Saturday, 5 May 2018

The philosophical impact of setting longevity as a top personal priority

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If human beings were happy all the time, there would be little need for philosophy. If transactions never went wrong, there would be no need of lawyers and arbitration services. If individuals never became sick to the extent that they fear for their lives, few persons would choose to become physicians. If unhappiness and conflict justify the existence of philosophy and law, we can regard death as the ultimate justification for medicine, and its prevention, as the most crucial subject of study.

Statistics tell us why people die, but there is much more to death than what the eye can perceive. Road accidents, heart failure, stroke, and cancer occupy prominent positions in every country's causes of decease. Contemporary data also record the growing death toll taken by Parkinson and Alzheimer.

Statistics show the immediate causes of decease, but do not address the fundamental question of why we have to die in the first place. This issue should not to be dismissed as trivial. Unless we get a clear idea of why we must die, statistical data become irrelevant. After all, one could argue, if we are doomed to die at eighty-two (statistically speaking), what does it matter whether we die of cancer or diabetes?

The way to longevity

Since all living creatures expire at a certain point, we take for granted that nature has assigned a fixed lifespan to each species, but is this really true? Can science extend man's life and push death away, decade after decade, allowing the average person to become a hundred years old before his or her final demise?

History gives us many examples of men and women who have lived longer than a century. What is preventing us today from transforming longevity into a general rule applicable to all citizens? If we could eliminate accidents as a cause of death, can we also get rid of cancer and cardiovascular disease? Will those conditions ever be eradicated?

Scientists have put forward different theories to explain why living creatures die. Nonetheless, most hypotheses have been abandoned during the last sixty years due to insufficient evidence. The two remaining theories (the waste theory and the exhaustion theory) are still considered as work in progress, but they seem to be pointing in the right direction.

First, the waste theory regards death as the ultimate consequence of biochemical decay. From the moment an animal begins to breath, its cells will act as miniature biological converters that turn oxygen and other substances into chemical products that are consumed in order to keep the organism alive.

The conversion process is going to generate a certain amount of biological waste, which will slowly accumulate in the body. When the amount of chemical waste surpasses the body's ability to withstand decay, the living creature will die.

Second, the exhaustion hypothesis regards death as the natural depletion of the body's capacity to replace its own cells. While an animal is alive, its cells are continuously dying and being replaced by new cells, which are almost identical to the ones that have died.

According to this theory, cells can only reproduce themselves a limited number of times without losing important genetic information. This limitation is what determines the maximum lifespan of each species, which in the case of human beings. it is estimated to be 120 years.

When you hear about these two theories, you realize how little sense death statistics make. Indeed, if these hypotheses prove to be true, there might be a common reason for widespread causes of death such as cancer, Alzheimer, and cardiovascular disease.

A mentality change

What if those conditions are nothing but symptoms of a general process of biochemical waste-accumulation and cellular exhaustion? If that is the case, the practical consequences are earth-shattering. It is the equivalent of waking up one day, and realize that your vision of the world has been, until that moment, completely wrong.

If the latest scientific theories about death are correct, this means that the way most people make decisions is massively unrealistic. The misunderstanding has its roots in our perception of sickness and death as the result of the following steps:
  • We are born into a certain family and social environment.
  • We live, eat, and work according to what is generally considered acceptable.
  • One day, cancer, cardiovascular disease, or other major sickness hits us out of the blue.
  • We follow a medical treatment in order to combat that particular illness.
  • Even if the treatment is successful, sooner or later, another disease will hit us.
  • Finally, when medical treatments fail, we die.
However, if the theories of waste-accumulation and cellular exhaustion are true, we need to revise our concept of what it means to live, eat, and work. Sickness and death take a different significance when they are viewed as part of a natural process which each of us can influence to a larger extent than it is currently assumed.

The new paradigm would reshape our vision of life into a sequence of events in which we play a much more significant role:
  • We are born into a certain family and society, which do not always know what is good for us.
  • We will be much better off if we live, eat, and work using reason as a standard, irrespective of what other people may think of us.
  • We need to learn how to live in ways that slow down the accumulation of biochemical waste in our organism because our own behaviour is the number-one factor that contributes to keeping us healthy.
Take action today

Thus, when it comes to health matters, prevention should be our primary concern. If we trust the waste-accumulation theory, the right behaviour should help us postpone fatal illness to a later stage in life, enabling us to live longer and more healthily.

We need to learn to live in ways that minimize cell exhaustion, and help us extend our lifespan towards the ideal 120 years, which seems to be the limit for the human species. What kills most people is a direct consequence of their wrong way of living. By improving our decisions and actions, we can lead a healthier existence, and extend our lifespan.

Imagine the advantages of living a decade longer without being afflicted by debilitating illness. The inspiring aspect of the latest theories about death is that they are reinforcing the idea that each of us, as rational individuals, are in control of our own future.

Although we are still far away from understanding all implications of the new paradigm, it is clear that state-of-the-art scientific theories are strongly favouring the fundamental tenets of rational living: thoughtfulness, prudence, and self-reliance.


Image: photograph of classical painting -- photo taken by John Vespasian, 2016.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books 

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Here are the links to four audio interviews just published:

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Turning what you have into something more valuable

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Centuries of decay followed the fall of the Roman Empire. For generations, fear replaced rational discourse as the primary means of human interaction. In many fields, knowledge remained inaccessible to the great majority of the population. As a result, life expectancy dramatically decreased.

Conditions improved in the 13th century. The transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance opened a wide range of opportunities for talented individuals. Towns attracted tradesmen and merchants, who manufactured utensils, made clothes, and built houses.

In Italian cities, like Florence and Venice, the wealth created by entrepreneurs brought into existence a market for artists. Upward social mobility became possible to an important segment of the population in the time of great Renaissance artists such as Botticelli and Michelangelo.

Developed by choice

In that period, people rediscovered the teachings of Aristotle: "Some talents are innate and others are acquired through practice," wrote Aristotle in the year 328 B.C. "While the movement of animals is governed by the law of cause and effect, the essential characteristic of human beings, rationality, can only be developed by choice."

In our days, despite problems and difficulties, opportunities for personal development have multiplied in many countries to the extent that they are practically endless, making easier for every individual to explore fields in which he is interested, and find his own path.

Millions of men and women are enjoying today levels of prosperity that would have been unthinkable for the wealthiest prince in the Middle Ages. The advent of the internet and the global economy are tearing down barriers to entrepreneurship. We are living in times of economic growth that offer countless opportunities for each person to determine his own future.

The 21st century is the age of the empowered individual. We inhabit an environment where many businesses can be started with negligible upfront investment. Innumerable doors are open to personal initiative and skills, giving each person almost infinite opportunities to find his way to happiness and success.

Business has become international, but the low-cost of internet communication is giving us instant access to all corners of the earth. If you feel short-changed in any way, make a pause and look at things in perspective. If you are lucky enough to live in an industrialised country, you will not lack chances for personal development.

Important accomplishments

The perception that achievement should be immediate (and that otherwise should be regarded as impossible) is fundamentally wrong. Important accomplishments will frequently demand substantial time, as it is the case of building new relationships. It makes no sense to put pressure on the wrong places. Some achievements will take as long as they take. The whole process of reaching complex goals is to be enjoyed, not regarded as a waste of time.

Substantial skills, like learning a foreign language, may require years of effort, but such strech of time remains modest if compared with the human lifespan. Each individual has many years to pursue ambitions goals. If you think that this is not the case, you may want to check your priorities, and reorient your activities.

In moments of pessimism, remind yourself that the digital media are decreasing educational costs for everyone, that information about job openings is available on line, that inexpensive software applications are readily available, and that the cost of incorporating a company remains low in many jurisdictions. Chances are that you have more opportunities than you think.

"Materials and substances are not enough to produce change," observed Aristotle. "The fact that something can be transformed, does not mean that it will. Without activity, there is no motion." Let us devote our days to turning what we have into something more valuable. Let your alertness to  opportunities become your motor of change.


Image: photograph of classical painting -- photo taken by John Vespasian, 2016.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books 

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Letting go of prejudice -- a prerequisite of fast personal growth

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You have to let go of prejudices that prevent you from developing your potential. You have to discard traditions that are not in line with current opportunities. We live in an era of abundant resources and unlimited possibilities, but those will remain unused if you allow prejudice to slow you down.

By throwing away ideas that do not work, you will open the door to realistic plans, workable solutions, and satisfactory results. Let us review briefly five widespread convictions that are at odds with reality.

A partially true belief

First, the idea that the purpose of life is to serve other people:The problem with this belief is that it is partly true. Interacting with other human beings and providing good service to them is highly rewarding. Men and women draw deep satisfaction from the gratitude of customers, patients, or clients.

On the other hand, helping strangers for the sake of achieving ethical perfection should not be taken to such an extreme that it destroys your life. Cost-effective service to customers can only be sustained permanently when it is provided commercially, that is, on a profit-making basis. Service rendered on the basis of personal sacrifice can be viable in some circumstances, but will face major difficulties in remaining operational in the long-term.

Second, the idea that you need someone else's approval before you can improve your life: Gregariousness is an essential component of the human psychology. We all love to be appreciated by friends and colleagues. On many occasions, honours and distinctions are as important as monetary rewards. Nevertheless, this is not the same as professing that individuals are incapable of affecting their destiny unless they have first obtained social approval.

In industrialised societies, personal initiative plays a determinant role in individual happiness. Innovation and change are disrupting traditional social structures, and we have to learn to cope with new challenges. It is no longer true that any person who deviates from standard behaviour will risks massive criticism and ostracism. Innovators frequently find psychological obstacles harder to overcome than lack of access to capital, but those obstacles can be surmounted if you work at them persistently.

Exploiting your assets

Third, the idea that you have to content yourself with your current situation: Physical resources are indeed limited, but this fact should not prevent you from establishing ambitious goals for yourself. Money and other assets can be borrowed if you demonstrate that you can use them productively.

The global economy is a scenario where resources are continuously shifted from low- to high-productivity areas. Purpose and initiative play a crucial role in exploiting assets to the maximum. Innovative individuals are coming up with new business models, new uses for old technologies, and new ways to find customers for existing products. Even if material resources are limited, the only constrain to economic growth is human creativity.

Fourth, the idea that you are too young or too old to improve your life: Such restrictions never hold true overall, although they might apply to specific goals in certain contexts. For instance, learning to play the piano at an advanced age can be a lot of fun, but it will be difficult for a senior person to pursue a career as a pop artist.

Restrictions can often be lifted or circumvented by changing the context. Goals can be modified in order to pursue better opportunities. Personal limitations can inspire us to figure out more effective approaches to make or sell our products. Careers can be redefined. Professions can be re-shaped in order to serve clients in new, surprising ways.

Opportunities enough

Fifth, the idea that you should give up because you really have no chance: Despite the fact that extraordinary achievements are reported daily by newspapers, few people possess the strength of character to pursue highly challenging goals. Psychologically, watching the outstanding performance of athletes on television is less menacing that starting up a business. Praising the latest film of our favourite actor feels less threatening than becoming a novelist. We do not mind being surpassed by those we have never met, but we dread the idea of taking risks in order to grow as persons.

Do no let those risks discourage you. Do not allow false ideas to paralyse you. There are opportunities enough out there for you to find the way. By using reason, prudence and persistence, you can immeasurably improve your life. Start today.


Image: photograph of classical painting -- photo taken by John Vespasian, 2018.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books 

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Book review: "The Four Pillars of Health" by Dr Benjamin Page D.C.

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The best monographs are not those that contain only information, but those that convey readers a philosophy, a set of integrated ideas on how to improve one's life. The book of Dr Page falls amongst those that leave a philosophical imprint on readers, transmit practical knowledge, and at the same time, awaken the curiosity to learn more about the subject.

While most books on preventive or therapeutic medicine tend to adopt radical positions in one way or another (for example, "do not consume animal proteins"), Dr. Page's book shows an uncommonly realistic balance with solid scientific basis. It is the first time I read in a book about health, not only a description of how animals are treated in industrial farms, but also how to raise animals (in this case, free-range chickens) in a healthy, natural way.

The philosophy of individual responsibility that the book transmits is coming from afar. The author is a descendant of chiropractors. His grandfather was already a practitioner, and the book tells us how his desire to heal and help other people has been transmitted from generation to generation within the family.

The book provides practical advice gathered first-hand. When the author is describing how to organise a farm, he explains in detail the importance of dividing the area of ​​cultivation into five zones, planting herbs and vegetables near the house because those plants require frequent attention. It is obvious that the author has managed a farm itself, and that he knows what he is talking about.

The ideas presented in the book are rooted in a spirit of personal independence and self-sufficiency in the maintenance of one's health and well-being. It is a spirit that the author developed in his student days, and that he is now conveying convincingly, giving hands-on advice.

When Dr Page is writing that, in his daily life, he tries to go on foot whenever he can instead of using his car or public transportation, he is preaching with example. The same thing happens when he is telling us about his morning routine that includes a period of meditation, and drinking a herbal infusion. These are examples that every reader can immediately follow.

Another part of the book that is also providing immediately applicable advice is the chapter on sleep, and on the impact that daily rest has on one's health. Chiropractors are specialists in the nervous system, and they know how to handle psycho-somatic conditions. They know precisely what we have to do in order to improve our sleeping habits.

The book chapters that are dealing with a bad bodily posture (a sign of incipient or present disease) and a bad spiritual posture (what we say to ourselves when we are incorrectly interpreting reality) are providing readers with the necessary guidelines to address those problems, although making it clear that, in severe cases, the help of a specialist is necessary.

While the book begins by graphically describing the life of a sick person (tired, overwhelmed, disoriented), it ends up in an optimistic tone by talking about positive stress (eu-stress), and how it differs from detrimental stress. Dr Page is emphasising the importance of a positive internal dialogue as a basis for a healthy, happy and balanced life. A very interesting book for anyone who wants to take a step forward in his health and well-being.


Image: cover of the book "The Four Pillars of Health" by Dr Benjamin Page D.C.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books 

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Here are the links to three audio interviews just published:

Friday, 9 March 2018

A comparison between the three main theories of happiness

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From all branches of philosophy, ethics is the most practical. Values connect abstractions to decisions, and morality provides guidelines to surmount difficult situations and achieve happiness. It goes without saying that ethical systems are worthless if they are not aligned with reality and validated by facts.

History has produced hundreds of different ethical teachings that work well in specific circumstances but fail catastrophically in other contexts. Fortunately, by grouping those philosophies in three main categories, we can see if they pass the tests of veracity and practicality without having to examine them one by one. For the purpose of analysis, ethical systems can be grouped in three main types: the partial, the logical, and the teleological.

1. Fragmentary ethics

Fragmentary ethics consist of precepts that are not comprehensive enough to constitute a system of thought. The vast majority of ethical convictions held by people can be classified as partial ethics.

Let me underline that moral principles enunciated in this manner are not necessarily false. Sometimes, flawless albeit incomplete guidelines are predicated; on other occasions, utter nonsense is put forward as an ethical precept.

As examples of two well-meaning commandments, take for instance "protect the planet" and "help other people." Individuals who advocate such ethics will usually possess good intentions, but their formulations are so fragmentary that cannot be implemented consistently.

If you want to protect the planet, you have first to define "planet." Does it involve only animals and trees, or also insects and mountains? If the concept encompasses all living entities, should it not include human beings first and foremost ? And if plants and insects are both part of the planet, should you be protecting them from each other? Interesting questions, for which partial ethics cannot provide consistent answers.

If your only ethical principle is to help other people, how do you determine which individuals you should be helping with priority? If person A is expected to help person B, is person B then required to help person A? What happens if B has a different opinion? Who will settle disagreements on the meaning and scope of the word "help"?

Partial ethics are unsatisfactory because they do not work in all circumstances. Principles such as those mentioned above are correct if applied in a certain context, but cannot be stretched to a full-blown system of morality. Life is too complex to navigate if you know only one thing. Man requires an all-encompassing thinking methodology, an integrated formula for happiness, not just a few unconnected precepts.

2. Logical ethics

Logical systems of ethics represent a major step forward in human thought. Their purpose is to create a morality that answers all questions, a method that can be applied to all events without incurring contradictions. In history, partial ethics have often evolved into logical moral systems after it became obvious that man cannot make good decisions on the basis of isolated precepts.

In contrast to partial ethics, logical moral systems are consistent. Their principles and guidelines are linked to each other. Their conclusions aim at universality in space and permanence in time. A well-rounded moral system should be able to guide individuals in any situation they may encounter in their private or professional lives.

The "categorical imperative" originated by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is the best known system of logical ethics. According to Kant, true principles of morality must be universal, non-contradictory, and recognizable by reason. Decisions and actions are considered virtuous only if they can be elevated to universal rules for all men.

"Do not steal" and "do not murder" are two specific applications of the categorical imperative. Kantian ethics do not address only a few situations; they aim at covering all possible alternatives in human action. Logical ethical systems do not give recommendations only for isolated cases; they aim at providing a complete thinking methodology valid in all possible situations.

Nonetheless, logical morality systems suffer from a major weakness. Although they are superior to partial ethics because they are consistent, their consistency does not guarantee their usefulness. Kantian morality is an intellectual clockwork foreign to the richness of human experience; it is a cold machinery that functions without feelings, ambitions, passions, or hesitations.

Categorical imperatives rightly forbid us to aggress against our neighbour, but they don't tell us what we need to do in order to be happy. Logical systems of ethics fail to address the psychological aspects of human action. Kantian morality does not provide us with guidelines on how to define our goals, allocate our resources, and deal effectively with adversity.

3. Teleological ethics

Teleological systems of ethics are the best that philosophy has produced. On the one hand, they go beyond the isolated commandments of partial morality; on the other hand, they aim at providing a comprehensive and consistent methodology, just like logical ethics. In addition, teleological systems are rendering morality useful by linking ethical principles to happiness, which they view as the overriding goal of ethics.

The word "teleological" comes from the Greek "telos," which means "purpose or goal." Advanced systems of ethics go far beyond "do not steal" and "do not murder." They view the human condition as a combination of complex factors that need to be judged according to general values, and prioritized according to individual objectives.

A teleological morality based on reason provides a frame of thought that encompasses all our decisions and actions. This system of ethics aims not only at keeping us out of trouble, but also at helping us make the best of our life. The list of teleological virtues includes not only honesty and justice, but also independence, ambition and persistence.

If you want to make optimal choices, you should adopt a teleological system of ethics based on reason. Other approaches to morality will work in certain conditions, but fail to pass the tests of universality, permanence, consistency and comprehensiveness.


Image: photograph of classical painting -- photo taken by John Vespasian, 2018.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books 

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Here is the link to an audio interview just published: