Wednesday, May 13, 2015

FAQs

I get some form of these questions every once in a while, via email or in person.

Q: What is the meaning of life?

A: Life forms, including you, have evolved for genetic propagation.  You live and toil so that your kin (your children, your family, or your tribe) might live.  People differ in the breadth of their kinship.  Some include all humans, some include pets and domesticated mammals, some include all life forms ("biodiversity").   If that is unsatisfying, there is no greater meaning.  You can invent and live by certain artificial meanings, but that's obviously up to you and begs the question.

Q: Should I live for pleasure?

A: Study the mechanism first.  The neurochemistry of pleasure in your brain is ill-matched to handle the endless availability of inexpensive carefully-designed man-made gratifications in the modern world.  You will wear yourself out and become incapable of deep thought or long-term projects.  Pleasure is short-lived and needs repeated effort with diminishing returns.  Be open to pleasure, but strive to create long-term contentment and fulfillment.  Pleasure is usually an act of consumption for oneself, whereas contentment and fulfillment involves something larger than oneself.

Q: Does God exist?

A: No.  There is no creator, no supernatural justice delivery, no life after death, no past lives, no "enlightenment", no "nirvana", and no "sin".  But to believe in God (or a higher power, or a grand design, or divine justice, or a religious foundation for morality) serves a psychological and communal need in human beings.  It is quite likely that you have that need as well.  You have to live with that need remaining unfulfilled.  There is no substitute for God.  You can start believing in an ideology, and while that might help you communally or direct your actions, that will not provide you with a similar psychological comfort.

Q: How should I live my life in the modern world?

A: Understand yourself and human nature.  Have few needs.  Grow physically stronger and mentally more discriminating.  Resist media influence and distractions.  Add value around yourself.

Q: How should I think?

A: Scientifically, and with self-awareness.  Science, in essence, is thinking with rigor.  Rigor is to be consistent and logical, to steer clear of fallacies, and to be congruent with available evidence.   To be self-aware is to be conscious of one's strengths, limitations, biases and dispositions.

Q: Should I get married?

A: If you're a man living in a modern state: no.  Third-wave feminism, disappearing gender roles, and the rapidly changing legal landscape has made marriage a dangerous legal contract for heterosexual men.  Better stay together if you like each other, without state intervention.  In many jurisdictions, that counts as marriage though.  In those jurisdictions, stay apart while "dating" each other.

Q: Should I have kids?

A: Only if you want to, if you have a friendly, altruistic and harmonious long-term partner who also wants to, and if you two (while not signing a marriage contract) promise to be there for the kids for a long time, and if you two understand the sacrifice, responsibility and expense involved.  Once you have kids, the kids are not for you, they will never be for you, you are for the kids.  Which is how nature intended it.

Q: I am bored.  What should I do?

A: Boredom is a problem of stimulant starvation.  The cure for boredom is to endure it.  Boredom is its own symptom.  The more you endure it, the faster your neurochemistry will adjust to a non-craving state.  Like any addiction, the more you give in to stimulation for a short-term fix, the worse the addiction becomes.

Q: Is our civilization in decline?

A: In material terms: No.  In psychological terms: Yes.  We have the best technology, the longest lifespan, and a more evolved scientific understanding compared to any other time in human history.  On the other hand, more and more people are self-focused, mentally ill, emotionally starved, unhappy, stressed, unable to cohabit with another human being, brainwashed and distracted to death with media, and addicted to one or more things peddled by modern industry.  The momentum of consumption, technology and economy will continue to amplify this state of affairs for the foreseeable future.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

these are some dangerous marriage and kids advice for the indian part of the world.

these advices fit in the framework of western countries legally, morally and culturally. live-in relationships are a taboo in india. not to mention the nagging friends, parents, uncles , aunties, grand fathers, grand mothers and other nosy humans of the indian society. Even dating is a taboo in India many a times. living in india is a very confusing and stressful time right now.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous: I agree with you that live-in relationships and dating is still to catch on in India, especially in small towns.

In large cities, however, they are becoming more prevalent, and my advice was for the "modern" regions.

For more conservative regions, I would advise arranged marriage after careful investigation and with a strong involvement of community.

observer said...

Harman, I have been an avid reader of your blog and have witnessed your changing opinions and pursuits. I myself have been interested in the matters of enlightenment for over a decade. It was an on and off affair as in pursuit and disappointment, but I could not give up the feeling that people such as Ramana or Nisargadatta knew something genuine, and were not just being delusional.

Eventually though I stumbled upon traditional vedanta teachers such as James Swartz, Swami Dayananda (the still living one), and Swami Sarvpriyananda (search for their stuff on YouTube).

Then I realized that the problem was that this stuff is actually knowledge, knowledge that is made firm and intuitive by practice, it is not an achievement or a whimsical stroke of sudden insight. A lot of people think of it as the latter which just leads to guru worship and rise of charlatans.

Knowledge can be acquired by anyone with sufficient practice. Do not think in terms of religion and belief. The teachings of Vedanta are real 100℅ verifiable knowledge akin to maths or physics.







Venkat said...

Harman, I disagree with you when you say that our society is in psychological decline. The number of casualties in major wars (as a fraction of the total population) has never been lower. We are also tending to move towards an age of rationalism, atheism and scientific vigor away from religious fanaticism and radicalism (ISIS and Al-Qaeda, however, prove that we are miles away). I make the last statement as a general observation.
However, we are probably lonelier than ever and that can be attributed to the above. When you take away god and religion, you also take away meaning. One is left with existential angst, meaninglessness and nihilism. Perhaps, yes, in that sense we are declining. We are less immoral but more amoral. We know that god and scripture and religion is bogus and a fraud, and we're left empty and lost. We know that they are roads that lead nowhere but we haven't found roads ourselves.
I sometimes think that one can never have a satisfactory answer, intellectually at least.