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The Tinkered Mind
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December 14th, 2020
One of the principles of Tinkered Thinking is a twist on the French scientist Jean Baptiste Lamark’s famous dictate: use it or lose it. The focus of the phrase is atrophy, but it doesn’t exactly capture it’s relation to growth, and so a slightly different principle is coined:
Use it to boost it or lose it.
Things either grow or they decay, there is no fabled middle ground where we can take some sort of pause, a rest, and get back to things later. Getting back to it later is just about always going to result in the finding of a depreciated state of affairs. Even sleep, it turns out is not exactly ‘rest’ as we generally think about it. It seems, even in that “regenerative” state, our body and brain is hard at work - but it’s simply a different capacity of work. Any pause referenced here, or the sense of getting back to it ‘later’ is intended to mean quite a while - not a mere few hours.
That being said, even a few days without practice can begin to create an anti-habit that makes it more likely we might not ever pick up the practice again. Daily consistency goes quite a long way.
So what happens when it’s been decades since a person has done something and suddenly the opportunity arises? Is it easy? The answer is common sense enough, and yet we don’t seem to apply that answer equally and appropriately across the board.
For example, is something like curiosity susceptible to our degradative growth principle: use it to boost it or lose it?
The answer seems to have a healthy amount of evidence in the retirement paradox, which is summed up by how retired people spend their new wealth of time. So much of life for many people is a painful experience of putting all sorts of hopes and dreams on hold while taking care of obligations and responsibilities, often centered around a job and a career that is far from inline with the natural drives of the human spirit like curiosity and play.
Such aspects of the human spirit aren’t really taken “seriously” by the business of society, despite the often enormous and unexpected return they produce - most likely because it’s unexpected and therefore unpredictable and therefor impossible to plan for. The question still stands however: are things like curiosity, play, self-direction and drive aspects that can degrade if left unexercised in the human experience?
The paradox of retirement is that so many people end up doing very little with that wealth of time finally grasped. And it’s likely because decades are spent like someone sitting in a wheelchair while dreaming of a marathon. By the time the chance to run comes along, the legs don’t even work. More importantly, the work required to get that machinery of childhood up and running again is very difficult - it requires “work” and that concept, prospect and practice is often a complete turn-off for someone who has spent decades and decades doing work as dictated by an employee that was far from fulfilling nor enjoyable.
School is often an accurate target as a culprit for killing curiosity, but many “professions” finish the job with years of uncreative routine and aggravating group dynamics. All of these pressures and incentive structures hinder the mental conditions required for curiosity. Skills like self-direction, drive and curiosity require some very valuable resources: primarily time and a lack of chronic stress, and much of society’s economic structure has most people focusing on alleviating the second by sacrificing the first, leaving no resources left over to keep curiosity alive.
The irony that leads to the retirement paradox is that we are sacrificing our life to the juggernaut of time while simultaneously trying not to risk that life. Seeing how things are likely to play out and soberly confronting the fact that we usually lose the most precious gifts that make us human can suddenly flip the conventional logic: the temptation to push all your chips into the center of the table can quickly seem like the only sensible way to play.