Author: Peter Page 1 of 26

11 Lessons From The Fall Of The Roman Republic: It Is Disturbing How Relevant They Are For Today

History can teach us a lot about the present, because it can show us analogies from what happened in the past. Human nature stays the same throughout the ages and similar conditions can give rise to similar outcomes. However, you need to keep in mind that these are not perfect predictions for the future, but instead warning signs of possible troubled times ahead.

The Roman Republic serves as a great analogy for the present state of chaos, not only in the United States, but around the world. What we are experiencing is the rise of populism, rule by mobs, and great threats towards freedom and prosperity. It is almost eerie how many parallels there are between what happened then, and what is happening now.

I have written a much longer article on this topic, where I look at the conditions in detail, but here I go back to some of the ancient sources themselves to paint a picture of what happened then, and what could happen again, if we are not careful.

The need to study history is reflected in this passage from Livy’s monumental history of Rome called “From the Foundation of the City”:

“The subjects to which I would ask each of my readers to devote his earnest attention are these-the life and morals of the community; the men and the qualities by which through domestic policy and foreign war dominion was won and extended. Then as the standard of morality gradually lowers, let him follow the decay of the national character, observing how at first it slowly sinks, then slips downward more and more rapidly, and finally begins to plunge into headlong ruin, until he reaches these days, in which we can bear neither our diseases nor their remedies.

There is this exceptionally beneficial and fruitful advantage to be derived from the study of the past, that you see, set in the clear light of historical truth, examples of every possible type. From these you may select for yourself and your country what to imitate, and also what, as being mischievous in its inception and disastrous in its issues, you are to avoid.”
from “From the Foundation of the City” by Livy

1) Large economic disparities can lead to grievances

Large economic disparities between those at the top and those at the bottom are like a powder keg waiting to explode. An unequal distribution of wealth can lead to many social problems, with the poor becoming more and more dissatisfied and voicing their grievances. In countries with greater economic equality, there is more social cohesion and people tend to trust each other more. When the inequalities start growing, this cohesion is lost and trust diminishes.

“In former years you were silently indignant that the treasury was pillaged, that kings and free peoples paid tribute to a few nobles, that those nobles possessed supreme glory and vast wealth. Yet they were not satisfied with having committed with impunity these great crimes, and so at last the laws, your sovereignty, and all things human and divine have been delivered to your enemies.

And they who have done these things are neither ashamed nor sorry, but they walk in grandeur before your eyes, some flaunting their priesthoods and consulships, others their triumphs, just as if these were honors and not stolen goods.”
speech of Gaius Memmius from “Jugurthine War” by Sallust

After the of the Punic Wars, an economic scissor effect came to heed in the Republic. The rich got richer beyond their wildest dreams, while the poor got poorer. After a series of conflicts, soldiers returning to their farms, found them in disarray, had to take on great debt, and then ended up selling them. The buyers came from the rich upper classes, who because of the plunder and the trade that came with the Roman control of the Mediterranean Sea.

“Affairs at home and in the field were managed according to the will of a few men, in whose hands were the treasury, the provinces, public offices, glory and triumphs. The people were burdened with military service and poverty. The generals divided the spoils of war with a few friends. Meanwhile the parents or little children of the soldiers, if they had a powerful neighbor, were driven from their homes.

Thus, by the side of power, greed arose, unlimited and unrestrained, violated and devastated everything, respected nothing, and held nothing sacred, until it finally brought about its own downfall. For as soon as nobles were found who preferred true glory to unjust power, the state began to be disturbed and civil dissension to arise like an upheaval of the earth.”
from “Jugurthine War” by Sallust

“Thus certain powerful men became extremely rich and the race of slaves multiplied throughout the country, while the Italian people dwindled in numbers and strength, being oppressed by penury, taxes, and military service. If they had any respite from these evils they passed their time in idleness, because the land was held by the rich, who employed slaves instead of freemen as cultivators.”
from “Roman History” by Appian

The Punic Wars marked an end of the old system in the Republic. This state of affairs led to great economic disparities between the different social classes, which caused great discontent among the worse off.

The Roman Republic went from a country with relative income equality among the different strata of society, to one with greater and greater inequality. The social cohesion and trust between the groups was lost and contributed to growing tensions.

Compare this to the current state of affairs. The amount of wealth controlled by the top levels of society in the world has skyrocketed. Whereas only 30 years ago, the super-wealthy controlled only a relatively small proportion of the total income earned in a country, now the percentage has grown exponentially. This effect is most profound especially in the US, where the top 1% of the population went from earning around 7 or 8% of the total income in 1975 to earning almost 20% of the total income today!

Read More

The Year Ahead 2019: The Dangerous Trends That Are Shaking Up The World Today

Edward Gibbon started his description of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire at a period of history when it was at its peak. During the reign of the so-called Five Good Emperors, the Empire had attained its greatest geographical extent. Its population lived in relative peace and prosperity. Yet, it is also here that the first cracks that would eventually bring down the greatest state of the ancient Mediterranean world began to appear.

The people of that era did not know that the Empire would eventually fall, and even in the times of chaos that would later come, the fall of such a superpower appeared unthinkable. The end did arrive and the Empire crumbled, ushering in an era of darkness from which it took a long time for civilization to wake up.

In hindsight, this collapse appears inevitable. The structure on which the state was based was clearly eroding slowly but surely, until one day it was no more. History can often serve as a mirror on which to reflect our own times and that’s why it is useful to take lessons from the things that happened in the past. What is alarming is that the same types of cracks that slowly brought down Rome have started seeping into our own modern structures.

As the Cold War was coming to an end, Francis Fukuyama triumphantly declared “The End of History”. From that point onward things were going to move in only direction: the direction of progress, peace, and unlimited hamburgers. However, just as the wise fortune tellers were popping open bottles of champagne to celebrate this momentous occasion, new menacing creatures were starting to crawl out of their dark caves, foreboding a new era of unimaginable terrors.

The current age brings with it numerous seemingly new challenges. Decisions need to be taken in order to set a course through these troubled waters. It might seem frightening, but for the student of history, some of these challenges are far from new. They have been here before. What was old is new again, and what is new will become old. It is up to us to construct the correct path, so that in the future our epoch does not become a warning sign, talked about by our descendants as a lesson in what not to do.

While the time of the Roman Empire can teach us many valuable lessons, I would argue that it is a preceding era in Rome’s history that can serve as a better analogy for our modern era, and offer us many illuminating parallels to what is happening today. It is in fact the fall of the Roman Republic, that is in many ways very similar to the situation in the present day.

This is because our own modern institutions are modeled on those of the ancient Roman Republic. The so-called Founding Fathers of the United States studied that era in great detail and set up the newly independent republic to resemble Ancient Rome. While the United States has the closest parallels, other countries (Europe, but also elsewhere), also owe much to their Roman heritage. That is why if you want to better understand the processes at play today and where they can lead us, you should look at what happened in Rome after the Punic Wars.

Yes, you can argue that the analogy is not perfect. After all, our modern era differs greatly from that of Ancient Rome in multiple ways. However, human nature has not changed since that time. If you dropped a baby born in that era into the 21st century and have it grow up in one of the countries of today, they would not differ from anyone else. The point of a historical analogy is not to model perfectly, but instead to teach us lessons and show us potential dangers.

Polybius was an ancient Greek historian who spent much of his later life in Rome and wrote an extensive history of that city. He is also credited with developing a cyclical theory of political evolution called anacyclosis. According to the theory, states undergo cycles of development going from monarchy, to tyranny, then to aristocracy, which gives way to an oligarchy, which is then replaced by a democracy, which then degenerates into an ochlocracy (or mob-rule). Once this is completed, the cycle resets itself and goes back to a monarchy.

This is a powerful model that gives us predictive capabilities. Polybius wrote his “Histories” at the height of the Roman Republic, when its greatest rival had been vanquished, and riches beyond imagination began pouring into the city of Rome. Yet of one thing he was certain: Rome too would one day fall. Amid the triumph, he was starting to see the first signs of the problems that would lead to the eventual collapse of the Roman Republic.

Have we hit up Ochlocracy?

As the clock ticked down the last moments of 2018, and fireworks around the world welcomed in the new year, the headlines in the leading global newspapers were dominated by ominous signs of looming chaos. Trump shuts down the federal government over financing for his pet project, Brexit descends into utter retardedness (even after we thought we had already hit rock bottom in 2016 with the referendum), Putin rattles his sabers against Ukraine, and the first order of business for newly elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is the signing away of the rainforest.

What should arguably be humanity’s greatest era is quickly descending into a mix of chaotic protest movements rampaging through national monuments, brain-dead individuals plowing their cars into masses of people, all set to the background tune of the raping of the environment. The solution to petty grievances has often been either shooting yourself in the foot or setting your hair on fire. The camps on both sides are fortifying their positions and building up barricades, leaving normal people stuck in the middle to be hit with the crossfire. Say goodbye to nuance. It is my way or the highway.

According to Polybius, democracy degenerates when citizens become greedy, entitled and corrupt, which then makes them fall prey to various demagogues who try to entice them with seemingly sweet, but ultimately bitter promises. What we are seeing is the rise of bread and games for the unthinking masses, combined with fiery rhetoric promising to solve all their real and imaginary problems.

The solutions that are rising up in popularity are basically shit wrapped in shiny silvery foil being thrown against the wall. These solutions smell like shit, and if you open up the shiny foil you only find shit inside, but mind-boggingly some people will still get fooled by the foil and mistake shit for silver and gold.

While the solutions offered up by populists are just hot air, they arise because there indeed are real problems:

1) Rising inequality between the rich and poor, with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer (or at least perceiving themselves getting poorer).
2) Unstable economy driven by greed and corruption.
3) Rising debt levels among the population and countries.
4) Decadence, rise of reality TV and druggie culture, coupled with a loss of real values.
5) Massive migration flows from poorer countries.
6) Wars abroad, and terrorism at home.
7) A degradation of the environment.

Yet the years leading up to 2019 have been the best years in humanity’s history. After the end of World War 2, we saw a rise in prosperity for most of the world’s population. At least in the developed world (but also in many parts of the developing world), people had more money, better education, better healthcare, and more leisure time than all the generations preceding them. Advances in technology have also allowed us to travel to the other side of the world in hours, and share information within seconds.

How come our political institutions are getting messed up then? What gives?

How the Roman Republic won its greatest battle and seeded its own destruction

The defeat of Carthage once and for all in 146 BC had established Rome as the sole superpower in the Mediterranean world. It was now controlling vast swaths of land, and with them enormous resources. The conquest of new territories and the opening up of the trade routes brought in great riches. Rome went from a city-state to a world power almost overnight.

This had a tremendous impact on the social fabric of the Republic. The elites grew enormously wealthy, while a new class of impoverished arose. Traditionally, the city was built around a class of small farmers, who owned their own land and produced crops on it. They were the backbone of society, growing the food, not prosperous by any means, but generally satisfied with their lot in life.

The Roman army was composed of citizen soldiers who would be called up to battle in times of need. As the wars that the Republic fought in started to take place further and further away from, many of these small-time farmers ended up spending many years on campaigns. With no one to work their land back home, their plots would deteriorate. When they came back after the wars, their farms would be in ruins and they would end up racking up debts. Unable to pay those debts, these farmers would then be forced to sell their land and move to the city as landless poor. And who would buy up these plots of land? It would be the aristocratic elites now with deep pockets full of gold from the wars.

What made the problem even worse was that after losing their farms, they were unable to find work. The wars had also brought in many slaves, who ended up doing most of the jobs. The newly landless Romans were not competitive on the job market against these slaves. After all, you can’t really compete with free.

Discontent among this newly impoverished class grew. Social strife was nothing new in the Republic. Since its founding, there had often been periods of social conflict, as the plebeians tried to gain more rights from the patricians. By the time of the Third Punic War, this process had largely been completed, and the plebeians had acquired almost equal rights to the patricians. A new aristocracy composed of the patricians and some newly rich plebeians arose.

However, this new strife was different from the previous struggle between the classes. While in the old conflicts, the main protagonists were the plebeians who were rising up from the bottom with visions of improving their prospects, the new struggle included large sections of people who had been better off before, but lost out.

Of course this was not the only struggle. For centuries now, Rome had been controlling the Italian peninsula through a system of alliances with neighboring cities. These cities provided a large proportion of the Roman armies, but only received a meager portion of the spoils of war. The people of these cities were clamoring for more rights and most of all, to be granted Roman citizenship. They argued that they earned it through their loyal support of Rome. However many current Roman citizens were against this, fearing that they might lose influence.

The tensions between the different classes and groups were growing. The battlelines were hardening. The poor wanted to move up in life, while the rich wanted to keep their privileges.

Then in 134 BC came Tiberius Gracchus. This was a man who came from a wealthy and well-connected family, however his main political aim was to reform the system and alleviate the struggles of the poor. How much of his acts were due to genuine caring for the down and out of society, and how much of them were due to his own personal ambitions is up for debate. Probably it was a mix of both.

In that year, he was elected one of the plebeian tribunes. This was the position meant to defend the rights of the plebs and thus had wide-ranging powers, including the power of the veto. He had to share these powers with several other guys who were also elected as tribunes for that year.

His main political agenda was to get a land reform passed. The proposal on the table was a quite simple one. A large part of the lands in the Roman Republic were so-called public lands, lands that in theory were owned by the state. In practice, most of these lands were farmed, usually by rich Roman landowners.

The proposal was to limit the amount of public land that could be farmed by a single person to a certain amount, and then redistribute the rest to the landless poor. Yet this was met with strong opposition from many wealthy senators. One reason for this was that they were set to lose lands that they started considering as theirs. Another, and probably more important reason was, that whoever would preside over the land redistribution would become very popular with the people. This would get them many clients, which was incredibly important in the patronage system of Rome.

The Senate blocked this reform. Tiberius was furious and was resolved that the reform was going to be passed in any way possible. Traditionally, the Senate had to register its opinion before the vote would pass onto the people in the Assembly. However, Tiberius decided to bypass the Senate altogether and move directly onto a vote in the Assembly. The senators were furious, and devised a devious plan to block the reform.

The plebeian tribune had the powerful right of being able to block any legislation with a veto. Tiberius was not the only tribune. There were several others. The senators went to one of them, Marcus Octavius, and convinced him to use his veto power to stop the entire process.

Tiberius tried everything in order to unblock the proceeding, including talking to the senators and coming up with some sort of a deal, but it was of no use. He then decided to do a much more radical action. If a tribune is blocking the will of the people, then he should be deposed, he argued. This was something that was never done before, but for Tiberius passing his law was incredibly important. The Assembly voted to depose Marcus Octavius. With him out of the way, the land reform law passed.

The Senate continued to try to derail the implementation of the legislation, but Tiberius always came up with a way to bypass them, often not in a very legal way. The final nail in the coffin was when he decided to run for re-election as tribune. This was never done, and gave the senators proof that he wanted to make himself king.

Kings were detested in Rome due to historical reasons. For some senators it became logical that if Tiberius wanted to make himself king, he should be killed in order to prevent him from doing so. A group of senators gathered up, armed themselves with all kinds of things, got up on stage while Tiberius was speaking and beat him to death, along with many of his supporters. They then dumped the bodies into the Tiber River.

For the senators, this was supposed to be the end of this. They got rid of a potential tyrant and brought back things to normal. Instead, what happened is that this was the start of a shitstorm that a hundred years later ended with the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire.

Read More

10 Learning Techniques Rated According To A Scientific Study – Find Out Which Is The Best

Do you know what the most effective strategies to use are when you want to learn something? It turns out that most people don’t. In fact, many of the popular strategies that people use are not that effective.

This is quite worrying, as according to the numerous studies and surveys done on the future of work, knowing how to learn and the skills associated around this meta-skill, are always ranked at the top of the skills needed in the new types of jobs.

The expert-generalists are gaining in importance and the future will require you to be able to grasp many different subjects quite quickly. You won’t be able to do that if you don’t have the basic learning techniques down.

A recent study led by John Dunlosky of Kent State University looked at the effectiveness of 10 study techniques. The results showed that techniques like distributed practice are the most effective, while popular techniques like highlighting and underlining have only a limited effectiveness.

Here are the 10 methods:

1) Practice testing: taking practice tests on the material
2) Distributed practice: spreading out learning over time
3) Interleaved practice: mixing different problems and materials within a single study session
4) Elaborative interrogation: generating an explanation for why a fact or concept is true
5) Self-explanation: explaining how new information is related to known explanation or explaining steps taken during problem solving
6) Rereading: restudying text material again after an initial reading
7) Highlighting and underlining: marking potentially important portions of to-be-learned materials while reading
8) Summarization: writing summaries of what you learned
9) Keyword mnemonic: using keywords and mental imagery to associate verbal materials
10) Imagery for text: attempting to form mental images of text materials while reading or listening

I will give a short summary of the findings on each of these methods from the study, as well as some tips on how to implement these strategies and techniques into your own study plans.

John Dunlosky, the chief researcher behind the meta-study, says that all of these techniques can be used successfully by a motivated student:

“All of the strategies that we reviewed can be used successfully by a motivated student who (at most) has access to a pen or pencil, some index cards, and perhaps to a calendar.”

However some strategies are better than others. let’s find out which.

Study method:
What is it?
How effective is it?
What does this mean for your studying?

1) Study method: Practice testing

What is it?

This method involves you taking practice tests in order to learn the material. The idea is for you to set up situations (tests), where you actively force yourself to use your memory to recall the information that you are trying to learn. This doesn’t mean the act of taking a graded test itself, but can instead include a wide variety of techniques that use active recall.

To quote the study:

“For example, practice testing could involve practicing recall of target information via the use of actual or virtual flashcards, completing practice problems or questions included at the end of textbook chapters, or completing practice tests included in the electronic supplemental materials that increasingly accompany textbooks.”

How effective is it?

According to many experiments, practice testing is a good way to enhance retention of things that you learned.

To quote the study:

“Testing improves learning. Since the seminal study by Abbott (1909), more than 100 years of research has yielded several hundred experiments showing that practice testing enhances learning and retention.”

Different studies show that students who engaged in practice tests were able to later recall information much more easily and scored much higher on the final test.

For example, in one study meant to test students learning of the Swahili language, practice testing yielded higher scores for a much larger percentage of the students, than just simple restudying.

To quote the study:

“Performance on a final test 1 week later was substantially greater after continued testing (80%) than after continued study (36%).”

Practice testing has different forms, but the form where you put yourself in situations where you simulate the testing environment, can also help with things like learning how to manage stress better.

A meta-analysis study of different scientific studies on practice testing came up with the conclusion that this method is more effective than the vast majority of other study methods:

“The testing effect is a well-known concept referring to gains in learning and retention that can occur when students take a practice test on studied material before taking a final test on the same material. Research demonstrates that students who take practice tests often outperform students in non-testing learning conditions such as restudying, practice, filler activities, or no presentation of the material.”

The good results of these studies are so systematic that the researchers have even coined the term “testing effect” in order to describe this phenomenon.

The testing effect can be described as the finding that long-term memory is often increased when you do retrieval practice as part of your study sessions.

What does this mean for your studying?

Throughout your studying sessions, you should set some time to doing practice tests. These can be anything ranging from hiding the definitions of words with your right hand and trying to recall them from memory, to doing the practice tests at the end of each chapter, all the way to simulating a testing session itself.

Another thing that you can do is to create your own practice tests. At the end of each study session you write down some questions that you think best reflect the material that you studied and a few days or weeks later, you sit down and try to answer these questions yourself.

Flash cards are an example of practice testing. You can create your own flash cards and then periodically test yourself with them.

Sometimes you can find practice tests for the subject that you are studying online. This can be a good way to test whether you are getting the material.

2) Study method: Distributed practice

What is it?

This means that instead of cramming your studying into one day, you spread it out over a certain period. Usually this involves regular study sessions.

How effective is it?

To quote:

“The term distributed practice effect refers to the finding that distributing learning over time (either within a single study session or across sessions) typically benefits long-term retention more than does massing learning opportunities back-to-back or in relatively close succession.”

Many studies were done in order to test distributive practice and all of them proved that distributed practice has better overall results than massed practice. In order to illustrate this, here are the results of one of the tests:

“Spaced practice (1 day or 30 days) was superior to massed practice (0 days), and the benefit was greater following a longer lag (30 days) than a shorter lag (1 day).”

The result was that this technique is of high utility for the learners.

What does this mean for your studying?

The idea is quite simple. Instead of cramming everything the night before the test, you set up regular slots for studying throughout the week.

You can set up regular study sessions per subject. For example, for subject A, you say that you will study it for one hour every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

This way you spread out your study sessions over some time.

You need to do this systematically. This method is highly effectively and will help you learn material much better than most other methods.

You can combine distributed (spaced) practice with other types of methods, but this should be the skeleton around which you wrap all the other methods, and not something that you do just from time to time.

Read More

Why Do I Want To Fight?

Why do I want to fight?

As I took my first step out of the plane and onto the boarding stairs, the hot, humid air instantly smacked me across the face. It felt as if I had been chucked into a sauna, turned up to the maximum.

Immediately, my sweat glands went into overdrive, little drops of salty liquid starting to ooze out of every pore in my body. Yet, I could smell that something else was flying in the air. Freedom!

Not the Braveheart kind of “freeedooooooom!!!”, but a deep, personal sense of relief and opportunity. All my worries, frustrations and stresses were a continent away. I had been unshackled from all the loads that had been weighing on my back.

In an instant I forgot about my job, social life (or rather the lack of) and the “real world”. I was embarking on a new, month-long adventure where all these things had no meaning and did not matter. For the first time in a long-time, I felt free, unburdened… and happy.

Read More

A Fake Mental Boost Can Be Worth More Than Gold

At times you can be faced with a situation that might seem overwhelming. An enemy can be camped out in front of you, larger in size and in a better strategic position.

However all is not lost. When you and your team are facing a tough opposition, you can apply lessons from the “Strategemata” of Frontinus, an Ancient Roman general and engineer.

One of these lessons can be taken from the acts of Fulvius Nobilior, a Roman general. When facing an enemy superior in numbers compared to his army, he did one trick in order to boost his men’s confidence:

“Fulvius Nobilior, deeming it necessary to fight with a small force against a large army of the Samnites who were flushed with success, pretended that one legion of the enemy had been bribed by him to turn traitor; and to strengthen belief in this story, he commanded the tribunes, the “first rank,” and the centurions to contribute all the ready money they had, or any gold and silver, in order that the price might be paid the traitors at once.

He promised that, when victory was achieved, he would give generous presents besides to those who contributed for this purpose. This assurance brought such ardor and confidence to the Romans that they straightway opened battle and won a glorious victory.”

There are many psychological principles at play here. One of these is fake it till you make it. Many of the cognitive biases work in a way as to boost your ego, or at least keep it from crashing.

This is because many battles are often won or lost in your mind. A person going into a battle believing he will lose, will most likely lose.

It’s not that you can willpower yourself to victory in every case, but having confidence in yourself does give you an extra boost, and in battle every little thing counts.

Often, people need some sort of a mental crutch in order for them to keep on plucking away at their goals. For many people, religion has served that role.

Faced with an absurdity of the world, many studies have proven that people who have a religious belief can often persevere in tough circumstances. This is not because some hidden deity is helping them, but because they believe that even if things seem to be turning out badly, there is always a golden exit at the end of the road.

Fulvius Nobilior realized that if he wanted his men pumped up for battle against a superior enemy, he needed to boost up the level of confidence of his men. He did this by using a little trick.

He made them believe that the other side is not as big and powerful as it seems. By stating that one part of the enemy will defect, Fulvius tricked his men into believing that the odds are not as bad for them as they initially seemed.

This worked in the same way that superstition works. The men started to believe that they have much more control over the situation that they are in, than they really do.

Another trick that Fulvius did was to make many of his men give up their money. Now they had something to lose. They had skin in the game if you will.

Read More

I Have Been Writing This Blog For 5 Years Now – What Have I Learned?

I cannot believe how fast time flies. Five years have passed since I started writing this blog. Over these years, I have changed the focus of the blog several times, but keep pumping out content which I hope is ground-breaking in several ways.

The main aim now is to create a framework for people who want to become Renaissance Men, versed in many disciplines, able to cross-pollinate ideas across different domains and bring in fresh new perspectives whenever needed.

The world is changing and what has worked in the past few decades seems no longer to work for most people. This means that you will have to adapt to these new circumstances. In the future, many of the menial tasks that people perform today will be fully automated, and in order to be able to thrive in such a world, you will have to bring added value.

The way to become anti-fragile for the future is through adopting the skills of an expert-generalist, the modern term for a Renaissance Man.

One thing that I have started focusing on in the past year is trying to address some of the basic problems that people have. If you cannot keep a tranquil mind and an optimistic mindset overall, you will falter on your way through all the different challenges that you face in your life.

That’s why it is important to address this first and foremost. I have found that some of the Ancients provided very good answers to these problems, ones that are very pertinent even today.

I have spent a lot of time going through some of the most powerful pieces of ancient writing and distilling the main ideas. If you apply it in your life, you can overcome some of the greatest obstacles that life throws at you.

There are different approaches that you can adopt, based on your internal preferences. Or you can always mix and choose different ideas from different perspectives.

One big school of thought in the ancient world were the Stoics. Marcus Aurelius was an Emperor, but also a practicing Stoic and his ideas on how to go through the day are quite powerful. You can create a system based on them to help you get through the day:

Marcus Aurelius: How to gather the strength to survive in adversity.

Then go into my series on describing the Three Stoic Disciplines:

All the articles in this mini-series:
The Introduction.
The Discipline of Desire.
The Discipline of Action.
The Discipline of Assent.

Then read the application of this in practice:
A day in the life of someone applying the system of Marcus Aurelius.

You should also read about the thoughts of the man who Marcus learned from, Epictetus, the former slave turned philosopher (as written down by his student Arrian):

The wisdom of Epictetus.

The Epicurean philosophy can also be a good fit for people who want to live a simple life and avoid all the BS:

The thoughts of Diogenes of Oinoanda on pleasure, pain and living a life of happiness.

Plutarch was a Middle Platonist, famous for writing the inspirational biographies of many famous Greeks and Romans, but he also wrote some practical advice on several subjects. His advice on keeping a tranquil mind in a turbulent world can be quite helpful for people living through the chaos of the modern world:

Plutarch and keeping a tranquil mind in a turbulent world.

Finally, Boethius was a philosopher and statesman who lived at the time when the Roman Empire in the West had collapsed. He was a Neo-Platonist (and a Christian), and composed his greatest work when he was sitting in jail, accused of a crime he did not commit. He penned his thoughts on why it seems that the bad guys always win and the good guys lose, and how to deal with the apparent unfairness of the world:

Boethius: how a man about to die found happiness.

I have tried to introduce people to these different thinkers, so that based on their ideas, they can start forming their own daily framework.

The time of the expert-generalist has come

Read More

Plutarch’s Tips For Keeping A Tranquil Mind In A Turbulent World

At the turn of the 1st century AD, the Roman Empire was living in an era often referred to as the “Pax Romana”. This was a time of relative calm and prosperity, when most inhabitants of the Empire experienced long periods of peace.

The foundation for this era was laid under the Emperor Augustus, but it reached its height a century later. This was largely due to the rule of the so-called “Five Good Emperors”. Edward Gibbon, English historian of the 18th century, in his monumental work “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” described this period in glowing terms:

“If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus.

The vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose characters and authority commanded respect.

The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws. Such princes deserved the honour of restoring the republic, had the Romans of their days been capable of enjoying a rational freedom.”

While the previous generations of Romans knew war up close and personal and many of the males had participated in battle, during the Pax Romana, there were several generations that grew up without getting anywhere close to fighting. This encompassed also many of the other peoples that were living under Roman hegemony, such as the Greeks.

During this time, a class of distinguished gentlemen arose that never knew the taste of battle, but instead had enough time to turn their energy to more intellectual pursuits. One of these was Plutarch, now known chiefly as a historian, biographer and writer of extensive essays, but who throughout his lifetime also served in several other positions like a magistrate or priest at Delphi.

Plutarch is best remembered for his “Parallel Lives”, a series of biographies of prominent Greeks and Romans, which was meant not only to teach history, but also moral ethics and character. He also wrote “Moralia”, a series of essays on different topics of morality and daily life. One of these was “On Tranquility of Mind”.

In many ways, the problems of that era paralleled many of the modern era. After all, the human mind works in similar ways. While most people were free of the dangers of war, the typical problems that make people anxious, angry, or moody persisted.

The world might have been more peaceful than before, but it was still turbulent. Rome was a megalopolis full of crime and infestation, trade brought it many goods from the outside, but also led to a hectic lifestyle.

The provinces also had their share of problems, and the lives of their inhabitants were not stress-free. Merchants worried about losing their cargo, magistrates were concerned about keeping the bureaucracy running, and in a world where medicine was still rudimentary, everyone faced the prospect of losing their loved ones early.

What many people were looking for was a peace of mind, calmness and tranquility. They wanted to know how to keep a cool head in a turbulent world.

Plutarch came with some answers. His essay “On Tranquility of Mind” offers solutions to the perennial problem. Addressing his friend Paccius, he outlines his thesis that the way to keep a cool head in a hectic world is to turn to self-knowledge and self-control. By having your reason rule over your emotions, by setting the right priorities, and not being daunted by setbacks, you can navigate through turbulent waters.

Read More

Eisenhower Matrix: One Little Tool To Help You Decide On Priorities

Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of the top American generals during World War 2, and later also became the 34th President of the United States. As can be expected, these challenging roles kept him quite busy.

In order to keep a level head and get things done, he needed to be able to prioritize. This led him to develop a simple method to determine which tasks he had to do immediately and which he could avoid. It is now called the Eisenhower Method and uses one little tool called the Eisenhower Matrix.

It involves drawing up a box, dividing it into 4 quadrants and then labeling them. Basically, whenever you are doing a task, it is usually either important or not important. It is also usually either urgent or not urgent. These are also the labels that Eisenhower used.

The top left-hand box is labeled important and urgent. That’s where you put all the things that you need to do right now and that are important.

The top right-hand box is labeled important, but not urgent. These are things that are important, but ones that you don’t have to do straight away. These things you can pre-plan for later.

The bottom left-hand box is labeled not important, but urgent. These are things that you should attempt to delegate to others.

The last box, the bottom right-hand one, is labeled both not important and not urgent. These are usually things you shouldn’t be doing at all. So eliminate them.

Read More

Richard Hamming’s Top 11 Lessons For Creating World-Class Work

If you are like most people, then you want to change the world. You want to create something that people will remember and that can make a difference. However what do you need to do in order to do that?

Richard Hamming was a world-class scientist and a pioneer in computer engineering and telecommunications, and also worked with many other brilliant minds. He shared the lessons he learned through his lifetime of work in a series of speeches that he gave in front of future researchers.

These lessons are quite illuminating and I summarize some of his most important take-aways below:

Lesson 1: Ambition, motivation, drive. If you want to succeed, you need to be ambitious, and have the drive necessary to carry out that ambition.

Lesson 2: You need to turn failures into assets. Treat your setbacks as learning opportunities.

Lesson 3: If you can’t do a problem, try to figure out why not. Then turn it around and reframe it.

Lesson 4: You need to work hard. Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest. Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works ten percent more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former.

Lesson 5: Hard work needs to be applied sensibly. Make priorities and focus on the right things.

Lesson 6: You need to keep an open mind. Being too rigid and stubborn can create problems, but so can being too skeptical. You always need to keep a balance.

Lesson 7: Creating important work is a matter of asking the right questions and working on important topics. If you work on unimportant stuff, you will never create anything that is of consequence.

Lesson 8: Luck is important, but luck also favors the prepared mind. You need to be able to strike when the opportunity comes.

Lesson 9: It’s not just about the brain, but other little things matter too.

Lesson 10: You need to have courage. The ability to take risk is what separates the successes from the others.

Lesson 11: And the last lesson and probably the most important is that you need to be able to sell your work. If no one sees it, it is as if it doesn’t exist.

Read More

Page 1 of 26

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

%d bloggers like this: