Stoicism vs the Methods of Rationality

by Space L Clottey4 min read21st Oct 2021No comments

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Stoicism / Letting Go / Making PeaceRationality
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Crossposted from spacelutt.com

I fell in love with Stoicism for about 5 months in 2021, but am now no longer so infatuated, and this post takes a look at a few of the reasons why.

Determining Control

The only thing that’s really out of your control is things that happen in the past, since time really only flows forward.

The “Challenging the Difficult” sequence in The Sequences is about how often you’ll be wrong at labelling something “impossible” (which is of course synonymous with “outside of your control”, except in “outside your control” being even more retreat-y than impossible as it implies another human can do it, just not you).

Your body will be ultimately destroyed, but this is not seen as bad, since it is out of your control.

~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Even if you can’t control it, it still seems bad.

It seems wrong to be changing your definition of bad based on what’s in your control or not.

You should care, I think, but not fall into turmoil.

This is particularly bad when it comes to things you don’t have personal stake it. If you were to say “I don’t have control over my fatigue problem” too soon, they’re you’re gonna still want to think about it like it’s in your control and still go wild with attempts and ideas, because it still effects you, there’s no way of getting out of your sleep problem mattering in your world. You still feel it, whether or not it’s in your control.

But on a larger scale…

For example if some random kid in Africa is starving to death and someone tells you this and helping would be inconvenient, you could very well say “it’s not in my control” and totally forget about it and have it lose its effect on you. But the kid still starves, but the kid is not in your world. Thus you’re not motivated to really, really try before you actually declare something is impossible.

This is even more true when discussing abstract threats to the future.

I have seen many people struggling to excuse themselves from their ethics. Always the modification is toward lenience, never to be more strict. And I am stunned by the speed and the lightness with which they strive to abandon their protections. Hobbes said, “I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that everyone’s got a price, or the fact that their price is so low.” So very low the price, so very eager they are to be bought. They don’t look twice and then a third time for alternatives, before deciding that they have no option left but to transgress—though they may look very grave and solemn when they say it. They abandon their ethics at the very first opportunity. “Where there’s a will to failure, obstacles can be found.” The will to fail at ethics seems very strong, in some people.

Self Deception

If you’re able to manufacture indifference to anything, then you’ll be motivated to get more false negatives on things outside of your control so that you don’t have to go through the hard, hard work on changing them, since you have no emotions to spur you.

No Time-Wasting

Marcus Aurelius once wrote “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” That was a personal reminder to continue living a life of virtue NOW, and not wait. It was a form of memento mori – an ancient practice of meditating on your mortality.

This seems true and a great point. Especially since we don’t actually know death’ll be solved if the singularity comes.

The Memento Mori part seems solid. *Nods in approval*.

Even if death is solved, I wouldn’t exactly want to be putting things off all the time. The one who does doesn’t wait and puts finishing touches on their life and character all the time (the best they can at the time, knowing more growth is to come) I do think will have life better, will get more satisfied, will waste less time, and will regret less is something does happen.

Negative Visualisation

I have often mention how the phenomenon of Hedonic Adaptation means that we constantly get used to the things we have and then begin to take them granted. Negative visualization is a simple exercise that can remind us how lucky we are. The premise is simple, just imagine that bad things have happened, or that good things have not. You decide the scale of the catastrophe:

  • Losing all your possessions
  • Never having met your spouse
  • Losing a family member
  • Losing a sense such as your sight or your hearing.

You can also imagine how situations that you are about to embark in will go wrong.

While you may think that this type of pessimism is not conductive to a happy and fulfilling life, it can actually turn your life into pure gold by making you realise that all these bad things have not happened to you.

Seems solid, gratitude in general seems pretty scientifically backed up.

I was pleased to find Eliezer has written on his personal experience with stoic ideals.

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