The Self-modifying light bulb

In response to Falkenstein’s Parable of a Light Bulb, I would just say that throughout our lives we have quite a bit of influence over how our neural connections are weighted. In other words, we have significant control over not only what we are good at throughout our lives but even more so what we enjoy (or trick ourselves into thinking so, no difference). For most people it takes practice to consciously take control, but that’s a separate matter.

I always wondered how much of the enjoyment from doing something (work, hobbies, etc — lighting up the room in the case of the lightbulb) can be explained by the selfish desire to have an impact on other people’s lives. There comes a certain pleasure from mastering a task or skill, no matter how simple and irrelevant. This certainly contributes to one’s enjoyment of life.

2 thoughts on “The Self-modifying light bulb

  1. In his Ted Talk, http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy.html, Gilbert presents evidence of a phenomenon: (paraphrased) Within a short period of time from the life changing event, the lottery winner will register the same level of happiness as a multiple amputee. Restated relevant to Falkenstein: A person with infinite means to consciously “create” any meaning they so desire is neither happier nor more satisfied than a person who is extremely limited in the meanings they can “create.” Gilbert’s “Stumbling Upon Happiness” extends the argument that humans are inherently bad at predicting the emotional outcomes of their choices. So even if we have control over our neural connections, skills, and preferences we are ill equipped to exercise that control to any significant end.

    If we are to self-modify, we must be cognizent of our own biases and “train” ourselves to expect rational outcomes, otherwise the ability to create meaning becomes a Sisyphean labor. For introspection and self-analysis, I am not familiar enough with the practices of meditation to espouse its benefits, but I have enjoyed the couple guided sessions I attended. On the scientific front, Dan Ariely’s research into irrationality and the predictability of people acting against their own self-interest is extremely engaging. And socially, Gilbert offers that we should weight the experiences of others far more heavily when we consider our own futures.

    Overall, I’d like to hear you expand on the practice of consciously taking control. Because I believe the most value to our lives comes from the mastery of that skill.

  2. Nice post, Gary. One of my favorite aphorisms is “Action precedes motivation”.

    I, too, would love to know that question. And it’s testable — researchers ought to be able to determine how much we really do care about influencing others vs. just mastering the skill.

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