Technology, the overstated route to happiness


By Socrates

In my search for wisdom I meet many people. As I converse with them I find that they all seek the same thing: happiness. But when I ask how they intend to achieve their goal of happiness, their answers reveal how elusive it is.

I was recently at a technology market. As I wandered through the exhibit tents, I was struck with what everyone seemed to be selling: happiness. Astonishingly this elusive thing seemed to be available for purchased at a technology market. Now I must be clear, the advertising didn’t use the term “happiness”. However this is clearly what they wanted people to think. I saw displays of people smiling and looking fulfilled, all thanks to their technological aids; iPads, robotic lawnmowers, automated vacuum cleaners, and software to remote control their house.

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Einstein’s Formula for Happiness

By Socrates

How does one achieve happiness? That has been one of the central questions driving my search for wisdom. I have argued that people who equate happiness with material gain will never actually achieve happiness. Many people disagree. They believe that more money and, by extension, more possessions will bring them happiness. But I wonder if I will ever meet anyone for whom this is true.

It may be true that buying a new product is accompanied by a good feeling. By Hercules, even I must admit to having experienced this. Natural philosophers who study the brain tell me that these feelings arise through the release of endorphins. Now we all know that such feelings are short lived. If I want to repeat the experience, I need to purchase something else. If this is happiness then happiness is fleeting and elusive. And this indicates to me that seeking happiness in this way will be relentless because I will be forever seeking out new products to reproduce those feelings. Happiness will be constantly slipping beyond by reach.

My solution was the realization that happiness is not to be found in material wealth. I took great pleasure in reminding everyone of this by walking around the Agora commenting that I did not need most of the product being sold. My search for happiness has lead me to the conclusion that all I need is good friends, a warm house, and food to eat. Freeing myself from excess material desire gives me more time to enjoy the world and engage in philosophy with friends. This is where happiness can be found.

It seems that a well known natural philosopher by the name of Einstein shares my view. After his stay at a hotel, he was short on cash and could not leave the bell boy a tip. Instead he left a note: “A calm and humble life will bring more happiness than the pursuit of success and the constant restlessness that comes with it.” This is music to my ears.

The irony is that that this note has now been sold for $1.3 million, thus providing its former owner the fleeting illusion of happiness through material gain.

Here is a news article about the famous note: https://www.stuff.co.nz/world/middle-east/98236201/einsteins-formula-for-happiness-sells-for-nz19-million

— Socrates

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Pressure to buy product, disarmed through reason

By Socrates

The stoic philosophers have a similar outlook to my own. I remember once walking around the agora, smiling, and boldly declaring “look at all this product that I don’t need”. What was my point? Well, I wanted to remind people that much of the fear and stress we feel results from pressure to own more product. But we don’t need all this product, and I was affirming that point. Here is a syllogism:

P1. (premise) If I realize that I don’t need excess, then I won’t fear missing out on excess.

P2. (premise) I have realized that I don’t need excess

C1. (conclusion) Therefore, I don’t fear missing out on excess (from P1, P2)

Thinking this way is liberating and I recommend it. But premise #2 is crucial. One needs to train oneself to realize that most product on sale is not needed. In doing so, we can extend the argument:

P3.(premise) Product that I don’t need is excess to my need

P4.(premise) I do not need most of the product on sale in the mall

C2. (conclusion) Therefore, most product on sale in the mall is excess to my need (from P3, P4)

P5.(premise) If I don’t fear missing out on excess and if most product on sale in the mall is excess to my need, then I should not feel pressured into buying more product from the mall

C3. (conclusion) Therefore, I should not feel pressured into buying more product (from C1, C2, P5)

This article summarizes some other stoic ideas.
https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/02/15/seneca-letter-18

— Socrates

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Technology and Happiness

By Socrates

Does technology bring happiness? This question has been the subject of a recent dialogue between myself and an eager technophile. A lover of technology and a lover of wisdom, searching for happiness. By the gods, what a pair.

The technophile’s argument was based on the assumption that the reason for unhappiness is that the world does not conform to our desires. He suggested that technology can adjust the world to suit our desires, and thus bring happiness. For example, the cold of a long winter’s night will make me unhappy. But this can be fixed by using the appropriate technology. To gain happiness I need to bend nature to suit my needs.

My technophile friend’s argument can be summarized in this form:

P1. Because the reason for my unhappiness is that the world does not conform to my desires, if I want to be happy, I need to adjust the world to suit my desires

P2. I want to be happy

C1. Therefore, I need to adjust the world to suit my desires

P3. Technology is the means by which I adjust the world to suit my desires in order to achieve happiness

C2. Therefore, technology brings happiness

This argument is valid, but sadly my technophile friend seems to be in a most unfortunate position. To become happy, he needs to change objective reality. This, to me, seems to be a relentless undertaking. I think we can all agree that the world is imperfect. I think we can also agree that achieving perfection is a task suited only to the gods. My unfortunate friend may be able to alter small aspects of the world to provide a temporary feeling of happiness, but technological fixes don’t last. Things break. Nature is unpredictable. If my friend’s happiness requires that nature is bent to his will, I fear that he will never be truly happy.

Shall we take a look at the first premise in the technophile’s reasoning. He believes that the reason for his unhappiness is that the world does not conform to his desires. I wonder if there is another way to look at this. Could it be that the reason for his unhappiness is his expectation that the world conforms to his desires, and yet it usually doesn’t? If this is true, an easier road to happiness may be an adjustment of that expectation.

Back in Athens we believed that happiness could be achieved by conforming the soul to objective reality, as opposed to attempting to change reality to suit the soul. If my technophile friend can use wisdom and self control to adjust his desires to reality, he may find happiness more forthcoming. Of course, this is not to say that he shouldn’t warm his house at night.

— Socrates

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Nietzsche’s Birthday

By Socrates

Today is Nietzsche’s birthday. He wasn’t a big fan of my work. He even committed an ad hominem attack against me in his Twilight of the Idols. He tried to refute me by referring to my appearance, calling me the “lowest of the low” because of the way I look. It is true that I am not the most beautiful person on the exterior. But, as I always reminded people, the mere appearance of beauty is not necessarily the same as real beauty. That can only be found in the soul. I would, by extension, suggest that the external appearance of ugliness doesn’t reflect the true nature of the person.

Nietzsche didn’t approve of my approach to philosophy. He thought dialogue was nothing more than cheap entertainment, and he disagreed with my reasoned approach to life–specifically my arguments about how to attain happiness through virtue.

It is a shame I never had the opportunity to engage in dialogue with Nietzsche. I would very much like to examine his thoughts…even if he thinks the elenchus method is cheap entertainment.
— Socrates

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Gun ownership laws

By Socrates

The issue of gun ownership often comes up after reports of mass shootings. Recently there was a mass shooting in Las Vegas. This prompted a dialogue between myself and a gun enthusiast. The dialogue was documented by a friend of mine (Brent Silby) and appears below. As with many of my dialogues, this one ends in aporia. That means it ends inconclusively, at an impasse.



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Writing, Memory, and the Internet

By Socrates
The written word is arguably the most significant invention in our history. But I always held it in suspicion. Back in Athens I argued that the written word can give people the illusion of knowledge when none exists. It is very easy to recite information from a written passage without understanding exactly what it says. I see this frequently when I use this new tool, the Internet. People respond to questions by copying passages of written text, but when probed, they reveal that they don’t know what they have quoted.

Another reason for suspicion is that the written word is static. You can’t interrogate it. If I read an item of information in a book, I cannot ask a question. The book sits there silent. I have always argued that learning best occurs through dialogue.

A third reason for my suspicion involves the impact writing has on memory. If I can off-load thoughts from my mind onto paper, or into the Internet, then I don’t need to remember them. There are some contemporary philosophers such as Andy Clark and David Chalmers who claim that the very act of recording my memories in external devices actually extends my mind into those devices. This is an interesting idea, but I am not convinced. For one thing, memory in the traditional sense seems more dynamic a process than simply recording thoughts into a device. Memories tend to occur to me, bubbling up from below consciousness, at appropriate times. On the other hand, memories stored in devices need to be searched for intentionally. To access a stored memory I would need to have an idea of what I’m looking for prior to searching for it. The process, therefore, seems to maintain a separation between external device and my mind.

Astute readers will recognize a level of hypocrisy in my thoughts. I am criticizing the written word in writing. And although my historical work was verbal (I never used to write anything down), my arguments were recorded in written form by my students Plato and Xenophon. This criticism is justified. However, I am satisfied that to the extent that people can engage in dialogue with me beneath this article, there is a similarity to what I used to do. So my second complaint above targets books rather than Internet blogs. My other complaints are still relevant and are nicely outlined in this short article in the Philosophy Now publication: Memory and the Internet.

— Socrates

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Is the universe a simulation

By Socrates

People who know me will know that I have put metaphysics to one side. I found it interesting, to be sure. But I decided to focus my efforts on questions of ethics and living well. That said, articles like this reawaken my interest in metaphysics.

Was this universe made by someone from outside? Back in my day, people thought the universe was eternal. Some people thought that it was a chaotic mess, made up of an infinite number of atoms, and that these were somehow ordered–either by accident or by some organizing force, which was contained within the universe. Then my student, Plato, described an organizing force that sits outside the universe.

This idea caught on and has persisted. In the 13th Century Aquinas developed arguments in support of the idea, notably his second and third way. Recently, philosophers have continued to argue for the existence of an organizational force that sits outside the universe. These days they consider this force to be some sort of super-intelligent godlike civilization that has the ability to produce universes inside sophisticated computer systems. It seems that although the language has changed, the idea has remained much the same. A transcendent entity is needed to explain the existence of the universe.

Is it true? How would we know? Well, some natural philosophers (they are called physicists) have reason to believe that the universe is not the product of an external computer program. Here is a brief outline of their argument: https://cosmosmagazine.com/physics/physicists-find-we-re-not-living-in-a-computer-simulation.

Their argument can be described as a simple syllogism

P1. If it is physically impossible for a computer to store and compute information required to simulate all the particles in the universe, then the universe is not a computer simulation

P2. It is physically impossible for a computer to store and compute information required to simulate all the particles in the universe

C. Therefore, the universe is not a computer simulation

The argument is valid, but is it sound? Take a close look at premise #1. What are they assuming? They are assuming that facts about computers in this universe tell us something about computers in a possible parent universe. If our computers can’t do it, then neither can computers in a parent universe. But this doesn’t follow, does it? Our computers are constrained by the contingent laws of physics of our universe. Is there any reason to assume that the laws of physics in a parent universe will be the same as the laws of physics in our universe? If the answer to that question is “no”, then premise #1 is disarmed and the argument is unsound.

So, if these researchers want to make a solid argument, they need to convince us that the laws of physics in a parent universe are necessarily the same as the laws of physics within our universe. They may indeed have an argument to this effect. But it is not mentioned in the article. Therefore, the it seems to me that the possibility that this universe is a simulation can not yet be discarded. Our transcendent creators survive to appear in another argument.

— Socrates

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Facebook and Plato

By Socrates

After all these years, people are still working through issues by referring to the writings of my most famous student, Plato. This pleases me. Much of what he wrote featured myself as lead character. While flattering, I need to come clean. I didn’t actually say a lot of what Plato put in my mouth. His dialogues are not actual recordings of my discussions–though some of the early ones come close.

In this article (Would Plato Allow Facebook In His Republic), Jenni Jenkins asks what Plato would think of Facebook. Among other things, she refers to Plato’s realm of forms. I never held the metaphysical view that there is an existing realm of forms. That is Plato’s idea. But I do agree with some of his thoughts as outlined in this article. I particularly agree with his thoughts about truth relativism. These ideas, it seems to me, have been reinvigorated many times through the centuries. Relativism is seductive and it persistently reappears. And each time, philosophers examine again the nature of truth and reveal the internal paradox of relativism by asking the question: is it an objective truth that there is no objective truth?

Another point that I agree with is that when people are invisible, they will be more inclined to act badly. In the case of Facebook, people can act “invisibly”, commenting on articles under false names, or even their own name but so far removed, they are essentially invisible.

The argument is simple:

P1. If I am invisible, then I am more inclined to act badly
P2. On Facebook I am invisible
C. Therefore, on Facebook I am more inclined to act badly


The argument is valid and it seems to be the case that P1 is true. But maybe this is due to ignorance. People who know me will recall that I always argued that people only commit bad acts out of ignorance. No-one thinks they are doing wrong when they act badly. They commit bad actions because they don’t realize what they’re doing is wrong. Was I wrong about this? Do people actually realize that they are doing harm to others when they post nasty comments? Or do people truly not realize that they are doing harm? Or is it possible that people realize they are doing harm, but think it is the right action to take?

This is an issue that clearly requires further examination.
— Socrates

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