How to live without thinking about life

Kenji Tsuchiya

It may seem that thinking is incompatible with enjoying living, especially when the 'thinking' means not 'thinking about which horse will win' but 'thinking about philosophical matters'. Philosophers, who specialise in thinking about such matters, are generally thought to have a grim and stern mien, which one would not expect from people enjoying their lives. (It is true there are philosophers with such a mien, but most of them are born with it.)
Philosophy is not concerned with knowledge of a practical nature. It tends to be regarded as worthless by those who expect usefulness from a knowledge. But being un-practical does not necessarily mean being worthelss, as can be seen in the case of sports and arts. In fact, un-practical things may be more highly regarded than practical ones. Thus a picture can be sold for millions of pounds, a film and a piece of music can make a huge amount of money. (Though when they are not valued highly, they are almost worthless.)
But it is generally believed that philosophy, unlike sports and arts, does not give pleasure. If philosophy is thought to be neither practical nor enjoyable like an appendix, it may well be regarded as worthless.
Most people have problems. But it is only rare that their problems are philosophical. Nobody consults an agony column about a philosophical problem such as "What is the purpose of the existence of the universe?" or "Why do things not look double in spite of being seen with two eyes?".
Most people think that there might be some problems to ponder over in life, but that they personally need only enjoy their lives, leaving the problems to someone else. But this is not so easy as they think.
First, what should one enjoy? One might not have enough enjoyment even if one's instinctive desires are satisfied. Momentary pleasures one gets from satisfaction of instinctive desires are satisfactory in that they are pleasures, but unsatisfactory in that they are momentary. There are many other sources of pleasure such as sports, books, films, music, picutures, literature, and learning. Even philosophy can give a pleasure. In fact Plato and Aristotle thought that philosophy is the most suitable pleasure for human beings. Probably musicians have thought music is the most suitable pleasure for human beings, and climbers climbing.
Many pleasures are not easy to attain. In some cases, such as arts and learning, one can get pleasure only after one becomes practised to some degree. Just as one can get more fun from difficult puzzles than easy ones, the more practice something requires, the more fun one gets from it. Once one gets involved in arts, sports and learning, one has to struggle most of the time, but nevertheless many people have devoted their life to pursuing.
Further, many emotions such as delight, sorrow, pleasure, pain, and anger, arise from relationships with other people. One can delight in loving and being loved by someone, in friendship and fellowship, in cooporating with other people, and in helping someone in trouble. Some can delight even in betraying or bullying others. There might be more agony than delight in relationships with others. But most people find even such relationships much more delightful than loneliness.
Thus, there are many possibilities of pleasure or delight. But, sadly, it is impossible to pursue all of them. So taking all the relevant factors into account one has to consider which to choose.
Secondly, to live as a human being is also to live as a member of a family, a local community, a nation, and mankind. Even if one is determined to enjoy one's life as much as possible, many things may happen to hinder this. For example, one becomes involved in a war, the environment is at risk, one of one's family has got a serious disease, one's child is bullied at school, one becomes disabled, one is discriminated against. One cannot remain in one's own narrow world of pleasure, knowing that someone else suffers agony and wants help. So there might be the option of helping other people, sacrificing one's own pleasures. Thus social problems are also personal problems. However selfishly one may be determined to pursue one's own pleasures, cannot avoid considering how to prevent and solve social problems.
Thirdly, whether one experiences pleasere may depend upon one's frame of mind. Whether one can enjoy what one ordinarily sees and does can be determined by one's attitude towards life. One who keeps worrying about trifles may be said to miss a lot of the pleasures of ordinary life.
Sen Rikyu, the founder of the tea ceremony, when asked what the ultimate secret of the tea ceremony is, said that it is to enjoy a cup of tea wholeheartedly. It is not so easy to enjoy a cup of tea wholeheartedly. To do so, ultimately, one might have to revise one's whole life. In fact one could not enjoy a cup of tea wholeheartedly if the room is a mess, one is always rowing with one's partner, or one is absorbed in gambling or TV.
Conversely, how desperate a situation one can endure may be determined by one's frame of mind. What situation one regards as desperate, in the first place, is determined by one's attitude towards life. To enjoy one's life, it is necessary to become aware of the fact that one cannot avoid death, and to decide how to deal with it. If it were possible to avoid considering death completely like animals, it would be possible to lead a happy life like animals (although personally I am not sure whether animals really lead happy lives). But as Pascal said, most people actually, though they are afraid of death and aging, try to forget them by diversions. There may be some people, like me, who don't agree with Pascal's view, but then it will be necessary to consider what is wrong with it.

Thus you come face to face with various problems, if you make up your mind to pursue your own pleasure. This is true not only of those who want to enjoy theri life, but also of those who pursue their own interests, or, who want to lead a 'desirable' life. Then will emerge the problems of what makes their real intersts, or, what is really desirable, soon emerge.
There may be some people who want to live according to their impulse or inner drive without worrying about anything else. They think it is not necessary to think about anything as long as they do what they cannot help but do like the artists who create according the artistic impulse. There are surprisingly many young people who want to know what they really want, admiring the impulsive life.
But the artistic impulse is valuable because it is artistic, not because it is an impulse. If human beings were given the impulse to dig the ground with no reason, they could say they could not help but dig the ground. But it does not follow that digging the ground is valuable. There are in fact many things which can be said to be what one 'cannot help but do'. Nobody would find it wonderful, even if one can not help but do it, to shoplift impulsively, or to fall asleep or jiggle one's legs against one's will. If all people lived according to their impulses, the world would be full of criminals. Probably the people who follow their impulses most faithfully are senile people and toddlers. You have only to wait to become senile.
Thus if you want to lead a impulsive life, you will be faced with the problem of which impulse to choose and which to repress.
Some poeople might claim that there is no need to think about anything since all they want is to feel satisfied or peaceful. But they can not avoid problems, either. If all you want is to get the feeling of satisfaction or peacefulness, then what you are satisfied with would be irrelevant. All that matters would be to get the feeling, so you would be completely happy, for example, to take medicines which cause you such a feeling, or similarly, to stimulate your brain electronically. Nothing else is relevant. Are you really happy with this? I think most people would find this unsatisfactory and think it necessary to consider what you should be satisfied with.

Thus you can not stay immune to the above problems whatever life style you may choose. That is what Plato and Aristotle thought about 2500 years ago.

A further problem is that you cannot have another person do your thinking on your behalf. In the case of physics or building a house you can have someone else do part of the work and take up where they leave off. But this is not always true. You cannot say, "As I have practised a foreign language to this point, upi can carry on now", "Please listen to the music instead of me" or "I have had your lunch, so you don't have to".
The same is true of philosophical problems. You cannot have someone else think about those problems instead of thinking about them for yourself. You may think that you have only to be told the conclusion, leaving the problems to the philosophers. But first, it is doubtful that you can rely on philosophers. Secondly you have to decide by thinking yourself which philosopher is right, since philosophers have in most cases different opinions.
Suppose God (or a most reliable philosophical genius) appears, and says, "The conclusion is to eat ten bowls of noodles a day". Do you obey this? Of course this may sound absurd, but the reasoning behind this commandment might be beyond comprehension. However, I doubt that many people would obey. Would even those that do so not someday give up obeying, if God goes on to give seemingly absurd orders, such as, "In addition, eat ten bowls of curried ice cream along with a bowl of hot pepper a day"? For each person there would be a situation where they could not continue to obey God.
It is your own judgement that decides whether to accept someone's conclusion or not. You have to judge yourself whether you should accept the conclusion God reaches or not.
There might be some people who are determined to obey whatever God or the genius may say. That would make them a kind of robot. Are you satisfied to live the life of a robot? If you wish you were a robot, then are you satisfied to be a vending machine which dispenses goods according to which buttons are pushed? If you don't mind becoming a vending machine, then what about a washing machine, which works according to the buttons pushed, an electric kettle, which boils water at the pust of a switch, the toilet, which is flushed at the push of a handle, or a dust bin, which accept litter as long as it has space? Isn't there at least one among these things that you do not want to be? Even if you don't mind being a robot or a toilet, that is your own choice, so that you are responsible for the consequences. Anyway, nothing, be it God or a philosoper, can live your life or die your death instead you.
What makes the situation even more complicated is that your choice in most cases has effects on other people, and sometimes on future generations, for example by creating environmental problems. We are responsible not only for ourselves, but also for many other people, so are required to make wise judgements.

Are the above arguments convincing? If you accept these arguments, then it seems to follow that it would take a lifetime to consider all the problems and no time would be left to enjoy life. There are two possiblities here. One is that there is some mistake in the above arguments. The other is that human beings can really not enjoy life. I think the former is true. But I shall not provide the explanation here because of lack of space and incovenience.
Anyway, as long as you cannot find the answer to the above question, you are in an impasse where you cannot enjoy life. To consider how to get out of there is one of the jobs of philosophy. To consider how to drive people into it is also one of the jobs of philosophy.

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