Friday, September 14, 2007

A Brilliant Essay by PG

Its an old one but perfectly strikes the chord. I just came across it today and would like to preserve it

What Drives Bloggers? by Paul Graham on 19 Apr 2006
In a comment on the last post, brlewis wrote

Your blogging experiment is not going to work anyway. Aside from the conspicuous absence of a cat, your problem is that a "normal" blogger's experience is a struggle to gain celebrity....

Is that really what drives bloggers? I'd guess not. I think what most bloggers are doing is thinking out loud. It's a little misleading to talk of "putting things into words," because that implies the ideas come first. In fact, expressing thoughts creates them. And especially expressing thoughts to other people, even people you don't know. So I think the reason many people like blogging is that they like the thinking it causes.

The alternative is to have the days fly by in a blur. I hate that feeling. Who wouldn't? Next stop: death.

Plato quotes Socrates as saying "the unexamined life is not worth living." What he meant was that the proper role of humans is to think, just as the proper role of anteaters is to poke their noses into anthills. In modern terms, it's what we're adapted for.A lot of ancient philosophy had that quality: the quality-- and I don't
mean this in an insulting way-- of the kind of conversations freshmen have late
at night in common rooms:

Here we are. So what is our purpose here? Well, we humans are as conspicuously different from other animals as the anteater. In our case the distinguishing feature is the ability to reason. So obviously that is what we should be doing, and a human who doesn't is doing a bad job of being human-- is no better than an animal.

Now we'd give a different answer. At least, someone Socrates's age would. We'd ask why we even suppose we have a "purpose" in life. We may have some things we're adapted for and others we're not; we may be happier doing things we're adapted to; but why assume purpose?

The history of ideas since people first started writing them down is a history of gradually discarding the assumption that it's all about us. No, it turns, out, the earth is not the center of the universe-- not even the center of the solar system. No, it turns out, humans are not created by God in his own image; they're just one species among many, descended not merely from apes, but from microorganisms. Even the concept of "me" turns out to be fuzzy around the edges if you examine it closely. The idea that we're the center of things is difficult to discard. So difficult that there is probably room to discard more.

Richard Dawkins made another step in that direction only in the last several
decades, with the idea of the
selfish gene. No, it turns out, we are not even the protagonists: we are just the latest model vehicle our genes have constructed to travel around in. And having kids is our genes heading for the lifeboats. Reading that book snapped my brain out of its previous way of thinking the way Darwin's must have when it first appeared.
(Few people can experience now what Darwin's contemporaries did when The Origin of Species was first published, because everyone now is raised either to take evolution for granted, or to regard it as a heresy. No one encounters the idea of natural selection for the first time as an adult.)

So if you want to discover things that have been overlooked till now, one really good place to look is in our blind spot: in our natural, naive belief that it's all about us. And expect to encounter ferocious opposition if you do.Conversely, if you have to choose between two theories, prefer the one that doesn't center on you.This principle isn't only for big ideas. It works in everyday life, too. For example, suppose you're saving a piece of cake in the fridge, and you come home one day to find your housemate has eaten it. Two possible theories:
a) Your housemate did it deliberately to upset you. He knew you were saving that piece of cake.
b) Your housemate was hungry.
I say pick b. No one knows who said "never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence," but it is a powerful idea. Its more general version
is our answer to the Greeks:

Don't see purpose where there isn't.

Or better still, the positive version:

See randomness.

But we've got into deeper waters than I intended. Believe it or not, this is where the first version of this post went (starting over at "thinking out loud"):I just looked at Kottke's site to see what he writes about, and his last post was, of all things, about what he had for lunch.I think the problem is more that I'm not going to be able to master the light touch required for blogging. Everything with me turns into speculations about how the world works, and that sort of thing is not good when it's dashed off quickly.

Thats an awesome metapost, I think.

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