by Seneca; as he well puts it, we shall be pleased with what we have, if we avoid the self-torture of comparing our own lot with some other and happier one–nostra
We often try to banish the gloom and despondency of the present by speculating upon our chances of success in the future; a process which leads us to invent a great many chimerical hopes.
as Seneca says, to submit yourself to reason is the way to make everything else submit to you–si tibi vis omnia subjicere, te subjice rationi.
It is most important to allow the brain the full measure of sleep which is required to restore it; for sleep is to a man’s whole nature what winding up is to a clock. This measure will vary directly with the development and activity of the brain; to overstep the measure is mere waste of time, because if that is done, sleep gains only so much in length as it loses in depth.
Sleep is a morsel of death borrowed to keep up and renew the part of life which is exhausted by the day–le sommeil est un emprunt fait à la mort. Or it might be said that sleep is the interest we have to pay on the capital which is called in at death; and the higher the rate of interest and the more regularly it is paid, the further the date of redemption is postponed.]
No man can see over his own height. Let me explain what I mean. You cannot see in another man any more than you have in yourself; and your own intelligence strictly determines the extent to which he comes within its grasp. If your intelligence is of a very low order, mental qualities in another, even though they be of the highest kind, will have no effect at all upon you; you will see nothing in their possessor except the meanest side of his individuality–in other words, just those parts of his character and disposition which are weak and defective. Your whole estimate of the man will be confined to his defects, and his higher mental qualities will no more exist for you than colors exist for those who cannot see. Intellect is invisible to the man who has none. In any attempt to criticise another’s work, the range of knowledge possessed by the critic is as essential a part of his verdict as the claims of the work itself.
To forgive and forget means to throw away dearly bought experience.]
Accordingly, suppose you want to know how a man will behave in an office into which you think of putting him; you should not build upon expectations, on his promises or assurances. For, even allowing that he is quite sincere, he is speaking about a matter of which he has no knowledge. The only way to calculate how he will behave, is to consider the circumstances in which he will be placed, and the extent to which they will conflict with his character.
But if you come across any special trait of meanness or stupidity–in life or in literature,–you must be careful not to let it annoy or distress you, but to look upon it merely as an addition to your knowledge–a new fact to be considered in studying the character of humanity. Your attitude towards it will be that of the mineralogist who stumbles upon a very characteristic specimen of a mineral.
No man is so formed that he can be left entirely to himself, to go his own ways; everyone needs to be guided by a preconceived plan, and to follow certain general rules. But if this is carried too far, and a man tries to take on a character which is not natural or innate in him, but it artificially acquired and evolved merely by a process of reasoning, he will very soon discover that Nature cannot be forced, and that if you drive it out, it will return despite your efforts:–
Here, as in all theoretical instruction that aims at a practical result, the first thing to do is to understand the rule; the second thing is to learn the practice of it. The theory may be understand at once by an effort of reason, and yet the practice of it acquired only in course of time.
The difference between action in accordance with abstract principles, and action as the result of original, innate tendency, is the same as that between a work of art, say a watch–where form and movement are impressed upon shapeless and inert matter–and a living organism, where form and matter are one, and each is inseparable from the other.
There is a maxim attributed to the Emperor Napoleon, which expresses this relation between acquired and innate character, and confirms what I have said: everything that is unnatural is imperfect;–a rule of universal application, whether in the physical or in the moral sphere.
And in this connection let me utter a word of protest against any and every form of affectation. It always arouses contempt; in the first place, because it argues deception, and the deception is cowardly, for it is based on fear; and, secondly, it argues self-condemnation, because it means that a man is trying to appear what he is not, and therefore something which he things better than he actually is. To affect a quality, and to plume yourself upon it, is just to confess that you have not got it. Whether it is courage, or learning, or intellect, or wit, or success with women, or riches, or social position, or whatever else it may be that a man boasts of, you may conclude by his boasting about it that that is precisely the direction in which he is rather weak; for if a man really possesses any faculty to the full, it will not occur to him to make a great show of affecting it; he is quite content to know that he has it. That is the application of the Spanish proverb: herradura que chacolotea clavo le falta–a clattering hoof means a nail gone.
no one can persevere long in a fictitious character; for nature will soon reassert itself.
A man bears the weight of his own body without knowing it, but he soon feels the weight of any other, if he tries to move it; in the same way, a man can see other people’s shortcoming’s and vices, but he is blind to his own. This arrangement has one advantage: it turns other people into a kind of mirror, in which a man can see clearly everything that is vicious, faulty, ill-bred and loathsome in his own nature; only, it is generally the old story of the dog barking at is own image; it is himself that he sees and not another dog, as he fancies. He
But the more of personal worth a man has, the less pleasure he will take in these conventional arrangements; and he will try to withdraw from the sphere in which they apply. The reason why these arrangements exist at all, is simply that in this world of ours misery and need are the chief features: therefore it is everywhere the essential and paramount business of life to devise the means of alleviating them.
Apart from the case where it would be a real help to you if your friend were to make some great sacrifice to serve you, there is no better means of testing the genuineness of his feelings than the way in which he receives the news of a misfortune that has just happened to you.
If you desire to get on in the world, friends and acquaintances are by far the best passport to fortune. The possession of a great deal of ability makes a man proud, and therefore not apt to flatter those who have very little, and from whom, on that account, the possession of great ability should be carefully concealed.
It is a wise thing to be polite; consequently, it is a stupid thing to be rude. To make enemies by unnecessary and willful incivility, is just as insane a proceeding as to set your house on fire. For politeness is like a counter–an avowedly false coin, with which it is foolish to be stingy. A sensible man will be generous in the use of it.
Wax, a substance naturally hard and brittle, can be made soft by the application of a little warmth, so that it will take any shape you please. In the same way, by being polite and friendly, you can make people pliable and obliging, even though they are apt to be crabbed and malevolent. Hence politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax.
A man should act in accordance with his own character, as soon as he has carefully deliberated on what he is about to do. The outcome of this is that originality cannot be dispensed with in practical matters: otherwise, what a man does will not accord with what he is.
If you want your judgment to be accepted, express it coolly and without passion.
Even when you are fully justified in praising yourself, you should never be seduced into doing so. For vanity is so very common, and merit so very uncommon,
And, as a general rule, it is more advisable to show your intelligence by saying nothing than by speaking out; for silence is a matter of prudence, whilst speech has something in it of vanity.
But it should not be forgotten how clever people are in regard to affairs which do not concern them, even though they show no particularly sign of acuteness in other matters.
This is a kind of algebra in which people are very proficient: give them a single fact to go upon, and they will solve the most complicated problems.
It is only when a man has reached the happy age of wisdom that he is capable of just judgment in regard either to his own actions or to those of others.
change alone endures.
people generally think that present circumstances will last, and that matters will go on in the future as they have clone in the past. Their mistakes arises from the fact that they do not understand the cause of the things they see–causes which, unlike the effects they produce, contain in themselves the germ of future change. The effects are all that people know, and they hold fast to them on the supposition that those unknown causes, which were sufficient to bring them about, will also be able to maintain them as they are. This is a very common error; and the fact that it is common is not without its advantage, for it means that people always err in unison; and hence the calamity which results from the error affects all alike, and is therefore easy to bear; whereas, if a philosopher makes a mistake, he is alone in his error, and so at a double disadvantage.
Such is Time’s usury; and all who cannot wait are its victims. There is no more thriftless proceeding than to try and mend the measured pace of Time. Be careful, then, not to become its debtor.
Whatever fate befalls you, do not give way to great rejoicings or great lamentations; partly because all things are full of change, and your fortune may turn at any moment; partly because men are so apt to be deceived in their judgment as to what is good or bad for them. Almost every one in his turn has lamented over something which afterwards turned out to be the very best thing for him that could have happened–or rejoiced at an event which became the source of his greatest sufferings. The right state of mind has been finely portrayed by Shakespeare: I have felt so many quirks of joy and grief That the first face of neither, on the start, Can woman me unto’t.
The most finished man of the world would be one who was never irresolute and never in a hurry.
Courage comes next to prudence as a quality of mind very essential to happiness.
THE AGES OF LIFE.
Our whole life long it is the present, and the present alone, that we actually possess: the only difference is that at the beginning of life we look forward to a long future, and that towards the end we look back upon a long past; also that our temperament, but not our character, undergoes certain well-known changes, which make the present wear a different color at each period of life.
to use Spinoza’s phraseology, the child is learning to see the things and persons about it sub specie aeternitatis,–as particular manifestations of universal law.
So it may be said that in childhood, life looks like the scenery in a theatre, as you view it from a distance; and that in old age it is like the same scenery when you come up quite close to it.
The chief result gained by experience of life is clearness of view. This is what distinguishes the man of mature age, and makes the world wear such a different aspect from that which it presented in his youth or boyhood. It is only then that he sees things quite plain, and takes them for that which they really are: while in earlier years he saw a phantom-world, put together out of the whims and crotchets of his own mind, inherited prejudice and strange delusion: the real world was hidden from him, or the vision of it distorted. The first thing that experience finds to do is to free us from the phantoms of the brain–those false notions that have been put into us in youth.
From the point of view we have been taking up until now, life may be compared to a piece of embroidery, of which, during the first half of his time, a man gets a sight of the right side, and during the second half, of the wrong. The wrong side is not so pretty as the right, but it is more instructive; it shows the way in which the threads have been worked together.
But why is it that to an old man his past life appears so short? For this reason: his memory is short; and so he fancies that his life has been short too. He no longer remembers the insignificant parts of it, and much that was unpleasant is now forgotten; how little, then, there is left! For, in general, a man’s memory is as imperfect as his intellect; and he must make a practice of reflecting upon the lessons he has learned and the events he has experienced, if he does not want them both to sink gradually into the gulf of oblivion.
Deep truths may be perceived, but can never be excogitated–that is to say, the first knowledge of them is immediate, called forth by some momentary impression. This knowledge is of such a kind as to be attainable only when the impressions are strong, lively and deep; and if we are to be acquainted with deep truths, everything depends upon a proper use of our early years. In later life, we may be better able to work upon other people,–upon the world, because our natures are then finished and rounded off, and no more a prey to fresh views; but then the world is less able to work upon us. These are the years of action and achievement; while youth is the time for forming fundamental conceptions, and laying down the ground-work of thought. In youth it is the outward aspect of things that most engages us; while in age, thought or reflection is the predominating quality of the mind. Hence, youth is the time for poetry, and age is more inclined to philosophy. In practical affairs it is the same: a man shapes his resolutions in youth more by the impression that the outward world makes upon him; whereas, when he is old, it is thought that determines his actions.
It is only then that a man can be said to be really rich in experience or in learning; he has then had time and opportunity enough to enable him to see and think over life from all its sides; he has been able to compare one thing with another, and to discover points of contact and connecting links, so that only then are the true relations of things rightly understood. Further, in old age there comes an increased depth in the knowledge that was acquired in youth; a man has now many more illustrations of any ideas he may have attained; things which he thought he knew when he was young, he now knows in reality. And besides, his range of knowledge is wider; and in whatever direction it extends, it is thorough, and therefore formed into a consistent and connected whole; whereas in youth knowledge is always defective and fragmentary.
But though the tree of knowledge must reach its full height before it can bear fruit, the roots of it lie in youth.
Every generation, no matter how paltry its character, thinks itself much wiser than the one immediately preceding it, let alone those that are more remote. It is just the same with the different periods in a man’s life; and yet often, in the one case no less than in the other, it is a mistaken opinion.
experience, knowledge, reflection, and skill in dealing with men, combine to give an old man an increasingly accurate insight into the ways of the world; his judgment becomes keen and he attains a coherent view of life: his mental vision embraces a wider range. Constantly finding new uses for his stores of knowledge and adding to them at every opportunity, he maintains uninterrupted that inward process of self-education, which gives employment and satisfaction to the mind, and thus forms the due reward of all its efforts.
To talk to old people of this kind is like writing on the sand; if you produce any impression at all, it is gone almost immediately; old age is here nothing but the caput mortuum of life–all that is essential to manhood is gone.
The main difference between youth and age will always be that youth looks forward to life, and old age to death; and that while the one has a short past and a long future before it, the case is just the opposite with the other.
Platonic virtues and put the following in their place: Diligence, Obedience, Justice and Humility; which are obviously bad. The Chinese distinguish five cardinal virtues: Sympathy, Justice, Propriety, Wisdom, and Sincerity. The virtues of Christianity are theological, not cardinal: Faith, Love, and Hope.
Envy builds the wall between Thee and Me thicker and stronger; Sympathy makes it slight and transparent; nay, sometimes it pulls down the wall altogether; and then the distinction between self and not-self vanishes.
Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure, Men love in haste, but they detest at leisure
A nation of nothing but peasants would do little in the way of discovery and invention; but idle hands make active heads. Science and the Arts are themselves the children of luxury, and they discharge their debt to it. The work which they do is to perfect technology in all its branches, mechanical, chemical and physical; an art which in our days has brought machinery to a pitch never dreamt of before, and in particular has, by steam and electricity, accomplished things the like of which would, in earlier ages, have been ascribed to the agency of the devil.
There is no idea so foolish but that it cannot be put into the heads of the ignorant and incapable multitude, especially if the idea holds out some prospect of any gain or advantage.
The English show their great intelligence, amongst other ways, by clinging to their ancient institutions, customs and usages, and by holding them sacred, even at the risk of carrying this tenacity too far, and making it ridiculous. They hold them sacred for the simple reason that those institutions and customs are not the invention of an idle head, but have grown up gradually by the force of circumstance and the wisdom of life itself, and are therefore suited to them as a nation.
FREE-WILL AND FATALISM.
The only freedom that exists is of a metaphysical character. In the physical world freedom is an impossibility. Accordingly, while our several actions are in no wise free, every man’s individual character is to be regarded as a free act. He is such and such a man, because once for all it is his will to be that man. For the will itself, and in itself, and also in so far as it is manifest in an individual, and accordingly constitutes the original and fundamental desires of that individual, is independent of all knowledge, because it is antecedent to such knowledge.
All genuine merit, moral as well as intellectual, is not merely physical or empirical in its origin, but metaphysical; that is to say, it is given a priori and not a posteriori; in other words, it lies innate and is not acquired, and therefore its source is not a mere phenomenon, but the thing-in-itself. Hence it is that every man achieves only that which is irrevocably established in his nature, or is born with him. Intellectual capacity needs, it is true, to be developed just as many natural products need to be cultivated in order that we may enjoy or use them; but just as in the case of a natural product no cultivation can take the place of original material, neither can it do so in the case of intellect. That is the reason why qualities which are merely acquired, or learned, or enforced–that is, qualities a posteriori, whether moral or intellectual–are not real or genuine, but superficial only, and possessed of no value. This is a conclusion of true metaphysics, and experience teaches the same lesson to all who can look below the surface. Nay, it is proved by the great importance which we all attach to such innate characteristics as physiognomy and external appearance, in the case of a man who is at all distinguished; and that is why we are so curious to see him. Superficial people, to be sure,–and, for very good reasons, commonplace people too,–will be of the opposite opinion; for if anything fails them they will thus be enabled to console themselves by thinking that it is still to come.
That is why Seneca’s remark, that even the smallest things may be taken as evidence of character, is so true: argumenta morum ex minimis quoque licet capere. If a man shows by his absolutely unscrupulous and selfish behaviour in small things that a sentiment of justice is foreign to his disposition, he should not be trusted with a penny unless on due security.
The man who has no conscience in small things will be a scoundrel in big things. If we neglect small traits of character, we have only ourselves to blame if we afterwards learn to our disadvantage what this character is in the great affairs of life.
The whole influence of example–and it is very strong–rests on the fact that a man has, as a rule, too little judgment of his own, and often too little knowledge, o explore his own way for himself, and that he is glad, therefore, to tread in the footsteps of some one else. Accordingly, the more deficient he is in either of these qualities, the more is he open to the influence of example; and we find, in fact, that most men’s guiding star is the example of others; that their whole course of life, in great things and in small, comes in the end to be mere imitation; and that not even in the pettiest matters do they act according to their own judgment. Imitation and custom are the spring of almost all human action. The cause of it is that men fight shy of all and any sort of reflection, and very properly mistrust their own discernment. At the same time this remarkably strong imitative instinct in man is a proof of his kinship with apes.
Men who aspire to a happy, a brilliant and a long life, instead of to a virtuous one, are like foolish actors who want to be always having the great parts,–the parts that are marked by splendour and triumph. They fail to see that the important thing is not what or how much, but how they act.
What is the meaning of life at all? To what purpose is it played, this farce in which everything that is essential is irrevocably fixed and determined? It is played that a man may come to understand himself, that he may see what it is that he seeks and has sought to be; what he wants, and what, therefore, he is. This is a knowledge which must be imparted to him from without. Life is to man, in other words, to will, what chemical re-agents are to the body: it is only by life that a man reveals what he is, and it is only in so far as he reveals himself that he exists at all. Life is the manifestation of character, of the something that we understand by that word; and it is not in life, but outside of it, and outside time, that character undergoes alteration, as a result of the self-knowledge which life gives. Life is only the mirror into which a man gazes not in order that he may get a reflection of himself, but that he may come to understand himself by that reflection; that he may see what it is that the mirror shows.
Since character, so far as we understand its nature, is above and beyond time, it cannot undergo any change under the influence of life. But although it must necessarily remain the same always, it requires time to unfold itself and show the very diverse aspects which it may possess. For character consists of two factors: one, the will-to-live itself, blind impulse, so-called impetuosity; the other, the restraint which the will acquires when it comes to understand the world; and the world, again, is itself will.
An act done by instinct differs from every other kind of act in that an understanding of its object does not precede it but follows upon it. Instinct is therefore a rule of action given à priori.
Instinct is the aggregate of rules in accordance with which all my action necessarily proceeds if it meets with no obstruction. Hence it seems to me that Instinct may most appropriately be called practical reason, for like theoretical reason it determines the must of all experience.
The theoretical philosopher enriches the domain of reason by adding to it; the practical philosopher draws upon it, and makes it serve him.
Innocence is in its very nature stupid. It is stupid because the aim of life (I use the expression only figuratively, and I could just as well speak of the essence of life, or of the world) is to gain a knowledge of our own bad will, so that our will may become an object for us, and that we may undergo an inward conversion.
A man should exercise an almost boundless toleration and placability, because if he is capricious enough to refuse to forgive a single individual for the meanness or evil that lies at his door, it is doing the rest of the world a quite unmerited honour.
There is a certain kind of courage which springs from the same source as good-nature. What I mean is that the good-natured man is almost as clearly conscious that he exists in other individuals as in himself. I have often shown how this feeling gives rise to good-nature. It also gives rise to courage, for the simple reason that the man who possesses this feeling cares less for his own individual existence, as he lives almost as much in the general existence of all creatures. Accordingly he is little concerned for his own life and its belongings. This is by no means the sole source of courage for it is a phenomenon due to various causes. But it is the noblest kind of courage, as is shown by the fact that in its origin it is associated with great gentleness and patience.
Men of this kind are usually irresistible to women.
Stupid people are generally malicious, for the very same reason as the ugly and the deformed. Similarly, genius and sanctity are akin. However simple-minded a saint may be, he will nevertheless have a dash of genius in him; and however many errors of temperament, or of actual character, a genius may possess, he will still exhibit a certain nobility of disposition by which he shows his kinship with the saint.
It has been said that the historian is an inverted prophet. In the same way it may be said that a teacher of law is an inverted moralist (viz., a teacher of the duties of justice), or that politics are inverted ethics, if we exclude the thought that ethics also teaches the duty of benevolence, magnanimity, love, and so on.
The structure of human society is like a pendulum swinging between two impulses, two evils in polar opposition, despotism and anarchy. The further it gets from the one, the nearer it approaches the other. From this the reader might hit on the thought that if it were exactly midway between the two, it would be right. Far from it. For these two evils are by no means equally bad and dangerous. The former is incomparably less to be feared; its ills exist in the main only as possibilities, and if they come at all it is only one among millions that they touch. But, with anarchy, possibility and actuality are inseparable; its blows fall on every man every day. Therefore every constitution should be a nearer approach to a despotism than to anarchy; nay, it must contain a small possibility of despotism.
THE ART OF CONTROVERSY. PRELIMINARY: LOGIC AND DIALECTIC.
Logic, therefore, as the science of thought, or the science of the process of pure reason, should be capable of being constructed à priori. Dialectic, for the most part, can be constructed only à posteriori; that is to say, we may learn its rules by an experiential knowledge of the disturbance which pure thought suffers through the difference of individuality manifested in the intercourse between two rational beings, and also by acquaintance with the means which disputants adopt in order to make good against one another their own individual thought, and to show that it is pure and objective.
If you want to draw a conclusion, you must not let it be foreseen, but you must get the premisses admitted one by one, unobserved, mingling them here and there in your talk; otherwise, your opponent will attempt all sorts of chicanery.
There is another trick which, as soon as it is practicable, makes all others unnecessary. Instead of working on your opponent’s intellect by argument, work on his will by motive; and he, and also the audience if they have similar interests, will at once be won over to your opinion, even though you got it out of a lunatic asylum; for, as a general rule, half an ounce of will is more effective than a hundredweight of insight and intelligence. This, it is true, can be done only under peculiar circumstances. If you succeed in making your opponent feel that his opinion, should it prove true, will be distinctly prejudicial to his interest, he will let it drop like a hot potato, and feel that it was very imprudent to take it up.
Hobbes observes, all mental pleasure consists in being able to compare oneself with others to one’s own advantage.
ON THE WISDOM OF LIFE: APHORISMS.
What makes us almost inevitably ridiculous is our serious way of treating the passing moment, as though it necessarily had all the importance which it seems to have. It is only a few great minds that are above this weakness, and, instead of being laughed at, have come to laugh themselves. *
As you are all so self-centred, recognise your own weakness. You know that you cannot like a man who does not show himself friendly to you; you know that he cannot do so for any length of time unless he likes you, and that he cannot like you unless you show that you are friendly to him; then do it: your false friendliness will gradually become a true one. Your own weakness and subjectivity must have some illusion.
It is the converse that is true. Men of great intellectual worth, or, still more, men of genius, can have only very few friends; for their clear eye soon discovers all defects, and their sense of rectitude is always being outraged afresh by the extent and the horror of them. It is only extreme necessity that can compel such men not to betray their feelings, or even to stroke the defects as if they were beautiful additions.
We must always try to preserve large views. If we are arrested by details we shall get confused, and see things awry. The success or the failure of the moment, and the impression that they make, should count for nothing.
How difficult it is to learn to understand oneself, and clearly to recognise what it is that one wants before anything else; what it is, therefore, that is most immediately necessary to our happiness; then what comes next; and what takes the third and the fourth place, and so on. Yet, without this knowledge, our life is planless, like a captain without a compass.
Therefore, as regards our own welfare, there are only two ways in which we can use wealth. We can either spend it in ostentatious pomp, and feed on the cheap respect which our imaginary glory will bring us from the infatuated crowd; or, by avoiding all expenditure that will do us no good, we can let our wealth grow, so that we may have a bulwark against misfortune and want that shall be stronger and better every day; in view of the fact that life, though it has few delights, is rich in evils.
GENIUS AND VIRTUE.
Men of no genius whatever cannot bear solitude: they take no pleasure in the contemplation of nature and the world. This arises from the fact that they never lose sight of their own will, and therefore they see nothing of the objects of the world but the bearing of such objects upon their will and person. With objects which have no such bearing there sounds within them a constant note: It is nothing to me, which is the fundamental base in all their music.
ON THE STUDY OF LATIN.
There is no better recreation for the mind than the study of the ancient classics. Take any one of them into your hand, be it only for half an hour, and you will feel yourself refreshed, relieved, purified, ennobled, strengthened; just as though you had quenched your thirst at some pure spring.
ON MEN OF LEARNING.
They pique themselves upon knowing about everything–stones, plants, battles, experiments, and all the books in existence. It never occurs to them that information is only a means of insight, and in itself of little or no value; that it is his way of thinking that makes a man a philosopher.
When I hear of these portents of learning and their imposing erudition, I sometimes say to myself: Ah, how little they must have had to think about, to have been able to read so much!
With by far the largest number of learned men, knowledge is a means, not an end. That is why they will never achieve any great work; because, to do that, he who pursues knowledge must pursue it as an end, and treat everything else, even existence itself, as only a means. For everything which a man fails to pursue for its own sake is but half-pursued; and true excellence, no matter in what sphere, can be attained only where the work has been produced for its own sake alone, and not as a means to further ends. And so, too, no one will ever succeed in doing anything really great and original in the way of thought, who does not seek to acquire knowledge for himself, and, making this the immediate object of his studies, decline to trouble himself about the knowledge of others.
In appreciating a genius, criticism should not deal with the errors in his productions or with the poorer of his works, and then proceed to rate him low; it should attend only to the qualities in which he most excels.
The spirit of discernment! the critical faculty! it is these that are lacking. Men do not know how to distinguish the genuine from the false, the corn from the chaff, gold from copper; or to perceive the wide gulf that separates a genius from an ordinary man. Thus we have that bad state of things described in an old-fashioned verse, which gives it as the lot of the great ones here on earth to be recognized only when they are gone:
Judge none blessed before his death.
The source of all pleasure and delight is the feeling of kinship.
There are two ways of behaving in regard to merit: either to have some of one’s own, or to refuse any to others. The latter method is more convenient, and so it is generally adopted. As envy is a mere sign of deficiency, so to envy merit argues the lack of it.
Modesty should be the virtue of those who possess no other.
Xenophon’s remark: he must be a wise man who knows what is wise.
it is a suspicious sign if a reputation comes quickly; for an application of the laws of homogeneity will show that such a reputation is nothing but the direct applause of the multitude.
What this means may be seen by a remark once made by Phocion, when he was interrupted in a speech by the loud cheers of the mob. Turning to his friends who were standing close by, he asked: Have I made a mistake and said something stupid?
For when any new and wide-reaching truth comes into the world–and if it is new, it must be paradoxical–an obstinate stand will be made against it as long as possible; nay, people will continue to deny it even after they slacken their opposition and are almost convinced of its truth. Meanwhile it goes on quietly working its way, and, like an acid, undermining everything around it. From time to time a crash is heard; the old error comes tottering to the ground, and suddenly the new fabric of thought stands revealed, as though it were a monument just uncovered. Everyone recognizes and admires it.
Let him never forget the words of Balthazar Gracian: lo bueno si breve, dos vezes bueno–good work is doubly good if it is short.
A genius has a double intellect, one for himself and the service of his will; the other for the world, of which he becomes the mirror, in virtue of his purely objective attitude towards it.
A man of learning is a man who has learned a great deal; a man of genius, one from whom we learn something which the genius has learned from nobody.
THE WISDOM OF LIFE
And it is an obvious fact, which cannot be called in question, that the principal element in a man’s well-being,–indeed, in the whole tenor of his existence,–is what he is made of, his inner constitution.
What I got out of it
Some beautiful passages that are worth reflecting on and re-reading. On Reading and Books, Counsels and Maxims, Free Will and Fatalism, and The Wisdom of Life really stood out to me
Herbert Hoover gives some compelling reasons why we should all spend some more time fishing.
Fishing is a chance to wash one’s soul with pure air, with the rush of the brook, or with the shimmer of the sun on the blue water. It brings meekness and inspiration from the scenery of nature, charity toward tackle makers, patience toward fish, a mockery of profits and egos, a quieting of hate, a rejoicing that you do not have to decide a darned thing until next week
Contemplation of the eternal flow of the stream, the stretch of forest and mountain, all reduce our egotism, soothe our troubles, and shame our wickedness. And in it we make a physical effort that no sitting on cushions, benches, or side lines provides. To induce people to take this joy they need some stimulant from the hunt, the fish or the climb. I am for fish
Fishing is not so much getting fish as it is a state of mind and an allure for the human soul into refreshment. A fisherman must be of contemplative mind, for it is often a long time between bites. Those interregnums emanate patience, reserve, and calm reflection – for no one can catch fish in anger or malice. He is by nature an optimist or he would not go fishing; for we are always going to have better luck in a few minutes or tomorrow, all of which creates a spirit of affection for fellow fishermen and high esteem for fishing.
Where the following story came from I do not know. It may be apocryphal, but it contains a point of interest to all fishermen. I was supposed to be returning after a day’s fishing without a single fish when I met a boy who was toting home a beautiful catch. I asked, “Where did you get them?” He said, “You just walk down that lane marked ‘Private’ till you come to a sign saying ‘Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.’ Just beyond that is a stream marked ‘No Fishing allowed,’ and there you are.”
What I got out of it
Some beautiful, stoic-like insights on the benefits of nature, fishing, solitude, quiet
Part fictional, part autobiographical book based on Millman’s life as he finds his way through romance, magic, light, dark, mind, body, spirit, etc. while working with his “coach” Socrates
The best warriors have the quietest minds in times of truth (performance)
Regardless if you get what you want or not you suffer as everything changes. The mind wants to be free of sin, free of change but change is law.
Life is not suffering. We make it suffer until we learn to let go and love whatever happens (Amor fati)
Brain and mind are not the same. Brain is real. The mind isn’t. The mind is an illusory outgrowth, an obstacle to be overcome
Learn from your life experiences instead of complaining or basking in them
Your moods are a direct outcome of your thoughts – not the events themselves
When the mind resists life, thoughts arrive. Thoughts are an unconscious reaction to life
Silence is the warrior’s art
Aim to be perfectly content and happy regardless of what is going on around you
Anger is more powerful than fear or sorrow. It can generate action where fear and sorrow turn you away from action
True emotion is pure energy which should be directed outward and not withheld. The way to control your emotions is to let them flow and then let them go
Must enjoy the entire process of eating – preparation, chewing, breathing, and the feeling of lightness after the meal
What comes out of your mouth is as important as what goes into it – speak less and when you do speak, speak deliberately and purposefully
Never give in to unconscious impulses
When you sit, sit. When you stand, stand. No matter what you do, don’t wobble. Do it with all your might and focus. Better to make mistakes with the full force of your being than doing something mediocre while being unsure
Urges do not matter, actions do
Death is simply a transformation. The warrior neither seeks it nor runs away from it
There are no ordinary moments – every moment is worthy of your full attention
Satori – thoughtless awareness (what to aim for and often can access it through sports, meditation, etc.)
The mind becomes bored with things because we only know them as a name. Babies simply experience life before they become “namers” and “knowers”
Boredom is a result of fundamental unawareness
Happiness = satisfaction over desires. If you have enough to cover your desires you are rich. Can either have a lot of money and desires or cultivate a simple lifestyle. Happiness comes from the capacity of enjoying less instead of seeking more
The only time is now and the only place is where you currently are
Do not let anybody or anything, especially your thoughts, draw you out of the present
It doesn’t matter what you do but you must do it well
Your goal is not invulnerability but complete and transparent vulnerability
A warrior is not something you become. It is something you either are or are not in the present moment. The way itself creates the warrior
Act happy. Be happy without a reason in the world. Then you can truly love and live
All searches, all goals are equally enjoyable and equally unnecessary
No need to resist life. Just do your best and enjoy the present. You and the world and everyone in it is one
What I got out of it
Awesome read that I’d definitely read again. Learned about happiness, goals, what you really want to get out of life, priorities, etc.