One of the hardest questions I know: do we have power over our destiny? I will rephrase. To which extent are we controlled by our passions and indifference rather than a conscious choice? Which individual differences guide our decisions and luck? Can we learn our own identity? Can we learn to be better as human beings, not just better students and more effective performers? Today I selected some really cool articles for you to read but I do not address them here. So, make sure to read them here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Beyond common sense
What happens when common sense no longer can help us? In my content, I rely very heavily on scientific research and warn my audience each time I extrapolate using common sense. Because common sense is not to be trusted when dealing with hard questions. Common sense cannot currently explain huge things like dark matter and energy, very small things like certain results of quantum physics, and a destiny of a single human being. Why is that?
Our common sense is basically a statistical understanding of the world in which we live, based on our past experiences. Addressing the world we live in defines the scale of the experience. The statistical nature of our learning does not allow us to deal with a singular being or an event. In a way, it is easier to predict the choice of an entire nation than the choice of a single person. This makes us surprisingly free to choose our destiny without changing the destiny of our world.
Are our identity and destiny the same?
Even when balancing on the edge of religious questions, I prefer not to provide a religious judgment. Faith is definitely a part of our destiny, simply because it is part of our identity. No miracles are required to justify a singular event. There are simply so many very rare events that can happen, that some of them will almost certainly happen.
The bloodiest civil war in human history was the Taiping rebellion. A period in China roughly coinciding with the American civil war but 50 times (!) more deadly. Around 30 million dead. It started in a strange way. A simple clerk Hong Xiuquan did not pass the state exam, even though he was very competent and tried several times. He understood that the game was rigged, but then something strange happened. He fell ill for a while, and after the breakdown, he proclaimed the ruling class to be demonic. What followed with a religious war with fanatism, huge armies armed with rifles and muskets, mass extermination of certain minorities, and eventually very uneasy reconciliation.
A bloody war was destined to happen due to huge tensions in society and new military technology. However, it did not have to be a religious conflict. Quite the contrary. The wars of the three kingdoms for example were also extremely bloody, and were supercharged by charismatic leaders, but there was no real ideological conflict. In a similar way, Hong Xiuquan’s identity was shaped by his failures in the state exam. Yet the outcome of his breakdown was very strange and unexpected. Honestly, he was much more likely to become a member of a triad.
I think that our destiny can be colored by our identity, but certain events are almost inevitable.
Does our learning change anything?
It is still not clear if learning can make people better. Nostradamus predicted three deadly dictators (three antichrists that would plague mankind) in modern times. One was Napoleon, another one was Hitler, the third has not yet been revealed. Napoleon was a very smart and educated person. Hitler was very primal and unscholarly. Both were almost destined to lose like all high stake gamblers constantly raising the stakes. Did their identity change anything? Can the third antichrist be avoided? Can we foretell its identity?
All of Napoleon’s sophistication did not make his rule less bloody. All of Hitler’s folly did not make him less effective as a recruiter of scientists and businessmen. Living in Napoleonic France for an ex-aristocrat was certainly better than being a Jew in Nazi Germany. Most of us would prefer a guillotine in a city square over the gas chambers in concentration camps. Yet, does it really matter?
Is it a question of a form or of a substance? Learning can certainly provide a better form, but arguably the substance matters more. The identity of a gambler or his destiny is not changed by learning statistics. Medical doctors smoke and drink alcohol being fully aware of the consequences. Possibly they buy better beverages and use expensive cigars, but they still risk their lives with a full understanding of their actions.
An optimistic message?
What motivates people? It used to be greed, fear, and revenge. Yet I think our motivations are slowly changing. Millennials (but also people in my generation) are more motivated by curiosity, fulfillment, and acceptance. The reason is very simple: the boundaries between reality and imagination slowly disappear. So imaginary goals suddenly become almost as strong as the real ones.
We kind of said goodbye to our privacy, accepted full life gamification, and do not find online purchases of virtual goods strange. Our mobile devices are a continuation of our minds and bodies. An experience is as important for us as ownership of something physical, probably as important as religious virtue in the middle ages. But unlike the middle ages, we are very educated.
Does it make us more compassionate? Definitely not. If anything, our ability for compassion suffered. We address the avatar of another human being, instead of addressing the person.
Ethical and psychological education
I think we ventured too far from what makes us truly human. Computers are great, and I love them. I love learning new things and reading faster than people think. Yet, more and more, I read about the things that are not technical. I read history, biographies of certain people, psychology.
I earn to spend more time with my family, only this is increasingly harder. Anna is very busy with her own activities and students. My eldest needs to learn fast and a lot. The second son has friends his age with whom he wants to spend time. And my girl is watching youtube every time I go into her room. Even my cats died. And I work from home half of the time. So I am left with my computers most of the day, earning for human touch.
Is it possible to learn compassion? Certain Mahayana schools of meditation definitely try to do that. Mindfully focusing on every breath. Thinking about the common things between all living things. Trying to imagine life from the perspective of another being. Maybe combine this practice with actual learning of psychology and improvisation theater or volunteer work. There is a certain spell in it. If we do not turn on the news and do not visit social media, it might even work.
The economy of influencers deals with passion. The factual background, beauty, and depth of the ideas are less important. Influencers are hiding behind imaginary personas. Some appear to present a perfect life with flawless beauty. Others spark hate and fear, for example, news dealing with terrorists and fear of losing a job. The best influencers deal with human strengths, like curiosity or compassion. There is a group of influencers for any need and any taste.
The influencers and click baits repaced old-fashion advertising and lectures. Influencers compare options and explore trends, but even if they do a good job they underrepresent the factual data. Because facts spark boring controversy. Applying to passion gets a passionate response and that is not boring. That brings more attention and more clicks.
So basically our click economy makes us miserable. Especially facebook, increasing the depression score of each user to maximize clicks. Mobile phones by making us go away from each other into virtual worlds. Televisions by hours upon hours of mindless gazing and dreaming. They are not real. But they are the identity and the destiny of our generation.
Are we individuals?
We have very different items and hair styles, yet deep within… Are we so different? All of us speak English, even if it is a second or a third language. Our movies are made in Hollywood. Our games are endless copies and variations of the same dynamics. Even the music we listen to is usually not very original. There is a lot of noise on YouTube or TikTok, but it is very superficial and very global. People everywhere consume the same culture.
I claim that we are losing our individuality to globalization because of the economy of influencers and because the influencers copy each other. At the same time, we see deeper polarization, as the controversy is good for influencers.
There are things we can do. We can learn more, and get more independent of influencers. If we spend time in nature we get closer to other people and further from computers. Meditation and even music may improve our compassion. And if read and write we can influence the world differently.
There is a destiny for this world, as computers become more powerful. But we can color this destiny with our identity and uniqueness. Let us do this before it gets too late.