Question: How can I convince myself, deep-down, that God does not exist? I was raised Catholic, although I was never deeply religious. Now, many years later, a friend is showing me Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. I can see its benefits, but my religious upbringing still lingers in the back of my head. So part of me still thinks that God exists, even though I don't really believe that any longer. It was just engrained in me from such a young age that I can't seem to let it go. Can I change that? If so, how?
Question: What are "spiritual" values? In your recent discussion of "Materialism in Marriage," you talked about the importance of "spiritual values." However, I found that confusing, since I've always associated "spirituality" with religion, often of the woozy variety. So what are spiritual values? How are they different from material values? Why are they important?
Question: Is free will merely an illusion? While I dislike the idea that we're just puppets of physics and natural law, I wonder whether our seemingly "free" decisions are actually determined by the combination of our biology and our environment. After all, if our brain is merely a physical and chemical system, how could any any decisions be made freely? Wouldn't that violate natural law? In essence, how can our knowledge that the physical universe is deterministic be reconciled with our subjective feeling that we choose our actions?
Question: When does humor work against my values? Sometimes, I wonder whether my jokes undermine what I value. Is it wrong to poke fun at my friends or myself? Is it wrong to joke about principles that I hold dear? How do I draw the line?
Summary: Many people struggle with difficult decisions about complex medical problems as they near the end of their lives. That time is wrenching for family too. How can people make good decisions about medical care? What mistakes should they try to avoid? How can people prepare for that future now?
Question: Is is second-handed to work hard to clean and repair your house before company arrives? I'm constantly fighting a battle to get my house looking reasonable. Then, right before company arrives from out-of-town, I make an extra big push to get it as clean and tidy as possible. I'd like it to always be that way, but I'll work a lot harder when I know that someone else will be in the space. So is it second-handed to want to present a better home than I normally maintain? Or is putting in that effort that a matter of respecting and providing for people that I value?
Question: How can a person objectively assess his own character? If a person has a good character, then he'll recognize that fact. But if a person has a bad character, then he'll probably deceive himself into thinking himself good. So it seems likely that every person will think that he has a good character, even when that's not true. So, is objective assessment of one's own character possible? If so, how?
Question: How can a person be certain of his own objectivity? It's often difficult to stick to the facts in reasoning, and it's even harder to make sure that you're focused on all and only the relevant facts. How can a person know that he's being objective – as opposed to relying on unwarranted assumptions, ignoring relevant facts, or rationalizing what he wants to be true?
Question: Is an interest in fantasy and theology literature proper? I'm fascinated with fantasy as a literary genre. I find it easier to get excited about a fantastic story rather than about a realistic one, and I'm also really interested in fantasy with a certain sophistication: the extremely well-constructed world of Tolkien in Lord of the Rings, for example, or the mythological background of vampire stories and so on. Along the same lines, I am also fascinated with theology. For example, I found it extremely interesting to read Paradise Lost, and to read up on the many theological questions it raises and answers. Is such an interest proper – or am I indulging in some kind of evasion or escapism from reality? Does it matter that I want to become a writer? I find inspiration for my own potential stories this way.
Question: How can I manage my projects better? Too often, I'm overwhelmed by the sheer volume of projects on my agenda. Because I'm overcommitted, I'll miss important deadlines or allow some projects to be delayed into oblivion. Other times, my work is rushed and sloppy. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed that I become paralyzed, and then I don't get any work done. What can I do to manage my various work and home projects better, so that I keep making progress on what really matters to me?
Question: What is the problem with and solution to perfectionism? Lately, I've realized that I might have a problem with "perfectionism" – meaning that I hold myself to unrealistically high standards in some areas of my life. For example, I feel like I should be much more productive, to the point of being unrealistic about what I can do in a day. What's the basic error of such perfectionism? And what can I do to overcome it?
Question: How can I achieve a better balance between introspection and productive work? Particularly I've made some mistake, I'll get wrapped up in the process of introspection until I get the problem sorted out. However, that consumes time – and often my projects suffer and I miss deadlines. How can I find a better balance between these two important activities?
Question: How can a person regain his rationality in the face of overwhelming emotions? On occasion, I find my rational judgment swamped by strong emotions like anger and anxiety. In such cases, my thinking seems distorted by my emotions. While in the grip of such emotions, what can I do to re-establish my powers of rational thought? Also, how can I prevent myself from saying or doing things that I'll later regret?
Question: How do I know that I'm reasoning based on facts, rather than just being driven by my emotions? Often, I feel strong emotions on some personal or political issue. How do I know that I'm not rationalizing what I want to be true?
Question: Should a person feel guilty about his emotions? Sometimes I feel emotions that I know are misplaced, such as envy at a co-worker's promotion or anger at a friend's mistake. What should my response be to these emotions? Should I feel guilty about them? Should I change them – and if so, how?
Question: What is introspection? Why should a person introspect? What should a person introspect about – or not? How can a person introspect effectively?
Question: How do you validate free will? For example, if a man is hungry and he values his life, then wouldn't his eating be predetermined?
Question: How do you change from being an emotionalist to being rational? I have the tendency to reminisce on fantasies and memories of martyrdom. I do it because it gives me a emotional surge of ecstasy and heartache. For example, I fantasize about telling the people who mistreated me so badly in Army Basic Training about what that was like for me. This indulgence is costing me my mind. I want to be emotionally competent. Any advice on how to be level-headed lucid/rational thinker, and stop the habit of indulging my emotions?
Question: How does one best deal with unrequited love? I am most interested in this from the perspective of someone who harbors feelings for a friend. In particular, how do you "move on"? When I have been in this situation, I have found it difficult to be interested in others I'm trying to date when so "hung up". Is it necessary to distance oneself from the object of one's affection, even if it means to some extent giving up a life-enhancing friendship? What if one would rather remain single than diminish the friendship? Can that be a rational choice? If so, for how long? Does the answer change if the initial rejection was not unequivocal, but based on some possibly temporary circumstances (like a current relationship)?
Question: Do you think people overstate their character? My personal experience is that many, but not all, people seem to overstate their positive character traits. The most stressed character traits seems to be the weakest. For example, a person who stresses their integrity often turns out to be anywhere from slightly less than totally dependable to absolutely worthless (in regards to keeping commitments). A person proclaiming to be good at introspection may end up actually being an emotionalist. Have you noticed this in people and, if so, what do you think explains this phenomenon?
Question: What's the best way to mentally focus on one activity when I can't stop thinking about another? Sometimes I get overly focused on or worried about a problem I'm having at work, and then I have difficulty focusing in class. Similarly, sometimes I'll think about an issue I'm having with a close friend, and I know I should focus my energy elsewhere, but it's difficult to do so. I know that I should give my full attention to class during the actual class period, but it's difficult to stop thinking about the other issue I have. What kind of method can I used to stop worrying about work, and focus on class instead? What's a good way to switch my focus from one thing to another over the course of a day?
Question: Is it ever rational to rely on a "gut" feeling? More than once I have dismissed feelings that a person is not trustworthy, if I couldn't find a rational basis for them. Every time my initial instinct was proven to be accurate. Is it possible that I'm picking up on something that I can't consciously identify?
Question: Is it possible to think too much? And where does one draw the line between necessary thinking and overthinking? Objectivists are people who take ideas seriously; they are intellectually inclined (as far as I can discern) and spend a lot of time "inside the mind." With all this emphasis on rationality, thinking, introspection, analysis, judgment, reading, etc., how does one avoid the frustration or sense of "analysis paralysis" and ultimately depression that ensues from all this deep thinking and focus on ideas. For example, I've heard numerous people in forums or in letters to Dr. Peikoff state that they are depressed about the state of current politics, our culture, etc. What principles or general rules does one use to put the breaks on all the deep thinking and just chill out, "live and let live," and stop one from becoming crazy. Meditation? Get drunk? (Kidding). On a personal note, I've found that it is necessary for me to literally suppress my thinking and let myself drift into an out of focus state in order to maintain a sense of serenity necessary to get through the day.
Question: How do I fight apathy? How should one go about controlling their emotional response to things better? I have found that a lot of things in life have made me far more apathetic towards life; how should I go about turning this around?