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
Free subscription to
The John Vespasian Letter

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
Free subscription to
The John Vespasian Letter

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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The John Vespasian Letter