Author Topic: Stoicism and Hormetism  (Read 4293 times)

Offline Jbird

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Stoicism and Hormetism
« on: March 23, 2010, 05:41:23 PM »
I have been refreshing my understanding of the philosophy of stoicism and thinking about how it relates to the writings on hormetism on this blog. In addition to the connections between stoicism and hormetism discussed elsewhere, I think this quote from the Wikipedia entry on stoicism helped clarify a common denominator between the two of "constant practice and training":

"Philosophy for a Stoic is not just a set of beliefs or ethical claims, it is a way of life involving constant practice and training (or askesis, see ascetic). Stoic philosophical and spiritual practices included logic, Socratic dialogue and self-dialogue, contemplation of death, training attention to remain in the present moment (similar to some forms of Eastern meditation), daily reflection on everyday problems and possible solutions, hypomnemata, and so on. Philosophy for a Stoic is an active process of constant practice and self-reminder."

I've been asking myself whether I am a stoic or a hormetist. I don't "train," whether physically or spiritually in the sense of having a routine, a regimen, anything one would call a daily discipline--and in that sense, I don't think of myself as either a stoic or hormetist, yet I do feel engaged in the process of living a good life, managing stress and "getting stronger" (both literally and figuratively) in an ongoing way. I might not be sitting for 20 minutes and meditating in a formal way or going through a set routine in the gym according to a set schedule, but I am naturally predisposed toward self-dialogue and reflection as mentioned above, and I am continually challenging myself to become stronger in various ways, through a variety of physical activities, as well putting myself in situations that I see as growth-promoting, even though I may be overcoming my own inclination to shy away from them. I think what I'm wondering is whether the "active process" really has to be a formal routine or whether it can be how one thinks and lives.

In rereading this, I think I said something misleading. I am pretty much intellectually, physically, and emotionally/spiritually "active" every day, but not according to a schedule or set routine. So I'm not saying that my approach is casual and sporadic. I'm consistent but not organized. I can see that to achieve certain types of goals, such as being an Olympic athlete, one would need to be train in a more disciplined way and one would be setting progressive goals and monitoring progress, etc. Some people like to have a lot of structure. I like some but not too much. I seem to give the impression that I'm disciplined because I'm high achieving, and others comment on it, but I always deny it because there isn't a set pattern to anything I do. I wonder if that is inconsistent with stoic/hormetic principles or simply a variation. 
« Last Edit: March 24, 2010, 06:19:34 PM by Jaye »

Offline Todd Becker

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Re: Stoicism and Hormetism
« Reply #1 on: March 25, 2010, 06:28:29 AM »
I've been asking myself whether I am a stoic or a hormetist. I don't "train," whether physically or spiritually in the sense of having a routine, a regimen, anything one would call a daily discipline--and in that sense, I don't think of myself as either a stoic or hormetist, yet I do feel engaged in the process of living a good life, managing stress and "getting stronger" ... I think what I'm wondering is whether the "active process" really has to be a formal routine or whether it can be how one thinks and lives... Some people like to have a lot of structure. I like some but not too much. I seem to give the impression that I'm disciplined because I'm high achieving, and others comment on it, but I always deny it because there isn't a set pattern to anything I do. I wonder if that is inconsistent with stoic/hormetic principles or simply a variation.  
Jaye,

You raise some very good points.  I would agree that both Stoicism and Hormetism go beyond mere beliefs to embrace active involvement in self-improvement, "getting stronger" if you will. For some, this might involve a somewhat formal regimen or daily discipline, as you mention, such as working out in the gym.  But  the nice thing about both of these philosophies of life is that they are frameworks which allow great freedom to each individual as to how best to apply the principles of strengthening. Hormetism, for example, primarily emphasizes the benefits of moderate, periodic stress and challenge, and progressively increasing the degree of challenge. Since each individual has different areas of challenge, different weaknesses they would like to overcome, and different biorhythms, one would expect to see great variety in the details of how Hormetism is practiced.  Furthermore, while there are many people who want to follow a fixed routine or be told what to do, there are others (like me and it sounds like you) who prefer greater freedom and flexibility in their lives, not just in terms of schedule, but in terms of the ability to constantly learn, adjust, reflect, and respond to new information. So this is no one-size-fits-all practice, but a flexible philosophical framework that can be adapted to individual temperaments, needs and circumstances. The same basic set of tools can be used in very different ways by the Olympic athlete in training, the elderly or handicapped person trying to increase daily mobility, the dieter trying to shed a few pounds, the timid introvert trying to build up social confidence, or even the well-adjusted person trying to push on to new heights of personal growth.

Irvine, in his wonderful book on Stoicism ("A Guide to the Good Life"), also emphasizes that the "spiritual exercises" advocated by the Stoics need not occupy much time in our daily schedule, or even be daily activities for that matter. They can involve brief, occasional reflections or meditations, almost like short prayers or self-reflections, at appropriate times.  And even the training exercises involving, for example, voluntary poverty or giving up pleasures, were recommended as periodic or intermittent exercises to help us overcome "hedonic adaptation" and better appreciate what we already have in life.  

So I think that both Stiocism and Hormetism allow for considerable flexibility in how they are implemented.
« Last Edit: March 25, 2010, 06:37:28 AM by Todd Becker »

Offline Jbird

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Re: Stoicism and Hormetism
« Reply #2 on: March 25, 2010, 08:24:01 AM »
I'm glad you were able to decipher my post. I didn't realize what I was trying to say until I was saying it, as is so often the case with me when I'm writing. Thanks for taking the time to respond with your usual clarity and helpful advice. I think finding the fine line between being challenged (which I find energizing) and being overwhelmed (which I find draining) is something I am continually learning to do. "Moderation" was almost a dirty word (or at least a boring one) when I was younger, but now the hormetic concept of "moderate, periodic stress and challenge" really resonates with me. I admit I need more structure in some areas than others. For example, when it comes to diet, I need more structure (but not too much), but when it comes to exercise, I need less, though that differs depending on the type. With weight training, I acknowledge the benefits of more structure and admittedly work harder with a personal trainer than on my own. When it comes to more aerobic types of activities, which is what I more naturally gravitate towards, I am better able to challenge myself, though not in a systematic way. Maybe it's my own version of interval training, but I will play games where I'll see someone biking ahead of me and push myself to overtake him or her, then at other times I'll be taking it more easy and find myself in a more reflective mental mode. This brings up another concept that I don't recall seeing addressed. I think there's a spirit of playfulness that is important to me that I wouldn't necessarily think of as hedonic, yet my impression is that stoicism is "serious business." Does the concept of "play" fit into your "flexible philosophical framework"? Forgive me if you've already addressed this elsewhere or if it seems irrelevant.

Offline Todd Becker

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Re: Stoicism and Hormetism
« Reply #3 on: March 27, 2010, 09:31:39 AM »
I think there's a spirit of playfulness that is important to me that I wouldn't necessarily think of as hedonic, yet my impression is that stoicism is "serious business." Does the concept of "play" fit into your "flexible philosophical framework"? Forgive me if you've already addressed this elsewhere or if it seems irrelevant.

I really like this last post of yours, Jaye. I think playfulness is such an important part of life, and I would want no part in any philosophy that did not make room for spontaneity, variety, humor and fun. A good part of what motivates me is the fun of discovery and surprise, trying out new ideas, openness to others, and yet not being bound by what others may or may not have done.

Despite their reputation for seriousness, the Stoics believed that their approach to confronting and overcoming challenges was key to making room for joyfulness.  The subtitle of William Irvine's book on Stoicism is "The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy", which might sound like an oxymoron to those who have not read Seneca or Marcus Aurelius. Towards the end of his book, Irvine himself reflects on the surprising sense of joy he has stumbled upon:

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One other discovery I have made in my practice of Stoicism concerns joy. The joy the Stoics were interested in can best be described as a kind of objectless enjoyment--an enjoyment not of any particular thing but of all this. It is a delight in simply being able to participate in life. (A Guide to the Good Life, p. 275)

I also like this quote from George Leonard:

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Humor not only lightens your load, it also broadens your perspective. To be deadly serious is to suffer tunnel vision. To be able to laugh at yourself clears the vision. When choosing fellow voyagers, beware of grimness, self-importance, and the solemn eye. (Mastery, p. 139)
« Last Edit: March 28, 2010, 04:08:14 PM by Todd Becker »

Offline Jbird

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Re: Stoicism and Hormetism
« Reply #4 on: March 28, 2010, 06:34:34 PM »
Todd, I'm so sorry about what happened with the site being down. Is this the same problem that Seth had, or was the timing just a coincidence? Thank you for your response to what I thought might be an irrelevant question. You remind me of my favorite college professor (a Classicist, by the way), who was always able to find something meaningful to respond to in students' questions and comments, no matter how off the wall or poorly phrased. I always marveled at that. It was like watching a magician pull rabbits out of a hat! Anyway, I'm grateful and feel encouraged... It looks like I'm going to have to find Irvine's book and read it for myself. Also really like the George Leonard quote. Thanks so much for these gems! Looking forward to whatever else is in that hat of yours!

Offline Todd Becker

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Re: Stoicism and Hormetism
« Reply #5 on: March 29, 2010, 05:05:53 AM »
Thanks for the kind words.  I'm not sure if the forum site crash was a coincidence or not. Seth's Shangri-La Diet forum was down the same day as this one, but his is hosted on a different service (Dreamhost) than this one (SiteGround).  "Spambot" hackers hit both sites, so maybe it was just a bad day for both of us.  Fortunately, the folks at SiteGround helped me get a backup copy of the forum files rebooted, so the disruption was limited.

I think you will enjoy Irvine's book.  What I found most interesting about it is that he started looking at the Stoics as part of an academic study in his role as a philosophy professor, and it ended up actually changing his outlook on life.  I also like the way he avoids being pendantic and strives to distill the message of the Stoics into everyday terms that anyone can understand and apply to their own life.

Offline Danielle

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Re: Stoicism and Hormetism
« Reply #6 on: April 17, 2010, 10:51:26 PM »
I've been asking myself whether I am a stoic or a hormetist. I don't "train," whether physically or spiritually in the sense of having a routine, a regimen, anything one would call a daily discipline--and in that sense, I don't think of myself as either a stoic or hormetist, yet I do feel engaged in the process of living a good life, managing stress and "getting stronger" (both literally and figuratively) in an ongoing way.

I'd like to see if I understand the difference between Stoicism, Hedonism, and Hormetism.  Here's what I think I understand:

If life is a boat at sea...

The Hedonist tries to avoid the rocks and shoals at all costs
The Stoic is resigned to running aground & springing leaks at some point, but accepts that fate because it builds character
The Hormetist builds a stronger boat that can resist the rocks and shoals

If that is the case, I think that Stoism and Hormetism are more realistic than Hedonism, since there will always be rocks and shoals in life.  But Hormetism, if it can work, might be both the most realistic and the most hopeful of the three.  I think that Stocism may be a bit too fatalistic for me...

Just a thought.

Offline Todd Becker

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Re: Stoicism and Hormetism
« Reply #7 on: April 24, 2010, 11:11:18 AM »
Danielle, Welcome to the forum!  Somehow I had overlooked your post for a few days and just found it here, so please excuse the delayed acknowledgement.

I think that Stoism and Hormetism are more realistic than Hedonism, since there will always be rocks and shoals in life.  But Hormetism, if it can work, might be both the most realistic and the most hopeful of the three.  I think that Stocism may be a bit too fatalistic for me...

I like your way of using the boat analogy to contrast these different philosophies.  I think you have it just about right.  I agree that there is a fatalistic element to Stoicism that is difficult to accept, both in terms of the truth about life, and in terms of the motivation to try to make positive changes and make a difference rather than give into fate.  On the other hand, I do agree with the Stoics that once something has happened, a lot of time and anguish can be wasted trying to replay how it could have gone better, so I like the Stoic counsel about acceptance of the past.  Regarding Hormetism, I that it is not just about building increasing resistance to the "rocks and shoals" or trying to somehow prevent them from ever affecting our emotions, but rather to expose ourselves to increasing dosages of these "rocks and shoals" so as to build up that tolerance within ourselves, almost as walking barefoot on rough pebbles builds up calluses.  So I'll have to think about your metaphor a bit...I don't know quite how to express the ideal of a boat that progressively becomes stronger by exposure to hardships.


Offline Torvald

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Re: Stoicism and Hormetism
« Reply #8 on: September 02, 2013, 12:58:51 AM »
Here's an attempt at the boat analogy:
  • The Hormetist finds some small rocks and shoals, crashes the boat against them on purpose, sees how they damage the boat's structure, and uses the knowledge to attach cleverly designed bumpers that protect the boat against big rocks and shoals.
The analogy doesn't quite work because hormesis as we usually think of it involves triggering unconscious processes to make adjustments. Oh well, boats aren't made of living tissue, so you have to patch them up by hand. (Or stress the barnacles until they grow into bumpers?)