Thursday, 25 August 2016

Stay away from grandiose undertakings and concentrate on practical entrepreneurship

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At the beginning of the 16th century, life expectancy in Europe was much shorter that nowadays. Typhus and tuberculosis were fairly common. Influenza and common colds were lethal for undernourished peasants plagued by vermin and lice. Large numbers of deaths took place every winter.

Opportunity and risk

Medicine at that time was evolving from mysticism into science. Renaissance physicians took over the knowledge from ancient Greece and Rome, developed their own ideas, and began to experiment with new treatments. The sale of curative herbs and potions was a booming business, although few of those remedies actually proved beneficial to patients.

When wealthy merchants became sick, they had the means to pay for the services of the best physicians, from which there were only a few in each city. Since Universities produced small numbers of graduates, tending to the sick was a lucrative and prestigious occupation.


The discovery of new medical knowledge generated opportunity and risk. On the one hand, innovative cures benefited patients and created the basis for further research. On the other hand, new remedies disrupted the established business of physicians and pharmacists.

Medical practitioners had little incentive to abandon useless treatments for which they could charge hefty fees. The discovery of inexpensive natural remedies undermined their incomes and reputations.


A philosophical lesson

Historical distance allows us to contemplate the 16th century with a feeling of superiority. When we read about the beliefs that people upheld five hundred years ago, we react with amusement. Why did knowledge evolve so slowly? Why did ignorance and prejudice persist for so long?

The best minds of the 16th century asked the same questions. Paracelsus (1493-1541) offers a striking example in the field of medicine. His real name was Theophrastus von Hohenheim, which he changed himself to Paracelsus. The philosophical lesson to be learned from his life goes far beyond the scope of medical techniques.

We know little of Paracelsus' infancy. Like many middle-class youths of his time, he must have picked up the rudiments of Latin through private lessons. A knowledge of Latin was the only formal requirement to study at European Universities. The choice of subjects was mostly limited to theology, medicine, and law.

While Paracelsus completed his medical studies in Ferrara (Italy), the pest broke out and began to decimate the population. Those who could afford it left Ferrara for the countryside in order to avoid contagion. The poor remained in town and the epidemic wiped out complete families.


Alternative methods

The municipality hired men to remove the sick from their houses and transport them to a closed camp outside the city wall, where they would be abandoned to die. Paracelsus, who was still a medical student, soon understood that medieval treatments, such as bleeding patients, were ineffective against the pest.

This realization led him to experiment with alternative methods. When the pest receded and normal life returned to Ferrara, Paracelsus presented his new ideas at the University. To his surprise, his views were met with scepticism and hostility. The professors in Ferrara did not welcome suggestions that contradicted inherited knowledge.

After graduation, Paracelsus travelled extensively throughout Europe. Sometimes, he would settle down in a city to practice medicine for a year; on other occasions, he would take up a position as surgeon in one of the armies involved in the wars that ravaged the Renaissance.

Unrealistic expectations

As his medical knowledge and expertise grew, so did his irritation with the incompetence of fellow physicians. Thanks to his wide travelling, Paracelsus had accumulated impressive surgical skills and long experience in the use of herbs and minerals for curative purposes. In contrast, the average medic in the 16th century possessed only the little knowledge that he had acquired at the University.

Paracelsus' effectiveness increased his fame, but his criticism of ignorant doctors made him many enemies. His conflicts with colleagues became extreme after he was appointed to teach medicine at the University of Basel (Switzerland).

With the perspective of five centuries, we can clearly see how unrealistic Paracelsus' expectations were. It was undeniable that he had acquired more knowledge than other physicians; nevertheless, it was chimerical for him to expect his colleagues to make way for truth when innovation undermined their livelihoods and reputations.


The practical path

Is it not unfair that Paracelsus had to face such a strong resistance? Was his indignation at his ignorant colleagues not well justified? My point is that these questions are irrelevant because they are based on incorrect assumptions.

Unrealistic expectations are hard to discard because they are based on delusions of entitlement. Paracelsus felt wrongly entitled to reshape the world according to truth and innovation, even though the great majority of his contemporaries had vested interests in clinging to the past.

As a result, Paracelsus was forced to quit his position at the University of Basel a year later and return to his itinerant life. Although he was one of the best physicians of his time, he died in poverty before his 48th birthday.


The fact is that knowledge, expertise, or desire do not grant magical powers to anyone. Unrealistic expectations lead to waste and decay. A workable plan is worth a million debates. Let go of chimerical projects and focus on what can be reasonably accomplished. Stay away from grandiose undertakings and concentrate on practical entrepreneurship: this is the best path to achievement.

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book about how to be rational  "The 10 Principles of Rational Living"

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image: photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2016]


For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books
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Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The rational approach to good relationships

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Relinquishing individual thinking and embracing a standard lifestyle brings enormous advantages. For instance, it will save you time when making decisions. It will also spare you embarrassment when it comes to hiding the truth. However, irrationality and conformity cannot provide the basis for good relationships.
   
Discard what doesn't work

The opposite side of the psychological spectrum is filled by non-conformity, which often boils down to blind loyalty to some other style. For instance, non-conformists prefer to practise dangerous sports instead of spending their holidays on the beach.

Their hobbies might include playing exotic games instead of watching films. They seldom go for a walk in the park, but they might spend a fortune on a tour to the tropical forest. The clothes of non-conformists, instead of clean and well-ironed, tend to be messy and torn.

Whether you choose conformity or non-conformity as basis for your relationships makes little practical difference. In both cases, your years might be filled with colourful souvenirs, but not with happiness. Imitating distorted pictures is not the way to create great paintings.

Adopting values that make no sense will not move you towards success and happiness. The exaltation of inconsistencies will not render your feelings more intense. Walking a downtrodden track leads to a dejected spirit. In the field of love and friendship, thoughtlessness is not a path you want to take.

Rational values


If you embrace logic, you won't need to spend your days wondering which sub-culture leads to less dismay. Wisdom consists of identifying principles of human relations inspired by reason, applying them in our daily lives, and correcting our mistakes.

Seeking out thoughtful persons as friends or spouse plays a crucial role in attaining happiness. Sound choices are the result of man's rational evaluation of people and events. Achieving individuality requires our deep involvement with human beings who respect logic and consistency.

In order to develop happy relationships, we must allow our mind to filter out the noise of culture and fashion. We need to stop believing in myths. Neither specific clothes, nor gadgets, nor living in a specific location can provide the basis for good personal relations. Only people who share rational values are really able to communicate, understand, and appreciate each other.


Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image by Oscalito under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us


For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books
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Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Unless you restate your goals every day, your determination will wane

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Contrary to trains, cars can change direction at the driver's will. Along the highway, billboards invite us to stop by and visit all sorts of tourist attractions. On the car radio, advertisers present us their wares, some useful and convenient, others pricey and counter-productive. 

Too many distractions

The longer the trip, the harder it becomes to keep the vehicle on the right track. If you carry passengers in your car, they will express their views about what you are trying to do. "Turn around and return," you will be told, "stop and let it go."

Our environment offers us support at the same time that it places obstacles in our path. Physical barriers are visible and material problems can be directly faced. If you experience hunger or extreme discomfort, your attention will seldom be deviated from the issue at hand. Pressing needs demand immediate action.

Stonewalls will seldom prevent your progress, since they can circumvented. Nor the price of gasoline, food, and lodging. Your delays will be caused more often by doubts than by certainties. Your lack of progress will be more frequently due to shifting convictions than to insufficient means.


A daily reminder

Thinking is not automatic. Observing reality and reaching correct conclusions requires effort. Focusing your mind on what is relevant involves selecting and discarding. Establishing goals and taking consistent action demands concentration. No one but yourself is going to ensure that your current concerns are aligned with your long-term interests.

Unless you remind yourself daily of your priorities, chances are that you will spend your time dealing with the latest emergency, only to discover later, that the problem was inconsequential. Noise distorts music in the same way that fashion distorts principles. Not by contesting them, but by making them inaudible and invisible.

The reason why men read old philosophers is not to learn about the latest scandal, but to reaffirm essential truths. The news of the hour may entertain your attention and satisfy your curiosity. Novelties might provide you subjects for small talk with strangers, but superficiality leads to anxiety.


Sharpness of intent

Foolishness arises not so much out of ignorance, but out of the willingness to obliterate what we already know to be true. Balance and motivation require sharpness of intent. Unless you find a way to restate your goals every day, nonsense will contaminate reason and your determination will wane.

Personal objectives are meaningless if plans are not implemented. Relentless activity ensues from self-confidence, not from self-effacement. You need to find the manner to keep your purpose in view and your understanding fresh. Restate truth at every turn the road and ignore signs that tell you to stall.


Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: photograph of Ancient Egyptian sculpture. Photograph taken by John Vespasian in 2014 

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

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Sunday, 31 July 2016

Unstoppable as a tidal wave: The power of daily practice

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No writer was ever such a failure in life as Henry Miller before his mid-forties and seldom has any successful contemporary author ever received such limited financial compensation for his books during his lifetime. Nevertheless, his rise as a literary power in the second half of the 20th century was as unstoppable as a tidal wave.

The first contact with Miller's novels leads most readers to an overwhelming silence, the nervous quietness that takes over the savannah after the last cry of an antelope that has just been put down by a hungry lion. Why is Miller's work so different from anything published until that time? Why does it generate such deep admiration?

The need to explore

The answer does not lie in the story-lines of Miller's books, since, to the extent that they have a plot, it is usually a messy one. His novels remain far away from the classical three-act structure of beginning, middle, and end, since the purpose of Miller's work is not to establish a direction, but to explore every bifurcation of the road.

The ascent of Miller's work in popular appreciation reflects the awakening of contemporary culture to the concerns of the individual, namely, self-fulfilment and philosophical integrity. His texts don't describe each character's motivation, but paint all necessary details to allow readers to come up with their own fresh perspective.

Miller composed his books using a portable, mechanical typing machine. The manuscripts, which are now deposited at public libraries in the United States of America, show corrections made by hand here and there, but not that many.

Formidable teachings

Whether you are attracted to Miller's books or not, there are important lessons to be drawn from his work methods. Those teachings might be of interest, not only to writers, but to anyone pursuing demanding long-term ambitions.

Like an old-time travelling salesman, Miller never hesitated to propose his work to any potential buyer that he could find, in his case, book and magazine publishers. More often than not, rejection was quick to come, frequently accompanied by unfavourable comments.

Decade after decade, Miller shrugged his shoulders at rejections, and kept on searching for publishers who would appreciate his work. Despite difficulties, he always maintained a constant purpose all through his life. Have you ever had your possessions stolen or your house burnt down to the ground? Have you gone through bankruptcy? Have you had your assets sold at a public auction to pay your creditors?

Tragic as these events may be, experience shows us that victims react differently: A few suffer a nervous breakdown from which they never recover. Many are psychologically paralysed for months. Others immediately get back on their feet and start to rebuild their lost fortune.

A lifetime perspective

In the case of Miller, problems did not take the shape of bankruptcy or material loss, but he did have his novels rejected many times before publication. In addition, distribution of his best-selling novel "Tropic of Cancer" was forbidden in some countries for years for reasons of public morality. Without the ability to maintain a lifetime perspective, Henry Miller would have given up his literary ambitions a thousand times along the way.

Miller also worked relentlessly. How much your dreams mean to you is a question that no one can answer without examining every aspect of your motivation. In any case, if there is one thing that you can learn from Miller, is that it pays to choose a passion that allows you to exert your talents every single day in good and bad times.

Every single day

This principle was so ingrained in Miller's mind that, when he was not working on a new book, he would spend his time painting. His watercolour canvasses did not earn him millions, but he sold many of them, creating in this way a secondary source of income for himself.

How persistent are you in pursuing your crucial interests? What are you doing today in order to improve your skills? Recent medical studies seem to indicate that passion and dedication contribute positively towards helping human beings reach old age in good health. I am not sure if this is true, but the fact is that Henry Miller lived to become 89 years old.

Whether medical advances will one day extend human lifespan to 120 years is a matter of speculation. In the meantime, chances are that you will live to become 80 years old. May each of your birthdays serve to commemorate the achievement of a higher step in your rise towards your ambitions.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com] 

[Image by Derek Keats under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]


For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

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Monday, 25 July 2016

Stake your claim for a better future

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In the 12th century, philosophy was simple and inflexible. A man was born into a certain family and inherited his father's trade. A peasant raised his children to follow into his footsteps. Perspectives were narrow and improvement unthinkable.

The fate of each person was to accomplish certain prescribed tasks and preserve tradition. A good part of a person's earnings was spent to maintain his position: to keep housing, attire, and diet according to his condition. Those who succeeded in improving their social status represented a very small minority.

The medieval mentality encompassed a mixture of short-term frenzy and long-term resignation. On feast days, banquets were held and wine consumed, but during the rest of the year, passive acceptance was the rule. Silent suffering was viewed as a sign of wisdom.

Immediate advantages


People in the Middle Ages focused on immediate advantages and lacked long-term plans. A peasant in the 12th century would not have viewed a good harvest as an opportunity to save money, move to the city, and start his own business. In his mind, a good year was just a temporary escape from misery, not a step towards a better situation.

Our age offers almost unlimited opportunities to those who possess ambition and initiative, but it demands a radically different philosophy. Unless you acquire sound financial habits, chances are that you won't be able to seize those opportunities.

Unfortunately, not everybody makes the effort to pursue improvement. If you doubt my words, ask yourself the following questions: How many people save regularly in order to achieve financial independence? How many make to-do lists regularly? Material growth is linked to psychological development. Wealth is the consequence of vision and persistence.


Great possibilities

Our world offers numerous opportunities to individuals who want to exercise their creativity and entrepreneurship. Businesses can be started with little capital, digital technology can be used to enhance productivity, and the internet allows everyone to sell his products around the globe. If you want to improve your situation, there are no limits to what you can achieve.

No excuse can justify renouncing this immense array of possibilities. The barriers to change are mostly psychological. Irrespective of your current situation, you can embrace transformation. If you take action, you can improve your life.

The transition from the Middle Ages to modern thinking began in the 13th century, when Thomas of Aquinas wrote down his observations on the nature of individual initiative. His views about risk represented a major advancement vis-à-vis medieval beliefs. His understanding of the existence of different prices in various markets put an end to the medieval mentality and introduced the world we know, where each man determines his own destiny.

Nowadays, if you ask people about what is blocking their progress, you might hear the same answers that were given in the 13th century: insufficient resources, limited opportunities, excessive competition, and lack of contacts. Even though the world has drastically changed, not everybody is conscious of the opportunities.

Unlike peasants living in the Middle Ages, we no longer inhabit an immobile world that limits our ambitions. Is it your goal to further your education and accelerate your career? Do you dream of starting your own business?


A workable plan

Usually, saving some money is going to be the first step for making improvements in your life. You are going to have to let go of your impulse to spend money today and focus instead on the opportunities down the road. Time will reward your efforts if you define your objectives and carry out a plan to attain them.

Living frugally will allow you to save the funds that you need to take advantage of the next opportunity. In the Middle Ages, there was no way to move forward, but in the present world, real possibilities exist. Here are three ideas to help you gather that initial capital:


  • Redefine what's essential: You can make important savings if you acquire frugal habits. Your utilities bill can often be reduced. You can cut down your energy consumption, for instance, by turning off the heating in rooms that you are not using all the time and by improving the isolation of windows and doors.
  •  Extend the lifetime of your possessions: Clothes constitute a good example, in particular business suits. If you handle your wardrobe with care, it can serve its purpose for a long time without need of additional purchases. For office work, it is usually a good idea to choose conservative designs and colours. They are less subject to the vagaries of fashion and you can wear them for many seasons. White shirts are particularly easy to match with dark clothing. Frugality can also apply to items such as mobile phones. If the old one is still working fine, do you really need to purchase the latest model?
  • Reduce detours and unnecessary travel: Avoid the come-and-go that accompanies indecision. Thinking ahead is as important on the road as in other areas of life. If you plan your journeys carefully and drive smoothly, you can make substantial savings in motoring expenses. Make the effort to programme your trips for maximum efficiency. If you need to buy groceries, can you find a supermarket on your route to work? If you are planning to visit a computer store, can you run some errands on the same trip? If the location of your home allows it, you may even be able to ride your bicycle instead of using the car, a practice that would be also advantageous for your health.
Stake your claim for a better future, and redefine what is essential. Declare yourself willing to exchange short-term benefits for permanent advantages, and ignore the words of those who preach passivity. The world is more open to personal initiative today than ever before. If you reduce your lifestyle to the essentials, you will increase your ability to seize the next opportunity.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: Photograph of a medieval church, taken by John Vespasian, 2016.

 

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

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