Ch1 L1: The most fundamental question of all time

  1. Take some time and think about the most fundamental fact or question of all time. Please don’t read the rest of the post till you find yourself curious enough to seek the answer.
  1. If you could read all the books or watch all the movies, you’d realize that there’s just one story to be told: the story of survival. No matter why we’re here, for an accident or the divine plan, we need to fight Death throughout our lives and whatever we do (either right or wrong) is an attempt to push Death at least one step away [1]. So, the most important question of all time is nothing but what Shakespeare [2] has timelessly phrased: “To be or not to be, that’s the question” [3].
  2. Ironically or truthfully, Death is the starting point of our journey and existence is the most fundamental fact upon which we build the meaning or philosophy of life. So, whoever knows the art of this war, will survive longer.
  1. In his famous and classic book, “The art of war” [4], Sun Tzu [5] has advised commanders that “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle”. So, if we accept his wise advice, the first step to stay alive must be getting to know both Death and ourselves.
  1. Using the war analogy, we can say that Death would be the commander-in-chief; consequently, its soldiers could be called dangers [6] or, moderately, problems [7]. Therefore, our first and most important job is to identify the types of problems for which we need to find at least a solution [8].
  1. To solve problems, we need energy; and the second fundamental fact is the amount of energy is limited which can be considered as the most important danger. Now you might think about the natural forms of energy but what I mean, in a broad sense, is whatever enables us to get something done is or has a form of energy (e.g. money is a socio-economical form of energy).
  1. The skill to manage to spend or to find the optimal use of energy, which is nowadays known as a branch of science, can be generally called economy (or economics). In other words, we economically endeavor to match our unlimited demand or time (we ideally seek immortality) to the limited supply or energy. Our primitive forefathers had no idea what economy was but they understood it intuitively or I could say instinctively; because we might not be able to reach the optimal use of energy, but whatever makes us spend less is practically acceptable.
  1. Example 1: Imagine you’re expected to dig a well and you had your hands, a spoon and a spade to choose from; which one would you pick out? Obviously, the spade because with which you’d need less energy to dig the well. Your body would even physiologically understand it because you’d feel less tired. [9]
  1. The simplest solution to the energy crisis is to lower consumption, therefore, to save more energy. That’s how our brain has evolved to function when it comes to solving problems. If it doesn’t feel the need to work on a problem, it simply won’t. This attitude might be called laziness, but I’d rather call it parsimony. Our brain’s motto is what parents normally say when they’re asked for extra money: “What do you need it for?”; and if you can’t justify your expense, you won’t get a dime.
  1. So, I’d like to call the tendency to spend the minimum energy to get something done “Minergy” which also shows our inclination to shorten words or terms.
  1. Example 2: you might call it being friendlier but you’ll also save energy if you call your friend, say, Will instead of William. In fact, friends are usually those whom you can easily talk to which implies spending less effort to convey meaning. [10]
  1. Example 3: Abbreviating frequently used words or terms is another attempt to save more energy. [11]
  1. Knowing this tendency is the key factor to analyze thinking [12]. Even if you say “I’ll do my best”, it means that you’re gonna spend the minimum energy which meets expectations. The difference between performances or outcomes mainly reflects the difference between expectations. So, if your standards are higher, your level of minergy will be higher. [13]
  1. Minergy is the reason behind all the inventions and innovations: the machines which have made our life physically easier [14]. In a part of an interview, Steve Jobs explained that why we, humans, were tool builders: Some scientists measured the efficiency of locomotion in both humans and animals, how many kilocalories they spend per kilometer to move from point A to point B. Mankind’s performance came in about the third the way down the list and the condor was the front-runner. But someone suggested measuring the energy per kilometer that humankind needed to ride a bicycle. As he said, “it blew away the condor.”
  1. I think we’ve been through very deep ideas for the pilot, and you’d better take some time to ruminate them. So, here’s your exercise.

Exercise 1:

  1. Think about the people who had a near-death experience and how their values have changed ever since.
  1. We discussed that whatever we do is an attempt to push Death at least one step away. So, try to relate fun things such as playing games to death. Are they related at all?
  1. Think about the afterlife and the absence of death. Why would you need to eat, drink or have sex if you’re immortal? On the other hand, why would you suffer in hell, if you’re not gonna die?
  1. Try to relate the main themes of the Hollywood movies (enemies, energy crisis and making dreams come true) to the ideas developed in this lesson.
  1. Think about those who suffer from cleaning obsessive-compulsive disorder and their inability to set realistic expectations.
  2. What is the main problem of perfectionism?


[1] Someone who commits suicide must’ve felt being socially or emotionally dead or predicted that there wouldn’t be any chance to come back, mainly due to physical pain, shame (emotional pain) or emotional immaturity (not emotionally strong enough to cope with either pain); so, suicide is nothing but executing the subjective Death just to get rid of the pain.

[2] Link

[3] Link

[4] Link

[5] Link

[6] The ability to identify danger is more vital than biological immortality which some living organisms have already acquired. For instance, the immortal jellyfish is capable of reverting completely to its younger self [Link]; so if there are no changes in its environment, it can live forever. The problem, however, is that it can’t react to many lethal dangers which we’re prepared for.

[7] I’m sure that you’ve made the first rough connection between life and mathematics since problem-solving is the most crucial skill we need to develop in real life and we solve problems in math. However, in many areas, mathematical problems seem to be unrealistic or inapplicable. That’s what we need to figure out later.

[8] The first solution is the starting point. After finding two or even more solutions to a particular problem, we’ll evaluate them to select the optimal one.

[9] We can relate the example to the previous footnote. Here all solutions to dig the well with the hands, spoon or spade work out; so, we have the liberty to choose the best one which would cost us the minimum energy.

[10] Besides, to live in a society requires conformity, and if some values are imposed on us against our nature, desire or will, we are forced to at least pretend that we’re complying with them, which means that we must wear a mask. Since it’s an effortful action which will be discussed later, it can be more or less exhausting. However, with friends or the partner, we ideally don’t need to wear the mask, so we spend less energy as well and we feel more comfortable.

[11] If you think about the frequently used words, they usually consist of one syllable and rarely two: hand, eye, cat, dog, wood, land, home, do, make, get and so on. We also break the words which have been frequently used recently; for instance, information has been reduced to info.

[12] It might also have a soothing effect on those who consider themselves or are called by others lazy, especially the students who underperform and are reluctant to study their subjects, specifically math. Since they don’t know why they’re learning a particular topic, spending energy is not justified so their brain stops working on math and gets easily distracted by other things. There are other reasons which we’ll discuss later.

[13] The underlying drive to raise expectations is nothing but fear which will be discussed more thoroughly later. You can jump to the first post about fear [link]

[14] The side effect of the industrial revolution, however, is the need for skilled people to design and work with machines which require a certain level of math and science in public education. So, we can say that the expectations have been raised by the society. That’s why some people who can’t accept these recently made expectations suffer every day or they run away from it like the Amish [Link] or those who find the village a better environment to dwell; because, compared to thousands of years of slow development, the train of civilization has accelerated for roughly 400 years, so it shouldn’t be unexpected that many people can’t catch up with it; therefore, the gap between the expectations and the reality or their ability has caused depression. I really recommend you to think about the compromises we’ve been forced to make to benefit from living in a developed society.

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