Lessons From: Ayn Rand's Virtue of Selfishness

How Ayn Rand viewed the necessity of freedom

Ayn Rand is an inflammatory figure and is frequently brought up in politics either by ultra-conservative Republicans who didn't get the point (or even read her books), libertarians who did, and libertarians who didn't, as an example of why their ideology is the one that works. At the same time, she's brought up by liberals who've never read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, as an example of why the others are not that bright if they believe that her philosophy is sound or that her writing is good. It's a hit and miss, for sure, but there are a lot of lessons you can get from her. If you know about Bioshock's background, then you know that the storyline of Rapture is based off Atlas and shows the danger of taking it too far.

The interesting thing about Rand is that she's practically a refugee that fled to the United States from the Soviet dictatorship. This means that if you want an example of somebody who's seen the horrors of communism, Marxist thought and postmodernist thought, there you have it, and having seen such a flawed reality of the communist ideology, she practically had no choice but to resent it, and thus was a pretty stern individualist.

Her Virtue of Selfishness is a collection of essays which explained her philosophy, Objectivism. This philosophy consists of reality's existence in spite of consciousness. In other words, she takes the age-old question of whether a tree really falls in the woods if there's no one around to see or hear it, and she pretty much takes a dump over it because regardless of anybody being there, the tree will fall because it's happening.

Objectivism also goes into morality, explicitly stating that man's moral purpose is to pursue his own happiness and the only socioeconomic system that will allow this is laissez-faire capitalism. This is why a lot of libertarians identify with Ayn Rand, they want a system as close to a truly free market as possible with minimal government intervention, in order to not have their individual rights threatened by any institution. This means that you can produce what you want, sell it to whomever you want, with whatever standards you have. As a customer, this also allows you the freedom of choice, and this seems to be threatened on both sides because the freedom of choice implies the freedom of discrimination, of having standards. The same way you can't just up and open a bar without getting a license to sell liquor in developed countries, you aren't really free to choose your religion in places like Egypt, where you can legally convert to Islam but not to any other religion.

Then, we have to wonder, what does Rand mean when she talks about selfishness? It's usually a derogatory term, after all, and one who praises the selfish is usually pretty egotistical himself. Thus, the term must be understood as "concern for your own interests", and when this is held back from the individual, it is when evil is manifested. If you're wondering whether this means one is not capable of loving another, then you have to realize it's not like that either. Ayn Rand was married to a designer who tried becoming an artist, who was living off royalties from his past works, and when asked whether she would need to help him stay on his feet were money to stop flowing into his pockets, she replied that not really, because she'd be doing it out of her love for him and it would give her immense pleasure that would be self-gratifying for herself.

To take an example from her fiction, in Atlas Shrugged the producers are burdened with the weight of the world on their shoulders, not only with taxes and regulations but the demand that all must be shared, after all, it is man that holds his brother up. Her heroes reject this because they refuse to live for another, only for themselves, and so they leave everything behind and create their own society in which everybody is equal and free, and nobody is obligated to live for another. It's a very utopic vision, for sure, but there is an interesting lesson to be learned about society's entitlement and resentment towards those who actively look out for their own interests. This is not to say that they wouldn't be fair or even charitable. Some of these men actively improved humanity with their inventions, innovations, discoveries, what have you, and there's even a banker who refused to loan money to people who wouldn't be capable of paying it back, which, if I may remind you, was a big factor of the 2008 crisis in the first place.

What can we learn from this? 

Objectivism is pretty simple to apply if you can understand that altruism is definitely a virtue you can have, but you can never place your love of another over the love of self, that is what cripples individuals and in the long run cripples societies. You may ask how it is that Bill Gates can dedicate most of his wealth to charity, then, and to that the answer is that he's pretty much covered, as well as his family, and they have more than enough money to last themselves a few generations, even with all they have donated. 

It's a pretty Aristotelic way to view the world, for sure, centering yourself in what's reality instead of the interpretation of what it should be, and acting according to that, and if you want to lead an existence that is both moral and practical, you wouldn't regret checking her philosophy out. I'd suggest reading Anthem, though, instead of Atlas or The Fountainhead. It's a pretty quick read and has most of her ideas. 

You can read Anthem here:


Lessons From: The Socratic Method

How Socrates learned and taught the truth

Shoutout to all the teachers

If you've taken a class with a good teacher, and you actually feel that you got something away from it, chances are that your professor used maieutics, or the Socratic Method. All in all, it's pretty simple, you have two or more people asking each other questions, and through these questions you stimulate critical thinking and actually view everyone's prejudices and can draw them out, or to further their understanding about any topic. 

In a way, it's also a method of eliminating hypothesis, because you're always finding better theories about anything, and getting rid of those which are contradictory, either with the truth, or with your other beliefs. You make a series of questions that serve as tests of logic in order to help someone expand their knowledge or beliefs about any topic. Even though Socrates was who developed this method, it is Plato who put it down in prose in the Socratic Dialogues, where he recorded conversations between his teacher and citizens. In these, the people were questioned on moral and epistemological (theory of knowledge) issues, and their views would be either challenged or expanded upon by the questions that they had to answer. Plato then developed another version of this method he called dialectics. 

The method is pretty similar to the scientific method. It follows these steps:

  1. Make a common sense statement
  2. Find an exception
  3. Reject the statement if you found an exception
  4. Make a new statement that accounts for the exception
  5. Repeat until you cannot find an exception
The whole deal with this method is the capacity to question a single idea. Modern debate tends to be focused on the big picture, but when you throw everything in and don't really question each of those ideas, your arguments can be pretty deficient. The variety of answers that you can generate for a single idea is pretty impressive, and if you do it correctly, you can learn much more than from a two-sided debate where people try to "win" with their ideas instead of having the right idea. 

There are two forms of this method. The Classic Socratic Method focuses on questions of morality, virtue, and the answers not known by the facilitator. The Modern Socratic Method asks questions that already have answers, and can be considered to be more of Plato's interpretation of his teacher's ways. While the Classic method will have you wondering whether justice is truly based in equity, the Modern method can be used to ask your student what 2+2 is and to gauge whether he can figure it out for himself. 

As you can see, the Modern method will have to be used a little differently than the Classic, for it is not the same to question beliefs than to actually acquire new knowledge through the questions that you are asked. For this, the questions must be  1) Interesting, 2) Incremental, 3) Logical (moving from the student's prior knowledge towards a goal), and 4) Designed to illuminate particular points. This makes the scope of answers that you can receive for your questions smaller than with the other method. Instead of simply asking what justice is, you give a small example of a moral dilemma and ask what is fair, and you build up from there. 

How can we apply this?

The Socratic Method is not only useful for a teacher, but for anybody who wishes to have a more objective view of the world. It implies that you use your critical thinking skills to debunk your own preconceptions, and get closer to the truth, which is what matters at the end of the day.

If you're a teacher, though, instead of simply asking your students to memorize information, lead them to it through relevant questions that they can answer for themselves if they think a bit. Should it be used to teach anything? Not quite, I wouldn't say it's effective for teaching somebody differential calculus if he's just finished linear algebra, for building knowledge on a new topic like that would take more time than it's worth. Use it to build knowledge rather than teach from scratch, and you'll have a powerful tool at your disposal. After all, the best teacher in history used it, why shouldn't you?


Lessons From: Aristotle's System of Logic

How to use Aristotle's Logic to be a better student

Teacher's Day is tomorrow here in Mexico, so before we indulge in learning about the man who possibly was the greatest teacher of all time, we will learn about Aristotle, a student of Plato,  who himself was a student of the aforementioned teacher, Socrates. Besides being one of the most prolific students Plato had, having created the first comprehensive system of Western Philosophy, and when he left his teacher's academy at the age of 37, he was requested by Phillip II of Macedon to tutor his son, Alexander the Great. Being a teacher, in fact, gave him many opportunities and supplies, with which he opened a library in the Lyceum, and although a big part of his monument was devoted to his teacher, he eventually left Platonism for empiricism, and indeed, he was one of the first to attempt to develop a scientific method, and many of his findings couldn't either be confirmed or rejected until into the 19th century. His teachings on ethics were pretty much influential in Judeo-Christian philosophy, but were eventually ignored due to the rise of Kantianism and other philosophies, but we can talk about virtue ethics in another time.

Today we will see a version of Aristotle's system of logic that will be pretty easy to understand, and once you do, you'll be able to apply it to your life. He believed that logic was the instrument we used to understand anything, and he developed what was known as categorical logic, widely accepted throughout even the 19th century, in which he asserted that the way we use the subject-predicate form is the primary expression of truth, and the way we use language can eventually be used to paint a picture of the world.

Using the Categories

In Categories, he establishes three ways that predicates can relate to each other in meaning: homonymy, synonymy, and paronymy, sometimes written as equivocal, unequivocal, and derivative. As you can predict, homonymy implies entirely different explanations, for example, "His wife cheated on him, he's pissed," and "He's had too much to drink, he's pissed." Synonymous is basically using the same predicate with the same meaning, like "Paintings are pretty," or "Statues are pretty." Paronymy is when one predicate branches out from the meaning of another, for example, "He is very well-learned," and "His knowledge of Aristotelian logic is that of a well-learned man." (That's going to be you by the end of this post).

These relationships between predicates are important when you relate them to the ten categories of things. The most important is substance, for it describes the thing in itself, and is separated into primary substance, which is the individual thing itself, and secondary substance, which is the species or genera in which the individual thing belongs. The other nine are quantity, quality, relative, where, when, being in a position, having, acting on, and being affected by, and their function is simply to describe what separates this individual substance from the others. Basically, the first step to thinking logically like the man himself is being able to actually describe the world that you're living in, and although the focus is universal, the universe is found in the particulars.

Plato points to ideas, Aristotle is grounded in reality

Because what you see is generally a result of your perception, and not the thing in and of itself, if through the Categories you can create various propositions about an object which combines or separates its concepts, and these actually correspond to the object itself, you can say that you've made a truthful statement. If you can correctly apply the categories, you can make logical deductions of the world around you, as all knowledge, acording to Aristotle, comes from what is already known. Say, for example:

  • All humans are mortal
  • All Athenians are human
  • Therefore, all Athenians are mortal
  • All dogs are mammals
  • All mammals have fur and breastfeed
  • All dogs have fur and breastfeed

How can we apply this?

It's pretty simple. If you were to summarize what Aristotle said in a sentence, it would basically be: Name things as they are and build on it. This also helps you create false assertions, for through the use of logic, you cannot simply invent a fact nor attribute characteristics to an object that it does not really have. All in all, knowing this will at least let you pay attention to the language you use to describe the universe, so you may avoid mistakes or inconsistencies, and thus, allow you to become an excellent student of the world. 

Read more about Logic here:


Lessons From: Blade Runner

How Deckard learned your origin isn't as important as what you do

Blade Runner is one of those films that can only truly be made once in a lifetime, with a story as beautiful as its imagery. It's based on a Phillip K. Dick book called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and though the core story is very similar, they do deviate a bit in certain themes, so whenever we deal with either one I'll make a clear distinction. The trailer for the sequel has just been released, so in honor of that, we'll go through the existence and behavior of the replicants. 

In Blade Runner, there are normal human beings, and there are replicants, which are genetically modified superhumans with a very short life span, and implanted memories, which have been banished from Earth. To deal with them, there are Runners, who are special private eyes dedicated to identifying and hunting down the replicants. They do this through the Voight-Kampff test, which asks questions that require genuine empathy to answer, and measures things like pupil dilation in response to certain questions to gauge subconscious reactions. When someone doesn't have empathy, either he's a true sociopath, or he's a replicant, and the difference between the two can be noticed when they answer the strange questions in the test. For example:

Holden: Yes. You're in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down-
Leon: What one?
Holden: What?
Leon: What desert?
Holden: It doesn't make any difference what desert, it's completely hypothetical.
Leon: But how come I'd be there?
Holden: Maybe you're fed up, maybe you want to be by yourself, who knows? You look down and you see a tortoise, Leon, it's crawling towards you-
Leon: Tortoise, what's that?
Holden: Know what a turtle is?
Leon: Of course.
Holden: Same thing.
Leon: I've never seen a turtle -- But I understand what you mean.

What scared people about the replicants was the fact that they were insanely strong, fast, better in any way than humanity except for their very short lifespan, and their lack of empathy combined with their superiority was, frankly, quite intimidating, but as the film goes along, you go to realize that what these people want is to be left alone with their memories until they die. That's not to say that they can't be "evil", in a way; they tend to use people to reach their goals and will not hesitate to kill anyone should it be more convenient to them, which is a side effect or direct result of their lack of empathy. 

Ridley Scott loved the ambiguity that could be used for Deckard himself, the best Runner that there is. Throughout the film, with certain imagery, it's implied that he's a replicant, and depending on whichever of the versions you watch, it's almost either confirmed or denied. There are also other characters who you can't really tell are replicants or not until either they reveal it or Deckard does, and though they do have the potential for danger, the Runner comes to realize that if left to their own devices they don't really have an incentive to destroy humanity or whatever it was that society feared of them. 

What can we learn from this?

This is the argument that severely hindered racism throughout history and all the smaller phobias that society had, basically realizing that the others are humans as well and have the potential to either do good or evil, depending on how they were treated. Granted, the replicants aren't quite human, but they're pretty close. 

A lot of people tend to limit themselves because they fear that where they come from isn't good enough, but you have to realize that it's not where you're from that matters, but what you actually do, so you might as well live the best life you can. There's no conspiracy in your favor like Coelho would have you believe, but there's no conspiracy against you either, so don't look backwards from where you came. Rather, look towards the future. 

Do yourself a favor. Watch Blade Runner. 


Lessons From: Donnie Darko

How Donnie Darko let go of his fear of death

Shoutout to Lizzie

Ask young people what their favorite movie is, and they'll generally tell you that it's either Fight Club or Donnie Darko, which somewhat speaks of their transcendence, or, at least, lets you know that they push pretty much everyone's buttons in one way or another despite a few critics saying that they're overrated, forgetting that art is not perfection and popularity is not necessarily holding something in high esteem. 

If anyone asks you what the movie's about, you'll generally mention something like mental illness, schizophrenia, time travel, alternate dimensions, or the guy in the stupid bunny suit who made lightweight philosophical commentary every once in a while. Some might even mention that hey, not only Jake Gyllenhaal is in the movie, but his sister is in it and she actually looks kind of good and they even play as brother and sister. 

I said kind of

Before we go on, I'll try to keep this spoiler free but I will talk about some plot points and to be fair the movie's been there since the start of the millennium, so if you haven't seen it by this point, then you took your time, pal.

Donnie had two main problems which stemmed from the denial of his emotions, which were an existential fear of death and love, somewhat related to his lack of intimacy with a girl, or almost anyone else, for that matter. He was somewhat secluded from society aside from a couple of friends, and had a pretty dry view of the world, oftentimes materialistic, and would make questions like "What's the point of living if you don't have a dick?"

He regularly visits a psychiatrist who actually verbalizes his fear of love, and fear itself, and what angers him is that there is way more to the human psyche than these two emotions, and yet, these dominate his life profoundly and he must accept them in order to become a "savior", for lack of a better word. 

The way he dealt with his existential dread was through the situations that arose whenever the weird bunny suit guy appeared, which would lead him to do things like flood the school, burn down a child pornography enthusiast's house, and actually talk to a crazy old lady who had pretty much become detached from reality. By the time he completes his tasks, he's not only rid of his dread, he actually experiences euphoria, and when he stays in bed with the knowledge that an airplane is about to crash into his room, he accepts it for he has accepted his emotions (and probably because there is a lot of analysis we could do about the real universe and tangent universe or whether the loop is destroyed at all but I really can't be bothered to research sixteen years of internet forums for that sort of answer).

What can we learn from this?

Although Donnie Darko may not seem profound to some, the commentary on mental sanity and acceptance of your emotions to fight off existential dread is something to be considered. Of course, you're not going to be visited by a one-eyed guy in a bunny suit, and if you are, then you might as well go to a psychiatrist like Donnie. 

Nihilism and apathy for existence tend to come from an unwillingness to deal with tough emotions, but numbing yourself will eventually make you a blank slate of sorts and very volatile, and actually having the capacity to deal with your emotions in a healthy manner takes an integral care and acceptance for everything: joy, fear, love, hatred, and whatever other feelings you can think of. If you do it right, hell, you might even feel euphoria every once in a while, and when you actually feel that you've lived a proper life, then, you can let go of your fear of death.

Read more theories about Donnie Darko here:

Lessons From: The Pareto Principle

How to make the most of your time and effort

Economics is the sort of topic where an enthusiast thinks he knows what he's doing, but really doesn't. In itself, it's a very strange science about dealing with scarcity using efficiency, and in order to reach peak efficiency you must have a mastery of mathematics and statistics, besides understanding the theory behind them. Of course, if you can actually manage this, you can come up with some interesting discoveries, and one of these is called the Pareto Principle. 

Vilfredo Pareto was economist, who also happened to be an engineer and a sociologist that studied income distribution and the choices of individuals. He observed that 80% of the land in Italy belonged to 20% of the people, and that 80% of the pea pods in his garden came from 20% of the plants, and developed a theory around that, and nowadays that sort of distribution is called the Pareto Principle, which can be seen in pretty much every area of life. 

How does this distribution work? In order to avoid getting into the more complicated mathematical aspect, I'll explain it as such: The square root of the input produces 50% of the output, and in that half, if you take the square root of the input, you will find, again, that it produces half of that output. So, if you have 10,000 employees, 100 of them do 50% of the output, and even then, half of that output is made by 10 of those hundred employees. This means that the bigger the input gets, the bigger the redundancy is and we tend to lose track of those who are actually of any value, and eventually you get big systems that depend on a few key outputs to actually exist. Incompetence grows exponentially, and competence grows in a linear fashion.

You might think that this applies only to land distribution, or maybe the accumulation of wealth, but you don't only see this in economics, and there are a few notorious examples we can actually observe this in. 
  • Dr. Joseph Juran, while working in quality control in the 1940's, found that 80% of issues came from 20% of defects. 
  • It is a common rule told in marketing that 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your customers. 
  • The first 20% of input that a project yields 80% of its results. 
  • 1989, world Gross Domestic Product, the richest 20% had 82.7% of the world's wealth. 
  • In computer science and engineering control theory, for energy converters and such, the Pareto Principle is used for optimization. 
  • Microsoft noticed that 80% of issues with their computers were rid of by fixing 20% of their bugs. 
  • 20% of athletes participate in 80% of the biggest competition, and of those, 20% win 80% of the awards. 
  • In training, 20% of the exercise tends to have 80% of the impact on your body (This is probably why interval training is so effective).
  • In workplace injuries, 20% of hazards account for 80% of injuries.
  • 20% of patients in the U.S. use 80% of the resources. 

How can we apply this?

It depends on what you want to do. Of course, it's not always going to be exactly 80/20, but say you're a business owner, then look at who's producing more for your company, and you can fire the rest, reduce your input, basically reducing costs and keeping most of the productivity. Of course, this is a pretty simplified way of seeing it, but it tends to work. 

If you're working out more than one hour a day and it's not seeming to pay off then you can try the aforementioned intermittent workouts, wherein you do five minutes of intense exercise, and one minute of moderate, or one minute intense, thirty seconds moderate, whatever floats your boat. It's a very efficient method. 

Want to sell better? Focus your time and efforts on the 20% that actually will buy your product and generate your wealth. Want to fix most of your problems? Look at the root of what causes them. You can apply this logic to pretty much anything in your life, and if you do, then you will find that you will actually have time to follow your passions, which should also probably get 20% of your time of day. 

Read more about the Pareto Principle here:

Lessons From: Star Wars Prequels

The tragic irony of a strict dogma The Star Wars prequels are widely seen as one of the worst mistakes to come to the silver screen...