Join Brandon Stover, founder of Plato University, as he questions everything in life to challenge the way you think. Every change in the world starts with one person. These narrated essays will equip you with practical philosophies, new perspectives, and modern understandings of global issues so that change can start with you. It will help you to become a more critical thinker, find purpose in your life, and discover why you would want to take action in changing the world.
You don’t need that thing. You feel that you do.
Your body aches with desire and the thought of the item is stickier than glue.
Fulfilling that desire won’t make you whole.
Do you need more? Is this really true?
When we buy something, we have a desire to feel a certain way.
But that feeling is not in the item, it’s inside you.
In a consumer driven economy, effective marketing will show you what you're lacking, amplify your desire to fill the void, and present their product as the solution.
They will not show you all that you already have, amplify your gratitude, and tell you that you don’t actually need their product to be fulfilled.
You must make the active choice to value what’s true.
Might you need less?
Own only what adds value and meaning to your life and remove the rest.
Put each item to test. Try your best to confess.
In doing so… you can truly cherish and appreciate your life anew.
When you clutter your environment, you clutter your mind.
Fear. Worry. Anxiety. Overwhelm. Guilt. Depression.
It becomes impossible to unwind.
You’ve placed so much meaning in these items. When really what matters is only but a few.
Strip away the excess in favor of focusing on what you truly value.
In doing so you might feel the happiness, fulfillment, and freedom you seek.
When’s the last time you asked yourself what’s important to you?
Another day, another post. A post to be consumed and discarded. In one ear and out the other.
I struggle with being a content creator. I resent that to be successful as a content creator you must consistently put out content. That if you want a higher probability of being discovered, you must put out more content, more often. Not only that, but you must develop that content for multiple platforms. If you want higher reach on those platforms, then you must develop content specifically for that platform. You’ve moved from creating art to feeding an algorithm designed to benefit the algorithm’s creator, not necessarily you. You’ve become part of the content machine.
The content machine does not sleep. The content machine has thousands of eyes waiting for the next sensational piece of entertainment to numb us from the reality of our lives. Demand is high. So the content creators deliver the supply, like dealers helping a junkie with their next fix.
Around 3.7 million videos are uploaded to YouTube every single day. Do we really need that much? How much new insight is really created? How much nutrition is actually delivered to our minds? Are we not just creating so much noise that finding the signal is almost impossible?
So another week arrives on your content calendar. A deadline looms to produce another piece of content. Do you create content just for the sake of getting something out? Or do you create to add to the wisdom of our time? The latter may mean you miss your deadline. However, won’t what you create better the lives of those who have given you their valuable time and attention?
What happened to creating works of art to be contemplated, writings to be wrestled with, words to be listened to over and over because everytime you hear them they reveal a depth to your soul you did not realize that existed? Ought we strive for more than another mere like? We have an untold power of distribution that only Hermes could dream of. Yet we push out empty words for another dollar, another like, another shot of hitting virality. Little do we realize that the most renowned, most controversial, most consumed, highest selling piece of content is one that was created 2700 years ago… the bible. Regardless of your faith, or lack thereof, it’s undeniable that its creators spent a great deal of time creating a work of great importance to be studied for generations to come. Not consumed and discarded in 60 seconds.
At this time you may be asking, “Brandon, aren’t you being a hypocrite right now?” You’re right. I’m here feeding the content machine, too. It’s a system. One that’s not disappearing anytime soon. One that even given all its downsides, also has tremendous benefits. One that, given the intention of the content creator, can spread wisdom far and wide. I’m trying to deliver a nutritional meal guised as sweet, sweet candy. However, systems have rules that must be followed. So if you wish to create effective change in that system, you must learn and play by the rules of the game first, then begin bending and breaking them until you get your desired outcome. I also realize that my capacity to deliver insight is limited. My skills are mediocre. Consistently creating content is giving me the opportunity for deliberate practice. So that one day my words may be swollen with value.
What I ask of you, whether as a content creator or a consumer, is to do so with intention. Intention not just for mere entertainment, but with substance. If you’re creating, create a signal, rather than noise. If you’re consuming, turn on your brain, rather than turn it off. Don’t be another cog in the machine to perpetuate the machine. Use the machine to perpetuate the betterment of you and your fellow people.
The reason one would enter into a relationship is that the two of you can create something more than either of you could accomplish on your own. From a biological standpoint, that something is a child. From a romantic standpoint, that something may be a lifetime of fulfillment.
The longer you plan on entering into a relationship with this other person and the more invested you wish to be, the higher the importance should be paid to having both of your purposes aligned. For an in depth dive into what purpose is, I recommend taking my How to Find Your Purpose course over at Plato University. As a primer, purpose is a direction of action that is meaningful to you and consequential to society. What is meaningful to you will be based on your values, your personality, and your path for self development. What is consequential to society will be solutions to problems and needs of the collective. Pursuing purpose requires your full commitment to these two pieces, including use of your resources. So if you plan on spending your life with another person, you should share nearly identical pursuits in purpose, otherwise you will battle each other on direction in life and allocation of resources.
Whether practicing monogamy or non-monogamy, let’s observe each stage of a relationship. In doing so we can discern whether someone is right to move to the next stage based on purpose alignment, investing more time, energy, and resources into this person.
Our most basic level of relationship with another person is that of an acquaintance. You both enter into a relationship in order to fulfill a basic human need. This could range from financial transactions to purchase food, saying hello to a stranger to gain human connection, or having a one night stand to have sex. The relationship is serving its most fundamental purpose - fulfilling a basic need that requires two people to achieve. At this stage, purpose alignment is minimal and the only resources shared are those needed to fulfill the basic need.
Monogamy: At this stage, those that practice monogamy will see this person as an acquaintance. If there's attraction, they may consider getting to know this person more, becoming friends or moving to dating.
Non-monogamy: If the person practices non-monogamy, they more likely have other people at various stages. They most certainly can just keep people as acquaintances, however if there is attraction, they are more likely to engage sexually with this person at an earlier stage because they have the freedom to do so.
In both cases, attraction triggers a move to the next stage. That attraction is a combination of biological & psychological matches and identifying a match in values, signaling that purpose may be aligned.
We begin spending more time with another person beyond a one off encounter when we realize that doing so will bring us more benefit. We see that this person can be a consistent source of need fulfillment. As we spend more time with this person, we learn more about them and their direction in life. If it matches ours in some way, we’re more likely to continue engaging with this person. We see that they will help develop us to fulfill our purpose. So alignment of purpose is beginning to occur.
Monogamy: During the friends and dating process, the two people will see how much attraction exists and whether the goals for the future match with one another. If they do, it’s more likely this relationship will move to a commitment of exclusivity to each other, denoting they will share resources with each other.
Non-monogamy: At this stage, the non-monogamists are spending more time together, both sexually and platonically, which will divert resources away from other relationships. If the direction in life is shared between the two individuals, they may wish to start diverting more resources to each other and making a larger commitment.
In both cases, an identification of deep attraction, values and life direction trigger the moving to the next stage which tests whether or not this relationship is worth a larger commitment of resources.
Through extended time spent with the other person, we’ve received signals to how aligned the other person is with our purpose and if the relationship will help us achieve our purpose. During the romance stage, we are testing whether we can in fact work together to achieve small outcomes we both want in life. Oftentimes we are going on trips, mixing social circles, meeting families, doing small projects together, and possibly even living together. At this stage we begin to see if purpose is truly aligned because resources will either be flowing towards an aligned purpose in life, or it will feel like the two people want to go in seemingly opposite directions.
Both the monogamist and the non-monogamist are considering this other person as more than just friends and building a deeper relationship with them akin to the “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” label. If the tests and life tasks being worked on by both people are going well, it will trigger a move to the next stage, where a sign of commitment is made to this other person.
If purpose is aligned and the two people are working well together to achieve shared goals in the relationship, then it makes sense for them to signal to each other that they would like to continue the pursuit of purpose with each other and combine resources in order to do so. Oftentimes this means living together, an increase in time and energy, and combining finances. You are partners, working together, to build something greater than the two of you.
Monogamy: The commitment made by the monogamist is that of a marriage proposal, turning them into finances, and proposing that life should be spent together, pursuing the same purpose.
Non-monogamist: The commitment made by the non-monogamist may be engagement, or it could just be treating the other person more as a partner, further diverting large amounts of time, energy, and resources into that relationship.
The engagement period is essentially a second trial period with a stated commitment larger than the first trial period but still has the socially acceptable escape clause to drop the relationship. Should things continue to go well after combining resources, it will trigger the final stage, where commitment is fully undertaken.
At this stage, purpose is so closely aligned it’s as if the two people are essentially one because they are acting as a unit, diverting all resources towards a shared course of action. However, small differences and polarity must be kept in order to keep the relationship effective and thriving. Nature exists with duality. A complete unification would result in collapse.
Monogamy: Commitment is finalized with marriage.
Non-monogamy: Commitment may be finalized with a marriage, a spiritual union ceremony, or a mutual acknowledgement that this person will be here for the remainder of their life.
Now this commitment is a lofty ideal. In a perfect world, our purpose would remain the same for our entire life AND we would have thoroughly vetted that our partner is the best candidate to pursue this purpose with. Reality is, our purpose, and therefore our direction in life, may change. We may also have done a poor job at discovering each other’s purpose, values, and what we care about in life. As a result, divorce and changing partners are the norm. There should not be shame in that. It’s a sign of development.
You’ll see I did not prescribe what these two people’s purpose may be. For some, starting a family is their purpose. For others it may be building a business or serving their community. For the ambitious, it may be taking on a global challenge. What matters is that the more committed you want a relationship to be, for instance aiming to be married one day, the more it would behoove you to understand yourself and your own purpose and find a partner that is completely aligned with that.
Your odds of that relationship reaching the lofty ideal are far greater.
You will never be perfect. You will never reach a state of flawless being.
Perfection is not reality.
Reality is that you are human. Humans have flaws. We make mistakes. We fall short of what we want to achieve. We act out in ways that do not always serve our purpose.
Reality is that life is complex. We would only be able to navigate through life without ever making a mistake and living to our fullest potential if we knew every single variable that life threw at us. That’s impossible. So instead we do our best to live what we think is the ideal human being based on the information about life we have at our disposal.
We may know all this, yet we still beat up on ourselves when we are not being perfect.
Each of us holds in our minds what the perfect, ideal version of ourselves would be. We know how the perfect version of ourselves would act, look like, and achieve. We want to be that person. So we strive to become that person. Every time we fall short, as we inevitably will, we are reminded of the fact that we are not and will never be that person. Remember, that person is not reality. It’s an ideal you work towards.
Collectively, our society holds in its minds what the perfect, ideal version of a human being is. In religion, these beings are labeled as gods, perfect beings that exhibit all the qualities and traits we strive to have. Every time we fall short, as we inevitably will, we repent and work to make ourselves in the image of those gods. Remember, gods are not reality. They are an ideal you work towards.
You will never be perfect, but striving for perfection is not wrong. Do everything you can to develop and try to become perfect. Just don’t pile on the shame, guilt, or remorse when you never reach it. Developing oneself is hard enough as it is. Don’t make it harder by carrying the extra baggage.
When you stop seeing perfection as reality and instead as an ideal you work towards, you stop having resentment about trying to reach it. You know you are choosing to work towards perfection, rather than being required to. You have grace with yourself when you fall short. You’re kind to others, because you know they are doing their best to try and reach an unattainable state. You appreciate every step you make towards being perfect, because any progress you make towards something impossible is a feat in its own right.
So the next time you are not being perfect, remember, perfection is not reality. It’s an ideal you work towards.
In an interview on the Lex Fridman podcast, John Carmack, an engineer working on Oculus, stated the goal has been to make the experience inside the headset better than that of outside the headset in order to increase time spent using it.
Are we not just jacking ourselves into the Matrix? I fear that people will be all too eager to leave reality. Take as evidence the large quantity of drugs or hedonistic entertainment we consume in order to distract ourselves from reality. Why are we so eager to leave this painful but beautiful existence behind?
What is in question is the goal. A goal is an aim, and we should be careful at what we aim at. What is the ultimate aim? Human flourishing? Does increased time spent in the Metaverse lead to that? Hard to tell. As someone who spent much of his youth playing video games, I can tell you it was a great benefit to my life. But so was all the time I did not spend playing. The Metaverse should be a supplement to real life, not a replacement. How might we design the Metaverse to enhance our reality, widen our perspective, rather than replacing it?
There is value in the Metaverse for its potential to run hundreds or thousands of simulations to solve problems for better ways of living. It could also allow us to test living in a different way, say being trangender, before applying it to real life. Although, the models we create will be quite crude as humans have a limited understanding of complex systems. This is why I believe we will still long for the real world. The processes that make up nature are too complex for humans to perceive, let alone code.
Of course one could argue we are already living in a simulation and each of our lives are an experiment to test the best possible parameters for survival given a set of circumstances. In which case, I would want to know the true reality beyond this one.
I'm weary of the Metaverse, but I think it could be a necessary step in the evolution of humanity. If our species is compared to that of a virus, using resources until depletion, then putting our consciousness into a virtual reality with limitless resources may be the only way to continue living and growing. However, someone will have to stay in the “real world'' to tend to energy production, computer servers, and meat suits that still house our consciousness. There may come a time when one must choose which reality to live in. I for one believe there is much beauty in human existence. That the act of holding another human, of hearing birds in the morning as the sun rises, of smelling the rain, is too sweet to leave behind.
I choose reality.
If you want access to the mind, go through the body.
If you want to observe your decisions and actions creating change, start with exercising and giving nutrition to the body.
If you want to build grit and resilience to pain or suffering, put the body under stress and heavy loads.
If you want to build willpower and increase levels of dopamine, the neurochemical responsible for the pursuit of goals, put the body through ice cold water.
If you want stillness, peace, and serenity, focus on the breath of the body.
If you want to express individuality, decorate the body.
If you want energy and motivation, rest and repair the body with sleep.
If you want to stop intrusive, obsessive thoughts, focus on the present and incoming senses of the body.
If you want to feel love, hold another body close to yours.
If you want to experience life, bring two bodies together in union.
Any emotion you wish to feel can be accomplished by pulling the right combination of levers in the body. The body is the only connection the mind has with reality, with the outside world, otherwise it's just trapped in a box. Trapped in a reality of its own making.
Some may have you believe that the body is just a meat sack of flesh and bone, to be decomposed and eaten by bugs one day. That is true. But I also believe the body is a vessel for your will, your action, for physically bringing to reality what you dream in your mind. The body should be treated with respect, in the same way you treat your home. For the body is a home to the mind and soul.
Just as you are responsible for your own home, you are responsible for your body. Learn the ins and outs of your body, how it works, how to repair it, and how to keep it in optimal conditions. Each body has a unique fingerprint and needs different things for its maintenance. Learn what's best for your body. Don’t just listen to what others, doctors, nutritionists, gurus, or charlatans tell you is right for your body. Only you know your body best. Your body is not community property. If you don't take responsibility for it, someone else will, and they will become your landlord.
As long as we do not harm another, are we not allowed to do with our body as we please? If our actions potentially harm another person’s body, then that person must give us informed consent to do so, with understanding of the consequences. No one has control of your body besides you. Nor should they tell you what to do with your body, forcing you to adhere. They should advise, truthfully, outlining the consequences of actions taken towards your body. However, the decision of what to do with your body is still yours. In the event someone else controls your body, don’t confuse the body for the mind. A tyrant can imprison your body, shackled to remain under their control, for your fear of harm to the body keeps you there. However the tyrant can not imprison the mind. Only you have the power to do that. So be wise in the thoughts you let enter your home.
We all have a choice for what we aim at, embedded in the games we wish to play. Every game comes with its own set of rules and goals to win the game. All smaller, finite games are embedded in one larger, more infinite game, where our goal is to continue to have the ability to play all games.
In this infinite game, let's call it life, there is no winner or loser. We all die in the end. The only goal is that you keep playing. Not just the You in this lifetime, but every You in every lifetime, whether your beliefs regard that as reincarnation, legacy, children, a collective oneness or source.
What happens when we reach a goal? We set another.
And, when we reach that goal? We set another.
And, when we reach that goal? We set another.
Then what we want is not the content of the goal, but the goal itself. All the joy of having a goal is found in the pursuit of that goal.
So why do we worry we are not reaching our goals fast enough?
The man that accomplishes 15 goals before death is no more happy than the man who spent his whole life pursuing one. And once you’re dead, the joy of the goal can no longer be felt anyways. Nor does the goal matter. You’re dead. You can no longer play the game.
The objective of the infinite game of life is not to reach a goal and stop, but to continue playing. There will always be another goal after this one. So why not enjoy the process of fulfilling the goal you have now? You already have what you really want: a goal. So cherish it. Be grateful for it. It means you’re still playing the game.
So, if you only need one goal to play the game, and that goal is your choice, then what shall you choose? Well, if you are going to put in work towards a goal for yourself, should it not be towards the best possible version of yourself that you can conceive? To become the most valuable player in the infinite game? To the point where others see your goal as naïve, unfathomable, too ambitious?
Why would some disregard this ambition? Either they don’t believe you will attain that goal because you have never shown evidence of your capability for reaching lofty goals or they fear their own ambition. Ambition requires you to examine yourself and say I'm not my fullest potential. I could be more. It's a declaration of what you are choosing to become. By making that choice you also close the door to other possibilities. But if you don't choose, you stay young, full of pure potential, immature and undeveloped.
Why do you fear sharing your ambition? - Well I might be ostracized from my peers.
But is that not the point? To develop beyond them? - Yes, but I don’t wish to alienate them.
Then share your ambition. As you become that in which you envision, bring them along with you. Show them the potential of what they could become, too.
In the end, the ultimate goal seems to be the continuation of humans to continue to play the infinite game. Nature would agree. The most valuable player will be one who plays finite games in such a way that they are in alignment with the infinite game of life. Easier said than done. The rules of the infinite game are always changing. The uncertainty can be too much to bear. Let us not forget the goal though. Remember what you’re aiming for and you will have all the certainty you need.
Marriage appears to be an agreement, a social contract, between two people to continue ongoing negotiations about how each person will show up to better themselves, each other, and the relationship. Each individual enters the agreement under the belief that this union is more beneficial to each individual’s life than what that individual could do on their own. As a social institution, marriage provides the motivation for ongoing negotiations between each individual. From an evolutionary perspective, marriage is a time tested strategy for successful conception and raising of children. In which case, marriage is of utility.
So why do we complicate marriage with love? You would not enter a business contract under the influence of cocaine or heroin, yet we enter the contract of marriage under the influence of love. Wouldn’t this contract be better conducted if we were in a rational state? Love may be the glue that keeps the contract intact, providing motivation to connect, to help the other person in their worst times, to sacrifice parts of you for them, and for agreeing to continue negotiations.
Maybe we have confused the type of love that is correct for marriage. The Greeks understood that we are capable of more than one form of love. We want to believe marriage is for Pragma, a mature enduring love, or even more, Agape, an unconditional love. Despite this romantic ideal, building long lasting love takes time and marriage, being a contract, is anything but unconditional. Maybe the form of love marriage is aiming for is Philia, a deep friendship and soul connection based on values. However, should the spiritual union of two people in love be tied to this social contract? Maybe there is another form of love. One based on conditions of mutual growth and utility. But that does not sound much like love at all.
Love in marriage may be a deep desire to want the very best circumstance for that other person, because you see the beauty of humanity in its unique manifestation in this other person. But what if that best thing is not you?
In the agreement of supporting the development of the other person, there may come a time when the development of each spouse would be better done in separation. In which case, if marriage is not to end in divorce, it would require more flexibility, allowing time for separation and then reconciliation of identities through ongoing negotiations of values. If marriage is a contract, why don’t you periodically negotiate terms as each person develops? Contracts have terms and dates. Surely, the contract does not serve in the same way forever.
As each person in the marriage changes, their type of love changes, and what compatibility was right for one time may not be right for another, calling for a new form of marriage. As there are different forms of love, there are different forms of marriage. Two people may form a bond strictly around companionship, devoid of passion or romance. People in a parenting marriage may commit to raising children together, agreeing to stay in the marriage for the duration of raising those children, yet spiritual or sexual connection may not be part of the package.
And what of monogamy? Is monogamy truly the best way to handle the goal of marriage? Of course, there are open marriages where both people consensually agree to see other people. Love is not finite. I can love more than one person and love each in a different way. Maybe, I have a social contract with one person, for financial or parenting reasons, and the erotic lover of another because it fits each person's circumstances better. It’s too much of a burden to place all my needs to be fulfilled by one other person. I don't hire one person to fill all roles in my company, so why expect that in my family?
I’m coming to the conclusion that love and spiritual union of two people should be separate from the social contract of marriage. The feeling of building a life with another should not be taken lightly. This spiritual union of two souls helping each other to grow should be respected and acknowledged, not in the form of a legal contract stating terms and dates, but a point of development where the true act of love would be to let that person go.