Dynamic Balance of Vita Activa and Vita Contemplativa

Don’t you think there is a connection between Moore’s Law and modern people’s susceptibility to life crises? Have you ever heard of psychological thermodynamics?

I don’t know if you encounter the same case, but for me, I see many people around me experience life crises. It doesn’t matter how old, whether he/she’s single or not, how much earnings, people nowadays are prone to crises. I don’t know if it’s just because I started to notice more about people, or it is just a coincidence that they have problems and it appears before my eyes. I am not even sure whether people are less prone to be in crises in the past.

But, as a man of curiosity I tried to seek an explanation. Even if it’s not very scientific and bias-free, I hope it could give a new perspective regarding life crises. I’ll try to make it short at the expense of ambiguity (because you know, reading requires skill, without particular prior knowledge, you wouldn’t be able to grasp new ideas).

Good books are rare. And I just finished reading one of them a few weeks ago. One of the must-read modern-classics. This book is often mentioned when people discuss passion or life-meaning. The so called “flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  And in it, I discovered a new concept. A very interesting idea of psychic thermodynamics (although now the term psychological is more preferable). This concept which underlies the concept of flow somehow gets my attention while I’m finding some sort of explanation to my curiosity.

First, the natural state of our mind is in chaos. Without any practice, we are always drawn to thinking about many stuffs: suffering, pain, past memories, doubt, worrying the future, etc. When we don’t do anything, we’re talking to ourselves. Thinking. And ironically, when we are asked to think, it becomes a very demanding activity. Try to think about how consciousness emerges, and it’s gonna be a boring activity, but sometimes when you are about to sleep, you start to question EVERYTHING, ANYTHING.

But, we human dislikes chaos. So we try to seek an order.

This kind of order can be achieved through flow activity, where we find ourselves immersed and forget all the trouble that we have. We lose our self-consciousness. Yet, after the activity is done, our sense of self is expanding. As if we have found something meaningful in this life.

However, this kind of activity isn’t enough to restrict the excessive entropy while we’re busy living our lives. We build up a routine. We find a purpose. We seek a meaningful life. A life which is a unification of many flow activities and a manifestation of one big flow activity at once. A flow for the entirety of life.

But how to create a meaningful life for real? Faced with every uncertainty down the road, there are two choices for a man:

  1. to set the goals and focus acting on making them happen, and thus neglect the doubt along the way (vita activa);
  2. to think more deeply by detaching ourselves from experience so we could understand what is really valuable to us (vita contemplativa);

To put it in a simple way, the first one tries to give meaning while the second one tries to find meaning. Of course, we need a mutual-feedback between two of them to achieve a balance life, an optimal experience of life!

And where does the crisis come from? It comes from choices. Whenever we need to choose, we’re in crisis. We’re increasing the chaos, the psychological entropy, of our inner-self. The harder the choice that we have to make, the more troublesome, energy-eating, our life becomes.

Life, after all, is a set of choices. Every second, within your consciousness, you choose what to do, what to think. The very cause of trouble in both action and reflection.

Yet, this modern world offers so many options. Each kind of revolution, be it industrial, electronics, information, has lead us into cultural change, creating more new stuffs, new jobs, new thing. There comes the paradox of choices. How to choose a computer if obsolescence is inevitable? Moore’s law offers an insight on how the choices are getting more complex everyday. When something becomes double every year, it’s going to become eight-fold within three years. And one simple addition to a choice will have a multiplier effect on the universe of choices. Especially the trees of probability and uncertainty in mind (your physical body is limited, so does your action. but, your thinking is a boundless field of imagination.).

Paradox of choices.

Therefore, next time I remember Moore’s Law, I will remember what mankind has to pay for all the technological advancement. There is a price that we need to pay for all the ease of life. And unfortunately, it costs us our psychological energy to cope with larger uncertainty in this era.

And yes, the key is to keep a dynamic balance between action and reflection. Sounds simple. But, never easy. Keeping this dynamic balance requires skill, and the act of balancing itself could become flow activity when done right. 

*I keep on wanting to add more stuffs, but maybe I’ll save it for future posts.


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