Thursday, December 27, 2012

Soliciting a Subject

I would like to send a brief request to my followers to send in a topic or subject for BQ for January 18.  What would you like to use as a springboard for our discussion?   Send it as a response to this blog (if you have an email account with Google that is the easiest way), or you can send it to my other email account (you know what that is, right?). 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Happiness Sauce

I was listening to a TED Talk about Happiness.  The speaker broke the concept of Happiness down in a different way, one that I had not considered before.  Since I seem to be stuck on the topic of Happiness, I thought I would share the comments of this speaker and see if there is a way I can work them into my own narrative.

Happiness was defined as being the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of regret. The concept of pleasure was explored in the context of choices and the many ways we struggle in making a choice of one thing among a field of many similar things.  An example used was spaghetti sauce in the grocery store.  Prego and Ragu have a history of selling sauces that they thought were what people wanted to buy, but through a rather straightforward process of showing people different kinds of sauces it turns out that over 25% of us like extra chunky spaghetti sauce, a type that was not even offered until this study was commissioned.  Our happiness was being thwarted through our own inarticulate purchasing preferences.  Prego figured this out and made over $66 million in the 1980's by cornering the Extra Chunky sauce market. 
Interestingly, the "ideal" Italian sauce is not chunky.  As originally conceived and practiced in southern Italy, the sauce is smooth and without chunks, and passes through the pasta when you ladle a dollop on top of the pile.  The idea of a chunky sauce that sits up on top is something new and doesn't even really fit with the concept of a spaghetti sauce as invented by the Italians.  If Happiness is about eating things that give you pleasure, then your tastes have moved beyond traditional sauces and choices are what you need to fulfill your Happiness craving.
Regret is a two parted concept that is the antonym of Happiness.  The two parts are these:

1.     Faced with a plethora of choices for any particular decision, a person is required to sort and select through the choices to arrive at a single one.  In so doing a set of expectations is used to anticipate the outcome of any of the choices.  The person making the choice develops these expectations and these expectations are independent of any inherent property of the things being chosen.  The anticipated outcome of making the choice is a projected future that has been influenced and improved by the choice.  So, the first part of the regret process is Choice.

2.    Regret is the emotion a person feels when the outcome actually achieved was not the one desired.  It may be less than, or simply other than the expected outcome of making the choice.  The regret may be that another selection would have been better.  It may be that making no decision would have been better.  In any event the outcome of Regret is the emotional backlash of making any Choice among several  alternatives.

One logical outcome of this analysis is the understanding that without Choice you can never have Regret.

Another implied concept is that we may be equally happy in an environment where the choices are not made clear to us.  In the case of the spaghetti sauces people bought smooth sauces that they knew from their childhoods thinking that these were fine and sufficient for making spaghetti, and that nothing really needed to be changed to make them happy about that experience.  Once educated about a new choice, the Extra Chunky option, a significant number chose that over the traditional selection, apparently making themselves Happier than they would have been but for that one new choice.  Had Extra Chunky not come along, would they have been equally happy?  Studies on this sort of thing seems to indicate they would have been.  Choices for the sake of choice do not make us inherently happier.  Have you checked on salad dressings at the grocery store lately?  By some accounts there are 175 different dressings on the shelves, not counting the combinations of olive oil and balsamic vinegar you might like to employ for yourself.   With that much choice how can anyone not be happy about the way their salad dressing tastes?  Or do you suffer decision regret that you used Green Goddess when you wish you had chosen Extra Chunky Blue Cheese instead?

Is Happiness related to choice? Is the Pursuit of Happiness somehow similar to the Pursuit of Many Choices?  And if choice leads to regret, would the lack of choice mean that a person might actually be Happier with fewer choices, or no choice at all?  (This is the Henry Ford Color Choice, "People can have any color of Model T they want, as long as its black!")

A corollary might be that things seemed happier in the past when the choices were fewer.  It may have literally been true, that limited circumstances meant that people's lack of choice led to lower expectations and hence less regret.  I don't believe it, but this is what the concept might logically lead us to.

The speaker I listened to concluded that Happiness was maximized when people had low initial expectations and life's experiences then exceeded their expectations.  How can one regret a past decision when the present has worked out well and you can't imagine a set of decisions you could have made to have it turn out except as it has?  Reverse thinking to be sure, but something to consider.

Monday, September 10, 2012

No Meeting this Friday

The stars are aligned against us this month.  Let's not meet this Friday.   We can hold our topic until next month.


Friday, September 7, 2012


Staying on the topic of Happiness...

The human condition of Being Happy seems to me to be possible in at least a couple of independent ways:
1.  Happiness can arise from a condition where the confluence of our thoughts, actions, and living, and the outcomes of this living, are in agreement with our plans, desires, and hopes.  Right Living creates the Right Life, hence you are Happy.  I like to think of this as organic Happiness, meaning that it arises from actions we take, we make it happen because we are in control of our lives, and we are responsible for it.  Lives out of control are rarely Happy, and the people in those lives may only feel Happy in very limited ways, and only from certain perspectives.   I call this the Right Living Scenario, or RLS.
2.  Happiness can arise through the application of electrical or chemical stimuli.  Experience tells us that Happy Hour was properly named if a quantity of alcohol, the drug of choice for many people, is applied in the right dose to create the sensation of Happiness, however limited in scope it may be.  Other drugs can be used, I'm told, that have greater effects than ethanol but the side effects may create unHappiness.  Happiness In a Pill, or HIP, is the name I will give this form.
3.  Is there a 3rd form of Happiness? 
  The Happiness Box Experiment is really just another form of HIP, I think. 
  Are you Happy when you sleep and dream? 
  Can you be Happy in the sense we mean here if you are not conscious? 
  Are you Happy if you have no memory of Happiness later? 
  Can we anticipate Happiness and be Happy in the anticipation?  What if we think something will happen that will make us Happy and today we are happy in that anticipation, but the thing does not happen and the anticipated Happiness we planned for never materializes?  Does that negate our anticipatory Happiness (because it was never a genuine Happiness, anyway)?

The application of philosophical thinking has an impact on RLS, but not on HIP.  Arraying the many facets of our lives, examining them, assessing them with respect to our intentions and the outcomes we would like to see and then looking over our lives and how the way we live is or is not in harmony with these outcomes is what BQ is all about.  It makes sense to be philosophical with respect to RLS.  It makes no sense to be philosophical if we want to talk about HIP, unless the point is to examine our personal use of HIP in the context of our goal of RLS.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Happiness, Really?

A couple of years ago I did a session on Happiness.  The intent was to talk about Happiness from the standpoint of understanding how Happiness flows from a person's getting their lives in order, forming right relationships with others, with themselves, aligning their goals with their abilities and resources, etc.  Essentially, I wanted the discussion to be an introspective on how a soul lives a Right Life to achieve Right Balance.  There are lots of parts to this, and I wanted to let the discussion range freely, touch on many aspects of the Human Condition, and examine each of our lives to tease out some aspect that might help us create a condition of Greater Happiness.

Somewhere in the discussion something went terribly wrong.  My idea of Happiness was kicked under the bus and I was confronted with the notion that Happiness, actually, was just Right Brain Chemistry, nothing more.  Take a pill and Happiness happens, regardless of anything else. Lithium, Prosac, and who knows what else are all that are really necessary for Happiness, and there is no functional difference between a chemically induced Happiness and whatever a Genuine Happiness might be, if it even exists.  Genuine Happiness may just be a state where brain chemistry is exactly the same as Happiness achieved through modern chemistry, and if this is so, why are we talking about this?

This idea was not unknown to me, but seemed to fly in the face of what BQ was all about.  If philosophical issues could be reduced to the level of simple medical chemistry, in this case, what does that do to the concept of personal responsibility for your actions, and ownership of your condition?  

I've thought about this quite a lot in the time since, and I think it needs to be revisited but with enough background and context to make the discussion productive for all involved.  Think about this and we will get bak to it again.

Friday, June 29, 2012

We are Taking The Summer Off

We have decided to suspend Big Questions trough the summer months, and pick it back up in September. If you have an idea for a topic I will get it when you leave a comment below, and I will save it for use this fall, so please don't think this gets you off the hook for thinking Big Thoughts!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Soliciting a Topic

I've been waiting for inspiration to strike me for a topic.  Unfortunately nothing has presented itself as a driving, vital topic.  So, when this happens we kick around ideas and select one from among those that people bring.  If there is something that you find of interest, let's hash it out.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Immortality as a Life Force

Michael Shermer has an article in the current issue of  Scientific American about immortality as being a driving force behind lasting human creativity (April 2012, page 82).  He is reviewing a book about this subject, Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever (Crown, 2012) and quotes the author, Stephen Cave, frequently.  At the heart of the issue is what Cave calls the Mortality Paradox, which is that the human mind cannot imagine an existence without consciousness.
There seem to be 4 immortality narratives:
1.    Stay alive and never die
2.    Resurrection
3.    The perpetuation of the Soul
4.    Creation of a Legacy
Cave points out the problems with 1-3 in short order, but seems to think that the creative drive people have to produce some sort of lasting legacy actually stems from this fear of death.  Cave calls it the Terror Management Theory, which is that the "awareness of one's mortality focuses the mind to create and produce to avoid the terror that comes from confronting the mortality paradox..."
As a contrary point of view Woody Allen is quoted: "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve it by not dying."
Shermer points out that non-human creativity is often associated with reproduction, as in Bower Birds and "brainy bohemians." They create flashy items that attract mates, and to heck with a physical legacy. They are satisfied with a genetic legacy, apparently.
We have attempted this topic in the distant past, but I took a quite different approach. Perhaps this fresh perspective will stimulate your creative mental juices. And, as we have several very creative folks that regularly attend, you can think about this ahead of time and share your secret stash of creative inspiration with the rest of us.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Are They Really Dead?

I'm reading a book called A River Lost: The life and death of the Columbia, by Blaine Harden.

Mr. Harden is a native of Washington who laments the changes that have changed the nature of the Columbia River from the pristine state that Lewis and Clark found to the present day. He is especially critical of the Bureau of Reclamation and the work performed during the Great Depression of the 1930's when the Grand Coulee Dam and other dams were built. The engineers at the GC Dam were cavalier about the effects the dam would have on salmon, native Americans, and the price we would all pay for pouring water into what had been an inhospitable desert in and around Grant County. 

While the economic miracle that followed cannot be denied, now 70 years later the costs of this change, in Harden's treatise, are not worth the benefits. He laments the sense of entitlement the farmers of central Washington have with respect to the water they receive from the dams, while these same farmers openly detest the federal government and the "meddling influence" of the West-siders.  The hypocrisy he finds ridiculous.

As a son of the State of Washington and as a person who grew up through the development and construction of the dams on the Snake River, I share the sense of history that Mr. Harden refers to in his narrative. I used to visit the very bottom of the Snake River Canyon when I was a boy, camping with the Boy Scouts in an area that was slated to be flooded when the dams were completed. I have driven the road in this same area today that was built just above the full pool level between Wawaii and Clarkston. I recall the look the rim had in the winter where we were relatively warm in the bottom of the treeless and barren canyon, when the snow above was beautiful and glistened in the morning sun. The change from then to now is stark and dramatic.

I used the ferry at Lyons Ferry before the dam was built, when the "ferry" was a rickety platform connected to a wire rope, where a fin dipped into the Snake River was tilted towards the far shore so that the movement of the water would propel the 2-3 cars that would fit on the platform from one side to the other. Today Lyons Ferry has a high rise bridge that spans this gap, and you can travel from the south to the north side of the river at a comfortable 60 MPH in your car, never knowing how precarious it felt just 50 years ago to make this same crossing.

Lewiston ID is a port, just the same as Everett is a port. Barge traffic from Lewiston allows grain and minerals to pass hundreds of miles to Portland and Astoria through the locks, down the Snake, and into the Columbia. Harden makes the point that this could only happen if the dams and dredging were built with public funds, and the beneficiaries are farmers and mining companies that have paid next to nothing for this service. Without this water-based cartage method it would cost roughly $0.10 more per bushel to carry wheat and lentils to market using trucks and trains. Is the loss of the "Wild River" and the loss of the salmon runs in the Snake River worth the seemingly minor cost savings this offers to a few?

If I were to mention just a few of the things we have lost with the development of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, I might list:
1. Archeological evidence of native Americans in the Snake and Columbia River basins
2. Loss of salmon runs and habitat, esp. in the upper reaches of the rivers
3. Loss of "lifestyle" for native Americans dependent on salmon

If I were to list things we have gained, I might list:
1. Flood control on the rivers involved
2. Electrical power at the lowest cost in North America
3. Power to drive the manufacturing economy of the PNW, esp. in WWII
4. Cheap water transportation
5. Recreation on "pools" instead of raging rivers
6. Irrigation of semi-arid lands that would not otherwise sustain agriculture
7. Farming and manufacturing that sustain communities and economies that would not otherwise exist

So, what is the question? I think it is our old friend, What is the impact of so many people in the world? If we are going to have so many people we are going to need power, and water, and food, and communities, and to provide these we need to harness the natural resources we have and turn them to our mutual benefit.

What do you think?

Ps: Shall we organize a trip to eastern Washington to see all these wonders? I would love to lead a group on a 2-3 day trip!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Intentional Community

The next meeting is February 24, at 6:30, at the Smith's house. 

What does it take to make an intentional community? The background to this topic is that we spend a good deal of time talking about creating an environment at EUUF that is a community of like-minded individuals who chose to associate based on a set of shared mores and ideals of interpersonal relationships, but is there more going on here that that?  We chose this community and by joining it we affect the composition and nature of the group by our very presence.  We MAKE the environment we hope to be find, just by being a part of it.
There are many parts to this story, and I hope to tease them out of the discussion over the course of the evening.  Core Group, Diversity, Inclusiveness, Tolerance, Structure, Multi-Generational Involvement, Participation, Leadership, Ambiance, and Welcoming.  What other terms can you think of that would be appropriate? 
An intentional community is like a family, and like a family there are lots of issues and problems that can arise.  Love, conflict, irritation, affection, admiration, competition, help, hindrance, sharing, isolation, and many others.  What have you seen during your association at the Fellowship?  What have you seen in the world around you?  How have these affected you?  How should they affect you?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Problem with Free Will

A regular attendee has suggested that the Problem of Free Will be discussed for our meeting on Friday.  I am all for this, however I wonder if this topic will create much discussion.  When the determinism that a created and planned world is taken away, it makes a lot of sense to think that we all have the ability to act independently and of our own volition.  Why not?  What is keeping us each from acting independently?

If you Google "the problem with free will" you will come upon several good websites where folks have written summaries of this problem down through the ages.  The historical summary they represent offers good context for the question.  If cause and effect rule nature, why not human relations?  If events have causes, actions to take today will produce outcomes tomorrow, and so forth.  Would it be possible for a super intelligence (computer?) that could assemble enough starting condition information to predict outcomes?  That sort of thing.

Do you have free will?  Some philosophers say that you have made a free will decision when you feel that you were free to make it.  Does that definition work for you?  You are free when you feel free?

How can we frame the question for this topic to encourage discussion?  Or, do you feel free to make that call?