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 must I do to reach certainty about a course of action? Suppose that I'm being careful in my thinking about a practical matter – perhaps about how to solve a problem at work, whether to move to a new city, whether to marry my girlfriend, or whether to cut contact with a problem friend. When can I say that I'm certain – or at least justified in acting on my conclusions? Given my personality type (INTP), I tend to leave questions open for far too long, when really, at some point, I need to close them. Are there any general guidelines or principles around figuring out what that point of closure should be? Even then, when should I revisit my conclusions, if ever?
Question: How do government controls encourage short-range thinking in business? In your discussion of the principle of sustainability in December 2011, you said that government controls encourage people to think short-range – to grab what they can and run with it – including in business. Why is that? What are some examples?
Question: Should people be 'radically honest'? Psychotherapist Brad Blanton claims that people should be "radically honest" – meaning that they should say what they think all the time. Is that a life-serving policy – or simply an excuse for rudeness? For example, if my friend is telling me a story that I don't care to hear, should I tell her of my disinterest? Would that foster a more authentic and valuable relationship? Should I try to gently signal my disinterest? Or should I try to cultivate some interest in her story? In other words, is tact a value – or a destructive form of pretense?
Question: Should a person allow his ideology to set his default positions? When people adopt a religion, philosophy, or politics as their own, they often don't think through every issue - or they've not done so yet. Does accepting the various positions of that ideology as a kind of default amount to accepting them on faith? What should a person do when he hasn't thought through the issue for himself?
Question: What is mysticism? Is mysticism distinct from religion, faith, and belief in the supernatural? Can a person be non-religious but mystical? Can a person be religious but non-mystical?
Question: Does a person deserve extra moral praise for acting rightly despite strong contrary emotions? How does overcoming strong emotions in order to do the right thing (or refrain from doing the wrong thing) factor into morally judging a person? If person A has no emotional conflict and thus does the right thing more or less "effortlessly," while person B takes the same correct action despite strong emotional motivation to act otherwise, does person B deserve any extra moral credit for the amount of emotional or mental effort he made? Or is moral judgment to be made solely on the basis of actions, with internal mental effort being irrelevant?
Question: Is it wrong for an atheist to pray? I used to be a Christian, but I've not believed in God for many years. However, I still pray when I'm under stress, even though I know that it doesn't accomplish anything. What's the harm in praying to a non-existent being?
Question: What are the best strategies for dealing with weakness of will? I want to go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier, and I know it would be a good thing to do, for reasons both of health and productivity. Yet I often have a problem with actually going to sleep before midnight. Things tempt me to stay awake, like the internet, video games, or just having a bit of "me time" after a day at the university. Occasionally, I have similar problems in regard to work. Are there general strategies to deal with temptation and overcoming weakness of will?
Question: Should I mull over my memories less frequently? Is it unhealthy for a person to continuously mull over previous events and specific memories? I go over past events in my mind on a constant basis. I try to recall specific details (i.e., things I was thinking at the time, etc.) and keep a perfect "image" of the memory/event in my mind as long as possible. Is this strange, unhealthy, or counterproductive?
Question: How can I become more tenacious in pursuit of my goals? I find that I give up too easily on some of my goals, particularly when success is far away and much effort is required now. What can I do to make myself more tenacious?
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: Why do religious fanatics seek to impose their beliefs on others? Most religious fanatics aren't content to practice their religion for themselves: they seek to impose it on others by law. Why is that? Why is that wrong? What can be done to combat it?
Question: How are evasion, rationalization, and context-dropping similar and different? When thinking over a problem I notice that these terms can often be applied simultaneously. So what do they mean – and how are they similar and different?
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: When should a rational person be open-minded? Many people seem to have a mistaken idea of what it means to have an open mind. Where should a person draw the line between (a) listening to an opinion/idea and considering its value and (b) writing off the idea/opinion as hogwash?
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: 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 can I procrastinate less? Often, I avoid doing unpleasant tasks for days or weeks, and I feel terrible about those delays. How can I motivate myself to just get those dreaded chores out of the way?
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?