New Year Update

It’s the New Year! 2012! Time to go out and buy a new Mayan calendar!

(Actually one has until December until the end of the current B’ak’tun, it seems. I wonder how Mayan Calendar vendors remember to stock up before the rush every 394 years or whatever it is.)

This year we made a mere 159 New Year dumplings (餃子, WordPress permitting), which is about the same number as in 2005, considerably more than in 2007, but significantly less than in recent years. We had somewhat more meat than dough (the kids are speaking of dumpling-meat patties), which traditionally means we will have enough food but not enough clothes in 2012, which is better than the main alternative.

Search o’ the Day: arrow in the meme. (You’re welcome!)

So I asked on “Facebook”: “How do you decide what to want?”.

Didn’t get much in the way of (substantive) answers (although I admit it’s fun that the two answers I did get were from a co-worker and a childhood friend who live on like different continents). It seems like a very important question. As questions go.

On some piece of paper somewhere, maybe not in digital form anywhere, I wrote something about some part of Colin Wilson’s “The Outsider” I think it was, about how soldiers returning from war could find the ordinary world meaningless or arbitrary; I think I wrote that this is likely because they had been in a context where they had to spend alot of time just thinking about survival, and when that need then went away they were left with only less compelling reasons for action.

So (I’m writing very stream-of-consciousness here) we can think about ascending ol’ Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where it’s more or less obvious what to do when we’re down at the Physiological level (find air, find food), and for that matter the Safety level (get further from the tigers, put up walls), and as we get higher up it becomes sort of less obvious, more arbitrary, less compelling. And if we make the mistake of thinking about what to want, rather than just wanting what’s expected, we may find nothing to speak of under our feet.

How do you decide what to want? Your ancestors all wanted to have children who would in turn have children, or at least they all did that, or they wouldn’t be your ancestors. The intellectual ancestors of your beliefs and attitudes all wanted to pass their beliefs and attitudes down to later generations, or at least they all did that, or they wouldn’t be the intellectual ancestors of your beliefs and attitudes.

So there’s a strong (what?) evolutionary tendency to want to have and raise children, and/or to pass one’s beliefs and attitudes down to later generations. But we don’t necessarily want to follow that evolutionary tendency. Or, we don’t have to want to follow that tendency; it’s not mandatory or required, it’s merely easy and obvious. (Easy and obvious to make that choice, that is; the actual doing of it may be hard and subtle.)

Somewhere when I was even younger :) I wrote down “the is-ought connection is choice”. And I think that’s true; choice, or the lack of choice, the slipping into the default choice. But how do you choose? How do I choose? How, especially, if one of the things that we’re choosing is the deepest basis for our own choice-making?

It seems like the choice must either be arbitrary, or (which may be the same thing) must be based on things that are so fundamental that we don’t get to choose about them however hard we might try (ingrained preferences that we can’t get beyond, or can’t want to get beyond, intrinsic tendencies that are too deep down even to represent as preferences).

So, hm. Am I an Existentialist now? :)

I think I have probably written all of this down before, and it’s not clear what there is to say about it next, or what to do beyond writing it down and mentally putting it in your pocket, for the next time it comes up. So now I’ve done that again.

Tamara de Lempicka. Just sayin’.

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8 Responses to “New Year Update”

  1. (I don’t think the Mayan calendar vendors have much problem given how obsessed people seem with the date. Prior to 2012 they probably didn’t have the popularity to need any stock)

    I think that the problem you’re having is that your definition of choice is too universal, bordering on omnipotent in its nature. Most people seem to recoil from the notion that choice can be anything but the absolute control over our own will that allows us to accept or deny anything arbitrarily. As a definition of choice, it’s not really that useful, firstly because it has no account of the sliding scale of self-awareness and how that may be directly connected, and secondly because it is not something that is true to our being.

    Instead of that, I think that choice should be seen as our ability to analyse and think creatively about a given situation and determine a desired solution from that which is available.

    For instance:
    You are running from Maslow’s pet tiger, and you find enough materials to create a pit trap, a bear trap, and a noose trap. Hypothetically, any of these traps can work, but your preference falls to the pit trap (pun). You are not presented with the options of flying away, shooting lasers from your eyes, or sitting down for a cup of tea with the tiger and talking out your problems. However the conception of choice as arbitrary either necessitates these, or your mistaken belief in their possibility as viable courses of action.

    The extreme of choice as conceived of as completely arbitrary is omnipotence, where everything you do can be considered arbitrary. Conversely, being creative is impossible when you are omnipotent, because anything you do is equal to anything else. A sliding scale of potence means that you can also conceive of sliding scales for both creativity and choice.

    • Thanks! The kind of choice I’m thinking about here is the choice of a practical basis; the choice of what to _want_. So the constraints are less, or at least are less obvious, than when I’m choosing anti-tiger techniques.

      Once I’ve gotten away from the tiger, and built good walls on the hut, do I want to find a mate and raise children? Do I want to write the best-ever history of civilization? Do I want to sit around watching porn on the Internet? Do I want to Run for Public Office?

      Of course if I actually _want_ one of those things, the question might not arise. :) But if I don’t know which one I want at the moment, and/or if I am fool enough to step back and examine what I want and consider whether or not to continue wanting it, rather than wanting something else instead, on what basis could I choose? I could, in some sense, want anything at all. How do I decide? How -should- I decide?

      • With regards to should, and this is rather counter to what I was saying above if you take it to the extremes, all choice should be informed to some extent. One could not make a particular trap without the knowledge of how to do so and could not decide upon it over another without knowledge of why one would do so. Likewise one could not make a decision on whether to raise children or write an account of history without experiencing what either are like; if we are to take these two activities as mutually exclusive.

        There is a certain sense however, in which the activities presented are not comparable. Writing the best history of civilisation would be better compared to writing the best treatise on philosophy- whichever one you choose is going to be a masterpiece for humanity to marvel at. How should you make that choice?

        This leads me to what I think is a more interesting discussion, something you brushed past when you mentioned building good walls for the hut. Decoration becomes important higher up Maslow’s hierarchy, and most of us have a fairly intuitive sense of what we think looks good. Is decoration something we can choose, or are we compelled by some artistic neurochemistry towards certain shapes, patterns and colourings? Of course, there are ways to get many different styles to work with the right balances, so how should we choose which of them to use?

        This is where choice is more arbitrary.

  2. Yeah, exactly: how should you make that choice? That strikes me as a very fundamental question. (And of course you can’t first experience everything before deciding which one to do; which only makes the question even harder.)

    Choosing how to decorate the hut I personally find less interesting :) but chacun etc!

  3. Be careful though, as the Navajo Reservation stays on Mountain time in the Summer, while Arizona, which has no daylight savings time switch, is Pacific time.
    “I learned to listen to books on tape so I didn’t get stressed at the drive,” she said.
    I can almost hear the lilt of their voices in the soft warm breeze, “Well done, boys.

    • I love this comment! I did have to remove the URL, which was commercial, and the email, which was probably stolen. But the name and the text are great! :)

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