Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bittersweet Prelude to School, Philosophical Musings


Summer, as always, seemed to vanish right in front of my eyes. It is like this every time the metaphorical, old-fashioned school bell rings to mark the beginning of a new semester. In some ways, it is a reminder that the tiring nights of homework and the thousands of words formulated and transposed on paper is about to begin once again. But in other ways, school means getting educated and becoming more acquainted with how the universe works. I am excited (and a bit anxious!) that school is in session.
Today, I read an amazing textbook introduction. The book is called Happiness: Classic and Contemporary Readings in Philosophy, and the introduction is written by Newcastle behavioral scientist Daniel Nettle. I really enjoyed his elucidation on the three levels of happiness; I have not encountered such an eloquent description of the stages. Nevertheless, I felt myself a bit critical of one of his statements when he describes Aristotle’s eudemonia:
 “There is no single thing that it feels like to achieve eudaimonia (that is, human flourishing), since everyone’s potential is different. Indeed, one of the problems of eudaimonia and related constructs is that it is not clear who is to be the judge of what one’s full potential is…” (x).
              It seems that, even though we cannot prove that a certain spike of eudemonistic characteristics designates our true peak of potential, we can make very reasoned guesses as to where this peak might begin. Obviously, there must be a change in lifestyle that cultivates such flourishing. The question is then, of course: How would you measure such a thing? In my response, I would have to say it is completely subjective, and only the individual would know when a certain lifestyle affects their rate of flourishing. This seems like it could be investigated further.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Death: A Coping Device for Anxiety

Type 1a supernova. A beautiful example of finitude.
Anxiety has the ability to affect the life of an individual that comes across its path. I have struggled most of my life with anxious feelings, mostly brought up due to new situations. They have seeped into my life in times of transition, such as beginning school for the new year or starting a new job. I have received intense therapy in my early years in life, which has allowed me to discover physical coping techniques. But, I must say, rationalizing anxious thoughts has helped just as much.

Ironically, death  has allowed me to create beneficial scenarios. Many of us fear death. Philosophers (since the Stoics to the modern existentialists) have tried to discuss and observe the natural event of death/dying; they tried to de-mystify and show how death was like every other life process. In a way, the thought of death is helpful to the anxious subject because it creates a worst possible scenario when one experiences an irrational, anxious fit. For example, when I started a new job, I was making a big deal about every miniscule detail, causing me internal panic. Then I thought about death. In death, the act of dying, the body ceases to exist; all pain and worry leaves the mind, and we go into a peaceful rest. If all goes wrong and chaos erupts, I just think to myself, "Feeling is what it means to be alive, no matter how much I suffer. Dying, the worst case scenario, puts an end to all suffering."

The comfort of this thought is unexplainable, but apparent nonetheless.