Some brief notes on psychoanalytical theories and the pattern of fascist propaganda (Adapted from the original works of T. W. Adorno, L. Lowenthal & N. Guterman)


The brief notes below set to demonstrate the interrelationship of the Frankfurt critique of mass culture and the theory of fascism. Adorno was to call both the mass-culture industry and fascist propaganda “psychoanalysis in reverse.”

The thoughts that follow are comprehensively documented by L. Lowenthal and N. Guterman in their book, Prophets of Deceit: A Study of the Techniques of the American Agitator (1949).
The overall picture of cultural movements that emerge which display characteristics or traits similar to those outlined, principally by Adorno, can be seen to be built upon a twofold understanding:

First, fascistic or neo-fascistic communications displays little or no concern with concrete or tangible ideological issues. Rather it is the case that communications are psychologically based at the level of the individual (i.e. ad hominem) in contrast to an intentional purpose of gaining followers through any rational statement of rational aims. Here communications may be viewed simply in terms of methodically instigate a culturally transformative process through the exclusive use of what Gustav Le Bon named the contagion theory aspect of “the psychology of the masses.”

Second, the approach of what we might call agitation is truly a systemic, rule-based pattern of a limited number of “devices.” These devices are in no way limited to the ultimate destination; the undermining or abolition of the democratic process, but to a greater degree focuses on the content and presentation of communications (i.e. propaganda). Thus, one finds speeches fitting this description commonly to be monotonous, repetitive of simple formulaic motifs, and scarcity of rational ideas can be seen as “indispensable ingredients” of such devices.

After an initial consideration of the two main features outlined above one may turn to the possibility of a psychological understanding; one where it immediately becomes obvious that an association with paranoia becomes all too plain. In this regard, one might profit from a frame of reference provided by Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (English trans. 1922). It is fair to induce from this work that suggestion and the role of suggestion in mass psychology might play a large part in the weaving of the spells of this agitation.
Here then one does seek to introduce new characteristics to explain the masses using group psychology, instead one looks to the conditions required to surrender natural functioning with more archaic, primitive displays of affect contradictory to normalised rational behaviours. But here it would be a complete misnomer to hastily label fascistic agitations as the reoccurrence of the archaic in the individual but its “reproduction in and by civilisation itself.” In other words, fascist rebellion may not be understood solely in terms expressed through passionate, driven impulsions (i.e say, the structural understanding of the Id), rather, such a rebellion borrows its energies partly from other psychological agencies (i.e. say, perceptions of institutional political ineffectiveness) which become pressed into the service of resentment and discontentment. It is as though civilisation begins to eat itself, so to speak, through the use of the population to do the digestive work where cultural institutions may have already been perceived to have failed to deliver change.

The demagogue and the hypnotist coincide in their use of the technique of suggestion and auto-suggestion. In so doing, the individual can be made to undergo the regressions which reduce them to mere members of a group. That being so, the irrational authoritarian aims of the demagogue centre in the idea of the symbolic image of a leader as all-powerful (through position and status), all-knowing (through intelligence gathering), threatening (through force and might), and readily punitive (through regular punishment of those with opposing views). In these ways, to some, the passive-masochistic attitude of valorous surrender can become quite — irrationally — irresistible. It is here that reasoning gives way to the seductions of the demagoguery, and political behaviour becomes increasingly irreconcilable with rational interests, or the ‘blind faith’ of the followers.

Moreover, the primitive irrational aspect of identification, as an act of devouring, that is, of making the beloved object an internal part of oneself, may provide one with a clue as to how the modern demagogue seems to project themselves as an enlarged embodiment of the individuals’ own suppressed anti-social beliefs. It is as though the object choice here – selfishly – serves to substitute for some unattained ego ideal of our own. Following this thought, it follows quite naturally that the group becomes unified through a number of individuals substituting one and the same object for their egoic ideals and subsequently collectively identifying themselves with one another in their shared egoic focus. Perhaps in this way, the demagogue becomes symbolically positioned as a father to the horde. Put another way, the leader image, through the invariant use of the populist device of the great little man, the voice of the people, or suchlike spokesperson for the horde, gratifies the follower into a twofold irrational desire: a desire to submit to a charismatic, traditional or legal authority, and also a desire to be the authority themselves.

It is noteworthy that another well understood fascistic trope is the device of ritual, ceremony, and strict hierarchical stratification. In this way, one sees the nurturing of responsibility towards that above, authority toward those below.

By logical extension in-group and out-group quickly become consumed in a politics of exclusion and exclusivity. Here intolerance toward differences of opinion banishes the prospect of introspection, and questioning becomes the concomitant messenger of weakness and doubt. The narcissistic gain provided by the fascistic irrational discourse is obvious – the follower is right, better, and purer than those excluded and the bond between those in the in-group is continuously strengthened and ambivalence overlooked to a far greater extent within the in-group than one might ordinarily find.
At this point one crucial question becomes almost irresistible and inevitable; namely, how do fascist agitators, crude and semi-educated as they often are, obtain knowledge of these psychological mechanisms? Any answer here must be tentative, yet Adorno’s answer to this question relied upon a rather straightforward appeal to the rational truth behind irrational motivation.

Fascistic communication and propaganda have only to reproduce the existent mentality for its own purposes to succeed. That is to say, under the prevailing conditions, the irrationality of fascist propaganda relies upon the authoritarian character every bit as much as the authoritarian character is itself a part of modern society, and where both are exploited fully, both can seem rational insofar as the sense of an “instinctual economy”, a Hobbesian brutal-and-short layer of existence, can be alleged to exclusively require reversion to blind power.

Where fascism succeeds it does so by reversing the psychotherapeutic model of independence and emancipation, by means of an increase in the knowledge of the self (“where id was so ego shall be”). Fascism furthers this abolition through a perpetuation of mythical falsifications of actual dependence and actual captivity through wholesale misrepresentation of a fictitious state of imaginary independence and imaginary freedom in the place where dependence and captivity are hidden in plain sight through misinformation, misdirection, expropriation, and mischief-making.

It is the belief of the author of these notes that the very brief thoughts above may have some small bearing on developing and communicating better understanding of the current political complexities in the English-speaking world, and that reacquaintance and revaluing of psychoanalytical thought, as well as more contemporary psychotherapeutic approaches in the systemic-relational tradition, might yet reveal much to explorations into sociopolitical examination and subsequent discussion hitherto overlooked or forgotten.

Bildeston, 20.03.17.

Ame ni mo makezu (Be not Defeated by the Rain) by Kenji Miyazawa (b. 1896 – d.1933)


not losing to the rain
not losing to the wind
not losing to the snow nor to summer’s heat
with a strong body
not fettered by desire
by no means offending anyone
always quietly smiling
every day four bowls of brown rice
miso and some vegetables to eat
in everything
count yourself last and put others before you
watching and listening, and understanding
and never forgetting
in the shade of the woods of the pines of the fields
being in a little thatched hut
if there is a sick child to the east
going and nursing over them
if there is a tired mother to the west
going and shouldering her sheaf of rice
if there is someone near death to the south
going and saying there’s no need to be afraid
if there is a quarrel or a lawsuit to the north
telling them to leave off with such waste
when there’s drought, shedding tears of sympathy
when the summer’s cold, wandering upset
called a nobody by everyone
without being praised
without being blamed
such a person
I want to become

At least 31 great reasons to like the existential thought of Albert Camus


1. “For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.”
2. “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”
3. “Peace is the only battle worth waging.”
4. “There are causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for.”
5. “I know that man is capable of great deeds. But if he isn’t capable of great emotion, well, he leaves me cold.”
6. “The need to be right — the sign of a vulgar mind.”
7. “Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable.”
8. “People hasten to judge in order not to be judged themselves.”
9. “I would rather live my life as if there is a god and die to find out there isn’t, than live my life as if there isn’t and die to find out there is.”
10. “Life can be magnificent and overwhelming — that is the whole tragedy. Without beauty, love, or danger it would almost be easy to live. ”
11. “At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman.”
12. “The evil that is in the world almost always comes from ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”
13. “Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.”
14. “There are crimes of passion and crimes of logic. The boundary between them is not clearly defined.”
15. “Where there is no hope, it is incumbent on us to invent it.”
16. “I rebel; therefore I exist.”
17. “Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.”
18. “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.”
19. “Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.”
20. “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger — something better, pushing right back.”
21. “There is scarcely any passion without struggle.”
22. “Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?”
23. “But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.”
24. “Always go too far, because that’s where you’ll find the truth.”
25. “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”
26. “The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits.”
27. “He who despairs of the human condition is a coward, but he who has hope for it is a fool.”
28. “The habit of despair is worse than despair itself.”
29. “But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?”
30. “My chief occupation, despite appearances, has always been love.”
31. “If absolute truth belongs to anyone in this world, it certainly does not belong to the man or party that claims to possess it.”

Phenomenological Approaches to Self-Consciousness (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy


(First published Sat Feb 19, 2005; substantive revision Wed Dec 24, 2014)

On the phenomenological view, a minimal form of self-consciousness is a constant structural feature of conscious experience. Experience happens for the experiencing subject in an immediate way and as part of this immediacy, it is implicitly marked as my experience. For phenomenologists, this immediate and first-personal givenness of experiential phenomena is accounted for in terms of a pre-reflective self-consciousness. In the most basic sense of the term, self-consciousness is not something that comes about the moment one attentively inspects or reflectively introspects one’s experiences, or recognizes one’s specular image in the mirror, or refers to oneself with the use of the first-person pronoun, or constructs a self-narrative. Rather, these different kinds of self-consciousness are to be distinguished from the pre-reflective self-consciousness which is present whenever I am living through or undergoing an experience, i.e., whenever I am consciously perceiving the world, whenever I am thinking an occurrent thought, whenever I am feeling sad or happy, thirsty or in pain, and so forth.

1. Pre-reflective self-consciousness

One can get a bearing on the notion of pre-reflective self-consciousness by contrasting it with reflective self-consciousness. If you ask me to give you a description of the pain I feel in my right foot, or of what I was just thinking about, I would reflect on it and thereby take up a certain perspective that was one order removed from the pain or the thought. Thus, reflective self-consciousness is at least a second-order cognition. It may be the basis for a report on one’s experience, although not all reports involve a significant amount of reflection.

In contrast, pre-reflective self-consciousness is pre-reflective in the sense that (1) it is an awareness we have before we do any reflecting on our experience; (2) it is an implicit and first-order awareness rather than an explicit or higher-order form of self-consciousness. Indeed, an explicit reflective self-consciousness is possible only because there is a pre-reflective self-awareness that is an on-going and more primary self-consciousness. Although phenomenologists do not always agree on important questions about method, focus, or even whether there is an ego or self, they are in close to unanimous agreement about the idea that the experiential dimension always involves such an implicit pre-reflective self-awareness.[1] In line with Edmund Husserl (1959, 189, 412), who maintains that consciousness always involves a self-appearance (Für-sich-selbst-erscheinens), and in agreement with Michel Henry (1963, 1965), who notes that experience is always self-manifesting, and with Maurice Merleau-Ponty who states that consciousness is always given to itself and that the word ‘consciousness’ has no meaning independently of this self-givenness (Merleau-Ponty 1945, 488), Jean-Paul Sartre writes that pre-reflective self-consciousness is not simply a quality added to the experience, an accessory; rather, it constitutes the very mode of being of the experience:

This self-consciousness we ought to consider not as a new consciousness, but as the only mode of existence which is possible for a consciousness of something (Sartre 1943, 20 [1956, liv]).
The notion of pre-reflective self-awareness is related to the idea that experiences have a subjective ‘feel’ to them, a certain (phenomenal) quality of ‘what it is like’ or what it ‘feels’ like to have them. As it is usually expressed outside of phenomenological texts, to undergo a conscious experience necessarily means that there is something it is like for the subject to have that experience (Nagel 1974; Searle 1992). This is obviously true of bodily sensations like pain. But it is also the case for perceptual experiences, experiences of desiring, feeling, and thinking. There is something it is like to taste chocolate, and this is different from what it is like to remember what it is like to taste chocolate, or to smell vanilla, to run, to stand still, to feel envious, nervous, depressed or happy, or to entertain an abstract belief. Yet, at the same time, as I live through these differences, there is something experiential that is, in some sense, the same, namely, their distinct first-personal character. All the experiences are characterized by a quality of mineness or for-me-ness, the fact that it is I who am having these experiences. All the experiences are given (at least tacitly) as my experiences, as experiences I am undergoing or living through. All of this suggests that first-person experience presents me with an immediate and non-observational access to myself, and that (phenomenal) consciousness consequently entails a (minimal) form of self-consciousness. In short, unless a mental process is pre-reflectively self-conscious there will be nothing it is like to undergo the process, and it therefore cannot be a phenomenally conscious process (Zahavi 1999, 2005, 2014). An implication of this is obviously that the self-consciousness in question can be ascribed to all creatures that are phenomenally conscious, including various non-human animals.

The mineness in question is not a quality like being scarlet, sour or soft. It doesn’t refer to a specific experiential content, to a specific what; nor does it refer to the diachronic or synchronic sum of such content, or to some other relation that might obtain between the contents in question. Rather, it refers to the distinct givenness or the how it feels of experience. It refers to the first-personal presence or character of experience. It refers to the fact that the experiences I am living through are given differently (but not necessarily better) to me than to anybody else. It could consequently be claimed that anybody who denies the for-me-ness of experience simply fails to recognize an essential constitutive aspect of experience. Such a denial would be tantamount to a denial of the first-person perspective. It would entail the view that my own mind is either not given to me at all — I would be mind- or self-blind — or is presented to me in exactly the same way as the minds of others.

There are also lines of argumentation in contemporary analytical philosophy of mind that are close to and consistent with the phenomenological conception of pre-reflective self-awareness. Alvin Goldman provides an example:

[Consider] the case of thinking about x or attending to x. In the process of thinking about x there is already an implicit awareness that one is thinking about x. There is no need for reflection here, for taking a step back from thinking about x in order to examine it…When we are thinking about x, the mind is focused on x, not on our thinking of x. Nevertheless, the process of thinking about x carries with it a non-reflective self-awareness (Goldman 1970, 96).
A similar view has been defended by Owen Flanagan, who not only argues that consciousness involves self-consciousness in the weak sense that there is something it is like for the subject to have the experience, but also speaks of the low-level self-consciousness involved in experiencing my experiences as mine (Flanagan 1992, 194). As Flanagan quite correctly points out, this primary type of self-consciousness should not be confused with the much stronger notion of self-consciousness that is in play when we are thinking about our own narrative self. The latter form of reflective self-consciousness presupposes both conceptual knowledge and narrative competence. It requires maturation and socialization, and the ability to access and issue reports about the states, traits, dispositions that make one the person one is. Bermúdez (1998), to mention one further philosopher in the analytic tradition, argues that there are a variety of nonconceptual forms of self-consciousness that are “logically and ontogenetically more primitive than the higher forms of self-consciousness that are usually the focus of philosophical debate” (1998, 274; also see Poellner 2003). This growing consensus across philosophical studies supports the phenomenological view of pre-reflective self-consciousness.

That pre-reflective self-awareness is implicit, then, means that I am not confronted with a thematic or explicit awareness of the experience as belonging to myself. Rather we are dealing with a non-observational self-acquaintance. Here is how Heidegger and Sartre put the point:

Dasein

The body provides not only the egocentric spatial framework for orientation towards the world, but also the constitutive contribution of its mobility. Perception does not involve a passive reception, but an active exploration of the environment. Husserl calls attention to the importance of bodily movements (the movements of the eye, manipulations by the hand, the locomotion of the body, etc.) for the experience of space and spatial objects. He further claims that perception is correlated to and accompanied by proprioceptive-kinaesthetic self-sensation or self-affection (Husserl 1973c). Every visual or tactile appearance is given in correlation to a kinaesthetic experience. When I touch a shaped surface, it is given in conjunction with a sensation of finger movements. When I watch the flight of a bird, the moving bird is given in conjunction with the kinaesthetic sensations of eye movement and perhaps neck movement. Such kinaesthetic activation during perception produces an implicit and pervasive reference to one’s own body. The implicit self-awareness of the actual and possible movements of my body helps shape the experience that I have of the world. To be clear, however, bodily self-awareness is not an awareness of the body in isolation from the world; it is embedded in action and perception. We do not first become aware of the body and subsequently use it to engage with the world. We experience the world bodily, and the body is revealed to us in our exploration of the world. Primarily, the body attains self-awareness in action (or in our dispositions to action, or in our action possibilities) when it relates to something, uses something, or moves through the world.[4]

Bodily self-awareness, like self-consciousness more generally, has limitations. I am never fully aware of everything that is going on with my body. Indeed, my body tends to efface itself as I perceive and act in the world. When I jump to catch a ball that is thrown over my head, I certainly have a sense of what I can do, but I am not aware of my precise movements or postures—for example, that my right leg bends at a certain angle as I reach with my left hand. I can execute movements without being explicitly conscious of them, and even what I am tacitly aware of is somewhat limited—for example, I am not aware of the shape of my grasp as I reach to grab the ball. Although I may not be aware of certain details about my bodily performance, this does not mean however that I am unconscious of my body. Rather it means that the way that I am aware of my body is fully integrated with the intentional action that I am performing. I know that I am jumping to catch the ball, and implicit in that, as an immediate sense rather than an inference, is the experience of my body jumping to catch the ball. Furthermore, experiential aspects of my embodiment permeate my pre-reflective self-consciousness. There is something it is like to jump to catch a ball, and part of what it is like is that I am in fact jumping. There is something different to what it is like to sit and imagine (or remember) myself jumping to catch the ball, and at least part of that difference has to do with the fact that I am sitting rather than jumping, although none of this may be explicit in my experience.

Another way to think of this is to consider the sense of agency that is normally an aspect of pre-reflective self-awareness in action. If, as I am walking down the street, I am pushed from behind, I am instantly aware of my body moving in a way that I did not intend. The fact that I feel a loss of control over my actions suggests that there had been an implicit sense of agency or control in my walking prior to being pushed. In voluntary action, I experience the movements of my body as my own actions, and this is replaced by a feeling of loss of bodily control in the case of involuntary movement. Voluntary actions feel different from involuntary actions, and this difference depends respectively, on the experience of agency or the experience of a lack of agency—as the case may be if my body is being moved by someone else.

5. Social forms of self-consciousness
A focus on embodied self-experience inevitably leads to a decisive widening of the discussion. The externality of embodiment puts me, and my actions, in the public sphere. Self-consciousness involves not only an ability to make reflective judgments about our own beliefs and desires but also includes a sense of embodied agency. I am, as Paul Ricoeur (1950, 56–57) points out, conscious of being the author of my actions, and this kind of awareness often comes about as my actions are reflected in the presence of others. I can become aware of myself through the eyes of other people, and this can happen in a number of different ways. Thus, embodiment brings intersubjectivity and sociality into the picture, and draws attention to the question of how certain forms of self-consciousness are intersubjectively mediated, and may depend on one’s social relations to others. My awareness of myself as one person among others, an awareness that I may frame from the perspective of others, attempting to see myself as they see me, involves a change in the attitude of self-consciousness. Within this attitude, judgments that I make about myself are constrained by social expectations and cultural values. This kind of social self-consciousness is always contextualized, as I try to understand how I appear to others, both in the way I look, and in the meaning of my actions. I find myself in specific contexts, with specific capabilities and dispositions, habits and convictions, and I express myself in a way that is reflected off of others, in relevant (socially defined) roles through my language and my actions.

The role of the other in this mode of self-consciousness is not unessential. According to Husserl, I become aware of myself specifically as a human person only in such intersubjective relations (Husserl 1973b, 175; 1952, 204–05; see Hart 1992, 71; Zahavi 1999, 157ff. Also see Taylor 1989, 34–36 for a similar idea). Thus Husserl distinguishes the subject taken in its bare formality from the personalized subject and claims that the origin and status of being a person must be located in the social dimension. I am not simply a pure and formal subject of experience, but also a person, with abilities, dispositions, habits, interests, character traits, and convictions, and to focus exclusively on the first is to engage in an abstraction (Husserl 1968, 210). Given the right conditions and circumstances, the self acquires a personalizing self-apprehension, i.e., it develops into a person and as a person (cf. Husserl 1952, 265). And this development depends heavily upon social interaction (Husserl 1973b, 170–171).

This kind of self-consciousness is also the occasion for a self-alienation, famously explicated by Sartre in terms of the other’s gaze. For Sartre, because “our being, along with its being-for-itself, is also for-others; the being which is revealed to the reflective consciousness is for-itself-for-others” (1956, 282). On this view, the primary experience of the other is not that I perceive her as some kind of object in which I must find a person, but I perceive the other as a subject who perceives me as an object. My experience of the other is at the same time an experience that involves my own self-consciousness, a self-consciousness in which I am pre-reflectively aware that I am an object for another. This experience can further motivate a reflective self-consciousness, as I consider how I must appear to the other.

Merleau-Ponty (1945, 415) suggests that the other’s gaze can motivate this kind of self-consciousness only if I already have a sense of my own visibility to the other. This sense of my own visibility, however, is immediately linked with the pre-reflective, proprioceptive-kinaesthetic sense of my body, an insight that goes back to Husserl’s analysis (mentioned above), through Merleau-Ponty, who sees its connection to the infant’s capability for imitation, and forward to more recent advances in developmental psychology (see Merleau-Ponty, 1945, 165, 404-405; 2010; Gallagher and Zahavi 2008; Zahavi 1999, 171–72). In effect, we find ourselves related to others through self-conscious experience that is motivated by the other’s gaze.

This is not the place to enter into a detailed discussion of these rich and complex issues, issues that extend to analyses of phenomena such as empathy, shame, guilt, and so on (see Zahavi 2010, 2014). But it is important to realize that self-consciousness is a multifaceted concept. It is not something that can be exhaustively analyzed simply by examining the inner workings of the mind.

6. Conclusion

The notion of self-consciousness has been the subject of a rich and complex analysis in the phenomenological tradition. Aspects of the phenomenological analysis also show up in other areas of research, including feminism (Stawarska 2006; Young 2005; Heinämaa 2003), ecological psychology (Gibson 1966), and recent analyses of enactive perception (Noë 2004; Thompson 2008). The recognition of the existence of a primitive form of pre-reflective self-consciousness is an important starting point for an understanding of more elaborate forms of self-consciousness that are concept- and language-dependent. Phenomenological analyses show these processes to be more than purely mental or cognitive events since they integrally involve embodiment and intersubjective dimensions.

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Kriegel, U. (ed.), 2006. Consciousness and self-representation. Psyche, 12/2, available online.
Lowe, E.J., 2000. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lycan, W.G., 1987. Consciousness, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Meltzoff, A., 1990a. “Foundations for developing a concept of self: The role of imitation in relating self to other and the value of social mirroring, social modeling, and self practice in infancy,” in D. Cicchetti M. Beeghly (eds.) The Self in Transition: Infancy to Childhood, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 139–164.
–––, 1990b. “Towards a developmental cognitive science: The implications of cross-modal matching and imitation for the development of representation and memory in infancy,” Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 608: 1–31.
Merleau-Ponty, M., 2010. Child Psychology and Pedagogy: The Sorbonne Lectures 1949–1952, Trans. T. Welsh. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
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Nagel, T., 1974. “What is it like to be a bat?,” Philosophical Review, 83: 435–50.
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Noë, A., 2004. Action in Perception, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Poellner, P., 2003. “Non-conceptual content, experience and the self,” Journal of Consciousness Studies, 10 (2): 32–57.
Ricoeur, P., 1950. Philosophie de la volonté. I. Le volontaire et l’involontaire, Paris, Aubier; English translation: E. Kohak. Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1966.
Rosenthal, D. M., 1997. “A Theory of Consciousness,” in N. Block, O. Flanagan and G. Güzeldere (eds.) The Nature of Consciousness, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 729–753.
Sartre, J.-P., 1936. La transcendance de l’ego, Paris: Vrin; English translation: F. Williams and R. Kirkpatrick. The Transcendence of the Ego, New York: The Noonday Press, 1957.
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Searle, J. R., 1992. The Rediscovery of the Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Shoemaker, S., 1968. “Self-reference and self-awareness,” The Journal of Philosophy, LXV: 556–579.
Stawarska, B., 2006. “From the body proper to flesh: Merleau-Ponty on intersubjectivity,” in D. Olkowski and G. Weiss (eds.), Feminist interpretations of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, State College, PA: Penn State University Press.
Stern, D., 1985. Interpersonal World of the Infant, New York: Basic Books.
Taylor, C., 1989. Sources of the Self, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Thompson, E., 2007. Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
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Related Bibliography
Aboulafia, M., 1986. The Mediating Self: Mead, Sartre, and Self-Determination, New Haven: Yale University Press.
Albahari, M., 2006. Analytical Buddhism: The Two-tiered Illusion of Self, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Barbaras, R., 1991. “Le sens de l’auto-affection chez Michel Henry et Merleau-Ponty,” Epokhé, 2: 91-111.
Bergoffen, D. B., 1978. “Sartre’s transcendence of the ego: A methodological reading,” Philosophy Today, 22: 224–51.
Bermúdez, J. L., Marcel, A., and Eilan, N., 1995. The Body and the Self, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Busch, T. W., 1977. “Sartre and the senses of alienation,” Southern Journal of Philosophy, 15: 151–60.
Cassam, Q. (ed.), 1994. Self-Knowledge, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chisholm, R. M., 1969. “On the observability of the self,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 30: 7–21.
Depraz, N., 1995. “Can I anticipate myself? Self-affection and temporality,” in D. Zahavi (ed). Self-Awareness, Temporality, and Alterity, Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, pp. 85–99.
Frank, M. (ed.), 1991. Selbstbewusstseinstheorien von Fichte bis Sartre, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
–––, 1991. Selbstbewusstsein und Selbsterkenntnis, Stuttgart: Reclam.
Gallagher, S. (ed.), 2011. The Oxford Handbook of the Self, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gallagher, S. and Watson, S. (eds.), 2004. Ipseity and Alterity: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Intersubjectivity, Rouen: Publications de l’Université de Rouen.
Gennaro, R. J., 2002. “Jean-Paul Sartre and the hot theory of consciousness,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 32 (3): 293–330.
Henrich, D., 1970. “Selbstbewusstsein: Kritische Einleitung in einer Theorie,” in R. Bubner (ed.) Hermeneutik und Dialektik I Tubingen, pp. 257–284; English translation: Self-consciousness: A critical introduction to a theory. Man and World, 4: 3–28.
Kapitan, T., 1999. “The Ubiquity of self-awareness,” Grazer Philosophische Studien, 57: 17–43.
Kenevan, P. B., 1981. “Self-consciousness and the ego in the philosophy of Sartre,” in P. A. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of Sartre, LaSalle IL: Open Court.
Kern, I., 1989. “Selbstbewusstein und Ich bei Husserl,” in Husserl-Symposion Mainz 1988, Stuttgart: Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, pp. 51–63.
Marbach, E., 1974. Das Problem des Ich in der Phänomenologie Husserls, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
Pothast, U., 1971. Über einige Fragen der Selbstbeziehung, Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann.
Prado, C.-G., 1978. “Reflexive Consciousness,” Dialogue, 17: 134–37.
Priest, S., 2000. “Merleau-Ponty’s concept of the body-subject,” Nursing Philosophy, 1(2): 173-174.
Rosenberg, J., 1981. “Apperception and Sartre’s pre-reflective cogito,” American Philosophical Quarterly, 18: 255–60.
Sartre, J.-P., 1948. “Conscience de soi et connaissance de soi,” Bulletin de la Société Française de Philosophie, 42: 49–91; English translation: “Consciousness of self and knowledge of self,” in N. Lawrence and D. O’Connor (eds.), Readings in Existential Phenomenology, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, pp. 113–42.
Schmitz, H., 1991. “Leibliche und personale Konkurrenz im Selbstbewusstsein,” in B. Kienzle and H. Pape (eds), Dimensionen des Selbst, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, pp. 152–68.
Schroeder, W.-R., 1984. Sartre and his Predecessors: The Self and the Others, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Shoemaker, S., 1994. “Self-knowledge and ‘inner sense’,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 54: 249–314.
Tani, T., 1998. “Inquiry into the I, disclosedness, and self-consciousness: Husserl, Heidegger, Nishida,” Continental Philosophy Review, 31(3): 239–53.
Tugendhat, E., 1979. Selbstbewusstsein und Selbstbestimmung. Sprachanalytische Interpretationen, English translation: Stern. Self-Consciousness and Self-Determination, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Wider, K., 1987. “Hell and the private language argument: Sartre and Wittgenstein on self-consciousness, the body, and others,” Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, 18: 120–32.
–––, 1993. “Sartre and the Long Distance Truck Driver: The Reflexivity of Consciousness,” Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, 24(3): 232–49.
–––, 1997. The Bodily Nature of Consciousness: Sartre and Contemporary Philosophy of Mind, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Zahavi, D., 2005. Subjectivity and Selfhood: Investigating the first-person perspective, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Your Children are not Your Children


 

They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

Kahlil Gibran, 1923, 1973.

On Death and What Comes Next by Terry Pratchett


When Death met the philosopher, the philosopher said, rather excitedly: “At this point, you realise, I’m both dead and not dead.”

There was a sigh from Death. Oh dear, one of those, he thought. This is going to be about quantum again. He hated dealing with philosophers. They always tried to wriggle out of it.

“You see,” said the philosopher, while Death, motionless, watched the sands of his life drain through the hourglass, “everything is made of tiny particles, which have the strange property of being in many places at one time. But things made of tiny particles tend to stay in one place at one time, which does not seem right according to quantum theory. May I continue?”

YES, BUT NOT INDEFINITELY, said Death, EVERYTHING IS TRANSIENT. He did not take his gaze away from the tumbling sand.

“Well, then, if we agreed that there are an infinite number of universes, then the problem is solved! If there are an unlimited number of universes, this bed can be in millions of them, all at the same time!”

DOES IT MOVE?

“What?

Death nodded at the bed. CAN YOU FEEL IT MOVING? he said.

“No, because there are a million versions of me, too, And…here is the good bit …in some of them I am not about to pass away! Anything is possible!”

Death tapped the handle of his scythe as he considered this.

AND YOUR POINT IS…?

“Well, I’m not exactly dying, correct? You are no longer such a certainty.”

There was a sigh from Death. Space he thought. That was the trouble. It was never like this on worlds with everlastingly cloudy skies. But once humans saw all that space, their brains expanded to try and fill it up.

“No answer, eh?” said the dying philosopher. “Feel a bit old-fashioned, do we?”

THIS IS A CONUNDRUM CERTAINLY, said Death. Once they prayed, he thought. Mind you, he’d never been sure that prayer worked, either. He thought for a while. AND I SHALL ANSWER IT IN THIS MANNER, he added. YOU LOVE YOUR WIFE?

“What?”

THE LADY WHO HAS BEEN LOOKING AFTER YOU. YOU LOVE HER?

“Yes. Of course.”

CAN YOU THINK OF ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WHERE, WITHOUT YOUR PERSONAL HISTORY CHANGING IN ANY WAY YOU WOULD AT THIS MOMENT PICK UP A KNIFE AND STAB HER? said Death. FOR EXAMPLE?

“Certainly not!”

BUT YOUR THEORY SAYS THAT YOU MUST. IT IS EASILY POSSIBLE WITHIN THE PHYSICAL LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE, AND THEREFORE MUST HAPPEN, AND HAPPEN MANY TIMES. EVERY MOMENT IS A BILLION, BILLION MOMENTS, AND IN THOSE MOMENTS ALL THINGS THAT ARE POSSIBLE ARE INEVITABLE. ALL TIME SOONER OR LATER, BOILS DOWN TO A MOMENT.

“But of course we can make choices between-“

ARE THERE CHOICES? EVERYTHING THAT CAN HAPPEN, MUST HAPPEN. YOUR THEORY SAYS THAT FOR EVERY UNIVERSE THAT’S FORMED TO ACCOMMODATE YOUR ‘NO’, THERE MUST BE ONE TO ACCOMMODATE YOUR ‘YES’. BUT YOU SAID YOU WOULD NEVER COMMIT MURDER. THE FABRIC OF THE COSMOS TREMBLES BEFORE YOUR TERRIBLE CERTAINTY. YOUR MORALITY BECOMES A FORCE AS STRONG AS GRAVITY. And, thought Death, space certainly has a lot to answer for.

“Was that sarcasm?”

ACTUALLY, NO. I AM IMPRESSED AND INTRIGUED, said Death. THE CONCEPT YOU PUT BEFORE ME PROVES THE EXISTENCE OF TWO HITHERTO MYTHICAL PLACES. SOMEWHERE, THERE IS A WORLD WHERE EVERYONE MADE THE RIGHT CHOICE, THE MORAL CHOICE, THE CHOICE THAT MAXIMISED THE HAPPINESS OF THEIR FELLOW CREATURES, OF COURSE, THAT ALSO MEANS THAT SOMEWHERE ELSE IS THE SMOKING REMNANT OF THE WORLD WHERE THEY DID NOT …

“Oh, come on! I know what you’re implying, and I’ve never believed in any of that Heaven and Hell nonsense!”

The room was growing darker. The blue gleam along the edge of the reaper’s scythe was becoming more obvious.

ASTONISHING, said Death. REALLY ASTONISHING. LET ME PUT FORWARD ANOTHER SUGGESTION: THAT YOU ARE NOTHING MORE THAN A LUCKY SPECIES OF APE THAT IS TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THE COMPLEXITIES OF CREATION VIA A LANGUAGE THAT EVOLVED IN ORDER TO TELL ONE ANOTHER WHERE THE RIPE FRUIT WAS?

Fighting for breath, the philosopher managed to say: “Don’t be silly.”

THE REMARK WAS NOT INTENDED AS DEROGATORY, said Death. UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES, YOU HAVE ACHIEVED A GREAT DEAL.

“We’ve certainly escaped from outmoded superstitions!”

WELL DONE, said Death. THAT’S THE SPIRIT. I JUST WANTED TO CHECK.

He leaned forward.

AND ARE YOU AWARE OF THE THEORY THAT THE STATE OF SOME TINY PARTICLES IS INDETERMINATE UNTIL THE MOMENT THEY ARE OBSERVED? A CAT IN A BOX IS OFTEN MENTIONED.

“Oh, yes,” said the philosopher.

GOOD, said Death. He got to his feet as the last of the light died, and smiled.

I SEE YOU…

On Foolishness: Or, Dumb is not the new black (Or, quotes about foolishness as we approach the portico of 2017 c.e., or about 3 million years old, or whichever appeals more)


 

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
Douglas Adams

There is no such thing as an underestimate of average intelligence.
Henry Adams

Scientists will eventually stop flailing around with solar power and focus their efforts on harnessing the only truly unlimited source of energy on the planet: stupidity.
Scott Adams

The culture industry not so much adapts to the reactions of its customers as it counterfeits them.
Theodor Adorno

The wise man doubts often, and changes his mind. The fool is obstinate, and doubts not; he knows all things but his own ignorance.
Akhenaton

I happen to feel that the degree of a person’s intelligence is directly reflected by the number of conflicting attitudes she can bring to bear on the same topic.
Lisa Alther

If we cannot define stupidity, at least we can trace most human misfortunes and weaknesses to it. Its manifestations are legion, its symptoms are endless.
Richard Armour

When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.
Isaac Asimov

If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubt, but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.
Francis Bacon

You grow up the day you have your first real laugh at yourself.
Ethel Barrymore

I read the newspaper avidly. It is my one form of continuous fiction.
Aneurin Bevan

The world turns and the candle burns and the blind lead the blind.
A Bim song

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.
Niels Bohr

However big the fool, there is always a bigger fool to admire him.
Nicolas Boileau

In politics stupidity is not a handicap.
Napoleon Bonaparte

Every time you think television has hit its lowest ebb, a new program comes along to make you wonder where you thought the ebb was.
Art Buchwald

Freedom of the press is perhaps the one that has suffered the most from the decline of the idea of liberty.
Albert Camus

A large section of the intelligentsia seems wholly devoid of intelligence.
Gilbert Keith Chesterton

There is no opinion so stupid that it can’t be expressed by some philosopher.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
Carlo Cipolla

Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.
Confucius

It is not enough to have a good mind, the main thing is to use it well.
René Descartes

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.
Walt Disney

Man is stupid, phenomenally stupid.
Fyodor Dostoievsky

The number of fools is infinite.
The Ecclesiastes

Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity. I’m not sure about the universe.
Albert Einstein

It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.
Attributed to George Eliot, Samuel Johnson, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain and several others

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
Thomas Eliot

The stupidity of men always invites the insolence of power.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Stupidity has made enormous progress. It’s a sun so shining that we can no longer look at it directly. Thanks to communication media, it’s no longer the same, it’s nourished by other myths, it sells extremely well, it has ridiculed good sense and it’s spreading its terrifying power.
Ennio Flaiano

To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.
Gustave Flaubert

Put your trust in simple sentences and simple arithmetic. Mistrust four syllable words and continuous reports of tranquillity.
Paul Foley

The dumbest people I know are those who know it all.
Malcolm Forbes

If a million people believe a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.
Anatole France

Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.
Robert Frost

Doubt is the father of invention.
Galileo Galilei

The greatest intelligence is the one that suffers most from its own limitations.
André Gide

Maybe violent wickedness can be decapitated, but stupidity has too many heads.
André Glucksmann

There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity.
Johann Goethe

Stupid is as stupid does.
Forrest Gump (by Winston Groom)

What experience and history teach is this – that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles.
Friedrich Hegel

There are more fools in the world than there are people.
Heinrich Heine

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.
Robert Heinlein

Rush, that most exciting perversion of life, the necessity of accomplishing something in less time than should be truly allowed for its doing.
Ernest Hemingway

We believe only what we see. So, with television, we believe everything.
Dieter Hildebrandt

Television has done much for psychiatry, by spreading information about it as well as contributing to the need for it.
Alfred Hitchcock

Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped.
Elbert Hubbard

When men are most sure and arrogant they are commonly most mistaken.
David Hume

At least two thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity, idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political idols.
Aldous Huxley

Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intelligence.
Samuel Johnson

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
Martin Luther King

Everything you read in newspapers is absolutely true, except for that rare story of which you happen to have first-hand knowledge.
Erwin Knoll

Stupidity comes from having an answer to everything. Wisdom comes from having a question for everything.
Milan Kundera

All the brains in the world are powerless against the sort of stupidity that is in fashion.
Jean de La Fontaine

Creativity is the sudden cessation of stupidity.
Edwin Land

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Leonardo da Vinci

It’s so simple to be wise. Just think of something stupid to say and say the opposite.
Sam Levenson

Being intelligent is not a felony. But most societies evaluate it as at least a misdemeanor.
Lazarus Long (a character in novels by Robert Heinlein)

The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.
Niccolò Machiavelli

Nobody is exempt from saying stupid things, the harm is to do it presumptuously.
Michel de Montaigne

Stupidity is active in every direction, and can dress up in all the clothes of truth. Truth, on the other hand, has for every occasion only one dress and one path, and is always at a disadvantage.
Robert Musil

We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.
John Naisbitt

The love of power is the demon of mankind.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.
William Ockham (“Occam’s Razor”)

Simplicity, very rare in our age.
Publius Ovidius Naso (“Ovid”)

I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.
Blaise Pascal

Stupidity can easily be proved the supreme social evil.
Walter Pitkin

Science has not yet taught us if madness is or is not the sublimity of intelligence.
Edgar Allan Poe

The intelligence of the creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.
Terry Pratchett

Like many intellectuals, he was incapable of saying a simple thing in a simple way.
Marcel Proust

If you want to avoid seeing an idiot, break the mirror.
François Rabelais

Neither a pathology nor an index as such of moral default, stupidity is nonetheless linked to the most dangerous failures of human endeavor.
Avital Ronell

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.
Bertrand Russell

The fool doth think himself wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
William Shakespeare

A fashion is nothing but an induced epidemic.
George Bernard Shaw

A sort of melancholy, and regret, seizes us every time we meet a sophisticated, adulterated idiot. Oh the nice fools of yestertime! Genuine, natural. Like homemade bread.
Leonardo Sciascia

The more I know, the more I know that I don’t know.
Socrates

The world supports a multi-million dollar industry of intelligence and ability research, but it devotes virtually nothing to determine why this intelligence is squandered by engaging in amazing, breathtaking acts of stupidity.
Robert Sternberg

There is no greatness where there is not simplicity.
Leo Tolstoy

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
Mark Twain

Doubt is uncomfortable, certainty is ridiculous.
Voltaire

Stupidity is an incongruity inherent in life. Humans have developed, expanded and promoted it.
James Welles

There is no sin except stupidity.
Oscar Wilde

A philosopher always finds more grass to feed upon in the valleys of stupidity than on the arid heights of intelligence.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.
Frank Zappa

On a Prescription for Burnout


According to New York psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger, PhD., who coined the term, burned is a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by a devotion to a cause, a way of life, or a relationship that failed to produce the expected reward.
Burnout is a problem born of good intentions because it happens when people try to reach unrealistic goals and end up depleting their energy and losing touch with themselves and others.
The onset is slow. The early symptoms include a feeling of emotional and physical exhaustion; a sense of alienation, cynicism, impatience, negativism and feelings of detachment to the point that the individual begins to resent work involved and the people who are a part of that work. In extreme cases, the individual who once cared very deeply about a project or a group will insulate himself to the point that he no longer cares at all. The irony of burnout is that it happens to the same person who previously was enthusiastic and brimming over with energy and new ideas when first involved in a job or a new situation.

This type of person generally has a very high expectation of what can be accomplished. As time goes by and all of the goals aren’t achieved, the enthusiasm dies and a sort of listlessness sets in. Instead of lowering objectives or accepting reality, frustration is bottled up and the individual tries even harder. The result is burnout.

Three things are associated with burnout:

role conflict: A person who has conflicting responsibilities will begin to feel pulled in many directions and will try to do everything equally well without setting priorities. The result will be the feelings of fatigue or exhaustion associated with burnout.

role ambiguity: The individual does not know what is expected of her. She knows she is expected to be a good career person but is not quite sure how to accomplish this because she has no role model or guidelines to follow. The result is that she never feels that she has accomplished anything worthwhile.

role overload: The individual can’t say no and keeps on taking on more responsibility than he can handle until he finally burns out.

What to do if you’re burned out

Most experts agree that when you recognise burnout, you have to ask yourself some questions. Try to remember when it was that you began feeling so tired and unable to relax. Were you always under such pressure to succeed? When did this one area of your life become disproportionately important? At what point did you lose your sense of humour and the personal side of your relationships with friends and co-workers? Are you identifying so closely with your responsibilities that you’ve come to believe that if this project falls apart you have failed? The answers to these questions will help you re-establish your values and priorities. The next step ist to make some changes in your life. When your work begins to lose its appeal, it’s time for a change or to have your duties changed, or maybe it’s time to take a break.

Other Solutions to the Problem of Burnout

Establish some long and short term goals that are realistic. Write them down. If you have been neglecting your health, change your eating habits and begin to exercise more. Set aside some time each day for relaxation exercises and allow yourself time to “just let it happen”. Renew your friendships with other people. Talk to them about your feelings. Don’t keep your frustrations and anger bottled up. Analyze how you spend your time. Try to incorporate some time management techniques into your life. Learn to say no when you’re asked to do more than you can handle. Learn to delegate responsibility to others. You are not indispensable. Find the sense of humour you’ve probably lost. Learn to laugh at yourself and at the situation. Most of all, get in touch with yourself, your values and what you want out of life. Learn to recognise when you are driving yourself too hard and when you are depleting your inner resources.

Bibliography: see Andreas Gehmeyr, 15.08.93

Determining factors in the pursuit of happiness


Happiness is, by nature, a subjective quality with a definition like a moving target. There is scant evidence — qualitative or quantitative — to lend convincing support to those life variables most critical in determining individual happiness, which is likely why past researchers committed to the scientific method rarely tried to tackle the subject.

Nevertheless, this situation may be changing. Take, for example, the World Database of Happiness in Rotterdam, self-described as a “continuous register of scientific research on subjective appreciation of life.” Also, take the positive psychologists, a movement whose “members” perform scientific research into the nature of happiness and who published Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, an 800-page behemoth that outlines all the characteristics, behaviours and conditions that lead to happiness.

While we’re not entirely convinced of this marriage between science and subjectivity, we can still offer up a top 10 of things that determine human happiness, as supported by this growing body of research.

No.10 – Having a short memory

Are you one to hold grudges? Do you need the jaws of life to pry forgiveness out of you? Well, don’t expect these attributes to contribute to your happiness or to your overall health for that matter. This ability to forgive and forget, to go with the flow, is frequently cited by researchers of centenarians as being a key factor in their ability to live to see their 100th birthday.

No.9 – Exacting fairness

According to a recently published study in the prestigious journal Nature, people derive more happiness from scenarios and situations that result in a perceived fairness for everyone involved, even when this fairness goes against self-interest or comes at some personal cost. In short, researchers at Rutgers found that the reward centres in the brain light up in situations in which people are treated equally.

No.8 – Having lots of friendships

Extroverts are happier than introverts and they live longer lives, in part because they can spend time in the company of friends and family or they can spend time alone, according to happiness researcher Ed Diener. Like letting go of grudges and going with the flow, being extroverted and having a wide social circle is a major factor in whether someone considers themselves happy or not, as well as an often-cited reason to explain how some people live to be 100 or older. At any rate, it’s a reason to justify spending a little time at work on social networking sites.

No.7 – Being spiritual

The results of a collaborative, multinational study that involved over 166,000 people showed a clear correlation between a person’s “strength of religious affiliation and frequency of attendance at worship services” and their self-reported levels of happiness and satisfaction with their lives. How is this correlation explained? Researchers postulate that this increased involvement in a spiritual circle means more friends, a wider support network and a higher degree of hopefulness.

No.6 – Thinking ahead

In his book Stumbling on Happiness, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert argues that happiness is derived from the ability to accurately project what will in the future make us happy — not those things that actually do. He notes that we are the only species that truly considers the future, and this ability to think ahead and to imagine the future is “the defining aspect of our humanity.”

According to Gilbert, studies support the idea that we enjoy thinking into the future because more often than not, it’s something of a daydream, and in daydreams, we are at our most successful. Furthermore, because imagining the future and what actually happens in that future are often at odds, many people derive far more happiness from the anticipation of a future event than the actual event.

No.5 – Developing a skill

According to psychology professor Dr Timothy A. Pychyl, the route to happiness is simple enough, “Live it, don’t buy it.” This is especially relevant in the modern world, where instant gratification can be purchased — but only to a point, before it hits a wall.

He quotes a professional base jumper, who says, “You’ve got to have the passion for doing your time. If you haven’t done the time, you just can’t get there.” He goes on to argue that only by paying one’s dues through time, effort, devotion, and experience can we, “develop the rich experiences that make life meaningful.”

No.4 – Having personal control over one’s life

Where might you find unhappy people with low morale? Those places where people no longer feel in personal control of their lives, whether it’s a nursing home or a prison, because control equates to happiness. In his book Satisfaction, Emory University psychiatrist Gregory Berns makes the point by distinguishing between pleasure and satisfaction, “While you might find pleasure by happenstance, satisfaction can arise only by the conscious decision to do something. And this makes all the difference in the world because it is only your own actions for which you may take responsibility and credit.”

No.3 – Defining success

There’s a saying that no matter how talented or successful you think you are, there’s always someone who’s got a leg up on you. People who compare themselves against those people will always come out the loser, even when the comparison is neither appropriate nor consequential. A skilled dentist with a thriving practice can’t reasonably compare his level of success to Robert De Niro and expect to feel good. If he made comparisons within his own peer group or against his own expectations, however, he’ll not only come out more favourably, but he’ll be happier too.

As Gallup psychologist, Shane Lopez explained to Psychology Today writer Abby Ellin, “Self-referential people see themselves as the marker. They care about their own performance, not how they measure up compared to that guy over there…. The only competitor is the self.”

No.2 – Genes vs. Environment

According to “The Science of Lasting Happiness,” an article by Marina Krakovsky published by Scientific American in 2007, “studies of twins and adoptees have shown that about 50% of each person’s happiness is determined from birth”, what’s loosely termed as a “genetic set point.” The weight of this variable on determining our happiness is supported by hedonic adaptation; according to this theory, even if we win the lottery, within a year or so of coming into this kind of material good fortune, we adapt to it and revert back to whatever level of happiness we were at before. However, there’s a crucial caveat to the genetic thesis for happiness; the environment in which you develop as a young person is a far more reliable predictor of the types of beliefs and behaviours you will come to hold about yourself and the world.

No.1 – Liking yourself

Liking oneself is arguably the principal characteristic of ‘happy’ people. It’s been revealed in study after study after study: happy people like themselves. They think they’re good people. They have a healthy self-esteem, meaning they think in a balanced and reasonable manner (i.e. healthily) about their own skills, knowledge and weaknesses. These people consider themselves to have ethical standards and to have fewer prejudices than others.

On Carrots, Eggs & Coffee: Experiences and perceptions and how they can connect, or disconnect, us from ourselves.


There is an old parable about a boy who was so discouraged by his experiences in school he told his grandfather he wanted to leave. His grandfather filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first, he placed carrots, in the second he placed eggs and the last he placed ground coffee beans. He let them sit and boil, without saying a word. In about twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then he ladled the coffee out into a cup. Turning to the boy, he asked, “Tell me, what do you see?” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the boy replied.

Then he asked the boy to feel the carrots, which he did and noted that they were soft and mushy. His grandfather then asked him to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, the boy observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked the boy to sip the coffee. He smiled as he tasted the coffee with its rich aroma. The boy asked, “I don’t understand. What does this mean, if anything?”

His grandfather laughed and explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity — boiling water — but each had reacted differently. “Which are you?” the grandfather asked. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, becomes soft and loses strength? Are you the egg that appears not to change but whose heart is hardened? Or are you the coffee bean that changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavour. If you are like the coffee bean, when things are at their worst, your very attitude will change your environment for the better, making it sweet and palatable.”

The moral of the parable is that it is not the experience that matters. What matters is how you interpret and react to the experience. We are each given a set of experiences in life. The experiences are neutral. They have no meaning. It is how we interpret the experiences that give them meaning. Your interpretations of your experiences shape your beliefs and theories about the world which, in turn, influence the way you live your life. The grandfather’s lesson is that when you can’t change your circumstances, you change yourself.

We automatically interpret all of our experiences without realising it. Are they good experiences, bad ones, what do they mean and so on? We do this without much thought, if any, to what the interpretations (and associated assuptions, perhaps) mean.

For instance, if someone bumps into you, you wonder why. The event of her bumping into you is neutral in itself. It has no meaning. It’s your interpretation of the bumping that gives it meaning, and this meaning shapes your perception of the experience. You may interpret the bump as an accident or you may feel you are of such little consequence that you’re deliberately unnoticed and bumped around by others. You may fault the architect for the design of the sidewalks or you may feel you are at fault for not being more attentive to others. You may interpret the bump as a deliberate example of feminist aggressiveness, or you may even interpret the bump as (her) way of flirting with you.

The crucial point here is that your interpretation of an experience determines your perception and hence effects your choice of belief/behaviour, and hence, those beliefs or behaviours impact directly upon the consequences of holding those interpretations.

Hence, experiences-in-the-world (A) -> lead to Beliefs or Behaviours (B) -> lead to consequences (C).

Thus, if we want different consequences (C) we cannot change the experiences-in-the-world (A), but WE CAN choose different beliefs or behaviours (B).