• Is it finally time to say goodbye?

    The Being Human -blog that you are reading just now is at the moment a collection of 434 smaller and larger essays. Their subjects range from the nature of our universe to things like the reasons why masturbation is seen as a sin in Christianity. I started this blog in December of 2007, and this blog has since had over 860 000 visitors from all over the world.
    During all these years, I have told very little of myself. My aim has been to air my ideas and not promote myself. This blog is not weblog, but a collection of little essays. Not a single posting has been tied to a particular daily event or happening. They try always to be reflections on ideas on a bit wider perspective. How I have succeeded in this, remains for my readers to judge, of course.

    Things are about to change. Just now I see a need to record some of my personal history also here in this blog that has always been the favorite child among my blogs. The basic reason for this is that was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in November of 2011. Cancer was by then already deeply embedded in my liver and lungs. It simply cannot be removed from liver without destroying the liver also, anymore.
    I am still here thanks to chemotherapy that has given me an additional year and a half, but the therapies were terminated a week ago because their ability to fight my cancer has waned off. I am on my own now, but nobody knows how soon the end will come. However, it is quite certain that I will not see my 56th birthday in January of 2014.

    Picture: Jaakko J. Wallenius

    However, numbers are just numbers. Of the 55 years that I have had, the last seven ones have been the happiest, most calm and productive period of my life. Most of all, I have loved the thousands of hours that I have spend writing and editing this blog.
    A firm base for my current happiness is that we bought a house in 2011 with a fantastic garden. The hours spend in the garden have given me immense pleasure. I also got my own little hideaway, when we built a the old garage into a modern working-space.

    This is my very own little world. In there, I can sit in weekends into five in the morning sipping some brandy and watching amazing videos from Beyond Belief -conference or TED-talks. Besides I can be working on any of the eight blogs in two languages and nearly 40 Facebook -fan-pages for secular philosopher, writers and scientists that I have created during the last few years.
    I have been a full-time journalist in our local newspaper for 21 years. Besides it, I have been also running a little computer-maintenance business for the last ten years. I have fixed the computers of good inhabitants of Lohja at a very suitable rate of two or three a week. This has kept me in the picture with the digital world. Making a dead computer alive again gives also a great feeling of accomplishment.

    There has been also very hard times in my life. After abandoning my university-studies, I had a period when I had, for example, work in chemical factory where even gas-mask was at times unable to protect one from the strong fumes. I have slept in hallways of strange houses for a week, I have been for a while a jobless half-drunkard just drifting around and much more. Happily, I did find a steady career in journalism and soon I had steady jobs again.
    Then I found Marjaliisa. We have been married nearly 22 years. She has been the balancing power in my life. In fact, she is the solid base on which my whole life lies. Without her strong prompting we would not have this house, and without this house and the new kind of working environment that it provided there quite probably would not be this blog, either.

    (The following was added 16th of April, 2013)

    Sam Harris - Wikipedia

    My life was changed on another lever just after we had bought our current house in 2004, when I was quite innocently listening in my car a CD that contained talks from an IT-seminar. I used to burn such CD:s as a form of entertainment for the long drives that my work in newspaper sometimes required.
    Suddenly there was a speech by some atheist fellow called Sam Harris. This happened even if I had picked up a podcast that had promised views on latest developments in the field of information technology.

    I was really surprised when this man told in public the same things about religions that I had been thinking secretly for decades. I remember shouting “Yes, that is just so” (only in Finnish....) with a raised fist every time he opened up a new argument. I listened to that CD at least four or five times in a row.
    I also Googled him right away when I got to home and ordered his book “The End of Faith”. Very and soon I had also the books by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and many other “new atheists” in my bookshelf.

    It was not a moment of religious conversion. In fact, I have never believed in any kind of religion or a religious dogma for a single moment of my life. Even in the elementary school I treated religious teaching as a form of story-telling that adults do to keep children happy and occupied.
    Soon I had an urge to have a deeper understanding of the subject and a bit more scientific books by people like Pascal Boyer, Scott Atran and Daniel Dennett did end up in my reading list. I did read every serious book I got hold of on the subject.

    However, at this point it should perhaps be told that I was a quite fanatical IT-person at that time when I bumped into Sam Harris. We had bought our first computer in 1997, when my wife needed one for her studies at nursing school she had just started.
    The sturdy Packard Bell cost 13 000 Finnish marks or 2200 modern euros. It had 150 megahertz processor, 16 megabits of central memory and 1,6 gigabytes of hard disk... The first night after we got our compute unpacked already went to wee hours. I wanted to know this thing worked. The next day I went to the library and loaned every book I could lay my hands on the subject of computers. In fact, I did also read them from cover to cover them during the following weeks.

    The thing got so serious in a couple of years that I started my own computer-related column in our newspaper. In this by-weekly I told column readers about my recent adventures in the world of computers. A bit later (in 2001) I was walking our first dog Osku (a sheltie) when the idea hit me: “Bittitohtori”. In English it could be “A Doctor for Bits” or something like it. Before the walk was over, I had decided to start a firm that would repair the home-computers of good inhabitants of Lohja.
    I decided from the outset that it would not become my main occupation. I would do it on the side as much as time would permit. The next week I registered the “Toiminimi Bittitohtori Jaakko Wallenius” officially and started distributing leaflets advertising the new service in our neighborhood.

    I have cured about thousand computers during the over ten years that this little operation lasted. The firm did lay waste for a year, as I officially ended it two days ago because of my ongoing illness. (see )
    When my condition improved after chemotherapy I started it again early in 2013.
    This little enterprise gave all these years a good additional income also with its help we could finally afford to buy our current house.

    There was also a funny situation where I was for years at first chairman of local journalists union chapter in our newspaper and then the shop steward, but also a private entrepreneur at the same time. I will not dwell on this subject much more, as there would be no end to computer-related stories I could offer. However, I’d like to say (even if it sounds a lot like bloody self-advertisement) that it soon became apparent that the main satisfaction from the computer-repair business did come from the happy customers.
    I soon learned three main rules that kept my business going for ten years and made customers return time after time.

    1) Never promise something that you cannot do. 
    2) Always build the timetable for work so that you can do the work faster than customer expects. 
    3) Always give customers something extra.

    The last one was easy. I always installed an extra software-pack. It consisted of free programs, but it made possible to use computer right away after repairs in a home in all typical uses of computer at home. As I said, I could babble on the subject of computer and computer-repairs endlessly, but I must return to my other passions.

    After the phase described in the beginning I soon was an extremely vocal and passionate atheist. Besides reading a bookshelf of related books, I did also watch every single video on offer of the fantastic Beyond Belief-conferences and, in fact, every available video-lecture in the Internet and all too many blogs and much, much more.
    At this point, I perhaps must explain one thing; why I seem to have so much time on my hands? The answer is simple: during the last 20 years, I have not watched television much. In any case, dwelling in atheism alone soon felt restricting, and I started to explore a little wider. I soon found out that humanistic thinking did offer a sound foundation for an atheist world-view. Then I found Epicureanism and Stoicism or the last and most advanced big schools of philosophy that were not contaminated by the Christianity.

    Kuva: Jaakko J. Wallenius

    One thing led to another. Soon I was knee-deep in philosophy. My bookshelf took a new direction with books on things like history of philosophy, Epicureanism and similar subjects by fellows like Bertrand Russell, Karl Popper and A.C. Grayling.
    Now I would like to call myself a "Secular Humanist Epicurean Stoic Russellian Popperian Democratic Socialist Global Solidarist" if that would be possible. Atheism needs not to even mentioned as it just given fact for me. Atheism it is not a world-view, but just rejection of certain types of superstition and dogma.

    That a person is an atheist does say very little about him or her. An atheist can build a world-view based on other important ideologies like humanism, socialism, libertarianism or feminism. A human just always needs higher goals and even if I think that just telling others what atheism is and how religions work is a good hobby, but thinking person needs to have real ideals too.
    Things like Humanism, Epicureanism and Stoicism offer a good base for a worldview. However, things like furthering true equality, a sustainable and balanced society, freedom of speech and most of global solidarity of all humans are goals that I just now need have to keep me going. Ah, that all sounds much more pathetic than I though. However, I will let it pass as these sentences really tell about the feelings that I now have at this stage of my life.

    (The following was added added 17th of April,2013)

    My name is Jaakko, and I am an addict. I am addicted to reading”.

    I have written this little piece over my life with all honesty that I have mustered. In the face of death, the need to hide away things seems just to evaporate. I feel free now to tell even the darkest secrets of my life. The other side of coin is that I now feel that I can finally drop all the modesty that has made me not to mention certain facts about my life before. These things simply would sound look like idiotic boasting and self-advertising, if I would tell these things in any company.
    However, I finally feel that I have the willpower to do even this disservice for myself now. I will tell this also because I feel that this background is needed to understand my current standing in my creative work. I did learn to read at the age of six all by myself. I probably just looked how my 11 months older "nearly-twin-brother" did it. Suddenly I just saw what these little markings did mean.

    Helmikoristeinen kirjanmerkki

    The first book that I did read was the ‘Helmikoristeinen kirjanmerkki’ by Hjalmar Nortamo. It was a regular novel for adults and probably it was just the first book in our bookshelf at my height. This bookshelf was an immense one. Every single member of our family of eight was a voracious reader. My journalist-father also did get large amounts of books every year for review. We had also a cellar full of books....
    At the second class at the elementary school I did read the 600 pages of “Historian Pikkujättiläinen” or “The Pocket History of the World”. This kick-started my still ongoing love-affair with history. After the second class of elementary school, in the middle school and high school I did not do my homework not even once. For the exams, I did sometimes read the relevant passages the night before in mathematics, physics and the like, but in most subjects I did not do even that.

    At his point, I should perhaps tell that I was also once in summer-school learning mathematics before I was allowed to proceed to the next class. I passed the test with the lowest possible grade or 5- minus after a harsh month-long training with a private teacher. Mathematics just was something that I did not ever get. I know now that I can not ever learn it, no matter what I do. Still, I am very good at basic arithmetic's....
    All in all, I graduated from high school with the second highest ‘Magna Cum Laude Laudatur’ as my overall grade if I remember right. It could have been a ‘Laudatur’ also, as I faintly remember it being in a border-case, but I don't know where the diploma is... I did this without opening a single school-book in the three years of high school and without any preparation for the final exams. This was mostly because the things that were asked in exams I knew most of them already from other sources.

    All in all, classes in school were always a severe form of Chinese water-torture for me. Time passed immensely slowly, when the teacher mumbled at the blackboard about things that I so often already knew very well. I developed a kind of utter numbness to endure the classes. I saw that they were the price I had to pay to get to my loved books waiting patiently in home.
    When I got home I could read 7-8 hours in a row about the wonders of our world and our universe. Non-fiction was always my priority number one. However, I consumed also a lot of novels. I simply loved the likes of Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, Miguel Angel Asturias, Gabriel Garcia Marques, Mario Vargas Llosa and Italo Calvino. In fact, I did read most of the ‘Keltainen Kirjasto’ or ‘The Yellow Library’ that did publish the best modern novels of that time.

    Keltainen kirjasto

    I faintly remember counting once that had read over one hundred books from this series. However, I must admit that the more esoteric ones were often left unfinished, as I could never stand just playing with words for the sake of it. I now notice that I loved crisp and straight-forward writers. By strange (or not....) coincidence all my most favourite writers seem to have been agnostics or atheists also, even if I did not know it then....
    My first love was Mika Waltari. His novels that were set in medieval history made a deep impression to at the age of 8 or 9. I did naturally read all of the big Finnish authors. I did read Väinö Linna’s ‘Tuntematon Sotilas’ or ‘Unknown Soldier’ for 10 or 11 times at least. In fact, we do quote this book very often still in daily situations with my wife. She has just the same kind of relationship with this book as me. Strange co-incidence is that I courted just this woman for many years and did not give up until I got her, is it not?

    I must admit that the lectures in university were similar painful torture for me as school-classes had been; they were just longer and often even duller. Of course there were a few interesting lectures also, but they were few and far between. However, the library of Turku City and university-library did open up all new vistas for me. I simply had consumed all of the interesting books in my little hometown library by the time I was 18 and new books did arrive painfully slowly.

    Especially during my bouts of severe depression I now spent all my free time with books. In the worst days of depression I did go nowhere but to and did read 15-16 hours a day. I consumed all interesting books on history, autobiographies and all kinds of books on science.
    Science fiction was also near my heart and I now also bought my first books, as the paperback science fiction was cheap. With a student-loan I had my real amounts of my own money, the first time in my life.


    But now, now, I quite forget; I had paid employment before, as I had worked all three years of high-school in the newspaper where my father worked, I worked for 1,5 hours a day five days a week. I did answer the phones and I did write a few little news-stories every night that were stolen from the Finnish news agency STT.
    I just tape-recorded the 17.30 -news and wrote 4-5 stories from this material and the STT never got a hang of this activity, as I changed the style of the stories always a bit. However, the newspaper paid a pittance for me also for this service. In any case, I did spend it mostly on stamps that I also collected at that time.

    At this point, I would like also to tell about my hobbies. They were also an important part of my education. I did learn English when aviation and modelling were my hobbies, German when I collected stamps and Swedish when I was an enthusiastic follower of track and field -sports.
    At the age of six or seven, I found a series of books called “The Fighters of The Second World War” from a cupboard at our home. My eldest brother had left them when he moved from home. During the following years, I did read them time after time and every time I understood a bit more, until 5-6 years later I could read them quite well.

    Of course, I did learn English also at school at the same time. I started also a hobby of modeling and did build a dozens and dozens models of aeroplanes with my nearly-twin-brother. Btw. I still know that a Messerschmitt Bf-109G-6 had a 1475 horse-power Daimler-Benz water-cooled engine, a 20 mm cannon and two 13 mm machine guns and a top speed of 390 miles per hour...
    As a militant pacifist nowadays it is sometimes hard to admit now that military history has been always been one of my pet subjects in history.... German was the lingua franca of the stamp-collecting world. The major catalogues or the Swiss Zumstein and a German big catalogue Michel were published in that language. I just had to learn the basics to be able to use them.


    This was a bit more troublesome. I had had no classes in German before high school and I just had to jump into the cold waters of that language with no aid. In the end, I did write a ‘Cum Laude Approbatur’ in German also in the final exams, and that is all thanks to stamp-collecting.
    Track and field was my other hobby for many years. The only good year-book with good statistics in this sport was a Swedish one and reading all the existing 30 year-books a few times did help me learn also Swedish, in spite of the fact that I detested it as a subject in school with all of its idiotic and irrational grammatical rules. Btw. Swedish is a compulsory subject for all Finnish people in school as it is minority-language here, even if only 6 per cent of Finnish people speak it at home.
    However, Finland was part of Sweden for over 600 years. The ruling elite was largely Swedish-speaking even after 100 years of Russian rule in 1917, when Finland become independent. So, Swedish language did became a sacred cow that was given a position that no minority-language has nowhere else in the world.

    Back to the main story. After dropping out of the university after four years of ups and downs, I had varying time to read during the next decade. I had some periods of unemployment also, when I did spend 10-16 hours just reading again. Even when I was in the windy west coast town as a reporter in the 1980’s I did not have any television, but I did go to library two or three times a week. I did not have one when I spent the unfortunate year in Tampere studying journalism.
    History, biology, geography, space exploration, travel, you name it. I did read anything which told about the real world and had a factual base. I did grow out of fiction for reasons that I don't really know. The awful bouts of depression caused me to avoid things that did come too close to my own reality, as learning new facts was also a way to escape my own life that was just miserable at times.

    After Marjaliisa finally accepted my desperate courting 22 years ago and after finding a steady job 21 years ago in Lohja in the local newspaper as economics editor, my reading habits did not change much. Marjaliisa and I found a balanced situation where she could watch the things in television that she liked, and I spent my free time reading in the bedroom.
    However, reading did give some (or a lot, sometimes) room for computer-maintenance after I started that side-business ten years ago. Blogging in eight blogs and maintaining my 40 fan-pages for secular greats in Facebook took some time off my favorite pastime more later on. Also, the source of reading matter did change, when we got out student loans paid and economy on a stronger footing. I finally started buying new books instead of loaning them from the library.


    Now I have a good library of my own in the subjects I most like, even if I have started ordering Kindle-books also for my Samsung Android-phone. I can now read them when sitting and waiting for a doctors appointment and the like.
    I freely admit this addiction, but at the same time I think that this habit offers a firm base for my current activity as a thinker and writer. I have always loved to read about out real world, our real societies and our reality. I think that this offers a solid base for a thinker and writer who wants to explore from new points of view how all this works.

    My name is Jaakko and I am an addict. I am addicted to reading”.

  • "The wonderful joy of just being alive" or some thoughts on human life


    You can know how wonderful a simple slice of bread can taste after you have been desperately hungry. You can taste the real sweetness of a glass of water after being thirsty. You can also feel the wonderful joy of being alive on a quite ordinary day after you have tasted death."

    Jaakko J. Wallenius

    I can get stronger, when I admit my weakness
    I can get to be less fearful, when I admit my fearfulness
    I can gain more understanding, when I admit my foolishness."

    Jaakko J. Wallenius

    Success is about how others evaluate you, but your true value depends on how you really develop yourself. Sometimes enhancing this value of oneself does produce success that is appreciated by others, sometimes not."

    Jaakko J. Wallenius

    On the moment of inception, a thought can be crystal clear; it can shine like a diamond in one's own mind. However, when it is offered to the world at large, it is soon swallowed by the immense swamp of random information, never to be seen again."

    Jaakko J. Wallenius

    We must strive to achieve the courage with which we can at least try to change the things that we think need to be changed. However, just as important is that we also can accept the things in our lives that we simply cannot change. Most of all we must continuously strive to achieve the wisdom with which we can decide which is the case in any individual situation." (an old saying a little updated)

    Jaakko J. Wallenius

    The worst things will happen when people who believe in their absolute and unswerving goodness acquire power and/or weapons."

    Jaakko J. Wallenius

    Trying to understand is not the same as forgiving. This is one of the hardest things to understand for many. It is always easiest just to class something or somebody as "evil" or "bad" and not to give any further thought to the whole issue.

    Jaakko J. Wallenius

    Knowledge is not wisdom and wisdom is not just knowledge. Wisdom is the ability to see the relationships that do exist between different facts. A person with lot of knowledge but little wisdom can be very useful in those fields of life where just a lot of knowledge is needed, but a knowledgeable person with too little or distorted wisdom can be even dangerous. Men of wisdom or knowledge are commonly sought out for guidance. However, a wise man with too little or distorted knowledge or a knowledgeable man with too little wisdom can lead people even totally astray."

    Jaakko J. Wallenius

    Mere words cannot change reality, but they can change in a fundamental way in which we see and most of all understand that reality. Homo Sapiens can be defined to be the only species of animals that can make itself doubt the reality of the universe that has produced it."

    (Actions that are based on words can naturally change reality, but that is another story.)

    Jaakko J. Wallenius
    "Jaakko Wallenius (b. 30.January 1958 Hämeenlinna) is a Finnish writer and journalist."

  • "Our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance" or the very best bits by Daniel Kahneman


    Paradoxically, it is easier to construct a coherent story when you know little, when there are fewer pieces to fit into the puzzle. Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation; our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.”

    Daniel Kahneman in “Thinking Fast and Slow” (2012)

    Leaders who have been lucky are never punished for having taken too much risk. Instead they are believed to have had the flair and foresight to anticipate success and the sensible people who doubted them are seen in hindsight as mediocre, timid and weak. A few lucky gambles can crown a reckless leader with halo of prescience and boldness.”

    Daniel Kahneman in “Thinking Fast and Slow” (2012)

    Stories of how businesses rise and fall strike a chord with readers by offering what the human mind needs: a simple message of triumph and failure that identifies clear causes and ignores the determinative power of luck and the inevitability of regression. Those stories induce and maintain an illusion of understanding, imparting lessons of little enduring value to readers who are all too eager to believe them.”

    - Daniel Kahneman in “Thinking Fast and Slow” (2012)

    The idea that large historical events are determined by luck is profoundly shocking, although it is demonstrably true."

    - Daniel Kahneman in "Thinking, Fast and Slow" (2012)

    The illusion that we understand the past fosters overconfidence in our ability to predict the future".

    -Daniel Kahneman in "Thinking, Fast and Slow" (2012)

    Optimism is highly valued, socially and in the market; people and firms reward the providers of dangerously misleading information more than they reward the truth tellers."

    - Daniel Kahneman in “Thinking Fast and Slow” (2012)

    A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.”

    ― Daniel Kahnemanin "Thinking, Fast and Slow"

    A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course of action. In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature.”

    ― Daniel Kahneman in "Thinking, Fast and Slow"

    This is the essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.”

    ― Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow
    "Daniel Kahneman (Hebrew: דניאל כהנמן‎) (born March 5, 1934) is an Israeli-American psychologist and winner of the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. He is notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, behavioral economics and hedonic psychology. With Amos Tversky and others, Kahneman established a cognitive basis for common human errors which arise from heuristics and biases (Kahneman & Tversky, 1973; Kahneman, Slovic & Tversky, 1982; Tversky & Kahneman, 1974), and developed prospect theory (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979). He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for his work in prospect theory."

  • How can we know more of the real reasons why people do things?

    To understand the true quality of people, you must look into their minds, and examine their pursuits and aversions."

    -Marcus Aurelius in Meditations, book 4, section 38

    One of the greatest difficulties in assessing any kind of human behavior is that humans are often quite unaware of the real motives for even of their own actions. The publicly declared motives are quite generally suspect. However, even the motives that a person him- or herself thinks to be the real reasons for his or her own actions are normally just a tip of the iceberg of the motives that make us tick.
    For example, when one develops a hatred towards somebody, one generally soon has a comprehensive list of rational reasons for it. We just are rationalizing animals. We so much like to think that our decisions are based on rational reasons.

    However, we are not often even aware of the cause for our hate. Of course, irrational feelings that are roused by the appearance or behavior of the person in question are always at play. Very often people will never confront these issues. They just stick to the rationalizations that they have created.
    I have been talking in this blog how a systematic method for rationally analyzing the motives of people could be useful tool in many situations. I have named my method as ?Stochastic Motivational Analysis?.

    The idea of ?stochastic analysis? comes from Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The word 'stochastic' means that the analysis is just the currently best possible one. The stochastic results can change the whole time quite freely with the arrival of new information. In a ?Stochastic Motivational Analysis?, there are never final, unmovable results.
    Let us take the example of somebody hating another person. When we analyze the motivation for it, we need to ask, for example, could there be hidden ideological or political motivations. We can also ask if the person can have a deeper financial motive.

    Hans Hofmann The Gate, 1959–1960. - Wikipedia

    On the other hand, one needs to ask if some kind of public debate has had an effect on the person. After all, the person in question could be just following a trend where certain types of people are portrayed as detestable. One needs also to ask if the social group, institution or organization that this person belongs to have some kind of special relationship with the social group or institution that the hated person does belong to.
    Similar batteries of questions can be constructed to cover all facets of human behavior. Naturally, some or even all of these motives can well be also openly declared too. Of course, the deepest personal motivations can never be fully known. However, a mere act of trying to understanding them can show us how the declared motives are often just a thin layer that is laid out to hide the reality. This process can help us even immensely at times, when we try to figure out why people do different things.

    This does not mean that people would knowingly lie about their motives. They just often are not willing to face reality. Rationalizing decisions is so often much easier than trying understand what makes one do different things. If this is true of one?s own actions, how much easier is to accept the explanations of others whom one sees as his or her allies on their face value?
    Trying to understand human behavior can be a burdensome process. Doing it can also be interpreted as lack of trust if the openly declared motives of some human or organization are questioned. Still, I feel that it would be worthwhile if we just could pause more to think why people do different things. It can only increase our understanding of humans and how they operate.
    The simple process of pausing to ponder and wonder also the motivations of people in different situations can only be beneficial to our general ability to think.

  • Can a single ideology provide all the answers?

    There are two general methods of how one can approach ancient systems of thought like Epicureanism and Stoicism. The first is a top-down view, where one looks at the general principles of the school of thought. If one finds them wanting, one can also dismiss the individual ideas of that school as useless.
    The other option is to look at the individual ideas and evaluate their worth at solving independent issues. At this point, it is good to remember that if you go through the works of Aristotle, you will find that he made countless elementary and even childish mistakes. However, he is still revered because his some other ideas are still seen as vital.

    Similarly, I do not agree with Epicurus in some issues like participating in politics and on his attitude towards sex. However, I can still forward almost all of his other ideas that I see as still valuable and worthwhile after 2400 years. There is just a small step from here towards my attitude on the Stoic philosophy. There are many basic concepts that I do not agree with in Stoicism. For example, their pantheism is not for me at all.
    This is true, even if pantheism is the most rational idea of a "god" that there does exist. The pantheistic idea of Nature and the universe as a ”god” is a natural one. It is an idea that also Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein also held. The idea of Earth as one organism or Gaia is also extremely similar.
    The Stoic idea of not letting your bare emotions make your life miserable is not about “repressing emotions” as many opponents of Stoic thinking say. It is about striving into being able to control one’s own emotions to a certain degree. There is a common misconception in this respect.

    Anyway, the idea that all ideologies and philosophies can contain valuable and important individual ideas is obviously strange and even dangerous one for all too many people. Most people seem to be happy to choose one pet ideology as their own and discard all the rest with one swell swoop. Most of all religious ideologies (but also ideologies like communism) are constructed in a way that makes it hard to accept ideas from other ideologies. The very idea of picking the best ideas from several ideologies is simply dangerous anathema to very many people on this little blue planet.
    In the end, the only tool that one can rely on in picking and choosing of best ideas from different and even competing ideologies is one’s own reason. This tool will, normally develop further during the process of acquainting oneself with different ideas and ideologies.

    Raphael's School of Athens, depicting an array of ancient Greek philosophers engaged in discussion. - Wikipedia

    The process of learning a single ideology even deeply just cannot produce similar results as does the opening of one’s mind to different possibilities and situations in human life as study of large array of different ideas can. One can even learn the ultimate goal of accepting that there just might be not just one right answer to human and social problems. There can be several good and acceptable answers at the same time.
    Naturally to be able to conduct policies in the real one, one needs to choose the ideas that he or she wants to forward. However, one can at the same time accept the fact that even a competing idea can have some merit. In an ideal world, one will be able to choose the idea that best suits the current situation in hand. I know that this is simply impossible in the real world. People do become so easily attached to single ideologies, that the ability to evaluate freely different ideas and ideologies does exist only in theory.

    One can well ask what can make a person choose, for example, Epicureanism in the first place? It is a bit circular reasoning to say that some of the Epicurean ideals makes him choose it. People choose it if they see this system of thought as reasonable and valid. This really happens as a rational process, because Epicureanism in never learned in childhood like religions. Choosing it is always a decision that is made by a reasonable adult.
    They use reason to choose Epicureanism. This is not the Reason of Platonist's, but the reasoning of Karl Popper and Bertrand Russell. Most of all Russell has been instrumental in showing me how important questions in human social life can have several valid answers at the same time. He did show me how there can be no absolute and final truth in these matters.

    Of course, there are many things in the natural world that have a quite stable answer, but even things like the size of the Sun or distance from Earth to Moon do change every second. However, I do speak now strictly only about human social behavior and interactions. Human societies and human interactions are so varied that there simply cannot be one answer.
    One answer simply can bit cover all possible variations in complex modern human societies. Sadly many people like so many devout Christians or followers of Islam still do think so. However, it is good always to remember that one size simply does not fit all. The more complex a society is the more varied the ideas need to be that are used to guide that society.

    This piece is loosely based on my comments on a discussion I had in the Epicurean discussion-group "The Garden of Epicurus" at
    It is a closed group, but all newcomers have been accepted thus far. I founded it a few years ago, but it has been going strong even without me for a long time.


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