The Art of Creating Our Own Suffering by the Things We Want.


I’ve recently got back into enjoying reading, I was doing a lot or studying which I found kerbed my enthusiasm to pick up a book and read for the pure pleasure of it. Thank you Ionela Spinu for gifting me my latest book, by Derren Brown – Happy, I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly, and it certainly has been very reflective. I would like to share with you a particular  snippet form the book that I found struck a chord with me, where Derren Brown references a thought experiment presented  by William B. Irvine.

 “William B. Irvine, a philosophy professor at Dallas University, is the author of On Desire: Why We Want What We Want. In On

Desire, Professor Irvine offers the following thought experiment:


Suppose you woke up one morning to discover that you were the last person on earth: during the night, aliens had taken everyone away but you. Suppose that despite the absence of other people, the world’s buildings, houses, stores and roads all remained as they had been the night before. Cars were still parked where they had been left and petrol for these cars was plentiful at now unattended petrol stations. Electricity and gas supplies still worked. It would be a world exactly like this world, except that everyone but you was gone. You would, of course, be very lonely, but let us ignore the emotional aspects of being the last person, and for the sake of this thought experiment focus our attention on the material aspects.


In the situation described, you could satisfy many material desires that you can’t satisfy in our actual world. You could have the car of your dreams. You could even have a showroom full of expensive cars. You could have a house of your dreams, even live in a palace. You could acquire not just a big diamond ring but the Hope Diamond itself.


The interesting question about this thought experiment is this: without people around, would you still want these things?

Would the material desires you had when the world was full of people still be present in you if other people vanished? Probably not. Without anyone else to impress, why own an expensive car, a palace, fancy clothes or jewellery?

Irvine continues to suggest that, alone in this imagined world, you might try these luxuries for a while but would soon, for example, find a place to live that was easy to maintain rather than live in a palace, obtain clothes that were comfortable rather than expensive, and would probably lose all interest in your appearance.


This thought experiment shows that often we choose our lifestyles, our houses, our clothes and most of everything else with other people in mind. One way or another we project a style to make others admire or envy us. Irvine’s thought experiment shows that our desires would diminish drastically if we didn’t need to impress anyone. Our requirements would probably become limited to what we might think of as ‘natural desires’ or essential desires: food, water, shelter and so on. We might find this notion that we spend so much energy and time seeking the approval of our peers quite eye opening.”


Thank you for taking the time to read to the end, when I first read this I was adamant that the things I desire and buy are for me and not to impress anyone else, but on further reflection on the thought experiment, I think I would have to agree, I would live in a dwelling that was suitable to my needs and nothing more, I would drive what was most practical, and I would wear what I felt most comfortable in, if not for the influence of people around me.


Most people would not externally agree with what Irvine suggests this thought experiment shows, but that is the ego not wanting to be wrong, and not wanting to accept that all this suffering we create through the things we desire is of our own making. But is it really our fault when the advertisers and marketing strategists do such a great job of informing us what we need to be happy. When you truly know yourself, and this is done by looking within, not without, then we have no desire to impress anyone. More about yogic tools to deal with desires in future blogs.


I would love to hear your thoughts and interpretations of this experiment.


Stevan Gill

Lead Teacher



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