Think for yourself, criticize everything and stay playful

Having read some Kant and written about his philosophy in previous posts, I have now The Gay Science from Friedrich Nietzsche on my bedside table. In his book Nietzsche opposes the norm, calls people to question current believes and to transcend mentally and intellectually. At the same time Nietzsche seems to ask us not to take anything too seriously so that we could stay playful, keep asking questions and look for answers instead of repeating predetermined dogma and falsified theories. 

What strikes the eye of the modern reader is Nietzsche’s open critique of nationalities and religions, including Judaism and Islam, in a way that might be interpreted as nearing right-wing extremism. Granted, Nietzsche was of the era when nationalism was kept in high regard and the later oppression of Jews was forming. However, I think that Nietzsche can also be read as criticizing topics on a broad spectrum in general and using concrete examples merely as illustrations without providing any real opinions. This interpretation, on my opinion, provides a broader view, allowing us to question not only the things Nietzsche explicitly mentions, but also use his examples as analogies to take our thinking further. This interpretation is supported by the fact that in one paragraph Nietzsche might attack a religion just to defend it, or at least make us think again, in the next one. E.g. see paragraphs 131 and 132 on Christianity. 

Nietzsche’s thoughts in the book are in the form of numbered aphorisms or short arguments to make a single point. Here I have collected some of the snappier and less subtle ones but I highly encourage you to read the book and think about his deeper messages. I am reading the Finnish translation from 1989 so the English translations below are my own. The italics are based on the Finnish translation.

163 After a great victory. – The best thing about a great victory is that it frees the victor from the fear of loss. “Why might I not lose for once?” – he says to himself: “I am now rich enough to bear it.”

 191 Reproach against defense. – The most treacherous way to harm something is to defend it intentionally with false arguments.

195 Ridiculous. – Look! Look! He is running away from people: but they are following him because he is running in front of them, – to that extent they are a herd!

220 Sacrifice. – The animal being sacrificed has a different opinion on its fate than the spectators: but the animal never gets to speak.

222 Poets and liars. – A poet sees a liar as his brother whose share of breast milk he has drunk; therefore has one remained meager without even being able to acquire a good conscience.

230 Lack of silence. – His whole appearance is unconvincing, – this is because never has he left unmentioned a single good deed he has done.

Thoughts on luck and creating your own fortune

About two weeks ago I had in-depth discussion with a colleague on seizing opportunities, creating your own luck and crafting your own fortune. We discussed whether someone can lay his own path in life, or at least have a meaningful impact on that path, rather than being carried on the waves of chance. We agreed that both chance and a person’s own doing have an impact, and we also agreed on the fact that oftentimes ”chance” is created by being active, trying things and knocking on doors to see if they are opened.

In a previous posts I have discussed the effect of chance in our lives and whether merit is earned or distributed due to chance outcomes. In that post I agree with the viewpoint that in certain cases people should be merited for sticking to a process rather than producing outcomes. E.g. when an outcome is uncertain but its likelihood can be increased by following certain procedure, people following the procedure should be merited, not those producing the outcome, since the outcome might take place, although the procedure was not followed.

In the second post on the topic of skill and luck I mention the idea that people should be neither punished nor merited, when the outcome is hardly dependent on their actions. I also mention the fact that looking at our lives, we might think a large part of them as being pre-determined from birth, which would imply that neither success nor failure is attributable to our own actions to no great degree.

My colleague was of the opinion that a significant portion of our lives and our happiness is determined by ourselves, by our own actions. According to him, place of birth, family and other environmental factors do play a role, but it’s a person’s own determination, own choices and actions that either make or break the deal. People from meager backgrounds can and have grown to influential positions and to big success, while many from a lot better backgrounds have not taken the opportunities that the society has provided them to develop and flourish as individuals. This, we concluded in our discussion, is human nature: scarcity makes inventive and wanting to try, while a satisfied person is lazier and less likely to strive for new heights.

There is a saying that everyone’s a master of his own luck. Before I did not really understand the deeper meaning of this saying, but now I think I get it. Chance and luck have a role in our lives, and sometimes good or bad things happen regardless of our best efforts. However, a person who tries, is curious and experiements is more likely to be lucky than a passive person, since the previous one creates opportunities for his luck to help him. He is helping his luck to help him. Even if luck and chance play big role in our lives, we can still have a large influence ourselves by guiding our luck to take us towards our desired goals.

My colleague and I also briefly discussed passion, fulfillment in life and being happy. My colleague mentioned, a viewpoint I share completely, that you can find happiness and fulfillment everywhere. You can find them among the most mundane and smallest of things; even if a person has limitations in what he can do, he can concentrate on the areas in which he can still be active and find there meaning and purpose, e.g. in voluntary activity, perfecting some hobby of his, doing bookkeeping for an association and refining its financial processes etc. I believe it is a matter of perspective; if you take a task seriously, set yourself to excel in it and work hard to achieve that, any task can be fulfilling and create meaning in your life. Combine this with trying new things and you are more likely to be able to engage in things that are most important to you and make you most happy.


Spring turning to summer

Last week the temperature climbed regularly over 20 degrees centigrade during the day and in the Sun. Daffodils, dandelions and apple trees are blooming, and the magnolia I have been following for the last two weeks has already passed the peak of its bloom. The nights are still cool here but during the day its warm and wonderful with the Sun shining, birds singing and trees and flowers decorating the view wherever one sets his eyes.

Since years now two swans are staying at the nearby lake, but this year they decided to build their nest not on an island at the lake, but on dry ground ashore. Needless to say, the birds are very stressed as people pass by on the sidewalk, only five meters away from the nest. Hopefully the birds make it through with brooding, since after the hatching they will anyway spend most of the time with their young in the water, farther away from people.

Below are pictures from last weekend of the magnolia and the swan brooding in its nest. The last picture is the Sun rising behind mountains. I tried to capture the beautiful light and impression of spring driving away the last bits of winter during my morning walk, but pictures taken with a mobile phone and against the light source to be quite bad, or at least I was not able to take a better one.



Spring in the fast lane

Last week I posted a few impressions on the progression of spring in the nature around my home town. Below are a few more pictures from last weekend. Especially  the second picture with the same magnolia from last week shows how much happens in just one week in spring; flowers that were last week just starting to blossom were already withering away.

The first picture below shows the same mountains as the picture in the previous post but here the peaks have hardly any snow left, although they were already pretty clean of snow the week before.