RE: virus: Phaith page on

Richard Brodie (
Thu, 10 Jun 1999 13:43:02 -0700

Dan... your extremely well-written description is EXACTLY what I mean by Level 3. It is in fact not only possible to choose the quest for knowledge as a life purpose, but philosophers throughout history have done it. The mistake they frequently make is assuming that the same quest is equally fulfilling for others.

<<Richard, has it occurred to you that there may be some people out there
quite naturally operate at level-3, and yet come to different conclusions than you do about what's valuable or desirable? I don't mean specifics like cognac and cigars (or motorcycles and Marlon Brando), I mean on a fundamental level; what it is in a general way that makes you level-3. Maybe some level-3 thinker examines her life in the most profound and fundamental way, and, as you suggest, makes certain conclusions and resolutions about her behavior and happiness.>>

That's the whole point of my book Getting Past OK. You get to choose your own purpose.

<<But what if she doesn't stop there? What if she questions these
conclusions? Maybe, instead of examining only her present and past life, she also looks into the future, musing on many possible "future histories", picturing herself on her death bed, asking herself if being happy most of the time was enough for her? What if the best of all these possible scenarios leaves her feeling empty and dissatisfied?

Maybe she then searches her memory for times when she felt the most fulfilled, the most satisfied with herself. What if she then concludes that there are things that are more important than happiness (to her, at least)? I don't mean something else that necessarily excludes periodic bouts of happiness during life, just something that's always there when happiness isn't. What if she discovers that an abiding and enduring sense of satisfaction and contentment with herself through her accomplishments is what she really needs? What if she realizes that she only feels this way when she reflects on things she's done that have had a positive and measurable effect, however minute, on humanity's understanding of itself and the cosmos, and therefore, in some small way, on human history? What if she's basically a "scientist" at heart?>>

Yes, this is exactly in line with what I mean by purpose.

<<Maybe then she'd find herself a champion of rationality and "Truth",
derived as the natural consequence of her cerebral pursuits and goals. Maybe she'd find herself participating in discussion groups on the net; maybe some of the ones you have read. Maybe this rich forest of self-knowledge might not be readily apparent through all the trees of ASCII text.>>

Yes yes yes.

<< Maybe you might misdiagnose her as a knee-jerk level-2 rational

I doubt it. Level-3 players don't have their knees jerked. They also tend to be good enough at seeing other people's points of view that that kind of interaction doesn't take place. it's impossible to fake being able to see someone else's point of view, and that is a characteristic of Level 3.

<< Not that she'd really care, I'd wager. Viewing everything she
does, and everything that happens to her, as appearing on a canvas that spans her entire life, past and portend, would tend to shrink the apparent importance of such things.

I guess it all comes down to personal desires and self-knowledge; knowing yourself well enough to know what it is you really want out of life. Of course, you could always push on and try to analyze why you want what you want, and try to determine if you should actually want something else, but then you'd find that's a pointless, self-referential task - a fool's errand. On the other hand, you wouldn't understand this at a gut level until you did it.>>

Yes yes yes

<<Everyone is blessed (or cursed) with a different pairing of intellectual
faculties and emotional dispositions, which play against - and are played against by - their own sets of personal life experiences in memory. This ensures that everyone will have different desires and needs, different influential experiences, and differing abilities to sort it all out (and differing tendencies to attempt this in the first place).>>

Yes yes yes

<<So what does all this have to say about "levels" and the examined life?
not exactly sure. Maybe there are more than 3 levels. Four perhaps. Maybe five. Maybe a hundred. Maybe what you envision isn't discrete at all, but continuous. Maybe it's not a static framework at all, but a process. A process that's slow in most, fast in some, and maybe even halted in others. Maybe it's just different degrees of "wisdom", for lack of a better word.>>

Certainly Levels are not The Truth. They are a powerful model.

<<And what should we make of the possibility that a "level-3" person can
appear indistinguishable from a level-2? Or the other way around? Should we take appearances at face value and dispense advice to people who don't need it, or flatter by imitation people who don't warrant it? Does it matter either way? Not if the root of the equation (personal desire) is such a various and seemingly arbitrary and impenetrable thing.>>

The only answer to a "should" question is by seeing if it is in alignment with your life purpose. And for that, you have to know your life purpose.

<<I suppose that, as a conceptual tool, the level thing works fairly well as
a first approximation, but it seems to me that, if the goal of levels is to recognize an aspect of human nature, it might be easier (and possibly more accurate) to simply say that you can better understand other people by understanding yourself better.>>

That is certainly a small part of the whole picture, but only interesting if understanding other people is your goal.

<<Hmmmmm...... maybe "the Truth" really is a strictly personal thing.>>


Richard Brodie
Author, "Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme" Free newsletter!