The Commitment and Contemplation Necessary for True Knowledge
Maria Popova on the pathology of impatience
I frequently lament a particularly prevalent pathology of our time — our extreme impatience with the dynamic process of attaining knowledge and transmuting it into wisdom. We want to have the knowledge, as if it were a static object, but we don’t want to do the work of claiming it — and so we reach for simulacra that compress complex ideas into listicles and two-minute animated explainers.
Hegel on the true goal of learning and the demand it places on us
The goal to be reached is the mind’s insight into what knowing is. Impatience asks for the impossible, wants to reach the goal without the means of getting there. The length of the journey has to be borne with, for every moment is necessary; and again we must halt at every stage, for each is itself a complete individual form, and is fully and finally considered only so far as its determinate character is taken and dealt with as a rounded and concrete whole, or only so far as the whole is looked at in the light of the special and peculiar character which this determination gives it. Because the substance of individual mind, nay, more, because the universal mind at work in the world (Weltgeist), has had the patience to go through these forms in the long stretch of time’s extent, and to take upon itself the prodigious labour of the world’s history, where it bodied forth in each form the entire content of itself, as each is capable of presenting it; and because by nothing less could that all-pervading mind ever manage to become conscious of what itself is — for that reason, the individual mind … cannot expect by less toil to grasp what its own substance contains.
Hegel on the danger of equating familiarity with knowledge:
What is “familiarly known” is not properly known, just for the reason that it is “familiar.” When engaged in the process of knowledge, it is the commonest form of self-deception, and a deception of other people as well, to assume something to be familiar, to give assent to it on that very account.
Conquering Perfections and Getting on With Your Creative Work
Don’t Be Precious (with your ideas) Scott Berkun
Berkun on what it means to be precious:
Being precious means you’re behaving as if the draft, the sketch, the idea you’re working on is the most important thing in the history of the universe. It means you’ve lost perspective and can’t see the work objectively anymore. When you treat a work in progress too preciously, you trade your talents for fears. You become conservative, suppressing the courage required to make the tough choices that will resolve the work’s problems and let you finish. If you fear that your next decision will ruin the work, you are being precious.
Berkun on the importance of remembering that the creative process and the learning process are part of the same family:
When I see a young writer struggling to finish a book, or a painter wrestling with an incomplete painting, I say “don’t be precious.” If you truly love your craft there are an infinity of projects in your future. There will be other chapters. There will be other canvases and other songs. Perfection is a prison and a self-made one. Whatever you’re making, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Perfection is an illusion.
Obsessing about every little choice is a sure fire way to prevent great work from happening. Try a bold choice. Put the beginning at the end, or the top at the bottom. Blow your work up into jagged pieces and put them back together. You might just find this opens doors you didn’t even know were there. If you’re too precious you miss the hundreds of big choices that might reveal the path to completion, or convince you the project is a puzzle that needs to be abandoned for a time. But if you spin your wheels faster and faster on smaller and smaller details, you’ll never move anywhere. You’ll never call anything finished, denying yourself the essential experience of looking back from a distance and learning from what you’ve already made.
Berkun on why your mediocre work is a precursor for your brilliant work:
It’s rarely discussed but all good makers leave a legacy of abandoned drafts, unfinished works, mediocre projects and failed ideas, work that enabled them to learn what they needed to finish the projects they are famous for. If your high standards, or self-loathing, is preventing your progress, don’t be precious about it. It takes hundreds of experiences with the cycle of starting, working, and finishing creative works before you have the talent to make finished things that match the grandeur of the ideas in your mind.
The above reflections and notes are part of my personal development project for 2015. This post is my entry for (What I’m Learning: Day 27/365). To see the spreadsheet documenting all the activities I complete every week, click here.