Wow, your questions are getting harder and harder. But I like it…
Let’s think about what art is and how it is created.
An artist selects a subject that he wants to focus on, be it a subject for a painting, a melody, a theme for a book or a movie, and so on. Why do you think the artist needs to select that subject?
What do you mean? The book or the painting has to be about something.
Exactly. The first thing an artists does is isolate some aspects of reality and focuses his art on them. That selection shows us what is important for the artist. It might be the beauty of a human body, nature, some idea like the movie we just saw – remember “The Help”? What was it about?
About equal human rights for black people.
Now, what is so special about art is that it shows us those ideas and values in a real sculpture, painting, music or a story. it allows us to directly experience the most important thing in life – VALUES.
It is like FOOD FOR OUR MIND. Our mind, that lives on concepts and ideas.
It needs to visualize those values in reality and see them successfully implemented. This is why animals do not need art as they are not conceptual beings.
Now, this is also why we react to art in such a profound way. We “sense” and “feel” art. We laugh, cry, or are deeply moved. We either admire it or despise it.
So every piece of art represents a value?
Yes, if it is a piece of good art. There is some things out there under the category of “modern art” that does not qualify in my view as art. Like smears of paint on canvas that no one can interpret – that’s not art.
Bad art can also leave us indifferent because it does not represent any important value to us.
You see, art is so important because we have to stop from time to time and look at how values are being implemented in life through a story, a painting, a piece of music that invokes a specific sense of life in us. If shows us that those values are real, achievable and possible. It fuels us to move on and deal with life.
So it is like a mirror?
That’s an amazing way to put it kid. It is a mirror to life and its possibilities. It shows us ideals.
So why do some people like horror movies and violence?
Because they hold a specific view of the world. The kind of art a person responds to, is a great way to learn about his set of values.
So why do you like Jazz music?
Because it shows me how sophisticated, masterful and creative one can be if he invests the required mental effort. But I also like rock music that shows me how energetic, joyful and fun life can be.
What do you think about the picture I bought you?
I love it. It shows me what small ,simple ideas can lead to.
Do you remember the picture I have in my study room?
Yes. With the woman getting dressed.
She is actually fixing her hair, but you’re right, she is getting ready for the day. Why do you think I like it so much?
I don’t know.
When I look at that woman getting ready for the day, fixing here hair in an effective, diligent, beautiful yet simple way, my sense of life responds immediately and I get a sense of purpose, it makes me look forward to the future in conviction that it is wonderful to be alive and that I should look forward to live another joyful day.
All of that from a woman fixing her hair?
Okay. You know it looks a little like mom.
Yes I know. Think about what that means.
Let’s talk about that some other time.
Does it mean you love mom?
Yes. I love your mom very very much. And I love you too. Now go to sleep, its late.
Good night dad.
Good night kiddo.
Hmm… I don’t really know. But I can give you some clues on how to find out.
Let’s take a hypothetical situation that might happen to you in several years.
You graduate from high school and you need to decide what to do next. You think about what will be the moral and right thing to do. You know you love drawing, especially cartoons. That’s what fascinates you, something you’d wake up every morning and do for 10 straight hours if you could afford it.
You’re dad says that it is impractical. He claims that Cartoonists can barely make a living these days and that you have the potential to become a great engineer like he is. He can also help you get a job in that big company he is working for. He talks to you about being logical and planning your life. About saving money to buy a house, marrying the right girl and avoiding risky moves.
You think about it and you are very tempted to take his advice. But something doesn’t feel right. There is a contradiction somewhere. And you well know by now, if there is a contradiction, there is an error here waiting to be fixed.
So you think about it some more. What if you take his advice? What if you become an engineer and start working in his firm?
Will you be happy waking up every morning to go to work? Not really. Will you make good money? Probably. You are smart and you will do fine, better than average. You will be able to save, meet someone nice, get married, buy a house and have kids. Will you be happy? You will be quite happy.
But, there something else here. Will you be truly happy? Truly fulfilled? Will you feel that you missed on something better, bigger and more rewarding than this path your father lays out for you? Yes.
Let’s say you go take a course with this genius cartoonist that you admire. They say that only one out of a hundred graduates get to find a real steady job doing cartoons. You will spend all your money on that course but you will learn all the technics you need to sharpen your skills.
You will apply to work in a daily newspaper. You will probably fail in the first couple of times. You will run out of money and will have to wait tables for a while. But you will not give up and maybe find a job as a designer while you apply over and over. You will be confident and proud about yourself pursuing your career and not giving up even if it is hard. And because you will get better and better, you will probably make it this way or another. In the process, you will probably meet a girl. She will be interested in what you do because that is what you will be – a cartoonist. She will probably be doing something that you admire. Why? Because the more principled you will be and more true to your goals and your passions, the more self-confident you will become. And I’m guessing she will find you more attractive.
People are attracted to values, spiritual and material.
You are pretty good looking and your character will be much more attractive if you’ll stay true to your values. You will develop a virtuous way of life and thus have higher standards in all fields of life, including love and romance.
You won’t be able to buy a house, so you will rent one with that amazing girl. You will have passionate love and probably a child. You will become a proud dad and teach your kid not to give up on his dreams. You will be a great dad. And who knows, maybe even a world famous cartoonist at one point in time.
So which option is better?
The latter Dad
I agree kid. All you have to think about is what makes you happy and proud.
That’s easy. Making ice-cream
I know a couple of guys that are very successful doing that.
Really? I think you’ve answered my question dad
Glad I could help kid. Now close your eyes and think about new flavors you can come up with.
Good night dad
Good night Jerry
My name isn’t Jerry
So, good night Ben
Dad? why are you calling me Ben & Jerry? Oh…
You ask tough questions kid.
Well, before we talk about good and bad, we need to answer the questions: Good and bad for whom? Good and bad for what?
That’s easy. Good for me. Good for the world.
Well, those could be two very different things. And besides, who’s the world exactly?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with good for you. What is good for you?
So think about when you were a baby. You were crying when you felt something bad and smiling when it was good. In your early days, good was just a comfortable feeling of being well fed, not being sick, hot, cold or in pain. Those are the basics. Pain, for instance, is a biological mechanism through which reality lets us know if something is bad for you. Stress, fear, depression are cognitive mechanisms that do the same.
So how did you know as a baby to decide what is good and what is bad? You had some kind of criteria. That criteria is LIFE. You have an automatic mechanism that is programmed to sustain your life. So life is the VALUE you are trying to keep and is the standard of what is good and what is bad, when to cry and when to smile.
So my life is what determines good from bad?
Yes, without that value, there is no meaning to good or bad. Without life there is no good or bad. The need for good and bad decision, or in its formal name, morality – is only for living things. Only living things have values. The universe is not good or bad – it is just there.
But as you grow up, the same thing that happened with concepts and the development of your knowledge, happens with values as they become more complex and abstract. You’re looking to be happy, to be satisfied, to be passionate about the things you do, to pursue a goal, to get that girl you adore, to work in a field you love, and get that car of your dreams (in my case). It is not just about staying alive anymore.
Suddenly, your values become more complex and challenging. They require long range planning, prioritization, and a lot of hard work. You realize that you want to pursue long-range goals. You understand that a flu shot and a dental procedure that hurt a little are actually good for you and that you have to save money in order to pay for school, buy a house or a car.
So if I do something to achieve my values it is good?
If your values are rational, then yes. Some people choose irrational values and hurt themselves.
So I can do anything I want to achieve my goals? What if you could steal money from a bank without being caught or steal the car you want?
We need to check if stealing is good or bad for me. So what does it mean to steal? It means taking someone’s property without deserving or earning it. Taking it by force, coercion or deception. So first, there is the chance of getting caught and going to prison – that is surly bad for my life. But that doesn’t cut it because I know there are ways to steal and get away with it.
So why is it still bad for me?
Well, first, I will have to lie every time someone asks me about the cat and how I got it. I will have to evade people wanting to learn more about the car and I will always be anxious when a police car drives by.
Besides, I will not be able to be truly honest about other things in life because I will be forced to choose to either give up on principles in general, or know that I am not a principled man. I couldn’t justify morally why it will be wrong to do it again. I couldn’t explain to my kid why not to steal something from a grocery store.
Practically, if you decide to steal some more and become a professional thief – it means that you will be in a constant state of anxiety, short term, whimsical, pleasure seeking mentality because you gave up on reason and thought and chose force and deception as a way of life. Your life will not be productive but more like hit and run, you’ll become superstitious, develop contempt for other people because they are suckers that you can always forcefully manipulate.
Your life will be potentially reduced to physical sex, food, pillow and drugs. You will lose your capacity for happiness, because happiness is a result of a long range action. Living by force is anti-mind and we are mind-driven beings – it just doesn’t work.
Any way you look at it, robbing a bank or stealing a car it is bad for me. It is much worse than not having the car or just saving for a couple more years to buy it.
This is a rational analysis of the situation. This is why thieves live miserable lives. They don’t save, they are not good spouses or parents, and they steal more till they get caught.
Remember when I told you that reality always strikes you back when you evade it? This is a good example.
But wait Dad, what if I do it only once and forget about it? Is that possible?
Well, let’s think about it. Can you forget about stealing the car? No. Can you push that thought aside? Yes. But then there are consequences. You must continue your life in a very unprincipled manner. But reality is principled. That means that you’ll become a pragmatist – whatever I think is right as of now, is right and good. And then, there is nothing to guide your life, you’ll just do whatever comes to you at that moment.
Stealing a car in return for subverting the entirety of your moral life is not comparable. The same goes for lying or being dishonest.
Oh, so what about lying to a criminal about where your family is? Shouldn’t you be honest and tell him where they are?
Again, let’s break it down. Good is what promotes my life. So is it good to lie to that criminal? Yes. Will it hurt my capacity to lead a moral life? No. I am protecting my values any way I can and also, everything has a context – you can’t judge something without context.
For example, you can see someone jumping in front of a train and decide he is a suicidal lunatic, but if you understand the wider context of him trying to rescue his child who was in front of that train and managed to push him away from the tracks, you suddenly realize he is a rational, moral person because he was protecting his highest value. So you have to conclude that context is very important and that there are always edges cases where acting in a way that will not make sense in other contexts, sometimes is necessary.
Wow, Dad. This is more complex than I thought.
It is kid. Life is not simple, and it is great that it isn’t. Otherwise it will be boring and automatic.
So I will go to sleep now. It is good for me.
It is definitely good for you kid. Sweet dreams.
Emotions, emotions, emotions… They such are a beautiful thing if we understand them.
Let’s think about what emotions are. A human being is born with biological mechanisms:
A physical pleasure-pain mechanism that protects you when your finger touches a hot pan and that makes you feel good when you eat something delicious or that someone you love kisses you softly – and yes, I mean mom… This mechanism is geared to protect your life and is working through your nerve system and lightning-fast instincts.
You also have a mental happy-sad mechanism that tells you if you’re doing good or not, if the girl of your dreams just said “yes” or “no”. Note that this mechanism does not work through instincts, but it is still fast and automatic. It takes some quick evaluation and decision making to determine if what just happened is good or bad for you. To quickly determine what is the context and what you should feel and do about it.
So you are saying I can decide what to feel?
No, I am saying that your feelings depend on a specific context and your evaluation of the situation.
Let’s say that someone just insulted you – you can decide to start crying, insult him back angrily, walk away indifferently or just start laughing joyfully – it depends on your judgment. But this is unique kind of judgment, a subconscious, emotional judgment.
Emotions are the AUTOMATIC REACTION to that judgment processed by your subconscious. They are an effect, not a cause. You cannot love someone for no reason, you are not depressed for no reason, there is a cause and you should try to understand exactly what you are feeling and most importantly, why you are feeling the way you do.
So how does my subconscious decide how to judge a specific event?
Good question. You are born with empty conscious and subconscious mechanisms. Your conscious mind programs the subconscious with values that are used to decide your emotional reactions.
Where do those values come from? A human being doesn’t get them automatically like your physical instincts. Values come either from your conscious thinking, acceptance of someone else’s or socially-accepted ideas, faith, or any automatic integration you decided knowingly or unknowingly. Those become the basis for your emotional value judgment.
If you consciously thought about your values, about what is good, bad, important, meaningful or not – then, you will understand your emotions. They will make sense to you and your mind and emotions will feel integrated. You will enjoy them profoundly or use them to drive yourself to correct what is wrong in your life. Otherwise, and sadly this is the case with many people, emotions do not always align with your rational evaluation of a situation which means there is a conflict that needs to be resolved psychologically. It is a simple rule – random values produce random emotions.
Another important thing – Emotions will give you no clue about what to do in a given situation because they are a subconscious reaction. They are NOT a function of organizing data, draw conclusions and analyze things – this requires reason and awareness – not emotions.
So make sure you do NOT act on your intuition or unexplained feelings. Use observation, integration, concepts and logic to determine what is your best course of action. Don’t just “feel like it”. It will mess you up.
Lastly, emotions are essential to your life. They give you love, desire, motivation and enjoyment from life. Nourish your emotions and relish in them.
So I should “connect with my emotions” as they say?
If that means understand your emotions, then yes. If it means, let them lead the way, then no.
Remember – Reason first, emotions later.
Dad, I feel tiered
So connect with your emotion and go to sleep dude.
Good night. I love you so much.
Me too Dad
Simple. If it is consistent with reality it is true. If it is not, then it is false.
But seriously, it is a complex issue.
First, you have to look at reality and observe its laws, causes and effects. You have to think logically about what you are trying to understand and validate it with reality. The older you get, the more sophisticated you’ll become. That means that you will deal with things that are abstract and complex, but if you learn how to tie it back to reality, then you’ll know you are making the right conclusions.
Sounds very complex. But what about things we can’t understand? My friend told me we can’t understand God.
It is true we don’t understand everything but it doesn’t mean we can’t understand anything. Believing in things that are not part of reality can be a very dangerous thing.
Why? What’s wrong with believing in things that don’t exist?
Let me give you an example:
So a friend tells you about god for the first time. When you ask where they live they say in the sky and that you can’t see or hear them. You’re confused, but the people around you are so confident that you take it as truth.
But then something feels wrong. Suddenly reality doesn’t seem so clear anymore. You think that there are things beyond reality that you can’t see, feel or even understand. You and reality are not communicating so clearly anymore. It is like it betrayed you and you are separated from it in some way. You feel small, unintelligent and incompetent versus the almighty god that knows and controls everything. You rely on your feelings and not your thought, you take anything that your religious friend tells you as truth instead of asking for proof.
Oh. That’s sounds bad.
But you are a thinker. You are brave. You know that the fact that many people say something is true doesn’t make it so. Reality is the ultimate judge – not them.
So you think about the concept of a supernatural, of something outside of reality and you come to the conclusion that it is fiction. That those are false, detached ideas in some people’s brains.
So they are all lying?
No, they are not lying, they truly believe in it, but it has an enormous cost that comes with it. You see, our mind is such a powerful tool that it is very easy do drift with ideas and detach yourself from reality. But reality will always strike back. This is why it is dangerous, because you can’t evade reality and its laws and if you’ll try to ignore it, you will have to deal with the consequences.
So you have to see it to believe it?
Not necessarily. Blind people understand the world just fine.
Think hard about what you learned as a baby to be true and try to induce the common denominator between all the things that turned out to be true. What made them true?
Reality. You saw proof with your own eyes. That is perception and that is the basis.
But can you always trust your eyes? What happens when they fool you? Remember that time when you saw your finger in a glass of water? It looked as if it’s crooked. But then I gave you the explanation about light traveling slower through water changing the angle of light that hits your eyes. It had a logical explanation that didn’t contradict anything that you knew to be true. It just explains everything better.
You know that you can trust your eyes, ears and the other senses. But you also realize that there is something more than just your senses – there is your mind and its ability to conceptualize and understand reality. You realize that when thinking about things in the right, logical way, you can make even more sense of reality with the power of your mind and far beyond our senses.
You never saw a 100 miles with your own eyes, but the powerful concept of numbers and mathematics makes it easy to imagine a 100 mile road.
I never thought about it. That’s cool.
It is. Every time you learn something new, you basically generalize and integrate more knowledge into new concepts. You learn about great concepts other smart people made and start connecting all of your concepts into a big, consistent knowledge base. It is like a skyscraper of concepts.
I like skyscrapers. But what if you learn something that is wrong? What happens then?
Reality will tell you it is wrong if you’ll keep an open, rational mind, you’ll be quick to identify and correct it.
How will it tell me that?
You will see unexpected effects from the same causes. You will notice inconsistencies, contradictions and things that are not fully clarified yet.
Do you think reality is consistent?
Yes Dad, it is.
And so should be your knowledge about it. Nothing in your skyscraper of knowledge can contradict itself. If it does, then something is wrong and you need to fix it because you remember that an apple always falls to the ground. And if there is something foggy in your mind, you know it is not because reality is foggy or unknowledgeable, but rather that you didn’t clarify it in your head yet and you need to do some more thinking.
And as you grow older and wiser you build a skyscraper of knowledge where one concept is based on another like floors are built one on top of the other. And sometimes, you make an error. Sometimes, what you thought was true and exact, turned out to be incorrect or inaccurate. Maybe you didn’t see the full picture; maybe something was distorted or misunderstood on the way.
So you fix it.
You realize that it is wrong, you go the lowest floor of knowledge that is incorrect and replace it with something else that will support a better, more accurate concept. In most cases you’ll be fine-tuning your concepts, adding more clarity and accuracy. The same as Einstein fine-tuned Newton’s physics. This is how knowledge is aggregated through the ages.
So thinking right is quite important, ha Dad?
If you want to lead a full flourishing life, achieving happiness and prosperity, you need to think. You can’t survive in reality with tools you don’t have – a bear would kill you if you used only muscle force, a lion will chase and catch you if you rely on your speed. Your only chance to survive is by concepts and ideas that enable you to develop traps, agriculture, control fire and this way get a competitive edge on other species. Your mind is what makes you human. This is why ideas are crucial for your survival. Your ability to conceptualize and integrate will determine your ability to survive and flourish as a human being.
So in other words, you’re telling me I should take that chess class, right?
No. I am telling you should do what you’re passionate about. Take up chess only if it truly interests you. But what I wish for you is that you’ll love thinking and love life because of it.
So, I’ll think about it.
That a boy. Now go to sleep, I talked to much as usual and it is getting late.
Good night Dad.
Good night my little thinker.
Let’s start with understand what money is. Money is what we use to trade things between people. I make something, you make something else, we trade. Money is a very efficient way to trade value.
So Money is a good thing?
it is a VERY good thing. If you have it, it means that you’ve created something valuable than many other people want and are willing to pay for.
Who makes money?
that’s a very good questions kid.
Today governments print money according to the sum of value in the market. But they use it for other things as well which are not so good and that creates something that is called inflation – meaning every dollar can buy less than before. The way it should work is that we have money printed at the exact sum of values – in the old days they used to print money according to the amount of gold they had in the bank. Gold is a special metal because it is limited and people perceive it as valuable.
If you study economics (the right kind of economics) you’ll better understand the processes around money, inflation and other important things.
Do we have a lot of money?
Ha. We have enough.
The most important thing is that I am proud of the way I make money and support you and our family.
I love you Dad.
I love you too kid.
Remember we talked about values and how you should evaluate your options according to the values they represent?
“Yes, thinking about which value is more important to me”
Correct, so let’s think about sharing in the same way.
Is sharing important to you? what’s good about it and what’s not so good about it?
“One one hand, I want to share my things with other people because it is fun, but sometimes I just want to keep my stuff to myself”
You described two cases.
In the first one, it seems like there is no problem for you to share and you even enjoy it. The fun you get from playing with your friends and seeing them enjoy as well, is greater than your need to keep your stuff to yourself or play alone. It is a win-win situation. No problem there.
In the second one though, it seems like you feel obligated to share while you really do prefer to keep your things to yourself. Right?
“Exactly, sometimes kids tell me I am being selfish by not sharing, and it hurts my feelings”
OK. So let’s talk about this case. If you decide that you prefer not to share something with a friend because it is more important for you to use that something now than the implications of not sharing it – then it is totally fine.
“But then my friend might call me selfish”
Let’s think about what it means to be selfish.
Let’s go back to the idea of deciding what the right thing to do is, according to what value the alternative holds to you. So first of all, everything that you do should be contributing to your long-term life and happiness. It is not your job to take care of other people’s happiness unless they are a value to you, and in which case, they contribute to your happiness.
So all of us should be selfish in everything that we do – this is how we make our lives and the people we care about better.
“So what about other people? Don’t they count? Shouldn’t we care for them?
I didn’t say that. First, making yourself happy for the long-term might mean that you to take care of other people including your family, friends and even people you don’t know if you value their life and happiness. In most cases, the price and effort you’ll need to invest will be lower than the value you’ll get from helping out or sharing.
When you make a decision if to share or donate something, you should think about your long-term happiness. If you don’t share and don’t help, it might harm your happiness for the long-term. You need to be rationale about your values and your choices. It will be wrong to guide your choices by whims or impulses or without weighing the long-term consequences.
“So sharing is good if you decide it is good for YOU.”
Good for you for the long-term. Don’t feel obligated to give if the price you are paying is higher than what you gain from it. It basically means trading values, but we will talk about some other time.
“So I shouldn’t be offended when someone calls me selfish?”
If they call you selfish then it means you chose not to give them what they wanted. It means you are already paying a price. If this price is worth paying because what you’re being asked to give is of greater value – then it is totally fine not to share. And tell them that selfishness is a virtue because every time we eat or drink, we choose to keep ourselves alive vs. choosing to give it away to poor people in Africa or something. Selfishness is what keeps us alive. It is fine to help, donate and give charity because we want a better society to live in. But guess what? Why are we doing it?
“Because it is good for us – I get it Dad”
So, will you change something about the way you think about sharing?
“I think so, I will think about what it means to share or not and what will happen if I choose one way or the other”
It might not be an easy decision, but if you think about it hard then you will be good either way – if you choose to share, you’ll understand why you’re doing it and what good it brings you. If you choose not to, you’ll know why and will not be offended if someone calls you selfish.”
“That makes sense. So why are you sharing all of this with me?”
Because I love you and talking to you now makes me way more happy than reading my emails.
Go to sleep it’s getting late.
Let me ask you this – if a lion kills a zebra in the wild, will it go to jail?
“No Dad, that’s crazy. Lions eat zebras, they do it to survive.”
“So the zebra doesn’t have the right to live?”
“I guess not… wait a minute, actually, why doesn’t it have the right to live?”
First, we have to define what rights are.
Rights are a concept that people came up with to allow us to live in a civilize society. Rights are there to protect values– things that are most important to us, like living, being free and trying to be happy.
The only reason we have the right to live is that it is the highest value a human being can hold. Without it, a person does not exist and cannot have any other value. This is why the right to live comes first and is the most important one. Other values we need in order to live a human life are freedom and property. Animals do not have those rights – we put them in cages in zoos and they don’t own anything.
So now, back to your question – why is it okay to kill animals?
First, I don’t believe it is okay to kill an animal without a reason. It is a question of values. For instance, you should ask your self: what are the values that you are pursuing or contradicting when you eat a steak?
1. You are having a good meal and you enjoy it. It helps you to survive and it might even make you happy as you enjoy the taste of the steak.
2. You are promoting animal slaughter because you are consuming the steak. That contradicts your value of being kind to other living creatures.
So what should you do? eat the steak and enjoy it, or avoid buying steaks and fight against cattle slaughter?
“I really do like steaks…”
And that is perfectly fine. So you just answered the question – it is okay to kill other animals if the killing is serving a higher value like surviving, being happy and enjoying life. If you I told you that dog meat is tasty as well – would you eat a dog?
“Never! that’s so gross”
Don’t say never – if the dog meat was the only thing you can eat, at some point you will choose to eat it as the value of survival will become relevant. This value is higher than your value of dogs, their companionship and what they represent to you.
“hmm, so everything is about what values are more important to me?”
Basically, yes. As long as you don’t violate rights of other people.
And here is the most important point here – when you’re not sure what is the right thing to do, think about what values are behind the different options you are considering. Think about what values are more important to you and then the decision will become easier. Not always, but usually this helps.
“Give me an example”
So, I was just debating if to buy myself a new car or save the money for other things like my retirement. What do you think are the two values that are represented here?
“You want to enjoy a new car, but you also want to make sure you have enough money when you’re old”
Right. It’s not an easy decision. But I decided to go ahead and buy the car, because I decided that in this case the value of enjoying the new car is more important than the additional money I will have when I am old. And besides, I thought that since you are so smart, you’ll surely become so rich that I shouldn’t worry anyway…
“Hey, that’s not fair”
Just kidding. Go to sleep, it’s getting late. I love you so much. You are my highest value.
“You’re mine too”