Sunday, July 30, 2017

Notes on Bertrand Russell's Autobiography

I've been reading Bertand Russell's autobiography these past few weeks.

I've yet to read most of Russell's work, but I'm familiar with what he stood for and produced during his lifetime. 

I remember that what first hit me as terribly interesting, so much so that I had to read the book in only a couple of sittings, was having read his essay "Why I am not a Christian"

The essay's tone is witty in all the right parts - which was something that made it easy to digest. Instead of the work being sermon-like, or worse, an insulting exposé by an Atheist, it was a calmly well-argumented take by someone who simply, for reasons very aptly laid out, did not agree with Christianity.  

This written work made me feel like I'd been part of a profound conversation with an open mind. One that made it O.K. for me, at that time a teenager, to agree (at least partly) with someone else's relaxed and contrary opinion on a very serious issue. 

Since that first encounter with Russell, I've perused with relative frequency, his page on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. There's a great big summary of his work and doings throughout his life, much that I've become interested in.

I've highlighted some interesting passages and key sentences I consider relevant from Russell's autobiography.

Here's some.

From "Prologue - What I have Lived for":

"Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for live, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind."

From "Chapter 1 - Childhood":

"I think periods of browsing during which no occupation is imposed from without are important in youth because they give time for the formation of these apparently fugitive but really vital impressions."

Regarding his grandmother's death:
"...As I have grown older, I have realised more and more the importance she had in moulding my outlook on life. Hear fearlessness, her public spirit, her contempt for convention, and indifference to the opinion of the majority have always seemed good to me and have impressed themselves upon me as worthy of imitation. 

She gave me a Bible with her favourite texts written on the fly-leaf. Among these was 'Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil'. Her emphasis upon this text led me in later life to be not afraid of belonging to small minorities."

On a memory of his Uncle William:
"I have a very painful recollection: he came to Pembroke Lodge one June evening at the end of day of continual sunshine, every moment of which I had enjoyed. When it became time for me to say good-night, he gravely informed me that the human capacity for enjoyment decreases with the years and that I should never again enjoy a summer's day as much as the one that was now ending. I burst into floods of tears and continued to weep long after I was in bed. Subsequent experience has shown me that his remark was as untrue as it was cruel."

"Nature and books and (later) mathematics saved me from complete despondency."

"...the art of concealing her emotions..."

" she had a caustic tongue..."

"As I have grown older, however, my feelings have changed. I owe to the Russells shyness, sensitiveness, and metaphysics; to the Stanleys vigour, good health, and good spirits. On the whole. the latter seems a better inheritance than the former."

"As soon as I realised I was intelligent, I determined to achieve something of intellectual importance if it should be at all possible, and throughout my youth I let nothing whatever stand in the way of this ambition."

From "Chapter 2 - Adolescence"

"It became second nature to me to think that whatever I was doing had better be kept to myself, and I have never quite overcome the impulse to concealment which was thus generated.

I still have an impulse to hide what I am reading when anybody comes into the room, and to hold my tongue generally as to where I have been, and what I have done. It is only by a certain effort of will that I can overcome this impulse, which was generated by the years during which I had to find my way among a set of foolish prohibitions."

"I was told that all introspection is morbid, so that I regarded this interest in my own thoughts and feelings as another proof of mental aberration.

After two or three years of introspection, however, I suddenly realised that, as it is the only method of obtaining a great deal of important knowledge, it ought not to be condemned as morbid. This relieved my feelings on this point."

On repudiating arguments in favour of religion:

"For I took the view then, which I have taken ever since, that a theological proposition should not be accepted unless there is the same kind of evidence for it that would be required for a proposition in science."

"It appeared to me obvious that the happiness of mankind should be the aim of all action, and I discovered to my surprise that there were those who thought otherwise."

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Requiem - On to 2016

I've ceremoniously replaced the website with it's brother page on Facebook. It seemed only fair to add an end-of-the-year post on the site before beginning 2016.

Here goes.

To sum up the year, at least in a post, it's tempting to take a sentimental tone, leaning into mawkish territory with anecdotes of what certain life moments meant during 2015, adorned by special hallmark memories that evoke feelings of joy and contentment. While this sort of synthesis effectively does emotionally charge its author (and readers) at least in terms of finding virtual peace with whatever station in life is being described, it's possible that in doing so therein lies a subtle difference between deriving satisfaction from the little joys in life versus extracting knowledge and maybe a little bit of wisdom from deeper sources that echo higher-impact thoughts. 

Quick pop-culture reference:  the Ferris Bueller quote "Life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it" makes a valid point in this regard. 

What does "stop and look around once in a while mean" to each person? Philosophically speaking, this statement could mean severe contemplation, decisive introspection and a strong focus in answering self-doubt by addressing general/specific unanswered questions. Banal and mundane approaches could interpret the suggestion to take a pause and think as a way of not letting the rudimentary day-to-day habits drag us into old age without ever having experienced the different joys and thereby personal growth every human being aspires to. The latter definition is what Matthew Broderick referred to in the movie. 

The former explanation, though, demands more. However, there is little time to play the deep thinker when making a living or raising a family. 2015 was a trial in that regard. 

Man, in general terms, is content with what is. Ignorance is bliss. Psychologists, as is their wont, have referenced family, work and friendships as all contributing to a person's wellbeing. Social Scientists and Economists vie to address the current allocation of resources, optimization of different systems, study of human processes and interpretation of behaviors that determine growth, and reach for, crudely speaking, a closer way to achieve utopia. 

Note: Pseudoeconomics looks to address just that - the different players and their attempts towards optimization (i.e. Utopia, or augmented reality in its current terms). Economics is an art in that regard. And a very amusing past time for whomever takes on its study as a serious amateur.

The worldly professions and the learned men (and women) behind them that move us and shift our existence in this world -  politicians, doctors, lawyers, scientists, activists, writers, artists, religious folks, businessmen, yoga instructors - in their origin, provide a service, donning a win-win to society. Until they deviate and don't.

2015 was the year when victims, and here I reference self-imposed victimhood, not the truly afflicted, were not victims, but potential champions that fizzed out. In my personal experience, this was a year in which life re-affirmed itself, upheld by shared experiences with a loyal family, friends and enriched by experiences at work and outside of it. 

Octavio Paz said: "Deserve your dream." I think, in plain-speak that means, "get your ass to work". The trick therein is to work for a dream, not for it's own sake. 

As a segue to this post's ending, and on to a richer and much better written text, an opportunity to contemplate the year's successes and great opportunities  through an eloquent explanation of the risk represented by excessive pride (always a danger to take note of!), by Paz himself (from the chapter on "Rhythm" in his book "The Bow and the Lyre),

A favor: pay close attention to the "magic" and "magician" concepts mentioned. The reference might seem archaic. Far from it.

"Magic is a dangerous and sacrilegious enterprise, an affirmation of human power vis-a-vis the supernatural. Separated from the human herd, facing the gods, the magician is alone. His greatness and almost always, his final sterility is rooted in that aloneness. On the one hand, it is a testimony of his tragic decision. On the other, of his pride. Indeed, every magic that is not transcended - that is, not transformed into a gift, into philanthropy - consumes itself and ends by consuming its creator. 

The magician sees men as instruments, forces, nuclei of latent energy. One form of magic consists in the dominion over self for ultimate dominion over others. Princes, kings and leaders surround themselves with magicians and astrologers, the precursors of political advisors. The formulas for magic power are fatally bound up with tyranny and the domination of men. The magician's is a solitary rebellion, because the essence of magical activity is the quest for power. The similarities between magic and technology have frequently been pointed out, and some think that the former is the remote source of the latter. Whether or not this hypothesis is valid, it is obvious that the characteristic mark of modern technology - like that of ancient magic - is the cult of power. 

Standing opposite the magician is Prometheus, the loftiest figure created by Western imagination. Neither magician, nor philosopher, nor sage: hero, stealer of fire, philanthropist. The Promethean revolt embodies the revolt of mankind. Implicit in the chained hero's aloneness throbs the return to the world of men. The magician's solitude is a solitude with no return. His revolt is sterile because magic - that is to say, the quest for power by power - ends by annihilating itself. And this, precisely, is the drama of modern society."

Happy new year.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pseudoeconomics on Facebook

Pseudoeconomics now has a facebook page!

Please follow the link above and like the page.

The dynamic on facebook is such that a page for the website there lends itself nicely to a broader (and more participative) audience.

The website will still be active - albeit with a slight change in focus.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Gearty Grilling: The Noble Economist

2010 Nobel Prize in Economics winner Chris Pissarides explaining the difference between Scandinavia's and Italy's compromise between promoting free markets and keeping a social democracy afloat.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Reading list

Have been keeping busy reading the following:

Capital in the 21st Century - Thomas Piketty

Will be posting comments soon.

A quick summary:

Sunday, July 5, 2015

How the euro caused the Greek crisis

The Greek crisis explained in under 3 minutes.

Posted by Ezra Klein on Thursday, July 2, 2015

Sunday, May 3, 2015

On the never-ending journey that leads to sound personal convictions

Malcolm Gladwell is often remembered for one key idea: the 10,000 hour rule (as mentioned in his 2008 non-fiction book Outliers).

Gladwell insists on the validity behind the idea, that to become an expert, in basically anything, one must (taking into account some "x" level of aptitude) put in 10,000 hours of practice...which roughly equals 10 years time. The interesting premise here is that, to become an expert, one does not necessarily have to be a genius.

In reading up on Gunner Myrdal, and Friedrich von Hayek, the 1974 Nobel Prize in Economic winners I have yet to profile, I realized: these men obviously exceeded the ten year quota required to excel in their field. Their professional careers in academia, politics, and as part of their country's intelligentsia community translated into far more than 10,000 hours of dedication to the economic research, application and theory-building needed for the breakthroughs that led to their nobel prize wins. Their work was a product for a lifetime, having built on other economist's own 10,000 hours.

The common (yet very extraordinary) denominator between these Nobel Prize winners (and their equally gifted contemporaries) is the clarity in their ideas, convictions and beliefs. 

The winners' prize lectures archived in the website denote an acute understanding of the world, as if these winners knew exactly what their place on earth meant, and what their work needed to reflect, so as to be valued as truly model citizens. It's baffling to read such clear ideas and strong feelings. It's overwhelming at times, and very exciting to know what their findings meant to them, before their ideas and applications began to mean so much more to the societies, institutions, governments, economies and businesses that benefited indirectly and directly from the work derived therefrom. 

I sometimes mention what this blog is supposed to do, and what it's supposed to mean, but the reality is that both those things are in a constant state of flux. What does persist, though, is the never-ending search for a deeper truth; one related towards making sense of the way the world functions, and how to strive that same functioning towards continual improvement. 

What's beautiful about concentrating on how economists came about it, is that, economists don't just limit themselves to the established ideas in their field: economists pick and take what works in other realms (psychology, philosophy, sociology, mathematics, politics, etc...) and apply it to the problems that we faced yesterday, face today and will face tomorrow.

All this makes for sound convictions. Naturally.

This man clearly had strong convictions.