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Sunday, 31 August 2003


I was reading a writing from the dalai lama recently and from his point of view figuring out the purpose of life is pretty easy. If you assume that all humans have the right to pursue happiness and avoid suffering, and if you assume that the sum of society is greater than its parts (i.e. single human beings), then you can conclude that the purpose of any single being is to help the collective attain more happiness and avoid more suffering.

Of course, it's harder to figure out for you personally what skills/resources you have to best benefit the collective whole but at least it gives you something to optimize for.

I'm not sure if I completely agree with it but it's one of the simpler, mathematically rational explanations I've seen.

And taking it to Donald Norman's thinking...if every human was designed to help every other human become happier and suffer less...then the world would continually have even better teapots.

Everything that you are, you should not be as well...?

if this is so, what would you do with your life then? would you rather be doing the things that you don't particularly like so as to avoid grief and disappointment?

I run into problems when I try to think of the purpose of life in terms of pursuing happiness/avoiding suffering, because most of the time happiness is achieved by attaining things that you want (rather than things that you need, or things that you should have). The whole problem is that we don't know how to pursue the happiness that is long-lasting and permanent, because we don't know what/where it is. If I had to guess, happiness should come as a result of completing (or making progress towards) your purpose. Everything else is a short-term kind of happiness. To use the transitive theory of purpose, then, we should become immediately happy as soon as we start pursuing happiness, since pursuing happiness is our goal, and we're making progress. In my case, that doesn't seem to happen... I feel like something is still missing. Happiness needs a reason, doesn't it? Something tangible that doesn't just exist in the mind.

Figuring out what to do with my life is what started this whole thing. Still not sure. I have some hunches though, which I haven't articulated well yet. Being a writer, and not being a writer. Being a programmer, and not being a programmer. Being a idea maker, and not being an idea maker.

what to do with your life?

whatever will make you want to get up in the morning...
whatever will put food on your table..
whatever will make utter and complete sense in your life..
whatever makes you happy!! =)

I'm probably too tired to be coherent but feel the urge to pipe in. If you are using Don Norman's Design of Everyday things to help determine your purpose as a human being, also look at balance. Often what makes something pleasingly aesthic is it's balance. A window that is too large in a small place is out of balance and it's function is compromised. I know when we discussed this earlier you were in disagreement and stated that if you find something you are meant to do you should do that one thing all the time. I disagree. If I like frosting on a cake and decide just to eat the frosting it will make me sick.
I could ramble on and on but I can just do that in person. ;)

The happiness/suffering proponents look at the 'things you accumulate' in an a bit of a different light. Some things that you think make you happy, really just reduce your pain. For example, take the world's best cheesecake (or substitute whatever your fancy is for good food). If you take a couple of bites, you're feeling good. But if you're forced to eat 10,000 pieces of cheesecake, you're going to be in pain and miserable despite the fact that this is supposed to be the greatest cheesecake in the world. So, cheesecake doesn't really make you happy but it soothes hunger pains in a pleasant way. Hence your short term happiness.

On the other hand, take things like learning, teaching, being nice to people, contributing, practicing altruism, etc.. You can do this to basically infinite ends without it ever turning painful (except for maybe that guy who gave his kidney to a stranger).

Anyway, a similar, non-buddhist and clinical take on this is also at http://authentichappiness.org where the psych prof who wrote it basically tries to separate the different levels of happiness until there's a "meaningful life" level--which is basically knowing your strengths and living to use them to the fullest.

As far as happiness needing a reason...you could claim that it's the 'healthy' thing to do (i.e. less stress for you and the people around you, lower blood pressure etc.) or maybe just cuz it's better than misery. Or you could say, it's what your mom wanted for you, the example you want to set for your kid, etc. etc.

I would beg to differ and say that "learning, teaching, being nice to people, contributing, practicing altruism" etc do in fact turn painful if taken in large gulps. Even in small portions, these actions are often more painful (maybe draining or upsetting is a better word) than enjoyable. That is, unless you're getting something, like a piece of cheesecake, out of the deal. At least, that's my perception of it.

Good deeds aren't easy or rewarding in themselves, and more often than not we have to attach them to selfish "pain reducers" (like being thanked, or traveling to exotic lands, or gathering stories, or imagining your own righteousness, or saying you're doing the "right thing", or making your mom proud) in order to do them at all. That's why they say the truly selfless deed is almost impossible--our brains rebel against it because it's not a cost-effective way to live. You spend more than you gain.

If helping others was as enjoyable as eating the world's best cheesecake, I think it would be safe to say that we'd all be helping each other out like gluttons. The opposite often seems to be true, however. I wish it weren't. Or maybe it's only the opposite for certain people like me, and others have found some way around this situation and truly are happy for no other reason than that they are helping others. If so, I'd like to learn how this switch takes place, because honestly, I don't like being a selfish bastard.

You are a silly person
It's simple: biologically, people with purpose (whether it be self-dellusional or not) operate more efficiently and with more direction and motivation than people without. Therefore the "in itself" of purpose is irrelevent. Its effects are what matter. Speaking as you do, the context of purpose is the motivation and direction of the individual. Don't forget context. :)

BTW, you are undoubtedly an INTJ, and not an INTP as you describe. (your thinking is introverted, not your intuition). See here for example:




factor in creativity
Norman is incredibly articulate about the affordances of objects. It's important to remember that an affordance is a relationship between the object, the user of the object and the task.

A cat door is an affordance, but are you going to use it to get into your house? Glass affords breaking, but are you going to walk down the street with a baseball bat breaking each window?

Looking at yourself as an object with affordances is an interesting perspective. It shifts the questions around; what is the "user" in this case? Your body has affordances for physical action that your mind can use. Your mind has affordances for evaluation, analysis, and problem solving that your intentions can use. If you think I'm going to argue for the primacy iof intentions in this scenario, you're right!

Affordances are only meaningful in context of a being that has a consciousness capable of drawing meaning out of experience and translating that meaning into intentions to act.

I'm not interested in finding the most efficient and directionful way to live... so the fact that having a purpose makes you better fit to succeed isn't really a good argument for me. Why succeed if there's no reason to?

Regarding the interesting observation that affordances are only meaningful in the context of a being that takes advantage of those affordances... is it possible that because the universe does not act upon us in the same way that we act upon objects imply that the purpose which we have invented for objects may not apply to us at all? By which I mean, we invented the concept of purpose for the domain of objects that we have defined for our own use... since we do not know if we were defined for the use of anyone/anything else, we may not in fact have a purpose. Is purpose a given, or is it possibly a null or imagined value that is only invented to make us more effecient members of society and people who can sleep calmly at night?

As far as I can tell, an affordance does not need to have been intentionally designed into an object. Windows afford breaking but were not necessarily designed to be broken. The stones I stacked to make a staircase in my yard didn't afford walking very well at all when they were in a pile in my driveway.

Likewise, we as human beings afford all kinds of uses that we may or may not have been intentionally designed with.

And we as tool users attempt make use of the affordances other humans appear to offer to realize our intentions. Corporations in some ways are just big bundles of intentions and affordances. Employment itself is an affordance. Ideally a two way affordance.

Even more so than corporations, I think people are truly capable of finding win-win relationships.

Unfortunately, when a human being assigns "purpose" either to an object or to another living thing, it's likely to be significantly if not totally self serving. (This goes double for corporations.)

So that leaves three places to look for an untainted sense of purpose. To God, to ourselves, or to our cat. OK, maybe that's two places, unless you can talk directly to god...

Feeding on Intention/Purpose
(I am sorry about the mr's, my damn auto-form-filler's screwing with my mind.)

In my personal experience you can selectively feed off of other's affordance of oneself. Love for example is a creative interpretation of someone else we hold in our hearts. Being aware (feeling) this love can give us intuitive ideas as to how to grow into that idealization. Being mysterious/aloof is a useful strategy when it incites interest, and allows another to extrapolate something that you may wish to be. It is undoubtedly correct that this energy is usually "self-serving", but so what? If someone knows all my flaws, but still sees what I can be because they would want to be around someone like that, and I wish to become that...

Sometimes though the (usually unconcious) purpose of another's gift to you is to control you in some way. Often helpless, dependent things like children and kittens instinctively engender our love, because of their dependency. If another's love of you has these same qualities, it is a controlling affordance. Pity and compassion are the same way. They are gifts wrapped around a trojan horse of dependency.

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