Dying inside – what to learn

“Dying Inside” is a science fiction novel written by Robert Silverberg, published in 1972. The protagonist of the story, David Selig, possesses the ability to read minds, a power that he has had since childhood. Over the course of the novel, Selig’s telepathic abilities start to wane, leading to a crisis of identity and purpose.

In the context of existentialist philosophy, the fading of Selig’s telepathy can be interpreted in several ways. On one hand, the loss of his extraordinary abilities is an allegory of the human condition – the inevitability of aging and the resulting loss of skills and faculties, the fear of irrelevance, and the struggle to find meaning and purpose as one’s place in the world shifts.

Selig’s talent for mind-reading, while giving him the advantage of understanding others, has ironically isolated him from forming genuine connections. His gradual loss of telepathy symbolizes the existential idea of confronting one’s own solitude in the universe. The realization that he is losing his powers forces Selig to confront his fears, explore his relationships, and grapple with his identity. This is reminiscent of the existentialist theme of authenticity, of facing one’s true self, stripped of pretenses and illusions.

Additionally, his loss of power is a testament to existentialist ideas about freedom and responsibility. As his abilities fade, Selig is forced to engage with the world in a more direct and conventional manner, like everyone else. He is no longer able to hide behind his telepathy; he is confronted with the freedom to make choices without the crutch of his former abilities, and with that freedom comes the weight of responsibility.

In a broader sense, “Dying Inside” is a meditation on the human condition, exploring themes of isolation, identity, freedom, fear of obsolescence, and the search for meaning—themes that are central to existentialist philosophy. It is a potent reminder that our talents and abilities do not define us; it’s our actions, choices, and relationships that truly shape our existence.

Confronting existential anxiety: Insights from Dostoyevsky, Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard

Existential anxiety is a common experience for many individuals today. We all get it one day. It is the feeling of being overwhelmed by the inherent meaninglessness of existence, the fear of death, and the futility of our actions. It’s a feeling that can be incredibly difficult to deal with, but it can also be a valuable opportunity for growth and self-discovery.

Many philosophers and authors have explored this theme and offered insights on how to deal with this type of anxiety. Dostoyevsky, Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard, all have written about how to overcome this inner turmoil. Their works provide us with valuable tips on how to deal with existential anxiety in today’s world.

One of the key insights from these philosophers is the importance of confronting our own responsibility. Yes, just face it right on, damn it. Dostoyevsky suggests that true redemption can only be found by facing up to our own guilt and seeking forgiveness. This means that we should take responsibility for our actions and accept the consequences of them. In doing so, we can find a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives.

Sartre argues that the human condition is characterized by a constant state of anxiety. He suggests that this anxiety can be overcome by embracing our freedom and taking ownership of our actions. By accepting our freedom, we can take control of our lives and find a sense of purpose.

Camus presents the idea of the “absurd” as a fundamental aspect of human existence. He argues that the only way to overcome the anxiety and despair that comes with recognizing the absurdity of life is to embrace it and find meaning in the struggle itself. This means that we should accept that life is not always going to make sense and that it’s okay to not have all the answers.

Nietzsche suggests that by embracing the idea of eternal recurrence, individuals can overcome the fear of death and the futility of existence. By accepting that our lives will recur again and again, we can find solace in the knowledge that our actions will have significance in the long run. This means that we should focus on the present and make the most of the time we have.

Finally, Kierkegaard argues that the best way to deal with existential anxiety is to fully embrace one’s own individuality and accept the responsibilities that come with it. He suggests that by fully embracing our own existence, we can overcome the anxiety that comes from failing to do so. This means that we should embrace our unique selves and live authentically.

In conclusion, dealing with existential anxiety can be a challenging task, but by taking inspiration from these philosophers, we can learn to confront our own responsibility, embrace our freedom, accept the inherent meaninglessness of existence, embrace the idea of eternal recurrence, and fully embrace our own existence and responsibilities. By doing so, we can find a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives and overcome feelings of anxiety and despair.

The Karamazovs on Stage: A Study in Goffman’s Dramaturgical Perspective

Individuals are engaged in a constant process of positioning themselves in relation to one another.

Erving Goffman, “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life”.

Erving Goffman’s work on the presentation of self in everyday life can provide valuable insights into the characters of Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. In his book, “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,” Goffman argues that individuals are constantly performing in order to present a certain image of themselves to others and that these performances are heavily influenced by the social context and the expectations of the audience.

When examining the characters of the Brothers Karamazov, we can see how Goffman’s theories apply to their actions and interactions. For example, the character of Dmitry Karamazov is constantly performing in order to present himself as a romantic and passionate man, even going so far as to seduce and abandon a woman, only to later try to win her back with grand gestures. In this way, Dmitry’s actions can be seen as an attempt to present a certain image of himself to others and to gain their approval and admiration.

Similarly, Ivan Karamazov presents himself as a rational and intellectual man, but his internal conflicts and struggles with faith reveal that this self-presentation is not entirely authentic. Ivan’s rejection of God and his idea of the Grand Inquisitor can be seen as an attempt to present a certain image of himself as a free-thinker and nonconformist, while his moral struggles with the concept of evil ultimately reveal that this self-presentation is a facade.

Alyosha Karamazov also presents himself as a religious and compassionate person, but his initial struggles with faith and temptation reveal that this self-presentation is not entirely authentic either. Despite this, it is through small acts of kindness, such as the onion given by Grushenka, that Alyosha’s true self is revealed, and his inner turmoil is resolved.

Goffman’s theory can also be applied to the character of Fyodor Karamazov, the father of the Karamazov brothers. Fyodor presents himself as a wealthy and successful businessman, but his moral decay and lack of true connections with his sons reveal the emptiness of this self-presentation.

Through the characters of the Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky illustrates the ways in which individuals use self-presentation to navigate their societal roles and relationships. By understanding Goffman’s theory, we can gain a deeper understanding of the complex inner lives of the Karamazov brothers and the societal pressures that shape them.

I am of course only scratching the surface here. It is more of a reminder that the big thinkers in sociology still can be relevant.

The Depths of the Human Condition: A Comparative Study of Ivan and Zosima with Nietzsche’s Zarathustra and Camus’ Meursault

In Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov,” the characters of Ivan and Zosima represent two different perspectives on the human condition. Ivan, with his strong intellect and reason, struggles with the idea of a God who allows for the suffering of innocent people. He ultimately rejects the idea of God and religion, leading to feelings of isolation and despair. On the other hand, Zosima, a monk, embodies the principles of compassion, love, and community. He believes in a God who loves and forgives and encourages others to do the same.

These two characters can also be compared to literary figures from other works. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, from “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” also grapples with the idea of God and the suffering of humanity. He ultimately rejects traditional religious beliefs and embraces the idea of the “superman” or “overman,” who creates his own morality and purpose. Similarly, Camus’ Meursault from “The Stranger” also struggles with the meaning of life and the idea of God in the face of suffering and death. He ultimately embraces the concept of the absurd, in which life has no inherent meaning and one must create their own purpose.

While Ivan, Zosima, Zarathustra, and Meursault all come to different conclusions about the human condition and the existence of God, they all share a common thread of searching for truth and meaning in a chaotic and suffering world. Through their struggles and insights, we as readers can learn important lessons about the importance of self-reflection and the search for meaning in our own lives.

One lesson is the danger of becoming too entrenched in our own perspectives and beliefs, as Ivan does. His rejection of God and religion leads to feelings of isolation and despair. It is important to constantly question and challenge our own beliefs but to also be open to the perspectives and beliefs of others.

Another lesson is the importance of compassion, love, and community in our lives, as exemplified by Zosima. The human condition is often difficult and suffering is a part of life. But by reaching out to others and connecting with them, we can find solace and meaning in our shared experiences.

Additionally, from the characters of Zarathustra and Meursault, we can learn about the importance of creating our own morality and purpose in life. It is easy to fall into the trap of following societal norms and expectations, but ultimately, each individual must find their own meaning and purpose in life.

In conclusion, through the characters of Ivan, Zosima, Zarathustra, and Meursault, “The Brothers Karamazov,” “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” and “The Stranger” offers profound insights into the human condition and the search for meaning in a suffering world. These literary figures serve as a reminder to constantly question and challenge our own beliefs, to find compassion and community in others, and to create our own morality and purpose in life.

From Isolation to Connection: The Role of Active Love in The Brothers Karamazov

Active love is a powerful tool that can help us to overcome emotional obstacles and build stronger relationships. It is about making a conscious effort to reach out to others, even when we don’t feel like it, and being open to receiving love in return. In the novel “The Brothers Karamazov,” the character of Alyosha serves as a powerful example of active love in action.

Phil Stutz and Barry Michels, in their book “The Tools: Transform Your Problems into Courage, Confidence, and Creativity,” describe active love as a way to break through isolation and reconnect with others. They argue that when we are experiencing emotional pain or difficulties, it is easy to withdraw and become isolated. Active love is a way to break through this isolation and reconnect with others. Similarly, Erich Fromm in his book “The Art of Loving” also describes love as a skill that can be learned and developed, and it is essential to human well-being.

In “The Brothers Karamazov,” we see Alyosha embodying this concept of active love. Despite the pain and suffering caused by his family, he actively chooses to love and care for his brothers, Dmitri and Ivan. He reaches out to them, offers support and understanding, even when they are at odds with each other. He also tries to mediate between them, to help them reconcile and heal their relationship.

Alyosha also demonstrates active love in his relationship with Lise, a young girl who is suffering from a terminal illness. Rather than see her as a sick and dying child, he chooses to see her as a person with feelings and needs. He actively listens to her, offers her words of encouragement, and helps her to find meaning and purpose in her life. He also comforts her and gives her hope, despite her condition.

Furthermore, Alyosha’s active love is shown in his actions as a monk and spiritual guide. He offers spiritual guidance and support to the sick and suffering members of his community. He visits the prisoners in the local jail, he helps the poor and the needy, and he offers comfort and solace to those who are going through difficult times.

One of the most striking examples of active love in “The Brothers Karamazov” is Alyosha’s relationship with Ivan. Ivan is struggling with his own inner turmoil, and Alyosha actively chooses to reach out to him, to understand him, and to offer him support and guidance. Ivan is skeptical of love, and he expresses his views about the cruelty of the world, the suffering of children, and the problem of evil. Despite this, Alyosha does not give up on him, and he continues to reach out to him with active love. He listens to Ivan’s doubts and struggles, and he tries to help him find meaning and purpose in his life. He reminds Ivan of the power of love, and how it can overcome the darkness and despair.

Eckhart Tolle in his book “The Power of Now” also describes the power of being present in the moment and how it can lead to a more fulfilled and loving life. Tolle argues that living in the present moment can help us to connect with others and the world around us in a more meaningful way. This is something that Alyosha embodies as well. He chooses to be present in the moment, to be attentive to the needs of others, and to offer them a listening ear and a loving heart.

In a world where many people talk about love but few people act on it, Alyosha serves as a powerful example of active love in action. His actions show us that love is not just a feeling, but it is also a choice. It is something that we can actively choose to do, even when we don’t feel like it. By following Alyosha’s example, we can learn to break through our own isolation and reconnect with others. We can learn to offer love and support to those who need it, and in turn, we can learn to receive love and support in return.

In addition to the authors already mentioned, Tara Brach, a renowned psychologist and author of “Radical Acceptance” and “True Refuge,” also emphasizes the importance of active love in her teachings. Brach emphasizes the idea of radical self-compassion, which involves actively choosing to love and accept ourselves, even in difficult moments. She encourages us to move beyond self-judgment and criticism and to actively cultivate a sense of love and compassion towards ourselves.

When we actively choose to love ourselves, we create a foundation for loving others. Brach states that, “Loving ourselves is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation.” By actively choosing to love ourselves, we can break through the cycle of self-criticism and negative thoughts, and instead, we can focus on actively loving and caring for ourselves and others. In conclusion, active love is a powerful tool that can help us to overcome emotional obstacles and build stronger relationships. “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky, serves as a powerful example of active love in action and it teaches us the importance of actively choosing to love and connect with others, even in the face of hardship and suffering. By following the examples of Alyosha Karamazov, Phil Stutz and Barry Michels, Tara Brach, Erich Fromm and Eckhart Tolle, we can learn to break through our own isolation, and build stronger and more meaningful relationships with others.

From Socrates to Father Zosima: The Importance of Being True to Oneself and avoiding bullshitting (yes, a cognitive term)

For centuries, people have been debating the concept of being a “bullshitter.” Harry Frankfurt’s book “On Bullshit” finally gave a deeper exploration into this idea, defining it as someone who isn’t concerned with truth or falsehood, but simply with impressing or manipulating their audience. This emphasis on outward presentation can have various damaging outcomes.

Socrates and Father Zosima, two figures from the past, real and fictional, shared their wisdom about truth and deception. Socrates believed that real understanding could only come from sincere investigation, while Father Zosima, a monk and spiritual leader, told people to not lie to themselves, stressing the need for honest self-reflection and genuineness. Both figures share the idea that understanding oneself and the world around us requires honesty, and that by lying to ourselves or bullshitting, we are hindering our ability to gain insight into our own thoughts and emotions.

Similarly, Frankfurt’s concept of bullshitting and Vervaeke and Hall’s discussion of simulated thinking and bullshitting oneself (see links below) are related to the lack of regard for the truth and an emphasis on making a good impression or manipulating others. When we lie to ourselves, we are not being truthful about our own ideas, emotions, and behavior, and this can separate our internal experience from our external state, thus hindering our ability to understand ourselves or others. Similarly, when someone engages in bullshitting, they are not being authentic or honest in their connections with others, which can lead to distrust and superficiality.

At the base of both issues is the same thing: a disregard for the truth and a lack of introspection. Socrates’s view on knowledge, Father Zosima’s advice to avoid lying to oneself, Frankfurt’s concept of bullshitting, and Vervaeke and Hall’s discussion of simulated thinking and bullshitting oneself all underscore the value of being true to oneself and straightforward about their thoughts and beliefs to gain insight into the world around them.

In today’s world where there is such easy access to information and the pressure to present oneself in a certain way is higher than ever, it is even more important to be aware of bullshitting and staying honest with ourselves. It is easy to get lost in shallow conversations or focus on impressing others, but ultimately, we will only gain an understanding of ourselves or others by engaging in thoughtful inquiry that is rooted in honesty. It’s important to remember that bullshitting is not limited to just verbal communication, it can be found in various forms of self-presentation such as social media or in one’s actions.

The idea of bullshitting can also be related to the meaning crisis discussed by Vervaeke. The constant pressure to present ourselves in a certain way can lead to a loss of connection to our true selves and a lack of understanding of what truly matters to us. This can contribute to the feeling of a meaning crisis and the struggle to find purpose and fulfillment in life.

In conclusion, the concept of bullshitting and the search for meaning in life are interconnected. By being honest with ourselves and staying true to who we are, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us. This can lead to a more fulfilling and meaningful life, free from the negative effects of bullshitting and self-deception. It’s important for us to remember the wisdom of Socrates and Father Zosima and to strive for genuineness and honesty in our interactions with others and ourselves.

Thank you John Vervaeke for helping me understand the modern notion of bullshitting. More in this chapter of his “Awakening from the meaning crisis”.

Please also see Jordan Green Hall and John Vervaeke discussing Bullshit and Simulated Thinking.

The Paradox of Free Will: Peter Watt’s “Blindsight” and the Human Condition

An electrifying science fiction novel, “Blindsight”, by Peter Watts, delves deep into the murky depths of consciousness, free will, and the meaning of existence. A group of scientists embarks on a quest to contact an alien species known as the “Others”. With each step, they come closer to grappling with the essential question: Is consciousness the essential ingredient for free will, or merely an emergent characteristic of complex systems? Through their interactions with the Others, our protagonists must confront the viewpoint that consciousness is no more than a universal property of all intelligent life. And yet, their search for a higher purpose leads them to conclude that the self is a mere construct and that any search for meaning in life may be futile. By journeying with the Others, ultimately they discover something far greater than themselves – something incomprehensible to human beings.

The novel delves into the depths of evolution, exploring the implications of a species that has evolved to the point of being almost unrecognizable from its human predecessors. The Others, being a highly evolved species, have become devoid of emotion and empathy, with no need for communication or a sense of self. It begs the question of what it really means to be human and whether evolution strives towards a future beyond humanity. On top of that, it raises questions about our own understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe, molded by our biology and evolution.

An iconic character in the novel is Jukka Sarasti, the vampire leader of the crew. Jukka, the predator is allegedly far more intelligent than baseline humans and his vampiric nature adds an additional layer of mystery. He is portrayed as a being with an altogether different form of consciousness and intelligence that challenges our preconceived notions of what is possible in terms of diversity in forms of consciousness and intellect.

The characters of “Blindsight” grapple with the ancient philosophical questions of free will and the meaning of existence, struggling to understand the degree of power they have over their lives and their place in the world. The novel echoes the famous words of Jean-Paul Sartre, who declared that “Man is condemned to be free,” and that our will is a constant choice, while also resonating with the insight of Arthur Schopenhauer, who believed that free will is an illusion and that all human action is determined by an irrational and blind force known as “the Will”.

The debate is timeless: do we have free will or not? Wrapped within a thrilling and suspenseful narrative, “Blindsight” forces readers to confront these timeless questions, ultimately challenging readers to reflect on their own sense of freedom and responsibility in order to gain an appreciation for their own agency and unique place in the universe.

Put simply: One of the best books I have read.

The image portrays some of the characters in the book.

Existentialism in times of deep distress

I hear quite a lot about positive psychology and its focus on the good things that make life not just tolerable, but worth living. Meanwhile, we live in a dystopic pandemic and I have read too much Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Dante, Huxley, Camus, and Nietzsche to accept the basis of this psychological movement as the only truth. Then I bumped into Jordan Peterson’s series where chapter 12 talks about some of these authors, and about existentialism. And Jordan is not happy about the positive psychology:

“Happiness is basically extraversion minus neuroticism, and we knew that 15 years ago.”

This means that, if this is true, we need to increase our chances of spontaneous joy and talking about things that interest us, while decreasing withdrawal in the face of uncertainty and being less irritable and upset when things go wrong.

Jordan carries on:

“People are not like the utopians think. We don’t want it easy. We don’t want it comfortable. We don’t want it good. And the reason for that is we’d be bored stiff. “

This, in turn, echoes, Dostoyevsky:

“Shower upon him every earthly blessing, drown him in a sea of happiness, so that nothing but bubbles of bliss can be seen on the surface; give him economic prosperity, such that he should have nothing else to do but sleep, eat cakes and busy himself with the continuation of his species, and even then out of sheer ingratitude, sheer spite, man would play you some nasty trick.”

So maybe, during these immense hardships, it might be the existentialists that can guide us. For the existentialists it is a fact that we are mortal, and vulnerable, and prone to suffering. Inescapably. And that we are willing to pay that price to have a life worth living. And if this is true, then we can turn the suffering of this miserable pandemic into something that makes life worth living. Life is not easy at all. But this is also how we grow. Meanwhile, #fuckcorona! It is a horrible, parallel universe that have changed nearly everything we know and feel. People are dying everywhere and we have never been this lonely and sad. But this is what it is to be human, too.

Let’s end this with Pascal and the existential ‘thrownness’:

“When I consider the brief span of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and behind it, the small space that I fill, or even see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces which I know not, and which know not me, I am afraid, and wonder to see myself here rather than there; for there is no reason why I should be here rather than there, now, rather than then.”

So please remember: We are here now, and we are here together. And as long as we are here, we can help each other. We are still alive.

Photo by Loren Gu on Unsplash

Awakening from the meaning crisis, in Swedish

In my last post, I wrote about a life crisis and my way of dealing with it. One of the many ways I chose to take the next step is by engaging in John Vervaeke’s video series “Awakening from the meaning crisis”. Every Monday, I discuss an episode with members of the Future Thinkers network. But to really understand it, I also record short versions of each episode in Swedish. I gain two things from this: I teach the material and need to know it, and the Swedish audience gets a quicker way of learning this rather complex material.

For example, here is my Swedish version of episode 8 where John task about Siddharta Gautama (Buddha) and mindfulness:

I don’t have an explicit plan with these Swedish versions but they help me. And if anyone else can benefit from them, that just makes me happier. To access the rest of my recordings, please visit my YouTube page.

You will find the links to both John’s full course and to Future Thinkers in the description of the video if you open it in YouTube. For anyone deeply interested in these questions, I highly recommend the full series from John and the watch parties and discussions with Future Thinkers.

A personal awakening from the meaning crisis

Sometimes, life doesn’t go as you have thought, and 2019 has delivered personal circumstances I had a hard time seeing coming. It has been really challenging, but in the midst of this, I noticed ways to get out of the mist.

The upside of such life-changing events has been that I have reached out to my network of people, that I both know and don’t know. Having a couple of beers with a wise fellow from the mentor program is one example and reaching out to the Farnam Street Learning Community is another example. The latter is a formidable network of people who are willing to pay to be members and engage in learning as much as possible about themselves and the world. I asked what others have done to move through the turbulence to see the sun again. The amount of wisdom I received is fantastic.

Via the Farnam Street Learning Community, I also saw the post where people were asked to list their most valuable YouTube channels, and why. One of them recommended Awakening from the Meaning Crisis by professor John Vervaeke. This is a truly remarkable series of videos, about an hour each, where he guides us in both cognitive science and everything from Plato, Jung, and many others. I wanted to binge-watch it to receive all the wisdom quickly but noticed I needed to pause after one or two episodes. The ideas are so fundamentally interesting and potentially life-changing that I will watch all of the chapters and see how it can change my life. John is right when he says we engage too much in bullshit, confirmation porn, and self-deception instead of building trusted networks and focusing on the things that are both true and meaningful.

I will continue to work with myself, but beneath all the noise caused by the above, I noticed that I am still me. It will take time to recreate myself, but with all the help I can receive from my friends and network, the ride will be smoother. Thank you for listening.

Photo by Christiaan Huynen on Unsplash.