… and the Pursuit of Happiness


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The Declaration of Independence

I love this sentence. I quote it every time someone tells me that I need evidence for all my beliefs. But something else has struck me in this quote today. It’s the notion of the pursuit of Happiness. Everyone is supposed to pursue Happiness, right? What else should we be doing with our lives? Who doesn’t want to be happy? It’s self-evident, isn’t it? If I’m not happy with this goal, maybe I should do something else that would make me happy. But that would also constitute the pursuit of Happiness, wouldn’t it? There is no escape.

There is a problem, however. The idea that I should always pursue happiness implies that every moment of my life I am unhappy. My life is always lacking. I always need something. Something always needs to be improved. Otherwise, why would I pursue happiness? And this is the very idea that prevents me from being happy. This is a problem and I am not happy about it.

So, something needs to be changed. (Damn it.) And I propose to ditch the stupid idea of the incessant happiness pursuit. I’m not alone. It just came to my mind after watching the video below which someone shared on Facebook, probably, suffering a hangover after the Black Friday. It’s funny how a popular life coach and blogger Leo Babauta came from teaching people how to set their goals in 2007 to teaching them to set no goals in 2010. He must have figured something out in those three years of early morning meditations.

Will it make me happy? Probably not. But I wouldn’t care. And that’s pretty close.

Can Science Answer Moral Questions?


This was the question of Sam Harris’s TED talk which was a sales pitch for his book “The Moral Landscape“.  I think science cannot answer moral questions.  Science can help creating a cure for cancer or design a better gas chamber with equal efficiency.  It is utterly incapable of telling if one is more ethical than the other.  There is no litmus test for morality.

But…

Science is great at finding methods for making something.  Good decisions are not an exception.  Science can shed the light on how to make better decisions as this excellent video by Mariano Sigman and Dan Ariely shows.  It cannot tell what these decisions are.

Notice the difference between the two videos.  The second video is focused on the method.  It does not comment on the morality of a particular decision and does not mention religion or any social group at all.  Harris’s video, to the contrary, is full of anti-religious (Islamophobic, in particular) examples, and appeals to emotions rather than intellect while being completely unsound intellectually.  As a sales pitch, it worked great creating controversy and sparking heated discussions among scientists, philosophers, and religious people.  But it did nothing to make this world better.