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Happiness and the Pursuit of Happiness
One of my favorite BIG THINKERS, Dave Berreby, criticizes our Declaration of Independence. Here’s the Declaration’s theory: We have the right to life, and we have the right to the liberty to use our lives to pursue happiness. The pursuit of happiness must mean that happiness in the bottom line. Happiness must be good for us. But Dave has his reservations. Here’s my spin on some of those reservations:
The best way to achieve happiness is to pursue it. But that’s surely not true. The best way to be happy is to do what you’re supposed to do. That’s what evolutionary psychologists think: Our desires point us in the direction of “prosocial” behavior—behavior not chosen for the sake of happiness but for the benefit of others—the social group. Christians think that the best way to be happy is to be charitable, to act for others out of love of God. And Stoics think the best way to be happy is to act like a rational “fortress,” always acting responsibly toward others—being magnanimous or generous—so as not to compromise who you are.
Happiness is most often the result of being virtuous, although, of course, there’s no guarantee. Even the Declaration says we have a right to pursue happiness, not to be happy. The right to happiness is the decadent product of the “therapeutic” orientation of our time. Old-fashioned psychology as self-discovery through candid conversation is replaced by the allegedly reliable result of mood-enhancing drugs. But, big surprise! The drugs don’t work. The best way to feel good remains to be good.
The pursuit of happiness supposes that it’s better to be happy. But data shows, Dave explains, that’s not really true; “experiments suggest that people in happy moods are more gullible, prejudiced and careless of detail than are their downbeat peers.” In this respect, it seems like being happy really means being complacent or bovine contentment. It means living a life free from restless pursuit. To paraphrase the legendary Dean Wormer from Animal House, being fat, stupid, lazy, and happy is no way to go through life. And Mayor Bloomberg agrees. But doesn’t that negative judgment depend on the cause of your happiness? It might not be true if your happiness is caused by your fulfillment of your relational responsibilities. What about the happiness comes from having lots of children and raising them well? That’s different than the apathetic contentment that allows you to ignore your kids while watching the game guzzling beer.
On the other hand, there’s little doubt that the feel-good high you get from listening to Mozart or reveling in some other uplifting work of art does lead, as Dave says, to making stupid mistakes in ordinary life. The “reentry problem,” as Walker Percy described, for those lost in thought is severe. The problem with absent-minded professors is they’re happy being absent from everywhere but their minds. Everyone knows they’re a significant risk factor. Maybe we should make driving while listening to Mozart illegal, at least for those who are too addicted to his form of love. This has implications for the Google campus: As portrayed in The Internship, it’s all about providing happiness all around—from the music to the sleep pods to the free pudding and various New Agey amenities. Maybe “Googliness” shouldn’t even try to have anything to do with happiness. Maybe the campus needs more Mahler and way-existential seminars on our misery without God and so forth. Maybe Google should revert to the old-fashioned American work ethic, which separated productivity from happiness more clearly and honestly.
Happiness, Dave explains, often comes from thinking that we’re at home in the world, that my “inner state” has a comfortable niche in my external environment, which, of course, includes other people. If I know that correspondence doesn’t really exist, then I’m unhappy. But I also know I have to adjust—sometimes painfully—to the expectations of others in order to survive. So it’s unhappiness that leads me to find a “collaborative” place in some workplace group. But what therapeutic Googliness aims to do is to soothe you into believing that collaboration conforms to your “inner state,” and so adjustment isn’t painful, but natural. But maybe more truthful and productively creative is the constant tension between individual desires and the good of the ad agency that animates the unhappy characters on Mad Men.
Not only that, it's the perception that our environment is fundamentally hostile to our desires—our being—that’s the foundation of the modern world’s techno-creativity. I’m not going to adjust, by gun, I’m going to make my environment adjust to me. Once we get too happy, technology stops galloping and starts to crawl. Nobody, in a way, is less happy than the transhumanist, who won’t rest until he achieves total control over his being and his environment. Those happy with less—those with the serenity that comes with acceptance—are fools.
But the philosopher who inspired Mr. Jefferson and his Declaration, John Locke, said it’s quite impossible for us free individuals to do anything but pursue happiness. That’s what we’re hardwired to do. Dave’s suggestion that we consciously pursue unhappiness won’t work for us. But Locke also says that our pursuit of happiness is really constant uneasiness. We can’t rest content in enjoyment for more than a moment, and so our lives are constituted much more by the restless pursuit of happiness than actually being happy. Restful enjoyment comes much more naturally to members of at least many of the other species. And we’re often wrong in what we imagine happiness must be. So the unconscious pursuit of unhappiness is pretty darn common. Locke was as alive as Dave to the downsides of happiness, but he didn’t confuse happiness with its pursuit. Locke thought that a people devoted to the pursuit of happiness would be powerful and free, but happiness itself would remain elusive.
This storm rained electrons, shifted energy from the sun's rays to the magnetosphere, and went unnoticed for a long time.
- An international team of scientists has confirmed the existence of a "space hurricane" seven years ago.
- The storm formed in the magnetosphere above the North magnetic pole.
- The storm posed to risk to life on Earth, though it might have interfered with some electronics.
What do you call that kind of storm when it forms over the Arctic ocean?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8GqnzBJkWcw" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> Many objects in space, like Earth, the Sun, most of the planets, and even some large moons, have magnetic fields. The area around these objects which is affected by these fields is known as the magnetosphere.</p><p>For us Earthlings, the magnetosphere is what protects us from the most intense cosmic radiation and keeps the solar wind from affecting our atmosphere. When charged particles interact with it, we see the aurora. Its fluctuations lead to changes in what is known as "space weather," which can impact electronics. </p><p>This "space hurricane," as the scientists are calling it, was formed by the interactions between Earth's magnetosphere and the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interplanetary_magnetic_field" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">interplanetary magnetic field,</a> the part of the sun's magnetosphere that goes out into the solar system. It took on the familiar shape of a cyclone as it followed magnetic fields. For example, the study's authors note that the numerous arms traced out the "footprints of the reconnected magnetic field lines." It rotated counter-clockwise with a speed of nearly 7,000 feet per second. The eye, of course, was still and <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/for-the-first-time-a-plasma-hurricane-has-been-detected-in-space" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">calm</a>.</p><p>The storm, which was invisible to the naked eye, rained electrons and shifted energy from space into the ionosphere. It seems as though such a thing can only form under calm situations when large amounts of energy are moving between the solar wind and the upper <a href="https://www.reading.ac.uk/news-and-events/releases/PR854520.aspx" target="_blank">atmosphere</a>. These conditions were modeled by the scientists using 3-D <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y#Sec10" target="_blank">imaging</a>.<br><br>Co-author Larry Lyons of UCLA explained the process of putting the data together to form the models to <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/space-hurricane-rained-electrons-observed-first-time-rcna328" target="_blank">NBC</a>:<br><br>"We had various instruments measuring various things at different times, so it wasn't like we took a big picture and could see it. The really fun thing about this type of work is that we had to piece together bits of information and put together the whole picture."<br><br>He further mentioned that these findings were completely unexpected and that nobody that even theorized a thing like this could exist. <br></p><p>While this storm wasn't a threat to any life on Earth, a storm like this could have noticeable effects on space weather. This study suggests that this could have several effects, including "increased satellite drag, disturbances in High Frequency (HF) radio communications, and increased errors in over-the-horizon radar location, satellite navigation, and communication systems."</p><p>The authors <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y#Sec8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">speculate</a> that these "space hurricanes" could also exist in the magnetospheres of other planets.</p><p>Lead author Professor Qing-He Zhang of Shandong University discussed how these findings will influence our understanding of the magnetosphere and its changes with <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/uor-sho030221.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">EurekaAlert</a>:</p><p>"This study suggests that there are still existing local intense geomagnetic disturbance and energy depositions which is comparable to that during super storms. This will update our understanding of the solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling process under extremely quiet geomagnetic conditions."</p>
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.