What are some lessons people learn too late in life?

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That’s roughly the question asked by Quora here. I’ve camped on our planet for awhile now, so I came up with a few answers. Here goes:

  1. We are here for others, not just for ourselves. We come and go with nothing, but we can always leave something. This is also called love.
  2. Humans are learning animals, and among the things we all learn eventually — or should — is that knowledge is provisional, truths are opinions, and our first calling is to learn more and keep our mind open, even though that gets harder as experiences accumulate and prejudices with them.
  3. Everything has deeper causes than the obvious ones. The universe, life, knowledge, language, math and the Internet all changed everything. Each has no other examples of itself. That’s a sign of full depth.
  4. When investing, always buy in the past.
  5. Knowledge is the best investment. And it is best to invest in the most rewarding, useful and durable kinds of knowledge — for example of music, languages, sports and other skills — when the mind and body are still young. They’ll pay interest for the rest of your life.
  6. The purpose of life is death. Death produces materials that add beyond measure to feed and sustain more life, and add to the abundance and variety of everything that can be named, and far more that can’t. Most of our building materials rely on death. Without death, no limestone, marble, travertine, chalk, chert, peat or coal. No wood, no concrete, no oil, gas or metals smelted and shaped with heat. Helium, one of the most abundant elements in the universe, is produced on Earth only as a byproduct of rotting organic matter. By making use of carbon, life produces even more useful forms of carbon by producing abundances of death. Oxygen in the atmosphere was produced by life forms that bloomed and died two and more billion years ago. Most of the iron mined in the world began as ferric sludge on the floors of long gone seas, and produced by the corpses of the same life forms that gave the world oxygen. Bottom line: death is a grace of life, and both are icing on the cake of existence.
  7. The challenge of life that depends on death is to appreciate the endless tug between certainty and possibility. Gandhi: live as if you’ll die tomorrow; learn as if you’ll live forever. And stay open to the possibility that both can be true.

Originally published at blogs.harvard.edu/doc on June 12, 2017.

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