Saturday, May 15, 2010

So, Just Who Do You Think You Are?

One of the recurring topics of conversation lately and a side effect of our discussion on Having a Code (A Man's Gotta Have a Code, Decoding the Code, and Topeka!), is understanding the nature of who we are? What is it that makes us human? What defines us individually?

I'm not sure how all these relate, but here are a couple of themes that have emerged for me. I thought I'd share them with you and see what you think.

Discovered or Created
In my observation, most of us see the "real me" as preexisting, someone to be found, to be revealed, to be discovered. We tend to speak of "me" as "the kind of person who..." We may speak of "Taking time to find myself" or "Really getting to know who I am." My personality is who I am, not a side-effect of who I am deciding to be in the moment.

Alternatively, we might think of the "real me" as nonexistent. What others (and I) view as "me" is in fact simply the transient psychological manifestation of the totality my beliefs. Who I am changes from moment to moment as I decide to be someone else. Personality is not who I am any more than my clothing is who I am. Personality is just a perception of me in the moment. I am not discovering myself; I am creating myself.

Of course, both perspectives invite question "Who is the observer?" Whether I discover myself or create myself, the question is still on of who is doing the discovering or creating.

Thinking or Being
We've previously discussed epistemological and ontological thinking and processing. Epistemological thinking is knowledge-oriented and structured. We take what we experience and we frame it, we categorize it, we organize it, we file it, we abstract new concepts from it, we apply those concepts to what we do.

Ontological processing is experience-oriented and unstructured. It is akin to riding an inner-tube down a river without thought as to where you're going or where you've been. You may paddle here or push there, but only in response to the moment. It involves being entirely present with your environment. Ontological experience is what many would call flow.

Taught or Derived
As infants, almost everything we learn is derived from experience. We're not capable of being taught. Instead, we observe, we recognize patterns, we start applying the patterns to new experiences. We aggregate those experiences into concepts to which we assign tokens or words or symbols. We aren't taught new concepts, we just figure them out.

As we grow, we learn less and less through derivation and more and more through teaching. Many teaching processes expose us to concepts prior to exposing us to the experience of those concepts. We're instructed on how to play the piano before spending much if any time with the piano. We're told the process of addition before ever being exposed to problems that require addition. We don't derive and figure out new concepts, we're provided them.

So, Who Am I?
It's easy to view any of the above juxtaposed concepts as a dichotomy. Am I someone who is discovering myself, or someone who is creating myself? Do I learn through discover or teaching? Am I experiential and feeling oriented or am i thoughtful and logic oriented?

In fact, we're each both and we're each neither. We live in a constant state of flux, a state of feedback bouncing back and forth between endpoints. As I create myself I discover things about myself that I act upon. As I discover myself, I find things about myself that I re-create.

We vacillate between experiencing and thinking about the experience. Our contemplation of the experience changes who we are causing the us experience same stimuli differently.

We receive instruction, but the learning doesn't actually take place until we've put the instruction into practice and we derive for ourselves what we've been taught. We derive insight from experience and then learn even more as we receive instruction from some with greater experience.

We have our biases, but no one of us is at one end of the spectrum or another.

Epistemological Flow
It occurs to me that my ideal model of being might be what others would consider to be an oxymoron, epistemological flow.

On the surface, it would seem that epistemological processing is exactly the opposite of flow; when we flow, we're not thinking, we're not organizing and structuring. Instead, we're just present, in the moment, existing, being, experiencing. When we flow, we experience a deep sense of peace and calm; we're blissful.

The thing is, for me, this is exactly my experience of writing software. I'm clearly forming abstractions and structures; I'm doing a lot of thinking. However, it's not work. It comes easily and naturally. The epistemological processing is not a step removed from what I'm experiencing; it is what I'm experiencing. I feel blissful and serene, out of time, out of space, just present.

As I think about it, I have the same experience playing piano; as I hear the notes, I see them, I organize them, I structure them, and I play--a lot of thinking. And yet, it feels effortless, calm, peaceful, blissful. What's up with that?

Maybe becoming is not about moving from one end of the spectrum to the other, nor trying to find balance and equilibrium? Maybe it's not about learning how to cycle between discovering and creating, being taught and deriving, thinking and being? Maybe it's about making both ends of each spectrum one and the same?

OK, does that sound nuts or what?

Happy Saturday!

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