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JP: Becoming Mentally Stronger!


the major advantage i think to to to making a case very strongly that one of the fundamental realities of life is it suffering is that it's actually a relief to people to hear that because they suspect it well they know it but no one's forthright about it's like yeah life is suffering okay fine so where does that leave us well here's where it leaves us it turns out that even though life is suffering if you're sufficiently courageous and forthright and honest let's say in your approach and you don't shy away what you'll find is that there's something within you that will respond to the challenge of suffering with the development of ability that will transcend the suffering so the pessimism is yeah well life is rife with problems at every level but the upside is if you turn and confront that voluntarily that you'll find something in yourself that can develop and master that and so the the optimism is nested in the pessimism and that's extremely helpful to people especially people who are struggling because they think oh my god life is so difficult i don't know if i can stand this there must be something wrong with me does anybody else feel this way and you can say yes everyone feels that way at some time but that's and and it is as bad as you think but you're more than you think you are you're more than you think you are and what i really like about this too is it's very much in keeping with the clinical data so for example what you do as a clinician as a clinical psychologist as a psychiatrist as any mel mental health professional who's well trained is if if people are afraid of something afraid of something that's standing in their way as an obstacle like maybe you're trying to develop your career and you're afraid of public speaking well i could try to calm you down about your fear and and protect you from the challenge that would be associated with public speaking you say well you never have to do that or i could say no no look you have to learn to present yourself more effectively in public if you're going to develop your career and you're afraid of it so let's break down what you're afraid of in into 10 steps or 20 steps until we can find a step that's small enough so that you can actually master it let's assume that with three years of diligent practice that you could become a competent public speaker at least one that isn't terrified with five years you could become an expert and let's decide how relevant that is to your future prosperity and thriving and then let's assume that if you break it down properly and take it on step by step in this incremental way that we discussed that you'll actually master every single bit of it and the thing that's cool about that is all the clinical evidence shows it works and not only that that's actually how you learn in life like when you're when you're when you bring a child to the playground and the child is apprehensive about making new friends you say okay well look kiddo stick around me for a minute or two and just watch what's going on it's like and the child will calm down and say okay now go five feet away just go out there a little bit and just see how it goes and stay out there as long as you can and if you need to come back for a hug then no problem it's like so then the child can go out ten feet they come back and say okay well now you know maybe just go over there and and watch those kids and the child will go out and then come back and so that's it it's their the child's going out to where they're afraid seeing that they can master it and then coming back it's exactly why i think that what i'm talking about is falling on receptive ears is because you actually cannot have a prolonged discussion of rights without having an equally prolonged discussion of responsibilities for a variety of reasons first of all the actual reason that you have rights is so that you can discharge your responsibilities it's not the other way around it's like you're granted rights by everyone around you or or no it's not granted exactly it's part of the part of the the purpose of your rights in some sense is so that you can be given an autonomous space that's protected in which you can manifest what's necessary about you in the world that's a contribution to it so i have to leave a space for you so that you can make your contribution for yourself so you can take care of yourself so that you can shoulder responsibility for your family and so that you can serve the community the best way that you can and i don't i don't want to set up a society that will interfere with that but then and then there's the association that we already talked about between risk responsibility and meaning which is absolutely crucial and so it's the responsibility element is more important than the right settlements as far as i'm concerned it certainly is at this point in time so people know this they instinctively know it and yet the the role of the victim seems which is a painful role to have because something bad happened to you to be a victim but it's something that society struggles with so what about people who feel like they're a victim they're right they're victimizers too like everybody is a strange mixture of victim and victimizer lots of terrible things happen to people that aren't justifiable in some sense you know well illness strikes people randomly i mean not entirely randomly obviously but there's a very there's a large random element in it where you're thrown into existence as a consequence of your birth that's existentialist especially the 1950s talked about all that all the time they talked about it as throneness that you're sort of thrown into reality with your particular set of predispositions and weaknesses and and then there's going to be times in your life where things twist in a manner that's unfair to you that you're not getting your just desserts but that goes along with all sorts of unequally distributed privileges as well and so that's the arbitrary nature of existence and but but you can't allow those sorts of things to define you because it's not it's not that useful strategically you're when you're playing a card game you're dealt you're dealt a hand of cards well what do you do you play that hand the best you can why because all the all the hands are equal no because you don't have a better strategy than playing the hand that you're dealt the best you can and that doesn't even mean it'll be a winning strategy but because people don't always win sometimes we lose and sometimes we lose painfully and sometimes we lose painfully and unjustly that's not the point the point is you don't have a better strategy and neither does anyone else and then it's also not so obvious how privilege and victimization are distributed you know if you take someone who's doing quite well in life and you scratch underneath the surface you generally don't have to scratch very far until you find one or more profound tragedies of the past or perhaps of the present you know no matter how well protected you are in the world you're still subject to illness you're still subject to aging you're still subject to the dissolution of your relationships the death of your dreams death itself so vulnerability is built into the structure of existence now if you start to regard yourself as a hapless victim or even worse an unfairly victimized victim well then things go very badly sideways for you it's not a good strategy you end up resentful you end up angry you end up vengeful you end up hostile and and that's just the beginning things can get far more out of hand than that so strategically it's a bad game it's better to take responsibility for the hand that you've been dealt [Music] those who have swords and know how to use them but choose to keep them sheathed will inherit the earth and that's a very that's a much better idea as far as i'm concerned because it means that you have a moral obligation to be strong and dangerous both of those but to harness that and to use it in the service of good so it's it's it's associated with a complex set of ideas [Music] but that but that principle right there is a is a stark differentiator review from much of the material that i read generally it's truly about compassion you use the word victimhood but a lot of folks do feel as a virtue to feel story for others because usually behind that is not that easy no that's the problem is that we wouldn't have to think if empathy guided us properly but it doesn't it guides us properly in some very specific conditions can also make us very dangerous because and there's good there's good experimental literature on this if you're very sensitive to and in groups claims whatever they might be that makes you very hostile to perceived out group members in groups people within your tribe well within whatever group it is that you're identifying with at that moment you know so empathy drives that in-group identification it's like okay well what about the out group oh those are predatory those are predators we'd better be hard on them you know it's it's a mother bears compassion that gets you eaten so we can't be thinking that empathy is an untrammeled virtue there's no there's no evidence for that whatsoever the psychoanalysts knew this perfectly well as well when we were still wise enough to to attend to their more profound realizations and that's the motif of the devouring parent the devouring mother is the is a more general trope and that's someone who will do absolutely everything for you all the time so that you never have to rely on yourself for anything that's not good no there's rules for example if you're dealing with the elderly in an old folks home here's a rule never do anything for one of your clients they can do themselves why because they're already struggling with the loss of their independence and you want to help them maintain that independence as long as possible and that might mean sitting by while someone struggles to do up their buttons for example when you can and this is the same if you're maybe helping your three-year-old dress themselves it's like yeah yeah you can put on the buttons a lot faster let me help you with that it's like no you struggle with that you master it and i'll keep my empathy to myself thank you very much so that i can help you maintain your independence [Music] every single person who sets out to put themselves together ethically is a net positive to everyone around them there's no downside to that you know my book has been criticized by people who've read it very poorly especially chapter one when i talk about hierarchies that i'm somehow supporting the idea that power in a hierarchy is the right way to be and that's there's absolutely nothing and what i've written that suggests that at all like i'm suggesting that human hierarchies are very complex and that the way that you win in a human hierarchy is by being competent and reciprocal and so and so i mean for example even if you're selfish let's say you got to think very carefully about what that would mean if you were selfish and awake because you have to work to take care of yourself and what you want say in this moment but then there's you tomorrow and there's you next week and there's you next month the next year and 10 years from now and when you're old so because you're self-conscious and because you're aware of the future you're actually a community unto yourself and if you're selfish and impulsive all that means is that you're serving the person you are right now you know in that impulsive way but not the person you're going to be and so that's not a good grounds for any sort of ethical behavior and i see that if you serve yourself properly there's no difference between that serving your family properly and serving your community properly those things all mesh in a kind of a harmonious manner and one of the things that's really been effective in the lecture tour is a discussion about that idea and its relationship between the relationship between that and meaning and responsibility because one of the things that strikes the audience is silent constantly because i'm always listening to them to see you know when when the attention is maximally focused is whenever i point out to people that the antidote to the meaninglessness of their life and the suffering and the malevolence that they might be displaying because they're resentful and bitter about how things have turned out the antidote to that is to take on more responsibility for themselves and for other people and that that's aspirational which is kind of cool you know the conservative types the duty types and i'm not complaining about them you know they're always basically saying well this is how you should act because in some sense that's your duty right that's how a good citizen would act and that's a reasonable argument but the case that i've been making is more that well there is a there is value distinctions between things some things are worth doing and some things aren't and you can kind of discover what that is for yourself and then you should aim at the things that are most worth doing and what you'll find if you watch carefully is that the things that you find worth doing are almost always associated with an increase in responsibility because if you think about the people you admire for example you spontaneously admire people and that's a manifestation of the instinct to imitate and people are very imitative you don't admire people who don't take care of themselves like unless there's something wrong with you you at least want an admirable person to be accountable for themselves and then if they've got something left over so they can be accountable for their family well then that's a net plus obviously that's someone you think is solid and then maybe they take care of some more people they have a business or they're involved in the community in some positive way you see well that's a person whose pattern of being is worth imitating and so and that's all associated with responsibility and it's so interesting because it's as if it's as if everybody kind of knows this but that it hasn't crystallized it's like well you should be responsible because that's what a good citizen is it's not no no you should be responsible because you need to have a deep meaning in your life to offset the suffering so you don't get bitter and the way you do that is to bear a heavy load you know to get yourself in in check for you now and for you in the future and then to do the same for your family and your community and that there's real nobility in that and there's real meaning and more the other thing that i've been suggesting to people and i also believe this is that and i think that the guys that have come to talk to me especially the ones that have had real life real rough lives they really understand this if you don't get your act together and you let yourself slide then what kind of moves in to take the place of what you could have been is something that's really not good at all so it's not only that if you're living a like a dissolute life that you're not aiming at anything positive and so you don't have any real meaning and you're subsumed by anxiety and all of that hopelessness but something kind of hellish moves in there too to to occupy that place and so then you end up making things worse and when you know one of the things i learned about studying totalitarian systems whether they were on the right or the left was that part of the reason that the totalitarian horrors of the 20th century manifested themselves was because average people didn't take on the proper responsibility they shut their eyes when their eyes should have been open even though they knew it and they didn't said things they knew they shouldn't have done and said and that was what supported those horrible systems so you know if you don't get your act together then you leave a little space for hell and i really believe that so i figured something out that i thought i'd tell you about this took me like 30 years to figure out and i figured it out on this tour so there's this old idea you know that you have to rescue your father from the belly of the whale right from some monster that's deep in the abyss you see that pinocchio for example but it's a very common idea and i figured out why that is i think so imagine that we already know from a clinical perspective that you know if you set out a path towards a goal which you want to do because you need a goal and you need a path because that provides you with positive emotion right so you set up something as valuable so that implies a hierarchy you set up something as valuable you decide that you're going to do that instead of other things so that's kind of a sacrifice because you're sacrificing everything else to pursue that and then you experience a fair bit of positive emotion and meaning as you watch yourself move towards the goal and so the implication of that is the the better the goal the the more full and rich your experience is going to be when you pursue it so that's one of the reasons of that's one of the reasons for developing a vision and for fleshing yourself out philosophically because you want to aim at the highest goal that you can manage okay so you do that and then what you'll find is that as you move towards the goal there are certain things that that that you have to accomplish that frighten you you know maybe you have to learn to be a better speaker a better writer a better thinker you have to be better to people around you or you have to learn some new skills and you're afraid of that whatever because it's going to stretch you if you if you pursue a goal and it's and so that'll put you up against challenges okay so all the clinical data indicates well the opposite of safe spaces as jonathan height has been pointing out that what you want to do when you identify something that someone is avoiding that they need to do because they're afraid you have them voluntary con voluntarily confronted and so you break it down what you try to do if you're a behavior therapist is you break down the thing they're avoiding into smaller and smaller pieces until you find a piece that's small enough so they'll do it and it doesn't really matter as long as they start it you know then they can put the next piece on in the next piece and what happens is they don't get less afraid exactly they get braver they get it's like there's more of them you can and here's why so imagine you do something new and that's informative right there's information in the action and then you can incorporate that information and turn it into a skill and turn it into a transformation of your perceptions so there's more to you because you've tried something new so that's one thing but the second thing is and there's good biological evidence for this now that if you put yourself in a new situation then new genes code for new proteins and build new neural structures and new nervous system structures same thing happens to some degree when you work out right because your your muscles are responding to the load but your nervous system does that too so you imagine that there's a lot of potential you locked in your genetic code and then if you put yourself in a new situation then then the stress that's the situational stress that's produced by that particular situation unlocks those genes and then builds new parts of you and so that's very cool because who knows how much there is locked inside of you okay so now here's the idea so let's assume that that scales as you take on heavier and heavier loads that more and more of you you get more and more informed because you're doing more and more difficult things but more and more of you gets unlocked and so then what that would imply is that if you got to the point where you could look at the darkest things so that would be the abyss right that would be the deepest abyss if you could look at the harshest things like the most brutal parts of the suffering of the world and the malevolence of people and society if you could look that look at that straight and and directly that that would turn you on maximally and so that's the idea of rescuing your father because imagine that you're like the potential composite of of all your all the ancestral wisdom that's locked inside of you biologically but that's not going to come out at all unless you stress yourself unless you unless you challenge yourself and the bigger the challenge you take on the more that's going to turn on and so that as you take on a broader and broader range of challenges and you push yourself harder then more and more of what you could be turns on and that's equivalent to transforming yourself into the ancestral father into all because you're you're like the what would you call it you're the consequence of all these living beings that have come before you and that's all part of your biological potentiality and then if you can push yourself then all that clicks on and that turns you into who you could be that's and that's the re-representation of that positive ancestral father so that's why you rescue your father from the belly of the beast the two major problems that people face obviously are suffering tragedy and malevolence and so that's the other thing that you're responsible for is that you're supposed to look at the capacity for human evil as clearly as you possibly can it's a very terrifying thing you know that causes post-traumatic stress disorder in people that aren't accustomed to it and in the mythology that's associated with the encounter with evil it's almost always the case that the entity that does the encountering even if it does it voluntarily is is is hurt by it so the egyptian god horus for example who's the eye and the falcon the thing that can see and pay attention when he encounters his evil uncle seth who's the precursor of satan he loses an eye because it's no joke to encounter malevolence you know it can really shake you but the idea would be that if you can face the malevolence and you can face the suffering then that maximally that opens the door to your maximal potential and then the option the optimistic part of that is and then this is this is why it's so useful to peer into the darkness let's say the optimistic part of that is is that although the suffering is great and the malevolence is is deep your capacity to transcend it is stronger another thing i've always often asked my undergraduate classes is you know there's this idea that that people have that people have a conscience and you know what the conscience is it's it's this feeling or voice you have in your head just before you do something that you know is stupid telling you that probably you shouldn't do that stupid thing you don't have to listen to it strangely enough but you go ahead and do it anyways and then of course exactly what the conscience told you was going to happen inevitably happen so that you feel even stupider about it than you would if it happened by accident because you you know i knew this was going to happen i got a warning it was going to happen and i went and did it anyways and the funny thing too is that that conscience operates within people and we really don't understand what the hell that is so you might say well what would happen if you abided by your conscience for five years or for ten years what sort of position might you be in what sort of family might you have what sort of relationship might you be able to forge and you can be bloody sure that a relationship that's forged on the basis of who you actually are is going to be a lot stronger and more welcome than one that's forged on the basis of who you aren't now of course that means that the person you're with has to deal with the full force of you in all your ability and your catastrophe and that's a very very difficult thing to negotiate but if you do negotiate it well at least you you have something you have somewhere solid to stand and you have somewhere to live you have a real life and it's a great basis upon which to bring children into the world for example because you can have an actual relationship with them instead of torturing them half to death which is what happens in a tremendous a tremendously large minority of cases well it's more than that too because and this is what i'll close with and this is why i wanted to introduce social nissan's writings to you you see because it isn't merely that your fate depends on whether or not you get your act together and to what degree you decide that you're going to live out your own genuine being it isn't only your fate it's the fate of everyone that you're networked with and so you know you think well there's nine billion seven billion people in the world we're going to peak at about nine billion by the way and then it'll decline rapidly but seven billion people in the world and who are you you're just one little dust mote among that seven billion and so it really doesn't matter what you do or don't do but that's simply not the case it's the wrong model because you're at the center of a network you're a node in a network of course that's even more true now that we have social media you'll you'll know a thousand people at least over the course of your life and they'll know a thousand people each and that puts you one person away from a million and two persons away from a billion and so that's how you're connected and the things you do they're like dropping a stone in a pond the ripples move outward and they affect things in ways that you can't fully comprehend and it means that the things that you do and that you don't do are far more important than you think if you can teach people to stand up in the face of the things they're afraid of they get stronger and you don't know what the upper limits to that are because you might ask yourself like if for 10 years if you didn't avoid doing what you knew you needed to do by the deaf by your own definitions right within the value structure that you've created to the degree that you've done that what would you be like well you know there are remarkable people who come into the world from time to time and there are people who do find out over decades long periods what they could be like if they were who they were if they said if they spoke their being forward and they get stronger and stronger and stronger and we don't know the limits to that we do not know the limits to that and so you could say well in part perhaps the reason that you're suffering unbearably can be left at your feet because you're not everything you could be and you know it and of course that's a terrible thing to admit and it's a terrible thing to consider but there's real promise in it right because it means that perhaps there's another way that you could look at the world and the number another way that you could act in the world so what it would reflect back to you would be much better than what it reflects back to you now and then the second part of that is well imagine that many people did that because we've done a lot as human beings we've done a lot of remarkable things and i've told you already i think before that today for example about 250 000 people will be lifted out of abject poverty and about 300 000 people attached to the electrical power grid we're making people we're lifting people out of poverty collectively at a faster rate that's ever occurred in the history of humankind by a huge margin and that's been going on unbelievably quickly since the year 2000 the u.n had planned to have poverty between 2000 and 2015 and it was accomplished by 2013. so there's inequality developing in many places and you hear lots of political agitation about that but overall the the tide is lifting everyone up and that's a great thing and we have no idea how fast we could multiply that if people got their act together and really aimed at it because you know my my experience is with people that we're probably running at about 51 of our capacity something i mean you can think about this yourselves i often ask undergraduates how many hours a day you waste or how many hours a week you waste and the classic answer is something like four to six hours a day you know inefficient studying watching things on youtube that not only do you not want to watch that you don't even care about that make you feel horrible about watching after you're done that's probably four hours right there you know you think well that's 20 25 hours a week it's 100 hours a month that's two and a half full work weeks it's half a year of work weeks per year and if your time is worth twenty dollars an hour which is a radical underestimate it's probably more like 50 if you think about it in terms of deferred wages if you're wasting 20 hours a week you're wasting fifty thousand dollars a year and you are doing that right now and it's because you're young wasting fifty thousand dollars a year is a way bigger catastrophe than it would be for me to waste it because i'm not gonna last nearly as long and so if your life isn't everything it could be you could ask yourself well what would happen if you just stopped wasting the opportunities that are in front of you you'd be who knows how much more efficient 10 times more efficient 20 times more efficient that's the pareto distribution you have no idea how efficient efficient people get it's completely it's off the charts well and if we all got our act together collectively and stop making things worse because that's another thing people do all the time not only do they not do what they should to make things better they actively attempt to make things worse because they're spiteful or resentful or arrogant or deceitful or or homicidal or genocidal or all of those things all bundled together in an absolutely pathological package if people stopped really really trying just to make things worse we have no idea how much better they would get just because of that so there's this weird dynamic that's part of the existential system of ideas between human vulnerability social judgment both of which are are are are major causes of suffering and the failure of individuals to adopt the responsibility that they know they should adopt [Music] and so if you act that way of course the terror of realizing that is that it actually starts to matter what you do and you might say well that's better than living a meaningless existence it's better for it to matter but i mean if you really asked yourself would you be so sure if you had the choice i can live with no responsibility whatsoever the price i pay is that nothing matters or i can reverse it and everything matters but i have to take the responsibility that's associated with that it's not so obvious to me that people would take the meaningful path you know when you say well nihilists suffer dreadfully because there's no meaning in their life and they still suffer yeah but the advantage is they have no responsibility so that's the payoff and i actually think that's the motivation say well i can't help being nihilistic all my belief systems have collapsed it's like yeah maybe maybe you've just allowed them to collapse because it's a hell of a lot easier than acting them out and the price you pay is some meaningless suffering but you can always whine about that and people will feel sorry for you and you have the option of taking the pathway of the martyr so that's a pretty good deal all things considered especially when they are when the alternative is to bear your burden properly and to live forthrightly in the world well what solzhenitsyn figured out and so many people in the 20th century it's not just him even though he's the best example is that if you live a pathological life you pathologize your society and if enough people do that then it's hell really really and you can read the gulag archipelago if you have the fortitude to do that and you'll see exactly what hell is like and then you can decide if that's a place you'd like to visit or even more importantly if it's a light if it's a place you'd like to visit and take all your family and friends because that's what happened in the 20th century you know we don't live that long right and and we're really complicated and it's not easy to learn how to be a person you know i mean it takes you like 40 years before you can learn to be a person enough so that you can get out of your mother's basement so it's hard that's half your life before well maybe not 40 but but certainly sometimes um it takes a long time to learn how to be a human being and and we're very very complicated we're we're way more complicated than we can understand you know and we've been watching each other for a long time watching ourselves telling stories about ourselves trying to draw some wisdom from our self observations to teach to our children and to our grandchildren and so forth and we've codified them in all sorts of strange ways in these memorable stories fairy tales and myths and religious stories all of those things and what are they there for [Music] they're there to remind us who we are because we need to know who we are i i believe the most important idea that's ever been generated is the the idea that men and women are made in the image of god i think that a culture that doesn't that isn't predicated on that belief knowingly or unknowingly and better knowingly is doomed to absolute catastrophe because there's no reason to assume that there isn't something about us that's of transcendent value i mean if if for no other reason than the fact of our consciousness you know like here we are we're aware of of what there is and it isn't even obvious that there could be what there is if there wasn't something that's aware of it and so our very awareness is plays an integral role in the fact of being itself you know and metaphysics aside it's hard to see that anything could be more vital than that more important than that and then it isn't only that we apprehend reality you know and and therefore give it give it shape merely by our perceptions it's also clearly the case that we partake in its shaping and and we call ourselves on that you know you you you know you know that you feel guilty and ashamed when you're not doing what you could be doing when you're not living up to your potential when you're not making the most of what's offered to you you understand at a very deep level that you're that you're that you're what would you you're you're breaking there's no other way of saying it you're breaking a divine commandment you're offered this unbelievably rich possibility and it's there for you to grapple with and and you say well i don't believe in such things that in the divinity of humanity or in divinity itself or in the divine for that matter but you you can't fool yourself with that kind of argumentation it doesn't stop you from feeling guilty and ashamed and worthless and disappointed and frustrated and angry and vengeful at the fact that you're wasting your life and you're noticing it and that you're making yourself much less than you could be and that you're making things around you worse for everyone else and like perhaps there's a psychopath or two in the audience who just doesn't give a damn and who is focused only on instantaneous gratification for their most primordial impulses this moment right but it's not a sustainable mode of being and it's very rare and so the purpose of religious ideas is to wake us up it's to remind us who we are right it's to remind us that we're imbued with with a spirit that can be best described in some sense as a mortal it's it's the spirit that allows all of us to be conscious that we all participate in simultaneously that gives rise to the world and shapes it [Music] in order to have any positive meaning in your life you have to have identified a goal and you have to be working towards it and there is a technical reason for that and the technical reason as far as i can tell is that the circuitry that produces the kind of positive emotion that people really like is only activated when you notice that you're when you're proceeding towards a goal that you value and so that means that if you don't have a goal that you value you can't have any positive emotion so technically that's the incentive reward system and it's the underlying circuitry is dopaminergic and when that circuitry is activated then it's part of the exploratory circuit it makes you it gives you the sense of being actively engaged in something worthwhile and that's you know you tend to think of positive emotion as something produced by reward but there's two kinds of positive emotion one is the reward that's associated with satiation and that's consumatory reward and that's the reward you get when you're hungry and you eat but the thing about eating when you're hungry is that it destroys the framework within which you were operating right it's time to eat while you eat and then that framework's no longer relevant so the consumatory reward eliminates the value framework and then you're stuck with well what are you going to do next and so the consumatory reward has with its own problems but the incentive reward is constantly what keeps you moving forward and incentive reward because it's dopaminergic also is analgesic literally analgesic so if you're in pain you take opiates and that that will cut the pain but so will psychomotor stimulants like cocaine or amphetamines and so it's literally the case that if you're engaged in something that's engaging and you're working towards a goal that you're going to feel less pain and you can see this happening with athletes who you know they'll break their thumb or something or maybe sometimes even their ankle and they'll keep playing the game of course afterwards they're suffering like mad but the fact that they're so filled with goal directed enthusiasm means that well the pain systems are in some sense shut off so that's an interesting thing because what it suggests i mean then you could imagine i might say well how happy you are you that you've made a certain amount of progress and if you think about it what you'd say is well it depends on how much progress and in relationship to what so hypothetically you're going to be happier if you've made quite a bit of progress towards a really important goal and then you have to think through what it means for a goal to be really important because that's not obvious now you could say you're in this class and you're listening to some information and maybe there's two reasons for that you might find the information interesting per se but let's forget about that for a minute you need to listen to the information so that you can do well on the assignment so that you can do well in the class you need to do well in your classes so that you can finish up your degree you need to finish up your degree so that you can find your place in the world you need to do that so that you're financially stable and maybe you can start a family and have a life and that's all part of being a good person something like that and so that's a hierarchy of goals and you might say that being a good person would be the thing however vaguely thought through that's at the top of that hierarchy and then when you're doing things that serve the that ultimate purpose then you're going to find those more meaningful and that meaning is actually produced as a consequence of the engagement of this exploratory circuit that's nested right down in your hypothalamus it's really really old it's as old as thirst and it's as old as hunger it's really an old system and so you want to have that thing activated you speak frequently in your lectures about i guess the war between good and evil or the struggle of life really is a struggle between good and evil being at the core of a conscious lived existence and i guess on that note if you were 100 certain that there was no afterlife would you still be able to preach that there's a positive meaning in life if you were 100 certain some atheists seem to be 100 certain and yet they still preach that there's some positive meaning to life would you be one of those or would you turn into cain you know so cynical i think that well as far as i'm concerned one of the things i learned from studying 20th century history is that like even if the idea that even if you take the most cynical of ideas let's say that life is irredeemable suffering and and perhaps isn't even justified because of that it still seems to me that you have an ethical duty let's say to live in a manner that reduces that to the degree that that's possible and so and i think that that can be experienced as meaningful in some sense independently of the transcendent context now i don't exactly know how to strip off the transcendent context because one of the things i would say that's happened to me is because i've spent so much time looking at the horrible things that people have done is that it's like jung said that he when this is one of his famous quotes he said no tree can reach up to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell and so as i've dug deeper into the depravity of human beings my sense of the possibility of human beings has also grown what would you say in proportion and until i've become convinced actually that good is a more powerful force than evil even though evil is an unbelievably powerful force and so i can't really strip the transcendent away now whether what bearing that has on eternity say on an afterlife i mean i i i can't say anything about that the only thing i guess i can say is that there are many things about being that we don't understand in the least and we don't understand the nature of consciousness or the nature of time so i i'm not i wouldn't despair about that but yes i think that life can still be meaningful without without there being a necessity of an afterlife so i might say well why are you going to university or i might say what are you doing right now and then the answer would be while i'm sitting in class and then the question would be well why are you sitting in class and the answer that would be well because i i want to take this course and why well it's because i want to get my degree so why well because i want to be prepared for a career and a you know a productive and high quality life when i get out well why well you know you can keep saying why pretty much indefinitely and as you answer you go farther and farther out in time scales now it's a tricky thing because one of the things i might tell you this is a very complex cognitive problem is well where should you stop so for example um i could say to you do you want a hundred dollars an hour do you want 50 000 years in 75 years you're gonna think well i'll probably take the hundred dollars now well how about 200 years it's like well i'm not gonna be there i'll take 100 bucks now well so obviously thinking out 200 years is not that helpful now you might think well no you should calculate the effects of your actions on it the fastest time span possible and include the largest number of people if you're really going to equilibrate it but the problem is you can't do the compute computations because you get you get this thing called combinatorial explosion happening which is that it's like a chess board you make one move okay fine but then you could make four and then with each of those you could make four more and then with each of those you could make four more and soon if you're looking 20 moves ahead it's like there's so many moves that the other person could possibly make that looking that far ahead is pointless you can't do the computations and so we don't know how far you should look into the future it depends on how stable your environment is but one month seems okay a year yeah three to five years that's what i'll have you do when you do the future authoring program 20 years hmm probably not and the reason for that is the margin of error in your prediction grows so large that your prediction isn't worth anything and you can really see how that's the case now because like what's going to be like in 20 years when i was a kid i used to read science fiction it's like plausible accounts of the potential future it's like now who knows anything could happen anything could happen you know you could be three-quarters robot in 20 years you could have a lifespan of 10 000 years i mean we just do not know we could be living in caves again with everything in runes we don't have a clue what's going to happen so 20-year span i would say you know get friendly with computers so 20 years spans too long so okay anyways what i'm what i'm pointing out is that you have to calculate you have to calculate what you're doing across multiple spans of time and in that combination you know in combination with many many people and that makes things very complex but that's how that's how you're building the structures that you live there's this thing that exists this this multi-headed snake and it's got this infinity problem it's everywhere that's that little circle down there and the problem is well what do you do with it you cut off one head seven more grow that's the eternal problem of life and the problem is there there is the category of problems in life and it ain't going anywhere and so the question is can you deal with the whole category at the same time that's the thing that's how to be in the world is to deal with that category all at the same time and so how did how did human beings what did they come up with as a solution and that's so cool too because the solution they come up with not only was the heroism that allows you to approach what you're terrified by and what you find offensive and to learn from it but also the idea of sacrifice and that was played out by cultures everywhere including human sacrifice and you think what the hell was up with those crazy bastards so long ago they were sacrificing to gods all the time what kind of clueless behavior was that burn something and please god burn something valuable and please god it's like what was with them what were they thinking well they weren't stupid those people if they were stupid we wouldn't be here they were not stupid and believe me they lived under a lot harsher conditions than we do so those were some tough people man you know back then you'd last about 15 minutes and so you don't want to be thinking of your ancestors as stupid like there's no real evidence that we're much different cognitively than we were 150 000 years ago so anyways sacrifice what does that mean sacrifice well it's a discovery man it's the discovery of the future it's like the future is actually the place where there is threat and it's always going to be there so what do you do you make sacrifices in the present so that the future is better right everyone does that that's what you're doing right now that's what you're doing here that's what your parents are doing when they pay money to send you to university they think you can bargain with reality it's amazing you can bargain with reality you can forestall gratification now and it'll pay off at a place in time that doesn't even exist yet it's like who would have believed that it's like that's a miracle that that occurs and it's not like people just figured that overnight you know we were chimps for christ's sake like how are we going to come up with an idea like that well it's like well we thought about it for seven million years and you know we got to the point where we could kind of act it out but we didn't know what we were doing but it was a it merged like a dream it was so the terror of the future is a dream and the solution to the terror the dream of the terror of the future is another dream and and it comes out in mythology and in fantasy and in drama where you act out the sacrifice and then it's a step on the way to full understanding so we can say sacrifice now instead of doing it you know although we still do it it's just not concretized like it used to be we do it abstractly and we all have faith that it will work you know and we also set up our society so that it'll work and one thing about you know i'm not a fan of moral relativism for a variety of reasons partly because i think it's an it's an extreme form of cowardice but anyways apart from that no no no no there's minimal ways that you can set up a society that will work and so one of them is is that the society has to be set up so that your sacrifices will pay off or you won't work and then the society will die and so it has to make promises people have to make promises to one another that's what money is money is a promise that your sacrifice will pay off in the future that's what money is and so if the society is stable you can store up your work right now you can sacrifice your impulses and you can work and you can store up credit for the future and then you can make the future a better place but society has to be stable enough to allow for that hyperinflation will do you in so the promise that's implicit in the currency is the promise that what you're doing now will pay off in the future and if people don't have that promise then well we know what they do because in in gangs for example in say gangs in north america the time horizon of the gang members shrinks rapidly because they don't really expect to be alive that much past 21 and so they get really impulsive and violent and like why the hell not that's that's what you do when when the future doesn't matter when it's not real you you default back to living in the moment and you take what you can get right now and no wonder because you don't know if you're going to be around you know in a year and you get whatever you can well you can bloody well get it and that's like anarchy that state and so you don't want to live in some people like to live in that state because they're really wired for that you know and so they're they're much more comfortable in those conditions they're they're kind of like warrior types i would say in some sense but you know for most people that's just wet that stress will just do you in you know the stress of a life like that how hard should you work well that's a really difficult question if you're going to die tomorrow and then you probably shouldn't work very hard today at all so one thing you might say is that the degree to which you should work hard is dependent on your assumptions about the stability of the future we actually know this to be true because if you put people in wildly uncertain circumstances they discount the future which is exactly what you should do right it only makes sense to store up goods for future consumption if the future is likely to be very similar to the past and the present you need a stable society for that and conscientiousness only works in in a stable society because all you do otherwise if you're piling up goods which is kind of what conscientious people do is leaving them there for the criminals to take or waiting for the next chaotic upheaval to wipe out everything that you've stored and so even conscientiousness is a kind of guess hard-working people say well you know uh sacrifice the present for the future that's great as long as the future is going to be there and you can predict it but if it's not going to be there and it's unpredictable then the right response is take what you can take right now well the getting's good now you know obviously there are troubles with that too and i'm speaking you know i'm i'm offering rough rules of thumb but i'm trying to provide you with some indication of how and why these difference in value structures exist because they're applicable in different environments you know sometimes in a dangerous social environment it's not obvious that being an extroverted person is a good idea because extroverted people they stand out especially if they're extroverted and creative right because not only are they noisy and and dominant and assertive they're also colorful and and flamboyant and provocative well that's great if you're in a society that rewards that sort of thing but if you have you know if you're ruled by an authoritarian king who wants absolutely no threat whatsoever to his stability ever then dressing in gray and shutting the hell up is a really good survival tactic you

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