Knaussgard and his autobiographies

I read the first book in Knaussgard’s series of autobiographical novels several years ago and was immediately taken in by his thoughts, his style, the flow. And last month I began to read the second book and once again I was reminded of why he’s such a special writer, and this a special work. For me, below is such a snippet:

After we came home from Idö I realized that this was all or nothing, I told Linda I was moving into the office, I would have to write day and night. You can’t do that, she said, that’s not on, you’ve got a family, or have you forgotten? It’s summer, or have you forgotten? Am I supposed to look after your daughter on my own? Yes, I said. That’s the way it is. No, it isn’t, she said, I won’t let you. Okay, I said, but I’ll do it anyway. And I did. I was totally manic. I wrote all the time, sleeping two or three hours a day, the only thing that had any meaning was the novel I was writing. Linda went to her mother’s and called me several times a day. She was so angry that she screamed, actually screamed on the phone. I just held it away from my ear and kept writing. She said she would leave me. Go, I said. I don’t care, I have to write. And it was true. She would have to go if that was what she wanted. She said, I will. You’ll never see us again. Fine, I said. I wrote twenty pages a day. I didn’t see any letters or words, any sentences or shapes, just countryside and people, and Linda phoned and screamed, said I was a fairweather father, said I was a bastard, said I was an unfeeling monster, said I was the worst person in the world and that she cursed the day she had met me. Fine, I said, leave me then, I don’t care, and I meant it, I didn’t care, no one was going to stand in the way of this, she slammed down the phone, she called two minutes later and continued to swear at me, I was on my own now, she would bring up Vanja alone, fine by me, I said. She cried, she begged, she pleaded, what I was doing to her was the worst thing anyone could do, leaving her alone. But I didn’t care, I wrote night and day, and then out of the blue she called and said she was coming home the following day, would I go to the station and meet them? Yes, I would.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

41 highlights from Homo Deus by Yuval Harari: “Science is converging on an all-encompassing dogma, which says that organisms are algorithms and life is data processing.”

Homo Deus is a very big picture, forward thinking book. It asks heavy questions and presents sweeping visions of what our future can look like. In comparison to his previous book Sapiens, however, the writing doesn’t offer the same weight of scholarship and substance.

From reading the book I took away 2 big messages:

One: In modern society, humans seek 3 things: immortality, bliss, and divinity. In other words, we want to live forever, to be always happy, and to have powers like the gods.

Two: Whether we are aware of it or not, society is shifting to one where we value data above all us. The rise of data, and the rapid growth of the algorithms which collect and analyze that data, may lead to a world where humans are sidelined or even subjugated by their own technological creations


In 2012 about 56 million people died throughout the world; 620,000 of them died due to human violence. In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes. Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder.

Even the welfare system was originally planned in the interest of the nation rather than of needy individuals. When Otto von Bismarck pioneered state pensions and social security in late nineteenth-century Germany, his chief aim was to ensure the loyalty of the citizens rather than to increase their well-being.

For 300 years the world has been dominated by humanism, which sanctifies the life, happiness and power of Homo sapiens. The attempt to gain immortality, bliss and divinity merely takes the long-standing humanist ideals to their logical conclusion.

You want to know how super-intelligent cyborgs might treat ordinary flesh-and-blood humans? Better start by investigating how humans treat their less intelligent animal cousins. It’s not a perfect analogy, of course, but it is the best archetype we can actually observe rather than just imagine.

In the animistic cosmos, everyone talked with everyone directly. If you needed something from the caribou, the fig trees, the clouds or the rocks, you addressed them yourself. In the theist cosmos, all non-human entities were silenced. Consequently you could no longer talk with trees and animals.

Hinduism, for example, has sanctified cows and forbidden eating beef, but has also provided the ultimate justification for the dairy industry, alleging that cows are generous creatures that positively yearn to share their milk with humankind.

During the Agricultural Revolution humankind silenced animals and plants, and turned the animist grand opera into a dialogue between man and gods. During the Scientific Revolution humankind silenced the gods too. The world was now a one-man show.

the Scientific Revolution gave birth to humanist religions […] The founding idea of humanist religions such as liberalism, communism and Nazism is that Homo sapiens has some unique and sacred essence that is the source of all meaning and authority in the universe.

Sapiens often use visual marks such as a turban, a beard or a business suit to signal ‘you can trust me, I believe in the same story as you’.

In illiterate societies people make all calculations and decisions in their heads. In literate societies people are organised into networks, so that each person is only a small step in a huge algorithm, and it is the algorithm as a whole that makes the important decisions. This is the essence of bureaucracy.

Yet officials who cared little for the plight of human beings nevertheless had a deep reverence for documents, and the visas Sousa Mendes issued against orders were respected by French, Spanish and Portuguese bureaucrats alike, spiriting up to 30,000 people out of the Nazi death trap. Sousa Mendes, armed with little more than a rubber stamp, was responsible for the largest rescue operation by a single individual during the Holocaust.

Yet even though Herodotus and Thucydides understood reality much better than the authors of the Bible, when the two world views collided, the Bible won by a knockout. The Greeks adopted the Jewish view of history, rather than vice versa. […] No matter how mistaken the biblical world view was, it provided a better basis for large-scale human cooperation.

just as the gap between religion and science is narrower than we commonly think, so the gap between religion and spirituality is much wider. Religion is a deal, whereas spirituality is a journey.

many religious systems have been challenged not by laypeople preoccupied with food, sex and power, but rather by spiritual truth-seekers who expected more than platitudes.

According to the !Kung of the Kalahari Desert and to various Inuit groups in the Arctic, human life begins only after a baby is given a name. When an infant is born the family waits for some time before naming it. If they decide not to keep the baby (either because it suffers from some deformity or because of economic difficulties), they kill it. Provided they do so before the naming ceremony, this is not considered murder.

Religion is interested above all in order. It aims to create and maintain the social structure. Science is interested above all in power. Through research, it aims to acquire the power to cure diseases, fight wars and produce food.

Yet in fact modernity is a surprisingly simple deal. The entire contract can be summarised in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power.

Modern culture is the most powerful in history, and it is ceaselessly researching, inventing, discovering and growing. At the same time, it is plagued by more existential angst than any previous culture.

Indian maharajas, Ottoman sultans, Kamakura shoguns and Han emperors rarely staked their political fortunes on ensuring economic growth. That Modi, Erdoğan, Abe and Chinese president Xi Jinping all bet their careers on economic growth testifies to the almost religious status growth has managed to acquire throughout the world.

In ethics, the humanist motto is ‘if it feels good –do it’. In politics, humanism instructs us that ‘the voter knows best’. In aesthetics, humanism says that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.

For thousands of years, when people looked at war, they saw gods, emperors, generals and great heroes. But over the last two centuries, the kings and generals have been increasingly pushed to the side, and the limelight has shifted onto the common soldier and his experiences.

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as humanism gained increasing social credibility and political power, it sprouted two very different offshoots: socialist humanism, which encompassed a plethora of socialist and communist movements, and evolutionary humanism, whose most famous advocates were the Nazis.

Humans are masters of cognitive dissonance, and we allow ourselves to believe one thing in the laboratory and an altogether different thing in the courthouse or in parliament. Just as Christianity didn’t disappear the day Darwin published On the Origin of Species, so liberalism won’t vanish just because scientists have reached the conclusion that there are no free individuals.

Though Toyota or Argentina has neither a body nor a mind, they are subject to international laws, they can own land and money, and they can sue and be sued in court. We might soon grant similar status to algorithms.

If such algorithms consistently outperform human capitalists, we might end up with an algorithmic upper class owning most of our planet. This may sound impossible, but before dismissing the idea, remember that most of our planet is already legally owned by non-human intersubjective entities, namely nations and corporations.

In the twenty-first century we might witness the creation of a massive new unworking class: people devoid of any economic, political or even artistic value, who contribute nothing to the prosperity, power and glory of society. This ‘useless class’ will not merely be unemployed –it will be unemployable.

Since we do not know how the job market would look in 2030 or 2040, already today we have no idea what to teach our kids. Most of what they currently learn at school will probably be irrelevant by the time they are forty.

The coming technological bonanza will probably make it feasible to feed and support these useless masses even without any effort from their side. But what will keep them occupied and content? […] One answer might be drugs and computer games. Unnecessary people might spend increasing amounts of time within 3D virtual-reality worlds that would provide them with far more excitement and emotional engagement than the drab reality outside. Yet such a development would deal a mortal blow to the liberal belief in the sacredness of human life and of human experiences. What’s so sacred about useless bums who pass their days devouring artificial experiences in La La Land?

The Facebook algorithm predicted the volunteers’ answers based on monitoring their Facebook Likes –which webpages, images and clips they tagged with the Like button. The more Likes, the more accurate the predictions. The algorithm’s predictions were compared with those of work colleagues, friends, family members and spouses. Amazingly, the algorithm needed a set of only ten Likes in order to outperform the predictions of work colleagues. It needed seventy Likes to outperform friends, 150 Likes to outperform family members and 300 Likes to outperform spouses.

whereas Hitler and his ilk planned to create superhumans by means of selective breeding and ethnic cleansing, twenty-first-century techno-humanism hopes to reach that goal far more peacefully, with the help of genetic engineering, nanotechnology and brain–computer interfaces.

Modern Western culture is therefore unique in lacking a specialised class of people who seek to experience extraordinary mental states. It believes anyone attempting to do so is a drug addict, mental patient or charlatan.

As both the volume and speed of data increase, venerable institutions like elections, political parties and parliaments might become obsolete – not because they are unethical, but because they can’t process data efficiently enough. These institutions evolved in an era when politics moved faster than technology.

The wildest dreams of Kim Jong-un and Ali Khamenei don’t extend much beyond atom bombs and ballistic missiles: that is so 1945. Putin’s aspirations seem confined to rebuilding the old Soviet bloc, or the even older tsarist empire. Meanwhile in the USA paranoid Republicans have accused Barack Obama of being a ruthless despot hatching conspiracies to destroy the foundations of American society –yet in eight years of his presidency he barely managed to pass a minor health-care reform. Creating new worlds and new humans was far beyond his agenda.

In the eighteenth century, humanism sidelined God by shifting from a deo-centric to a homo-centric world view. In the twenty-first century, Dataism may sideline humans by shifting from a homo-centric to a data-centric view.

Yet the really important algorithms –such as the Google search algorithm –are developed by huge teams. Each member understands just one part of the puzzle, and nobody really understands the algorithm as a whole. Moreover, with the rise of machine learning and artificial neural networks, more and more algorithms evolve independently, improving themselves and learning from their own mistakes.

In the past, censorship worked by blocking the flow of information. In the twenty-first century censorship works by flooding people with irrelevant information.

Yet if we take the really grand view of life, all other problems and developments are overshadowed by three interlinked processes:
1. Science is converging on an all-encompassing dogma, which says that organisms are algorithms and life is data processing.
2. Intelligence is decoupling from consciousness.
3. Non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms may soon know us better than we know ourselves.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

19.00 highlights from Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: “There are twice as many complaints that a boyfriend won’t have sex than that a girlfriend won’t have sex”

This book was a fast read, both educational and entertaining. It covers everything from horses to porn (unrelated of course) and has a dry sense of humor and Seth’s certainly got the credentials.

His book is enabled by our modern era of data collection and tracking which I find downright creepy, but what choice do we have if we want to use the latest gidget and thingymabobber and keep up with the Changs-es and Jones-es.

Anyhow here are some highlights and anecdotes I enjoyed from Seth’s book. You can buy a copy on Amazon.


The highest during the period I searched—and these terms do shift—was “Slutload.” That’s right, the most frequent search was for a pornographic site. This may seem strange at first blush, but unemployed people presumably have a lot of time on their hands. Many are stuck at home, alone and bored. Another of the highly correlated searches—this one in the PG realm—is “Spider Solitaire.” Again, not surprising for a group of people who presumably have a lot of time on their hands.

His left ventricle was in the 99.61st percentile! Not only that, but all his other important organs, including the rest of his heart and spleen, were exceptionally large as well. Generally speaking, when it comes to racing, Seder had found, the bigger the left ventricle, the better. But a left ventricle as big as this can be a sign of illness if the other organs are tiny. In American Pharoah, all the key organs were bigger than average, and the left ventricle was enormous. The data screamed that No. 85 was a 1-in-100,000 or even a one-in-a-million horse.

Strawberry Pop-Tarts. This product sells seven times faster than normal in the days leading up to a hurricane.

So what gets shared, positive or negative articles? Positive articles. As the authors conclude, “Content is more likely to become viral the more positive it is.”

The economists quickly homed in on one key factor: the politics of a given area. If an area is generally liberal, as Philadelphia and Detroit are, the dominant newspaper there tends to be liberal. If an area is more conservative, as are Billings and Amarillo, Texas, the dominant paper there tends to be conservative. In other words, the evidence strongly suggests that newspapers are inclined to give their readers what they want.

Among the top PornHub searches by women is a genre of pornography that, I warn you, will disturb many readers: sex featuring violence against women. Fully 25 percent of female searches for straight porn emphasize the pain and/ or humiliation of the woman—“ painful anal crying,” “public disgrace,” and “extreme brutal gangbang,” for example. Five percent look for nonconsensual sex—“ rape” or “forced” sex—even though these videos are banned on PornHub. And search rates for all these terms are at least twice as common among women as among men. If there is a genre of porn in which violence is perpetrated against a woman, my analysis of the data shows that it almost always appeals disproportionately to women.

And Google searches suggest a surprising culprit for many of these sexless relationships. There are twice as many complaints that a boyfriend won’t have sex than that a girlfriend won’t have sex. By far, the number one search complaint about a boyfriend is “My boyfriend won’t have sex with me.”

Do women care about penis size? Rarely, according to Google searches. For every search women make about a partner’s phallus, men make roughly 170 searches about their own.

The primary explanation for discrimination against African Americans today is not the fact that the people who agree to participate in lab experiments make subconscious associations between negative words and black people; it is the fact that millions of white Americans continue to do things like search for “nigger jokes.”

But there is one crucial reason that Facebook may lead to a more diverse political discussion than offline socializing. People, on average, have substantially more friends on Facebook than they do offline. And these weak ties facilitated by Facebook are more likely to be people with opposite political views.

When Americans moved from an area where this variety of tax fraud was low to an area where it was high, they learned and adopted the trick. Through time, cheating spread from region to region throughout the United States. Like a virus, cheating on taxes is contagious.

So what did they find? When a violent movie was shown, did crime rise, as some experiments suggest? Or did it stay the same? On weekends with a popular violent movie, the economists found, crime dropped. You read that right. On weekends with a popular violent movie, when millions of Americans were exposed to images of men killing other men, crime dropped—significantly.

Baseball was among the first fields with comprehensive datasets on just about everything, and an army of smart people willing to devote their lives to making sense of that data. Now, just about every field is there or getting there. Baseball comes first; every other field follows. Sabermetrics eats the world.

Facebook now runs a thousand A/ B tests per day, which means that a small number of engineers at Facebook start more randomized, controlled experiments in a given day than the entire pharmaceutical industry starts in a year.

The ads were incredibly effective. In fact, when we first saw the results, we double-and triple-and quadruple-checked them to make sure they were right—because the returns were so large. The average movie in our sample paid about $3 million for a Super Bowl ad slot. They got $8.3 million in increased ticket sales, a 2.8-to-1 return on their investment. […] As expensive as these Super Bowl ads are, our results and theirs suggest they are so effective in upping demand that companies are actually dramatically underpaying for them.

In sum, according to these researchers, giving a detailed plan of how he can make his payments and mentioning commitments he has kept in the past are evidence someone will pay back a loan. Making promises and appealing to your mercy is a clear sign someone will go into default.

Google searches related to suicide correlate strongly with state-level suicide rates. In addition, Evan Soltas and I have shown that weekly Islamophobic searches—such as “I hate Muslims” or “kill Muslims”—correlate with anti-Muslim hate crimes that week. If more people are making searches saying they want to do something, more people are going to do that thing.

The next Kinsey, I strongly suspect, will be a data scientist. The next Foucault will be a data scientist. The next Freud will be a data scientist. The next Marx will be a data scientist. The next Salk might very well be a data scientist.

Another reason for lying is simply to mess with surveys. This is a huge problem for any research regarding teenagers, fundamentally complicating our ability to understand this age group. Researchers originally found a correlation between a teenager’s being adopted and a variety of negative behaviors, such as using drugs, drinking alcohol, and skipping school. In subsequent research, they found this correlation was entirely explained by the 19 percent of self-reported adopted teenagers who weren’t actually adopted. Follow-up research has found that a meaningful percent of teenagers tell surveys they are more than seven feet tall, weigh more than four hundred pounds, or have three children. One survey found 99 percent of students who reported having an artificial limb to academic researchers were kidding.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

62 highlights from The Sovereign Individual: “The morality of the Information Age will be the morality of the market”

Ok I didn’t actually count the number of highlights, but there are a lot. It’s a dense book, with fancy language, and I had to slog through sections. But the time invested was worth it. This is a book I’ll read again, particularly as I see some of its sweeping predictions come to fruition. It’s already helped me to better understand the American political and emotional climate, the rise of bitcoin and cryptocurrency, and the evolution in what it means to work and to have a career.

The lens through which they analyze world events:

the most important causes of change are not to be found in political manifestos or in the pronouncements of dead economists, but in the hidden factors that alter the boundaries where power is exercised.

The thesis of the book:

The massed power of the nationstate is destined to be privatized and commercialized.

…leading to the rise of what they call “The Sovereign Individual.” I think in the authors’ view, a good example of someone approaching Sovereign Individual status would be Peter Thiel: defensibly rich, tech savvy, an independent thinker, future oriented, and now with citizenship in multiple countries.

I thought this was well-written, if a bit pandering:

A system that routinely submits control over the largest, most deadly enterprises on earth to the winner of popularity contests between charismatic demagogues is bound to suffer for it in the long run.

Please note: I share all of these highlights not as surrogates for my own views, but as food for thought and examination. I read the book at the same time as Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus and there was quite a bit of overlap in how they see our future.


All nationstates face bankruptcy and the rapid erosion of their authority. Mighty as they are, the power they retain is the power to obliterate, not to command.

Farming created stationary capital on an extensive scale, raising the payoff from violence and dramatically increasing the challenge of protecting assets. Farming made both crime and government paying propositions for the first time.

Whenever technological change has divorced the old forms from the new moving forces of the economy, moral standards shift, and people begin to treat those in command of the old institutions with growing disdain.

From the vantage point of the Information Society, the spectacle of soldiers in the modern period traveling halfway around the world to entertain death out of loyalty to the nationstate will come to be seen as grotesque and silly.

[Adam] Smith explains how eighteen separate operations are employed to produce pins. Because of specialized technology and the division of labor, each employee could make 4,800 times more pins in a day than an individual could fabricate on his own.

It was rather a case of the Church as a predominant institution shaping moral, cultural, and legal constraints in ways that were closely fitted to the imperatives of feudalism. For this very reason, they were ill-suited to the needs of industrial society, just as the moral, cultural, and legal constraints of the modern nationstate are ill-suited to facilitating commerce in the Information Age.

For centuries, the nationstate made all outward-facing walls redundant and unnecessary. The level of monopoly that the state exercised over coercion in those areas where it first took hold made them both more peaceful internally and more formidable militarily than any sovereignties the world had seen before. The state used the resources extracted from a largely disarmed population to crush small-scale predators.

Suppose the phone company sent a bill for $50,000 for a call to London, just because you happened to conclude a deal worth $125,000 during a conversation. Neither you nor any other customer in his right mind would pay it. But that is exactly the basis upon which income taxes are assessed in every democratic welfare state.

Most democracies run chronic deficits. This is a fiscal policy characteristic of control by employees. Governments seem notably resistant to reducing the costs of their operations.

“Almost all warmaking states borrow extensively, raise taxes, and seize the means of combat-including men-from reluctant citizens who have other uses for their resources.” CHARLES TILLY

Nationalism made it easier to mobilize power and control large numbers of people. Nationstates formed by underlining and emphasizing characteristics that people held in common, particularly spoken language.

Information technology promises to alter dramatically the balance between protection and extortion, making protection of assets in many cases much easier, and extortion more difficult.

Most factory jobs could have been performed by almost anyone capable of showing up on time. They required little or no training, not even the ability to read or write. As recently as the 1980s, large fractions of the General Motors workforce were either illiterate, innumerate, or both. Until the 1990s, the typical assembly-line worker at GM received only one day of orientation before taking his place on the assembly line. A job you can learn in a single day is not skilled work.

Wherever societies have formed at a scale above bands and tribes, especially where trade routes brought different peoples into contact, specialists in violence have always emerged to plunder any surplus more peaceful people could produce.

governments have never established stable monopolies of coercion over the open sea. Think about it. No government’s laws have ever exclusively applied there. This is a matter of the utmost importance in understanding how the organization of violence and protection will evolve as the economy migrates into cyberspace, which has no physical existence at all.

A theme of elementary education in North America is that the colonists came from Europe seeking freedom and opportunity, which is true. What is seldom told, however, is how reluctant most people were to take the trip […] In the middle of the seventeenth century, inmates locked up in Bridewell, London’s notorious house of correction, revolted to show “their unwillingness to go to Virginia.” In 1720, there were riots in the streets of Paris to free vagabonds, thieves, and murderers scheduled for deportation to Louisiana.

Paper money is a distinctly industrial product. It would have been impractical before the printing press to duplicate receipts or certificates that became paper currency.

Cybermoney will be all but impossible to counterfeit in this way, officially or unofficially. The verifiability of the digital receipts rules out this classic expedient for expropriating wealth through inflation. The new digital money of the Information Age will return control over the medium of exchange to the owners of wealth, who wish to preserve it, rather than to nationstates that wish to spirit it away.

As Lane said, “I would like to suggest that the most weighty single factor in most periods of growth, if any one factor has been most important, has been a reduction in the proportion of resources devoted to war and police.”

the true obstacle to development in backward countries has been the one factor of production that could not be easily borrowed or imported from abroad, namely government

We also suspect that nationstates with a single major metropolis will remain coherent longer than those with several big cities, which imply multiple centers of interest

An intense and even violent nationalist reaction centered among those who lose status, income, and power when what they consider to be their “ordinary life” is disrupted by political devolution and new market arrangements.

Shaw and Wong focus on five identification devices used by modern nationstates to mobilize their populations against out-groups. These are: 1. a common language 2. a shared homeland 3. similar phenotypic characteristics 4. a shared religious heritage and 5. the belief of common descent

Information technology is also creating supraterritorial assets, which will help to subvert the embodiment of the in-group, the nationstate. Ironically, these new cyberassets will probably be of higher value precisely because they are established at a distance from home. All the more so if there is an invidious backlash of the kind we expect against the economic inequality arising from increasing penetration of information technology in the rich industrial countries.

Bethke Elshtain observed, nationstates indoctrinate citizens more for sacrifice than aggression: “The young man goes to war not so much to kill as to die, to forfeit his particular body for that of the large body, the body politic.”

Yet blacks, as a group, are major beneficiaries of income transfers, affirmative action, and other fruits of political compulsion. They are also disproportionately represented in the U.S. military. Therefore, they are likely to emerge, along with blue-collar whites, as among the most fervent partisans of American nationalism.

By eliminating the beneficial impact of competition in challenging underachievers to conform to productive norms, the welfare state has helped to create legions of dysfunctional, paranoid, and poorly acculturated people, the social equivalent of a powder keg.

Predatory tax rates made the democratic state a de facto partner with a three-quarters to nine-tenths share in all earnings. This was not the same thing as state socialism, to be sure. But it was a close relation. The democratic state survived longer because it was more flexible and collected more prodigious quantities of resources compared to those available in Moscow or East Berlin.

A system that routinely submits control over the largest, most deadly enterprises on earth to the winner of popularity contests between charismatic demagogues is bound to suffer for it in the long run.

For human beings it is the struggle rather than the achievement that matters; we are made for action, and the achievement can prove to be a great disappointment.

We can see the history of public morality as a cycle between disorder and authoritarianism; the modern authoritarian moralities, both feminism and fundamentalism, have emerged as a cyclical response to the hedonism of the 1960s.

Like most elites, the cognitive elite tend to be a bit above themselves, are rather arrogant, and think they can set their own standards. They are alienated from society as a result.

In science, three thousand years completely changed what human knowledge is; in morality, we may actually have fallen back. The average psychotherapist probably gives the patient less good moral advice on how to lead his life than the average Jew would have received from his teacher in the period of Moses.

A good social morality has certain characteristics. It should contribute to the survival of society and of individuals, in a dynamic rather than static way. It should include tolerance and avoid self-righteousness. It should be religious, rather than merely agnostic. It should not pretend to decide questions of scientific fact. It should be neither anarchic nor authoritarian. It should be widely shared and deeply held. Such a social morality is particularly important to the family and to the raising of children as independent and responsible adults. It provides the focus of a good society.

The morality of the Information Age applauds efficiency, and recognizes the advantage of resources being dedicated to their highest-value uses. In other words, the morality of the Information Age will be the morality of the market.

Today most people believe that cultures are more matters of taste than sources of guidance for behavior that can mislead as well as inform. We are too keen to believe that all cultures are created equal, too slow to recognize the drawbacks of counterproductive cultures.

Protection will be more technological than juridical. Walling out troublemakers is an effective as well as traditional way of minimizing criminal violence in times of weak central authority.

Because incomes for the very rich will rise faster than for others in advanced economies, an area of growing demand will be services and products that cater to the needs of the very rich.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

18 highlights from What the Buddha Taught: “Transient are conditioned things. Try to accomplish your aim with diligence.”

I recently finished What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula, who according to Wikipedia is a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk scholar and writer. The book explains Buddhist doctrine and principles by referring directly to the words of the Buddha himself, and is a very accessible and thorough read for someone like me who is deeply interested in Buddhism but has no formal training and is in fact turned off by too much jargon.

Below are some of the highlights I found most interesting, particularly what Rahula says are the Buddha’s last words: Transient are conditioned things. Try to accomplish your aims with diligence.” That’s definitely going into my Anki deck 😃


Almost all religions are built on faith — rather ‘blind’ faith it would seem. But in Buddhism emphasis is laid on ‘seeing’, knowing, understanding, and not on faith, or belief.

‘In the same manner, O bhikkhus, I have taught a doctrine similar to a raft — it is for crossing over, and not for carrying. You, O bhikkhus, who understand that the teaching is similar to a raft, should give up even good things; how much more then should you give up evil things.’

The biographies of the saints testify unequivocally to the fact that spiritual training leads to a transcendence of personality, not merely in the special circumstances of battle, but in all circumstances and in relation to all creatures, so that the saint ‘loves his enemies’ or, if he is a Buddhist, does not even recognize the existence of enemies, but treats all sentient beings, sub-human as well as human, with the same compassion and disinterested goodwill.

The Buddha’s own definition of karma should be remembered here: ‘O bhikkhus, it is volition that I call karma. Having willed, one acts through body, speech and mind.’

These are the five Aggregates. What we call a ‘being’, or an ‘individual’, is only a convenient name or a label given to the combination of these five groups. They are all impermanent, all constantly changing. ‘Whatever is impermanent is dukkha’

…the terms ‘thirst’, ‘volition’, ‘mental volition’ and ‘karma’ all denote the same thing: they denote the desire, the will to be, to exist, to re-exist, to become more and more, to grow more and more, to accumulate more and more. This is the cause of the arising of dukkha

According to Buddhism for a man to be perfect there are two qualities that he should develop equally: compassion on one side, and wisdom on the other.

…the idea of an abiding, immortal substance in man or outside, whether it is called Atman, Soul, Self, or Ego, is considered only a false belief, a mental projection. This is the Buddhist doctrine of Anatta, No-Soul or No-Self.

The moment you think ‘I am doing this’, you become self-conscious, and then you do not live in the action, but you live in the idea ‘I am’

the Five Hindrances, namely: 1. lustful desires, 2. ill-will, hatred or anger, 3. torpor and languor, 4. restlessness and worry, 5. skeptical doubts

It may be agreeable for certain people to live a retired life in a quiet place away from noise and disturbance. But it is certainly more praiseworthy and courageous to practise Buddhism living among your fellow beings, helping them and being of service to them.

The relation between friends, relatives and neighbours: they should be hospitable and charitable to one another; should speak pleasantly and agreeably; should work for each other’s welfare; should be on equal terms with one another; should not quarrel among themselves; should help each other in need; and should not forsake each other in difficulty.

The teachings of the Buddha were committed to writing for the first time at a Council in the first century B.C.—held in Ceylon four centuries after his death. Up to that time, the whole of the Tipitaka had been handed down from generation to generation in this unbroken oral tradition.

Just as a mother would protect her only child even at the risk of her own life, even so let one cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings. Let one’s thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world — above, below and across — without any obstruction, without any hatred, without any enmity.

‘Ever mindful he breathes in, and ever mindful he breathes out. Breathing in a long breath, he knows “I am breathing in a long breath”; breathing out a long breath, he knows “I am breathing out a long breath”; breathing in a short breath, he knows “I am breathing in a short breath”; breathing out a short breath, he knows “I am breathing out a short breath”.

Few among men are they who cross to the further shore. The others merely run up and down the bank on this side. For him, who has completed the journey, who is sorrowless, wholly set free, and rid of all bonds, for such a one there is no burning (of the passions). He whose senses are mastered like horses well under the charioteer’s control, he who is purged of pride, free from passions, such a steadfast one even the gods envy.

The most excellent ascetic practice is patience and forbearance.

Buddhas last words: Transient are conditioned things. Try to accomplish your aim with diligence.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.