To What Should We Aspire?

How do you want to improve? To what should we aspire? If you don’t know where you want to go, it can be very difficult to get there.

We can hope and work to get better. That may mean personal improvement. It may mean local or community goals. Or even international or global ideals that we as a species hope to attain.

What do you, as an individual, aspire to? How will that be accomplished?

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

Is Understanding Possible?

As individuals, we all want other people to understand us. We want our co-workers to understand us, we want our friends to understand us, and we want our life partner to understand us. Understanding is important.

And yet, to some extent that’s not even possible. Fundamentally, we are each different beings, with our own thought processes that govern what we say and do.

Even people who know each other extremely well don’t know everything about each other. They still have the capacity to surprise each other with something they say or do. Ultimately, that makes sense, because no person has the same experiences, the same background, and the same genetics as you do.

But it goes even further than that. Really, you can’t even understand yourself. We might be too obsessed with our failures, and not enough with our successes. We don’t accurately see ourselves and our place in the world — we’re too close. It’s often easier to see someone else’s problems than it is to see our own.

On the other hand, some people do manage to accurately evaluate their own lives. Some couples are in relationships where they seem to finish each others’ sentences. There are some savvy business people who seem to know what their customers want before the customers themselves do. Siblings, particularly twins, who grow up together have a bond that they don’t share with anyone else.

But even in those cases, they are ultimately alone. We are born alone, and we die alone. Insight into someone else is not the same thing as true understanding.

Or is it? Is understanding possible?

Related questions: How important is intuition? Why do we care what strangers think of us? How does creative expression help us to know ourselves better? Who is the most important person in your life?

How Do We Know We Are Right?

This week’s (right?) question comes to us via reader Harold:

One of the problems we face in today’s society s that we live in a media bubble. From the blogs we read, to the TV channels we watch, to the conversations we have with friends, our own opinions are often reflected back at us, reinforcing our view of the world.

But what happens if that view is not accurate? What if my incorrect beliefs, my mistaken facts, have been repeated so often that I simply accept them as true?

I hold my truths to be self evident. But then again, people who believe the exact opposite from me think they are right just as passionately as I do. If they didn’t — or I didn’t — we’d change our minds.

If two people hold opposite viewpoints on things, at least one of them must be mistaken. Is there any way that I can make sure that it isn’t me? Or is it likely that we are both wrong, and the truth is actually somewhere in the middle of our beliefs? Does it matter?

It would certainly be an unfortunate turn of events if I hold the correct point of view, but due merely to lack of confidence I were to incorrectly concede. Instead, I barrel on in every circumstance, certain of my infallibility, despite copious evidence to the contrary. That would be fine of I were right about everything, but clearly I am not.

So how can we tell? How can we separate out truth from persuasive fiction? How do we know we are right? Or wrong?

Related questions: How can we encourage debate? What beliefs do you have that might be wrong? How do you know who to trust? How can we become better listeners?

 

Why Are We Here?

This is a question that people have been pondering for as long as mankind has existed. Is there a purpose to life? Why are we here?

Each one of us, consciously or not, answers this question. We manage to get out of bed each morning and start our day. In order to do that, we must find a purpose.

Maybe that purpose is focused on the future. In order to fill our hungry bellies at the end of the day, we need to work to make that happen. We are here to make money. To live more comfortably next year, it is important to organize and plan now. Some even think that this life is just preparation for the next. We are here to to get to where we will be next.

Similarly, others are focused on the present. We do what makes us happy in the moment, from spending time with friends and loved ones, to hobbies, to physical or mental challenges. We are here to make the most of what we have.

In contrast, there are some that treat life, and the universe where we live, as a giant puzzle that we try to solve. Life is like the ultimate escape room scenario. We are here to figure out how the world works.

In addition, some people purposely do not think about it. If you follow the example set by your peers, then perhaps a purpose will reveal itself. Go to college, get married, buy a house, have a few children. At some point, one hopes, we’ll figure out why we are doing what we are doing. We don’t know why we are here, but we’ll figure it out eventually.

While you can look to others, like a parent, or a religious or spiritual figure, ultimately it falls to us to set our own purpose. To find our own meaning. Maybe you think there is a grand plan. Or maybe you think life is a series of random events. But the meaning is what we bring to it.

What is the meaning that you bring to it? Do you see a larger purpose? Lastly, how does your meaning impact how you live your life?

Related questions: Is happiness the most important purpose in life? What is important? Are science and religion compatible? What is unknowable?

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 beingĀ  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?