login about faq

I ask this question after seeing the many tributes to Steve Jobs in the media, including notably from many Objectivists who seem to regard Jobs as some incarnation of Howard Roark. The parallels are certainly clear: Steve Jobs was very individualistic, clearly a genius and was not second-handed in his sense of life.

What does give me pause is to read deeper and find out that Steve appears to have used and advocated for the use of recreational drugs (LSD). He had a yogi. He explored Zen Buddhism, Indian and Tibetan mysticism and at the point of his death had only downloaded one book on his iPad: "The Autobiography of a Yogi" which is an account of the celebrated mystic Pramahasna Yoganada. It is clear that whatever Steve was, he had very mystical interests. In the final analysis, one of these mystical beliefs may even have done him in since he refused potentially lifesaving surgery for quite some time (in favor of some special diet) after being diagnosed with cancer.

The question I have is: does Steve's mysticism have any bearing on his productivity? From reading Atlas Shrugged, I would tend to think, A being A, that the contradictory thinking and inherent illogic of mysticism would simply prevent someone from being as hyper successful as Steve Jobs evidently was. If someone who is so mystically inclined could create the world's most valuable company, is there much that they couldn't do? How can a set of strongly held mystic beliefs (which AR would have decried as "foolish" or "evil") lead to so much productivity and good in the world?

As I look at this issue, I see many examples: men & women of science and physics who believe in mystical religions, take drugs and otherwise eschew logic and rationality. The archetype of the clownish genius is a very familiar one. We see that some of the greatest, most amazing breakthroughs of humanity have come from minds and people like these. On the artistic side, I get the sense that much of what humans love and find beautiful in Art: Monet's Impressionism, Van Gogh's Sunflowers would be shrugged off by strict Objectivists who seem to prefer pictures of heroic muscular men in front of New York Skyscrapers. In science, I suppose Objectivists would prefer the Roark type of inventor who believes in himself, his product and little else. In short, many of the biggest human achievements in Art and Science seem to spring from a distinctly non-Randian mindset.

If Objectivism is totally correct, than shouldn't these kinds of achievements not happen or at least happen much less frequently with such non-Objectivist minds at work? Are they happening in spite of the "wrongness" of the achievers' mindsets? Stated otherwise: if man can flourish artistically, flourish scientifically and make the world a beautiful and comfortable place for himself with non Objectivist philosophy then why bother with adopting it ?

asked Oct 21 '11 at 18:50

Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image


edited Oct 22 '11 at 09:20

I guess people often have a very easy time rationalizing, the more intelligent they are, the worse. So we might say with considerable justification that Steve Jobs was a genius; but that only made it easier for him to rationalize himself into a mystic. Men have free will, so even the most intelligent man ever to live can make terrible choices in philosophy; even though he still retains the extent of his intellectual capacity.

The fact that these kinds of mystic ideas are so readily accepted by society (especially in celebrities) only makes this even easier.

I'm interested to read answers!

(Oct 22 '11 at 17:10) FCH FCH's gravatar image

People can be contradictory and compartmentalized. A man can be excellent and very logical in one aspect of his life, but mystical and lost in another part.

A poor philosophy is only fully detrimental to a person's success in life it it isn't contradicted by better elements of his thinking.

A person can be a productive hero without being an Objectivist.

The questioner asks: "If man can flourish artistically, flourish scientifically and make the world a beautiful and comfortable place for himself with non Objectivist philosophy then why bother with adopting it."

Today, people who flourish artistically or scientifically are the exception rather than the rule. Yes, it is now possible, for a very unusual person, to achieve what Steve Jobs did. But that's very different from it being the norm. The reason to adopt Objectivist philosophy is to clear away for oneself the philosophical obstacles (such as mysticism and altruism) which currently only people like Steve Jobs can succeed in spite of.

The question is like asking: if some people can win a marathon in bare feet, why wear running shoes? The answer is: to make it easier.

answered Oct 22 '11 at 20:39

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

I love the "running shoes" analogy. An Abibi Bikela would, perhaps, be able to overcome the handicap of bare feet but would someone who was much less gifted be able to do so? I think not.

(Oct 23 '11 at 11:17) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

"How can one be both deeply mystical and yet deeply productive?"

Only by not applying your mysticism in your everyday life.

With regard to Steve Jobs, just because he was reading about mysticism doesn't mean he was putting it into practice. It's not unusual for people to develop some mystical or religious curiosity or leanings when they learn they have a fatal illness; perhaps it was that way for Jobs, too.

My limited sense of Jobs is that he was very much a "pick and choose" type. If he saw something when reading about mysticism that helped him relax, I could imagine him adopting it. But if it told him to pray to the East five times a day to get what he wanted, or to light candles and say phrases in foreign tongues, I'm sure he would reject that out of hand.

FWIW, there's a lot more to the advanced yogis than just mysticism. For example, some have tremendous control over their bodies -- something that might be of great interest to someone who was steadily losing control over his.

"does Steve's mysticism have any bearing on his productivity?"

It's hard to say without knowing him. To the extent that it distracted him from his work, it may well have been a negative. To the extent that it allowed him to relax and focus better, it may also have been a positive.

answered Oct 30 '11 at 03:53

Rick's gravatar image

Rick ♦

Rick- It does appear from the facts that Steve was a very committed Buddhist who not only went through the motions of a mystic belief but very actively practiced it ( http://blogs.plos.org/neurotribes/2011/10/28/what-kind-of-buddhist-was-steve-jobs-really/ ). He not only did the "five times a day" type stuff (stared at walls) but much more. Your answer was interesting in that it could apply to any religion: many people use religious beliefs to relax and perhaps to enjoy the company of other people. Is this "OK" ? Is the fellowship part of Christianity OK while the altruist part is not?

(Oct 30 '11 at 07:03) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

Follow this question

By Email:

Once you sign in you will be able to subscribe for any updates here



Answers and Comments

Share This Page:



Asked: Oct 21 '11 at 18:50

Seen: 2,216 times

Last updated: Oct 30 '11 at 07:03