Daniel Catalaa

Philosophy

(Authored by Daniel Catalaa on August 1st, 2009)
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Put philosophy centerstage in your life. This is the homemade bumpersticker to the car I used to own.
Philosophy is the search for wisdom. Wisdom in turn is treasured because, when true, it allows you to live the best life possible. Philosophy gives, but philosophy also demands; it necessarily requires from us honesty, contemplation, internal coherence, and depth.

Everybody has a philosophy (and it is there to help you)

What does it mean "to have a philosophy"?
If you could summarize your entire set of beliefs regarding yourself, others, the world, and god, that would constitute your own personal philosophy, even if some of your ideas were borrowed from sources external to you (e.g. from parents, friends, a fortune cookie, or your pet turtle). Philosophies are constituted by a set of fundamental principles that guide the thoughts we have, the choices that we make, and the actions that we take. In other words, philosophy is not something that bored intellectuals do while monopolizing the sidewalk tables of Parisian bistros, it belongs to and is routinely used by everybody.
Philosophy is an activity
Many people have philosophies but do not live by them. For example you may have heard of people describing themselves as being "non-practicing Christians", or parents telling their children "do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do", or a nurse that takes care of other people's health but neglects her own.

My point is that it is not enough to think about philosophy, the wisdom that is derived from it needs to be used and tested in the real world where it can prove its worth. So in summary, philosophy is an applied discipline, and these are two suggested components for it:
  1. Practical application: philosophy guides thoughts, decisions, and actions taken here and now.
  2. Sense of purpose: philosophy explicitly states a mission or reason for being.

Evaluating a philosophy

Is my current philosophy good enough?
Before you embarc on a pain staking examination of everything that you hold true, here are some suggestions on how to evaluate whether your current philosophy is adequate as it stands:
  • Goodness: Does living in coherence with your philosophy benefit you and those you affect in a positive, constructive way?
  • Fairness: Would you want to interact with other people if they believed in your same philosophy?
  • Usefulness: Does your philosophy help you make decisions regarding how to live?
  • Planning: Is your philosophy a good predictor of what will happen in the future?
  • Soundness: Can your philosophy withstand criticism?
  • Scope: Is your philosophy applicable to a broad array of life circumstances?
If you can answer "yes" to most of the questions above, then you may have found a good philosophy to use. Keep in mind however, that philosophies are open to scrutiny and should be revisited and possibliy modified as you experience new things.

But if you are overall dissatisfied with life, feel inconsequential, do not know what to do with your life, or fear death, then keep on reading because help is on its way. Click onto page 2

Development of your own personal philosophy

philosophy2__philosophy_book_jacket.gif An exciting part of studying philosophy is coming up with your own personal philosophy. A good starting point is to read a simple introductory book to the subject. I have read a couple, and unfortunately most are structured in a way that skims over the major philosophies that have cropped up over the centuries, but stop shy of suggesting practical ways in which philosophy can be put to use in the here and now. So you read them, nod your head when you come across nuggets of wisdom, but after you are done you are left without a clear sense of direction that you may have hoped for. Once I was done reading, I found myself asking "And now what?" or worse yet "So what?"

A book that I can readily recommend is "Philosophy for Dummies" by Tom Morris. Because it provides the reader with different ways of thinking (e.g. materialism, rationalism, dualism, etc.) but also lets you know how believing in these ideas will shape your outlook on life.

Development of my own personal philosophy

Existentialism
The most pressing question I had was whether my life, and by extrapolation life in general, had meaning. This question is existentialist in nature and boils down to asking "why do I exist?". And I have yet to find a better question to ask, because from its answer stem my perspective on life and the guiding principles for the decisions that I take. To organize my thoughts I thought of life as being divided in 3 parts along a timeline: (a) life before my biological conception, (b) my current life, and (c) and life after physical death.
Life before Conception
Am I an evolutionary surviror? A random product of the fastest sperm and the luckiest egg in my parents? Did I exist in some other form before I was born? People are very curious about who their parents and ancestors were, and I belive that in the bigger picture they are really asking "Cosmically speaking, where do I come from?" Nevertheless, good or bad we have already lived the past, and we are only interested in it if it can provides us with clues regarding what will happen in the future.
Life after Physical Death
So what will happen in the future? Will I continue existing after my death? Though I am understandably curious about my origins, I am more concerned with my future because maybe there are things that I could be doing right now to make the transition to a new existence, that death may bring about, easier. But in order to prepare, we need to understand what is waiting for us on the other side. The Egyptian pharohs packed food and jewlery in their sarcophagus to help them on the journey. But when archeologist opened their tombs thousands of years later everything was still there. So I recommend preparing your spirit, the only part of your self that can transcends the physical world.
The Nature of my Current Reality
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The Truman Show (1998) movie: Are people in your life real, or just paid actors?
Since trying to determine if life before birth or after death really exited was very speculative, I decided to confront the most tangible reality of the present. What is real? Is reality all in my head, and what I perceive is just an illusion like the people living inside the Matrix, or a fabrication like the world of the protagonsit of the Truman Show? The truth is that I do not know, but also that it does not matter. You should simply live in the most authentic realm available to you. So if you are asleep and dreaming, wake up and live in this reality. If you are already awake, live in the world you know to be true rather than the fake world presented to you by advertisers, political
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The Matrix (1999) movie: Are things around you real, or do they just feel real?
spinners, or mind altering drugs. You should trust this reality to be authentic and be engaged in it until you have access to a more real one.
Example
In the year 2006, Natascha Kampusch, an Austrian girl escaped from a windowless cell beneath a garage where she had been imprisoned for 8 years of her life by a deranged person (story). She had been kidnapped at the age of 10 and during the subsequent 8 years rarely had contact with the outer world. By finally escaping she suddenly encountered a more authentic level of existence with greater freedom of movement, expression, and the availability of numerous healthy social interactions: This new reality is where she belongs and it would be counterproductive, to say the least, for her to return to the reclusion of her former state. She is still the same person, but from her perspective an old reality has died, and a new one has been born.
A baby in her mother's womb is very comfortable and given a choice would live in there forever, yet life will, at the right moment, literally push us on to the next stage of awareness like the insupressable contractions of a mother in labor eager to see its child after caring for it for so long. Resistance to this natural process (e.g. anti-aging creams, plastic surgery, steroids, hairplugs, cryonics, and denial) is possible but it also demonstrates a lack of understanding.
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Natascha Kampusch escapes after 8 years of captivity and abruptly enters into a more authentic reality. Are you ready to do the same?
Summary

In summary, at birth we are thrusted into a reality that we will never understand completely and later at death we are removed from it. That you can remember, were you asked permission to be created? No, you just appeared on the scene. Also, your existence on this planet will come to an end without your permission, it will eventually simply happen. During our time here, we are unsure on wheter life has meaning and even when we are persuaded that it does, we are unclear on exactly what our purpose or mission is supposed to be. The existence of a different reality (heaven, other dimensions, reincarnation, etc.) can be speculated upon but arguments exist both in favor and against these suppositions.

Idea
If you want purpose, start creating or searching for one. Life is not a guarantee, it's a gamble and it is a journey of discovery imbued with a permanent sense of mystery.

Development of my own personal philosophy (cont.)

List of Values
Though it has not been possible for me to spell out in a sudden fit of clarity what my overall philosophy of life is, I started by compiling a list of attributes and values towards which I gravitate and have faith in, and a counterpart list of attributes or ways of being that I avoid:

prefered and practiced discouraged and avoided
  • quality
  • completion-driven planning
  • creative activities
  • volontary interdependence, giving and receiving assistance
  • pain with meaning/purpose
  • organic progress
  • dialogue with world
  • self-correcting belief systems
  • preparation
  • devoted, focused monotasking
  • rejection & acceptance
  • ordered desire
  • small genuine private victories
  • quantity
  • time-driven planning
  • repetitive activities
  • exclusive reliance on dependence or independence
  • sadism or masochism
  • forced progress
  • monologue / isolationism
  • rigid, dogmatic belief systems
  • improvisation
  • hedging bets, multitasking
  • "safe" non-participation
  • impulsive anxious desire
  • large boisterous hollow triumph
Qualitity (vs. Quantity)
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Terry Schiavo (1963-2005) focused national debate on whether a biological life is worth preserving under all circumstances

The belief in God makes me more prone to strive for quality rather then quantity. If you believe that each individual soul that God created is special and unique, you may find yourself also wanting to create special and unique things. I want to bake the perfect bread, I want my shoes to shine, I want to play a guitar solo that moves the audience, I want to create beauty, and beauty is not a function of size or quantity. The microscopic light reflections inside a small diamond are more attractive than the dull blackness and dust of many truckloads of coal.

But what are the ramifications of striving for quality? These may surprise you. I believe in the abortion of unwanted babies, and euthanasia or suicide for adults when faced with excrutiating pain or clinical death. On the life affirming side of this belief, I advocate for life senteces instead of death sentences because while there is life there can be repentance and restitution for the victims. Also, I encourage organ donation and the inception of small families, where there can be high parental investment per each child.

Example
I do not view life as a longevity competition, given a choice I would rather live a shorter fulfilling life, than a long unfulfilling one. How long to live? I would just want to live without excruciating pain, and long enough to mature and develop relationships with myself, other people, and with God. Beyond that, one more day on the planet will not make much of a differenece.
In my judgment the requisites to keep on living are the following: if you are a foetus, that (both) your parents want you to exist, and if you are an adult that you can have both an existence free of excrutiating pain and the realistic potential to interact with people.
Completion-driven planning (vs. Time-driven planning)
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Professional baseball player Barry Bonds achieved outstanding results using illegal steroids.

When making plans for the future, impatience can sometimes tempt us into skipping steps and rush ahead to the final result. Why get to know a person, if you can tell her what she wants to hear and sleep with her? Why play be means of your natural talents when steroids are available?

Example
Barry Bonds, the San Francisco Giants baseball player, admitted in 2004 to using illegal performance enhancing steroids. Knowing this, should we applaud his achivements? I can't. It will never be possible to determine how much of his success was due to his personal effort and what is simply the result of biochemical interactions between the drugs and his body. Furthermore, the steroid practice was kept secret and gave viewers and other players the mistaken impression that the playing field was leveled. Taking steroids is not inherently unethical, but it is, if their use remains undisclosed and only some players can avail themselves of them. Of course, if steroids were allowed, baseball trophies should not be awarded to the pharmaceutical companies that make the best compounds rather than to the players.
My contention and belief is that it is better to fail or achive less while trying to do things well (honestly, high-quality results, output beneficial to others and self, etc.) than to succeed using deceit or mediocrity. Would you be willing to delay gratification for a more genuine final result?