Tag Archives: by-products

Paul Graham

I don’t think it works to cultivate strangeness. The best you can do is not squash it if it starts to appear. Einstein didn’t try to make relativity strange. He tried to make it true, and the truth turned out to be strange.

At an art school where I once studied, the students wanted most of all to develop a personal style. But if you just try to make good things, you’ll inevitably do it in a distinctive way, just as each person walks in a distinctive way. Michelangelo was not trying to paint like Michelangelo. He was just trying to paint well; he couldn’t help painting like Michelangelo.

The only style worth having is the one you can’t help. And this is especially true for strangeness. There is no shortcut to it. The Northwest Passage that the Mannerists, the Romantics, and two generations of American high school students have searched for does not seem to exist. The only way to get there is to go through good and come out the other side.

Paul Graham, ‘Taste for Makers’, February, 2002

Bertrand Russell

A narcissist […], inspired by the homage paid to great painters, may become an art student; but, as painting is for him a mere means to an end, the technique never becomes interesting, and no subject can be seen except in relation to self. The result is failure and disappointment, with ridicule instead of the expected adulation. The same thing applies to those novelists whose novels always have themselves idealized as heroines. All serious success in work depends upon some genuine interest in the material with which the work is concerned. […] The man who is only interested in himself is not admirable, and is not felt to be so. Consequently the man whose sole concern with the world is that it shall admire him is not likely to achieve his object.

Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness, London, 1930, p. 22

Geoffrey Lean

A one-legged man, seeking a State mobility allowance, had to struggle up four flights of stairs to the room where a tribunal was to decide his claim.

When he got there the tribunal ruled that he could not have the allowance because he had managed to make it up the stairs.

Geoffrey Lean, ‘Catch 22 for a Man with One Leg’, The Observer, February 17, 1980, p. 5

Jon Elster

For a writer it is not easy to resist the desire to go down in posterity as a diary writer of unrivalled sincerity, a project as confused as the wish to be well-known as an anonymous donor to charities. The terms of sincerity and authenticity, like those of wisdom and dignity, always have a faintly ridiculous air about them when employed in the first person singular, reflecting the fact that the corresponding states are essentially by-products. And, by contamination, the preceding sentences partake of the same absurdity, for in making fun of the pathetic quest for authenticity one is implicitly affirming one’s own. “To invoke dignity is to forfeit it “: yes, but to say this is not much better. There is a choice to be made, between engaging in romantic irony and advocating it. Naming the unnameable by talking about something else is an ascetic practice and goes badly with self-congratulation.

Jon Elster, ‘States that Are Essentially By-Products’, Social Science Information, vol. 20, no. 3 (June, 1981), p. 440

Jon Elster

Some psychological and social states have the property that they can only come about as the by-product of actions undertaken for other ends. They can never, that is, be brought about intelligently and intentionally, because they attempt to do so precludes the very state one is trying to bring about. I call these “states that are essentially by-products”. There are many states that may arise as by-products of individual or aggregate action, but this is the subset of states than can only come about in this way. Some of these states are very useful or desirable, and so it is very tempting to try to bring them about. We may refer to such attempts as “excess of will”, a form of hubris that pervades our lives, perhaps increasingly so.

Jon Elster, ‘States that are Essentially by-products’, Social Science Information, vol. 20, no. 3 (1981), p. 431

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

Meditation does produce lovely blissful feelings sometimes. But they are not the purpose, and they don’t always occur. Furthermore, if you do meditation with that purpose in mind, they are less likely to occur than if you just meditate for the actual purpose of meditation, which is increased awareness. Bliss results from relaxation, and relaxation results from release of tension. Seeking bliss from meditation introduces tension into the process, which blows the whole chain of events. It is a Catch-22: you can only experience bliss if you don’t chase after it. Euphoria is not the purpose of meditation. It will often arise, but should be regarded as a byproduct.

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English, rev. ed., Somerville, Massachusetts, 2002, p. 26