What Are Your Values?

Our values help define us as individuals. They also help to guide us in making decisions that effect our lives.

Money plays an important role in our lives. You need money to buy food and shelter, not to mention recreational items.

And yet, most people would not list “money” as a value. If you don’t go to the effort of consciously listing what your values are, it can be all too easy to let money be the primary driving force in our lives.

So if, for example, farmers’ rights are important to you, you might spend more money on fair trade food items at the grocery store. If you are worried about single-use plastics, you might go to the extra effort to bring reusable containers to a restaurant if you have leftovers.

Having stated values can make it easier to make a decision, if one of the choices aligns with your values more than another.

Of course, thriftiness might well be a value of yours. That’s completely understandable, as money is a concern for most of us. However, even then it can be helpful to have that value stated explicitly.

Oftentimes, businesses are encouraged to make a list of company values, and distribute those among the company employees, so everyone knows what they are or should be working toward. The same thing is true of individuals or of households.

What are your values? Have you given any thought to them? How did you decide which ones would be most important to you? Do you discuss these values with others? And how do you handle a difference in values with friends, family members, co-workers, or neighbors?

Related questions: Is happiness the most important purpose in life? How do you define success? What is important? How do you set priorities? What gives you purpose?

Are We Living In A Simulation?

The idea that our world is just a computer simulation was popularized by the movie The Matrix. But the idea itself is much older than that.

Over 2000 years ago, Plato suggested that we are just people chained in a cave, and what we think of as reality are just shadows on the wall. That’s fairly close to the idea of a reality that is generated by a giant computer.

While our experiences certainly seem real to us, it’s not too hard to imagine a different scenario. Computer graphics, like in common video games, are getting more and more realistic. Virtual Reality headsets are commonplace. And while the graphics they use are still somewhat rudimentary, users often comment about how they quickly come to accept the false world.

In addition, games like The Sims, which place a computer-generated person or family in the hands of a video-game player, have been around for decades. Artificial Intelligence is getting better and more capable every day. We carry them around with us wherever we go on our smart phones.

Putting all that information together, and in just a few years we can imagine a completely immersive experience where you plug in to the internet and lose yourself as another, computer-generated character in a completely modeled world.

What is real?

How can we be sure that’s hasn’t already happened? Perhaps we are laying on a slab somewhere, with what we think of as the world around us being beamed into our brains. Moreover, maybe we don’t even have a body in the “real” world. Everything we see, everything we experience, could all be algorithms in a complicated computer simulation. Each one of us might be a Sims character.

In some ways, that would explain the universe as we understand it. There are certain physical laws, like the speed of light being  the fastest speed possible. Laws like these could just be the parameters of our simulation.

That, however, just opens up more questions. If true, what about the world that houses the computer where our simulation exists? How did it come about? What are the physical laws there?

What difference does it make?

If we entertain this idea of living in a computer simulation, does it make any difference to our everyday life? If the emotions that I think I experience turn out to just be some lines of code in a complicated computer program, does that invalidate them in any way? Does it ultimately remove the meaning from my decisions and actions, or does it add meaning? If I feel pain, or experience joy, or have my heart broken, does it matter if it originates from neurons firing in my brain or the spinning of a hard drive?

It’s difficult to imagine any way of actually testing this hypothesis. We may never know if our universe started with a Big Bang or with a coder writing a program to test out some advanced scenario. The idea, though, is a fascinating one. Are we living in a simulation?

Related questions: What is unknowable? How much of our thoughts are our own? What is time? What beliefs do you have that might be wrong?

Is Life Fair?

There are several clichés that suggest that if you simply apply yourself, things will work out in the end. Determination, hard work, and a little bit of confidence will lead to a positive outcome. The universe is a fair place.

The early bird gets the worm. Life is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration. All in a day’s work. Luck is the residue of hard work and design.

Believing in these sayings would imply that the universe is a fair place. Good behavior will be rewarded, while bad behavior will be punished.

But is that true? There are instances where bad behavior is rewarded, and when good behavior is punished. History is filled with examples of violence, exploitation, bigotry, and greed. There are many historical (and current!) figures that have benefited from unethical behavior.

Of course, there are also many examples of people who have acted in the common good. There are also plenty of people who have been rewarded, both financially as well as with public adoration, for hard work or generosity.

So instead of a fair, just universe, wouldn’t that suggest that life is largely luck? Good and bad things can happen to good and bad people. Life is a series of random events, and trying to predict what will happen in the future is tremendously difficult.

Or maybe the universe does indeed reward grit and determination. Not in every single case, surely, but perhaps as a general rule. Clichés become clichés for a reason — they may very well be good rules to follow.

Or to ask a simple question: Is life fair?

Related questions: Is it a cruel world? How has luck shaped your life? Is it fair to judge the past with morals of today?

 

How Can We Encourage Meaningful Conversation?

Sometimes it seems like conversation is a dying art.

We don’t talk much anymore. In-depth discussions have been replaced with small talk. Long, rambling phone calls are now five second Vine videos. A ten page, hand-written letter is now a text message.

Why is this?

Generally, there are many reasons for this change. Technology, in the form of smart phones and social media, encourages brevity. We are warned to avoid controversial topics as a way of keeping the peace. In addition, an entire generation of young adults have grown up online, where tone of voice and body language are non-existent.

As a result, we grow ever more isolated from those around us. People are not confronted with differing opinions. We don’t often talk to people with opposing views, and when we do it devolves to a shouting match. Violence is increasingly more common. Consequently, entire communities are dismissed and ignored.

Is it all bad?

And yet, we still crave conversation. We want to be intellectually stimulated. Ted Talks, for example, are wildly popular, and can be thought of as the first half of a conversation. The vlogbrothers, Hank and John Green, are YouTube celebrities based on their ongoing weekly video chats. So the desire exists in each of us for communication of ideas, and the act of sharing them with our friends and acquaintances.

So how can we revive the art of conversation? How do we overcome our dependency on the endless Facebook newsfeed scroll, and engage each other in an actual dialogue? Can we recapture the give and take, the challenge of ideas, the talk for sake of the talk? In short, to be exposed to new ideas and new points of view?

How can we encourage meaningful conversation?

Related questions: What do we have in common? How can we encourage debate? Are we too busy? How can we become better listeners? What do you get out of social media?