Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Psychology and Physiology

While running yesterday, I was thinking about having an open mind.

I was thinking how, in order to be convinced--to really believe--of a novel idea, I needed both a persuasive argument and time.

I needed the persuasive argument to make me think the idea is worth thinking about.
But the time--why would I need that? I feel that ideas can take some getting used to; your experience may or may not be the same.

I started thinking about this from the physiological view. If we assume that mental processes are associated in some way, then physiological change should be related to psychological change.

In many dimensions of life, I have experienced obvious growth in physical abilities through practice, for example in playing musical instruments. Why wouldn't such growth also accompany practice in psychological endeavors?

In the physical endeavors, growth is not instantaneous: our bodies adapt over time.
Would it not make sense that psychological processes, inasmuch as they are connected to physiological processes, might also take time to take root?

We all can experience growth in psychological abilities through practice. The practice of memorizing is a prime example of this--if we want to memorize something, we practice, and the more we practice the easier it is to remember, and then if we stop practicing, we start to forget? Why is this? It's easily explained if we assume that there's some physiological component that can be developed and that can deteriorate--just like our athletic abilities increase through practice and decrease through disuse?

While in graduate school I remember having a conversation with a fellow student who had been a carpenter and cabinet maker. He said that when he was practicing he had been able to distinguish 16ths of inches (or maybe 32nds, some small increment) accurately when he had been practicing, but that, with his attention elsewhere as a graduate student he had lost that ability.

What does this mean for the writer? It means that the answer is found in regular practice that creates shifts in our physiology. Such shifts might include increases in skills--like improved memory--and it might include changes in ideas and ways of looking at the world.

This suggests that changing your way of interacting with your work is possible through practice; it also suggests that such change may be slow and incremental: we don't go from being a couch potato to a marathon runner in one workout, or one week of hard work.

It suggests a regular practice--one that gets touched on regularly. Taking a few days off is one thing, taking most days off is another. While there may be good reason to use bursts of dedicated energy, such bursts will be far more effective if embedded in a matrix of regular practice.

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