Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Synthetically Happy 

Recently a friend and I were having a discussion when I told him that I decided to be happy and that I'd heard people use that expression, "Happiness is a choice". I assume it is so, unless you've had a brain injury or illness that impedes typical brain function (I'll avoid the term "normal"). He then told me I had to see this video, which he then displayed on his large HD TV. There is something to be said for watching Web video on a large HD TV. This TED talk is about 20 minutes, so view it full screen and get comfortable.

As a naive non-scientist I can say the more we learn about the brain, the more it appears like the magic is leaving the world. Do you know what I mean? Primitive man thought almost everything had a spirit or every phenomenon was magical thus spiritual (did we invent religion or are we hard wired for it etc ?) Things that we may have pointed to in the past as proof of the Soul, for instance, are being whittled away and re-imagined as evolutionary science. Charity and altruism aren't part of our humanity but simply ways we have been configured to preserve our species thus continue our genes. We have empathy and can read each other's emotions as a form of communication. Communication helps us form communities where we thrive and when we thrive our species has success and can continue. I know there have been some explanations of why we are able to make music or why we create art, I just can't think of them at the moment. We know why the sunset is orange and now we're figuring out why we think sunsets are pretty. Personally, I still think there is too much "magic" in the world to completely explain away the existence of "the Other" out there which is why I can't describe myself as an atheist (though I still wouldn't describe myself as very spiritual. A nice guy, sure, but not someone who depends on spirituality). Oddly, as this TED talk seems to be another scientific nail in our spiritual coffins it is also resonant of a comment I often think of from the Dali Lama. I'm not Buddhist but at some point you have to respect a guy who thinks a lot about these things. When asked the meaning of life, his answer was direct, (I'm paraphrasing), "The meaning of life is simple. Be happy and be useful". I'm still working on both, but recently I definitely think happiness is a state of mind you make not something you find which reflected nicely by Dan Gilbert's talk and the Dalai Lama's instruction to just "be happy". Not find happiness, but be happy. I'm on it.

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