Wikipedia’s Rival, And What It Teaches Us About Expanding Human Knowledge

As many of you know, I am a big fan of, and regular contributor to, Wikipedia. I love it as much for its immense breadth information as for its ambitious mission to help make the entirely of human knowledge accessible to all. But I also absolutely love another website with a similarly audacious goal; the only encyclopedia that actually gives Wikipedia a run for its money when it comes to being an accessible and reliable source: the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Spanning almost 1,500 entries, the SEP manages a respectable one million views a month, which as Quartz writer Nikhil Sonnad notes, is quite an achievement, “given how many entries there are with titles like Tibetan epistemology and philosophy of language or Peirce’s theory of signs.” According to the American Library Association, it is “comparable in scope, depth and authority” to the biggest philosophy encyclopedias in print. And did I mention that it is free?

Most crucially, the SEP has managed to accomplish the one thing that Wikipedia struggles with most of all: being a consistent and reliable source on all the topics it covers (although in fairness, Wikipedia spans a lot more pages and materials — close to five million in its English edition alone). Continue reading

The Different Notions of Self

Over at Quartz, Tim Urban offers a fairly fun and comprehensive rundown of all the theories of self — what makes you, you. It is an often maddening topic that has been reflected upon and debated by philosophers and average folks alike for about as long as we’ve been capable of higher thought.

Though it is a long read, it is well worth your time if you want to understand, in an often humorous and digestible way, the different arguments for what makes our identity and how. I am especially fond of this excerpt.

It’s like having an old wooden boat. You may have repaired it hundreds of times over the years, replacing wood chip after wood chip, until one day, you realize that not one piece of material from the original boat is still part of it. So is that still your boat? If you named your boat Polly the day you bought it, would you change the name now? It would still be Polly, right?

In this way, what you are is not really a thing as much as a story, or a progression, or one particular theme of person. You’re a bit like a room with a bunch of things in it—some old, some new, some you’re aware of, some you aren’t—but the room is always changing, never exactly the same from week to week.

Likewise, you’re not a set of brain data, you’re a particular database whose contents are constantly changing, growing, and being updated. And you’re not a physical body of atoms, you’re a set of instructions on how to deal with and organize the atoms that bump into you.

People always say the word soul and I never really know what they’re talking about. To me, the word soul has always seemed like a poetic euphemism for a part of the brain that feels very inner to us; or an attempt to give humans more dignity than just being primal biological organisms; or a way to declare that we’re eternal. But maybe when people say the word soul what they’re talking about is whatever it is that connects my 90-year-old grandfather to the boy in the picture. As his cells and memories come and go, as every wood chip in his canoe changes again and again, maybe the single common thread that ties it all together is his soul. After examining a human from every physical and mental angle throughout the post, maybe the answer this whole time has been the much less tangible Soul Theory.

For my part, I think the self is an amalgamation of different elements, namely continuity of narrative combined with data. Of course, no concept is without its shortcomings and gaps, which is what makes the discussion about self so timeless. As the author alludes towards the end of that snippet, there is just something fundamentally intangible about the self, something many of us just know without any explanation.

What do you think?

We Need More Philosophy in Public Life

In several posts (most recently here) I have advocated for philosophy to play a bigger role in society, policymaking, and public life. Philosophy should be standard part of primary and secondary school curricula, and professional philosophers should be consulted by both public and private sector institutions. Average people should utilize the tools and principles of philosophy, such as free inquiry and rational argumentation, and apply it to a broad range of matter of human concern, from metaphysics to ethics.

Writing for NPR, psychologist Tania Lombrozo similarly argues that philosophy should be a part of national and social issues, with philosophers themselves needing to play a bigger role in the topics, controversies, and concerns going on in the public sphere.

Many questions fall under the purview of philosophy precisely because they’re entangled in values — they’re not only about the science, the realm of the factual. And in the case of climate change, there’s no less at stake than the fate of our species and our planet.

What responsibility do the rich have to the poor when it comes to mitigating the effects of climate change? What responsibility do developed countries have to poor countries? What obligations do we have to future generations? What obligations do we have to other species? Is there intrinsic value to biodiversity?

Answers to these questions will guide policy and politics. Let’s hope we answer them wisely — with the thoughtfulness, care and rigor that characterize the best philosophy.

Like any academic discipline, philosophy has its specialties and subspecialties, its own jargon and insider disputes. I admit: A lot of philosophy can be obscure, at least to the uninitiated. And a lot of philosophers do spend their time in the field’s inner crannies (just like scientists and any other specialists), shielded from the 24-hour news cycle. (Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa, a philosopher writing a book about knowledge and knowledge ascriptions, joked last week in a tweet: “I keep accidentally thinking about the world instead of focusing like I should on the semantics of knowledge ascriptions.”)

To paraphrase Shannon Rupp, there is no aspect of your life that does not benefit from being able to think with clarity. Whether you are a professional philosopher or an enthusiast like myself, there is a lot to gain from applying a philosophical mindset to the pressing social, political, economic, and moral issues of our time. There will certainly be no shortage of arguments, debates, and discussions to be had — at the very least let us imbue them with proper perspective and intentions.

Better People and Better Societies Through Philosophy

But a smattering of undergrad philosophy classes taught me something applicable to any and every job: clarity of thought. Name me one aspect of your life that doesn’t benefit from being able to think something through clearly.

— Shannon Rupp, Be employable, study philosophy

While widely viewed as the purview of ivory tower academics and haughty intellectuals, philosophy — which broadly studies every matter of human concern from morality and values to the nature of reality — has plenty of everyday, practical applications. We come across dilemmas or issues everyday that can be addressed with philosophical values of critical analysis, open discourse, and rational argument.

We may not see the mundane decisions we make on a regular basis as a form of philosophical engagement — again, there’s that image problem of philosophy being too esoteric or aloof — but any time you must make a choice, learn about something, or interact with someone on either a professional or personal level, you benefit from knowing how to think better and how to justify your decisions.

Philosophy allows you to choose the more virtuous path when facing a moral dilemma (how should I resolve this conflict with my friends? How best to respond to an injustice I witnessed?), what is true and why (which source should I trust? why should I trust it?), and even how to live (what is a meaningful life? Where do I find my purpose? How can I be a good person?).

And just imagine how beneficial it would be if society as a whole was comprised of individuals who not only care about thinking and acting better — a value instilled by philosophy — but who have the tools and approaches necessary to ensure that end?

Scott Samuelson at The Atlantic touches on this when defending against the common refrain that philosophy, and humanities in general, are at best secondary and at worst worthless when compared to more “practical” subjects like business or applied science.

Why shouldn’t educational institutions predominantly offer classes like Business Calculus and Algebra for Nurses? Why should anyone but hobbyists and the occasional specialist take courses in astronomy, human evolution, or economic history? So, what good, if any, is the study of the liberal arts, particularly subjects like philosophy?  Why, in short, should plumbers study Plato?

My answer is that we should strive to be a society of free people, not simply one of well-compensated managers and employees. Henry David Thoreau is as relevant as ever when he writes, “We seem to have forgotten that the expression ‘a liberal education’ originally meant among the Romans one worthy of free men; while the learning of trades and professions by which to get your livelihood merely, was considered worthy of slaves only”.

That is because being a free person means making decisions — in our interactions with one another and in our participation in political and civil institutions — that are best done with a clear and rational mind. Other skills and fields of knowledge are important too of course, but anything and everything you do involves a thought process that can and should be refined by philosophical values.

Obviously, teaching people philosophy is not, on its own, going to solve society’s problems. On both an individual and collective level, humans will always be susceptible to vice, lapses in judgement, poor thinking, and the like. There is no avoiding that (at least for the foreseeable future), but it can be mitigated by instilling into generations of people the principles, tools, and mindsets that help us to resolve problems, both internal and external, more effectively.

What are your thoughts?

Chomsky Discusses US Foreign Policy, Environmental Catastrophe, Nuclear War, and More

AlterNet has transcribed a long but engaging speech by noted public intellectual and political critic Noam Chomsky, which was first delivered at the DW Global Media Forum in Bonn, Germany. It’s voluminous and covers a lot of different topics, including the propagandizing nature of mass media, the plutocratic character of the government, the irrationality of modern market economies, and still more.

It might be a lot to take in at once (especially given the sobering nature of the subject matter) but  Chomsky manages to more or less tie it  all fairly nicely (almost all these issues overlap or relate to each other, which is fitting given Chomsky’s preference for a systemic level of analysis). Even if you don’t agree with some of his claims and conclusions, they’re still thought-provoking and work reflecting on. I’ll leave it to you guys to read it on your own time.

Feel free to check out his other speeches here.

On Logical Fallacies

The following was a homework assignment for my Critical Thinking and Ethics course. I figured its content merits a post of its own, so I hope you find it informative. I learned quite a bit while writing it. 

A fallacy is an error in reasoning that violates at least one principle of good argumentation (as they were outlined in the previous homework). Despite the negative connotation, a fallacy isn’t necessarily malicious or intentional, but merely represents poor logic and argumentation on the part of its perpetrator. A single fallacy can undermine the legitimacy of an entire argument.

Because all humans are liable to think and argue poorly, even if we don’t mean to, we’re all susceptible to fallacious ways of thinking. Therefore, we should be alert to these fallacies not only to ensure the truthfulness of the arguments we encounter, but to help us from committing similar errors in reasoning. The following are just four of the fallacies typically encountered in various debates, although by no means the only ones.

Straw Man Fallacy
This is perhaps one of the most common fallacies, especially in the realm of politics. It consists of someone claiming to have successfully refuted an argument, when instead, they’ve attacked a weak or degraded version of it, e.g. the straw man. Often times, this corrupted argument seems similar enough (superficially at least) for a third party to buy into it. A straw man may be a deliberate attempt to make the opponent’s argument look bad (especially if an audience is involved), or may be the result of genuinely misinterpreting the argument.

For example, Alvin is arguing that the United States should grant some sort of amnesty to illegal aliens through a long-term process that includes background checks and citizenship tests. Bob counter-argues that Alvinwants to open the floodgates to millions of people who will take American jobs.

Instead of challenging Alvin’s argument on its merits or rationale, Bob “attacked a straw man” by claiming that his opponent wants America to be taken over by foreigners. Obviously, Alvin said no such thing, but Bob is distorting his statement while also making him seem like an awful person. Not only does doing this undermine what could otherwise be a worthy discussion, but assuming it was intentional, what Bob is doing is dishonest and unethical, thereby violating the principle of charity for any rational discussion.

Irrelevant or Questionable Authority
Behind most good arguments are good sources: studies, institutions, specialists, or other authorities that help add weight and legitimacy to one’s point. Even the most educated person doesn’t know everything, which makes reliance on experts a necessity. However, not every authority is credible, and this fallacy entails relying on a source that either has no bearing on the argument for which it is used, or that is illegitimate due to bias or lack of credentials.

Annabel: I’ve decided I’m going to keep smoking, since it turns out it is safe.

Beatriz: Really? Says who?

Annabel: This study done by a group called Marlboro [a cigarette company].

Annabel believes smoking is okay for her health based on the research of a company that profits from people who smoke. Clearly, her argument is undermined by the fact that her source would have good reason to be biased in favor of smoking cigarettes – it is a questionable authority. She’d be committing the same fallacy if she relied on the opinion of a veterinarian or her Aunt Sally, both of whom would lack the credentials or relevant expertise on the matter being argued. Had Annabel cited research from the National Institute of Health or a specialist on respiratory health, her argument would be far less suspect. Always pay attention the authority your opponent is relying on, while being certain of the legitimacy of your own sources.

Post Hoc Fallacy
This error consists of confusing correlation with causation, whereby you claim that one event was caused by another event just because they occurred in chronological order. It’s a very easy mistake to make, since humans naturally seek out a pattern or relationship between certain factors in order to explain something, especially if those events follow in some kind of sequence.

For example, a landlord receives a new tenant in his apartment block. Shortly after, the water heater breaks down. The landlord insists that it must have something to do with the new occupant, since this happened not long after he moved in.

The landlord is committing a post hoc fallacy because he attributes one event (the water heater breaking) to another event (the new tenant moving in) on the sole basis that the former occurred after the latter. The fact that events occur in some temporal order tells us nothing about whether there is a relationship between them – it could simply be a coincidence. Now, it could very well be that the new renter is somehow responsible for breaking the water heater, but the landlord would need more evidence besides the order of events.

Hasty Generalization
This is arguably one of the most ubiquitous fallacies around. It consists of drawing a broad conclusion about something or someone based on a small sample size of data. Most people do this quite regularly: stereotyping, which occurs in nearly every society, consists of generalizing about a large and diverse group of people based on a few encounters.

For example: “People from Kansas are just awful. I just dealt with a tour group from there, and they were very rude and obnoxious.”

Kansas is a state of a nearly three million residents, so concluding that all of them are nasty people based on a handful of individuals is highly erroneous: a few people can’t possibly offer an accurate representation of an entire state. This is an easy trap to fall into because immediate anecdotal evidence often has a greater impact on us than an often long-term compilation of more data, studies, or statistics. Withhold reaching a conclusion about something until you’ve gathered more information or observed a larger sample size. Make sure arguments making broad claims are doing so based on sufficient data, especially if the argument is citing polls, surveys, or personal anecdotes.

Learn about other fallacies here. Familiarize yourself with these so that you may think and argue well and avoid being fooled or unjustly undermined in debates.

On Good Argumentation and Rational Discussion

The following was my homework assignment for my course on Critical Thinking and Ethics. My objective was too explain what constitutes a good argument and to elaborate what a rational discussion. It’s quite a long read, so I appreciate anyone who gets through it. 

Throughout our lives we are presented with all sorts of claims and assertions which challenge our preconceived beliefs. Some of these claims may be malicious or, even if well-intentioned, false, and accepting them uncritically can be detrimental. Even the most seemingly convincing or wholesome arguments may turn out to be faulty or insidious. Therefore, what (and by extension who) we choose to believe matters tremendously to our individual and collective progress.

But in an era when we’re constantly saturated with all sorts of claims, the task of sifting out the good points from the bad can appear daunting, if not impossible. Thus, it is important to understand and utilize the standard criteria that determine an argument’s legitimacy. Every argument, no matter how variable their structure or presentation, can be judged on the same standards.

Before we can identify what constitutes a good argument in particular, we must understand what comprises an argument in general. Contrary to the colloquial use of the term (namely for any verbal disagreement that may involve raised voices, aggression, and profanity), an argument is broadly defined as a set of statements that includes a conclusion preceded by one or more premises that provide reasons to believe in the truth of said conclusion. Put another way, an argument consists of a main point (what you’re arguing for) and what you’re using to prove that point.

Thus, arguments can be quite variable in their content and intent. Many arguments may be profound enough to change the course of our lives, if not human history – examples would include arguments for or against slavery, or arguments seeking to prove evolution. Conversely, other arguments may be so mundane as to go unnoticed for what they are, such as commercial advertisements that seek to persuade us to purchase a good or service.

Regardless, every argument is designed to convince you to accept the truth of a particular assertion (the conclusion) based on evidence, facts, and other supporting details (the premise or premises). With this in mind, we can begin to discern what makes for a good argument, as based on whether they meet the following four principles.

First, a good argument is one in which the premises are true (or at least accepted as true). If the basis of your conclusion false, or seen by others as false, then there’s little reason to believe in the point your trying to make: bad evidence makes for a bad argument.

For example, consider that I am trying to argue that Obama was a terrible president, and that I base this conclusion on the “fact” (premise) that Obama went to war withMexico. However, Obama obviously did no such thing, which undermines the credibility of my argument. Why should you believe Obama is a bad president if the only proof I offer you is clearly false? Clearly, I’m making a bad argument.

Second, the premises of the conclusion must be relevant to the truth of the conclusion. In other words, a good argument will utilize facts that actually have something to do with the point you’re trying to make. If you’re going to argue that the American economy is at its worst condition ever, it makes no sense for your supporting premise to cite economic data fromNew Zealand. Not only would this indicate that you lack proper support for your argument, but it would also undercut your credibility as a source – if you can’t put together your argument, why should anyone trust what you have to say?

Similarly, the third criterion of a good argument is that the set of premises must provide sufficient grounds for justifying belief in the truth of the conclusion. Not only must a premise be relevant, but it must be credible enough to support your conclusion. Granted, what constitutes reliability varies widely depending on the individual, but there are some general ideas most people would agree with.

Consider that I’m arguing for a set of characteristics that I feel make for a good politician. Most people would agree that things such as integrity, honesty, and morality are pertinent qualities. But what if my supporting argument was, instead, that an effective politician should have good fashion sense, nice hair, and be fromOhio? Now you may find someone out there that would sincerely agree with these premises (it’s a big world after all), but by and large, the overwhelming majority of people would find them unsatisfactory in proving that someone is qualified to be a good politician.

The fourth and final principle of a good argument is that it must expect possible criticisms and have ready some rebuttals ready. Argumentation is, by its very nature, an interactive process – if you’re going to argue with someone, you cannot expect it to be a one-sided conversation (at least not always). Everyone is opinionated in some way, and the fact that you’re trying to persuade them in the first place suggests that they probably don’t see eye-to-eye with you, and will thus likely debate your point.

For example, say that I am arguing thatMiami-DadeCollegeis a good school to attend. My argument meets the first three principles we’ve discussed: my premises are true, they are relevant, and they are legitimate enough to justify my point. However, my argument falls apart the moment someone rallies counter-points that discredit my conclusion. I have no good defenses to offer, and I clearly didn’t seem ready to debate. I’m down in the very first round.

I can’t realistically expect people to be persuaded from the very beginning. A strong argument is one that can withstand criticism, and if your opponent or audience notices your inability to bolster your own point, they may see little reason to take you or your argument seriously. So think of arguing as a barter between ideas, one in which you should be ready to haggle with your opponent rather than assume your first case is a done deal.

Now that we’ve established the four factors that make for a good argument, we should look at what makes for a good discussion: after all, we should recall that arguments are interactive by nature. It is one thing to make a strong and effective argument, but it’s another thing to conduct said argument in a strong and effective way. How you argue with someone is perhaps just as important as what you’re arguing, and even the best arguments will come to nothing if the participants debate it with the wrong attitude or approach.

So what makes for a good debate? Well for starters, it’s best to view interactions between opponents as rational discussions rather than fights or contests. This isn’t just a matter of semantics: a rational discussion – which you can also call a rational discourse, conversation, or dialogue – consists of two or more people who disagree about something and are trying to determine what is true.

Therein lays one principle of rational discussion: there must be a mutual understanding that the arguments you’re sharing are for finding the truth of a particular matter rather than winning. It’s not about trying to prove you’re better or smarter than someone, but about educating each other (and yourselves) in the process of discussing. A rational discussion should be devoid of egotism, competitiveness, and intolerance, and instead been seen as opportunity to learn through an exchange of ideas. You and your opponent should be concerned only with the truth, and not with simply proving each other wrong for its own sake.

A good idea is to see the search for truth as one that is collective in nature: no man (or woman) is an island, and in our pursuit of wisdom, we need others to help us along the way. Look at any great invention, idea, or innovation and you’ll find that multiple people played a part, either directly or by having their work improved upon by another. After all, we’re each just one individual in a large and complex world. You can only experience and know so much, and you’re bound to miss something. So sharing your thoughts with others is one way in which we test our ideas and learn about other perspectives and facts we may never have known.

This segues nicely to another principle of rational discussion, in which each participant must agree to the possibility that they might be wrong. The human mind is fallible: we can only know so much given the restrictions in time, geography, or expertise. No matter how well-read or confident we are about a given subject, we have no reason to think we’re completely right: after all, look at the long history of societies that thought they knew the world was flat, slavery was acceptable, the Earth was the center of the universe, and so on. It is only when humans have been willing to question what is assumed fact that we’ve come to learn more about ourselves and the universe.

This is why I am a fan of dialectical methods, such as the Socratic debate (also known as Socratic dialogue or the dialectical method). This is the idea that opposing viewpoints should be openly exchanged in a civil manner interceded with inquiries and reflections that stimulate critical thinking. If everyone brings something to the table, and allows others to do the same, it leads to a lot of illumination about perspectives, alternatives, and ideas we may otherwise have never known about it.

The next prerequisite to rational discourse is more practical and seemingly mundane, but it’s no less important: participants must attempt to be as clear as possible in presenting their argument. This goes beyond ensuring proper spelling, grammar, annunciation, and the like (though all that is important as well). Many fights, or even wars, have been started by people miscommunicating and misunderstanding each other. Many people will expend more time and energy trying to clarify what they meant to say, than they will arguing the point itself. Obviously, this is very unproductive, and it can furthermore lead to animosity or frustration that will preempt the discussion.

Thus, never assume that your opponent uses a word the same way you do, or formulates the same sort of conceptualizations. For example, someone may not understand a particular saying or proverb that you may personally find obvious. Their semantics and vocabulary may be different too. It’s important to tailor your argument, and how you present it, based on the audience. You’re (hopefully) going to use very different words or ideas when communicating to an auditorium of Nobel Prize winners versus a stadium full of sports fans.

It never hurts to intermittingly ask your opponent if he or she understands you, or if you point needs to be re-explained. Doing so is not only practical, but also polite, and your opponent may appreciate such efforts enough to be amicable to your point of view. Speaking in an unclear manner may only make you seem aloof, arrogant, or condescending, and you’ll have a harder time getting people’s attention.

In a similar vein, always conduct your rational discussion with the principle of charity in mind: this consists of making the honest effort to interpret your opponent’s argument as strongly as possible. Put simply, it’s about you and your opponent giving each other the benefit of the doubt by viewing your respective arguments as strongly and sensibly as possible.

For example, let us say there is a competition between two gymnasts who are each seeking to prove that they are the best in their field. If one gymnast is suffering a leg injury, and for obvious reasons, subsequently loses the contest, would it be fair to assume she lost because of lack of skill? She wasn’t at her fullest potential, so the competition didn’t really prove anything. Similarly, it’d be unfair to challenge your opponent’s argument by mischaracterizing or weakening it. A common form of this is known as the straw man fallacy, in which someone claims to have successfully refuted an argument when instead, they’ve attacked a weaker or corrupted version of it that seems superficially similar.

So let’s say that my opponent is arguing that we should raise taxes on the wealthy in order to pay for social programs. Instead of viewing this argument as legitimate and rational, and debating its merits accordingly, I “attack a straw man” (and thereby violate the principle of charity) by claiming that he wants to steal from hardworking people and give money to the undeserving poor. My opponent said no such thing, but I’m distorting his statement while also making him seem like an awful person. Furthermore, not only is this dishonest, but it deprives us each of having a decent and educational discussion.

The exchange of ideas and the practice of freethinking are the most crucial elements to bettering ourselves, society, and the world. Such an exercise is subsequently dependent upon an attitude that welcomes challenges to conventional wisdom – especially your own – and critically reflecting on what you believe and why you believe it.


Thoughts of the Day

  • Part of what bothers me about the libertarian perspective is that it often comes from people who have lived their whole lives in the very system they claim is anathema to success and prosperity. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with criticizing the status quo and seeking to improve it, but when you suggest that the entire system is rotten to the core, even as you continue to live under it, that seems to undermine your point. These folks never opt to go to Somalia or any of the other numerous countries that are, in effect, stateless. By not voting with their feet, they’re tacitly admitting that the most prosperous places in the world all happen to be those with more developed state structures.
  • It’s strange to think that over seven billion other people are living out their lives as I write this. They think, dream, love, fight, and otherwise exist just like I do, all at once. That’s a lot of stories out there.
  • It’s not easy for any of us to be good people. We’re all flawed by our very nature: the human brain is not perfect, so we’ll always have moral and ethical failings (among other problems) to some degree or another. Even the best-trained mind makes mistakes. But what makes goodness so wonderful is that we try to be decent people anyway, despite the challenges. We must always hold ourselves to a higher standard while acknowledging out innate inclination for lapses in judgement and behavior. Or so I think anyway.
  • Since religious conservatives, especially (though not exclusively) those of Republican affiliation, are so fond of attributing natural disasters to God’s wrath, I wonder what they think about this storm Isaac interfering with the GOP convention. It seems it’s only an act of God if it doesn’t get in the way of their divine political mandate.
  • Everyone lies. Even primates and corvids, among the most advanced kind of animals, have been observed doing it often. The more developed the mind, the greater the inclination to deceive. There is no point is denying this paradox: we all hate lying, but we all do it, not only to deceive others but to deceive ourselves. Lies are often a manifestation of our own preferred truth. So in many cases, we lie less out of malice and more out of need.

An Interesting Anecdote for Whenever Life Gets Rough

The following parable has been making the rounds on Tumblr, and I’m not sure who the author is or whether it’s even true, but I don’t think it matters. The message is a good one. For all the nonsense the permeates the web, there is quite a bit of wisdom to be found, if your willing to do some sifting.

When things in your life seem, almost too much to handle,
When 24 Hours in a day is not enough,
Remember the mayonnaise jar and 2 cups of coffee.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him.
When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.

He then asked the students if the jar was full.
They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured
them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly.
The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full.
They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar.
Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

‘Now,’ said the professor, as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.’

The golf balls are the important things – family,
children, health, Friends, and Favorite passions –
Things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, house, and car.

The sand is everything else —The small stuff.

‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ He continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.’

The same goes for life.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.


Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.
Play with your children.
Take time to get medical checkups.
Take your partner out to dinner.

There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal.

‘Take care of the golf balls first —
The things that really matter.
Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.’

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented.

The professor smiled, ‘I’m glad you asked’, he said.

‘It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem,
There’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.

As always, it’s about the simple things in life. Don’t underestimate the little breathers that come between all the hustle and bustle of our daily routines. They can often make or break our lives, and it will be those moments that we’ll reflect on when we’re judging the quality of the lives we lived.