Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Practical Benefits of Philosophy 4. The Question

So far, I 've just given you a little background concerning two philosophical positions.  But it is important background nonetheless and must be fully understood, or, as Dickens related elsewhere, "nothing wonderful can come of the stor[ies] I am going to relate. "  (Somehow Dickens seems to be hanging around this entire enterprise.  See Tenacious Posts).

Also, now that I'm waist deep in this thing, I realize that I've totally misnamed the project.  This series really has nothing to do with practical benefits of anything.  If you're looking for some kind of tangible gain or profit from this string of posts, I'm afraid you'll be sadly disappointed.  So, in the interst of full disclosure, these posts should probably called something like:  the real-life consequences of holding a philosophical view or belief.

I could go back and change the title, but it might make things confusing.  So we'll just shoulder on the best we can.  Which brings me now to "The Question."

*     *     *

We have looked the basics of essentialism and existentialism.  My purpose in this series, however, is not to debate which position is correct, although I have my suspicions.  A Freakonomics column in the New York Times Magazine back on May 7, 2006, asked this question: When someone is very good at a given thing, what is it that actually makes him good?  And, turning to the studies of K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, the authors conclude that “the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers — whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming — are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect.”  This would seem to be a strike against essentialism.  (Although Jim tells the possibly apocryphal story about how he once posed this question to the great Ericsson himself at one of his lectures:  is the willingness to strive to make oneself great inborn or not.  Ericsson reportedly had no answer and walked away in silence.)

In any event, here is my real point:  what you believe about what precedes what ends up affecting how you live.  If you believe that existence precedes essence – that you yourself and not some predetermined trait determines who you are – you will behave one way.  And, if you believe that essence precedes existence, or that there is a preordained way for you to be, you will behave another way.  We look at this next.

Next:  Fixed and Growth Mindsets


James R said...

I know I've been baited but, nevertheless, in this instance, I'm finding it hard to overcome my essentialism nature. I protest. There's nothing apocryphal about it. I was there, but you must get it right. There is no "The Day I Met K. Anders Ericsson" full length story, but he did give a talk to our small group at CMU. Mostly about musicians and athletes as they are easier to quantify. Even the child prodigy Mozart made the talk. About the time, at age 6 or 8 when Mozart first started writing music, his father stopped writing music. Ericsson conjectures that the boy had help. Anyway, after the talk which basically promoted, as Myk says, the notion that most 'geniuses' were incredibly motivated and practiced, we were milling around eating lunch, and I asked him, as Myk says, "All these experts had incredible motivation. Is that something that is inborn?" I expected a long explanation to the contrary, but he just paused and said, "Well, I don't know, perhaps so." or words to that effect. Now perhaps he didn't understand the question or that he couldn't waste his time with me, but that is what happened.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big believer in existentialism, but I'm also against holding a particular ideology (which, it could be argued is true of many existentialists—it's why almost none called themselves existentialists).

Here is another counter example that we are the sole masters of our destiny. Harvard students are justly proud of the talent and hard work exhibited in getting accepted. No one can blame them for feeling proud of their accomplishments, but in the course 'Justice', the professor asks the 500 or so students to raise their hands if they are first born in their family. An incredible 70-80% raise their hands—including the professor.

I'd talk about the Pygmalion Principle here, but I'm already too far off topic. I just wanted to get the facts of the story straight.

By the way, if anyone doubts that what you believe changes how you behave, think of when the minister or justice of the peace said "I now pronounce you man and wife." No new scientific discovery was made, but you believed what was said and your behavior changed radically.

Big Myk said...

I don't think "baiting" is quite fair. After all, I used the phrase "possibly apocryphal." Apocryphal itself means "of questionable authenticity." So, if you say something is possibly of questionable auithority, I think it's more like saying it was probably true.

James R said...

I think it is appropriate here to update a similar post by Myk titled Ericsson Put to the Test. It turns out that Dan McLaughlin is apparently still motivated and definitely still at it.