Create, create, create
In this podcast, Sam Harris and David Deutsch discuss Sam's theory of morality, as presented in his book "The Moral Landscape." I haven't read Sam's book, but Deutsch has. He agrees with Harris on many things but differs from Harris about creating a moral foundation, and reasoning from there. Deutsch is skeptical of any such foundation. In his view, errors are always possible and the project of rationality includes error correction. "How can there be a limit on the size of a mistake we can make?" he asks.
Here's a part of their discussion that I found particularly interesting (my quotes start at 1:23:38):
Deutsch: The only thing that actually makes you happy is actually creating. [My emphasis]
<some discussion> then:
Harris: What has happened when you're going along, you're very happy, you're as fulfilled as you have ever been but then your wife dies or your child dies and now you're not as happy for various reasons. But those reasons are not best summarized by a sudden lack of creativity on your part.
Deutsch: I think they are. I think that the reason that you are unhappy is that your previous methods of making progress in thinking were tied to these people who have died and you can't just instantly replace what you would have got from them by something else.
Harris: What do you mean by progress?
Deutsch: Remember, I'm not snobbish about what kinds of knowledge count as knowledge. All kinds of knowledge...any state of mind which one regards as preferable to another state of mind can't be reached without creativity, and reaching it is kind of what happiness is.
So somebody who isn't interested in science and isn't interested in art or any of the things that are usually regarded as progress, or creativity might still be thinking about something. All it takes is them being a better person in regard to X after the thought than before. And X might be anything. It might be something that's impossible to name because it doesn't have a name because it's not socially valued. It might be a particular way of interacting with the family. They would have to be improving it. They would have to be think back and say, "Yes, I could have done it better and now I am doing it better." .... Anything like that.
Anything that you can get into and improve by your own standards takes creativity. And that's what it takes. [My emphasis]
I'm very attracted to this idea. As I started writing an image slowly materialized. An image of someone responding to problems by just creating. When it came into focus, I remembered: it's Alvin in Orson Scott Card's Tales of Alvin Maker series.
Alvin just sat there, twisting grass in his fingers....
...Taleswapper suddenly snaked out his hand and took Alvin by the wrist. Alvin was so surprised he dropped what he was holding. "No! Pick it up! Look what you were doing!"
"I was just fiddling for pete's sake."
Taleswapper reached down and picked up with Alvin had dropped. It was a tiny basket, not an inch across, made from autumn grasses. "You made this, just now."
"I reckon so," said Alvin.
"Why did you make it?"
"Just made it.
"You weren't even thinking about it?"
"Ain't much of a basket, you know. I used to make them for Cally. He called the bug baskets when he was little. They just fall apart pretty soon."
"You saw a vision of nothing and you had to make something."
That's the image. From "Seventh Son," page 232. Alvin keeps making things. So do I.
It matters less whether I make blog posts or software, or just a silly comment in a chat channel that makes some friends laugh--or makes me laugh. It's the act of creativity that matters most. And it's creativity, any form of creativity, that makes me happy.
My daily rituals, as they've evolved, are filled with little moments of creativity.
Now that I know what I'm doing, I can do it better.
Some day I might be able to explain it to people whose minds don't work the same as mine.