Sunday, November 15, 2015

You Can Change

It’s well known in Western culture that people can change. But some people have doubts. They doubt that some things about them are within their power to change, like their short temper or how intelligent they are.

But this is a mistake. Even these things are changeable. It’s not some static thing that is handed to us at birth. It’s well known that if you work at it, you can get better at learning/problem-solving, which is what intelligence is.

Some people know that they can get better at learning but they find it hard to do, and they feel bad about that.⁠1 So to avoid that bad feeling, some of them give up and accept that they can’t change. That gives them the feeling that they’re off the hook because if that’s true then it’s not their fault - not their responsibility. But the truth doesn’t depend on what they’d like the truth to be.

And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They fool themselves into believing that they can’t change. So then they don’t try to change. So then no change occurs. They use the fact that they didn’t change as evidence supporting the theory that they can’t change. But evidence doesn’t support theories - evidence only rules out theories. And the evidence that they didn’t change does not rule out the theory that they can change but didn’t because they didn’t try the right things to change.


Note that this book isn’t meant for them. I can’t persuade them of something while they’re making excuses about it. Nothing I could say would get through to them. Instead, I want to talk to the people that don’t want to make excuses.

I’m also only interested in people who are open to considering ideas different than their own. You should expect to find a bunch of cases where you disagree with me. And you shouldn’t assume that I’m wrong. Nor should you assume that you are wrong. You’ve got to come to your own conclusions according to your own independent judgment. 

Disagreements are good! They are opportunities to learn - for you to learn why you’re wrong, or for me to learn why I’m wrong, or both. This is how progress is made.


How Much Can We Change?

Now common sense says we can change, but it doesn’t explain to what extent we can change. To understand that, it helps to understand our best theory to date⁠2 explaining how the human mind works and explaining how that contrasts against how other animal minds work.⁠3

For a non-human animal, software is installed in its brain according to its genes, and then the animal acts according to its software (its mind), and it’s not able to change that installed software because that’s how the software is designed. This is analogous to how a computer chess program can’t learn checkers. It’s because the animal cannot change the software it was given.

But for a human, software is installed in his brain according to his genes, and then he has the ability to change any part of his software. He has this ability because his software is designed to be able to change itself. This implies that a person can learn anything, solve any problem, create any knowledge. This is the faculty of reason.

The only thing we can’t do is break the laws of nature. Everything else is within our reach. The key is knowledge.⁠4


And why should we do it? Why should we examine ourselves and look for areas of improvement? What’s the point? Because as the philosopher Socrates said over 2,400 years ago, the unexamined life is not worth living!


Footnotes:
1 To understand why people feel bad in these situations, it helps to understand shame and static traditions. See fallibleideas.com/tradition.
2 What do I mean by “best theory to date”? I answer that in the FAQ at the end of this book.
3 For details see meme theory in the book The Beginning of Infinity, by David Deutsch.
4 What do I mean by knowledge? See fallibleideas.com/knowledge.


This essay is the first chapter of my book Anger: And How to Change. You can purchase the book on amazon. If you like the book, and especially if you don't, please send me critical feedback or questions and I'll gladly review and reply. Thank you.

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