Irvine, a professor of philosophy at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, writes that Stoicism was one of many competing philosophies (such as the Cynics and the Epicureans) that ran schools to teach a "philosophy of life" to students in ancient Greece and Rome. The Stoics were interested in leading a life of "tranquility," meaning a life free of "anger, anxiety, fear, grief, and envy." To achieve such a life the Stoics developed, in the words of historian Paul Veyne, a "paradoxical recipe for happiness," that included the practice of "negative visualization." By frequently and vividly imagining worst-case scenarios -- the death of a child, financial catastrophe, ruined health -- the Stoics believed you would learn to appreciate what you have, and curb your insatiable appetite for more material goods, social status, and other objects of desire.
Reading the book, I had no trouble understanding how negative visualization could be an effective antidote against "hedonic adaptation." By imagining ourselves to be homeless, for instance, we can reset our desire for a more luxurious home and once again appreciate the roof over our head that we started taking for granted shortly after moving in.
My review was edited down at credit.com because it was too lengthy. Here's a part that was cut out:
I had a harder time buying into the idea that imagining the death of one of my children was good for my mental well being. The Stoic teacher Epictetus advised his students that, "In the very act of kissing a child, we should silently reflect on the possibility that she will die tomorrow." Why would anyone want to do that? Irvine answers the question by offering the example of two fathers, one who practices negative visualization and one who pushes such thoughts out of his head. The second father assumes his daughter will outlive him and will "always be around for him to enjoy." The first father assumes that every moment he spends with his daughter might be the last. Which father, asks Irvine is more attentive to and appreciative of his daughter, and which father is more likely to put off spending quality time with his daughter, believing that he'll have plenty of opportunities in the future? By thinking of our kids as precious gifts that could be taken from us at any moment we will come to treasure the time we spend with them. I've been trying this kind of negative visualization for the past week or so, and it really works. (But it packs a quite an emotional wallop.)
William Seabrook was once one of America’s foremost literary stars; now he is all but forgotten. Seabrook travelled the world, writing a series of (decreasingly sympathetic) accounts of indigenous people and their culture, outselling the literary giants he kept company with, and who pretended not to mind the women he paid to let him tie them up and keep around his home. In The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, graphic novelist Joe Ollman presents an unflinching look at Seabrook, his literary accomplishments and failures, his terrible self-destructiveness, and the awful spiral that took him from the heights of American letters to an ignominious suicide after his discharge from a psychiatric facility.
Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 declaration that “there is no alternative” to neoliberal capitalism is more than a rallying cry: it’s a straitjacket on our imaginations, constraining our ability to imagine what kinds of other worlds we might live in. But in science fiction, alternatives to market economies abound (and a surprising number of them are awarded prestigious awards by the Libertarian Futurist Society!), and it is through these tales that sociologist Peter Frase asks us to think through four different ways things could go, in a slim, sprightly book called Four Futures — a book that assures us that there is no more business as usual, and an alternative must be found.
Whether I’m trying to relieve some stress at work or entertain myself on the metro, Space Putty is there. You can bring this magical goo home and try it for yourself for just $9.99Like Silly Putty of yesteryear, this viscoelastic substance can be molded into different shapes and stretched around in your hands. Use it […]
You know as well as I that writing complex, long-long form text requires significant organization. You’re probably also well aware that Word just isn’t up to the task. That’s why I’m a huge fan of Scrivener, the software suite used by best-selling authors and technical writers alike.Scrivener is much more than another digital typewriter. With a […]
Looking to upgrade your weekend? Here are three randomly awesome products on my mind this week.#3 FRESHeBUDS Pro Magnetic Bluetooth EarbudsAs more and more phones and gadgets switch to Bluetooth-only compatibility, you’ll need to get Bluetooth headphones like the rest of us. I’ve been super impressed with these affordable magnetic headphones. Pull the magnetic earbuds apart to auto-connect […]