The difference between solitude and loneliness
We're more lonely than ever and this is horrible. Equally horrible? We can't bare to spend time alone.
‘All man’s miseries,’ wrote the French mathematician Blaise Pascal, ‘derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone’. Often in our busy lives this is caused by having too much to do. Sometimes it is our own inability to set down the smartphone and sit. Our go, go, go lives often leave us with little time for solitude. This is a shame, as many great minds argue, for being able to be alone with your own thoughts is a great skill that more people could use.
However, there is a difference between solitude and isolation, and it might kill you.
Some of us, particularly the more intelligent of us, enjoy a quiet moment to ourselves every now and again. But others are truly lonely. This is more than just a negative feeling - it can have horrible effects on your health. Effects that we have a greater reason than ever for trying to understand.
Research suggests that loneliness can dramatically increase the risk of death in individuals. It can even be a better predictor of early death than obesity. In a meta study of more than 200 studies covering hundreds of thousands of patients it was shown that “There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators,” according to lead researcher Holt-Lunstad.
It is also known that chronic loneliness can cause a slew of specific health problems. John Cacioppo reports that it can even lead to “…increased levels of cortisol, a major stress hormone, as well as higher vascular resistance, which can raise blood pressure and decrease blood flow to vital organs… [and] the danger signals activated in the brain by loneliness affect the production of white blood cells; this can impair the immune system’s ability to fight infections.”
This news would not shock Aristotle, who argued two thousand years ago that friendship was a requirement for a good life. Lacking friends, he posited, we would be unable to truly enjoy being human. The notion that we are biologically dependent on having some level of social interaction would only mean to him that we have an even greater obligation to educate individuals on how to make and be friends.
He was on to something. Today, more than 40 million adults over 45 in the United States are believed to suffer from chronic loneliness. That image that you have of the sad old man in the nursing home is only partly true, however, as this statistic is also tied to other demographic changes. Such as a reduction in the marriage rate and the number of children per married couple. Though it is also true that older people can be at a higher risk of loneliness, 1 in 2 people over the age of 85 in the United States live alone. This is an especially grim note, as this link explains, because the time they can expect to have left is remarkably short.
However, at the same time, people complain of a lack of time to themselves, and studies show that people are happiest when they are able to buy more time rather than things. Hannah Arendt even alleged the inability to sit alone and think was a key reason Eichmann became a tool in the Holocaust. For her, the ability to sit and think by yourself, a key part of solitude, was a tool towards freedom. Without it, the tyranny of the majority, or even outright totalitarianism, would follow. The ability to be alone is the key to individuality, for Arendt.
But one man went farther, suggesting that loneliness was good for us.
Schopenhauer, the ever-depressive philosopher, made the argument that the best of us would actually choose isolation. Deeming such people “Sages”, these people would be monastic; retreating from society, desire, and distraction to live simple lives. These rare few, so he alleged, were the truly happy people. Freed from vanity and pettiness they could go on to find intellectual pleasures, though even Schopenhauer was unable to make the switch to such a life.
It is an odd paradox - we suffer both from loneliness and the inability to have time to ourselves. Technology has made us more connected than ever, and this has not made us happier or even less lonely. We are going to have to learn not only to re-connect, but to be alone as well. A paradox befitting of the modern, ultra-connected, age.
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The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.
Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.
Controversial physics theory says reality around us behaves like a computer neural network.
- Physicist proposes that the universe behaves like an artificial neural network.
- The scientist's new paper seeks to reconcile classical physics and quantum mechanics.
- The theory claims that natural selection produces both atoms and "observers".
Vanchurin interview:<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="539759cbfd8fcd5b6ebf14a3b597b3f9"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bmyRy2-UhEE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Vanchurin on “Hidden Phenomena”:<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="18886ffd5e5840bb19d4494212f88d82"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2NDVdNwsHCo?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>Vitaly Vanchurin speaking at the 6th International FQXi Conference, "Mind Matters: Intelligence and Agency in the Physical World." The Foundational Questions...
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