Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rational versus Enlightened

The other day a friend tweeted, “people never really think about consequences. It may feel good for the moment but how does it affect others??” Immediately I thought well, this is the at the “core” of rational hedonism. By thinking things through, contemplating the potential outcomes or consequences of our acts can save us from future disappointments, and perhaps even lead us to greater experiences of pleasure.

But almost as soon as I condensed that response into the requisite 140 characters, I realized that this was only the beginning. Yes to be rational, contemplative, logical, can yield a well thought response and greatly increase the odds of having a better outcome. But as much as we like to think that reason will bring certainty, that it can find the best of all possible paths, it often still falls short. Just as the scientific method can bring us “closer” to truth, verisimilitude to borrow a phrase from Karl Popper, truth itself is always remains theory or speculation.

So really, to lead the most fulfilling life, to follow the path to “enlightened” hedonism there comes a point where one must approach things with more art than science. There is a real risk that one can miss opportunities while trying to analyze the best course of action to take. Perhaps this is a flipside to the existential maxim that the failure to make a decision is a decision in itself. Our lives are finite, so we often lack the luxury of time to think things through to all their possible outcomes. Sometimes we must act swiftly to seize an opportunity, thus sometimes we must rely on luck or intuition to lead the best life and find enlightenment.

May we all make good choices, both those well reasoned, as well as well felt.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Hermit and the Nymph

I chanced upon this delightful tale of Indian mythology that seems to demonstrate Epicurean hedonism in much less dry terms. Exerted from the Star Online by Dr Devdutt Pattanaik:

Life on earth, he began, was created with a great churning of primal waters. First to spring forth from this was Laxmi (or Lakshmi) - the joy of life incarnate, the goddess of beauty, plenty, health and wealth.

Where a beautiful woman goes, prosperity follows. This is why Hindu brides are decked in such finery. They represent diminutive doubles of Laxmi herself, and as wealth follows them into their new homes, so they bless them.

Out of the waters also came the apsaras, beautiful water nymphs (from the Sanskrit apsa for water), embodiments of human emotions, or rasa, who danced for the delight of heaven.

Everywhere the apsaras went, sparkling water flowed, feeding life, generating bounty, laughter and pleasure. But water did not come without its dangers, as the tale of Gajendra at the lotus lake exemplifies.

While idling by the lake with his herd, Gajendra, King of Elephants, was attacked by a crocodile that clamped its jaws around his leg and attempted to drag him under. Gajendra implored Vishnu for aid and was saved in the nick of time. “The water that gives us lotuses also gives us crocodiles,” was the King’s verdict.

Yes, the same water that creates lush, lusty, sensual life can also destroy. And so began asceticism, a rejection of beauty, riches, and other such water-derived hedonism. Shortly after which began the eternal struggle of the dry and dusty holy hermit and the wet, voluptuous nymph so celebrated in Hindu imagery.

One holy man in particular mastered rejection so well that drought followed in his footsteps. Heaven’s response? “Let’s send women to him, beautiful women, and remind him of the joys of life.”

For the key to life is not dry abstinence nor watery excess, but a wise and harmonious balance - a beautiful balance - between the joy and sorrow water brings

Friday, May 1, 2009

French Economic Stimulous Boon to Hedonists

Apparently the French government in an effort to promote its wine and cheese industry will be hosting cocktail parties in America (NPR Story). It looks like Thursday, June 4th kicks off this celebration as the "French Cocktail Hour" - I'll see what I can do to help the French economy, but more importantly maintaining the proper joie de vivre befitting a hedonist.