Before taking my shot at the simple task of outlining a general philosophy for life, I have to credit Thomas Hurka and Daniel Klein for their influence in this piece. I am a man of the moment and most recently have enjoyed the content these individuals have produced. Thus their ideas have inevitably influenced what will follow. PS. This piece will ideally be followed by one on finding meaning in life so keep your eyes peeled.
So the circle with ‘you’ written in it below is a symbolic representation of you. Hopefully that wasn’t too obvious.
A good way to think of that circle is as the sum total of the experiences that make up your identity. They are all packed in that circle, from the first time you rode a bike to the last time you had to go to class. All of that is in there.
I’m sure you all know what pleasure is and if you learned anything from the ‘you’ circle, you can probably figure out what the ‘pleasure’ circle is.
The ‘pleasure’ circle is all those pleasurable experiences you could have in a lifetime. These are the experiences that in and of themselves make you feel good. This could be eating cake or making it, watching your favorite team win or your rival team lose, having sex or not having it. Whatever floats your boat.
Ideally you have figured out the pattern by now and the definition of the ‘knowledge’ circle will not come as a surprise. However, I may define ‘knowledge’ in a slightly unexpected manner.
I am going to define knowledge as those experiences that result in your inner reality matching the external reality. Thus knowledge is everything from understanding that grass is usually green to discovering general relativity. There are obviously levels to this s***, but you get the point. In both cases your inner reality gains some form of explanatory power (understanding) of the external reality (the world we observe). This relationship of the inner matching the external is knowledge. You may be wondering how this fits into a very general philosophy on contentment as for most us the pursuit of knowledge (epitomized by schooling) is not very enjoyable. Unlike experiences in the ‘pleasure’ circle, it is not the experience itself that leads to contentment in the ‘knowledge’ circle, but rather a lasting contentment from the side effects of that experience. It is indirect.
Ah yes the final circle, the ‘achievement’ circle. I’m impressed you have read this far. That in and of itself is an achievement.
The ‘achievement’ circle is in many ways the yang to the ‘knowledge’ circle’s yin. By this I mean that achievement can be understood as the inverse of knowledge. Where knowledge is matching of our internal reality to the external, achievement is the matching of the external to our internal reality. Great sentence, but what does that mean? Well say you have an idea, like Steve Jobs did about computers or something. That idea at first is only a part of your internal reality. Then you take action. These actions are experiences that much like those in the ‘knowledge’ circle are not in and of themselves pleasurable (staying up all night to find a bug in a program). However, these actions lead to effects that result in the external reality matching your internal reality. For Steve that was all of us carrying around iWhatevers. For you it can be winning a soccer game (internal reality is the idea that you want to win, experience is all of the training, matching is the winning of the game) or opening the next trendy PB&J restaurant (which may or may not be an internal reality of mine). In summation, achievement is the set of experiences that result in the external reality matching your internal reality, the opposite relational direction as knowledge.
Not all things are made equal. If you remember my line about there being ‘levels to this s***’, well here is where it comes into play.
The graph above shows the contentment returns to amount of experiences you have in each of the circles. As you can see ‘knowledge’ and ‘achievement’ have exponential returns. This is because if you spend a lot of time understanding the theory of general relativity you gain a lot more contentment than figuring out that grass is usually green. Similarly for ‘achievement’, you gain a lot more contentment from starting a business as compared to having the idea that you are going to make the bed and then making it. There are levels to this s*** and that is why ‘achievement’ and ‘knowledge’ are awesome. With ‘pleasure’ though, the returns are diminishing. If I eat 10 cakes in a row or have sex 10 times in a row, the tenth time is likely to be less pleasurable than first.
Putting it All Together
So we have the components of contentment and we know their returns, so how do they fit together? It’s rather simple actually. Each of us has the power to choose our identity (yes, I believe in free will) and thus we can put our ‘you’ circle on any of the other three experience circles.
This individual leads a very balanced life between ‘knowledge’, ‘achievement’, and ‘pleasure’. This I would argue is very rare to find in practice, but needless to say can serve as a nice first example. Imagine this person to be a small business owner who after watching his favorite team win proceeds to read a book on algorithmic efficiency. So what do we see in reality and who are we? We can begin to break down various lifestyles using this diagram and possibly begin to see which one we may want to lead. Next lets try identifying the various possible ‘yous’ that could be used to achieve contentment in life.
The Bilzerian Style
This would not be my top lifestyle choice. To put it nicely, you are missing out on the exponential returns of the ‘knowledge’ and ‘achievement’ circles.
The Academic and Entrepreneur
The Academic and Entrepreneur are opposite sides of the same coin, in the same manner as the ‘knowledge’ and ‘achievement’ circles.
The Academic spends their life matching their internal reality to the external, becoming an expert in their field of choice. The Entrepreneur spends their life matching the external reality to their internal reality, becoming the creator of the world of tomorrow. I am attracted to both of these lifestyles and I am sure you can guess why. As you may have noticed both the Academic and Entrepreneur are not exclusively ‘knowledge’ and ‘achievement’. I firmly believe that life requires some pleasure for the sake of pleasure. We can’t take ourselves too seriously, we really are just some random mess of atoms that just happens to breathe the sweet breath of consciousness. Take a moment and just enjoy that breath.
Everything That I Seem to Have Left Out
You may have noticed that thus far in my very general philosophy on contentment in life I seem to have left out such things as family, friends, ethics, and morality. Well I will take care of that right now with the Base of Morality, Ethics, Friends, and Family (BoMEaFF).
My theory is that we humans evolved as a social, community based species and as such to be happy we have to treat people well and spend time with our friends and family. If you don’t do that, it does not matter what else you are doing, it’s going to be d*** hard to achieve contentment. Thus all that we have discussed before is predicated on it occurring upon the BoMEaFF.