Studies of Life

Learning by doing.

What are your personal truths?

04 August 2016 by Jim

Note for the long-time subscribers of this blog: This post is mostly about philosophical thinking, it’s not centred on investing, so you might want to skip it if that’s not your thing. 

After reading Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World, an excellent children’s book that’s also an introduction to the history of philosophy, I felt it might be quite useful to talk about a very important distinction about what truth means.

In the history of philosophy, it’s quite obvious that what is held to be true in one age or century can be deemed false a few decades later, so how much of an actual absolute truth is there really to find? Do we even have a deep, unchanging nature that philosophy can tell us about? According to French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, the answer is no.

«L’homme est condamné à être libre» (“Man is condemned to be free”) he says in his most famous book, because there is no eternal truth or meaning to hold on to. So everybody is free to make up their own meaning and everybody is completely responsible for the choices they make. Simply abdicating that responsibility by following some teacher or doctrine – religious or otherwise – means you are not living up to your potential as a free being. I’d add to this that to lead a philosophical life means precisely to think about the eternal questions and our own personal answers to them.

And thinking about those personal truths actually gave me an idea. These truths change over time, and they are the constituent parts of our world view. So analysing and listing those truths can be a way to – for the purpose of keeping a diary – make a kind of philosophical snapshot of your life at any given time. It also reveals much about you I’d say.

So what are those personal truths of yours? I’ll give you a glimpse of my own. Let’s proceed in three categories, to make things a bit more structured: the truths relating to me as an individual, those relating to the world around me, and those relating to my relationship with that world.

 

1 – Truths about me.

As a person, I am capable of more than my consciousness usually gives me credit for, i.e. I can surprise myself. I’m more resilient than I think. I am able to change my whole outlook on life and the world in a few years, and much of my conscious experience is affected by that outlook. Changing your outlook on life changes everything, and so nothing is actually permanent, not even our dearest certainties. For this reason, I currently do not believe in the relevance, for my personal life, of objective truth: only perceived reality matters. Just ask someone who commits suicide. Not a cheerful example, I know but still. Furthermore, I do not believe there is only only one logic or that Western-style rationalism is the only way to think, even though it is ingrained in myself. I think contradictions can sometimes be quite beautifully effective. I also think it pays to be focus on and get pleasure out of mundane, everyday things. We are happiest when we stop wanting more, even if few people can get to that state of mind.

2 – Truths about the world.

The world is in no way designed for human happiness; it isn’t designed, period. In the grand scheme of things, man does not matter. Vastness of the universe, blabla, you know the drill. But it’s actually true. Also, even in the small scheme of things, i.e. at the level of human civilisation, the world changes constantly without rhyme or reason. It does not give meaning to something or someone. And human civilisation’s development does not follow any clear or determined path. Bye bye, end of history and Fukuyama. History is instead propelled by broad tendencies and chance, and to a far lesser degree by people.

3 – Truths about the individual’s relationship with the world.

I have so far had an average amount of luck, i.e. I have been presented with an average amount of opportunity from the world, but I have been able to seize those opportunities well. It pays to be patient, careful and full of equanimity when you’re dealing with the world around you. It doesn’t owe you anything but will give you things regardless if you are patient enough. Like anyone else, I hold no special place in this world but, through careful use of my resources and faculties, I can live in agreement and peace with the world I live in, and derive pleasure as well as relative (cultural) significance from that existence.

Done.

Now that was quite a mouthful as you can see. But it’s interesting to spell out those beliefs. In the context of keeping a diary, it’ll be marvellous to read this 5, 10, 20 years from now, and see how those beliefs change. Will much of them survive? Or will I have different truths by then?

And what about your truths? Do you agree or disagree with any of my own?

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