Podcast: How to Live a Happy Life

In this episode of “The One You Feed” podcast, host Eric Zimmer and I discuss what Stoicism teaches us about how to live a good and happy life.

We cover a variety of topics: my book, A Field Guide to a Happy Life: 53 Brief Lessons for Living; what the term Stoicism means; the cardinal virtues of practical wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance; the origins of the Serenity Prayer; how the judgments we have are ultimately the only things under our control; coming to accept our own death and yet continuing on with life in the present moment; the Stoic notion of the dichotomy of control; Epictetus’s discipline of desire and aversion; the most important characteristic of a person in life; and the technique of philosophical journaling. (listen here)

Audio series: Cicero’s On Fate

The latest complete audio commentary of my Stoic Meditations series is dedicated to Cicero’s On Fate, composed in 44 BCE. Unfortunately, about one third of the work is now lost. It takes the form of a dialogue between Cicero and his friend Aulus Hirtius.

Much of the discussion hinges on the relationship between fate and free will, and Cicero ends up suggesting that the latter is a condition for the first. In the process, we get a discussion of various takes on the issue of free will: those of the Stoics, the Epicureans, and the Academic Skeptic Carneades.

This book is part of a trilogy composed by Cicero, the other two being On the Nature of the Gods (audio commentary here) and On Divination (audio commentary here).

This series runs for ten episodes.

SETI: a skeptical take

We’ve been looking for extra-terrestrial intelligence for several decades. What is that all about anyway?

by Massimo Pigliucci

I’ve always been fascinated by the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Who isn’t? When I was a kid, I got into UFOs and such. Then the age of reason dawned and I realized that actual science is more interesting than fantasy. So I got into SETI, the (scientific) Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. I read about the pioneering work of Frank Drake (more on him in a moment), devoured everything Carl Sagan wrote about it, and even — for a long time — downloaded and used the SETI program screen saver, which doubles as data processor on behalf of the SETI Institute. … (continue at Medium)

Suggested reading: The Internet is Made of Demons

[Part of an occasional series of articles I come across and that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

By Sam Kriss

According to one theory, the internet is made of demons. Like most theories about the internet, this one is mostly circulated online. On Instagram, I saw a screenshot of a Reddit post, containing a screenshot of a 4chan post, containing a screenshot of Tweet, containing two images. On the left, the weird, loopy lines of a microprocessor. On the right, the weird, loopy lines of a set of Solomonic sigils. Caption: ‘Boy I love trapping demons in microscopic silicon megastructures to do my bidding, I sure hope nothing goes wrong.’ In other versions, the demons themselves are the ones who invented the internet; it’s just their latest move in a five-thousand-year battle against humanity. … (continue at Damage magazine)

Video: Memes all the way down

Memes are everywhere. But the term was coined only a few decades ago by Richard Dawkins to describe ideas and cultural behaviours that can be passed on from one individual to another. He argued that memes are a stage in evolution, and just as humans are carriers for genes, we are also carriers for memes.

We don’t so much choose our memes as they choose us. Its critics however argue that meme theory upends all human agency and thought. Is meme theory an exciting new framework that moves evolution forward to account for concepts and culture? Or is the very idea of a meme a misguided and reductionist account of what it is to be human?

Watch a discussion featuring “post-postmodern” philosopher Hilary Lawson, Professor of Ethics and Technology at Hertie School Joanna Bryson, and Professor of Philosophy at City College of New York Massimo Pigliucci. They argue about whether or not it is useful to think about sharing mimetic information like genetic information. Hosted by Gunes Taylor. (watch at IAI TV)

Rationality is instrumental, and that’s a problem

The subtle and complex relationship between logic, philosophy, and science

by Massimo Pigliucci

Today I read a decidedly unfavorable review of the latest book by Steven Pinker, Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters. I’m no fan of Pinker, but this article isn’t (mostly) about him or the book. Rather, it’s about one of the main criticisms brought up in the review, written by Ted McCormick for Slate magazine. Pinker wants to argue that if only people acted rationally then this would be a much better world. But he — correctly — defines rationality as an instrumental quality: “[rationality] is a kit of cognitive tools that can attain particular goals in particular worlds.” … (continue at Medium)

Making sense of the Hellenistic philosophies

A brief conceptual guide to what differentiated the Greco-Roman schools of philosophy as a way of life

by Massimo Pigliucci

The Hellenistic period span from the death of Alexander the Great and the consequent collapse of the Macedonian Empire in 323 BCE to the battle of Actium in 31 BCE, where the future first Roman emperor, Octavian, beat the crap out of the joint forces of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. It was an incredible period in human history, which saw the flourishing of a number of philosophical schools that went on to impact the development of western civilization, and that are still very much relevant today. … (continue at Medium)

Podcast: Happy birthday, Marcus Aurelius!

A few days ago — on April 26th — was the 1901st birthday of the emperor philosopher, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, author of one of the most famous Stoic texts, the Meditations.

To celebrate, my friend and colleague Rob Colter and I have put out a new episode of the Philosophy as a Way of Life podcast (n. 27, to be precise), where we talk about the passages in the Meditations that have most influenced our lives, ask whether Marcus persecuted Christians, why he didn’t abolish slavery, and why on earth he picked his son Commodus to succeed him! (listen at Anchor)

Suggested reading: Scientific Models and Individual Experience

[Part of an occasional series of articles I come across and that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by David Kordahl

I’ll start this column with an over-generalization. Speaking roughly, scientific models can be classed into two categories: mechanical models, and actuarial models. Engineers and physical scientists tend to favor mechanical models, where the root causes of various effects are specified by their formalism. Predictable inputs, in such models, lead to predictable outputs. Biologists and social scientists, on the other hand, tend to favor actuarial models, which can move from measurements to inferences without positing secret causes along the way. By calling these latter models “actuarial,” I’m encouraging readers to think of the tabulations of insurance analysts, who have learned to appreciate that individuals may be unpredictable, even as they follow predictable patterns in the aggregate. … (continue at 3QuarksDaily)