from the world's big
Is It Better To Lose Yourself Or Be Redeemed?
If you feel that life is uncomplicated, easy, satisfying, carefree, under control – then this post is not for you. On the other hand, if you feel frustrated, anxious, deeply bored, or burdened by the sense that your life is meaningless – then this post may interest you.
In what follows, I will map a few options for how to proceed given this kind of existential turmoil. I will not be able to argue for any of these options in this short post, but I assume that sometimes even a sketchy map of a small part of the territory is helpful at a moment of acute disorientation. And a sketchy map is also helpful simply because it begs to be refined: the process of refining it, to which you are hereby invited, can be a process of re-orientation in and of itself.
I should note that I will not address here the matter of suffering that results from being denied what every person is entitled to by virtue of being a person (injustice). The following is more in the vein of ethical reflection suggested by Martin Buber when he wrote: “If all were well clothed and nourished, then the real ethical problem would become wholly visible for the first time.”
One response to existential turmoil is first to proclaim that it follows necessarily from an honest reckoning with the human condition, then to reject all palliatives in response and proceed instead to endure with angst. This kind of approach may rely on a family of values that include: the courage to refuse comfort, the pleasure of exposing other people’s illusions and forcing them to confront the darkness of their existence, the ideal of seeing the world truly, and so on.
I admit that I’ve rigged my description of this approach so that it seems somewhat problematic on its face. With its own virtues to take pride in (courage), pleasures (raining on other people’s parades), and ideals (perceiving the stark truth of the world as it really is), this view, in spite of itself, is hardly lacking in palliatives.
The disingenuousness, even fraudulence, of professing such a view makes it very unappealing to me. Nevertheless, there are certainly better and fairer ways to present such a view and some of you will find it worth looking for them. As Montaigne once wrote, “There is some shadow of daintiness and luxury that smiles on us and flatters us in the very lap of melancholy. Are there not some natures that feed on it?”
There are two general approaches that I suspect will have broader appeal, which I will describe as: losing yourself and striving for redemption. It will become clear that these are not particularly clean analytical distinctions, nor do they exhaust the array of options available. But they will do fine for the purposes of this brief post.
The “losing yourself” approach assumes that existential turmoil is produced to a significant degree by the processes through which you differentiate yourself as an individual. These processes range from the mere use of language – saying “I” – to asserting ownership, having and seeking to satisfy desires that can only be satisfied by your own consumption, pursuing individual achievement, and so forth.
There are a variety of ways to set about losing yourself. Some people try to relinquish their autonomy and individuality by submitting themselves to a higher authority (joining a monastic order or the military, for instance). Alternatively, you might try to “open yourself” to the grandly external: to allow yourself to be awed by nature’s enormities (the Grand Canyon, the ocean, etc.), hoping to be overwhelmed, humbled, or diluted into nothingness.
There is, inversely, the path of isolation: to separate yourself from others, from thoughts about others, indeed from everything that is external or attaches to the external. The hope in following this path is to quiet yourself into existential silence.
The “striving for redemption” approach, by contrast, posits your existence as a promissory note to be made good, redeemed, through effort. Ways to seek redemption include: focusing on the precise and steadfast fulfillment of your moral duty, building your character on the model of an ideally virtuous and admirable person, expressing your individuality, pursing a life-project [see my previous post: “Do You Deserve To Have A Job That You Love?”], and striving to triumph over others in some competitive context. Of course, all of these can be related.
Just to hint at the numerous problems with the basic distinction that I have drawn: following moral rules in order to be redeemed may actually involve losing yourself in the fungible status of the “moral rule-follower;” isolating yourself from the vicissitudes of life with others may veer from a silencing of the self into a kind of self-indulgence. Anway, the point here is to stimulate the needed process of refinement.
There are a few decidedly mixed approaches that I want to highlight. The path of self-criticism, for instance, posits as redemptive courageously telling truth to oneself about oneself; this approach asserts the self only in order to break-up and undermine the self in an infinite process of the serpent eating its tale.
Since I mentioned Buber earlier: there is the mixed path of dialogue, in which the goal is simultaneously both to present one’s self fully and open oneself fully to the “externality,” so to speak, of another person.
My own primary bulwark against existential turmoil is mixed: losing myself in the contemplation of ideas and cultural artifacts, only to be invigorated by the presumptively redemptive self-assertion involved in the act of interpretation. Another mixed approach, secondary in my arsenal, is to lose myself in contingently established rituals that I creatively and idiosyncratically shape over time [see my previous post: “Pizza Night and the Politics of Purity”].
How do you decide what is the right criterion to use when choosing from among these options? That will require further thought. On the other hand, we might simply revive that old existentialist motto: just leap!
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
How can we promote the creation of new neurons - and why is it so important?
- Neurogenesis, the birth of neurons from stem cells, happens mostly before we are born - as we are formed in the womb, we are generating most of what we need after birth.
- After birth, neurogenesis is still possible in two parts of the brain: the olfactory bulb (which is responsible for our sense of smell) and the hippocampus (which is responsible for memory, spatial navigation, and emotional processing).
- Research from the 1960s proves creating new neurons as adults is possible, and modern-day research explains how (and why) we should promote new neuron growth.
Two parts of the brain can continue growing through neurogenesis<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkyMzk2NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTAwODc1MH0.4GDLlZmkwuD0-pJ0s0UWcUoYXMy95a-AM61a_QAlAeA/img.jpg?width=980" id="2e77e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4e23499fdf3b2185533979083fd02db7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="brain made of twigs and plants concept of neurogenesis" />
Neurogenesis is still possible well into adulthood in two very important parts of the human brain.
Image by EtiAmmos on Shutterstock<p>Although most people are aware that aging or bad habits such as heavy alcohol use can contribute to the deterioration of our brains, not many of us give thought to how we can generate new brain cells.</p><p>Neurogenesis, the birth of neurons from stem cells, happens mostly before we are born - as we are formed in the womb, we are generating most of what we need after birth. </p><p><strong>After birth, however, neurogenesis is still possible in two parts of the brain:</strong></p><ul><li>The olfactory bulb, which is a structure of the forebrain that's responsible for our sense of smell. </li><li>The hippocampus, which is a structure of the brain located within the temporal lobe (just above your ears) - this area is important for learning, memory, regulation, of emotions and spatial navigation. </li></ul><p>Of course, when this information first came to light <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13860748" target="_blank">back in the 1960s</a>, the next natural question was: How do we promote neurogenesis in those areas where it's still possible? </p><p>Researchers today believe there are activities you can do (some of them may be things you already do on a daily basis) that can promote neurogenesis in your brain. </p><p><strong>Why is it important to promote the growth of new neurons in adulthood?</strong></p><p>We produce an estimated 700 million neurons per day in the hippocampus - this means by the time we reach the age of 50, we will have exchanged the neurons we were born within that area of the brain with new (adult-generated) neurons. </p><p>If we don't promote this exchange with the growth of new neurons, we may block certain abilities these new neurons help us with (such as keeping our memory sharp, for example). </p>
4 ways to promote neurogenesis in your brain<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkyMzk2Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTE3NjczNH0.qyzh_AIUPKfaQIa1QEq4yTNCAAK9nYkH3HFV9vWXwww/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C104&height=700" id="64a68" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee1307fe2dd61ae425552da56db3c5ff" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="child playing trumpet concept of learning a new instrument neurogenesis" />
Learning a new instrument helps promote neurogenesis.
Photo by DenisProduction.com on Shutterstock<p><strong>Intermittent fasting</strong></p><p><a href="https://law.stanford.edu/2015/01/09/lawandbiosciences-2015-01-09-intermittent-fasting-try-this-at-home-for-brain-health/" target="_blank">A 2015 Stanford study</a> examined the link between <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-ways-to-do-intermittent-fasting#section1" target="_blank">intermittent fasting</a> and neurogenesis. Calorie restriction and fasting can not only increase synaptic plasticity and promote neuron growth but it can also decrease your risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases and boost cognitive function. </p><p><u>Two of the most common ways you can intermittently fast are: </u></p><ul><li>16 hours per day every day - this is a method where you are able to eat for an 8 hour period of the day and fast for 16 hours of the day. Many people begin their "fast" after dinner, pushing their morning meal far enough towards lunch that most of their "off" eating time happens while they are asleep anyways. </li></ul><ul><li>24 hours every week - this is a method where once a week you fast for an entire day. Some people prefer this method because the rest of the week can resume as normal - but for many, this is a difficult way to fast. </li></ul><p><strong>Traveling to new places</strong></p><p>While traveling is something many of us enjoy — scenic routes and new fun experiences — these things also promote neurogenesis while we're on vacation. <a href="https://www.chicagotribune.com/travel/ct-xpm-2014-01-28-sc-trav-0128-travel-mechanic-20140128-story.html" target="_blank">Paul Nussbaum</a>, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Pittsburgh, explains that the mental benefits of traveling are very clear.<br></p><p><em>"When you expose your brain to an environment that's novel and complex or new and difficult, the brain literally reacts. Those new and challenging situations cause the brain to sprout dendrites (dangling extensions) which grow the brain's capacity." </em></p><p><strong>Learning a new instrument</strong></p><p>The mental health benefits of music have long been studied, but did you know that learning a new instrument can promote new neuron growth? </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996135/" target="_blank">this 2010 study</a>, learning to play a new musical instrument is an intense, multisensory motor experience that requires that acquisition and maintenance of skills over your entire lifetime - which of course, promotes the new formation of new neural networks. </p><p>When is the best time to begin learning a new instrument? Childhood, of course. </p><p><em>"Learning to play a new musical instrument in childhood can result in long-lasting changes in brain organization," </em>according to the study mentioned above. </p><p>While learning an instrument in adulthood will also promote neurogenesis, children who began training with a musical instrument before the age of 7 have shown that they have a significantly larger corpus callosum (the area of the brain the allows communication between the two hemispheres of the brain) than many adults. </p><p><strong>Reading novels</strong></p><p>A study from <a href="http://esciencecommons.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-novel-look-at-how-stories-may-change.html" target="_blank">Emory University</a> showed there was an increase in ongoing connectivity in the brains of participants after reading the same (fiction) novel. </p><p>In this study, enhanced brain activity was observed in the region that control physical sensations and movement. Reading a novel, according to lead researcher Gregory Berns, can transport you into the body of the protagonist. </p><p>This ability to shift into another mental state is a vital skill that promotes healthy neurogenesis in those areas of the brain. </p>
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
Paul Krugman on the Virtues of Selfishness<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7ZtAkm6C" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="828936bf6953080e9018307354c0c02b"> <div id="botr_7ZtAkm6C_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7ZtAkm6C-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> The Nobel Prize-winning economist on the virtues of selfishness.
Evolution Is Moving Us Away from Selfishness. But Where Is It Taking ...<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cyeqmYCb" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="6c5efecb56456e9acc25cf36935b1826"> <div id="botr_cyeqmYCb_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cyeqmYCb-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Exploring Morality and Selfishness in Modern Times<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="02eX1Cag" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="45cc6180db791f32683988fb52faff26"> <div id="botr_02eX1Cag_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/02eX1Cag-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> Philosopher Peter Singer discusses the state of global ethics.
Parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.
Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa," but what kind of dad was he?