waterholic Level 01
  • Member since Sep 18th 2022
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Posts by waterholic

    Kalosyni gave me an idea:

    • Incremental changes in lifestyle combined with a trial & error (controlled experiment) can establish a personal table of preferences
    • Record the degree of pleasure on a scale
    • In case of pain, trace back to the pleasurable activity that caused it and calibrate for the future.
    • Identify the biggest sources of long term pain at the moment of realisation. Keeping a record should make it obvious what the fundamental issues are.

    A very simple personal record app will do it. Anyone came across something that already exists and fits the bill?

    To my untrained eye the position that only atoms and void exist must be taken in the context of the times when the prevailing understanding of the universe consisted of the four key elements: water, earth, fire and air as well as the distinct expectation of spirit living outside the material realm.


    Both Lucretius and Democritus agree on the fact that only atoms and void truly exist and the spirit too consists of atoms, but in the Lucretian understanding "spiritual" atoms are only a very small proportion of human body.


    Interestingly, this again reminds me the ever present issue of small vs. big, element vs composite. Just as swerve creates randomness in the micro world, yet in the macro world many things are perfectly predictable, in the same way only atoms and void in the micro world are combined to create the objective reality, which can be sensed (again due to the atoms that are "coarse" for example).


    Hard to imagine how one can arrive from all of the above to nihilism. Yet, I trust this is a common problem?


    A final note, Lucretius too refers to certain images or perceptions that appear not to "exist". Perhaps this is similar to what Democritus bad in mind?

    If you DON"T get the grounding Don is talking about,

    Is it possible to assemble the grounding that Don is talking about in a structured, contemporary manner? I am not saying it is, just wondering.

    Mathematics springs to mind. There are very successful textbooks that built the whole core from basic elements all the way up. Most of that knowledge comes from 2000 years of research from India and China to Arabia, Europe etc. But students don't have to go through the originals then attempt to make the logical connections themselves.

    By "modern" do you mean contemporary, modern science communicators or modern figures that present "Epicurean" ideas whether or not they identify specifically as Epicurean?

    Indeed Don, I did not mean modern interpretations of Epicurean ideas, but rather a contemporary language. That's a better word.


    That said, I also think there's something very valuable in reading "old texts"

    I will not argue with that at all. The greatest impact of everything I read was that many of the questions and answers were available to us for thousands of years, and yet we chose to forget, give up, give in to tradition, superstition and brute force of bigotry. It is painful and useful to know.

    But now I imagine myself in front of my 20 something son, who lives in the world of all the social media, gaming, basketball, memes (you can add to the list). Should I expect him to have the same patience and curiousity? If not, then do I give up on him and concentrate only on people who have the predisposition to philosophy?

    Certainly we cannot abandon the old texts, but I believe they are not for everyone, at least in the beginning. At the same time I totally agree that it's difficult to convey the whole body of knowledge in a simple form, but Epicureans have always attempted that!


    "Stoics" have managed to corner the market on "look at this ancient wisdom we're selling."


    I believe this is not (only) due to the effective communication. Stoicism has been merged with most despotic states since Rome. It has always been an extremely convenient philosophy for the central state alongside any superstition. Consequently, most governments, ancient or contemporary, have been in support of stoicism. Epicureanism, on the other hand, has always been highly inconvenient for the state. In the end, any souvereign would much rather have an army of stoics ready to do the duty (however that duty is defined by the state) than a bunch of people who just want to be happy (and probably left alone).

    All that said, if I've addresses something you didn't intend or completely misinterpreted what you were saying, mea culpa! :)

    No worries at all, heated arguments are more than welcome. I don't claim I know the answer and I very much appreciate the chance to look at other facts and opinions in order to change mine.

    (if we don't have Epicurean friends in our real lives we really need to work to find/cultivate/"make" them)

    I like the idea, but to do so I feel I miss a simple and modern body of knowledge/message. Vatican collection is the closest, but even then it's archaic and requires a predisposition to reading old texts. There is little point in attempting to convey valid, strong and sensible ideas driven by facts in a language that is not accessible for most people. Most religions use the old language to package the message: ancient means wise, ancient means coming from sages or deity. Epicurean philosophy does not need any of that since the message is very simple and applicable.

    I wonder if the very concept of FB contradicts what this place is about (may be not, I can't be sure). I too have been out of FB and all other social media for nearly 5 years and seen my level of joy and contentment increase.


    Having said this, Cassius in my opinion it would be very difficult to replicate epicureanfriends.com on FB by design. The very point of scale means that the messaging and content must be different - more accessible and applicable to people who don't necessarily enjoy historical texts, academic philosophy (or even read books), but would greatly benefit from the main concepts in these pages.


    Sorry Cassius this is not much help, but I guess I would be interested in creating such accessible and applicable content for FB rather than going back to FB as such.

    Onenski absolutely no reason to apologise, introducing this dinstinction only means we (I) have to read and discover more, which is one of the reasons we are here! Besides, not understanding is my natural state, it's nobody's fault :)

    In other words, if some random (even subtle) things happen, we have less control than we think we have.

    I am not very well versed in philosophy, so my take on this comes from everyday life observations. There is a range of different types of outcomes that populate the "control axis".


    (Let's call these Type A) There are outcomes we can control nearly 100%. In front of me there is a paper cup that I can smash. I control this outcome with a probability of nearly 100%, since barring a small (but not null) chance of me having a heart attack before I smash it, I can definitely do it.


    (Type B) Then there are outcomes that we can learn to control. Consider me with a basketball at the 3-point line. The probability of scoring is maybe 1 in 30. However, I know for a fact that if I dedicate my effort to it for a year or two, I will increase that probability to 20-30% (still a far cry from Stephen Curry, who hits 50% with the opposing team defending). The key here is that the controlled, repetitive environment of the game renders itself to learning and having an impact on the end outcome.


    (Type C) Finally, at the extreme end of the scale are events that no matter how hard I try I cannot control. Flip of a coin is a simple example, but more interesting examples are economic forecasts, the performance of mutual fund investments or political analysis. No matter how hard I try, there is no benefit from learning (monkeys throughing darts have the same or better results).


    These observations are very much aligned with my understanding of Epicurean/Lucretian position on chance. There are things that are outside our control indeed. Even in the paper cup case, some subtle things as you say may have an impact on the end result, but with very small probability. More complex situations will be impacted by endless permutations of events, which makes them hard to predict with any probability.


    The key aspect of (in)determinism, in my view, is that we have agency, meaning that it was not pre-determined that I would want to smash that cup. This still does not mean that absolutely everything is unpredictable.


    A final observation: somehow, we are much better at predicting the weather patterns (a complex system) and not so good at predicting social phenomena (wars, economic growth etc.) Is this because components of weather do not have agency?

    Now, by the wat, I've never understood how the swerve can give us freedom. How random and subtle movements of the atoms can make macro-organisms to have the power of decision and action? Maybe you've discussed this in another thread, but I don't find it :D

    As Cassius said, this field is very confusing, but also very relevant and interesting not just for understanding the ancient thought but also for having an Epicurean approach to every day life.

    My understanding is that Epicurus introduced the concept of swerve to avoid adopting full determinism (or fatalism, to be honest I still don't follow the intricacy of the difference). A key part of the philosophy is absence of anything non-material in the body, including our thoughts, feelings and decisions. These are all driven by material non-divisible particles that are in motion. But since, the logic goes, their movements are geometric and predictable (no movement comes from "outside the system"), the consequence is that every decision one makes, every thought one has, every event that happens, is in theory pre-determined (imagine a super computer that calculates the position of every atom at every moment). This is why Epicurus introduced the "swerve" - a randomness in the system that is unpredictable.

    With the modern vantage point "the swerve" combined with the idea of the void are remarkable achievements of pure deductive reasoning. Although quantum mechanics does not exactly work as imagined by Epicurus, the introduction of chance/randomness is essential for understanding how the world works.

    The highly spiritual catholic Bartlet chooses a very strange book for his daughter (at about 1'30'' in the link!) Wink wink ? :D


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    Lucky you! :)

    So your upbringing would fall under the first or second category of Epicurus's "some things happen by necessity, some by chance, and some by our own power."

    Well I did get my fair share of a toxic mixture of cultural conservatism and marxist-stoicism. The net result is probably marginally better than a catholic school. It's funny how you can get even religion out of the people but not the instinctive hatred and mistrust of pleasure.

    If you reduce everything to atoms and motion in a straight line, people think that that would lead to a totally mechanistic result, and so a straight line materialist such as Democritus would conclude that everything is in the grip of an iron "fate" that allows no room for personal decisions whatsoever. Cicero made this argument against Epicurus in criticizing the swerve as a departure and regression from Democritus.

    Ok, so this is where the Epicurean "swerve" comes in to introduce some level of chance. Looking at this from the vantage point of the modern science, we know for a fact that the small-scale world operates on probability (quantum mechanics) and not linearly. Additionally, complex systems, Mandelbrot sets (fractals) all demonstrate how you can get from simple predictable small elements into extreme unpredictable complex whole. This suggests that absolute determinism cannot be defended. In this sense, I suppose "compatibilism" is probably the best description of the reality, though I somewhat dislike the notion of describing a certain feature of universe by accepting co-existence of two extreme and improbable ideas.



    Free will has the connotation of a supernatural soul. In materialism without hard determinism, "agency" is the preferred term to replace the term "free will" to get rid of that supernatural connotation. This leaves enough room for anything from the little "free will" of Onfray to a lot of "free will" and is flexible enough to not be refuted by future research results on how far agency actually goes unless those results prove hard determinism. A proof of hard determinism in the real world as perceived by us appears to be not conceivable as of now.

    Thank you Martin, I now understand the connotation of a supernatural soul coming from "outside the system". I have been raised in a completely non-religious environment and developed scepticism later in life, so I did not develop a radar for theological red flags. I like the term agency!

    The term "free will" is problematic for materialists, but not indeterminism, itself.

    Thank you Nate, I am closer to understanding Onfray, though he extends the argument too far for my liking.


    I will definitely look into Marx's thesis; I am a bit familiar with his dialectical materialism and political economy, as well as Popper's extendee criticism of Marx, but I never knew about his Epicurean references.


    But with regards to free will, aside from the context of a deity (some external intelligence that "tests" us - an idea that has been an excuse to avoid any critical thought), what could materialism have against the concept of free will?

    I am confused. I was listening to a French writer Michel Onfray, who is known for his Epicurean views. The first half was very much in-line with what I would expect. Then there are his views on determinism. I have added the link, unfortunately, in French, but the essence is:


    1. Your life has been impacted by many events driven partly by necessity (e.g. you were raised in the South, you taste for food would be a function of that) and partly by chance (people and events you encounter in your life limit your decisions). You choose very little. Even now, when you look back, few would have chosen exactly the life they had lived. So there is little free will. Onfray calls this determinism and accepts it as a reality.


    2. Religion (he spoke specifically of Christianity) on the other hand assumes you have free will and can choose between good and bad, and can be punished for a bad choice. This, in Onfray's view, is the free will and he rejects it.


    I am not very well versed in this, but isn't determinism rejected by Epicurus? How can Epicureanism and determinism co-exist in Onfray's mind?


    Link to the video

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    -- Is there a physiological need in some people to seek out more "tranquility" because they are very sensitive to stimulus and easily disturbed by sensations of sounds.

    I think the key word here is physiological, as raised by Don. Whatever daily recipes could have been available in the Epicurean times, they are lost and even if they weren't, I doubt that much of it would be useful nowadays. I am curious if there have been attempts to construct a modern Epicurean "guide book" based on modern physiological and sociological studies, A/B testing (randomised controlled trials) and other modern methodologies?


    One additional point of concern: going down the rabbit hole of relativism can seriously damage the outcome. Bottom line: there is no way to fear gods and be Epicurean at the same time (as in, fearing gods is one's way of removing other anxieties).

    Kalosyni thank you - love the concept of the ability to problem solve. I suppose having a sober assessment of one's state, an audit of the problems and building an action plan is easier to do with the anxiety left out of the equation. I would suggest that it's the role of Epicurean approach to remove the paralysing anxiety.


    Martin has a great practical approach.

    Would it be better for a poor person to start praying to supernatural gods? Would it be better for a poor person to start hoping for a better life in heaven after death? W

    Finally Cassius gave me the remaining piece of the puzzle. My original question was about whether Epicurean life is achievable only for the wealthy. But I think the answer is clear if I separate the external (social, economic) from the internal (our attitude and mode). Epicurean philosophy may or may not be an answer to a social structure (say instead of capitalism, socialism and a bunch of other "isms'). We can't tell because we have not been able to test it. Consequently, the external demand on Epicureanism is irrelevant. When it comes to the internal demand, as Cassius suggests, I have absolutely no doubt that someone with no basic necessities of life IS better equipped with the Epicurean thought than stoicism or any of the religions.


    Bravo Cassius and thanks. I get there in the end :)

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    It's outside the general scope of this forum, but worth noting in passing that this was the essence of Marx's critique of religion in the introduction to his Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. (And because this is the internet, I now have to clarify that I'm not taking a Marxist possession, but describing one...)

    Joshua yes indeed, Marx referred to religion as opium for the people. I tend to treat this issue on two different planes. So far as personal philosophy is concerned, the Epicurean reasoning is the closest to me (no need to worry about gods). Then there is the social justice and economics plane, where organised religion can be a source of social cohesion or a force that holds the society back (or both). On this plane I would have hoped for different tools to achieve social cohesion.

    No need to apologise, I find a lot of useful ideas reading through everyone's posts.


    Indeed, as you say, there has been incredible amount of nonsense circulated about Epicurean position from extrene ascetism to extreme hedonism. Clearly, neither is in the spirit of Epicurus.


    My question is: could Epicurean philosophy be of any use to someone in abject powerty and misery as a starting position? After all, much of religion has historically been used to create contentment in misery. Being satisfied with one's own position is all well if the society is just (broadly). Nearly all sources of Epicurean-leaning thought from Buddha (a rich prince who decided to leave the palace and spend some time under a tree) to Bertrand Russell (who argued in favour of idleness while really not needing much gainful employment) happens to originate in the "opulent quarters" of the city.


    More practically, partly due to chance and partly due to choice, I am somewhat independent and can have comfortable life without overstressing. How do I suggest to those significantly less fortunate to be satisfied with whatever is within their reach?