How You Can Conquer Your Vices According to Seneca

Each person has a problem with bad behavior in some form or another — that’s a fact. Everyone, regardless of intelligence, income, or nationality is prone to do or think things that are unequivocally wrong. Of course, because the struggle is so common, everyone likes to pretend that these vices we struggle with are just a sad fact of life. We like to think that just because everyone wrestles with them, that they are somehow undefeatable. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. Our vices can be beaten.  Using the steps outlined by a philosopher more than two thousand years ago, you can conquer bad behavior outright.

In a book originally entitled, De Brevitate Vitæ (On the Meaningness of Life), the great Stoic philosopher Seneca tried to explain his framework for living meaningfully. It was in his book that he wrote the following:

“We must attack the passions by brute force and not by logic; that the enemy’s line must be turned by a strong attack and not by pinpricks; for vices have to be crushed rather than picked at.”

If you want to stop doing bad things, thinking bad thoughts, or having bad attitudes,  the best way is to stop all of it at once.  Everything. Cold turkey. You have to watch everything you do as if you were on a diet, being aware of even the smallest things and putting an end to the things you know you shouldn’t do.

The problem is that most people never do this – they mistakenly believe that it just takes small steps to finally get on the road to purity. But small steps require discipline, and people who struggle with their vices aren’t disciplined enough to take small steps. If they were disciplined, they wouldn’t be struggling with bad behavior in the first place!

Want to be a better person? Start being one. Do what Seneca said: Go strong.

Basic Statistics: Classical Measurement Theory

What is classical measurement theory? It’s a fancy way of saying, “How badly did we screw up our data?” Something a lot of statisticians find themselves saying daily (I’m just guessing. After all, I’m not a statistician myself).

No collected data is without errors. You might even say, “To err is data.” But just because it’s not perfect does not mean that it’s not useful – at least, if the errors are correctly identified. That’s what classical measurement theory helps with: identifying the errors.

Understand everything so far?

Let’s keep going.

Here’s the formula:

X = T + E

Here’s what you need to know: It requires three parts, observed measurementtrue score, and error. X represents the observed measurement, which is the sum of T (true score) and E (the error).

Let’s create an example. Let’s say you measure a cup of water. The measurement shows that the cup contains 8 ounces of water. However, you know that the true measure of water is 2 ounces less. You would then plug those numbers into the formula like so,

8 = 6 + 2

See? It’s simple. Unfortunately, both T and E are hypothetical, since in the real world you would never know the truth value of measurements, and can only make estimates about whether the data is correct or not.

Congratulations, you just took a baby step to be a master of statistics. Give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it.

The Functionality of Stoicism.

I recently started reading Seneca to learn more about Stoicism. I found myself awestruck by the clarity of his words and the directness of his style. In a world where philosophy is so muddied by flowery and circular rhetoric, his straightforwardness caught me a bit off guard. It was, then, not surprising to me when I learned that the philosophy he subscribed to was just as functional and direct.

The stoics believed that life itself is about maximizing function and living life “according to nature”. Since life is already short, one’s goal should be to make progress for progress’s own sake. To quote the former Caesar of the Roman Empire, Marcus Aurelius: “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” It’s a philosophy that strives to promote urgency in doing good in the world. It essentially comes down to, “Live meaningfully and excellently, for tomorrow we die.”

This sense of urgency is not meant to cause panic. Panic is not very stoic-like. Instead, Stoicism is meant to promote detachment from things that are not controllable. You can’t control death, therefore you should not fret over it or let it prevent you from doing things that you know in your heart are right. You should live for the sake of excellence, but not let excellence preventing you from living well. It’s the perfect balance.

What can I say? The dots are connecting now. I believe I understand the purpose of the entire philosophy more than I ever have. It’s a good feeling.