Sunday, January 08, 2006

Objective analysis

Note: this isn't strictly speaking a Quality-related post, but it lays some groundwork for what I'm going to talk about next.

Reading list:
"The Globe: Science of Discworld #2" - Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, Jack Cohen

One interesting thing about this life is it's never easy to get a straight answer. People by and large think in curves, and any answer they give you is likely to be a hyperbolic (apologies for pun) attempt to get you to do the same. Figuring out what is actually true based on the deeply biased information sources around you is about as easy as figuring which way is "up" when you've just been knocked off your surfboard and under the water by a 6ft wave.

This is why it's vitally important to figure out, as early as possible, what motivates the people around you. And nowhere is this more important than when figuring out what you should do.

For starters, any information that you get on morality from those around you is, in my experience, likely to be complete crap, the reason being that there's actually no such thing. It's a social construct and, like all social constructs, it attempts to imprint itself in the minds of those in the vicinity of its hosts.

How, then, to figure out what parts of the information you've been forcefed from an early age are remotely useful? How many of even the useful bits are any more than lies-to-children - approximations to the truth that are an effective way to keep you on the straight and narrow but that bear no resemblance to underlying reality?

Basically, there's no way. You're stuffed. By the point that you're able to actually read what I'm saying here (age 10 or so), you'll have been completely ruined as far as truly objective thought is concerned. The message of morality will have been beaten into you so strongly that you'll almost certainly be able to pass it on to the next generation with a straight face. Therefore the only way to build a better view of the world is to construct it logically and then hope like hell you can live according to it, regardless of how it clashes with your preconceived notions.

In my next post I'll start talking about the importance of critical thinking in building a truly high-Quality understanding of the world. It's quite a big topic so deserves its own post.

But wait, I hear you cry. If Lifewish is biased (which he almost certainly is) why should we trust him any more than we trust anyone else?

That's where the bit about bias comes in. Firstly, I'm writing this almost entirely for my own benefit - strike one against any deliberate bias. Secondly, I'm explicitly dealing with the issue of bias in my own thoughts, and when bias is dragged into the light it tends to die* - strike two. Thirdly, to the extent that I'm writing this blog for everyone else, my motives are very basic and thus easy to compensate for. Basically I find it a major ego-boost to think of you lot sitting down and actually stopping to think about my words. A motive that's pure as the driven yellow snow (to quote Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Strike three and out.

* This is the point of the scientific community. But that's another post.
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Excellence from top to bottom

The basis of the philosophy of areté is the idea that, if you "improve" yourself enough, the world's your oyster. The interesting thing about this philosophy is that, as you read it, you're probably muttering to yourself "well that's bloody obvious, isn't it". But how many of you actually believe it? How many of you act as if it were true? I know at least one person who's convinced that "networking" is far more important than true quality will ever be, despite the fact that in the Quality schema of life networking is a comparatively small part. So is it really that obvious to you? Or have you just been told that Quality is a good thing long enough that you've started parroting it back? Think about that.

On to detail. The way I view my interactions with the world is as a sort of network stack (if you're not geeky enough to know what I'm talking about, see here, and if you still don't understand give me a yell). The application of areté here is to work on improving each level, attempting to improve each in turn. In the coming posts, I'll be talking about the work I've been doing on each level of the Quality stack. If there's anything you'd particularly like me to talk about, do mention it - it might conceivably be something I hadn't thought to work on.

A basic overview of the Quality stack would look something like:
  • Body
  • Mind
  • Social interactions
(If you're religious it would probably be valid to substitute "spirit" for the last one).

The reason that they're arranged in that order is that each is a small, yet abnormally important, subset of the one above. Mind is dependent on brain, but despite the fact that it's effectively just a chunk of the body it demands special effort. Social behaviour is probably the single most important element of the mind*, and demands an entirely new paradigm to handle it fully. Each acts to some extent as a driving force for the previous one.

I'll be covering these areas in absolutely no particular order. Maybe after I've done a complete braindump of all my thoughts I'll be able to go back over them and figure out how the pieces fit together.

* In fact there's an hypothesis that the reason we evolved big brains is so we could lie more effectively to each other. Go figure.
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So what's with this "excellence" thing?

Book list for today:
"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" - Robert M Pirsig
"Gates of Fire" - Steven Pressfield
"The Socratic Dialogues" - Plato

As a mathematics obsessive, I've always had a very analytical view of the world. I'm extremely good at breaking it up into chunks and finding out how it works. I'm very good at debating, at science, at figuring out what lies behind the curtain. All useful skills, but lately I've come to see that there's something missing.

That something is the "should" that drives life. A lot of people, particularly religious folk, get this handed to them on a platter. But I've never felt like I had a strong driving force, and to some extent that's resulted in a life of drifting. Fairly successful drifting, but drifting all the same.

I know how things work, but I don't know what I should be making them do next. I can see the various ways that my life could go in the future, but I barely have the motivation to choose. And that's having damaging effects, not least being the need to unburden myself and think stuff through on a blog :P

There is, however, a philosophy of life that provides the "should". It fits in very well with my current view of the world. Even if it turns out to be inaccurate, it will ensure that the time I spend following it isn't wasted. That philosophy is called areté, and it originates, as most of philosophy seems to, with the ancient Greeks.

My knowledge of philosophical history is extremely dodgy, so I'll skip the detail and just say that Socrates had some cool ideas. One of his key ones was a concept of Quality as being fundamental to an effective life. Quality is intrinsically a bugger to define cos it's goal-oriented. Quality is, at some level, "what you like". It's an attribute of one's interaction with surroundings that indicates that things are going well.

Slightly surprisingly, this can in fact be expanded into a full philosophy of life that's not in the slightest bit hedonistic (what a shame :P). The expanded version basically states that you should work at increasing this quality of interaction with the world around you. Attempting to structure my worldview around this idea has had some... interesting consequences.
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New day, new ideas, new blog

So over the past couple of years I've been playing around with a philosophical concept - areté, the ancient greek word for "excellence". Areté seems to be the key to a lot of life, so I'm planning to turn this otherwise-useless blog into a discussion of my views on it.

I probably won't be posting terribly regularly due to the limitations of work. I also plan to keep this blog fairly anonymous. This may prove problematic since, due to minor idiocy on my part, I've managed to link it to my real identity. If you have seen me in enough forums to be aware of this link then you're probably entitled to know about it, but I'd ask that people not go actively hunting for it and in fact do their best to take this blog at face value without reference to Real Life [tm].
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