First Chapter Section 4
John Holt once said : We learn something from everything we do, and everything that happens to us or is done to us.
What we see, observe, and ultimately learn in life, from friends and family, make us more informed or more ignorant, sometimes wiser or sometimes more stupid, but we always learn something from our experiences. What it is that we learn depends mainly on our inside experience, and above all, on how we are left feeling about it. We are very unlikely to learn anything valuable from experiences which are not interesting and are not important in the rest of our lives. Even more important, we are even less likely to learn anything good from coerced experiences, especially things that others have bribed, threatened, bullied, or tricked us into doing. From such we learn mostly anger, resentment, and above all self-contempt and self-hatred for having allowed ourselves to be pushed around or used by others, for not having been smart enough or strong enough to resist and refuse.
Living a life on autopilot might bring unhappy consequences. In the same manner, to paraphrase John Holt: people who watch television on autopilot learn that characters they watch on TV are in every way better than they are. They see younger, sexier, smarter, stronger, faster, braver, richer, happier, more successful and respected TV personalities. Then when the (autopilot) time comes to get up and turn off the tv, the thoughts are even more destructive in their minds, “Why couldn’t I have been more like them?”
Zen Master Roshi Philip Kapleau in his excellent book called Awakening To ZEN says:
Ummon, a great Zen master of the T’ang period in China, said to his assembly of monks, “The world is vast and wide. Why do you put on your seven-piece robe at the sound of the bell?”
Ummon is urging us: Experience for yourself this limitless universe—touch it, taste it, feel it, be it. Thoroughly savor it. Don’t speculate about life and the world. Live it! That is true freedom—religious freedom and spiritual freedom.
Ummon is saying, if you are a monk, put on your robes when the bell rings announcing the morning service. If you are an office worker, go to the office. If you are a husband, kiss your wife and children and drive to work. If you are a student, go to school. If you are a school teacher, open the door and ring the bell. Don’t drag your feet and complain, “Why should I?” Awakening brings the experiential awareness that the world is an unfathomable void. Yet every single thing embraces this immense cosmos.
The above illustration is theory behind our book. Human consciousness is more like a productive factory. You can imagine like a chocolate factory. If you input chocolate ingredients and the machinery is set up to produce chocolate, the output is always chocolate. There is nothing you can do about it. We will show the trick is to change the input and the machinery. Remember the two aspects of this factory. One is the input (observation and attention) which are the chocolate ingredients and next is the machinery (consciousness) that outputs chocolate.
Even or odd: No easy feat for the mind
by Chris Barncard
Even scientists are fond of thinking of the human brain as a computer, following sets of rules to communicate, make decisions and find a meal.
But if the brain is like a computer, why do brains make mistakes that computers don’t?
Research by Gary Lupyan, a cognitive scientist and psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, shows that our brains stumble on even the simplest rule-based calculations. Instead, humans get caught up in contextual information, even when the rules are as clear-cut as separating even numbers from odd.
Almost all adults understand that it’s the last digit—and only the last digit —that determines whether a number is even, including participants in Lupyan’s study. But that didn’t keep them from mistaking a number like 798 for odd.
A significant minority of people, regardless of their formal education, believe 400 is a better even number than 798, according to Lupyan, and also systematically mistake numbers like 798 for odd. After all, it is mostly odd, right?
“Most of us would attribute an error like that to carelessness, or not paying attention,” says Lupyan, whose work was published recently in the journal Cognition. “But some errors may appear more often because our brains are not as well equipped to solve purely rule-based problems.”
Asked in experiments to sort numbers, shapes, and people into simple categories like evens, triangles, and grandmothers, study subjects often broke simple rules in favor of context.
For example, when asked to consider a contest open only to grandmothers and in which every eligible contestant had an equal chance of victory, people tended to think that a 68-year old woman with 6 grandchildren was more likely to win than a 39-year old woman with a newborn grandkid.
“Even though people can articulate the rules, they can’t help but be influenced by perceptual details,” Lupyan says. “Thinking of triangles tends to involve thinking of typical, equilateral sorts of triangles. It is difficult to focus on just the rules that make a shape a triangle, regardless of what it looks like exactly.”
In many cases, eschewing rules is no big deal. In fact, it can be an advantage in assessing the unfamiliar.
“This serves us quite well,” Lupyan says. “If something looks and walks like a duck, chances are it’s a duck.”
Unless it’s a math test, where rules are absolutely necessary for success. Thankfully, humans have learned to transcend their reliance on similarity.
“After all, although some people may mistakenly think that 798 is an odd number, not only can people follow such rules—though not always perfectly—we are capable of building computers that can execute such rules perfectly,” Lupyan says. “That itself required very precise, mathematical cognition. A big question is where this ability comes from and why some people are better at formal rules than other people.”
That question may be important to educators, who spend a great deal of time teaching rules-based systems of math and science.
“Students approach learning with biases shaped both by evolution and day-to-day experience,” Lupyan says. “Rather than treating errors as reflecting lack of knowledge or as inattention, trying to understand their source may lead to new ways of teaching rule-based systems while making use of the flexibility and creative problem solving at which humans excel.”