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The Tinkered Mind
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April 20th, 2018
A butterfly is not built in a day. A bird’s egg takes time and warmth. And ideas have their own shell. A shell that must be grown to protect, and busted open when that idea has matured.
Substantial changes in personality, mood, conduct, opinion. These never occur instantly. Even on the rare occasions when it seems like they do. (William James has much to say about this sort of instant conversion.)
Our brains entertain all sorts of idea-guests. We come across a new concept and the brain recreates the idea, allows it some rental space in the cocoon-cranium, and there it interacts with all the other ideas the brain has recreated from example or created from scratch.
Some are tossed into a sort of prison: a collection of anti-identity: The ideas and things that most define what we are NOT.
Others are readily welcomed into the fold. Usually these ideas and concepts are much like the ideas and concepts already there. Easier to recreate, easier to integrate.
In some sense this sounds like a neighborhood. Or a country with an influx of immigrants.
Some of these foreign ideas can come in like a rock-star and gain an admirable following quite quickly. But rock-stars don’t really change the world as much as they simply entertain.
Within the context of this metaphor, this community of ideas, how IS substantial change achieved?
A surge of motivation for self-change and drive might result in reading all sorts of books. Munching through bestseller lists, and what not. This is a good thing. This is a curious mind searching.
While it is important to never stop searching, it is also important to pause.
When something particularly valuable has been found, it does not mean that it has been totally integrated.
If emotional reactivity is a problem that has plagued us for years, one pass through Seneca isn’t going to do much. Even if every other sentence feels like a light bulb going off. . .
We must find those concepts that will help us and go over them many times until such words and ideas become the root of our works.
Reading something that feels like a refreshing splash of water in the face is simply recognition. We trick ourselves by thinking that such a flash of recognitive pleasure is proof that we have integrated the meaning of the quote, the idea and the way of thinking it advances.
Think of the times we try to retell a joke we have only heard once? More than anything we usually only remember the feeling that it caused and we laugh as we butcher a poor, haphazard version. Ideas we want to integrate require repetition, and saturation, in the same way that a joke must be practiced before it can roll off the tongue smoothly.
Otherwise, we find our actions betraying the notions that we have singled out with awe.
Integrating useful concepts requires an investment of time, effort and patience.
These concepts must be welcomed into the brain regularly. To mix more frequently and more numerously with all those concepts already in our head. After enough time, and enough familiarity, a tipping point will eventually be reached.
Our brain will have recreated for itself these useful concepts so many times, that their occurrence will be more numerous than previous ideas that gave rise to our less-than-ideal behaviors.
After many readings, or many exposures to – whatever the resource or influence may be – after all that consistent regular effort… the petri dish will be overwhelmed by a new culture. A new culture of thought. And from that culture of thought, new actions will rise
Always search and wander. But always return regularly to those seminal influences that definitely point in the direction we wish to progress.
The cranium-cocoon on our shoulders is always incubating. The actions that bust forth always spring from the ideas we have chosen to feed it: those thoughts we allow to repeat and form the regularity of our internal life.
If that internal life is to change: a new, consistent diet of concepts is needed.
Eating healthy once or twice, or even three times does not grant us the gift of health.
Just as reading a book full of wisdom once or twice, or even three times does not make us wise.