Good decisions and bad decisions; possibly a self-indulgent ramble


I think over the past year or so I have managed to make some good decisions in my life. Of course, I made good decisions before from time to time, but at least now I think I’m making fewer bad ones, so the net result is (more) positive. The first one was to become a vegetarian, almost exactly a year ago. I didn’t plan on becoming a vegetarian seriously before, but it just suddenly occurred to me one day (August 30, 2006, to be precise) that it would be a good decision to stop eating meat. I was full of doubt about whether it was a good idea or not at first, but the good thing about such impulse decisions is that they tend to come with a large dose of initial motivation. And after the initial burst of motivation had been exhausted, I no longer consider going back to my old ways.

I assumed that it would be difficult to stop eating meat, especially since I had eaten a lot of meat in the past, but I never found that I missed it. In fact, the food I’ve eaten in the past year has been more consistently good than ever before (at least if you discount the food I ate in the dining common) — it’s a lot easier to eat what I want when I cook it myself! I’m not a particularly good cook, but I enjoy cooking, and I can follow someone else’s recipe if it’s not incredibly complicated.

Anyway, since I really enjoy food, and eating is an important part of my life (and probably just about everyone else’s too), I think I became happier in general knowing that I was making better decisions regarding my food. I didn’t expect that to happen, but it’s a nice side effect. In fact, I’ve become more confident in my decision-making ability in general. People say I’m looking healthier than before too; that wasn’t my goal, but it’s another nice side effect.

The problem is that my standards have gone up over the year, so now maybe I’m back to where I started, except that now I think I’m making bad decisions when I eat non-vegan food. I’ve been trying to do this less frequently, and eventually it will probably go down to zero, but I’m not used to making changes in installments, so it’s difficult for me.

Another good decision I’ve made is to become an atheist. Actually I don’t know if “become” is the right word; I don’t know if I would have said that I believe in god in the past, but I probably wouldn’t have said I was an atheist. Actually I think everyone in my family is an atheist; my sister will admit it, but my parents want to redefine god to coincide with something they believe in. I tried that for a while, calling myself an “axiomatic monotheist.” (I just threw together popular scientific theories about the beginning of the universe and defined it as god.) But now I think that’s not such a good idea. The point of having words is to be able to communicate with other people. (Well, maybe; as Orwell pointed out in 1984, it’s difficult to have thoughts if you don’t have words to describe them.) So if one redefines one’s terms so they are inconsistent with the way other people wish to use them, then one fails to make use of a great advantage of language. It doesn’t seem worth it for the sake of avoiding admitting to a controversial belief.

It’s really nice to be free of beliefs in silly and nonexistent things. And it’s a bit easier to focus on leading a good life if you don’t have to worry about what is/isn’t going to happen after death. (Then again, I don’t think I ever worried about that.) But it’s easier for me when I am really confident in my beliefs.

Tangentially related, I found this blog post on StumbleUpon today. It makes me hopeful that some kids can think like that.

I suppose that it isn’t exactly a good decision, but I will soon be living in my own apartment and taking care of myself. I’m really excited about not being looked after, although it’s just a matter of degree. While I’m renting an apartment from Stanford, Stanford will be sort of looking after me, although less than my parents do and less than people at UCSB did. Anyway, it should be really enjoyable for me to take care of myself and be in charge of all my needs.

Also, Stanford will be a new start for me. I have an opportunity to stop being pulled down by my bad decisions in the past. I am hopeful that I can get rid of some of them.

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About Simon

Hi. I'm Simon Rubinstein-Salzedo. I'm a mathematics postdoc at Dartmouth College. I'm also a musician; I play piano and cello, and I also sometimes compose music and study musicology. I also like to play chess and write calligraphy. This blog is a catalogue of some of my thoughts. I write them down so that I understand them better. But sometimes other people find them interesting as well, so I happily share them with my small corner of the world.
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16 Responses to Good decisions and bad decisions; possibly a self-indulgent ramble

  1. What is it that makes you so certain that being a vegetarian is the right decision? I’m just curious.
    As an atheist child, I had a lot of experiences like the one in that blog post, though many tended to turn ugly as I grew up in the Bible belt. In elementary school, a substitute teacher told me she’d kill me if I were her kid [for not believing in her version of the creator]. Then she lied about saying it later. I’m sure she wasn’t entirely serious, but it was pretty intimidating (she was throwing a full on screaming tantrum).
    It’s amazing how narrowly people view good and bad in terms of their religion versus everything they are too scared to think about.

    • Simon says:

      Well, I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong when it comes to what foods to eat, but I know that I don’t want my pleasures to be derived from the suffering of others. In addition, vegetarian (and especially vegan) foods tend to be healthier, and their production causes less harm to the planet, so all that together is more than convincing enough to me. But the first reason was already more than enough for me.

  2. dreamyshade says:

    yay! i have similar reasons for being vegetarian (and atheist), and i like being this way. have you seen cooking for engineers? not all of the recipes are healthy or vegetarian, but there’s a lot of interesting stuff there.

  3. deviantq says:

    Yay indeed! For the record, I found going vegan to be just as easy as going vegetarian (at least apart from the eating-at-restaurants aspects, and the problem of determining if certain baked goods have eggs or milk). Also for the record, I don’t care about the animals, just health. Heh.
    Atheism is good too. I had arguments with another Jewish friend who was insisting on “agnostic” (and still does, I believe), even though he admits that the possibility of any kind of god is less than the possibility of all the molecules in the room spontaneously rearranging themselves to choke him. In the end it does seem to come down to words and allegiances.
    Living on one’s own is fun, as long as you have income. I’m doing it this summer, although the apartment is all provided for me, so I don’t have to deal with rent etc. Well, I’m sure it’ll all work out well! Have fun 😀

    • ywalme says:

      the possibility of any kind of god is less than the possibility of all the molecules in the room spontaneously rearranging themselves to choke him
      Given the circumstances I say the words “devil’s advocate” with the profoundest sense of irony, but I’m curious what the line of reasoning is here.

      • deviantq says:

        Which line of reasoning? His line of reasoning for refusing to give up “agnostic” (basically “there’s always a chance; don’t be closed-minded”) or mine for that claim? (Basically, there is as much evidence for/reason to believe either.)

        • ywalme says:

          Yours for that claim. I suppose I see your point (though the pedant in me feels obliged to point out that — granting the ergodic hypothesis — if you wait around long enough the molecules in the room will rearrange themselves and strangle you. Time constraints of the universe aside….).

          • Simon says:

            Use of probability (okay I know deviantq said possibility, but I don’t think that’s different) here is rather dangerous. No probability can be assigned to an event that only (potentially) occurs once: we have one universe, and either there is a god, or there isn’t. So probability does not apply.
            I’m not sure if that has anything to do with the present discussion.

          • deviantq says:

            The pedant in my feels obliged to point out that just because things happen randomly doesn’t mean everything possible ever happens. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s the case… I mean, I think you’re committing a gambler’s fallacy—an extremely unlikely event _must_ happen sooner or later. But still, at every single point in time, the probability is extremely low, no matter how long you wait. Waiting longer doesn’t do anything to the fact that it’s unlikely to happen.
            Right?

            • ywalme says:

              Pardon? The gambler’s fallacy I’m familiar with has more to do with prior events seeming to affect future events which are really independent (“I just got 278456894 heads in a row, the next one has got to be tails.”) than with whether nonzero-probability events will ever occur, given enough time.
              just because things happen randomly doesn’t mean everything possible ever happens. … Waiting longer doesn’t do anything to the fact that it’s unlikely to happen.
              The ergodic hypothesis asserts that in fact the system will explore all (accessible) points in its phase space, over (possibly arbitrarily) long times. That is, as the number N of trials becomes large, then (1 – p)^N can be made arbitrarily close to 0, even for very small p, so if you’re willing to sit around for N -> \infty, the probability that the event has not occurred does go to 0. I grant that this is kind of a dumb statement for anything where you expect to have finite trials (N limited by, for instance, the heat death of the universe…), but I didn’t mean anything deeply philosophical by my original comment, so much as I happen to be studying for my statistical mechanics qualifying exam and I have stupid physicist logic on the brain.

              • Simon says:

                I think it’s (slightly) more complicated than you said because we’re dealing with a Markov chain rather than iid variables, but the conclusion is still the same (given the ergodic hypothesis).

              • deviantq says:

                Ah, well, that’d do it. I knew I should’ve looked up the ergodic hypothesis before replying :-P.

  4. comeand_go says:

    Guess what. I think I am becoming a vegetarian too (admittedly at first it was because meat’s more expensive and I do my own grocery shopping now) and you know. Not eating meat is actually not that difficult! Ah! So horray, we can be fellow vegetarians.
    When does school start for you and when do you need to take your first set of exams? The best of luck to you!

    • Simon says:

      Great! I knew you could do it. Vegetarian food is definitely cheaper in general. So there’s another reason to become a vegetarian that I had forgotten about.
      Classes start on September 24th, if I recall correctly. The qualifying exams are the week before that (the 18th and 20th, but I’m not sure which one is which). I’m only going to take the algebra exam.

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