September 1, 2022
 min read

Mind Macros 32: An alternative to goals, the talent myth, and science versus society

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Hello, friend.

Welcome to another issue of Mind Macros - I hope you find something of value.

Food for Thought

I. An alternative to goals

We base goals on our current desires, but why should our past constrain our future?

The perils of modern goal-setting often forgo fate and encourage a dogmatic pursuit toward achievement. Without acknowledging uncertainty in accomplishment, we set out with an all-or-nothing attitude, often ignoring the warning signs of failure or the need to pivot.

Rather than pursuing a single objective, we might instead walk paths that allow different sides of our personalities to grow, thereby laying the foundation for our future. While plans are fixed, paths are messy, allowing for exploration.

“By making concrete, defined plans, you are actually being abstract, because you are making these plans for a self that is abstract: a future self that you imagine based on who you think you are now, even though you, the world, and your circumstances will change. You cut yourself off from the real, messy complexities that are the basis from which you can develop as a human being. You eliminate your ability to grow as a person because you are limiting that growth to what is in the best interests of the person you happen to be right now, and not the person you will become.” — From The Path by Christine Gross-Loh and Michael Puett (view my three takeaways)

Gross-Loh and Puett advise us to imagine ourselves as farmers, creating the optimal conditions for change to grow. By not setting our sights on what a past version of ourselves desired, we can respond to the shifting world and our ever-growing curiosities.

“You can’t plan out how everything in your life will play out. But you can think in terms of creating the conditions in which things will likely move in certain directions: the conditions that allow for the possibility of rich growth. By doing all this, you are not just being a farmer. You are also the results of the farmer’s work. You become the fruit of your labor.”

II. Was Mozart talented?

In past issues of Mind Macros, we have explored the talent versus discipline debate from the standpoint of athletic achievement. We will periodically revisit this argument from novel perspectives to unravel the tragic myth that prevents many people from reaching their full potential. Mozart's genius offers one such example, as Ben Bergeron illustrates in Chasing Excellence:

“Author Daniel Coyle wrote a book called The Talent Code, in which he investigates the true nature of talent and how it corresponds to success. In the book, he studies people generally regarded by society as phenomenally talented, and breaks down how much work and practice is actually involved in their achievements. For instance, take Mozart. Widely regarded as one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time, Mozart had true God-given talent. Or did he?

“What people either forget or don’t know is that Mozart was also a slave to his craft. By the time he was twenty-eight years old, his hands had become deformed because of the thousands of hours he spent playing and composing. That’s the missing element in the popular portrait of Mozart. Yes, he had a gift that set him apart from others. Yes, he was born into a family of composers. Yes, he was the most complete musician imaginable, one who wrote for all instruments in all combinations. Still, few people, even those hugely gifted, are capable of the grit that Mozart displayed throughout his life.

“As Mozart himself wrote to a friend, ‘People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you, dear friend, nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times’.

“People want to boil down elite achievement to ‘born with it’ talent; it gives them an excuse for why they’re not at the same level. They don’t want to hear about the hours upon hours upon hours of patient, meticulous practice that achiever went through to get where they are.”

Mozart began writing music at the age of six. However, according to psychologist Michael Howe, Mozart's early works were not outstanding and likely written by his father. Mozart's first masterwork was composed after a decade of practice, while his most significant work took twice that long. Mozart's father, Leopold, insisted that his son train from a young age, which led Mozart to practice twice as much as other musicians his age. From birth, Mozart was exposed to a musical household thanks to Leopold's role as a composer, violinist, and theorist. Mozart's upbringing undoubtedly contributed to his ability to absorb music quicker than most children. Yet Mozart still needed more than a decade of meticulous practice before composing his first masterpiece.

Quotes to Ponder

I. Isaac Asimov on science discovering truths before society is ready to accept them:

“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”

Remember when Galileo showed that the Sun, not the Earth, is at the center of our galaxy? His actions were branded controversial, foolish, and he was threatened with torture and death. Galileo was eventually sentenced to imprisonment, which was commuted to house arrest, where he remained for the rest of his life. There was a ban on Galileo's books, and he was forbidden to write more. As we laugh at this 400-year-old story, I wonder which beliefs future humans will look back on from the 21st century and scoff at.

II. Arthur Schopenhauer on the three stages of truth (Galileo’s story above is an example of the first stage):

"Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized. In the first it is ridiculed; in the second it is opposed; in the third it is regarded as self-evident."

Thank you for reading,

Matthew Vere

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