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What makes for an excellent human life?
Practical philosopher Andrew Taggart talks about what is an excellent human life, what are the first steps to achieving it and what a society without work looks like.
Andrew Taggart is a practical philosopher who teaches people how to lead “the most excellent human life.”
He has appeared at TEDx and BrainBar and Big Think discussing the future of work, or rather why he believes that jobs are awful and humans have become enslaved in a system of "total work" where work has become the center around which the world turns.
When we talk about his utopian version of the world, he adds romantic love to the list of things that have vanished and imagines leisure and sabbath at the center of that utopia—the only ways through which we could begin to examine life and find its deeper meaning.
What is "the excellent human life"?
That remains to be investigated, but certainly, it at least needs to accept one basic condition: that it is open and available to examination. This was Socrates' breakthrough when he said that the unexamined life is not worth living. He meant that something happens when you begin to take your life as the fundamental question, the one that you care the most about. Not the world itself, not other people, but rather when you turn the question back on yourself and ask, 'Who am I? Why am I here? What is this all about?' you are beginning the process of deepening, extending and enriching your life.
Is that an intellectual pursuit or an experiential one? For example, should we be juxtaposing philosophy and meditation?
I think that philosophy begins with a convulsive experience; experience that shakes you out of your own certainties, out of your way of being in the world. Philosophy comes to the scene to illuminate that convulsive experience, it is not a merely intellectual affair. It’s rather what I would call existential. Let's take death for example. Death can be considered abstractly and theoretically alone but that is not interesting or philosophical. Death can also be just considered deeply personally, but that’s not quite enough either. Philosophy occurs at the very moment when I am gripped personally, emotionally, by something but I can also grasp that it transcends me.
I don’t think that philosophy and meditation have to be separated too far. When I philosophize with people, we usually meditate before that. The philosophizing itself is in the realm of part meditation; we are very careful and considerate when it comes to looking very closely and honestly at our own thoughts as they arise. So, if you take my starting point that philosophy begins with our own wrenching experiences, whether they be joy or sorrow, and my further point that philosophy is a way of illuminating these experiences and to enable us to find our place in the world, then meditation is simply in assistance of philosophy or even vice versa as both are practices of deep examination.
Could you share some of your personal journey in discovering both philosophy and meditation?
It begins with a shattering experience. I didn’t really come to philosophy until the age of 29. At that time I deposited my Ph.D. dissertation and I realized that I was not going to continue with an academic career. I realized I was not really cut out for it and what I cared about, it seemed, went well beyond the scope of what a humanistic endeavor could offer. And that was quite devastating because I had done nothing else with my life until then. I had been following a life script. I had been living an unexamined life, a life of an automaton—a life involving sleepwalking. So, for the first time in my life I began asking, very poorly and clumsily, questions about who I am, why I am here, what this is all about.
I woke up to mediation also through happenstance. My wife and I meditated for probably ten minutes with our eyes closed, we were holding hands, so it was not the most classic type of meditation. Afterward, we ended up walking in Central Park and then something interesting happened. It was as if the world was radically altered; it was beautiful beyond words and wonderful beyond words. There was complete non-judgementality in this experience. After that experience, I asked myself could this be what it’s really like to be a mortal, this clear perception of reality? So I thought there is something about meditation and I better start doing that.
You coach people; how do you help them start on this path? What are the first steps they should take?
There is a line from the gospel in which Jesus says he is speaking to those who have ears to hear. It says something about the human spirit. What he is getting at, I think, is that you need to be around people who have begun to have one of those eye-opening experiences. And I don’t mean to overplay them, it can be a minor experience. Once "that” has happened, whatever “that” may be, people already have ears to hear.
This is why philosophy is elitist. It is egalitarian in the sense that it is possible for everyone to philosophize, anyone can ask, “Who am I?”, but it is elitist in the sense that only certain people are comfortable to do so. For various reasons—some are older, some are younger, they have certain academic backgrounds. It is usually helpful not to have an academic background, because it gets in the way of a lot of things, it’s mental clutter. But once you’re around people who get it intuitively, then you don’t have any explaining to do.
In your work, you talk about the "restlessness of spirit". How do you describe it? What is the cause of it?
There are two sources: one is existential anxiety. It is an anxiety about your own death, anxiety about something else that is non-activity, other than human activity, that is, I think, running the show—something of Dao, a form of life that is involved in the movement and interactions of the world. We want to forget that. We want to believe that we are the ones who are in control of our lives.
The second one, relatedly, is total work. This is the way in which I take myself to be a worker, but also the one who is the CEO of my life, the CEO of life in general. Once I think I am the CEO of everything and I also have existential anxiety to cover up, then I have an engine force that continues to make me want to do stuff.
From a Buddhist point of view, you are afflicted because you have attractions and aversions. We are going to be restless because we can’t find stillness, or rest, or being-ness, or presence until we continue to long for what is not here or seek to get rid of what is here. So, that is a third part of the story.
We can dig a little bit deeper and ask why are we so restless when it comes to attractions and aversions. From the Buddhist point of view, the answer is pretty simple: we think there is a "self" running the show. You should really take a long look at this, see whether you find anything that answers to that core sense of self. If you don't find anything, life is going to change pretty dramatically from that point on.
Everybody is talking about the future of work. If you are to imagine a radical new future in a positive way, what does that society look like?
In my utopia, there are no jobs because I think that jobs are awful. They are part of your subjugation; you have to exchange your freedom and autonomy to enter into a contractual employer-employee relationship. Jobs are gone in my utopia, but I am not an anarchist claiming that we should reject all forms of work. I think that someone making dinner for someone else is a beautiful thing and is also work. I would hate for all those experiences to be replaced, for example by A.I. There will be humane forms of work, face-to-face forms of work: caring for someone, gardening, carpentry.
But, in my utopia, the center of life would be leisure and sabbath. I take leisure to be something a bit odd. Leisure is not free time. Leisure is the condition of possibility for apprehension of reality. Leisure is what enables people to apprehend. We will have to develop practices, rituals and even institutionalize the ways in which leisure will be celebrated.
And then there will be something called sabbath or whatever you want to call it. And the sabbath will be the center of life. It is not just another day of the week in the succession of other days. It is a day of rest but it is not a day of inertness. It is resting into why we are here. The center of the week is a way of tapping into the source of life.
What would stop us from using this leisure time for an endless pursuit of pleasure instead of for contemplation?
Nothing, in principle. Nothing is going to stop some people from doing so. But too bad for them. They have missed out on what life is about. If you have a universal condition there will always be people who would want to opt out.
My utopia would have to criticize a few other things as well: the working society, pleasure, sports, and romantic, sentimental love. The problem with sentimental love, for example, is that it doesn’t allow for other experiences of love—brotherly love, love of thy neighbor—it closes you off through a kind of possessiveness and a belief that that particular love, however important it is, is so special that you can’t possibly spread your love elsewhere. I’d like to think that love is like compassion and it should be spread. Romantic love is possessive, it is privatizing, it closes off the way the heart can be opened to all sorts of people.
You say that we also need religious worship. Why is that?
There are very few people who are genuine scientists who would speak earnestly and say that science would give you a reason for living. It provides accurate descriptions of a particular level of reality—physical reality, perhaps even social reality—but at the end of all that, after you have carried out all the analysis, you still don’t have a reason for living. You still can’t answer the question, "Why bother not killing myself?". And that is a genuine question. So, you need to go to other forms of inquiry, other practices, other domains in order to find answers to such questions. Or to put it somewhat differently, the intellect asks questions that only the heart can answer.
More of Andrew Taggart's thoughts can be found on his website.
BrainBar is Europe's leading festival on the future where "the bravest and edgiest thinkers of our time" meet every year to discuss the most exciting and controversial topics shaping our future.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU2NzY4My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTUwMzg0NX0.BTK3zVeXxoduyvXfsvp4QH40_9POsrgca_W5CQpjVtw/img.png?width=980" id="b6fb0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2739ec50d9f9a3bd0058f937b6d447ac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1512" data-height="2224" />
What benefit does this find have for science? And is it as evil as it looks?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7XqcvwWp" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="8506fcd195866131efb93525ae42dec4"> <div id="botr_7XqcvwWp_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7XqcvwWp-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.</p><p>Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species' description, explained the importance of the discovery:</p><p>"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region." </p><p>The animal's visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its <a href="https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/research/sjades2018/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" style="">head</a>. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">Great Old Ones</a>. <em></em></p>
We look back at a year ravaged by a global pandemic, economic downturn, political turmoil and the ever-worsening climate crisis.
Billions are at risk of missing out on the digital leap forward, as growing disparities challenge the social fabric.
Image: Global Risks Report 2021<h3>Widespread effects</h3><p>"The immediate human and economic costs of COVID-19 are severe," the report says. "They threaten to scale back years of progress on reducing global poverty and inequality and further damage social cohesion and global cooperation."</p><p>For those reasons, the pandemic demonstrates why infectious diseases hits the top of the impact list. Not only has COVID-19 led to widespread loss of life, it is holding back economic development in some of the poorest parts of the world, while amplifying wealth inequalities across the globe.</p><p>At the same time, there are concerns the fight against the pandemic is taking resources away from other critical health challenges - including a <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/09/charts-covid19-malnutrition-educaion-mental-health-children-world/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">disruption to measles vaccination programmes</a>.</p>
A new study explains how a chaotic region just outside a black hole's event horizon might provide a virtually endless supply of energy.
- In 1969, the physicist Roger Penrose first proposed a way in which it might be possible to extract energy from a black hole.
- A new study builds upon similar ideas to describe how chaotic magnetic activity in the ergosphere of a black hole may produce vast amounts of energy, which could potentially be harvested.
- The findings suggest that, in the very distant future, it may be possible for a civilization to survive by harnessing the energy of a black hole rather than a star.
The ergosphere<p>The ergosphere is a region just outside a black hole's event horizon, the boundary of a black hole beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape. But light and matter just outside the event horizon, in the ergosphere, would also be affected by the immense gravity of the black hole. Objects in this zone would spin in the same direction as the black hole at incredibly fast speeds, similar to objects floating around the center of a whirlpool.</p><p>The Penrose process states, in simple terms, that an object could enter the ergosphere and break into two pieces. One piece would head toward the event horizon, swallowed by the black hole. But if the other piece managed to escape the ergosphere, it could emerge with more energy than it entered with.</p><p>The movie "Interstellar" provides an example of the Penrose process. Facing a fuel shortage on a deep-space mission, the crew makes a last-ditch effort to return home by entering the ergosphere of a blackhole, ditching part of their spacecraft, and "slingshotting" away from the black hole with vast amounts of energy.</p><p>In a recent study published in the American Physical Society's <a href="https://journals.aps.org/prd/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevD.103.023014" target="_blank" style="">Physical Review D</a><em>, </em>physicists Luca Comisso and Felipe A. Asenjo used similar ideas to describe another way energy could be extracted from a black hole. The idea centers on the magnetic fields of black holes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Black holes are commonly surrounded by a hot 'soup' of plasma particles that carry a magnetic field," Comisso, a research scientist at Columbia University and lead study author, told <a href="https://news.columbia.edu/energy-particles-magnetic-fields-black-holes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Columbia News</a>.</p>
Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration<p>While there might not be immediate applications for the theory, it could help scientists better understand and observe black holes. On an abstract level, the findings may expand the limits of what scientists imagine is possible in deep space.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Thousands or millions of years from now, humanity might be able to survive around a black hole without harnessing energy from stars," Comisso said. "It is essentially a technological problem. If we look at the physics, there is nothing that prevents it."</p>
A popular and longstanding wave of thought in psychology and psychotherapy is that diagnosis is not relevant for practitioners in those fields.