In a 1776 letter to William Strahan, Adam Smith, reflecting on the life and work of the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, wrote the following: “Upon the whole, I have always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit.”Continue reading “Lessons on Living Well From the Philosophy of David Hume”
When Charles Darwin worked out the theory of evolution in the nineteenth century, he didn’t have all the details in which the theory would ultimately depend. After all, On the Origin of Species was published in 1859—a full 49 years before the term genetics was introduced and 94 years before the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA.Continue reading “The Thousand Brains Theory of Intelligence and the Future of AI”
Exercise is one of those topics, along with diet, that generates a lot of confusion. And while there is no shortage of advice to be found online, it is rarely based on our best science or on our understanding of the intricacies of human physiology, evolution, and anthropology.
In Exercised, Harvard professor of evolutionary biology Daniel Lieberman explains that to truly understand exercise science, you must first understand something about human evolution and anthropology and how the body evolved to handle exercise. As Lieberman wrote, “nothing about the biology of exercise makes sense except in the light of evolution, and nothing about exercise as a behavior makes sense except in the light of anthropology.”Continue reading “Why We Never Evolved to Exercise, and What We Can Do About It”
We often underestimate just how much our current attitudes towards a subject are influenced by relatively recent cultural inventions, and this is particularly true regarding our relationship with work. As anthropologist James Suzman argues in his latest book, Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots, the way we think about work today has its roots in farming and the agricultural revolution that occurred only 12,000 years ago.Continue reading “What Hunter-Gatherers Can Teach Us About Work, Life, and Shared Abundance “
A meritocracy is a political system in which economic goods and political power are vested in individuals on the basis of talent, effort, and achievement, rather than on wealth, social class, or other arbitrary prejudices.
The principle is simple and easily illustrated with an example. Let’s say you’re hiring someone to perform a job, in this case a mechanic to repair your car. Who should you choose? In the interest of both efficiency (the mechanic’s capacity to quickly make affordable, quality repairs) and fairness (rewarding people for quality work), you would want to select the mechanic with the best reputation and ability—in other words, on the basis of merit.Continue reading “The Dark Side of Meritocracy”
Unlike the humanities, including philosophy—where the idea of progress is a controversial topic—it is an essentially indisputable fact that science makes considerable progress over time. Why this is the case—and how science actually works—is what Michael Strevens seeks to explain in The Knowledge Machine.
The basic argument is that scientific knowledge grows through the application of the “iron rule of explanation,” as Strevens calls it, that demands that all scientific argument be settled by empirical testing alone, and that the results of empirical testing are to be recorded in formal scientific journals for future reference and use.Continue reading “The Role of Irrationality in the Creation of Modern Science”
The Enchiridion, or Handbook of Epictetus, stands as one of the most influential and concise presentations of Stoicism ever published. Written by Epictetus’s student Arrian in 135 CE (Epictetus wrote nothing down himself), the Enchiridion is a succinct summary of Epictetus’s more practical ethical teachings.
The Enchiridion has remained popular throughout history as a manual for achieving intellectual freedom and happiness regardless of circumstances. In addition to the profound impact Epictetus had on the Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Enchiridion has been found in the personal libraries of Adam Smith, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and others, not to mention its direct and indirect influence on modern Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.Continue reading “8 Stoic Principles from the Handbook of Epictetus”
Totalitarianism is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “a system of government that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state.” Totalitarian governments restrict individual freedoms and rights, prohibit democracy and voting, and maintain strict centralized control over all aspects of public and private life. In a totalitarian government, the collective is prioritized over the individual.Continue reading “Karl Popper on Totalitarianism and the Application of Scientific Method to Politics “
The key to understanding the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius—a seemingly disorganized collection of personal notes that were never intended for publication—is to first understand the difference between how philosophy was conceived in ancient times as opposed to now.
Today, philosophy is—along with most other subjects—a highly specialized academic discipline, consisting largely of the formal analysis of language and the theoretical explication of texts. In sharp contrast, philosophy as practiced in ancient Greece, as well as in Marcus’s time, was a way of life. Philosophy was not simply studied; rather, it was practiced in a way that informed every aspect of one’s life, thoughts, and actions. As Pierre Hadot wrote in his classic The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius:Continue reading “Three Rules of Life From the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius”
The self-improvement industry—with a projected 2022 market value of $13.2 billion—clearly has massive appeal and a wide readership. Self-help is consistently represented in the top five nonfiction genres sold on Amazon each year, and the latest self-help bestseller often maintains its position at the top of the charts for months at a time.Continue reading “Why Fad Psychology Fails to Solve Our Social Problems”