Thursday, September 23, 2004

Eudaemonia, the Good Life

Why I think religion (or something quite like it) has a future:

Flow, however, doesn't have shortcuts. When I was an undergraduate one of my teachers, Julian Jaynes, a peculiar but wonderful man, was a research associate at Princeton when I was an undergraduate. Some people said he was a genius; I didn't know him well enough to know. He was given a South American lizard as a laboratory pet, and the problem about the lizard was that no one could figure out what it ate, so the lizard was dying. Julian killed flies, and the lizard wouldn't eat them; blended mangos and papayas, the lizard wouldn't eat them; Chinese take-out, the lizard had no interest. One day Julian came in and the lizard was in torpor, lying in the corner. He offered the lizard his lunch, but the lizard had no interest in ham on rye. He read the New York Times and he put the first section down on top of the ham on rye. The lizard took one look at this configuration, got up on its hind legs, stalked across the room, leapt up on the table, shredded the New York Times, and ate the ham sandwich. The moral is that lizards don't copulate and don't eat unless they go through the lizardly strengths and virtues first. They have to hunt, kill, shred, and stalk. And while we're a lot more complex than lizards, we have to as well. There are no shortcuts for us to reach flow. We have to indulge in our highest strengths in order to get eudaemonia. So can there be a shortcut? Can there be a pharmacology of it? I doubt it.

The third form of happiness, which is meaning, is again knowing what your highest strengths are and deploying those in the service of something you believe is larger than you are. There's no shortcut to that. That's what life is about. There will likely be a pharmacology of pleasure, and there may be a pharmacology of positive emotion generally, but it's unlikely there'll be an interesting pharmacology of flow. And it's impossible that there'll be a pharmacology of meaning.

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