THE INTELLIGENT SINGAPOREAN

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20 Minutes to a More Philosophical You

Posted by intellisg on July 16, 2007

This article represents a completely amateurish effort to engage in philosophy and is an appeal to the intelligent public for suggestions and feedback.

From the horror stories told by my colleagues, speed dating sessions can be a mind numbing experience. Once my friend asked this lady from SDS what her interests are. She replied that she likes to “eat and sleep” (I can also confirm that she was not trying to funny). On a different occasion, my friend asked another lady what are her aspirations to which she gave the deeply profound reply,”I don’t know.”

Some studies actually show that under the influence of alcohol, men gave higher ratings to the women they met at a singles bar. Since most dating events do not actually involve alcohol, it is already quite hard for singles to get into groups to appreciate each other’s physical appearances.

Hope should not come in the latest advances of cosmetics surgery. Why not try to become a better conversationalist and a more interesting person for a change?

Suppose a person has 20 minutes to give someone more depth, how should one go about achieving this challenging task in pragmatic Singapore?

I’m not a trained philosopher. The only reason this article is written is that I like to try out new things and have spent the past year attending Singapore’s first Philosophy café in Hillview area conducted by my good friend, fellow lunatic and public speaker Mr. Lau Kwong Fook. Like all engineers, I have a systems and process-oriented mentality that loves simplifying things to add value to the people around me. Sometimes these attempts work, other times they fail spectacularly and its then back to the drawing block for me.

My recent forays into the fields of finance have led me to pursue the works of Ayn Rand who is the mother of the philosophy of objectivism and a staunch supporter of laissez faire economics and capitalism. One of her disciples, in fact, became a mover and shaker of global economic landscape – I’m sure you recognize an illustrious character with the name Alan Greenspan.

At one point of her life, Ayn was asked to summarize her life philosophy, Objectivism, by standing on one foot. She did so by breaking it down into four aspects: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics. The book I read also proposed that she add esthetics to make her answer even better.

This is a pretty useful framework. By asking yourselves these questions, you will take the first towards earning the moniker “You3 Mo4 Shui3’ in spite of the many year of soul-sapping education all thanks to the mandarins working in MOE today. You will find that these questions are very multidimensional and, more importantly, you can really get a kick out of using it in real life; you can use them to interview unsuspecting technical candidates who are trying to get an engineering job or confound prospective spouses on a speed dating.

Let’s get on with the questions.

Metaphysics

Questions of metaphysics are questions about the nature of reality. Some questions focus on the existence of things and objects, other focus on the possibility of the existence of gods. Ask the following questions to yourself to build your worldview on reality.

Are there worlds and dimensions beyond the one which we live in?

Is reality something concrete and measurable or something spiritual or a product of our minds?

Do things happen solely because of causes?

Is there Free Will or is everything pre-determined by fate?

Do concepts like justice or geometrical principles actually exists?

Enquiries on metaphysics have many powerful applications in the real world. By asking yourselves questions of reality, you train your mind to gaze into the structure of reality. In financial markets, do you believe in efficient markets or you really think that charts can tell you if a stock is overbought or oversold?

Epistemology

Epistemology is concerned about knowledge. What constitutes knowledge and belief? What forms of knowledge are true and which ones are false.

What is the nature of truth?

How do you know that something is true?

Must you measure something to confirm its validity or does intuition play a role here?

Do you always approach a claim with the benefit of doubt or skepticism?

How you are normally convinced of something?

Nicholas Taleb, an academic and a trader who wrote “Fooled by Randomness” is a huge subscriber to Karl Popper who believed that theories are never absolutely correct. To him, theories exist only to be refuted by a finding many years down the road. This keeps his trading conservative and allows him to survive the vicissitudes of the markets when many traders have failed.

Ethics

Ethics answers the question of how we should live. It concerns with doing what is right for a person.

How do you judge if an action is right or wrong?

Can something be right for a particular situation but wrong in another situation?

Do you believe that an action is right or wrong based on fundamental laws or based on the situation at hand?

What is the meaning of fairness and justice to you?

If you are forces to hurt someone, what kind of justification will allow you to live with making this?

Suppose you are confronted with the fact that Altria, the company that produces Marlboro Man, is a great company and can give your family a very comfortable time after your retirement. Do you hold onto the stock knowing that you’re funding a commercial entity which produces cigarettes?

Politics

Questions of politics are asked based on a broader sense to determine how people interact and live with each other.

How should people live harmoniously with each other?

What rights can people take for granted and what are actually privileges which can be taken away from the undeserving?

If you are forced to trade-off freedom and security, how would you do it?

Are you a liberal or a conservative?

How should the wealth in each society be shared?

Should prosperity go to the most capable or be shared equally?

How should this division be made?

This is the Internet. While I find the views in the net too lop-sided against the men-in-white, we are sorely lacking in skills to determine how we should all live together.

Aesthetics

Aesthetics is a question of beauty. What constitutes beauty and art? A study on how you view beauty rounds you up as a better human being and ultimately put you across as a different person compared to others who do not ask questions on the nature of beauty.

What is beauty?

Are there objective and measurable traits to beauty?

Are there universal standards on what constitutes art?

Is art something subjective or there is a way to benchmark art objectively?

Should art be simply something that brings pleasure to the senses or should it have reveal some fundamental truths about life?

While pragmatic considerations give us a means to existence, an understanding of beauty gives us a reason to exist in the first place. Singapore can be an ugly society. You can get shoved in an MRT and worse, some jerk would be sharing with you his latest taste in music via his latest mobile phone. The day you stop asking yourself how our country can be beautiful in spite of itself would be the day your spirits leaves our shores for the welcoming embrace of Perth.

If you’re not bought by my previous argument, you can use your understanding in esthetics to make art purchases as alternative investments.

This article was inspired largely by a conversation which I never participated in. In a gathering of prominent bloggers, an academic in the philosophy department in NUS made many useful comments on my attempts to use Kant’s categorical imperative to brand MLM as an immoral business concept. It was rumored that he made the point that my efforts were akin to employing a nuclear bomb to kill a cockroach.

As I was not around, I was unable defend my ideas vigorously.

So my reply is this – if engineers can’t even use philosophy to navigate the complexities of modern life, deconstruct business concepts, confound unsuspecting citizens and build investment frameworks. Then pray tell, what is it used for?

———
Christopher Ng Wai Chung, 32, is an IT Project manager who dabbles in personal finance and wealth management. His books, Growing your tree of Prosperity and Harvesting the Fruits of Prosperity meld his philosophical ideas with the realities of seeking financial independence in Singapore. His books can now be found in all major bookstores in Singapore.

His own blog can be found in treeofprosperity.blogspot.com. He can be reached at waichung.ng@gmail.com.

For more information about Chris Ng and his Prosperity Series, click here

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3 Responses to “20 Minutes to a More Philosophical You”

  1. sgpolitics said

    Sink-A-pore

    new stuff..enjoy!

  2. It isn’t useful, and it isn’t supposed to be useful. Knowledge and inquiry for its own sake.

  3. Christopher Ng said

    Ponder,

    George Soros may not agree with you.

    Regards

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