Tenets of My Worldview


There are a number of influences on the way I look at life, which is obviously true for everybody. Here is one of the strongest pillars of my beliefs. The following passage was written by Professor Bodoh, who taught my Humanities class when I was a freshman at Clarion University.

STOICISM

The various philosophical systems which arose in the Hellenistic Period of Greece differ from their classical predecessors in that they are all concerned with the art of living. Abstract studies, like epistemology and metaphysics, were out of fashion. The practical nature of the Hellenistic philosophies naturally appealed to the pragmatic Romans and stoicism, to which we now turn our attention, was the most appealing of all. It became the predominant philosophy of the educated class during the period of the Empire.

Stoicism owes its origin to a Greek philosopher named Zeno, who was born just a few years before Aristotle's death, on the island of Cyprus, and died about 265 B.C. He had gone to Athens as a young man to study in the philosophical schools there and, having developed his own system of thought, he began to teach in the Stoa, a covered colonnade, from which his philosophy took its name.

But Zeno's role is overshadowed by two of his disciples, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. From their work, we can summarize the stoic teaching as follows:

1) To trouble oneself about matters over which one has no control can only result in disappointment and unhappiness.

2) One really has control only over the exercise of his own will, the decisions he or she makes day-in, day-out, nothing else.

3) Nothing outside the individual is either good or evil in itself, not riches or poverty, sickness or health, power or slavery, life or death. All these things are in themselves neutral. Money by itself is just money; it is neither good nor bad. Death in itself is neither good nor bad; it is just ceasing to be alive. It is we who, for one reason or another, think them good or bad.

3) But since we have absolute control over our own will, we can make whatever judgments we like about anything--we can judge it good, we can judge it bad, or we can make no judgment at all.

5) Finally, since we are made happy by good and unhappy by evil, and since it is wholly within our power to make anything good or evil by judging it so, we and we alone have the power to make ourselves happy or unhappy.

Another strongly held belief has to do with the way in which chaos theory best describes life. Here is a passage from Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton which explains this view.

"And that's how things are. A day is like a whole life. You start out doing one thing, but end up doing something else, plan to run an errand, but never get there....And at the end of your life, your whole existence has that same haphazard quality, too. Your whole life has the same shape as a single day."

"I guess that's one way to look at things," Grant said.

"No," Malcolm said. "It's the only way to look at things. At least, the only way that is true to reality. You see, the fractal idea of sameness carries within it an aspect of recursion, a kind of doubling back on itself, which means that events are unpredictable. That they can change suddenly, and without warning."

"Okay..."

"But we have soothed ourselves into imagining sudden change as something that happens outside the normal order of things. An accident, like a car crash. Or beyond our control, like a fatal illness. We do not conceive of sudden, radical, irrational change as built into the very fabric of existence. Yet it is. And chaos theory teaches us," Malcolm said, "that straight linearity, which we have come to take for granted in everything from physics to fiction, simply does not exist. Linearity is an artificial way of viewing the world. Real life isn't a series of interconnected events occurring one after another like beads strung on a necklace. Life is actually a series of encounters in which one event may change those that follow in a wholly unpredictable, even devastating way. That's a deep truth about the structure of our universe. But, for some reason, we insist on behaving as if it were not true."

Here is another passage which complements those ideas, this time from The Lost World, also by Michael Crichton.

"But even more important," he said, "is the way complex systems seem to strike a balance between the need for order and the imperative to change. Complex systems tend to locate themselves at a place we call 'the edge of chaos.' We imagine the edge of chaos as a place where there is enough innovation to keep a living system vibrant, and enough stability to keep it from collapsing into anarchy. It is a zone of conflict and upheaval, where the old and the new are constantly at war. Finding the balance point must be a delicate matter-if a living system drifts too close, it risks falling over into incoherence and dissolution; but if the system moves too far away from the edge, it becomes rigid, frozen, totalitarian. Both conditions lead to extinction. Too much change is as destructive as too little. Only at the edge of chaos can complex systems flourish."

He paused. "And, by implication, extinction is the inevitable result of one or the other strategy-too much change, or too little."

Here's another passage from the same book which seems to accurately describe humanity as a whole.

"What makes you think human beings are sentient and aware? There's no evidence for it. Human beings never think for themselves, they find it too uncomfortable. For the most part, members of our species simply repeat what they are told-and become upset if they are exposed to any different view. The characteristic human trait is not awareness but conformity, and the characteristic result is religious warfare. Other animals fight for territory or food; but, uniquely in the animal kingdom, human beings fight for their 'beliefs.' The reason is that beliefs guide behavior, which has evolutionary importance among human beings. But at a time when our behavior may well lead us to extinction, I see no reason to assume we have any awareness at all. We are stubborn, self-destructive conformists. Any other view of our species is just a self-congratulatory delusion. Next question."

And finally, this gem from 3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke.

"As I understand him, Ted believes that there's something fundamentally wrong with the wiring of our brains, which makes us incapable of consistent logical thinking. To make matters worse, though all creatures need a certain amount of aggressiveness to survive, we seem to have far more than is absolutely necessary. And no other animal tortures its fellows as we do."