It's one of the books you would read in a couple of days but needs a lifetime to absorb. I've read the first book –The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck– of the series last year, but it didn't make the same impact as this one. I presume it's because of my lack of internalization. This one has been on my to-read list since it came out, but the actual trigger was a random retweet. First, it led me to Mark's blog. I think it was the first time I've spent two hours on a website that contains no-bullshit material. Then I skimmed my highlights on the first book, and they made much more sense. There's also a great post that summarizes the point of it. This book, however, is a next-level guidance to tame your existential crisis. It brings up many uncomfortable truths that we try to avoid in our daily lives and offers guidance on dealing with them. As Mark says, "Pain is the universal constant of life." We can either choose to suffer from it or grow by experiencing and eliminating it.
Part 1: Hope
One day, you and everyone you love will die. And beyond a small group of people for an extremely brief period of time, little of what you say or do will ever matter. This is the Uncomfortable Truth of life. And everything you think or do is but an elaborate avoidance of it. We are inconsequential cosmic dust, bumping and milling about on a tiny blue speck. We imagine our own importance. We invent our purpose—we are nothing. Enjoy your fucking coffee.
We care about what's going on around us because deep down, we need to feel a sense of importance to avoid the uncomfortable truth. Projecting that sense of importance onto the world around us gives us hope. Without hope for a better future, we will start feeling meaningless.
To build and maintain hope, we need three things: a sense of control, a belief in the value of something, and a community.
"Control" means we feel as though we're in control of our own life, that we can affect our fate.
"Values" means we find something important enough to work toward, something better, that's worth striving for.
And "community" means we are part of a group that values the same things we do and is working toward achieving those things.
Self-control is an illusion
Over the years, we developed a classical assumption to interpret human behavior. If you are organized and successful, that means you can control your emotions and focus on work instead of binge watching or abusing video games. That means emotions cause all our problems and swooping them up would clean up the mess.
The book goes through Elliot's story, the man who had a brain tumor, and the removal of it destroyed his life. The operation harmed the part which makes us emotional creatures. Without emotions, we lose the sense of empathy, and ability to judge our actions on the road to something better.
The fact is that we require more than will-power to achieve self-control. It turns out that our emotions are instrumental in our decision making and actions. We just don't always realize it.
Feeling Brain and Thinking Brain
Our "consciousness car" has two travelers: a Thinking Brain (conscious thoughts, calculation, reasoning) and a Feeling Brain (desires, impulses, emotions). As opposed to the classical assumption, it turns out our Feeling Brain sits on the driver seat. Thus, we are moved to action only by emotion.
That leads to the simplest and most obvious answer to the timeless question, why don't we do things we should do?
Because we don't feel like it.
Self-control is an emotional problem. Even worse news is emotional problems can only have emotional solutions.
In the meantime, the Thinking Brain sits in the passenger seat and acts as the navigator. It's the supporting character, yet it imagines itself as the hero. It can't control the Feeling Brain, but can suggest shortcuts or more rational choices while taking action.
Sometimes the feeling brain takes careless actions based on emotions and feeling brain doesn’t contradict too much because it wants to live. If they can’t get along it leads to a bigger problem that could end up in a total destruction. So the thinking brain justifies bad decisions of the feeling brain, thus we don’t feel bad.
I deserve an ice-cream because I worked hard today.
Establishing the illusion
An healthy communication between two brains can only be achieved through a sensible bargain. Although the Thinking Brain doesn't drive the car, it's the one who draws the map. It's in charge of interpreting the meaning of our impulses and feelings. It can analyze and challenge them to prepare a better route. At the end of the day, the Feeling Brain needs to believe it's getting a good deal. It needs to believe it's worthy of doing logical actions, it deserves to live good experiences instead of a chain of self-destruction.
Newton's Law of Emotions
This chapter paints Isaac Newton –who had a lonely and loveless childhood– as the explorer of our inner worlds. Based on his experiences, he comes up with three laws of emotion.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite emotional reaction. Our experiences create moral gaps. It leads us to think that we don't deserve what just happened to us. Both positive and negative. Our Feeling Brain acts toward the experiences that relieve pain hence they are more desirable.
Our self-worth equals the sum of our emotions over time. When moral gaps persist for a long enough time, they normalize. We surrender and undervalue ourselves as the creep who deserves everything. The opposite applies, and both are narcissistic.
Our identity will stay our identity until a new experience acts against it. When our Feeling Brain feels something, our Thinking Brain constructs are narrative to explain it. Those narratives stick with us and define us, unless we have experiences that shows the opposite. The only way to change our values is to have experiences contrary to our values. This is why there's no such thing as change without pain, no growth without discomfort.
How to make all your dreams come true
In this chapter, we are creating a religion. Then we drain the fuck out of the people who believe in it. Sounds familiar?
Sell hope to the hopeless. Promise ambitions outcomes to the people living in hopeless conditions.
Choose your faith. There are three types of religions.
Spiritual: supernatural beliefs, high risk / high reward, lifetime / afterlife.
Hope: a better next life. This world and life is fucked, so we better behave and deserve a better place (heaven, reincarnation) after we die.
They were popular because 99% of the population had no hope, till recently.
They last very long hence supernatural beliefs can never be proven or disproven.
Ideological: natural world, scoped to this life, sets the trends for the decades.
They find an an explanation on why everything is fucked, and create a solution for it.
If we adopt certain values, our lives in this world will be better.
They are testable and verifiable in small specimen. But still rely on faith since it's hard to adopt "vegan-ism" all around the world.
Interpersonal: from a person, or group of people.
"Every Sunday, millions of people come together to stare an empty field. The field has white lines painted around it."
Celebrity fandom, sports, politics, relationships are forms of interpersonal religion.
It brings the belief of "some other person will bring us salvation and happiness."
Preemptively invalidate all criticism or outside questioning.
Find a common enemy and polarize society based on their beliefs. You are either one-of-us or one-of-them.
"If you don't support the war, then you are terrorist!"
"If you don't support capitalism, then you are a communist!"
Common enemies create unification.
Fighting with them gives us hope.
Those "who get it" will save the world, those "who don't get it" will destroy it.
Ritual sacrifice for dummies.
Rituals connect people who believe in same religion.
Most of them are developed for alleviation of guilt.
You exist!, and have to be grateful for someone and look for a way to make your existence meaningful.
Promise heaven, deliver hell.
The more religion promises salvation, enlightenment, and other rewards, the more people feel guilty. What did they to deserve all this!? Then there comes the cycle of psychological abuse.
The pain never ends! If everything were perfect and great, there'd be no reason to follow anybody. No religion will ever make you feel and peaceful all the time. No country will ever feel completely fair and safe...
Prophet for the profit.
Now that you have followers, it's time to abuse them. Just say the word and you have what you want.
The paradox of god value
Every religion has a god value at the top of its value hierarchy. It is the lens through which people interpret all other values. The believers view all other things through the prism of the god value. They will only be respected and loved if they live according to it. It can be money, freedom, love, or even themselves.
As the religion grows, it goes through a shift on its god value. Instead of solving problems and support the process, it focusses on maintaining the status quo. The god value becomes maintaining the power. This is the moment we lift our heads up and wave the fancy dressed gentlemen entering through the door: Mr. Corruption.
Hope is fucked
This chapter builds up based on Nietzsche's master/slave moralities, "amor fati", and Superman.
Master morality is based upon strength: I deserve to be rich and powerful because I worked my ass of. It's the intrinsic desire to create moral gaps between me and the world around me. And I'm on top. (Right wing)
Slave morality is based upon weakness: I deserve to be threated the best because I suffer. Intrinsic desire to create equal conditions to alleviate suffering. (Left wing)
Both are fundamental parts of our Feeling Brain.
Religions are build on top of those moralities, and they've created conflicts throughout the history. However, not having evident proofs to show they are actually working makes them "distrustful."
God is dead
Then something happened around the 17th century. Humanity discovered the best religion of all time. It's evidence based, open to everybody, and can improve upon itself. It's called science, and its god value is evidence.
Nietzsche foresaw the technological improvements will stop blindly worshipping a supernatural power –the old friend, god. Eventually, each of us become a god on our own hence we have power to create. This, however, leads to nothing but repetitive confrontations of the uncomfortable truth. This makes us unhappy, crave for more power, and be a warmonger.
That's what Zarathustra meant by "God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?"
No matter what they're based on, religious beliefs will conflict unless they destroy each other. Each destruction will lead to creation of new religions. But new religions are not created by the god, nor they are for the god. They are between gods, and gods are us.
Yes, hope is fucked. Long live "amor fati."
Hope is fucked, because it's exactly what destroys the world. Hope is not only the driver for good ideologies. Nazis also have hope, communists as well. Presence of hope would create nothing but conflicts among the communities. Therefore, hope is destructive.
Nietzsche believed we must look beyond hope, beyond or values, beyond good and evil. And start with "amor fati", the unconditional acceptance of all life and experience. Experience of high and low, experience of meaningful and dull.
Hope for nothing.
Hope for the suffering that comes with freedom.
Hope for the pain comes from happiness.
Hope for the wisdom comes from ignorance.
Hope for the power comes from surrender.
Then act despite it.
This is our challenge, our calling: to act without hope. To not hope for better. To be better. In this moment, and the next.
Everything is fucked. And hope is both the cause and the effect of that fuckedness.
The uncomfortable truth can both prison, or set you free. It's up to you how you interpret and act accordingly.
We and everyone we know will die.
Nothing we do will matter on a cosmic scale.
There's no reason not to be kind, respectful, and work to make progress.
A man is a bridge between a beast and a superman. I love those who do not know how to live. For the ones who cross over.
Part 2: Everything is Fucked
Immanuel Kant was living the productivity hacker's wet dream. He had a punctual schedule:
5 -> 8 wake up and write
8 -> 12 teach at uni
13 -> 15 walk through the same way to get back to home
He was an intellectual powerhouse. He didn't give a fuck about hope. His work is a product of pure logic and reason. He reinvented moral philosophy from top the bottom, and influenced a lot of changes in history.
To understand Kant, we need to understand maturity.
Children act on pure pleasure
Adolescents follow a set of principles to reach to a pleasure
Adults follow principles no matter the outcome is
Maturity is acting by values without expecting anything in return. You are honest because you value honesty, not because you're afraid of punishment. What matters are a person's intentions.
Parenting is basically following kids around for several decades to make sure they don't accidentally kill themselves.
– A friend of Mark
Teach your children life is more complicated than their impulses and desires. Learning this in adulthood is much more painful and hard to cope with. Acceptation of not getting everything you want and not being at the center of the universe.
Bargaining (if-this-then-that) is the adolescent mindset. They shape up their values based on getting good at bargaining so they'll get what they want.
Adults adopt unconditional values. Best way to teach someone is to lead by example. Trust, respect, and love unconditionally. They'll understand the value when they're ready.
Parents and teachers fail to make this happen as they too, are in the bargaining mindset. Especially when they are in relationships raise upon mutual benefit and selfishness.
Kant's Formula of Humanity
Consciousness is what distinguishes humans from other living creatures.
Our conscious helps us to understand the nature, overcome complexities, and create even more complex systems.
The most fundamental moral duty for every mature human being should be the preservation and growth of the collective conscious.
Act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, by no other means.
Don't manipulate, treat, enslave people just because you'll gain something at the end.
Unlike any other moral systems or codes, the formula of humanity does not rely on hope.
The only logical way to improve the world is through improving ourselves by growing up and being more virtuous.
Your ability to be honest, respectful, caring against yourself will also improve how you interact with others and influence them to do the same.
Dignity and respect over all religions.
Pain is the universal constant
Our emotional reactions to problems are not determined by the size of them. Rather, our minds minimize or amplify our problems to the scale of stress we expect to experience.
Protecting people from adversity doesn't make them happier. It just makes them more insecure.
The Blue Dot Effect
Blue-purple dots experiment. Participants are asked to choose blue dots in a screen which shows dots within a blue-purple spectrum. As experiment started to show less blue dots, people tend to interpret purple-ish colors as blue. Because they were looking for blue dots.
The more we look for threats, the more we'll see them regardless of how safe or comfortable our environment actually is.
Mark suggests to adapt an anti-fragile system discussed by Nasim Taleb. There are fragile and robust systems, which show breaking or resilient behavior against the troubles that they experience. However, an anti-fragile gains from stressors and external pressures: what doesn't kill us makes us stronger.
Pain avoidance makes us more fragile, learning from pains adapting ourselves to live in a world with more of them makes us more anti-fragile.
Actual buddhist meditation
Story of Thich Quang Duc, who set himself on fire and not even raised an eyebrow. Who didn't have access for fancy apps to install and go after the pursuit of happiness.
There's no end, or getting good at meditation. It's training your mind for anti-fragility. Sit, observe and sustain the never ending flow of pain, and don't let "self" to get sucked away.
Since pain is the universal constant of life, the opportunity to grow from pain is also a constant in life.
Pain is the source of all value. It's always there. We can choose to suffer from it, by avoiding and pursuing happiness. Or we can choose to grow by using it, by facing, experiencing and getting anti-fragile.