Athens vs. Sparta

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” — Richard Feynman

I’m going to be shameless in telling you that I pulled a great deal of inspiration for this article from David Deutsch’s book “Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform The World.” 

In fact, in his book he talks about Athens vs. Sparta and the differences the two cities had which affected their histories so markedly. 

I’m going to dig deeper into how this applies to my own life, and how it might apply to your life.

While you don’t need to read the book to understand what I’m writing about here, I highly recommend you take a dive into it when you get the chance. You won’t be disappointed. 

Before I get into the main part of this article, I want to provide a little background so you understand what helped me get to this point. 

I suffer from 2 distinct types of thinking patterns called “analysis paralysis” and/or equally harmful “shiny object syndrome.”

Here’s a definition so you have better clarity…

Analysis Paralysis: describes an individual or group process where overanalyzing or overthinking a situation can cause forward motion or decision-making to become “paralyzed”, meaning that no solution or course of action is decided upon.

Shiny Object Syndrome: describes an individual who chases a “shiny object” [an idea, business model, income source, etc.] only to give up and start chasing the next “shiny object”. Always starting something “new”.

On the surface, they seem mutually exclusive, or don’t have any connection, but in my opinion, they’re two sides of the same evil coin. 


This was my life for the longest time. Struggling between these two different modes of thought, never getting anything productive done.

All the while my anxiety was creeping to higher and higher levels. I had all this energy, and it felt like I was starting over all the time, never making legitimate progress, something must be wrong. 

Here are some (personal) examples I’ve gone through: 

  • Registering 20 domain names, but never actually creating content or a business for any of them.
  • Trying to master every traffic source (FB, Google Ads, Instagram, Email, SEO) at once and going through course after course trying to learn each with little to no actual progress.
  • Going from blogging to copywriting to ecommerce and beyond as “business opportunities” only to stop because something new and fresh came up.

Maybe you’ve experienced the same thing? 

If so, then I know your pain. 

So, what does all of this have to do with Athens and Sparta? Two cities from over 2000 years ago with little relevance to the 21st century.

That’s where the “Beginning of Infinity” comes in. 

Both cities (Athens and Sparta) were powerhouses in Greece. Yet, only one was known for its mini-enlightenment and for producing exceptional thinkers who have literally shaped the way the West thinks now. 

That would be Athens. 


Athenians were optimists!

What do I mean by optimist? 

Here’s the definition Deutsch gave in his book: 

The Principle of Optimism: All evils are caused by insufficient knowledge.

A better way of providing clarity on this is through a quote by Karl Popper:

The question about the sources of our knowledge… has always been asked in the spirit of: ‘What are the best sources of our knowledge — the most reliable ones, those which will not lead us into error, and those to which we can and must turn, in case of doubt, as the last court of appeal?’ I propose to assume, instead, that no such ideal sources exist — no more than ideal rulers — and that all ‘sources’ are liable to lead us into error at times. And I propose to replace, therefore, the question of the sources of our knowledge by the entirely different question: ‘How can we hope to detect and eliminate error?’”

What I’m trying to communicate is that Athens, as a city philosophy, believed that improvement was possible. 

It was a city that produced our first known democracy and some of the finest thinkers we still regard with high respect today.

It was a city which allowed criticism which opened up the gateway for knowledge to flow. In a way, Athens was one of the first recorded instances where they believed that whenever they tried to improve things and failed, it was because they lacked sufficient knowledge. 

They believed these 2 core tenants: 

  1. Problems Are Inevitable
  2. Problems Are Soluble

They also had the courage (and the freedom) to criticise their peers in the pursuit of better knowledge. 

In fact, the laws and customs of Athens were set up to accommodate many different rival ideas of “perfection”, to subject them to criticism, to bring forth the tiny seeds of truth, and to test those which seem most promising. 

After all, if an idea can withstand harsh criticism, and maintains integrity, it must be most accurate to reality. 

So, what about Sparta? 

Sparta wasn’t so keen on improving. If you lived in Sparta during this period you would have noticed no philosophers, no artists, no improvement at all. 

Sparta was built with institutions and customs that viewed any step into the unknown with great fear. They had a harsh and unforgiving education system built on following authority blindly. They revered dead poets, instead of living ones, because the dead poets create no new poetry. 

In short, Spartans were NOT open to suggestion, tolerant of dissent, or critical of opinions. They held their most important ideas as immune to criticism. 

The Spartan’s goal was to create conformity. How else would they get perfect soldiers? 

They didn’t believe that over time, they may learn and know things better. They believed that the Spartan way of living was the “right” way, from the very beginning.

The Spartan’s believed this so much they essentially banned debate, which blocked criticism, which prevented their people from ever gaining new knowledge. 

Thus, they maintained stasis (or equilibrium). 

There’s a famous saying which fits perfectly regarding Sparta: “Better the devil I know, than the devil you don’t.” 

The Spartan’s were pessimists. They avoided everything not known to be safe. 

And this was a moral evil.


How does this all tie in with analysis paralysis and shiny object syndrome? 

Both are eternally pessimistic attitudes towards life. 

With analysis paralysis, you’re trying to pick the “right” answer. The one which will lead you into the least amount of error. The most reliable and best idea possible, an idea immune to criticism or fallibility. 

With shiny object syndrome, you believe “this one idea” is the best idea. It will solve ALL your problems and will be a cure-all for your issues. That the idea itself is immune to criticism or fallibility. 

Do you see how this is a flawed method of thinking? 

I was acting like a Spartan. Afraid to step into the unknown because I believed my creation, my business ideas, or my thoughts had to be perfect from the very beginning. 

I was unwilling to improve.

Now, I’m aware of my ignorance and error, and painfully so.

However, here’s the best part…

Error is the normal state of knowledge, and is no disgrace. 

With this in mind, it becomes easy to make a decision, and overcome analysis paralysis. Because I know the decision is most likely wrong. I’m comfortable with being incorrect and operating from a place of ignorance and error.

Because I KNOW I will improve upon the decision every day. I will gain new knowledge and apply that knowledge. By gaining new knowledge, I will make progress, which means I will be happy because I’m solving problems.


With this in mind, it becomes easy to follow through with an idea and avoid shiny object syndrome. I know the “idea” is full of errors and ignorance. My objective is to generate more clarity within the idea (in a sense to go deep into my understanding of the idea) and to eliminate errors. Thus, I’m creating new knowledge, making progress, and achieving happiness.

If you get anything from this article, I hope it’s this one question to ask yourself moving forward: 

  1. How can I detect and eliminate errors?

By asking this, you’re now at the beginning of infinity, because learning and knowledge creation, is an infinite progress. 

With that said…

I choose to believe problems are inevitable, and problems are soluble. 

I choose to believe the only evil is insufficient knowledge. That detecting and eliminating errors, thus gaining more knowledge, as the only good. 

I choose to criticize my reality with the intention of understanding truth more clearly.  

I choose to be an Athenian.

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