Nothing Matters. But That’s Not What Matters

“I wake up in the middle of the night and notice tears in my eyes. … I know that I’m not depressed; not anxious; I don’t even think I’m lonely. But what’s left? I can’t put my finger on it. It feels like the whole Universe is silent — that it’s right here, everywhere, inside of me, outside of me, […]

Evolution And The Myth Of The Selfish Human

Why do people do good things? Answer: “Because they benefit, stupid!” It hardly seems an exaggeration to say that it’s a truism in Western culture that human beings are self-interested animals driven by a desire to maximize pleasure or wealth or reproductive advantage. Many people just accept that this is how humans are and that they can’t be otherwise. […]

How Can Stories Be So Powerful?

A lot has been said recently about narratives. If you are at all interested in how humans understand reality, the term seems to show up everywhere Their omnipresence is well-deserved. Stories are unique devices for making sense of the world. It’s how our brains work. As cognitive scientist Mark Tuner has said: “Narrative imagining — story — is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief […]

How (Not) To Be An Atheist

It took Friedrich Nietzsche almost 40 years to lose his faith in God. In 1844, he was born into a long line of Lutheran clergymen on both sides of his family. His father was a local pastor known for his religious strictness. He hardly sold any books and lived in poverty. His brilliance was recognizedposthumously and he […]

Some Practical Thoughts On Unhappiness

“Tomorrow will be different”. When I feel lonely or out of place in Budapest, this is what I tell myself. It gives me hope. It tells me that my happiness will improve when my circumstances improve. Small problem: this is false. How does one alleviate unhappiness? Because we’ll have our portion of misery anyway, we’d do best to try to […]

Morals Are Objective

We can’t seem to decide whether moral principles are subjective or objective. On one hand, facts about right and wrong don’t seem to have the robust objectivity that facts about physics can boast. Philosophers have long noted an “is/ought distinction,” which delineates facts from values. Our values—what we feel to be good and bad, right and wrong—can […]

Rethinking Knowledge

In 1964, the state of Ohio tried to ban the film The Lovers because it involved “pornographic” material that was “obscene”. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. It’s hard to determine whether something counts as obscene. The term lacks clearly defined parameters. Yet, a decision needed to be made. Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward […]

Who Are You ‘Really’? Traits, Dispositions, And Vanishing Autonomy

Let’s get one thing straight. I am the most interesting thing in the universe. And so are you. So let’s think about who we are. I used to be doubtful about ‘who we are’ — about personality — as an overarching thing ‘over and above’ consistent regularities in behavior: “I am all these behavioral tendencies — to argue when I’m annoyed, drunk or tired and to […]

So You Think Humans Can’t Know Objective Reality

If there is one topic to which most philosophical — ‘deep’ — conversations I have with friends turn to, it’s the question of whether we — humans — can know reality as it is in itself. For example, many people have come across the idea that ‘the observer affects the observed’. That sounds catchy, but what does it mean? Something like this: in trying to […]

The Philosophical Argument for Strategic Ignorance

I’ve stressed the — underestimated — value of examining ‘deep’ questions several times. It’s essential to understand what makes you tick on a profound level and asking such questions can reveal your underlying motivations and values. However, some deep questions are better than others: not all of them can be answered. Those, you can safely ignore. Wittgenstein commands “The very idea of objective reality guarantees that such a picture will not comprehend everything. […]