IS life pain?

I recently bought a tee-shirt bearing one of my favorite quotes from the movie, The Princess Bride.  The shirt reads, “Life is pain.  Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

This quote got me thinking, specifically about its first sentence.  Obviously, I bought the shirt because its message resonated with me, even if only as an expression of dark humor.  But really, on a deep, objective level, is it accurate?  I concluded that, depending on how one defines “pain,” as well as how generous one is toward poetic hyperbole, the quote expresses a useful insight into the nature of all living beings that are capable of action. Continue reading “IS life pain?”

Don’t text and drive, you moron!

“Don’t text and drive.  Be responsible.”

On I-95 in South Florida (and perhaps elsewhere), there are large LED signs stretching across the roadway that, when not providing traffic estimates, notices of lane closures, and “silver alerts”, display the above message, apparently as their default setting.

This seems entirely too tepid an exhortation given the subject matter.  In character, it’s a bit like a parent or teacher saying to two children engaged in a violent fistfight, “Come on now, guys, can’t we all just get along?”

I think it would be more appropriate if the sign read something along the lines of, “Don’t text and drive!  Don’t be a complete imbecile!”  Or perhaps even, “Don’t text and drive or we’ll kill you!” Continue reading “Don’t text and drive, you moron!”

A cosmic perspective in everyday life

It can be intimidating to consider the size, scale, and scope of the universe in space and time, and to compare it to the size and length of our everyday lives.  It can make many of our daily concerns seem not merely small and trivial, but utterly irrelevant on the scale of all that happens.  If we’re not careful, it can even drive us into nihilism, or something close to it.  On a cosmic scale, nothing we do ever really matters or seems at first glance to have an impact.  This can be daunting and disheartening.

While I think it’s not useful to go so far as to conclude that everything that happens to everyone is truly meaningless, I do think that taking a larger perspective—even a cosmic perspective—can be both illuminating and useful and might even make us approach life more rationally and more productively. Continue reading “A cosmic perspective in everyday life”

The “supernatural” does not, and cannot, exist

I might have written about this before, but I think it bears repeating, if only because it’s a point of personal irritation:  there’s no such thing as the “supernatural.”

Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not necessarily saying I think there are no such things as spirits, magic, deities, psychic powers, or the like.  I strongly suspect that none of these things does exist, but my point is about categories of thought and terminology, not about the reality of proposed phenomena, and the term “supernatural” is inherently pointless. Continue reading “The “supernatural” does not, and cannot, exist”

It’s unreasonable to expect “cures” for most diseases

I often encounter Facebook memes denouncing pharmaceutical companies with words to the effect of: “Big Pharma isn’t interested in making cures, they’re interested in making customers,” as if this were some deep insight into a grave moral failing on the part of the entire industry.  Now, I’m quite sure that there are perverse incentives and inappropriate goals scattered throughout the medical industry in general, from the level of the individual physician, to pharmaceutical manufacturers, to the insurance industry, and everywhere else in the healthcare field.  There’s little doubt that these injustices and inefficiencies gum up the works for everyone, making healthcare overall worse than it might otherwise be.  But simply to complain about the fact that most medications don’t “cure” our many modern ailments is to confess a misunderstanding of the nature of biology and medical treatment. Continue reading “It’s unreasonable to expect “cures” for most diseases”

Never hate your interlocutors

There’s a moment in “The Godfather: Part III” when Michael Corleone says to Vincent, Sonny Corleone’s hotheaded illegitimate son, “Never hate your enemies; it affects your judgment.”  These may be some of the most useful words in that whole excellent movie series, words that apply to the world and to human interaction generally, perhaps more than ever before in our modern world of politics and social media.

Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time on social media, at least when dealing with political and social issues, has seen the face of the problem this aphorism addresses.  Anyone who has followed politics has also seen it.  We tend to address our issues and disagreements in the real world as though they are zero-sum games—contests in which there can be only one winner and one loser, where any gain by the “other side” is a loss for “our side.”  Perhaps as an automatic defense against the distress of having to face our fellow humans in such a contest, we demonize our “enemies.”  Unfortunately, this approach quickly becomes counter-productive, because—as Michael Corleone rightly points out—to demonize others, to hate them, impairs our judgment.  If we see another person as inherently reprehensible, then to give him or her any ground, at any level, is to seem to reward what we perceive as evil and, given the zero-sum assumption, to penalize the good. Continue reading “Never hate your interlocutors”

A fiendishly cunning new plan for writing this blog

I’ve been having trouble trying to set the day of the week to work on this blog, Iterations of Zero.  I’ve long tried to commit myself to writing a post every Sunday for IoZ, just as I write a post for my main blog on Thursdays (except when I’m ill, as was the case two weeks ago).  Unfortunately, this hasn’t worked out too well.

The primary problem seems to be that, on Sunday mornings—the only morning on which I am consistently able to sleep in—with the whole day stretching ahead of me, I find it hard to discipline myself to start the day with a blog entry.  Putting the writing off until the afternoon, even if I set a specific time, doesn’t work too well, either, as any procrastinator would probably predict from long experience.  If I don’t get that writing done first thing in the day, the odds are good that I won’t get it done at all. Continue reading “A fiendishly cunning new plan for writing this blog”