LORENZO DE' MENLO
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The Sayings of Lorenzo de' Menlo
Life is most fulfilling when you take everything seriously but nothing too seriously.
There is only one fundamental question: why is there something rather than nothing. All else is detail. (The existence of God doesn’t help: God is still something.)
People want to be treated equally and also to be treated specially.
The worst thing that you can say about any work of art is not that it is ugly or bad, but that it is boring.
Loyalty is not in itself a virtue; it is only a virtue if the object of loyalty is virtuous.
To be wealthier, desire less wealth.
There is only one cure for the disease of racism: ignore race. Race: much ado about nothing.
Money has a place in society, but it should not be the organizing principle of society.
There are no economic "laws", there is only human psychology. You are free to break any purported law of economics.
If you want simplicity, you do not want reality.
Morality is a code of behavior, rooted in social instincts, that reflects an ever evolving compromise between the desires of individuals and the desires of their society.
Approach everyone with kindness, respect, humility, and forgiveness.
Something said or done with the intent to make another feel bad is always a mistake.
Time is that which allows for something in one location to be in another location, and for something in one state to be in another state: it is what allows for change. More fundamentally, existence has no meaning without time.
Anti-Semitism is the hatred that rarely goes out of fashion. Over the last thousand years, Jews have been hated for being too poor and too rich, too lazy and too industrious, too stupid and too smart, too passive and too aggressive, too alien and too assimilated, too capitalist and too socialist, not white and white. Jews are the all-purpose "other" who have long been available to be blamed and vilified.
When everything is valued only by its monetary worth, we all become poor.
A key ingredient of good mental health is feeling that you have control over your life.
Life consists of creating meaning.
Intrinsic value does not exist. Value, like meaning, only exists for something in relation to something else.
In creative endeavors, strive to provide some joy and humor.
When people act only according to their own self interest, freedom, democracy, and human rights wither, while conflict, constraint, fear, and exploitation proliferate. Freedom, democracy, and human rights flourish when people care about others as themselves, constructing laws and institutions that attempt to allow all to reach their highest potential and thrive.
There can be no law, no society, no place, no time that entirely pleases everybody.
If everyone had a good sense of humor and could laugh at themselves, there would be no war.
Humor is a human's defense against its knowledge of death, evil, and the indifference of the universe.
Everything we do should have the goal of improving the future.
Censorship is almost never justified. If you are certain in your beliefs, then opposing ideas are of no concern, and if you are uncertain, then you would do well to hear many points of view.
Is colonialism always and completely bad? The British Isles have been colonized by, among the more recent groups we know of, the Celts, Romans, Angles and Saxons (Germans), Vikings, and Normans (French). It can be argued that the British are much the better for it.
Two keys to good writing are (1) having something that you really want to say, and (2) putting yourself in the position of the reader.
Human behavior is inherently messy, governed by a multitude of drives and emotions. Machine behavior, in contrast, is highly circumscribed. As technology becomes ever more powerful, we are not seeing machines behaving more like humans so much as humans being pushed to behave more like machines.
There is no need to seek heaven or paradise: the Earth is our paradise, and no place could be better. We are perfectly adapted to Earth, finding all the sustenance and beauty we need right here.
People seek rules governing the universe, as if there exists a rule book for the universe that we can reconstruct. The universe, though, obeys no rules. It rather has an inherent, self-generated order, which we can describe, and which may change over time.
Science: An endeavor whose goal is to better understand the universe by providing descriptions and predictions of it that are maximally accurate while being maximally consistent with each other.
Do you call yourself white, black, brown? Gay, trans, queer? Christian, Jewish, Muslim? Fat, skinny, tall, short...? I don't really care. Tell me your ideas, show me what you've done: that's what interests me.
Some people think "whites" are evil. Many know that if you don't accept Jesus Christ as your savior, you will burn in Hell for eternity. For some, there is no greater love than that between a man and a boy. Some are sure that all sex is an abomination, except that between a married man and woman. There are those who declare that a woman has an unfettered right to abort her pregnancy. Some believe that racial differences are trivial and that race should be ignored. Some maintain that God is a childish fantasy. Some will tell you that eating meat is immoral. Do you desire a diverse society? This, my friend, is diversity. Diversity of the superficial, such as skin color, is easy; can you tolerate a diversity of ideas?
Most of us favor and give preference to our children and parents over others. Is that unethical? Few would say it is; such behavior is considered appropriate and is universally accepted. In fact, treating your own children without favor, identically to other children, might be deemed unethical. Most of us also display favoritism to our friends and members of our community. Many people go beyond this, also favoring their ethnic group, religion, and country. There is a continuum of favoritism, maximized with oneself and one's immediate family, and decreasing with others as they become less familiar and similar to you. If it is ethical to favor your immediate family, at what point does such favoritism become unethical? In practice, ethical behavior does not mean treating everyone equally; some prejudices are clearly accepted. Does that mean that racism is ethical? For most of human history, and in much of the world today, viewing other races as being essentially different from, and generally inferior to, your own, would be unremarkable. Today, our living in diverse societies that interact worldwide, and knowing scientifically that there are no races among humans, compels thoughtful people to hold such views untenable and harmful. But as long as we maintain an essentially universal acceptance of favoritism based on genetic and societal proximity, we can't expect such views to entirely dissipate anytime soon.
If your primary goals are to minimize the impact of humans on the environment, and/or to minimize human suffering, then there is only one, very simple, solution: no more humans should be born, and existing humans should all die as soon as possible. If you think this solution is too harsh, then we must accept that there always will be human suffering, as well as human impacts on the environment. Humans are not separate from the environment, we are part of the environment; everything we do impacts the environment. As do other living things, we eat plants and animals, change the landscape, and spread waste into the air, water, and land. Such activities are in some regards destructive, but they also create new environmental niches and resources. We cannot avoid destruction and change; all we can do is help to guide their directions—which we must thoughtfully do. Regarding suffering, we would not be fully human without it: we could not learn what harms ourselves or others, we would miss countless experiences, and our appreciation of pleasure and life itself would be diminished. An avoidance of suffering is natural and desirable, but the complete elimination of suffering is neither.
Creating beauty is a gift to the world.
The world is becoming warmer. Shouldn't we?
ChatGPT, the generative AI program, is a master bullshit artist. Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt distinguishes a liar, who knows and cares about what the truth is, from a bullshitter, who is "more or less indifferent to whether what they say is true or whether it is false." AI understands nothing and cares about nothing, yet it produces authoritative sounding statements that commonly are fully or partially untrue.
Free will, in practice, is the ability to consciously act in ways that cannot be predicted. Does a person have free will? A person is part of the overall universe, and the universe is too complex and vast to be precisely and accurately predictable. There are far too many events and variables at any one time for anyone to predict the precise configuration of the universe—or even a minute part of the universe, such as a person, even oneself—at any time in the future. The lack of precise predictability is compounded by the fact that measuring some aspect of the universe, in an effort to learn about it, itself causes changes to the universe. Thus, because the conscious actions of an individual can never be precisely and accurately predicted, free will exists in every practical sense.
It can be argued that an all-knowing god, or any being, who perceives the exact configuration of every single particle, field, and force in the universe at every moment, would recognize that the universe is actually deterministic and thus predictable—that free will is just an illusion. It is likely that free will actually is an illusion. For a god who knows everything, including the future, to even exist, there could not be free will in the universe. However, unless that god's information on the future is available to us (and there's no hint that it is), it doesn't alter the unpredictability of our conscious behavior, and thus our functional free will. Ironically, such a god could not have free will itself in any way that affects the universe, as that would allow it to change the future at any time, preventing it from knowing the future with certainty. If a god knows everything that it will do in the future, it doesn't have free will. A god can be all-knowing (without free will) or all-powerful (with free will), but not both.
The germanium isotope 76Ge has a half-life of roughly 1.4 x 1021 years. This means that when the current age of the universe (13.8 billion years) transpires another ten billion times, just half of the atoms in a sample of 76Ge would have decayed. The decay of these atoms is a certainty, but on a time scale beyond unimaginable. What could it mean to have a clock that ticks this slowly? Has our view of a vast and ancient universe been reduced to an infinitesimal blip in something incomprehensibly greater, our concept of time so flawed as to be meaningless?
© 2023 Lawrence R. Bernstein
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