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Conversation with Olav Hoel Dørum on Philosophies, Love, Life, and Meaning: Former Ombudsman, Mensa Norway (2)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2022/06/22


Olav Hoel Dørum was the Ombudsman for Mensa Norway. He discusses: social philosophy; economic philosophy; political philosophy; metaphysics; worldview-encompassing philosophical system; meaning in life; meaning externally derived; an afterlife; the mystery and transience of life; and love.

Keywords: economics, life, love, Mensa Norway, metaphysics, Norwegian, Olav Hoel Dørum, philosophy.

Conversation with Olav Hoel Dørum on Philosophies, Love, Life, and Meaning: Former Ombudsman, Mensa Norway (2)

*Please see the references, footnotes, and citations, after the interview, respectively.*

*Interview conducted January 2, 2021.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What social philosophy makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Olav Hoel Dørum[1],[2]*: Since this is the first question I will explain how I understand these topics so the reader has a reference throughout the interview. Various directions in philosophy, economy and political ideologies each represents a complete set of instructions on how to relate to the world. While many have elements highly valuable for different cultures and states, each model is in itself insufficient as humans are too diverse in personality, intelligence and motives to fit in to the often narrow and homogenous mindset and behavior described in the various thought systems.

Almost every philosophy, economical theory and political ideologies are self-referring, meaning that the concept of wrong exists as a contrast to other thought systems. There is no such thing as a defined saturation point in which we have enough capitalism or communism to use those as examples. The only way to validate an idea is to have an external criterion with measurable properties such as longevity, health care, stability and progress – even if this is limited and a somewhat subjective perception of what constitutes a good life. Handling complexity such as moral contradictions requires a level of academic discipline which often is too demanding. People are generally not good at simultaneously holding multiple ideas and values. My focus is on what type of people a mindset produces, rather than the moral and ethical foundation of that mindset. Even when there are no logical incompatibilities one value usually ends up as dominant.

To answer the first question, I would look to the East-Asian cultures which are more organized and collective in nature. They score lower on the both press freedom- and individual choice index, but it does not mean that the society feels unsafe or limiting for the individual. Interesting enough, there are reports suggesting that the perceived social pressure is higher in Norway than in Japan, which sounds contradicting since we have more focus on individual rights. It is easier to implement policies that are for the common good in a culturally and socially homogeneous population. Their culture is more resilient to change, which impedes progress in example LGBT-rights. But as a whole, their work ethic, social conscience, structure and reaction to crisis is admirable.

Jacobsen: What economic philosophy makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Dørum: Since income is moderately to strongly related to mental and physical health, including decision-making abilities, we should offer social programs and other benefits to those worse off – offering a predictable and available safety net. Most of the studies are correlation studies, so we cannot say if the variables are a result of a common underlying factor. We know intelligence and personality accounts for a significant proportion of economic success, but the cause is irrelevant in this matter. Poverty, including relative poverty which is a perception rather than objective criteria for wealth, is connected to crime. Income differences could lead to more political instability, segregation and lack of trust in a culturally diverse country. Hence, the social democratic platform seems the most reasonable. I do not advocate socialism, which is governmental controlled means of production, but capitalism with social programs known as “welfare capitalism”. The culture must come first, then the economic model. When a new economic model is introduced, there will be a gradually transition until it comes at a halt and the result will inevitably be a corruption of the ideal. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian capitalism became oligarchy. In America, capitalism has grown into corporatism. A political ideology alone is not enough.

Jacobsen: What political philosophy makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Dørum: Distribution of power through democracy. I do not argue from an enlightened mass, but solely as a preventative measure against the centralization of power. It’s tempting to see the advantages of the Chinese one-party-state, but they are also a highly advanced dictatorship. John Rawls idea of “Justice as fairness” is inspiring, but goes too far in his pursuit of inequality by disruption the distribution of wealth in such a way that we get a bloated bureaucracy and a too slow growing economy. To build a society we all would like to live in if we in advance do not know who we will be, is an excellent mantra. Most people seem to approach such questions with the assumption that their success would be within reach with a different set of abilities.

Jacobsen: What metaphysics makes some sense to you, even the most workable sense to you?

Dørum: I have a weak spot for Immanuel Kant. Kant argues that our cognition has two components, one sensory and one of the rational mind. True cognition is only possible by combining these two. It sounds like the diplomatic middle road doesn’t it, but it’s not hard to find branches that put too much emphasis on, or relies on, the concept of free will – such as laissez-faire capitalism and objectivism. The concept of not having free will is foreign for many of us. I like the part of Hume’s thinking that unites freedom, moral responsibility and soft determinism. Philosophical systems that speak highly of free often disregards, or do not seem to understand, how perception is shaped by ideology. Even our ability to tell colors apart, time perception and simple numerical understanding (multitudes and magnitudes) are influenced by language, three abilities we assume are determined by biology and not language. There is no conflict between lack of free will and responsibility, just as an action often leads to a predictable effect. Choose your environmental input and parents with care.

Jacobsen: What worldview-encompassing philosophical system makes some sense, even the most workable sense to you?

Dørum: I’m so boring it’s unbelievable, humanism. Most animals that form packs seem to have a sense of fairness. Our amygdala, a cluster of nerves, which is a part of the limbic system – responds quite similar to psychological and physical threats. Sense of vulnerability, even purely philosophical, can trigger a fight, flight or freeze response. We get a more harmonic and stable world that way if people’s sense of safety is kept intact.

Jacobsen: What provides meaning in life for you?

Dørum: There is a Norwegian poem called “Livsveven” (The loom of life) by an anonymous writer. “Not until the loom has stilled, and the shuttle has come to a halt, will God pull the drapes aside, and let us see. That the dark threads so as well as the bright ribbons, together formed the patterned in our Masters mighty hand”. It is difficult to translate the poem in such a way that it recreates the feelings I get when I read it in Norwegian. I get filled with a warm darkness that fills me with peace. My answer would be “depth and dimension”. With age, I can appreciate the difficulties I have gone through, and the painful experiences I have had. I do not know if a more streamlined life would be a happier one. I now feel a deeper contentment. I have a job I love, well established and an active social life. To come to the point where you no longer fear death too much.

Jacobsen: Is meaning externally derived, internally generated, both, or something else?

Dørum: Internally generated. If someone has found a meaning with life it seems like they either have genes that promotes development of a certain mindset, or that they have, unknowingly or deliberate, practiced some form of cognitive therapy or metacognition. Most people do as they are genetically instructed and socially encouraged to do, be reasonably successful, socially accepted and find a partner. It doesn’t seem to give them any form of meaning.

Jacobsen: Do you believe in an afterlife? If so, why, and what form? If not, why not?

Dørum: I do not believe in an afterlife. There is no reason why our consciousness would somehow be transferred when the biological processes are terminated. Maybe in a parallel universe as a copy, but nothing religious.

Jacobsen: What do you make of the mystery and transience of life?

Dørum: Life as we define it are chemical reactions and neural activity. Our perception of time is adjusted to our biological life span. One day we might reach and average lifespan of 120-140 years and that would seem normal, or centuries using various technology to keep our consciousness intact. I am sure our perception and understanding of time will adjust accordingly. If anything, I would say our current time span is highly convenient. It’s long enough for humans to achieve ground-breaking discoveries, while not so long that social and political changes stagnates.

Jacobsen: What is love to you? 

Dørum:  A rare and deep emotional connection with another person. Usually a form of completion and with the desire to form a partnership. It’s a part of our emotional spectre. Some people rarely feel love, and some may never have truly experienced it.


[1] Former Ombudsman, Mensa Norway.

[2] Individual Publication Date: July 22, 2022:; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2022:


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