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Eight Philosophical Questions
That Will Keep You Ahead of the Curve
“Philosophy begins in wonder.” ~Plato
1.) Do you really have free will, or is it just an illusion?
“We must recognize that we are puny and insignificant — primates running on hormones and synapses. But we must also recognize that we are powerful beyond belief, that each of our decisions reaches out into the future, and that our decisions define our future.” ~Jonny Thomson
The best way to look at the concept of free will is to compare it to the concept of time. Perceptually, time exists; actually, time is an illusion. Likewise, perceptually, we have free will; actually, free will is an illusion.
But this does not mean that time and free will are not useful. They are incredibly useful. They are, in fact, detrimental to our survival. Without the perception of time, we become disoriented. Without the perception of free will, we become chaotic. Without both, we are left without the ability to create meaning. And without meaning, we go mad.
2.) Is it worse to fail at something or to never make the attempt?
“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.” ~The Buddha
Life is too short to wallow in indecision, procrastination, and self-pity. Choose adventure over comfort. Change your relationship with failure. Embrace it as a steppingstone rather than a setback. Failure should not be avoided at the expense of growth. Growth should be embraced at the risk of failure.
Punch fear in the face. Get out of your own way. When you go all in, you go beyond. When you dive in, you transcend.
Failure is a whetstone. You are the blade. Sharpen yourself. As Jen Sincero said, “There is no riskier risk than refusing to risk at all.”
3.) Is there such a thing as a moral absolute? Or is morality relative?
“It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it.” ~Seneca
Best never to deal in absolutes. But there may be a way to objectively base morality in the concept of health. Health can be a valid benchmark for right/wrong, good/bad, moral/immoral. Without this benchmark, we cannot discern what is useful from what is not useful.
Because health is not a matter of opinion. Rather, it is dictated by an indifferent universe with universal laws that apply to everyone, despite our interests, biases, opinions, or beliefs. And this applies to everyone not only physically, but mentally and spiritually as well.
4.) How do you square the circle of knowing you will die?
“The thought that we must die, is the reason we must live well.” ~Pico Iyer
It will always be easier to die than to live. In the vastness of the universe death is the rule. Life is the exception to that rule. True warriors understand this. They sculpt their mind-body-soul by the rule. They sharpen it, hone it, make it a thing that is antifragile rather than fragile.
Reality is a juggernaut of death. On a long enough timeline, there are no timelines. Death eventually eats everything. But this is not a reason for ennui or base nihilism. Not at all.
True warriors don’t balk. They use death as a compass. They understand that death is a reason to celebrate life. Everything in life is made more meaningful because it will eventually end.
Happy is the soul that engages in unique, invigorating, and creative combat with death—and succeeds.
5.) Is it better to be poor doing work you love or rich doing work you dislike?
“If you follow your bliss, you will always have your bliss, money or not. If you follow money, you may lose it, and you will have nothing.” ~Joseph Campbell
Working for money is a work of labor; working for love is work as laboratory. Wealth then becomes relative to joy.
When you work for love, the world is a giant laboratory that you passionately navigate with your heart as a compass. Where others merely labor for the money to live, you’ll be risking your labor on love, and money comes as a side effect of doing what you love. This is enriching despite money.
Life is too short to remain a cog in a dysfunctional clockwork, no matter what the pay is. The speed of change is too fast to become stuck in a dead-end job.
Overcoming the speed of change may mean shooting yourself in the foot from time to time. Which makes adaptation, improvisation, and reorientation paramount. Stay sharp. Stay flexible. Keep the work you love to do always ahead of the work you do for money.
6.) What does it mean to live a good life?
“The difference between a good life and a bad life is how well you walk through the fire.” ~Carl Jung
Living a good life means living with passion and intensity. It means changing as much as possible to keep yourself ahead of the curve and to prevent your comfort zone from shrink-wrapping you. It means transforming yourself as much as possible to prevent horizons from becoming boundaries or safety nets from tripping you up and hindering your freedom.
As Nietzsche said, “The good life is ever changing, challenging, devoid of regret, intense, creative, and risky.”
A good life is not for the faint of heart. It’s not for people with wishbones where their backbone should be. It’s for people with courage, audacity, and insouciance. It’s for people with the physical adaptability, mental flexibility, and spiritual plasticity to self-overcome.
It’s for people who seek out challenging experiences at the edge of their comfort zone. These experiences will make you come alive. And coming alive is what it’s all about.
7.) Why should you kill Buddha if you meet him on the path?
“I don’t believe in anything you have to believe in.” ~Fran Lebowitz
Because any Buddha claiming to be the Buddha is false. Any Tao claiming to be the Tao is not the eternal Tao. Similarly, you should kill any notion of enlightenment in order to continue the process of enlightenment.
Having this ability is empowering because it keeps the human mind sharp and able to “entertain a thought without accepting it.” It’s a giant metaphor for keeping questions ahead of answers, humor ahead of hubris, and curiosity ahead of certainty.
A mind that can observe, creatively question, and then let go of the “answers,” is a mind that is less likely to get trapped in rigid constructs of thought.
8.) Are you ready to accept that everything you believed was a lie?
“Life is a bridge, cross over it, but do not build a house on it.” ~Indian proverb
Ask yourself: is it better to be slapped by the truth or kissed with lies? Most people will talk a big game and say, “I’d rather be slapped with the truth.” But what if you’re most cherished belief is a lie? Would you still want to be slapped by the truth? And how would you know either way?
Tough questions indeed. As Daniel Dennett said, “There’s no polite way to suggest to someone that they have devoted their life to a folly.” Likewise, there is no polite way to suggest to yourself that you have devoted your life to a folly. So, how do you stay ahead of the folly?
Cognitive dissonance is very real, and it affects us all. The best you can do is to admit that you could be wrong about a great many things. Keep humility ahead of hubris. Keep questions ahead of answers. Keep curiosity ahead of certainty. This will keep you ahead of the curve. Which will keep the Truth Quest always ahead of the “truth.”
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (Eight Philosophical Questions That Will Keep You Ahead of the Curve) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.
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