Emails from a Stoic
Each day, too, acquire something which will help you to face poverty, or death, and other ills as well. After running over a lot of different thoughts, pick out one to be digested thoroughly that day.
These are the words of Lucius Annaeus Seneca, from his second letter to Lucilius. It was Seneca’s belief »that no one can lead a happy life, or even one that is bearable, without the pursuit of wisdom«. While few of us would disagree, the pursuit of wisdom costs time most of us don’t afford ourselves. This weekly email exists as an attempt to follow Seneca’s teaching. It is a commitment device.
At the time Seneca wrote Epistulae morales ad Lucilium (moral letters to Lucilius) he was in retirement nearing the end of his life, one might argue this is the perfect condition to seek wisdom. Meanwhile, we have at our fingertips more information than we can consume in a lifetime, but afford ourselves little time to adequately digest it. This paradox brings to mind the American astronomer Clifford Stoll, who famously declared;
Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.
Stoll understood that our society misunderstands wisdom and all its dependencies. With each step in the hierarchy established above, the time commitment increases. Synthesising information to knowledge is hard enough, let alone arriving at an understanding. But understanding to wisdom would appear to require a synthesis of not just one topic but many so that unique and insightful connections can be made.
Footnote: In Seneca’s fifteenth letter to Lucilius the retired political adviser reflects on words that most would find familiar; »I trust this finds you as it leaves me, in good health.« Seneca suggests that »Without wisdom the mind is sick...« and therefore it could be said that these customary opening words are equal those used at the top of this email.
Inspired by: Letters from a Stoic