Memory is not a fixed and permanent record, like a document in a filing cabinet. It is something much more hazy and mutable. As Elizabeth Loftus told an interviewer in 2013, “It’s a little more like a Wikipedia page. You can go in there and change it, and so can other people.”
Declarative memory is the kind you can put into words—the names of state capitals, your date of birth, how to spell “ophthalmologist,” and everything else you know as fact. Procedural memory describes the things you know and understand but couldn’t so easily put into words—how to swim, drive a car, peel an orange, identify colors.
The nucleus accumbens, a region of the forebrain associated with pleasure, grows to its largest size in one’s teenage years. At the same time, the body produces more dopamine, the neurotransmitter that conveys pleasure, than it ever will again. That is why the sensations you feel as a teenager are more intense than at any other time of life. But it also means that seeking pleasure is an occupational hazard for teenagers.
Ekman concluded that six expressions are universal: fear, anger, surprise, pleasure, disgust, and sorrow.
No society has ever been found that doesn’t respond to smiles in the same way. True smiles are brief—between two-thirds of a second and four seconds. That’s why a held smile begins to look menacing. A true smile is the one expression that we cannot fake.
Floaters are a common occurrence as you get older, and are generally harmless, though they can indicate a retinal tear. The technical name for them, if you wish to impress someone, is muscae volitantes, or “hovering flies.”
Tears come in three varieties: basal, reflex, and emotional. Basal are the functional ones that provide lubrication. Reflex tears are those that emerge when the eye is irritated by smoke or sliced onions or similar. And emotional tears are of course self-evident, but they are also unique. We are the only creatures that cry from feeling, as far as we can tell. Why we do so is another of life’s many mysteries. We get no physiological benefit from erupting in tears. It is also a little odd surely that this act signifying powerful sadness is also triggered by extreme joy or quiet rapture or intense pride or almost any other potent emotional state.
Heimlich seriously undermined his reputation by championing a treatment called malaria therapy, in which people were purposely infected with low doses of malaria in the belief that it would cure them of cancer, Lyme disease, and AIDS, among much else. His claims for the treatment were not supported by any actual science. Partly because he had become an embarrassment, in 2006 the American Red Cross stopped using the term “Heimlich maneuver” and started calling it “abdominal thrusts.”
As well as the mouth, the body has taste receptors in the gut and throat (to help identify spoiled or toxic substances), but they don’t connect to the brain in the same way as the taste receptors on your tongue, and for good reason. You don’t want to taste what your stomach is tasting. Taste receptors have also been found in the heart, the lungs, and even the testicles. No one knows quite what they are doing there. They also send signals to the pancreas to adjust insulin output, and it may be connected to that.
ou experience the world that your brain allows you to experience.
Well into the nineteenth century most doctors approached diseases not as distinct afflictions, each requiring its own treatment, but as generalized imbalances affecting the whole body.
That was the problem with bleeding. If you could tell yourself that those who survived did so because of your efforts while those who died were beyond salvation by the time you reached them, bleeding would always seem a prudent option.
All blood cells are the same inside, but the outsides are covered with different kinds of antigens—that is, proteins that project outward from the cell surface—and that is what accounts for blood types.
People with O blood, for instance, are more resistant to malaria but less resistant to cholera. By developing a variety of blood types and spreading them around among populations, we benefit the species, if not always the individuals within it.
When a blood bank receives a call for blood, it normally dispatches the oldest blood first, to use up aging stock before it expires, which means that almost everybody receives old blood. Worse still, it was discovered that even fresh transfused blood actually impedes the performance of existing blood in the recipient’s body. This is where nitric oxide comes in.
The term “stent” has a curious history. It is named after Charles Thomas Stent, a nineteenth-century London dentist who had nothing to do with heart surgery. Stent was the inventor of a compound used to make dental molds, which oral surgeons eventually also found useful when doing repairs to the mouths of soldiers wounded in the Boer War. Over time, the term came to be used for any kind of device used to keep tissue in place during corrective surgery and, in the absence of a better term, gradually took up a position as the word of choice for an arterial support for cardiac surgery.
Our blood is red, incidentally, why do our veins look blue? It is simply a quirk of optics. When light lands on our skin, a higher proportion of the red spectrum is absorbed, but more of the blue light is bounced back, so blue is what we see. Color is not some innate feature that radiates out of an object but rather a marker of the light bouncing off it.
Rh factor is the name for a kind of surface protein called an antigen. People who have the Rh antigen (about 84 percent of us) are said to be Rh-positive. Those who lack it, the remaining 16 percent, are Rh-negative.
A central part of the problem is that our bodies evolved to deal with the challenge of dietary paucity, not overabundance. So leptin isn’t programmed to tell you to stop eating. Nothing chemical in your body is. That’s a big part of why you tend to just keep on consuming. We are habituated into devouring foods greedily whenever we are able on the assumption that abundance is an occasional condition.
If your hormones think you are starving, those processes will not be allowed to begin. That’s why young people who are anorexic often have a very delayed start to puberty. “It’s also almost certainly why puberty starts years earlier now than it did in historic times,” says Wass. “In Henry VIII’s reign, puberty started at sixteen or seventeen. Now it is more commonly eleven. That’s almost certainly because of improved nutrition.”
The humors were believed to be fluids that circulated within the body and kept everything in balance. For two thousand years, a belief in humors was used to explain people’s health, looks, tastes, disposition—everything. In this context, humor has nothing to do with amusement. It comes from a Latin word for “moisture.” When we talk today of humoring someone or of people being ill-humored, we are not talking about their capacity for laughter, at least not etymologically.
Not less than two hours a day should be devoted to exercise and the weather should be little regarded. If the body be feeble, the mind will not be strong. —THOMAS JEFFERSON
You may think your legs drop straight down from your waist—they do in apes—but in fact the femur angles inward as it descends from pelvis to knee. This has the effect of moving our lower legs closer together, giving us a much smoother, more graceful gait. No ape can be trained to walk like a human. They are compelled by their bone structure to waddle, and to do so in a most inefficient way.
“If you want to understand the human body, you have to understand that we evolved to be hunter-gatherers. That means being prepared to expend a lot of energy to acquire food, but not wasting energy when you don’t need to.” So exercise is important, but rest is vital, too.
One big problem with exercise is that we don’t track it very scrupulously. One study in America found that people overestimate the number of calories they burned in a workout by a factor of four. They also then consumed, on average, about twice as many calories as they had just burned off.
Lean people tend to spend two and a half hours more a day on their feet than fat people, not consciously exercising, but just moving about, and it was this that kept them from accumulating fat.
Heat is lost at the surface, so the more surface area you have relative to volume, the harder you must work to stay warm. That means that little creatures have to produce heat more rapidly than large creatures. They must therefore lead completely different lifestyles. An elephant’s heart beats just thirty times a minute, a human’s sixty, a cow’s between fifty and eighty, but a mouse’s beats six hundred times a minute—ten times a second. Every day, just to survive, the mouse must eat about 50 percent of its own body weight. We humans, by contrast, need to consume only about 2 percent of our body weight to supply our energy requirements.
One area where animals are curiously—almost eerily—uniform is with the number of heartbeats they have in a lifetime. Despite the vast differences in heart rates, nearly all animals have about 800 million heartbeats in them if they live an average life. The exception is humans. We pass 800 million heartbeats after twenty-five years, and just keep on going for another fifty years and 1.6 billion heartbeats or so.
We could reduce our energy needs considerably if we elected to be cold-blooded. A typical mammal uses about thirty times as much energy in a day as a typical reptile, which means that we must eat every day what a crocodile needs in a month.
It is a great irony nonetheless that a very high proportion of the suffering we do is inflicted on us by our own defenses in the form of autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and many unappealing others.
Inflammation is essentially the heat of battle as the body defends itself from damage. Blood vessels in the vicinity of an injury dilate, allowing more blood to flow to the site, bringing with it white blood cells to fight off invaders. That causes the site to swell, increasing the pressure on surrounding nerves, resulting in tenderness.
Though he didn’t use the term “hygiene hypothesis.” That came later. The idea, very loosely, is that children in the developed world grow up in much cleaner environments than children of earlier ages did, and so don’t develop resistance to infection as well as those who have a more intimate contact with dirt and parasites.
Efficiency is also assisted by a slight differential in air pressure between the outside world and the space around your lungs, known as the pleural cavity. Air pressure in the chest is less than atmospheric pressure, which helps to keep the lungs inflated. If air gets into the chest, because of a puncture wound, say, the differential vanishes and the lungs collapse to only about a third of their normal size.
The greatest of vitamin controversies was stirred up by the American chemist Linus Pauling (1901–94), who had the distinction of winning not one but two Nobel Prizes (for chemistry in 1954 and for peace eight years later). Pauling believed that massive doses of vitamin C were effective against colds, flu, and even some cancers. He took up to forty thousand milligrams of vitamin C daily (the recommended daily dose is sixty milligrams) and maintained that his large intake of vitamin C had kept his prostate cancer at bay for twenty years. He had no evidence for any of his claims, and all have been pretty well discredited by subsequent studies. Thanks to Pauling, to this day many people believe that taking a lot of vitamin C will help to get rid of a cold. It won’t.
A small but unspecified number of amino acids strung together is a peptide. Ten or twelve strung together is a polypeptide. When a polypeptide begins to get bigger than that, it becomes, at some ineffable point, a protein.
Eight of the twenty amino acids cannot be made in the body and must be consumed in the diet. If they are missing from the foods we eat, then certain vital proteins cannot be made.
The main thing to bear in mind is that carbohydrates, upon being digested, are just more sugar—often quite a lot more. That means that a 150-gram serving of white rice or a small bowl of cornflakes will have the same effect on your blood glucose levels as nine teaspoons of sugar.
When fats are broken down in the body, they are teamed up with cholesterol and proteins in a new molecule called lipoproteins, which travel through the body via the bloodstream. Lipoproteins come in two principal types: high density and low density. Low-density lipoproteins are the ones frequently referred to as “bad cholesterol” because they tend to form plaque deposits on the walls of blood vessels.
The human body likes to hold on to its fat. It burns some of the fat we consume for energy, but a good deal of the rest is sent off to tens of billions of tiny storage terminals called adipocytes, which exist all over the body. The upshot of all this is that the human body is designed to take in fuel, use what it needs, and store the rest to call on later as required. That makes it possible for us to be active for hours at a time without eating. Your body below the neck doesn’t do a lot of complicated thinking, and it is only too happy to hold on to any surplus fat you give it. It even rewards you for overeating with a lovely feeling of well-being.
We live in a paradoxical situation. For centuries, people ate unhealthily out of economic necessity. Now we do it out of choice.
When America joined the Second World War, the War Department commissioned Keys to devise a lightweight food pack for paratroopers. The result was the imperishable army food known as K rations. The K stood for Keys.
Three apples would give you just as much sugar but compensate by also giving you vitamins, minerals, and fiber, not to mention a greater feeling of satiation. That said, even the apples are a lot sweeter than they really need to be. As Lieberman has noted, modern fruits have been selectively bred to be vastly more sugary than they once were. The fruits that Shakespeare ate were, for the most part, probably no sweeter than the modern carrot.
When food reaches the consistency of pea soup, it is known as chyme (pronounced “kime”). The rumblings of your gut, incidentally, come mostly from the large intestine, not the stomach. The technical term for gut rumblings is “borborygmi.”
The smell of a fart is composed largely of hydrogen sulfide, even though hydrogen sulfide accounts for only about one to three parts per million of what is expelled. Hydrogen sulfide in concentrated form—as in sewage gas—can be highly lethal, but why we are so sensitive to it in trace exposures is a question science has yet to answer. Curiously, we don’t smell it at all when it rises to lethal levels.
Some birds and marine mammals are able to switch off one half of their brain at a time, so that one half remains alert while the other is snoozing.
As well as normal overnight sleep, we also commonly indulge in snatches of wakeful-hours sleep in a state known as hypnagogia, a netherworld between waking and unconsciousness, often without being aware of it. Alarmingly, when a dozen airline pilots on long-haul flights were studied by sleep scientists, almost all were found to have been asleep, or all but asleep, at various times during the flight without realizing it.
Our eyes contain a third photoreceptor cell type in addition to the well-known rods and cones. These additional receptors, known as photosensitive retinal ganglion cells, have nothing to do with vision but exist simply to detect brightness—to know when it is daytime and when night. They pass this information on to two tiny bundles of neurons within the brain, roughly the size of a pinhead, embedded in the hypothalamus and known as suprachiasmatic nuclei. These two bundles (one in each hemisphere) control our circadian rhythms. They are the body’s alarm clocks. They tell us when to rise and shine and when to call it a day.
The pressure to sleep grows more intense the longer we stay awake. This is in large part a consequence of an accumulation of chemicals in the brain as the day goes by, in particular one called adenosine, which is a by-product of the output of ATP (or adenosine triphosphate), the little molecule of intense energy that powers our cells. The more adenosine you accumulate, the drowsier you feel.
The average ejaculation is about three milliliters, which means that a typical sex act produces enough sperm to repopulate a medium-sized country at the very least. Why there is such a broad range of wriggling potentiality, and indeed why such an extravagance of production even at the lower end when only one sperm is required for conception, are questions that science has yet to answer.
One intriguing paradox of reproduction is that women are having babies later but preparing for it earlier. The age of first menstruation for women has fallen from fifteen in the late nineteenth century to just twelve and a half today, at least in the West. That is almost certainly because of improved nutrition.
You leave the womb sterile, or so it is generally thought, but are liberally swabbed with your mother’s personal complement of microbes as you move through the birth canal. We are only beginning to understand the importance and nature of a woman’s vaginal microbiome. Babies born by Cesarean section are robbed of this initial wash. The consequences for the baby can be profound. Various studies have found that people born by C-section have substantially increased risks for type 1 diabetes, asthma, celiac disease, and even obesity and an eightfold greater risk of developing allergies.
Pain is a strange and troublesome thing. Nothing in your life is more necessary and less welcome.
Nociceptors respond to three kinds of painful stimuli: thermal, chemical, and mechanical, or at least so it is universally assumed. Remarkably, scientists have not yet found the nociceptor that responds to mechanical pain. It is extraordinary surely that when you whack your thumb with a hammer or prick yourself with a needle, we don’t know what actually happens beneath your outer surface. All that can be said is that signals from all types of pain are conveyed on to the spinal cord and brain by two different types of fibers—fast-conducting A delta fibers (they’re coated in myelin, so slicker, as it were) and slower-acting C fibers. The swift A delta fibers give you the sharp ouch of a hammer blow; the slower C fibers give you the throbbing pain that follows.
Several of your nociceptors are polymodal, which means they are triggered by different stimuli. That’s why spicy foods taste hot, for instance.
The central nervous system is the brain and spinal cord. The nerves radiating out from this central hub—the ones that reach out to the other parts of your body—are the peripheral nervous system. The nervous system is additionally divided by function into the somatic nervous system, which is the part that controls voluntary actions (like scratching your head), and the autonomic nervous system, which controls all those things like heartbeats that you don’t have to think about because they are automatic. The autonomic nervous system is further divided into sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic is the part that responds when the body needs sudden actions—what is generally referred to as the fight-or-flight response. The parasympathetic is sometimes referred to as the “rest and digest” or “feed and breed” system and looks after a miscellany of other, generally less urgent matters like digestion and waste disposal, the production of saliva and tears, and sexual arousal (which may be intense but not urgent in the fight-or-flight sense).
Wall singled out cancer pain as “the apogee of pointlessness.” Most cancers don’t cause pain in their early stages when it might usefully alert us to take remedial action. Instead, all too often cancer pain becomes evident only when it is too late to be useful.
“Acute pain has an obvious point: it tells you that something is wrong and needs attention. They wanted chronic pain to have that kind of point, too—to exist for a purpose. But chronic pain has no purpose. It’s just a system gone wrong, in the same way that cancer is a system gone wrong.
Studies have shown that people given a colored tablet with corners will report feeling better than when given a plain white tablet. Red pills are deemed more fast acting than white pills. Green and blue pills have a more soothing effect.
For 90 percent of rare diseases, there are no treatments at all.
Medical care is actually making things worse by treating the symptoms of mismatch diseases so effectively that we “unwittingly perpetuate their causes.”
Cancer is quite unlike other maladies. It is often relentless in its attacks. Victory against it is nearly always hard won and often at great cost to the victim’s overall health. It will retreat under an onslaught, regroup, and return in a more potent form. Even when seemingly defeated, it may leave behind “sleeper” cells that can lie dormant for years before springing to life again. Above all, cancer cells are selfish. Normally, human cells do their job, then die on command when instructed to by other cells for the good of the body. Cancer cells don’t. They proliferate entirely in their own interests.
Something we have only recently realized is that before cancers metastasize, they are able to prepare the ground for an invasion in distant target organs, probably through some form of chemical signaling. “What this means,” Vormoor says, “is that when cancer cells spread to other organs, they don’t just turn up and hope for the best. They already have a base camp in the destination organ. Why certain cancers go to certain organs, often in distant parts of the body, has always been a mystery.”
“Cancer is the price we pay for evolution. If our cells couldn’t mutate, we would never get cancer, but we also couldn’t evolve. We would be fixed forever. What this means in practice is that although evolution is sometimes tough on the individual, it’s beneficial for the species.”
Mustard gas dramatically slowed the creation of white blood cells in those exposed to it. From this, it was realized that some derivative of mustard gas might be useful in treating some cancers. Thus was born chemotherapy.
Originally “cancer” described any non-healing sore, from which it is related to “canker.” In its more specific modern sense, it dates from the sixteenth century. The word comes from the Latin for “crab” (which is why the celestial constellation and its associated zodiac sign are called Cancer). It is said that Hippocrates, the Greek physician, used the term for tumors because their shape reminded him of crabs.
America is at or near the bottom for virtually every measure of medical well-being—for chronic disease, depression, drug abuse, homicide, teenage pregnancies, HIV prevalence. Even sufferers of cystic fibrosis live ten years longer on average in Canada than in the United States.
America has about 800,000 practicing physicians but needs twice that number of people to administer its payments system.
For most of history the focus of medicine has been to make sick people better, but now increasingly doctors devote their energies to trying to head off problems before they even arise, through programs of screening and the like, and that changes the dynamics of care entirely. There is an old joke in medicine that seems especially apt here: Q. What is the definition of a well person? A. Someone who hasn’t been examined yet.
We live in an age in which we are killed, more often than not, by lifestyle.
Cultured human stem cells—that is, cells grown in a lab, as opposed to in a living body—can divide only about fifty times before they mysteriously lose their power to go on. In essence, they appear to be programmed to die of old age. The phenomenon became known as the Hayflick limit.
Specialized DNA at the end of each chromosome called telomeres fulfill the role of tallying device. With each cell division, telomeres shorten until eventually they reach a predetermined length (which varies markedly from one cell type to another) and the cell dies or becomes inactive.
The mother hypothesis is that childbearing is dangerous and exhausting, and it becomes more of both as women age. So menopause may simply be a kind of protection strategy. By no longer having the wear and distraction of further childbirth, a woman can better focus on maintaining her own health while completing the rearing of her children just as they are entering their most productive years. This leads naturally to the grandmother hypothesis, which is that women stop breeding in middle age so that they can help their offspring raise their children.
Reaching 80 is largely a consequence of following a healthy lifestyle, but after that it is almost entirely a matter of genes.
It is an extraordinary fact that having good and loving relationships physically alters your DNA.
Studies have shown that cancer sufferers receiving palliative care in their final weeks rather than chemotherapy actually live longer and suffer much less.
Here is the bad news: the scientific method can produce knowledge that is wrong. Here is the good news: the scientific method is still our best technology for uncovering, verifying, and refining correct knowledge, because what the scientific method allows us to do is make wrong knowledge gradually more correct.
The scientific method requires you to keep an open mind and be willing—at any time—to discard a theory that no longer fits the facts.
Scientists are often seen as turbonerds, but the philosophical foundations of science are actually those of pure punk-rock anarchy: never respect authority, never take anyone’s word on anything, and test all the things you think you know to confirm or deny them for yourself.
More food obviously lets you have more people. But it also lets those people stop worrying about where their next meal is coming from, freeing them up to start worrying about different, more productive things.
Specialization gives the people in your civilization the opportunity to go further in any direction of study than any other human has gone before.
A rock tied to a string that can swing freely is called a pendulum, and it turns out that one second is the time it takes any pendulum on Earth—regardless of weight—to swing from one end to the other, as long as the pendulum is 99.4cm long.
Potatoes are one of the few plants that contain almost all the nutrition humans need! You can live entirely off potatoes (but shouldn’t, because then you’re extremely vulnerable to crop failure, and to vitamin A, B12, and E deficiencies).
To make actual soap, you’ll need potash, soda ash, or lye: these are alkalines you can produce easily with Appendix C. An alkali is a substance that at the atomic level accepts protons from any chemical donor: they’re the opposite of acids, which are substances that donate them.* A neat thing happens when you combine alkalis with oils or fats: you induce a chemical reaction called “saponification.” During saponification, the fats chemically combine with the alkalines to form new molecules: long and skinny hydrocarbon chains.* These chains have a cool (and for you, very useful) property: one end loves water and hates oil, while the other end hates water and loves oil.
Evolution is far more common, and far more influential, than most people recognise. It is not confined to genetic systems, but explains the way that virtually all of human culture changes: from morality to technology, from money to religion.
The way that human history is taught can therefore mislead, because it places far too much emphasis on design, direction and planning, and far too little on evolution.
We describe the world as if people and institutions were always in charge, when often they are not.
Consider what must happen every second in your body to keep the show on the road. You have maybe ten trillion cells, not counting the bacteria that make up a large part of your body. Each of those cells is at any one time transcribing several thousand genes, a procedure that involves several hundred proteins coming together in a specific way and catalysing tens of chemical reactions for each of millions of base pairs. Each of those transcripts generates a protein molecule, thousands of amino acids long, which it does by entering a ribosome, a machine with tens of moving parts, capable of catalysing a flurry of chemical reactions. The proteins themselves then fan out within and without cells to speed reactions, transport goods, transmit signals and prop up structures. Millions of trillions of these immensely complicated events are occurring every second in your body to keep you alive, very few of which go wrong. It’s like the world economy in miniature, only even more complex.
Darwin’s mechanism of selective survival resulting in cumulative complexity applies to human culture in all its aspects too.
Our habits and our institutions, from language to cities, are constantly changing, and the mechanism of change turns out to be surprisingly Darwinian: it is gradual, undirected, mutational, inexorable, combinatorial, selective and in some vague sense progressive.
There is an almost perfect parallel between the evolution of DNA sequences and the evolution of written and spoken language. Both consist of linear digital codes. Both evolve by selective survival of sequences generated by at least partly random variation. Both are combinatorial systems capable of generating effectively infinite diversity from a small number of discrete elements.
There are economies of scale, and this pattern is the same in every part of the world. The same is true of electrical networks. So it does not matter what the policy of the country, or the mayor, is. Cities will converge on the same patterns of growth wherever they are. In this they are very like bodies. A mouse burns more energy, per unit of body weight, than an elephant; a small city burns proportionately more motor fuel than a large one. Like cities, bodies get more efficient in their energy consumption the larger they grow. There is also a consistent 15 per cent saving on infrastructure cost per head for every doubling of a city’s population size.
Human beings innovate by combining and recombining ideas, and the larger and denser the network, the more innovation occurs.
Everywhere, political institutions show a tendency to change much more slowly than the society around them, and when they do change, they do so with painful and traumatic lurches, called revolutions.
Countries like Britain and the United States grew rich precisely because their citizens overthrew the elites who monopolised power. It was the wider distribution of political rights that made government accountable and responsive to citizens, allowing the great mass of people to take advantage of economic opportunities.
Specialisation, accompanied by exchange, is the source of economic prosperity.
First, the spontaneous and voluntary exchange of goods and services leads to a division of labour in which people specialise in what they are good at doing. Second, this in turn leads to gains from trade for each party to a transaction, because everybody is doing what he is most productive at and has the chance to learn, practise and even mechanise his chosen task.
The invisible hand is not Utopia: ‘It is the process of driving out of business the incompetent in favour of the mediocre, the mediocre in favour of the good, and the good in favour of the excellent.’
Markets, like ecosystems, work not because they are efficient, but because they are effective, because they provide solutions to problems that face customers (or organisms).
Given the right institutions – a market in which to sell your product, the rule of law to prevent theft, a decent system of finance and taxation to incentivise you, some intellectual property protection, but not too much – you can set out to make an innovation and reap the rewards from it, despite sharing it with the world, in the same way you can set out to build a machine.
‘Trial and error is a tremendously powerful process for solving problems in a complex world, while expert leadership is not’.
The comedian Emo Philips once joked that he considered his brain to be the most fascinating organ in his body – until he realised who was telling him this. It is a joke that brings home the absurdity of the ‘self’, the mind, the will, the ego or the soul.
The root of its appeal lay in the need to think of somebody being in charge. Instead, the truth is that personality unfolds from within, responding to the environment – so in a very literal sense of the word, it evolves.
We are nowhere near equality of opportunity, but if we get there we will not find equality of outcome.
The ruling doctrine of the post-war period, that animals had instincts and people had learning, has also come crashing down under the realisation that evolution explains much about typical human behaviour. In virtually every mammal species, for example, the male grows larger than the female, has greater strength in its neck and front limbs, fights more often over mates or territory, is more sexually assertive, is less attentive to offspring, and shows greater variance in reproductive success (some have many children, some have none). How strange that human beings show these features too, even though people are supposedly the products of culture rather than instinct.
It is nothing short of a miracle, said Albert Einstein, that ‘the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom’.
If your teacher is in a private, for-profit school, however, and you withdraw your child, then the owner of the school will quickly feel the effect in his pocket, and the bad teacher will be fired. In a free system the parent, the consumer, is the boss.
We need to get away from creationist thinking in education, and allow it to evolve. Education, done properly, is an emergent, evolutionary phenomenon. It is the process of encouraging learning about the world.
Today, in Stephen Davies’s view, schools are little more than devices for signalling to employers that a young person has been sufficiently indoctrinated to stick to a task and do as he is told.
But there is a path not taken, in which politicians and teachers both allow best practice to evolve and emerge, in which the state acts as enabler rather than dictator, in which students are encouraged to learn rather than be told what to think, in which the eager learner is boss, not servant, of the system. Let education evolve.
Far from more babies causing more hunger, they argued that it was the other way round. People increased their birth rate in response to high child death rates. Make them richer and healthier and they would have fewer babies, as had already happened in Europe, where prosperity had led birth rates down, not up.
The right thing to do about poor, hungry and fecund people always was, and still is, to give them hope, opportunity, freedom, education, food and medicine, including of course contraception, for not only will that make them happier, it will enable them to have smaller families. Abandon the creationism of technocratic pessimism, the repeatedly debunked doom-mongering of the scientific elite with its simplistic and static misunderstanding of the nature of resources, the easy resort to the lazy plural pronoun ‘we’ and the dreadful word ‘must’.
Layers of management increase in number, size and complexity as organisations grow larger, because managers need managing too; and that a large part of a boss’s job in a big firm is to keep an organisation from collapsing under the weight of its own complexity.
The problem with consensus is that people are not allowed to be different. It’s like trying to drive a car in which the brake and the accelerator have to do similar jobs. No, what really works inside a big firm is division of labour: you do what you’re good at, I’ll do what I’m good at, and we’ll coordinate our actions. That is what actually happens in practice inside most companies, and good management means good coordination.
‘What kind of company do we want this to be?’, and the answer built upon three principles: that people are happiest when they have personal control over their life; that people are ‘thinking, energetic, creative and caring’; and that the best human organisations are ones like voluntary bodies that are not managed by others, but in which participants coordinate among themselves.
Economic development is more than just a growth of income – it is the appearance of a whole system of collaborative engagement among people to drive innovation that cuts the time it takes people to fill needs.
Organised crime and government are more than first cousins; they are sprung from the same root. That is to say, government began as a mafia protection racket claiming a monopoly on violence and extracting a rent (tax) in return for protecting its citizens from depredation by outsiders.
It taught me just how ready people are to believe supernatural explanations, to trust ‘experts’ (or prophets) even when they are blatantly phony, to prefer any explanation to the mundane and obvious one, and to treat any sceptic as a heretic to be shouted at rather than an agnostic to be persuaded by reason and evidence.
But the truth is we all have it to some degree or other, which is why religious belief is found in every part of the world and every age of history, while rational scepticism is a rare and often lonely stance that leaves Lucretius, Spinoza, Voltaire and Dawkins as heretics. Indeed, the paradox of this realisation is that if belief (in the broad sense of the word) is universal, then no amount of argument can extinguish it, and in a sense therefore, gods really do exist – but inside our heads rather than outside.
When people stop believing in something, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.
The characteristic features of a mystical and therefore untrustworthy, theory are that it is not refutable, that it appeals to authority, that it relies heavily on anecdote, that it makes a virtue of consensus (look how many people believe like me!), and that it takes the moral high ground. You will notice that this applies to most religions.
Pascal’s wager: Blaise Pascal argued that even if God is very unlikely to exist, you had better go to church just in case, because if he does exist the gain will be infinite, and if he does not the pain will have been finite.
Bad news is manmade, top–down, purposed stuff, imposed on history. Good news is accidental, unplanned, emergent stuff that gradually evolves.
For far too long we have underestimated the power of spontaneous, organic and constructive change driven from below, in our obsession with designing change from above.
The key, he learned, was leadership: the ability to influence the thinking and activities of other people in a shared effort to achieve goals and, ultimately, to realize a shared vision. Organizations that had good leaders—not just at the top but also at all levels—would be able to carry out an initiative. Others were almost certainly wasting their time.
The core, the essence, of effective leadership is personal flourishing.
First, a new definition of leadership for the modern era was required, one that focuses on personal flourishing, not command and control, and second, new intervention methods were required to be able to reach deeply into the organization in a way that existing, nonscalable, and labor‐intensive approaches cannot do.
The rate at which the business environment changes today is a key reason why there’s such a wide gap between those who flourish and those who flounder. The inability to adapt constantly, to maintain your energy and continue to learn and grow, will leave you far behind.
The two crucial questions anyone wanting to develop a more positive and meaningful leadership role poses: How can my role as a leader help my organization achieve our shared goals? How can my role as a leader bring me, and those around me, joy?
Strengths. 10X leaders primarily focus on getting a lot more out of their strengths, rather than on getting a little more out of their weaknesses. Health. They stay productive and happy by avoiding burnout—by balancing periods of stress and exertion with recovery activities that restore both mind and body. Absorption. They succeed by spending much of their time living fully in the moment and immersing themselves in the work at hand, rather than by waiting for inspiration to strike at rare moments. Relationships. They lead not by wielding power and control, but by cultivating authentic and positive relationships to achieve a shared vision. Purpose. Rather than simply grind out tasks on a to‐do list while waiting to discover life’s ultimate purpose, 10X leaders find meaning and commitment in their daily activities.
More and more, working people aren’t looking for patronage; they’re looking for opportunities to learn, grow, and become happier versions of themselves.
Flourishing in the work environment—becoming more energetic, engaged, focused, and happy—has always been important, for obvious reasons. But in the old world order of the hierarchical company, it was possible for a person to work his or her whole life in a steady state of modest achievement and marginal competence, in a strictly prescribed role and physical space, completing tasks without flourishing.
Today’s organizations can no longer afford to underuse talent and initiative or to think of the word entrepreneur as a term that applies to an elite corps of innovators.
Where we once looked for work to keep our families fed, sheltered, and clothed, we’re now looking for careers that will provide us opportunities for growth, fulfillment, meaning, and purpose.
Companies need employees, no matter where they might rank in the traditional corporate hierarchy, to generate new ideas.
In the world of social media, of Facebook and Twitter, leadership can be defined as “having followership,” and nomadic workers increasingly have a choice: If they’re not inspired, or interested, or they don’t see an opportunity for learning or growth, they’ll move on.
The key to extracting power from information lies in the ability to synthesize large amounts of data, by recognizing patterns, extracting the essentials, and finding meaning and direction amid the ambiguity and chaos.
Most people don’t know what it means to succeed and lead. Most aren’t reaching their full potential, or achieving lasting fulfillment, because their formula for success and well‐being is almost always completely wrong. Like the inefficient, clunky machines of old, many continue to suffer from outdated ideas of what it means to be a good leader—and why it matters at all.
Opportunities for flourishing and influence—for the joy of leadership—within the organization must be more attractive than those outside it.
The feeling of being happy and fulfilled and the ability to lead—to inspire others and make a meaningful difference—to be so strongly associated as to be virtually inseparable.
Although no one should ignore his or her weaknesses, because energy is a limited resource, it’s unwise and counterproductive to focus too much of that energy on remediating deficiencies. To do so is to put yourself in a hole that you may have trouble climbing out of.
People perform better when they focus on the things they’re good at and enjoy doing: They’re more creative, flexible, and adaptable.2 They’re more confident, more satisfied, and find more meaning in their work.
“If you want to hire great people and have them stay working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions and you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy. The best ideas have to win, otherwise good people don’t stay.”
People who see their work as a calling work harder and longer, simply because they view their work as rewarding.29 It’s an approach rooted in the idea of cognitive reframing, the psychological technique of identifying our negative perceptions of ideas and events and recasting them in a positive light that opens the door to better experiences and well‐being.
The best way to lead, and to succeed, is to be happy—and not the other way around.
“At work do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?”
In “Managing Oneself,” Peter Drucker said it best: “It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than to improve from first‐rate performance to excellence.”4 It’s much easier to develop existing strengths than to work on weaknesses—and the payoff is dramatically better.
“The point…is not that you should always forgo this kind of weakness fixing. The point is that you should see it for what it is: damage control, not development…damage control can prevent failure, but it will never elevate you to excellence.”
If we can manage our weaknesses to the point where they don’t prevent us from exercising our strengths, we can build self‐confidence through experiences that validate our strengths.
We need to stop asking, How smart is the student? and start asking, How is the student smart? The question presumes everyone is smart—we’re just smart in different ways. We have different strengths. Our role as teachers and leaders is to help identify and encourage those strengths.
The difference between a well‐rounded individual—whose versatility guarantees competence but not excellence—and a well‐rounded, multifaceted team composed of sharp individuals who complement one another.
“We learned that the real enemy of high performance is not stress, which, paradoxical as it may seem, is actually the stimulus for growth. Rather, the problem is the absence of disciplined intermittent recovery. Chronic stress without recovery depletes energy reserves, leads to burnout and breakdown, and ultimately undermines performance.”
We should look at an additional continuum between depletion and restoration. In this way an activity, whether at home or at work, can be either depleting or restoring. To lead a healthy and happy life, finding the right balance between depletion and restoration is no less important than finding some form of work‐life balance.
How many of us take time at the end of a day to appreciate our own accomplishments, or the many things we’ve accomplished over a whole week? Appreciating what we’ve done is not only gratifying, but it also leads to better performance.
Mirror neurons help explain the phenomenon of emotional contagion—the way pleasant or unpleasant emotions tend to spread like a virus among group members. We’re automatically and unconsciously tuning in to the actions and emotions of others.
We, too, must learn to live our own lives as a series of sprints—fully engaging for periods of time, and then fully disengaging and seeking renewal before jumping back into the fray to face whatever challenges confront us.”
The modern workplace—in which the term multitasking was born—seems perfectly designed to disrupt flow, to destroy our ability to give undivided attention to things that matter.
The mindless following of routine and other automatic behaviors leads to boredom, mistakes, pain, and a course of life that seems predetermined.
Three conditions people can create to increase the likelihood of reaching a state of flow. First, one must be committed to a clearly defined goal: Second, it’s critical that one operates under a clearly defined set of rules while pursuing that goal. Just as the goal is unambiguous, so also must the rules be—otherwise one may lose focus or become distracted while trying to interpret them. Third condition for creating flow is that the goal we set should be neither too difficult nor too easy. The activity we’re engaged in should be challenging, but manageable.
Teams’ goals should be ones that we have only about a 50 percent chance of attaining.
Attention is a finite resource and requires us to focus on things that are more positive or productive. Top‐down attention is a mindful choice made by people who are focusing on what’s positive and generative, rather than nonproductive wastes of time.
To be a charismatic person doesn’t mean you’re invisibly pulling others into your sphere. You’re extending yourself. You’re absolutely present for others and their thoughts and feelings. You’re modeling mindfulness and absorption.
Employees are more engaged when they’re able to use their strengths—and research further indicates they’re more likely to feel engaged in their work when they’re recognized for what they’re doing well.
When you appreciate the good, the good appreciates.
Recognition and gratitude are the fundamental building blocks of positive relationships.
Good teams didn’t make more mistakes—they merely reported more mistakes.
People driven by a deeply held sense of purpose are also better equipped to deal with hardships—knowing where you’re headed, and why, makes it harder for you to get knocked off the rails.
“Without a clear purpose you have no foundation on which you base decisions, allocate your time and use your resources. You will tend to make choices based on circumstance, pressures and your mood at the moment. People who don’t know their purpose try to do too much, and that causes stress, fatigue and conflict.”
We either inject meaning in what we do, or we don’t—and if we don’t, we’re almost sure to find our work, and our lives, unsatisfying.
People of any rank within an organization can make different meanings of their work—and of themselves at work. There are three broad categories of ways to do this: first, altering the tasks you perform, to spend more energy on tasks you find more gratifying; second, changing relationships in the workplace, to spend more quality time with people who make you feel better about yourself and your work; and third, using cognitive reframing to change the way you perceive your work.
“Yesterday’s idea of the boss, who became the boss because he or she knew one more fact than the person working for them, is yesterday’s manager. Tomorrow’s person leads through a vision, a shared set of values, a shared objective.”
We came up with four important principles to follow for leaders who want to rally a team or organization to commit to a shared vision: The leader must help others see the connection between their own work and the greater purpose.
For a purpose to inspire others to action, it has to provide the right kind of challenge.
A purpose or vision must be communicated to others in a way that’s positive.
Communicating purpose effectively is to epitomize it—to walk the talk.
“Mindfulness will help you clear away the trivia and needless worries about unimportant things, nurture passion for your work and compassion for others, and develop the ability to empower the people in your organization.”
For all its imperfections—its nagging discomforts, its mediocrity, its lack of progress or promise—the present state of things is at least familiar. It is usually nonfatal, and usually doesn’t upset anyone, so we ride it out. But the reluctance to rock the boat can create a dry, visionless conformity.
“Happiness is determined by factors like your health, your family relationships and friendships, and above all by feeling that you are in control of how you spend your time.”
Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re doing anything meaningful or productive.
Time affluence—the feeling that one has sufficient time to pursue activities that are personally meaningful—is a better predictor of a person’s well‐being than material affluence. By contrast, time poverty—the feeling that one is constantly stressed, hurried, overworked, or running behind—is a pervasive and destructive force in most people’s lives.
To change—to develop our capacity to lead and flourish—we often need to focus more time on the activities and relationships that fulfill and strengthen us and less time on tasks we find draining or ultimately irrelevant.
If all is not possible, certainly, something is better than nothing. Small incremental changes, implemented over time, are more likely to make a lasting difference than a drastic plunge into radically new ways of thinking and acting.
Success is impossible without failure.
Many people understand fully that they’ll die one day and that it’s important to be grateful for everything they have, rather than take it all for granted—but they don’t express gratitude regularly, if at all.
In his 1980 book, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Millman writes: To change the course of your life, choose one of two basic methods: You can direct your energy and attention toward trying to fix your mind, find your focus, affirm your power, free your emotions and visualize positive outcomes so that you can finally develop the confidence to display the courage to discover the determination to make the commitment to feel sufficiently motivated to do what it is you need to do. Or you can just do it.
It’s never safe to stop reminding yourself of the importance of the changes you’ve made.
Inspiration happens during work, not before.
The motivational spark that compels people to bring ideas into fruition—is not a mystical visit from the divine, but a mental state that can be activated and managed.1 Perspiration precedes inspiration.
“Perfection,” says the writer Neil Gaiman, “is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.” Just keep doing it. The proficiency and happiness you’re creating should be apparent not in the future, but in the now, in the moments you’re building on your strengths; increasing your health and well‐being; creating flow; strengthening the authentic, positive bonds between the people who mean the most to you and yourself; and discovering a deeper purpose in the work you do every day.
Because our library is also effectively infinite—no one person can ever read more than a tiny fraction—we face the paradox of abundance: Quantity undermines the quality of our engagement.
Like a rider on the back of an elephant, the conscious, reasoning part of the mind has only limited control of what the elephant does.
It is certainly true that changing your mind is usually a more effective response to frustration than is changing the world.
Human thinking depends on metaphor. We understand new or complex things in relation to things we already know.
It’s hard to think about life in general, but once you apply the metaphor “life is a journey,” the metaphor guides you to some conclusions: You should learn the terrain, pick a direction, find some good traveling companions, and enjoy the trip, because there may be nothing at the end of the road.
The metaphor I use when I lecture on Freud is to think of the mind as a horse and buggy (a Victorian chariot) in which the driver (the ego) struggles frantically to control a hungry, lustful, and disobedient horse (the id) while the driver’s father (the superego) sits in the back seat lecturing the driver on what he is doing wrong.
In the absence of feeling they see little reason to pick one or the other.
Sophisticated emotionality. It is only because our emotional brains works so well that our reasoning can work at all.
Reason and emotion must both work together to create intelligent behavior, but emotion (a major part of the elephant) does most of the work.
Controlled processing is limited—we can think consciously about one thing at a time only—but automatic processes run in parallel and can handle many tasks at once.
Our brains, like rat brains, are wired so that food and sex give us little bursts of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that is the brain’s way of making us enjoy the activities that are good for the survival of our genes.
The controlled system allows people to think about long-term goals and thereby escape the tyranny of the here-and-now, the automatic triggering of temptation by the sight of tempting objects. People can imagine alternatives that are not visually present; they can weigh long-term health risks against present pleasures, and they can learn in conversation about which choices will bring success and prestige.
An emotionally intelligent person has a skilled rider who knows how to distract and coax the elephant without having to engage in a direct contest of wills.
Whenever I am on a cliff, a rooftop, or a high balcony, the imp of the perverse whispers in my ear, “Jump.” It’s not a command, it’s just a word that pops into my consciousness.
Automatic processes generate thousands of thoughts and images every day, often through random association. The ones that get stuck are the ones that particularly shock us, the ones we try to suppress or deny.
Moral judgment is like aesthetic judgment. When you see a painting, you usually know instantly and automatically whether you like it. If someone asks you to explain your judgment, you confabulate. You don’t really know why you think something is beautiful, but your interpreter module (the rider) is skilled at making up reasons.
Because we can see only one little corner of the mind’s vast operation, we are surprised when urges, wishes, and temptations emerge, seemingly from nowhere. We make pronouncements, vows, and resolutions, and then are surprised by our own powerlessness to carry them out.
Events in the world affect us only through our interpretations of them, so if we can control our interpretations, we can control our world.
To take something “philosophically” means to accept a great misfortune without weeping or even suffering. We use this term in part because of the calmness, self-control, and courage that three ancient philosophers—Socrates, Seneca, and Boethius—showed while they awaited their executions.
Philosophy reminds Boethius that Fortune is fickle, coming and going as she pleases. Boethius took Fortune as his mistress, fully aware of her ways, and she stayed with him for a long time. What right has he now to demand that she be chained to his side?
Why should I alone be deprived of my rights? The heavens are permitted to grant bright days, then blot them out with dark nights; the year may decorate the face of the earth with flowers and fruits, then make it barren again with clouds and frost; the sea is allowed to invite the sailor with fair weather, then terrify him with storms. Shall I, then, permit man’s insatiable cupidity to tie me down to a sameness that is alien to my habits?
“No man can ever be secure until he has been forsaken by Fortune.”
Adverse fortune is more beneficial than good fortune; the latter only makes men greedy for more, but adversity makes them strong.
She draws Boethius’s imagination far up into the heavens so that he can look down on the Earth and see it as a tiny speck on which even tinier people play out their comical and ultimately insignificant ambitions. She gets him to admit that riches and fame bring anxiety and avarice, not peace and happiness.
“Nothing is miserable unless you think it so; and on the other hand, nothing brings happiness unless you are content with it.”
The unsettling implication of Pelham’s work is that the three biggest decisions most of us make—what to do with our lives, where to live, and whom to marry—can all be influenced (even if only slightly) by something as trivial as the sound of a name.
Some commonalities of animal life even create similarities across species that we might call design principles. One such principle is that bad is stronger than good. Responses to threats and unpleasantness are faster, stronger, and harder to inhibit than responses to opportunities and pleasures.
Over and over again, psychologists find that the human mind reacts to bad things more quickly, strongly, and persistently than to equivalent good things. We can’t just will ourselves to see everything as good because our minds are wired to find and react to threats, violations, and setbacks.
Your behavior is governed by opposing motivational systems: an approach system, which triggers positive emotions and makes you want to move toward certain things; and a withdrawal system, which triggers negative emotions and makes you want to pull back or avoid other things.
Buddha said: “When a man knows the solitude of silence, and feels the joy of quietness, he is then free from fear and sin.”
Which of these two phrases rings truest to you: “Be all that you can be” or “This above all, to thine own self be true.” Our culture endorses both—relentless self-improvement as well as authenticity—but we often escape the contradiction by framing self-improvement as authenticity.
The human mind finds kinship deeply appealing, and kin altruism surely underlies the cultural ubiquity of nepotism.
Animals that can trade their surplus on a day of plenty for a loan on a day of need are much more likely to survive the vagaries of chance.
The logarithm of the brain size is almost perfectly proportional to the logarithm of the social group size. In other words, all over the animal kingdom, brains grow to manage larger and larger groups. Social animals are smart animals.
In the long run and across a variety of environments, it pays to cooperate while remaining vigilant to the danger of being cheated.
Thinking generally uses the “makessense” stopping rule. We take a position, look for evidence that supports it, and if we find some evidence—enough so that our position “makes sense”—we stop thinking. But at least in a low-pressure situation such as this, if someone else brings up reasons and evidence on the other side, people can be induced to change their minds; they just don’t make an effort to do such thinking for themselves.
Studies show that people set out on a cognitive mission to bring back reasons to support their preferred belief or action.
Whenever people form cooperative groups, which are usually of mutual benefit, self-serving biases threaten to fill group members with mutual resentment.
Each of us thinks we see the world directly, as it really is. We further believe that the facts as we see them are there for all to see, therefore others should agree with us. If they don’t agree, it follows either that they have not yet been exposed to the relevant facts or else that they are blinded by their interests and ideologies.
If God is all good and all powerful, either he allows evil to flourish (which means he is not all good), or else he struggles against evil (which means he is not all powerful).
Once anger comes into play, people find it extremely difficult to empathize with and understand another perspective.
When you find a fault in yourself it will hurt, briefly, but if you keep going and acknowledge the fault, you are likely to be rewarded with a flash of pleasure that is mixed, oddly, with a hint of pride. It is the pleasure of taking responsibility for your own behavior. It is the feeling of honor.
Happiness can only be found within, by breaking attachments to external things and cultivating an attitude of acceptance.
When it comes to goal pursuit, it really is the journey that counts, not the destination. Set for yourself any goal you want. Most of the pleasure will be had along the way, with every step that takes you closer.
If you went on the hike only to feel that pleasure, you are a fool. Yet people sometimes do just this. They work hard at a task and expect some special euphoria at the end.
Pleasure comes more from making progress toward goals than from achieving them. Shakespeare captured it perfectly: “Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.”
The Stoic philosophers of Ancient Greece, such as Epictetus, taught their followers to focus only on what they could fully control, which meant primarily their own thoughts and reactions.
The keys to flow: There’s a clear challenge that fully engages your attention; you have the skills to meet the challenge; and you get immediate feedback about how you are doing at each step (the progress principle).
The more choices there are, the more you expect to find a perfect fit;
Buddha (the “awakened one”) preached that life is suffering, and that the only way to escape this suffering is by breaking the attachments that bind us to pleasure, achievement, reputation, and life.
The complete erasure of serious adversity from your child’s future would leave him or her weak and underdeveloped.
None of us knows what we are really capable of enduring.
Trauma changes priorities and philosophies toward the present (“Live each day to the fullest”) and toward other people.
You create your story in consciousness as you interpret your own behavior, and as you listen to other people’s thoughts about you. The life story is not the work of a historian—remember that the rider has no access to the real causes of your behavior; it is more like a work of historical fiction that makes plenty of references to real events and connects them by dramatizations and interpretations that might or might not be true to the spirit of what happened.
And finally, no matter how well or poorly prepared you are when trouble strikes, at some point in the months afterwards, pull out a piece of paper and start writing.
Children need limits to learn self-control, and they need plenty of failure to learn that success takes hard work and persistence. Children should be protected, but not spoiled.
Knowledge comes in two major forms: explicit and tacit. Explicit knowledge is all the facts you know and can consciously report, independent of context.
Tacit knowledge is procedural (it’s “knowing how” rather than “knowing that”), it is acquired without direct help from others, and it is related to goals that a person values.
Ignorant people see everything in black and white—they rely heavily on the myth of pure evil—and they are strongly influenced by their own self-interest. The wise are able to see things from others’ points of view, appreciate shades of gray, and then choose or advise a course of action that works out best for everyone in the long run. Second, wise people are able to balance three responses to situations: adaptation (changing the self to fit the environment), shaping (changing the environment), and selection (choosing to move to a new environment).
Set your heart on doing good. Do it over and over again, and you will be filled with joy. A fool is happy until his mischief turns against him. And a good man may suffer until his goodness flowers. —BUDDHA
The Greek word aretē meant excellence, virtue, or goodness, especially of a functional sort. The aretē of a knife is to cut well; the aretē of an eye is to see well; the aretē of a person is.
Thus in saying that well being or happiness (eudaimonia) is “an activity of soul in conformity with excellence or virtue,”3 Aristotle wasn’t saying that happiness comes from giving to the poor and suppressing your sexuality. He was saying that a good life is one where you develop your strengths, realize your potential, and become what it is in your nature to become.
Most cultures wrote about virtues that should be cultivated, and many of those virtues were and still are valued across most cultures (for example, honesty, justice, courage, benevolence, self-restraint, and respect for authority). Most approaches then specified actions that were good and bad with respect to those virtues. Most approaches were practical, striving to inculcate virtues that would benefit the person who cultivates them.
Children must be taught how to think about moral problems, especially how to overcome their natural egoism and take into their calculations the needs of others.
Trying to make children behave ethically by teaching them to reason well is like trying to make a dog happy by wagging its tail. It gets causality backwards.
It’s difficult to change any aspect of your personality by sheer force of will, and if it is a weakness you choose to work on, you probably won’t enjoy the process. If you don’t find pleasure or reinforcement along the way.
We have all encountered something we failed to understand, yet smugly believed we understood because we couldn’t conceive of the dimension to which we were blind.
Only a few other primates (and perhaps dolphins) can even learn that the image in a mirror belongs to them. Only a creature with language ability has the mental apparatus to focus attention on the self, to think about the self’s invisible attributes and long term goals, to create a narrative about that self, and then to react emotionally to thoughts about that narrative.
Love and work are crucial for human happiness because, when done well, they draw us out of ourselves and into connection with people and projects beyond ourselves.
Group selection creates interlocking genetic and cultural adaptations that enhance peace, harmony, and cooperation within the group for the express purpose of increasing the group’s ability to compete with other groups.
Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger.
Mill’s main concern was not government censorship. It was the stultifying consequences of social conformity, of a culture where deviation from a prescribed set of opinions is punished through peer pressure and the fear of ostracism.
In Mill’s view most likely, opposing views may each contain a portion of the truth, which need to be combined. (“Conflicting doctrines share the truth between them.”)
For free speech to be valuable to the pursuit of truth, we all need to be both humble and open.
We need humility to recognize that we might not be right about everything all of the time, and that we have something to learn from others.
All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.
No one can be a great thinker who does not recognise, that as a thinker it is his first duty to follow his intellect to whatever conclusions it may lead.
There is a class of persons (happily not quite so numerous as formerly) who think it enough if a person assents undoubtingly to what they think true, though he has no knowledge whatever of the grounds of the opinion, and could not make a tenable defence of it against the most superficial objections.
All languages and literatures are full of general observations on life, both as to what it is, and how to conduct oneself in it; observations which everybody knows, which everybody repeats, or hears with acquiescence, which are received as truisms, yet of which most people first truly learn the meaning, when experience, generally of a painful kind, has made it a reality to them.
Wealth is more often the result of a lifestyle of hard work, perseverance, planning, and, most of all, self-discipline.
Seven common denominators among those who successfully build wealth. They live well below their means. They allocate their time, energy, and money efficiently, in ways conducive to building wealth. They believe that financial independence is more important than displaying high social status. Their parents did not provide economic outpatient care. Their adult children are economically self-sufficient. They are proficient in targeting market opportunities. They chose the right occupation.
Multiply your age times your realized pretax annual household income from all sources except inheritances. Divide by ten. This, less any inherited wealth, is what your net worth should be.
It is easier to purchase products that denote superiority than to be actually superior in economic achievement.
Small expenses become big expenses over time.
People accumulate significant wealth by minimizing their realized/taxable income and maximizing their unrealized/nontaxable income.
What you probably don’t know is that your neighbor in the $300,000 house next to yours bought his house only after he became wealthy. You bought yours in anticipation of becoming wealthy. That day may never come.
Many professionals have told us that they must look successful to convince their customers/clients that they are.
It is very difficult for a married couple to accumulate wealth if one is a spendthrift. A household divided in its financial orientation is unlikely to accumulate significant wealth.
What is expected of children who are exposed to a household environment predicated upon very high consumption, few—if any—economic constraints, little planning or budgeting, no discipline, and pandering to every product-related desire?
Berl and Susan were successful because their parents gave them something other than money. Each was the product of a disciplined home life.
Whatever your income, always live below your means.
In addition to an education, create an environment that honors independent thoughts and deeds, cherishes individual achievements, and rewards responsibility and leadership. Yes, the best things in life are often free.
If you are wealthy and want your children to become happy and independent adults, minimize discussions and behavior that center on the topic of receiving other people’s money.