Albert Einstein, “Self-Portrait” in Out of My Later Years (Citadel Press, 1956), p. 5: 

. . . For the most part I do the thing which my own nature drives me to do. It is embarrassing to earn so much respect and love for it. Arrows of hate have been shot at me too; but they never hit me, because somehow they belonged to another world, with which I have no connection whatsoever. 

I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.

The Zebra Jockey


The Zebra Jockey makes necessary and rapid changes to stay in motion. 

He accepts the chaos of uncontrollable circumstance as being what it is. He doesn’t employ control to determine outcomes and direct the actions of others to bring about what he should be, but rather engages in influence to work towards what could be. 

The Green Lumber Fallacy and Educational Horror

So let us call the green lumber fallacy the situation in which one mistakes a source of necessary knowledge–the greenness of lumber–for another, less visible from the outside, less tractable, less narratable.

My intellectual world was shattered as if everything I had studied was not just useless but a well-organized scam–as follows….

[story omitted from quote]

When I saw that he was not the exception, I started freaking out watching all these years of education evaporating in front of my eyes. That very same day I stopped reading economic reports. I felt nauseous for a while during this enterprise of “deintellecualization”–in fact I may not have recovered yet…

So that is how I learned the lesson that price and reality as seen by economists are not the same thing. One may be a function of the other but the function is too complex to map mathematically. The relation may have optionality in places, something that these non-sentence-savvy people knew deep inside.

Nassim Taleb, “Antifragile”

Creating a Meaningful Life

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

More on Zen Pencils.

– Bill Watterson

Free Trade Coffee

This post was originally published on December 8th, 2021

I had the pleasure of stumbling upon Coffee – Philosophy for Everyone edited by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin. Head over to your favorite book seller and grab a copy if coffee and/or philosophy is your thing! One chapter that perked the interest of both the philosopher and coffee drinker in me was “The Necessary Ground of Being” by Austin. Aptly named for both its coffee reference and distinction between necessary and contingent truths (the “grounds” of truth), Austin frames the chapter by explaining the deeply metaphysical distinction between necessary and contingent truths and then leads into coffee and ethics. Austin asks: are there necessary ethical truths? If yes, can these truths exist without God? With this in mind, Austin introduces arguments on both sides. 

As a quick primer on necessary vs contingent truths; a necessary truth is one that could not be otherwise. 2 + 2 = 4 in the base 10 system–this could never logically be different. Another necessary truth is that “Nothing can be red all over and green all over at the same time” (Austin). A final necessary truth example if the following statement: “If A < C, and C < B, then A < B”. The negation of the solution “A < B” is a logical impossibility. A contingent truth is one that could be otherwise; I sit here today unbearded, but my being without a beard is only contingently true; I could be sporting a nice no-shave November beard still untouched.

On one hand, it seems unethical that unfair trade exists even if God does not exist. If so, how is this truth necessary and not contingent in regards to something in the universe? Since it might be deemed a necessary moral truth, what makes this truth necessary and something that could not be otherwise? Austin puts forth Wielenberg’s view that necessary ethical truths are “part of the fabric of the universe”. There are certainly philosophers that would take issue and want further argument. On the other hand and in response to Wielenberg, some philosophers argue that God is required for necessary ethical truths. Austin goes one to discuss the question of “Why we should be moral” and arguments put forth by both naturalists and idealists (or theists). 

Anyone who has spent any amount of time in analytic philosophy knows that it is difficult to make any headway on answers to some of the largest questions that exist. Austin does the key task of introducing the arguments and asking the likely next questions that a person would logically ask when shown the arguments. Austin also closes the chapter with the following: If you’re reading this book, you probably don’t need any convincing about the goodness of a quality cup of coffee, though the issues about God, moral goodness, and the ultimate aspect of reality may not be so clear. It is here that philosophy can help, not because there is an agreement among philosophers about these issues, but because philosophy can help us ask and seek to answer in a reasonable manner questions related to the possible existence of the Necessary Grounds of Being. [pun seems intentional]

This is exactly right. Strict analytic philosophy may not produce consensus, but it allows a thinking human to better understand the nature of truth.