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How To Live

Lately I've been wondering a lot about, well, how to live. In the quest to understand life, I‘ve read a lot: philosophy, evolutionary-biology, neuroscience, history, social-sciences, astrophysics, quantum mechanics, gossip columns and porn. So far, I must admit, not much progress has been made.

Cicero said “To philosophize is to learn how to die”. I have a few suggestions for Mr. Cicero, but let's get to the point.

So, how to live? Simply stated, we don’t know, we don’t even know whether it is knowable, and more importantly, whether the question is valid. It is definitely not like “How to whistle” (which is a fairly complex activity I assure you; the Youtube videos aren't much help).

Chances are little that you’ll find an answer in a blog-post. Analytical answers might never come. Just look at us, spending billions and still struggling to spot the tiniest particle. So I turn to readily available wisdom in self-help books:

Live as if today were your last day:
If I were to live as if today were my last day, it most definitely will become one (unless they put me in jail before I am done with my exploits). Let’s, for the sake of argument, assume that my morality stays intact and the expectation of a sure,timed death doesn’t trigger a violent reaction. In short, let's assume that I will be a good person overall.

Let’s take it slowly. Here’s the deal: You got just today. Will you bathe? Think it over. Remember, you got just 24 hours to live.

I won’t.

(Tragically, in the only case when you know for sure that today is your last day, they not only make you have a bath, they shave your head as well.)

However, since I am being a good person on the last day, I would call up Ma and Pa and tell them how much I love them. I finish the rest of day being extra nice and I go to bed expecting not to wake up again. I might call Ma again.

With 99.999% probability, I will wake up the next day. Since the deal remains the same, I won’t bathe and I will call Momma. If this continues for a week, my Mom will understandably take the next flight to Bangalore. Then she’ll find that I haven’t had a bath for seven days!! Like SEVEN whole days !! Need I say more?

So, you see, this philosophy won’t work. One can try and modify the theory to say that “live as if this is your tenth last day”. Most of us will bathe with respectable frequencies after this modification. However, will you pay the month electricity bill? I won’t. I suppose you get the drift.

Pacuvius, a wealthy man who lived a couple of thousand years ago, used to hold a regular burial sacrifice in his own honor, with wine and the usual funeral feasting, and then would have himself carried from the dining-room to his chamber, while eunuchs applauded and sang in Greek to a musical accompaniment: "He has lived his life, he has lived his life".

What is the best use of my time right now?:
A little reflection on this and one realizes that this is like an infinite loop with nothing at all happening inside the loop. One needs to fix sensible intervals between the “right now”s. It can’t be too long either, else significance of “right now” is lost. Let’s say an hour. Now what? This maxim has nothing to say for what is the best possible use. It’s more of a technique rather than a solution.

Also, this technique shares the flaw (although not as acutely) of the previous saying. Who, in his right mind, will say “Right now, the best use of my time is to have a bath”? Answer lies in the question. Someone who is too itchy and stinking, even for himself, will eventually find that a hot bath is the best use of the next few minutes.

Another limitation is that one might get occupied with local maximas and lose sight of the long run fulfillment. The best possible use of the next ball is to hit it for a six, but attempting so every ball won’t win you the match.


Took the road less traveled by and that has made all the difference:
Robert Frost wrote the poem in jest. To Frost’s dismay, the irony was lost on almost everyone and the lines ended up being used in motivational ways. Even his closest friend Edward Thomas, an accomplished poet in his own right, and for whom Frost wrote the poem, didn’t, so to speak, get it. Instead, he got inspired and joined the English army in the First World War. Frost wrote this poem in 1915, Thomas got killed in 1916.

More often than not, it’s the traveler that matters. “Taking the road less travelled” can’t be a universal rule anyway as one would expect a uniform distribution of people on all roads if it was as simple as that, unless of course the road is less travelled for a sensible reason. E.g. You won’t make it big just because you choose never to have a bath.

Live life to the fullest:
Like what? Should I install a bath-tub instead of using a shower? This maxim makes me feel like blowing up a big balloon.
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In short, I am not impressed. You know how the whole thing is:

(A very very complex and huge expression) = ?

You ponder a while and then tell yourself “This shit is taking long; let me grab a cup of tea and two cookies”. By the time you are back with your tea, already sore at yourself for having finished the cookies last night, the left hand side of the equation has become furthermore complex.

With life, the rules are not only complex, but fuzzy and evolutionary. As it is, even the strictest of formal systems are doomed to be incomplete. I guess there isn’t much else to do, but to live life to the fullest on this last day of my life and squeeze in a leisurely bath somewhere along the road less travelled.


This post first appeared on Brown Phantom, please read the originial post: here

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