Epictetus, a Cognitive Pioneer

A slave turned teacher, Epictetus is one of the premier minds of stoicism. Stoics often get very misunderstood, and it has a great deal to do with linguistics. What was once a practical way to evaluate your own actions and morals eventually became a way to simply call someone “emotionless.” I was recently called stoic, and found that rather interesting. I’m not so sure that it’s accurate, but I for sure respect the stoic way of viewing the world.

Our point of inspiration today is Epictetus (Ἐπίκτητος if you prefer) who was born a slave in what is now in modern day Turkey. With a name that practically translates “Acquired” it’s pretty obvious that our friend here was born into a life of hardship. It’s practically miraculous that so many of his teachings survived, and if not for one of his students, Arrian, they likely wouldn’t have.

There are many, many fantastic summaries of what is known of Epictetus’s life, and the collection of his words in the Enchiridion. I won’t simply rehash those things here, as they’ve been said by people far wiser than myself. What is important is how his words have influenced others, from George Washington to James Stockdale. Perhaps we can even, to a great degree, credit Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, and by proxy Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a growth from his core principals.

I actually came to similar views before being introduced to Epictetus’s teachings. When I was learning taiji, I spent some time with Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming at his YMAA retreat center. I found it a very fun experience, but at the same time, I was sharing communal sleeping areas, washing clothes in a bucket with a stick, and pushing my body far beyond comfort. Had someone been -forced- to go from a rather cushy existence as an engineer to such an environment, it’s very reasonable that they would think “Oh my, how much -worse- this is than how I was a few weeks ago!” This judgement is all within not the events themselves, but by the way that they are interpreted.

This is such an echoing sentiment in other schools of thought. It’s worth noting that Kiyozawa Manshi, a reformer of Jodo Shin Buddhism, quotes Epictetus as one of his major influences. Moreover, there are many similar concepts within Stoicism that relate to Christianity.

I’m certainly not claiming that the two worldviews are the same, as there are certainly some significant differences, but both are Monotheistic (“Logos” is named specifically by Heraclitus, which if we look at the Greek in John 1:1, we see that Jesus is also referred to as “Logos” or “The Word.”) And something I personally find very interesting is from Psalms 33:6 –

τῷ λόγῳ τοῦ κυρίου οἱ οὐρανοὶ ἐστερεώθησαν καὶ τῷ πνεύματι τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ πᾶσα ἡ δύναμις αὐτῶν

By the word (logos) of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the host of them by the spirit (pneuma) of his mouth.

I am for sure intending to write on the subject of using the Latin “Spirit/Spiritus” in place of pneuma (πνεῦμα) and how it may differ significantly from psyche (ψυχή), and is closer to ἀήρ (air.) I personally see this as a point of confusion in some theologies, and that it may be extremely practical information.

In stoic philosophy, pneuma is seen as a type of “breath of life” which they saw as a mixture of air and fire.

At this point, I feel it is necessary to point out the similarities to the Naga Yogis and Hinduism Practitioners, and their use of prana (प्राण, prāṇa“) and tapasya (root in ‘Tap/”to burn”, and can be understood as “Produced by Heat.”) Jainism also covers tapas in the Uttarajjhyayana.

You’d be hard pressed to convince me that these are not all really solid concepts. To remove from anything “alive” both breath and heat…simply does not leave it in a state of “Life” for long. I find myself questioning often why these concepts are not explored in greater practical depth, and…well, that will be our experiment for the Following iteration! F(1)

For F(1) I will follow one full month of Wim Hof breathing and condition exposure (more to come on this method) and a series of exercised designed to increase heat. Perhaps these experiences as a method will change my mood.


Today’s alcohol = none, diet = enchiladas, guac salad, exercise = minimal walking.

I had a panic attack today.

…I’ll get to scoring these later, but only when it benefits our experiment iterations.

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