Sunday, June 29, 2014

Just tell us what you want

Friends were discussing the nature of a good life.  They meant a life that was not

  1. torturous,

  2. very short,

  3. devoted to evil, or

  4. wasted. 

We never got around to a more complete discussion but part of it touched on the connection between intelligence and leading a good life.  I think there are plenty of examples of lives of energy, devotion, motivation and contentment that are not especially noteworthy for intelligence.  I mentioned the gardener Bertrand Russell said was the happiest man he knew, living a life devoted to perpetual defeat of "them rabbits."

I find it is difficult to specify all the features and content that a good life needs.  I guess "torturous" covers physical and mental comfort pretty well.  I suspect that, as clever and quick as my friends are, they could construct examples of a life that met the specifications listed above but would still not be one I would want.  Specifications are tricky.  That is the problem in stories of magic, three wishes and the jinni willing to grant wishes.

It could be the limits of my imagination but I find that specifying all necessary variables quite difficult.  You want a million dollars?  Here you are.  Oh, sorry, you meant current dollars, not some old, outdated, defunct sort.  Ok, try these.  Oh, you didn't want them in $1 bills, several truck loads?  You know how it works in some lotteries: you get a dollar a year for a million years.  You may remember from childhood stories that in some cases, the receiver finally says, "Forget it.  This is more trouble than it is worth."

I don't doubt that a group of lawyers, bankers, and wordsmiths can create a specifications document that leaves no loopholes of any importance.  But they would merely be specifying the form and delivery of your million dollars.  That wouldn't prevent the government from giving you a bill for a million (and one more dollar, for good measure).  It wouldn't prevent you from investing the million in something that quickly collapses and wastes your money.  

And all this is just about money.  Feeling, and actually being, valuable, noting your blessings enough to enjoy them (awareness), not creating or extending evil or wrong, reasonably happy longevity – all those matters remain to be dealt with.

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