"What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence."
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophus, 1921
So rather than make predictions about any of the number of directions your or our future could go, I prefer to state all that we really know, that our future holds some life and then death. Beyond that, it's hard to say anything more specific. Rather than stop there in Wittgensteinian silence though, I thought this would be the place to talk about "the meaning of life," a topic that most academic philosophers nowadays regard as taboo or unprofessional. But if you've read my statement of purpose, you know I consider this root of the discipline something that desperately needs to be taken up once again. And so, I've made a modest beginning to come up with some broad aphorisms about life to help guide a future towards happiness and goodness through the use of some philosophical wisdom. Much more will be said in the future in my novels and stories and essays, but here are the first 9 statements that I came up with:
1. Life was hard throughout most of our evolutionary history. Beings that evolved feelings of enjoyment during hard work coped better with this difficulty. This is fortunate because living an examined life, finding happiness, and ensuring the survival of the species is hard work, but we must undertake it. It is good to know we will enjoy it.
2. Positive psychologists find four categories of life goals: 1) work and achievement; 2) relationships and intimacy; 3) spirituality and religion; 4) generativity / legacy leaving. Find the goals that you can best achieve. Find balance among them. Include philosophy in the list of goal number three and use it as a guide to do all of this. Happiness comes from coherence among the three levels of personality traits towards ones life goals. Explore the world. Explore yourself. Find the intersection between your interests, your strengths, and your opportunities to find a fulfilling purpose. Know thyself and strive for life-long happiness.
3. There are six time perspectives you can have on your life: 1) past - positive events; 2) past - negative events; 3) present - hedonism; 4) present - fatalism; 5) future - goal oriented; 6) future - worry oriented. Recognize the benefit of focusing predominantly on 1 and 5 with some 3 for energizing enjoyment. Learn from 2 when it happens. Do not believe in 4; it is irrational. When 6 arises, use 5 to make a plan, and 1 to believe you will achieve it.
4. Balancing safety vs. exploration is regulated by a “thermostat” of your genes x your environment. Stable and enduring feelings of safety come from stable and enduring attachment figures. Parents, then friends, then romantic partners play these roles of attachment figures throughout one's life. Three patterns emerge for finding safety (which leads to exploration): 1) avoidance - too reliant on self; 2) clinging - too reliant on others; 3) secure - just right. Work on your emotional behavior to become a stable and enduring attachment figure for others. Feel safe from your secure attachments. Explore the world to bring more to your life and the lives of others.
5. Happiness can also be understood as the absence of pain – pain of body, confusion, scorn, worry, unfulfilled desire. Avoid pain not by sitting still, but by actively seeking life. Remember the Buddhist mantra while seeking; pain in life is unavoidable, suffering over that pain is a choice. Choose your cognitive appraisals and your focus to stop wallowing in the emotion of suffering.
6. Nurtured childhoods train empathy, reciprocity, cooperation. Stressful childhoods train fending for yourself, watching your back, competition. Both skills are needed in a society where tit-for-tat behavior strategies must lead with cooperation but punish transgressions.
7. Cooperation, subsuming to groups, means not giving in to the instant gratification of the self. Self-control / delayed gratification correlates strongly with personal success. It can be improved with stable, predictable environments, building the mental capacity to control your attention and thoughts, and gaining wisdom about which actions balance the needs of self and society in the short term and the long term.
8. Adversity may be required for growth - it is certainly an opportunity. Do not try to cope with adversity by avoidance, by denying events, or blunting emotions through substance abuse or distraction - the adversity will only return in the long term. You must cope with crises by direct action to fix them, or reappraisal to get your thoughts right. You emerge from introspection when you develop internal consistency / reflective equilibrium. You triumph over adversity when you get your thoughts right.
9. Getting your thoughts right requires critical thinking. It requires rational data over intuition and emotion. It requires less dogma, less authoritarianism, more curiosity, more open-mindedness, more conscientiousness. It requires seeing past cognitive biases such as framing, priming, loss aversion, etc. It requires introspective ability, and being neither over- nor under-confident. Getting your thoughts right is hard work. This is why industriousness in childhood (jobs, chores, sports) is the best predictor of adult mental health. Getting your thoughts right leads to secure high self-esteem, confidence, success at meeting others needs, of bonding with groups, of wanting more cooperation. Coping by avoidance leads to insecurity, vulnerability to further crises, narcissistic facades, an inability to meet group needs, a fear of being left behind, less cooperation, more competition. Secure high self-esteem is bored by or detests low things. Secure high self-esteem admires other great things and studies them to become rich in cultural, social, moral, cognitive, and aspirational capital. It is driven by a desire to know, a love of wisdom, a philosophy. It is not driven by fear, by hope of evasion. In a life filled with secure high self-esteem, more and more becomes interesting and less and less becomes boring. In this world, life is worth living forever.
Do you have a favorite? Do you disagree with any of these? Do you have a candidate for a 10th, 11th, or 12th aphorism? Let me know in the comments below. I'm always looking for ways to hone and expand this Evolutionary Philosophy. I'm always looking for more ways that life can make sense.