A Letter to My Niece in 2034


I would like this letter to be able to replace me, but alas, that is a task beyond the scope of a letter. So, it is my intention to make this letter useful to you in some way, if not in knowledge then at least in entertainment.

First, a small bit of entertainment. I encouraged the Evelyn Claire name so that I could call you EClaire, and yet, as of now I basically never call you that. My mother wanted to name you Alien and pronounce it A'lin. There is a whole story behind that which is best in person, hopefully you've heard it. I taught you how to climb stairs, click your tongue, hit your chest and yell like Tarzan, and throw ball pit balls. All things to help make your parents' lives easier.

Now, as to advice. My first piece of advice concerns advice about advice. Advice is based on the individual's individual life. Their advice is their autobiography, for the most part. It is filled with their hopes, dreams, failures, regrets, pains, sorrows, and second guesses. To follow it is to trust, to trust is dangerous, and yet necessary.

It is my hope that I am still alive with a highly functioning brain in 2034, although the class probabilities are not with me due to an issue with my brainstem. That occurred when I was 26 after a misadventure I had in Kenya. I am glad that I did many adventures before that so that I can now embark on a different kind of adventure, an intellectual versus a physical adventure. Thus, I recommend going on physical adventures early in your life, I've seen many people wait and lose the opportunity. Life can be viewed as the collecting of stories, and it's good to have some variety in a story. I will include my oddly original resume which includes a list of some of my adventures, along with the normal stuff, and some of my personal viewpoints and a book list at the end of this letter.

Some things cannot be included on a resume though, many things actually. It is possible that some of my Youtube videos that contain some of my ramblings on the ordinary events of my life have survived until 2034, they might even still be called Jeff's Journey, but it is also possible that they have not survived. The same thing goes for any of my writing. I hope to write something of note in the next 17 years, especially in fiction, but the future is unknown. If some of my blog posts still exist then they may interest you. They do reveal a lot of my thinking patterns, and the philosophy essays may even be useful to you. Actually, one that I have done is important and I will include that here as well.

What are some things that you should be told that other people won't tell you? Most of these things can be found in the booklist, but that is not a short list, and some of them are not in the booklist, sooooo...

Conformity is important. Non-conformity is also important. The difference lies in the context. Context dropping is one of the most common errors in philosophy. Actually, let's do that first. Familiarize yourself with logical fallacies and cognitive biases. Many people will use them to try to trick and manipulate you, or themselves, or it will be done to them. If you don't know what false dichotomy, the strawman argument, ad hominem attacks, context dropping, floating abstractions, causation versus correlation, class versus case statistics, confirmation bias, and many other things are then you are being tricked by other people, I guarantee, and confused by the world whether you know it or not. Being tricked and confused are unavoidable to a certain extent, but you can limit it somewhat. Learning logical fallacies and cognitive biases, and learning them as well as you can, helps tremendously. Anyway, back to conformity. You must choose what to conform to. This means that you must choose what not to conform to, but not conforming to anything is a disaster, and one I have made.

Your knowledge will ideally form a T-shaped graph. You know a little about a lot, and a lot about a little. This allows you to have some understanding of many things and a lot of understanding about one thing. This is another mistake I have made. I am specialized in nothing, therefore I am the best at nothing, and I don't stand out at anything except knowing a decent amount about a lot of things, which is a difficult asset to trade. You may have false starts in areas, that is fine, your major concern may evolve over time, but it's important to pick one. It's also important to think about the commercial aspect because money in a developed society is synonymous with food, water, housing, clothing, heat, etc. All of the things that allow a person to survive and thrive. But, it's also important to remember that someone makes a lot of money in almost everything, so it is not true that you should study business rather than art, just as a for instance. Some people make a lot of money in art and as artists. The key is that someone at some point has to sell something, to trade or exchange something, if you develop that skill at least to a decent extent then you stand a strong possibility of making almost any endeavor commercially viable for you. Social skills cannot be overvalued, it is impossible. They can be developed though, and I highly recommend it. There are sales books in the list.

Each person has certain drives that are stronger than others. Figure out what yours are and exploit them, use them to your advantage. I have a really high exploratory drive, but I haven't exploited it well. I have mostly allowed it to control my actions, which is why I have a compulsive urge to go on adventures and read books. I am trying to transition that drive into writing, but I haven't developed that skill very well as of yet. The person that can has an amazing asset within themselves. Desmond Morris talks about some of these. His books are amazing. Definitely read The Naked Ape, The Human Zoo, and the first two chapters of The Artistic Ape.

Much of history, maybe most of what you've been taught, is highly distorted. Some of it could be called an agreed upon fiction. History is distorted in its own time, then it naturally turns into legend and then myth, all the while being continually distorted on purpose for different ends, and not on purpose by error. It can be useful to know and understand solid history, but it is probably more useful to be able to tell stories and make history, and to know that others are doing that as well. If you really want to dig into history then read original sources. For instance, it is an amazing insight into the American Revolutionary War to read The Examination of Dr. Benjamin Franklin. In a few pages you will understand more about that context than reading hundreds of pages of textbooks.

If you happen to be choosing a career path at the moment, which I am still working on as well although I am not as young as you, remember that the majority are almost always wrong when it comes to those types of matters. Successful people, I have noticed, go against the consensus, and then they're right. Failures go against the consensus and are wrong. So, to be successful you have to risk failure. But, failure is just another experience, another story. And experience is the fabric of life, a collection of stories woven into a quilt over time. Also, you define success. You can choose what it is that you call success.

You are not a class statistic. You are a single case. That's a major reason that understanding the difference between those two is important. Peter Thiel makes that point in Zero to One. Along those same lines, probabilities are a measure of what we know that we don't know. Luck is a term for what we don't know that we don't know. Humans, who don't like to be called humans usually, are very limited in what they can know, but they can know a vast amount compared to any other animal. So learn, but realize your limitations as well. It is a fine line. You must doubt to learn, but you must not doubt so much that you don't take action, or hesitate too long. I am a heavy doubter, and thus I struggle with hesitation. I recommend not following my lead in that.

One thing that I am doing well at is pain, the experience of pain. The bone in my cervical spine that slid into my brainstem causes a significant amount of pain, and very strong painkillers don't work. At some point, or many points, you will experience high levels of pain. If you can correct whatever is causing the pain, do it. If you can't, I have only found one thing that works well, and that is a certain type of meditation. There are two main types of meditation, sensation meditation and imagination meditation. Then can both be great in different ways. Visualizing something, or saying a mantra out loud or silently are examples of imagination meditation. After I had all of the issues with my central nervous system function I couldn't even do that type of meditation. Sensation meditation is very intense, at least when you're in pain, but can do wonders. Vipassana is that type. It's where you feel the sensations of your body. That's basically it. Simple, but hard. I recommend getting a monk to show you how to do that.

There are so many specifics that I hope to talk to you about in between when I'm writing this and when you're reading it, such as Relational Frame Theory and the eight types of moral disengagement that Albert Bandura identifies. Those conversations will best be had in person though. As for this letter, I will include several add-ons.

Here is my current favorites booklist. I highly recommend reading a lot, fiction and non-fiction. Then there is the philosophy essay, in its original form of four blog posts. Next is my resume. It, like my booklist, is constantly being updated.

This seems like the end of the letter, but notice that it is not. At times it seems like you are at the end of a story, or an event, or an experience, or a life, but notice that in those cases too, you are always in the middle of story.

Good luck,
Uncle Jeff

Not Fade Away by Peter Barton
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way by Jim Lundy
Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout
The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris
Zero to One by Peter Thiel
Prophetic Charisma by Len Oakes
Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology by Ayn Rand
The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
Living Control Systems by William T. Powers
The Will to Meaning by Viktor Frankl
A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain by Benjamin Franklin
The Collected Works of Benjamin Franklin
The Meaning of It All by Richard Feynman
The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris
The Artistic Ape by Desmond Morris

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
On Writing by Stephen King
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
Writing Popular Fiction by Dean Koontz
Poetics by Aristotle
The One Basic Plot by Martin Turner
The Art of Fiction by Ayn Rand
Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin
Replay by Ken Grimwood
The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Candide by Voltaire
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

The Most Important Question in Philosophy - Part 1 of ?

"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy."(1) So begins "The Myth of Sisyphus" by Albert Camus. I think that there may be a better question.

We must first decide how we are to judge questions, what makes one superior to another. Camus has a view on this as well, "If I ask myself how to judge that this question is more urgent than that, I reply that one judges by the actions it entails."(2)

Albert Camus is the founder of Absurdism, the idea that humans seek meaning and that meaning cannot be found inherently, or even at all, in life. Camus even approaches the defining of the absurd in unusual ways, for instance: "What, in fact, is the absurd man? He who, without negating it, does nothing for the eternal."(3) And, "This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity."(4)

All of Camus's philosophy is very absurd and full of contradictions which allows for interesting perspectives. And, indeed, those contradictions are the core of Absurdism. Camus does answer the question, which is the whole point of the book. He says that life is worth living, and it is given its worth by rebellion against the acceptance of the absurdity of human life and meaning. He states this explicitly, "That revolt gives life its value."(5) And, "For on the one hand the absurd teaches that all experiences are unimportant, and on the other it urges toward the greatest quantity of experiences."(6)

I find that when the quality of the question is improved, the quality of the answer will improve as well. Let's start with his question. Camus asks, "Is life worth living?" This question gives us two options, a dichotomy, a binary set. Yet, is this a true dichotomy, or a false dichotomy? Let's examine the dichotomy that we have created with our question.

If we answer yes, then life is worth living under all circumstances. If we answer no, then life is not worth living under any circumstance. If we use the criteria of Camus and ask what actions these lead to I believe we may be rather taken aback.

If life is worth living under any circumstance then any sacrifice of anything or anyone else to preserve even a small amount of time would be worth it, for life is worth living under all circumstances. Let's say that you decided to take your mother, or daughter, or father, or son on a cruise. Maybe to a majestic place where you will be able to see wonderful sights and hear wonderful sounds, the Caribbean, or the Mediterranean, or Alaska, or Asia. It is unlikely, but not impossible, or even unheard of for something to go amiss. Cruise ships hit icebergs, get attacked by pirates, and run aground. Do you leave your mother or daughter behind to give you a greater chance of survival? Do you use them as a shield? Do you sacrifice them for you? Some do. But, others do not.

(Loss is another subject that I may get to later on in this essay.)

If life is worth living under all circumstances have we not made mere survival the highest good, the greatest value? Camus attempts to devalue values, and yet, here, we find a value.

If life is not worth living under any circumstances, then, well, we would stop living it.

This dichotomy has left us with two options. To sacrifice the world on the altar of our survival, or death. But, I wonder, may not one of the greatest errors of thought be hidden within this question? Are we not missing something? I say we are, for there is another option - "Maybe".

"Is life worth living?"

It seems rather anti-climatic at first, but it is not the climax. It is only the beginning of a story, the beginning of an answer. Context dropping may be a great error, but applying context is a great art. Where do we go from here? It seems that we may need another question.

"Is life worth living?"
"What?" "What does maybe even mean?"

Google defines maybe with the synonym possibly. So, life is possibly worth living. There is uncertainty. Under some circumstances yes, under others no. What constitutes these circumstances? Well, now we are getting somewhere. Maybe we can even build upon our previous dichotomy, for each question can only be answered within the moment.

"Is life worth living?"
"What makes life worth living?"

"Is life worth living?"
"What could make life worth living?"

What actions would these questions lead to? In both cases we are now seeking answers that do not fall within a dichotomy, and they are not simple. Each answer will be unique to the person and situation that they find themselves in. Each answer will be unique to the context.

In the first case we are clarifying and delineating the values that we currently have. These can change over time, and yet the question can remain our guide. When we find our value within this moment there is now an action that is paired with that realization. We must seek more of this value, to enhance this value, until our values change. Some values may be more stable than others, guiding our actions over years or decades, while some values will come and go as quickly as a changing wind.

This applies to the second case as well. If life is not worth living it is because we have determined, and felt, that the values in our life and in this moment are not worth the necessary pain and misery of continuing the struggle to live. We are now urged to seek out, within ourselves and within our lives those values that may exist or may yet be attained.

I had intended to write this all as one piece, but alas, it is a longer and more difficult problem than I had originally thought. This is a little less than half of the required amount, and I'm not sure how long it will be when completed. Here are the notes for some of the things that I may include in part 2.

viktor frankl values and meaning
ben franklin dissertation
loss and grief imaginary future expectation probability as measure of uncertainty chaos determinism

I believe this part of the essay has been fruitful, and that the next part will be as well. You are welcome to see what comes next at JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

1 - The Myth of Sisyphus and other essays by Albert Camus, 1955, page 3.
2 - Ibid, page 3.
3 - Ibid, page 66.
4 - Ibid, page 6.
5 - Ibid, page 55.
6 - Ibid, page 62.

The Most Important Question in Philosophy - Part 2 of ?

Oh boy, let's dive back in. We've taken the question from Camus, "Is life worth living?", and answered it: "Maybe." At this moment, in this place, it may be either a yes or a no. Either way, we've found a better question to ask, "What makes life worth living?", and "What could make life worth living?" Now, we endeavor to pursue answers.

Since I think that life is worth living at this moment, and most living people do, I am going to work mostly with the question, "What makes life worth living?" Worth is the key word in that sentence. What does worth mean? Eight definitions come up on Google, and even when we look into the etymology we see that it goes back to earlier words that also have a direct translation to value, price, and/or merit. These are fundamental concepts. A value is something that you seek to attain. I just made that definition up, and it's true. So, our question could also be phrased, "What makes life valuable?", or "Why seek to attain the continuance of life?" All of these work, I prefer "What makes life worth living?"

Now we are delving into value. What makes something valuable? Everyone must answer this question, just like the other questions, for and by themselves. As beauty is in the beholder, so too is value. This is the basic sentiment of the Subjective Theory of Value. It has been proposed in various ways by many people. It is the foundation stone of the Austrian School of economics. Carl Menger founded that school, and in modern times is often credited with the theory as well.

Here is Carl Menger explaining the concept, "Value is thus the importance that individual goods or quantities of goods attain for us because we are conscious of being dependent on command of them for the satisfaction of our needs."(1)

Luckily there are other important figures in the Austrian School and Ludwig von Mises can give us a better explanation, "Valuing is man's emotional reaction to the various states of his environment, both that of the external world and that of the physiological conditions of his own body. Man distinguishes between more or less desirable states, as the optimists may express it, or between greater and lesser evils, as the pessimists are prepared to say. He acts when he believes that action can result in substituting a more desirable state for a less desirable."(2)

Basically, the value of something is how much someone determines it to be for their own reasons. Value is subjective, and don't forget, everything occurs in a context. The value will also change according to the time, place, and every other part of the context.

What does this mean for us? How does that help us answer, "What makes life worth living?" The answer is specific to a certain context and a certain perspective. This means that you may share values with people in similar contexts with similar perspectives, but no one ever has the exact same context or perspective as you. Something is then implied in this question and it could read, "What makes life worth living to you at this time?" or "What makes your life worth living right now?" We could of course cut this short and answer the question with an abstraction:

"What makes your life worth living?"
"The values I have that necessitate I remain alive to attain and/or maintain them."

But, let's dig a little further into it than that. One thing starts to appear obvious, if you only have negative values then suicide becomes logical. For instance, I have some deformities in my spine. One in my neck has a bone pressed up against my brainstem and causes a lot of pain throughout my nervous system, in addition to other issues. If my only value was to move away from pain, to escape the pain. If I valued the absence of pain alone, then suicide is not only logical, it is the only option. Since only people that are alive are reading this I know that you have values which you are moving towards, in addition to any values that you are moving away from. It is these values that we are moving toward that attach us to this life.

We need a way to think about what some of these values may be. Luckily, there is Viktor Frankl. Viktor Frankl survived two Nazi concentration camps and founded Logotherapy. Here is an example of why I like him, "...even the tragic and negative aspects of life, such as unavoidable suffering, can be turned into a human achievement by the attitude which a man adopts toward his predicament."(3)

Frankl helps us in developing a model of categories so that we may discern what types of values are possible. "For in the face of the transitoriness of his life, he is responsible for using the passing opportunities to actualize potentialities, to realize values, whether creative, experiential, or attitudinal."(4) There are three states of being implied here: an active state where one is manipulating and effecting the environment, a passive state where one is observing the environment, and a helpless state where one is being acted upon by the environment.

To many people it's obvious that if you are helping to build a great cathedral, you are doing something of value and have a reason to live. If you happen to not like cathedrals, substitute something else: a painting, a novel, a garden, a family, a house, a business, etc. Many people also recognize that there is value in seeing a great cathedral, or painting, or garden, or reading a great novel, or being in a great family, or living in a great house, or working for a great company. These too are wonderful values. But, sometimes it's hard to discern exactly where the value lies in another type of situation. Let's say you're injured doing one of these things. An injury that prevents you from continuing. Maybe you were building a wonderful garden. One day you are driving to the store, get in a car accident, get glass in your eyes and are now blind. There is no way to fix it. You can't garden, not the way you used to. You can't even see the garden that you've built. The creative value is gone, the experiential value is gone, is there anything left? There is your attitude. Your attitude is extremely adaptable. That's part of what being human is about. Relational Frame Theory posits that the human mind can relate Any two things. I've tried it and haven't been able to disprove it for myself. Can you relate a pig and a chair? At first you may balk at the relation, right before you realize that you could probably write a book about the relations. A simple example is that they both have four legs. This flexibility of mind allows us to change perspective and adjust our attitude to find value within any situation. For the situation with the garden there are many views you could take, all with a corresponding value. For instance: I can still do some work in the garden, other people can enjoy the garden, maybe a garden for blind people that focuses on tactile stimulation, maybe give tours, I could focus on creating and experiencing smells in the garden, I enjoyed it at the time and now it is time to move on just as flowers bloom and fade, it's time for nature to hold the reins of control now, etc. Some people will find value in one of these views and others will not, it is subjective, but there is always value to be had. Even in a complete loss there is value, and we will get to loss and grief a bit later. The past cannot be rewritten, but it can be reinterpreted. The future cannot be lost, but it can be unexpected.

I do believe that I am over halfway on this project now, maybe even close to the end. That means that part 3 will probably be the last of the series for this essay, but there are at least 3 more to come for the International Society For Philosophers. Here is the link to the post where I outlined my four general subjects: http://www.jeffreyalexandermartin.com/2017/10/concerning-international-society-for.html

Here are my notes for the rest of this essay:

franklin dissertation
nihilism depression loss and grief imaginary future past written in stone

You are welcome to join me and see what happens next at JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

1 - Principles of Economics by Carl Menger, 1871, 1976 translation, page 115.
2 - The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science by Ludwig von Mises, 1962, page 33.
3 - The Will to Meaning by Viktor Frankl, 1969, page ix.
4 - Ibid, page 74.

The Most Important Question in Philosophy - Part 3 of ?

Pain and loss are both unavoidable. They are inevitable. I have experience with pain and loss, you have experience with pain and loss, and we will both have more experience with pain and loss. We can't create a situation where we won't experience them, so we must adapt to them. Pain and loss are the two primary things that make life not worth living; therefore, they are two of the primary things that we must focus on when answering "What makes life worth living?"

Let's start with Benjamin Franklin, possibly the most important person in the founding of the United States of America. Few people know that he wrote a small dissertation in 1725 that deals directly with our issue. Franklin had 100 copies printed and gave a few to friends, but it caused such a stir within the people that read it that Franklin burned the rest of the copies. Here are 6 of the 14 propositions:

"1. A Creature when endu'd with Life or Consciousness, is made capable of Uneasiness or Pain.

2. This Pain produces Desire to be freed from it, in exact proportion to itself.

3. The Accomplishment of this Desire produces an equal Pleasure.

4. Pleasure is consequently equal to Pain.

From these Propositions it is observ'd,

1. That every Creature hath as much Pleasure as Pain.

2. That Life is not preferable to Insensibility; for Pleasure and Pain destroy one another: That Being which has ten Degrees of Pain subtracted from ten of Pleasure, has nothing remaining, and is upon an equality with that Being which is insensible to both."(1)

Wow! That is a unique attitude. The entire 32 pages of "A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pain and Pleasure" is this extraordinary. You can see why it created such a stir.

Ludwig von Mises founded Praxeology, the study of human action, and also talks about uneasiness. Here he puts it in slightly different terms, "Man acts because he is dissatisfied with the state of affairs as it prevails in the absence of his intervention. Man acts because he lacks the power to render conditions fully satisfactory and must resort to appropriate means in order to render them less unsatisfactory."(2)

When Jeff Bezos decided to start Amazon he formulated his Regret Minimization Framework, where he thinks about himself in the distant future and makes the decision that he would regret the least.(3) Mark Cuban has stated that he uses a similar framework(4), and Ross Perot too(5). Is it a coincidence that they have all used a similar question that moves them away from a type of pain while assuming that it cannot be fully circumvented? I don't think so.

Pain is the human propulsion system. It drives us forward, and without it there would be no action. For even an attachment moves us to seek something that we want, or to maintain it and keep it from loss. This can be stated in a variety of ways. Someone with a background in Perceptual Control Theory may say that action is the differential between a perceptual signal and a reference signal. Franklin calls that differential Uneasiness or Pain. Whatever we may call it, we must thank pain for all that we have done. That is a unique perspective, a valuable attitude.

Pain can also be viewed as a signal that something is wrong, and therefore something must be changed. This is a similar statement as an impetus to action, but viewed in a slightly different light because a process that has the potential to be changed is recurring.

These things might best be illustrated with examples. Pain can be a general term and apply to physical, emotional, and mental pain, even existential pain as we've been exploring. Let me give two examples to add context.

When I was 13 I broke my collarbone playing American football, but I didn't know it. We were running hitting drills. Cory and I hit pretty hard. I knew that my arm hurt, but I went to the back of the line crying a little bit trying to ignore it. My arm continued to hurt for the rest of that practice, and it wasn't working right. I had to start getting into my stance with my left arm because my right arm wouldn't support my weight, but I ignored it. I kept practicing and my shoulder kept hurting. I put on an extra pad to help with it, and it did a little. I finished the season, and we were only halfway through when I was injured. Practice, hitting drills, running, hitting, games, pain. My arm hurt all the time, but I figured it would get better after football; it didn't. The basketball season hurt, and the wrestling season really hurt. Pain and more pain. Still I hadn't gone to the doctor. I figured it would get better. By the time baseball season came around I had almost gotten used to the pain. On the first day I was supposed to be pitching half speed. The other pitcher, Ben, was pitching too fast and the coach told him to throw like I was, slow. The only thing was, I was throwing as hard as I could and the ball was barely arching over home plate. I talked to the coach after practice and told him that something was wrong with my shoulder. My shoulder had a number of issues, but the collarbone had healed itself back together. The surgeon told me that he didn't think he could help, that I would never be able to raise my arm above level again, that I had to quit sports, that my arm would be weak, in pain, and have arthritis by the time I was 20. All of the physical pain had not propelled me to fix the issue, or even to confront it, but that conversation set me on a long and obsessive path of research and experimentation. By the time I was 20 I could do one-arm chinups, one-arm two-finger pushups, and a bunch of other strength feats. I had played football in high school, climbed mountains, did whitewater rafting, scuba diving, running with bulls, and a bunch of other adventures. My shoulder had greater strength and a greater range of motion than before the injury, and that has continued for many years since. The physical pain was a signal that something was wrong and needed to change, but I ignored it. The mental and emotional pain of being told about my limited future is what propelled me to act, and to change. Pain is a signal to action, pain is a signal to change.

Everyone has a story in their lives that they can see a similar process in, where pain propels them forward. I have a lot of them: from my best friend dying when I was 13 and seeing his blood on the road at the bus stop, to vomiting blood and being told I was going to die in Kenya when I was 26, to having a vertebrae slide into my brainstem causing massive nervous system pain and damage for years. What if instead of crying out "Why me!?" we instead asked, "What can I change?"

Now, there are times when we cannot recover or regain something we have lost. Some losses are permanent, death being the most obvious example. This section on pain went a little longer than I expected, and I think the section on loss might as well. I will be covering that in the next, and I think last, post for this essay. Here are my notes for next time.

Andrew death
africa cognitive decline, greatest value
nihilism depression loss and grief imaginary future past written in stone
repression abreaction Breuer observation Buddha
loss and grief imaginary future expectation probability as measure of uncertainty chaos determinism
The past cannot be rewritten, but it can be reinterpreted. The future cannot be lost, but it can be unexpected.

Here is where this essay began:

Here is part 2:

And here is the overview of the entire project:

You are welcome to join me on my adventures in writing at JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

1 - A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pain and Pleasure by Benjamin Franklin, 1725, pages 30-31.
2 - The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science by Ludwig von Mises, 1962, page 2.
3 - Academy of Achievement Interview, San Antonio Texas, May 4th, 2001.
4 - How to Win at the Sport of Business by Mark Cuban, 2011, page 47.
5 - My Life and The Principles for Success by Ross Perot, 1996, page 159.

The Most Important Question in Philosophy - Part 4 of 4

Loss is a special kind of pain. The loss of a loved one, and the loss of cognitive functioning. Those are the two most intense kinds of loss that I have experienced, and we all will, or have, experienced them. What is this feeling of loss? What can we do about it?

A loss is revelatory. It reveals something that we valued. Sometimes we were not even aware of what we valued, or at least not aware that we valued it so much, until it was gone. This alone can help point us towards values in the future. Let's take five examples and see what we can learn from them.

When I was 20 my girlfriend ended up pregnant, it was a partial surprise. I hadn't really thought much about having kids up to that point, and I reacted primarily by getting nervous and being conservative. Then, the miscarriage. The miscarriage revealed that I had actually wanted to have a baby, I valued it, and two years later she was pregnant again. The second miscarriage was even harder than the first because I had allowed myself to become excited, and I had talked with my girlfriend about the future often and enthusiastically to keep her in a positive state of mind, a major mistake. Now, my values have been tempered in both directions, I realize that I value children highly, but I also realize the heavy risks incurred.

I've had losses that have affected me more strongly though. After that second miscarriage my relationship with that girlfriend never recovered, although I didn't know it. Neither of us knew how to handle it, at all, and we didn't really come together over it, but I thought we were doing better and that everything was going to be okay. I found out around a year later that she had been cheating on me for months, I didn't even accept it at first. She had just been waiting to complete some schooling and for the lease to run out on our apartment before telling me. It felt like such an immense betrayal, we had been through so much together. In my mind I had imagined so much of our future, I had imagined overcoming our difficulties and having children. I had imagined running a business together and buying a house together. All lost hopes and dreams cast down the River Styx. Love turned into hate.

When I was 13 I was on the bus on the way to school. It was early and still dark out. We were traveling down a long straight road lined by thick forest on both sides. Up ahead we could see some flashers. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, my entire body felt heavy like lead. The bus driver pulled up too close to the scene and parked just across from the flashers. All of the kids on the bus were screaming. Everyone moved to the side of the bus to look out the windows. I did too. When the went you could see a wet streak on the blacktop, and when the red flasher went you knew what it was. I didn't scream, I didn't really react. I turned back towards the front of the bus. I saw my sister screaming, flailing, and being held back in the front. The scene went grey and silent, and I sat down. My best friend had been hit in the back at 55mph by a car swerving around a garbage truck on the way to work. Andrew was young, intelligent, athletic, good looking, and energetic. He had such a future, until he didn't.

When I was 26 I decided to go on a grand world tour, but I got sick one week into Kenya and had to abort, and that trip almost cost me my life. When I got home I thought it would take me a week or two to recover. Then I thought it would take me a month or two. Then I thought, "Wow, maybe this is going to take six months!" At times I would think that I was improving, but it was only a brief appearance. I knew I couldn't think straight, but it wasn't until I asked someone what the word "piece" was that the significance of what was happening sunk in. Not only wasn't I able to take in and retain new information, but I was losing old information too. My aspirations for my future were evaporating before my eyes, and now my past was withering away as well. I was losing my mind, my ability to think, my ability to remember, my ability to be.

Five examples: two unborn children, one girlfriend, one friend, and my mind (the functioning of the brain). That's a pretty depressing list, but just to drive the point home let's make one more observation: there are only two types of people, those who are dead and those who are going to be. This is not the type of issue that you can ignore and hope that it will go away, or that you'll get lucky and it won't bother you. This is an issue that we must dig into, and learn from.

Notice what I have lost (note that I have regained a significant portion of my cognitive ability, although not all of my health). I have lost things that I have valued. If we lose something that we don't value, well . . . that doesn't really matter, because we don't care. This can lead to some dark places. Sadness turns into depression, depression fosters apathy, apathy become nihilism. We don't care about anything, we don't value anything, or at least we try not to. And, in a world with nothing to live for, "Is life worth living?" No, it's not, but that question not only offers us no solutions, it doesn't even offer us any problems. It's final, it's closed, there is nothing left to learn, discover, or ask after you answer. Our questions must lead us on, they must demand something from us. That's why "What makes life worth living?" is such a powerful question. It demands that we seek an answer. At times though, before we can find that answer, we must seek some answers to our sadness.

Are there some similarities in all of these examples? Yes, there are. They all have to do with things I valued. They all had to do with things I expected to have a future. They all had to do with things that were part of how I defined myself and considered a part of my identity.

Humans are made to become attached(1), right away and for the rest of their lives. Without attaching to someone, and someone attaching themselves to us, we would die. Humans need other humans to care for them for years. Humans can only exist in a social environment. Humans need other humans. It only makes sense that we would attach to people, but we also know that all humans die. Therefore, it also only makes sense that humans would be equipped to be able to deal with the inevitable losses. The brain has an immense capacity to change itself. The examples of brains rewiring themselves after severe injuries are extraordinary. If the brain can do that, it has the capacity to view loss in another light as well.

There are a number of different ways to seek a resolution of the emotional trauma suffered in a loss. Josef Breuer had a lot of success in the late 1800's(2) by taking the patient back through the event in a state of reverie. Different, but similar, experiences happen for some people when they do deep observational meditation in the tradition of Gautama Buddha, with the explicit aim of relieving themselves from all suffering through breaking the bonds of attachment. The reactions that we press down and repress build up pressure and insist that they must be released. Some people find that artistic expression, or other kinds of symbolic expression help to relieve the tension for awhile.

It seemed to me, for a long time, that a foundational change in perspective was necessary, and I have found that to be true. But, first, a small aside into values and love.

What's the difference between "I value you," "I like you," and "I love you?" I would propose that it mostly has to do with context and scale. Let's make the context the same to make it a little less confusing. Let's say that I am talking to an apple. Yes, an apple. I say, "I value you" to an apple. What does that mean? It means I think the apple is of worth. Let's add a little more context and say that I value the apple because I enjoy eating the apple. Okay. Let's say I am talking to an apple and I say, "I like you." What does that mean? Well, let's stick with the same context and say that I like the apple because I enjoy eating it. Finally, let's say I tell the apple, "I love you." What does that mean? Well, it means that I enjoy eating the apple. With the same context, they all mean the same thing, except for one thing; there is a scale. I think the word value will be different for some people, so let's just go with like and love. If I say I love one apple and I like another apple, which one do you think I would prefer to eat? That's right, love is stronger than like. It's a value scale. That's the most common way in which the word love is used, but there is another.

Romantic love is often seen as a little different than just love as a value preference, often it is, but sometimes it seems to be a bit different. There are a few different reasons for this, such as imprinting(3), but I think they can all be put under the header of identity fusion(4). It's possible for humans to forget that they are only what they can sense, or even to never realize that. Identity fusion can happen in groups large or small, including in a two person group, a pair pond, a couple, romantic love. This is a very strong attachment, it feels like you are one with another, that it would be impossible to be separated, until you are. This is a unique psychological and emotional experience, but it is still a type of value, and we can talk about liking, and loving, and valuing together. Because, in many ways, when we feel as if something is a part of us, or we are a part of it, it has such a strong value for us because we have such a strong value for ourselves. There are special dangers here, for instance, what happens if we start to devalue the thing we identify with? Well, ideally we would be able to realize that it isn't actually a part of us. For now, though, it is enough to realize that all of these things are still talking about our values.

So, someone dies, what did you lose? What value did you have that you no longer have? You valued doing this with them, and that with them, and this talk with them, and that talk with them, but are any of those gone? No, those are part of the past. They not only cannot be erased, they can't even be changed. Even if our memory is erased, or changed, the true past will continue to be as it has, whether we know it or not. So, what have we lost? We've lost the future. A future that we imagined we would have, but we don't. It's important that humans make predictions, guesses, and conjectures about the future. It's important that we anticipate and have expectations. But, it's also important to realize that we are sometimes wrong. When this occurs with a lesser value, with a less emotional value, we are able to realize that we just had a false expectation and adjust to it, but as that value increases it becomes easier and easier to lose sight of this truth. Did you ever have this future that you imagined? No, you did not. What you have lost is a false expectation about an imagined future.

Even when we say that it was unreasonable to expect such a loss to occur, it's important to realize that it was perfectly reasonable. So reasonable in fact that it actually occurred. It helps, of course, if you understand causality, that one thing leads to another, going back as far as you can imagine, and as far forward as you can as well. Einstein talked about time being a persistent illusion, that's what he was talking about. Probability is just a measure of our uncertainty, a measure of what we don't know. We can think about the probable future, but we can be wrong, even about the probability.

A unique perspective dealing with the loss of loved ones is that you could change your expectation of the imagined future. You are experiencing a loss of all of the good imaginary future events that you expected, but we all know that there would also be pain the future. If you valued the person then you surely didn't want them to experience pain, and now they don't have to. The loss is not only a loss of the good, but also a loss of the bad.

Losses help to reveal our values to ourselves, they help to clarify them, they help us to appreciate the past, to realize that what has passed is permanent and can never be taken away, what has not happened cannot be lost, only our false expectations can be lost, both the good and the bad, and that to have lost something, at some point we must have gained something.

Here is where this essay began:

Here is part 2:

Here is part 3:

And here is the overview of the entire project:

1 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_theory
2 - Studies on Hysteria by Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud, 1895.
3 - The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris, 1969, chapter five.
4 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Identity_fusion

Jeffrey Alexander Martin
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Gender: Male
Birth Place: Muskegon, Michigan, U.S.A.
Birth Date: February 1st 1989
Race: White/Caucasian
Ethnicity: British, Irish, Western European
Nationality: American

Political: Classical Liberal
Epistemologic: Objectivist
Economic: Austrian/Catallactic/Cratic
Value Theory: Contextualist
Ethical: Humanist
Religious: Agnostic
Psychological: Eclectic
Metaphysical: Realist
Aesthetic: Semiotician
Social: Signal Theorist
Truth: Negative Pragmatist
Time: Eternalist
Causality: Chaos Determinist/ Infinite-value Determinist
Fav. Animal: Human


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Barnes and Noble College
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Whittaker Mountaineering

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Kohls Department Store

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Neuroplasticity by Gregory Caremans

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PADI scuba diving certification with ScubaZoo in 2015
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Horseback riding lessons with Alpine Ridge Farms in 2015
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Ziplining at Boyne Mountain in 2010
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Some of my Favorite Books

Replay by Ken Grimwood
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
The Leadership Crisis and the Free Market Cure by John Allison
The Principles for Success by Ross Perot
A Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R. R. Martin
Science and Sanity by Alfred Korzybski
The Will to Meaning by Viktor Frankl
An Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology by Ayn Rand
Unended Quest by Karl Popper
The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science by Ludwig von Mises
The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant
A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
On Writing by Stephen King
Relentless by Tim Grover
Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way by Jim Lundy
The Strenuous Life by Theodore Roosevelt
Charisma by Charles Lindholm
Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill
The Knack of Selling Yourself by James T. Mangan
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
Not Fade Away by Peter Barton
Be Obsessed or Be Average by Grant Cardone
The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle
Memoirs by Ludwig von Mises
The Manual by W. Anton
The Spellbinders by Ruth Willner
Prophetic Charisma by Len Oakes
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell
The Dao of Capital by Mark Spitznagel
Rock Bottom to Rock Star by Ryan Blair
The One Thing by Gary Keller
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
Sex and Rank by Sergei Morozov
Good Profit by Charles Koch
Zero to One by Peter Thiel
How to Win at the Sport of Business by Mark Cuban
How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger
Straight Line Persuasion by Jordan Belfort
How Power Selling Brought Me Success in Six Hours by Pierce Brooks
Sell or Be Sold by Grant Cardone
Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins
Magnetic Sponsoring by Mike Dillard
Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout
Straight-Line Leadership by Dusan Djukich
I, Pencil by Leonard Read
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Rethinking Positive Thinking by Gabriele Oettingen
Made Conscious by Frankie Faires
Living Control Systems by William T. Powers
The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer
11-22-63 by Stephen King
The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey
Endurance by Alfred Lansing
Creative Problem Solving by Robert A. Harris
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
The One Basic Plot by Martin Turner
The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki
Do The Work by Steven Pressfield
Poetics by Aristotle
Studies on Hysteria by Joseph Breuer and Sigmund Freud
The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart
Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
Writing Popular Fiction by Dean Koontz
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin
Behave by Robert Sapolsky
The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
The Art of Fiction by Ayn Rand
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pain and Pleasure by Benjamin Franklin
An Essay on the Principle of Population by Thomas Malthus
The Collected Works of Benjamin Franklin
The Meaning of It all by Richard Feynman
Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
Warren Buffett and the Interpretation of Financial Statements by Mary Buffett
The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris
The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris
The Nature of Happiness by Desmond Morris
The Artistic Ape by Desmond Morris
The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss
Read Right by Dee Tadlock
Montessori Read and Write by Lynne Lawrence

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