What Affective Neuroscience Tells Us About Emotions and How to Manage Them

You probably think you know a lot about emotions. You experience them directly on a daily basis, you can name most of them, and you see them expressed in others. You’ve likely been taught that emotions are discrete, universal, and that you’re better off suppressing them or otherwise overcoming them with reason. This is the conventional view of emotion, and it has been handed down to you through millennia of intellectual history. It’s also entirely misguided. 

In Emotional: How Feelings Shape Our Thinking, theoretical physicist and science popularizer Leonard Mlodinow shows us why the traditional view of emotion fails to hold up to scientific scrutiny—in particular to the latest findings of affective neuroscience—and how a new picture is emerging of emotion as a core component of cognition—integrated with and complementary to reason. 

Continue reading “What Affective Neuroscience Tells Us About Emotions and How to Manage Them”

Embracing Meaninglessness: Wendy Syfret on Nihilism as a Way of Life

If you had to pick a single philosophical doctrine or movement that would be most difficult to defend today, nihilism would be a solid choice. Nihilism is associated with the worst parts of Nietzsche‘s teachings, the rise of Nazi and fascist ideology, the alt-right, and the tendency toward anarchy, chaos, immorality, despair, and destruction. Even the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines nihilism as “the belief that a society’s political and social institutions are so bad that they should be destroyed.”

So writing a book defending nihilism—no matter how many optimistic-sounding adjectives you place in front of it—is a tall order. In fact, it would probably be easier to ditch the term entirely and either invent a new one (like how some authors now use “progressive capitalism” in place of socialism) or, in this case, use a readily available close alternative: existentialism. 

Continue reading “Embracing Meaninglessness: Wendy Syfret on Nihilism as a Way of Life”

Marcus Aurelius and the Practice of Stoicism

Stoicism is a practical philosophy that emphasizes rationality and virtue as the only true goods. Unlike other religious or spiritual practices, Stoicism does not require that you abandon reason or strain your grip on reality; rather, it provides an ethical orientation to life that is fully consistent with our nature as rational, social beings.

Continue reading “Marcus Aurelius and the Practice of Stoicism”

Lessons on Living Well From the Philosophy of David Hume

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”

8 Stoic Principles from the Handbook of Epictetus

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”

Three Rules of Life From the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

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”