The Revelation

The Conundrum

Ignorance is bliss. It is believed that the more you know, the less likely it is you can be content and happy. There was a research study that I read a while ago about the relatedness of higher IQ and higher prevalence of depression. (link: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/drt/2012/567376, the study I read was actually a different one, this one talks about children. I will add the link here when I find the actual study)

On the other hand, it could also be argued that your happiness is completely irrelevant to how much you know about the world. Deriving your happiness from within sounds extremely ideal. People who believe this often say that happiness is a choice. It certainly sounds very nice - makes you want to believe it 100%. The reality, however, is that we are all social creatures and we need each other to coexist in this society. Therefore happiness is function dependent on variables from your environment and circumstances.

How correlated is happiness with knowledge? Are you willing to sacrifice a little bit of happiness for a lot more knowledge?  Here is my immediate reaction:"Uhhh... YES but do I have to?"

Let's talk about the definition of the word 'knowledge' in the 21st century:

  1. How much you know - this is the most literal interpretation. 
  2. How much you understand - this illustrates the distinguishing factors between knowing and understanding. It is difficult to argue that memorization counts as knowledge.
  3. The ability to find answers - this is a meta interpretation of knowledge because it focuses on knowledge acquisition. This interpretation is a more modern one. In an age where information can be conveniently shared through the internet, one's research ability is becoming an increasingly important skill.
  4.  Curiosity. (more about this later)

Now that we have defined knowledge, I want to proceed to talk about intelligence. Following my logic here, being intelligent then means oscillation between 2 and 3 - converting what you can find online/offline into understanding, which in turn helps you ask better questions. 

Oscillating between 2 and 3 isn't as easy as it sounds. If you force it too much, you run into risking memorization - NOT knowledge. The best way for learning is backed by curiosity. Curiosity is fundamental to knowledge acquisition and providing understanding. I really like the way Justin Rosenstein from Asana put it:"Passion and raw intelligence is the accumulation of curiosity over time."

Jordan B Peterson's Hint at the correlation of Knowledge and Suffering

Jordan B Peterson, he is a professor and philosopher that I grew to really like (thanks to Amy).

His view is three-fold:

  1. Knowledge is paramount
  2. Life is suffering
  3. Our goal here is to reduce suffering

Everyone knows the little Pinnochio's tale by Carlo Collodi.

Pinnochio as a puppet was a pathetic toy whose strings were being pulled by horrible forces that often times didn't act in Pinnochio's best interest. Sound familiar? In the age of Donald Trump, fake news, and alternative facts, I hope we can all relate. It is often hard to tell the truth these days.

What is truth? In some form, it could be an understanding (a form of knowledge). If you don't have a way to formulate your question, to find answers, to know (tying into the definition 2, 3, and 4 from the last section), or if you believe the hearsay, you are the Pinnochio puppet whose strings are being pulled by unknown forces. The unknown forces are the things you read or watch that aim to dissuade you, often times not in your best interest. 

Pleasure island (from Pinnochio) was a metaphor as a place where you could get immediate pleasure. The totalitarian owner was preparing to sell all the indulged souls to the jack mines as slaves. If you don't look deeper below the surface, you risk getting sold into slavery. There is always room to go deeper, to know more. Knowledge is important.

Peterson is definitely a highly knowledgeable individual. His viewpoint is that life is suffering. And if you don't resist the malevolence and tragedy that is present in life, then it could warp and twist you to make you resentful and depressed. He argued that it is important to bear the burden of being without being corrupt. 

Personal Experience

Now, let me talk about my own experience. I have spent the first 20 years of my life being extremely sheltered and over protected. I was certainly a blissful kid, growing up without having the need to worry about anything. After I arrived in the US, I still maintained a joyful overall profile, though I occasionally got upset when I discovered something ugly. Little did I know that I was turning into a full blown narcissist (if you don't believe this, go check out my instagram and facebook full of selfies. Okay don't actually do this).

Much of who you are is reflected upon how you spend your time. Sometimes, in the process of doing activities, I would think about how I want to word my facebook status about it. Or, stepping out of the moment by taking a picture of it and sharing it on instagram. My philosophy was - life was simple for me and I am a see-through jellyfish. I swim away from complicated creatures that I don't understand and occasionally sting things around me that I am afraid of and want to get away from. You can know instantly how I am feeling by looking at me. Why? Not only because I chose to be naive (last sentence in this article showed that I pride myself for it), but also I am only one layer thin - there is nothing underneath.

The water is deeper, more chaotic, and murkier than it seems. Here are some examples:

Engineering

Do you know that on instagram, if you tap the "Follow" button, the button actually flips to "Followed" showing that you have already followed that person without the request actually going through on the server side? If the request goes through, the app does nothing. (90% of the time) If not, the app flips it back to "Follow". 

Such an action is called optimistic UI action.

When I discovered optimistic UI action in programming, I crossed my arms and told my manager that it was cheating - an equivalent of lying to your users that some action has already happened, when in reality it hasn't. This is cheating with an incentive for a perceived faster response time when in reality it's not fast at all.

"Morally, am I okay with it?" - 3 years ago, I caught myself asking this question. Of course, It is now a widely accepted industry standard. (I still feel weird about it when I use it but I understand - you are essentially dumb if you don't use it.) 

Economics

Corruption, a misuse of public office for personal gain. Wait what? Romania increased the monetary limit of the involvement in corruption that is punishable by law. Why? Whoa, there are actually studies that are published that illustrate how some level of corruption can benefit society. 

Why does China have to fix its foreign exchange rate? Why does the Chinese government has to have a hand in everything? Can't they just let go and make the air more breathable? (figuratively and literally). Then I learned about The Impossible Trinity and from there began to empathize more with their decisions.

Sociology

Last year, I posted this article calling for a state of the world where countries cooperate rather than compete, aim for the global maxima of overall good rather than locally focused, immediate benefits. Recently from reading the book Selfish Gene, I realized that the ideal world I conjured up is really a discussion about Pareto optimum. In reality, ecology and biology have tested it millions of times. In biology, a gene that has a little bit of advantage evolutionarily will end up dominating. It is kind of like putting a ball on the tip of a hill (maxima), a slight breeze in any direction will cause the ball to roll off. The society in that structure is inherently unstable - one person slightly cheats a little bit, it will cause the entire system to fall apart. 

The Revelation

I am now slowly finding answers to my own curiosity. The world is such a interesting place and full of unknowns. The more I ponder about the answers I find - obviously answers that do not hint to the positive side of the world - the more dazzled I become. I ask myself who the fuck is this new person I am turning into.

I want to stop focusing so much on myself and learn to turn myself outward to serve the world and make impact. In order to play the games, you must learn the rules. Learning about how the world works is logically my first step.

The process is exciting and refreshing. I listen to the BBC every morning when I wake up. (As it turns out the world is much more than just Trump. Thank you BBC.) This motivates me to get up early too. I have always wanted to be there when the world wakes up. Rather than staying in bed checking over social media, I turn on the podcast and be on the go. 

I am starting to enjoy every day again. 

There are obvious benefits of knowledge. There are also obvious benefits of happiness. The art comes down to making sure you can maintain your emotional sanity as you acquire more knowledge. As any savvy economist will suggest, don't trade your happiness for knowledge. [There was an episode of my life in which I did that losing trade. I have an article written about it - hopefully I will soon be able to share.]

As for the rest, the gentleman who sat next to me in the coffee shop yesterday summarized it pretty well for me: "Life happens when you are on your way of pursuing what you want". So, I'll let it carry out by itself while I embark on the journey to quench my thirst of knowledge. 

 

Bonus funny thoughts:

From the Pinnochio story, to those people who were indulged in pleasure islands - 

Why worry about selling your souls, if you aren't doing anything with them anyway?