Some pretty bad ideas come to you when you’ve been sitting in front of your laptop like a zombie for days—stressed out, sleep-deprived, over-caffeinated, malnourished, and badly in need of some fresh air. Certain concepts begin to make sense in this sickly context, concepts which epistemologists like Friedrich Nietzsche and Nassim Nicholas Taleb view with great suspicion.

Against the small army of stern moralists who’ve been telling you, since you were six-years-old, that it’s not virtue unless it hurts, Nietzsche and Taleb maintain that it’s not virtue unless it’s pleasant. Both men have advocated scholarly work habits which are diametrically opposed to those customarily employed by many undergraduates, most professors, and all graduate students.

Witness Nietzsche’s remarks in Ecce Homo (1888) on the writing of Zarathustra: “My most creative moments were always accompanied by unusual muscular activity. The body is inspired: let us waive the question of the soul. I might often have been seen dancing in those days. Without a suggestion of fatigue I could then walk for seven or eight hours on end among the hills. I slept well and laughed well. I was perfectly robust and patient.”

Witness, as well, Taleb’s remarks in the Preface to the second edition of Fooled by Randomness (2005): “This book . . . was written for fun and it aims to be read (principally) for, and with, pleasure. . . . The rules while writing the first edition of this book had been to avoid discussing (a) anything that I did not either personally witness on the topic or develop independently, and (b) anything that I have not distilled well enough to be able to write on the subject with only the slightest effort. Everything that remotely felt like work was out. . . . I tried to use no quote that did not naturally spring from my memory and did not come from a writer whom I had intimately frequented over the years . . . .”

Most of us realize, at some point in our late teens or early twenties, that we ought to second-guess thoughts that occur to us when we’re drunk. By our mid-30s, most of us view thoughts that occur to us when we’re angry with the same suspicion. But few of us ever realize that we ought to be just as skeptical of thoughts that occur to us when we’re stressed out, sleep-deprived, over-caffeinated, malnourished, and badly in need of some fresh air, some blue sky, a long walk in the woods, and a good night’s sleep.

—John Faithful Hamer