Tuesday, June 4, 2013

One step to X

Interesting piece on becoming Who You Want To Be came out this week, from every blog ever. The blog title template "Three steps to X" is a tired snowclone.

David Brooks of New York Times had an interesting op-ed today about disillusionment of self-realization strategies. Although the piece was about a specific article, he expertly pins down a basic fact of human nature: who we are is defined by what we do -- at a neurophysiological level. He writes:
...the brain is a malleable organ. Every time you do an activity, or have a thought, you are changing a piece of yourself into something slightly different than it was before. Every hour you spend with others, you become more like the people around you. Gradually, you become a different person. If there is a large gap between your daily conduct and your core commitment, you will become more like your daily activities and less attached to your original commitment.
Brooks touches upon a more intimate version of the mind-body problem in philosophy that cognitive science has made us aware of in the last half century: there is an inextricable link between psychology and philosophy that needs to be addressed head on. When we acknowledge the feedback between the real world we experience and our mind, then we can use this fact as a more effective means towards our goals. If the brain is fallible (and it is), then lets hack it.

To become the ubermensch, we must embody the ubermensch, at least temporarily. Or in other words, to change ourselves in a specific way -- say, exercising more, or writing a little every day -- then we must start by enacting those changes, even if we dislike them in practice. In doing so, we reinforce those neural motifs in our brain, which hopefully feeds back into our desire to continue enacting those changes we sought.

Okay, seriously, I don't know what I'm talking about. I just found out on Wikipedia that there's such a thing as neurophilosophy. But I've been tinkering with this thought for a while, and I realize it's been around for a long time. The best example I can think of is method acting. The basic principle of method acting is to try and recreate the emotions and thoughts of your character in yourself, in contrast to simply trying to act out the emotions and thoughts of your character.

We are creatures of habit. Step one in achieving our personal best is taking that first step. The second will be easier. Maybe it's easier said than done, but saying it wont do anything. 


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