Sunday, May 25, 2008

BYBS: Learning

In a previous post, I mentioned that exams were an experience in pain. I guess that is a specific example of the maxim: "With pain comes suffering." Hmm… that doesn't seem quite right. I know! It was actually "With suffering comes resentment!" No…that's not quite right either. Perhaps it was "The ends justify the means?" "Sometimes to save something you have to destroy it?"

OK, it was "With pain comes growth." Yes, that was it. Or more specifically, I have found with learning comes growth. Often times pain as well, but that's not exactly what I'm writing this entry about.

The ability to learn, to understand something I could not understand before, or do something I could not do before is an ability I regard as near-miraculous. It is one of the things that mark living creatures. It is one of the things that I think of as necessary for intelligence.

For someone like me, it is a big part of spirituality.

In particular the ability to learn from mistakes is an important aspect of spiritual growth. It is often times hard for me to admit mistakes. "I was wrong" is something I do not like to say, even to myself. This is partially because it seems to happen a lot, and partially because it is not something that I hear from a lot of people.

But being able to do something that I could not do before opens up a whole new world. The person I thought I was may not be correct; limitations I thought I had may no longer apply; other possibilities that I thought were closed may now be open. That part is a truly wonderful experience.

I am not a real big fan of effort or pain. But I have to admit, the cost of effort and pain are temporary. The opportunities of learning are…

Sunday, May 18, 2008

BYBS: Respect for the Beast

A long time friend of mine had a cat named "La Bete" which he said was French for "the Beast."

Many years ago, he and I found a sick bird. We put it in a shoebox and attempted to nurse it back to health. At least until the cat found it.

"Why did it kill the bird?! I mean it has all the food it wants, but nonetheless it killed the poor thing!"

In retrospect, I could have rephrased the question: "What else would you expect the cat to do?"

As I'm fond of telling people, cats are obligate predators: their teeth and digestive tracts are not set up for plants. The cells of a cat are able to directly use protein for energy in more ways that those of an omnivore. When fed largely carbohydrates (i.e., dry cat food), they have a tendency to develop diabetes.

With an animal like that, hunting is not a matter of choice - it is "hard wired."

To coin a phrase, a cat is a beast.

Realizing this and planning around it gives me a measure of control. I can rage about how the cat should not kill a bird I found…or I can ask the next door neighbor to take care of it. I can lecture the cat about how it should moderate how much food it eats…but it would probably work better if I feed it wet cat food.

Understanding and planning around the nature of a cat is what I mean by "respecting the beast." What I find remarkable is that I can be rational about a cat, but I still find myself trying to change what I cannot in other situations.

"Why don't I exercise more?!!" Well, I've tried to change all my life by "reasoning" with myself with no success. On the other hand, putting on a good movie or DVD only when I exercise actually seems to work.

"I really should not buy junk food when I go to the supermarket!!" I tell myself that a lot, but making sure that I don't go shopping when I'm hungry has actually resulted in lost weight.

Looking around, I see a lot of other situations where this logic applies…

Sunday, May 11, 2008

BYBS: Roles & the Internet

More specifically, I'm referring to taking on a persona or playing a role on the internet or a computer game. This also applies to things like discussion groups, chat rooms, etc.

Social Psychology/Sociology has quite a few studies and theories regarding roles. What I think the internet and computer games brought to the table is the notion of a "virtual role." Things like "massively multi-player online role-playing games" are social in nature with real (or real enough) people using them. In this context, people can take on a role and then walk away from it.

This aspect has interesting ramifications in that people can therefore act like total freaks, fools, saints, devils, etc. in short, they can attempt to take on whatever role they want to. This allows one to experiment with different roles in social contexts without real danger, though there are social consequences in the online world too.

The ability to experiment with roles is not itself new, but the ability to do so in a situation where one's physical aspects may not be the same as those of the role is at least newish. Someone who thinks that they are unattractive can play the role of an attractive person. Someone who is physically weak can play the role of a strong person. Someone with a stutter can speak perfectly.

With these blessings, however, come several curses. In the case of taking on roles in this setting, you have hecklers, rabble rousers, etc. Furthermore there are the people who want to stay with their online role instead of making real-world changes.

I regard the ability of being able to experiment with negative roles to be valuable as well. How do people really react to what amounts to a criminal? Do these bad guys always get punished? Are there benefits to being "good?"

I'm usually in favor of knowledge, so I come down on the "blessing" side of the equation. What do you think?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

BYBS: Experience with Finals

Being the outstanding student that I am not, one of the things that featured largely in my thought was the notion of final exams. To be more precise the fear of final exams.

I was never sure what other people's excuses were regarding studying, but I seemed to have a neurotic tendency to avoid doing it. I really don't understand why: was it fear of failure? Laziness? The only thing I know for sure is that I would not do the work and instead lived in a state of permanent fear regarding the tests.

The tests themselves were usually an exercise in pain. Each would consist of an hour or two that demonstrated my lack of knowledge and laziness. Once complete, the dread of having to take one was replaced by the dread of what sort of grade I had gotten. Usually, by some miracle, I managed to do OK, which meant that I would graduate onto the next layer of pain.

Now I face yet another final. Unlike the previous ones, I have no fear of it. Before I needed to prepare for the exam; this time there is no preparation required. It used to be that you actually had to arrive at the place of torture to perform the test. With this one, the test comes to you. Previous tests required a clear state of mind to be successful; this test has no such requirement.

The only strange thing about this test is that, unlike previous exams, the people around me are terrified whereas I am almost looking forward to it.

One of the benefits of having gone through a lot of tests I suppose.