B. Russell’s ‘Benevolent Farmer’

On a farm, there was a flock of chickens. One chicken started talking with another, remarking „How good our farmer has been to us. I think he is an awfully nice man, because he comes every morning to feed us.” The other chicken nodded in agreement, adding „and he has been feeding each and everyone of us here every day like clockwork, every day without fail since we were all just little baby chicks.” Indeed, when queried, most of the other chickens clucked in agreement about how benevolent their farmer was.

But there was one chicken, intelligent but eccentric, who countered saying „How do you know he is all that good? I remember, not too long ago, that there were some older chickens who were taken away, and I haven’t seen them since. What ever happened to them?”

Some of the chickens may have slept a little uneasy that night, but in the morning the farmer came as usual, this time scattering even more corn around. The chickens ate this with gusto, and this dispelled any remaining doubts about the benevolence of the farmer. „You see, there is nothing to worry about. Our farmer had a little extra food, so he gave it to us because he likes us! He is a good man,” remarked one chicken to the others, and they all nodded in agreement, all of them, that is, except one.

The intelligent but eccentric chicken became even more agitated. „He is just fattening us up! We are going to be slaughtered in a weeks time!” he squawked in alarm. But nobody listened. All the other chickens just thought he was a troublemaker.

A week later, all the chickens were placed into cages, loaded onto a truck, and driven to the slaughterhouse.

The End

Moral of the story: You cannot always induce the truth from past experience!

Commentary:

I first read about „Russell’s Chicken” in David Deutsch’s book entitled „The Fabric of Reality, the Science of Parallel Universes And its Implications.” He writes in Chapter 3:

„Furthermore, even mere predictions can never be justified by observational evidence, as Bertrand Russell illustrated in his story of the chicken. (To avoid any possible misunderstanding, let me stress that this was a metaphorical, anthropomorphic chicken, representing a human being trying to understand the regularities of the universe.) The chicken noticed that the farmer came every day to feed it. It predicted that the farmer would continue to bring food every day. Inductivists think that the chicken had ‘extrapolated’ observations into a theory, and that each feeding time added justification to that theory. Then one day the farmer came and wrung the chicken’s neck. The disappointment experienced by Russell’s chicken has also been experienced by trillions of other chickens. This inductively justifies the conclusion that induction cannot justify any conclusions!

However, this line of criticism lets inductivism off far too lightly. It does illustrate the fact that repeated observations cannot justify theories, but in doing so it entirely misses (or rather, accepts) a more basic misconception: namely, that the inductive extrapolation of observations to form new theories is even possible. In fact, it is impossible to extrapolate observations unless one has already placed them within an explanatory framework. For example, in order to ‘induce’ its false prediction, Russell’s chicken must first have had in mind a false explanation of the farmer’s behaviour. Perhaps it guessed that the farmer harboured benevolent feelings towards chickens. Had it guessed a different explanation that the farmer was trying to fatten the chickens up for slaughter, for instance – it would have ‘extrapolated’ the behaviour differently. Suppose that one day the farmer starts bringing the chickens more food than usual. How one extrapolates this new set of observations to predict the farmer’s future behaviour depends entirely on how one explains it. According to the benevolent-farmer theory, it is evidence that the farmer’s benevolence towards chickens has increased, and that therefore the chickens have even less to worry about than before. But according to the fattening-up theory, the behaviour is ominous – it is evidence that slaughter is imminent.”

Bertrand Russell’s chicken originates from the following passage found in his book, „The Problems of Philosophy,” (Chapter IV, On Induction):

„And this kind of association is not confined to men; in animals also it is very strong. A horse which has been often driven along a certain road resists the attempt to drive him in a different direction. Domestic animals expect food when they see the person who feeds them. We know that all these rather crude expectations of uniformity are liable to be misleading. The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken. „

In other words, just because something is observed to happen over and over again, only means that it probably will happen again the next time, but this is not proof that it will for certain.

The following story from financial advisor Robert T. Kiyosaki’s book, „Prophecy,” also reminds me of Russell’s Chicken:

„On a more sarcastic note, rich dad later said, „Asking Wall Street to provide financial education is the same as asking a fox to raise your chickens. If the fox is smart, the fox will be patient and raise very fat chickens. The fox works hard to gain the chickens’ trust…so he cares for them by providing slick brochures, branch offices and good-looking salespeople who have been trained to sound like investors. The salespeople are all trained to use the same intelligent-sounding financial jargon disguised as advice such as, „Invest for the long term, have a plan, choose a family of funds, sector funds, small cap growth funds, tax free municipal bonds, 20 percent cash, REITs, Roth IRAs, rollovers, tech stocks, blue chips, the new economy and of course, diversify, diversify, diversify.'”

As rich dad pointed out to me, „Pension reform will change the vocabulary we use but most people will not have a clue what the new words mean.” Meanwhile, the fox smiles and knows the chickens are happy. They feel safe in their new sanctuary. They have a safe secure job and they have their money safely entrusted to financially astute people. Then they see the stock market go up and up in the 1990’s and they feel even more intelligent and well advised. They know their financial planner is looking after them, will make them rich and protect them from the harsh cruel world outside the chicken coop.

But in March of 2000 the world began to change. The tech bubble burst and the stock market began to deflate. TV commentators began to say, „The recovery will come in the next quarter.” But the next quarter came and went … and the TV commentators again said, „The recovery will come in the next quarter.” Financial planners began to say, „Be patient … invest for the long term … diversify.” The chickens began to feel a little more secure. They knew they were doing the financially intelligent thing. They were in it for the long term, they were diversified, and they knew the recovery was right around the corner.

September 11 dropped the market but the market bounced right back. Again the chickens felt more confident as the market began to climb. Then Enron hit and suddenly many very fat chickens from all over America began to cluck loudly from the sanctuary of their securely wired chicken coops. Although they clucked and cackled loudly, the foxes again said, „Be patient. Invest for the long term. Diversify.” One of the reasons the biggest stock market crash in history of the world did not take place right after the Enron collapse is because the foxes aren’t ready for their chicken dinner yet. They know that these chickens have a few more years to get a little fatter and they know that by law … the chickens will have to keep coming to the stock market, buying more mutual funds and diversifying. The problem is, some of the chickens are getting nervous and are beginning to ask questions…questions such as the one the seventy-year old retiree in Miami asked… and ??? standard financial-planner-disguised-as-investor, preprogrammed sales to answer … „Don’t worry, be happy, buy more, and diversify.”

While having coffee today at the Honolulu Coffee Shop, I related the benevolent farmer story to a patron, who then told me this related story:

The Glass in the Field, by James Thurber

A short time ago some builders, working on a studio in Connecticut, left a large square of plate glass standing upright in a field one day. A goldfinch flying swiftly across the field struck the glass and was knocked cold. When he came to, he hastened to his club, where an attendant bandaged his head and gave him a stiff drink. „What the hell happened?” asked a sea gull. „I was flying across a meadow when all of a sudden the air crystallized on me,” said the goldfinch. The sea gull and a hawk and an eagle all laughed heartily. A swallow listened gravely. „For fifteen years, fledgling and bird, I’ve flown this country,” said the eagle, „and I assure you there is no such thing as air crystallizing. Water, yes; air, no.” „You were probably struck by a hailstone,” the hawk said to the goldfinch. „Or he may have had a stroke,” said the sea gull. „What do you think, swallow?” „Why, I– I think maybe the air crystallized on him,” said the swallow. The large birds laughed so loudly that the goldfinch became annoyed and bet each of them a dozen worms that they couldn’t follow the course he had flown across the field without encountering the hardened atmosphere. They all took his bet; the swallow went along to watch. The sea gull, the eagle, and the hawk decided to fly together over the route the goldfinch had indicated. „You come, too,” they said to the swallow. „I– I– well, no,” said the swallow. „I don’t think I will.” So the three large birds took off together and they hit the glass together, and they were all knocked cold.

Moral: He who hesitates is sometimes sav Gladwell‘s New Yorker Magazine essay BLOWING UP How Nassim Taleb turned the inevitability of disaster into an investment strategy. (Also available here) Nassim Taleb is the Wall Street trader whose made billions after 9-11 betting on the eventual occurrence of a „Black Swan Event,” a statistically improbable event (also known as an outlier) beyond the realm of normal expectations. Nassim Taleb is like my eccentric chicken, and wrote the book „The Black Swan” where he warned of the global financial crisis that is now upon us. And Thanksgiving 2009 will be upon us in a few days, and so this is when Russell’s Turkey meets the Black Swan.

Copyright © 2004-9 by Duen Hsi Yen, All rights reserved.

E-mail: yen@noogenesis.com

LES DEUX LOUPS

Fable amérindienne d’un auteur inconnu qu’on raconte encore aujourd’hui le soir autour du Feu sacré.

Un soir d’hiver, un vieil homme de la nation Cherokee se réchauffe doucement au coin du feu alors qu’entre brusquement Tempête-de-vent, son petit-fils. Il est de nouveau très en colère. Son jeune frère s’est montré encore injuste envers lui.

– Il m’arrive aussi, parfois, dit le vieillard, de ressentir de la haine contre ceux qui se conduisent mal et surtout qui n’expriment aucun regret. Mais la haine m’épuise, et à bien y penser ne blesse pas celui qui s’est mal conduit envers moi. C’est comme avaler du poison et désirer que ton ennemi en meure. J’ai souvent combattu ce sentiment, car j’ai appris que la bataille entre deux frères, comme à l’intérieur d’une même nation, est toujours une bataille entre deux loups à l’intérieur de soi.

Le premier est bon et ne fait aucun tort. Il vit en harmonie avec tout ce qui l’entoure et ne s’offense pas lorsqu’il n’y a pas lieu de s’offenser. Il combat uniquement lorsque c’est juste de le faire, et il le fait de manière juste.

Mais l’autre loup, hum…. celui-là est plein de colère. La plus petite chose le précipite dans des accès de rage. Il se bat contre n’importe qui, tout le temps et sans raison. Il est incapable de penser parce que sa colère et sa haine prennent toute la place. Il est désespérément en colère, et pourtant sa colère ne change rien.

Et je peux t’avouer, Tempête-de-vent, qu’il m’est encore parfois difficile de vivre avec ces deux loups à l’intérieur de moi, parce que tous deux veulent avoir le dessus.

Le petit-fils regarde attentivement et longuement son grand-père dans les yeux

et demande :

– Et lequel des deux loups va gagner, grand-père ?

Le grand-père cherokee sourit et répond simplement :

– Celui que je nourris.

Roots of Liberation

By Fr Richard Rohr

„One of the great themes of the Bible, beginning with the Hebrew Scriptures and continued by Jesus and Paul, is “the preferential option for the poor.” I call it “the bias toward the bottom.” The Hebrew people’s exodus out of slavery, and YHWH’s complete identification with them, is the pattern of our universal spiritual journey to liberation.

Moses, himself a man at “the bottom” (a murderer on the run, caring for his father-in-law’s sheep), first encounters God in an ordinary bush that “burns” without being consumed (Exodus 3:2). Moses’ experience is both external and interior, earth-based and transcendent: “Take off your shoes, this is holy ground,” he hears (3:5). Awestruck and fully present, Moses is able to perceive God’s surprising call: “I have heard the groaning of my people in Egypt. You, Moses, are to go confront the Pharaoh and tell him to let my people go” (3:9-10).

Here we have the perfect integration of action and contemplation. First, the contemplative experience comes—the burning bush. Immediately it has social, economic, and political implications. There is no authentic God experience that does not situate you in the world in a different way. You see things differently, and you have the security to be free from your usual loyalties: privilege, position, group, and economy. Yet this transformation has costly consequences. Moses had to leave Pharaoh’s palace to ask new questions and become the liberator of his people.

The Exodus story is the root of all liberation theology, which Jesus then teaches and fully exemplifies (see Luke 4:18-19). It is obvious that he is primarily a healer of the poor and powerless. Liberation theology focuses on freeing people from religious, political, social, and economic oppression (i.e., what Pope John Paul II called “structural sin” and “institutional evil”). [1] It goes beyond just trying to free individuals from their own naughty behaviors, which many people identify as the only meaning of sin. In our individualistic society, structural sin is accepted as good and necessary on the corporate or national level.

Large companies, churches, and governments get away with and are even applauded for killing (war), greed, vanity, pride, and ambition. The capital sins are rewarded at the corporate level but shamed at the individual level. This is our conflicted Christian morality!

Instead of legitimating the status quo, liberation theology tries to read history and the Bible not from the side of the powerful, but from the side of the pain. Its beginning point is not sin management, but “Where is the suffering?”

The world tends to define poverty and riches simply in terms of economics. But poverty has many faces—weakness, dependence, and many forms of humiliation. Essentially, poverty is a lack of means to accomplish what one desires or needs, be it lack of money, relationships, influence, power, intellectual ability, physical strength, freedom, or dignity.

God hears the cry of the poor. And we, created in God’s image and likeness, must do the same to be like God.”

 
 

[1] Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (On Social Concern, December 30, 1987) presents his thoughts in detail: http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_30121987_sollicitudo-rei-socialis.html.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Gospel Call for Compassionate Action (Bias from the Bottom) in CAC Foundation Set (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2007), CD and MP3 download; and
Job and the Mystery of Suffering: Spiritual Reflections (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1998)126.

Alan Whatts on Wonder and Other Things

Most philosophical problems are to be solved by getting rid of them, by coming to the point where you see that such questions as “Why this universe?” are a kind of intellectual neurosis, a misuse of words in that the question sounds sensible but is actually as meaningless as asking “Where is this universe?” when the only things that are anywhere must be somewhere inside the universe. The task of philosophy is to cure people of such nonsense. . . . Nevertheless, wonder is not a disease. Wonder, and its expression in poetry and the arts, are among the most important things which seem to distinguish men from other animals, and intelligent and sensitive people from morons.

At the heart of the human condition, Watts argues, is a core illusion that fuels our deep-seated sense of loneliness the more we subscribe to the myth of the sole ego, one reflected in the most basic language we use to make sense of the world:

We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms. Most of us have the sensation that “I myself” is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body — a center which “confronts” an “external” world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. “I came into this world.” “You must face reality.” “The conquest of nature.”

This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.

://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/27/alan-watts-taboo/

A good reading, 2, on Carol Dweck’s work

„I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves — in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser? . . .

There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.

At the heart of what makes the “growth mindset” so winsome, Dweck found, is that it creates a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval. Its hallmark is the conviction that human qualities like intelligence and creativity, and even relational capacities like love and friendship, can be cultivated through effort and deliberate practice. Not only are people with this mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don’t actually see themselves as failing in those situations — they see themselves as learning. Dweck writes:

Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.

This idea, of course, isn’t new — if anything, it’s the fodder of self-help books and vacant “You can do anything!” platitudes. What makes Dweck’s work different, however, is that it is rooted in rigorous research on how the mind — especially the developing mind — works, identifying not only the core drivers of those mindsets but also how they can be reprogrammed.

Dweck and her team found that people with the fixed mindset see risk and effort as potential giveaways of their inadequacies, revealing that they come up short in some way. But the relationship between mindset and effort is a two-way street:

It’s not just that some people happen to recognize the value of challenging themselves and the importance of effort. Our research has shown that this comes directly from the growth mindset. When we teach people the growth mindset, with its focus on development, these ideas about challenge and effort follow. . . .

As you begin to understand the fixed and growth mindsets, you will see exactly how one thing leads to another—how a belief that your qualities are carved in stone leads to a host of thoughts and actions, and how a belief that your qualities can be cultivated leads to a host of different thoughts and actions, taking you down an entirely different road.

[…]

The mindsets change what people strive for and what they see as success. . . they change the definition, significance, and impact of failure. . . they change the deepest meaning of effort.

Dweck cites a poll of 143 creativity researchers, who concurred that the number-one trait underpinning creative achievement is precisely the kind of resilience and fail-forward perseverance attributed to the growth mindset. She writes:

When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world — the world of fixed traits — success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other — the world of changing qualities — it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.

In one world, failure is about having a setback. Getting a bad grade. Losing a tournament. Getting fired. Getting rejected. It means you’re not smart or talented. In the other world, failure is about not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. It means you’re not fulfilling your potential.

In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented.

But her most remarkable research, which has informed present theories of why presence is more important than praise in teaching children to cultivate a healthy relationship with achievement, explores how these mindsets are born — they form, it turns out, very early in life. In one seminal study, Dweck and her colleagues offered four-year-olds a choice: They could either redo an easy jigsaw puzzle, or try a harder one. Even these young children conformed to the characteristics of one of the two mindsets — those with “fixed” mentality stayed on the safe side, choosing the easier puzzles that would affirm their existing ability, articulating to the researchers their belief that smart kids don’t make mistakes; those with the “growth” mindset thought it an odd choice to begin with, perplexed why anyone would want to do the same puzzle over and over if they aren’t learning anything new. In other words, the fixed-mindset kids wanted to make sure they succeeded in order to seem smart, whereas the growth-mindset ones wanted to stretch themselves, for their definition of success was about becoming smarter.

Dweck quotes one seventh-grade girl, who captured the difference beautifully:

I think intelligence is something you have to work for … it isn’t just given to you.… Most kids, if they’re not sure of an answer, will not raise their hand to answer the question. But what I usually do is raise my hand, because if I’m wrong, then my mistake will be corrected. Or I will raise my hand and say, ‘How would this be solved?’ or ‘I don’t get this. Can you help me?’ Just by doing that I’m increasing my intelligence.

Things got even more interesting when Dweck brought people into Columbia’s brain-wave lab to study how their brains behaved as they answered difficult questions and received feedback. What she found was that those with a fixed mindset were only interested in hearing feedback that reflected directly on their present ability, but tuned out information that could help them learn and improve. They even showed no interest in hearing the right answer when they had gotten a question wrong, because they had already filed it away in the failure category. Those with a growth mindset, on the other hand, were keenly attentive to information that could help them expand their existing knowledge and skill, regardless of whether they’d gotten the question right or wrong — in other words, their priority was learning, not the binary trap of success and failure.

These findings are especially important in education and how we, as a culture, assess intelligence. In another study of hundreds of students, mostly adolescents, Dweck and her colleagues gave each ten fairly challenging problems from a nonverbal IQ test, then praised the student for his or her performance — most had done pretty well. But they offered two types of praise: Some students were told “Wow, you got [X many] right. That’s a really good score. You must be smart at this,” while others, “Wow, you got [X many] right. That’s a really good score. You must have worked really hard.” In other words, some were praised for ability and others for effort. The findings, at this point, are unsurprising yet jarring:

The ability praise pushed students right into the fixed mindset, and they showed all the signs of it, too: When we gave them a choice, they rejected a challenging new task that they could learn from. They didn’t want to do anything that could expose their flaws and call into question their talent.

[…]

In contrast, when students were praised for effort, 90 percent of them wanted the challenging new task that they could learn from.

The most interesting part, however, is what happened next: When Dweck and her colleagues gave the students a subsequent set of harder problems, on which the students didn’t do so well. Suddenly, the ability-praised kids thought they weren’t so smart or gifted after all. Dweck puts it poignantly:

If success had meant they were intelligent, then less-than-success meant they were deficient.

But for the effort-praised kids, the difficulty was simply an indication that they had to put in more effort, not a sign of failure or a reflection of their poor intellect. Perhaps most importantly, the two mindsets also impacted the kids’ level of enjoyment — everyone enjoyed the first round of easier questions, which most kids got right, but as soon as the questions got more challenging, the ability-praised kids no longer had any fun, while the effort-praised ones not only still enjoyed the problems but even said that the more challenging, the more fun. The latter also had significant improvements in their performance as the problems got harder, while the former kept getting worse and worse, as if discouraged by their own success-or-failure mindset.

It gets better — or worse, depending on how we look at it: The most unsettling finding came after the IQ questions were completed, when the researchers asked the kids to write private letters to their peers relaying the experience, including a space for reporting their scores on the problems. To Dweck’s devastation, the most toxic byproduct of the fixed mindset turned out to be dishonesty: Forty percent of the ability-praised kids lied about their scores, inflating them to look more successful. She laments:

In the fixed mindset, imperfections are shameful — especially if you’re talented — so they lied them away. What’s so alarming is that we took ordinary children and made them into liars, simply by telling them they were smart.

This illustrates the key difference between the two mindsets — for those with a growth one, “personal success is when you work your hardest to become your best,” whereas for those with a fixed one, “success is about establishing their superiority, pure and simple. Being that somebody who is worthier than the nobodies.” For the latter, setbacks are a sentence and a label. For the former, they’re motivating, informative input — a wakeup call.

But one of the most profound applications of this insight has to do not with business or education but with love. Dweck found that people exhibited the same dichotomy of dispositions in their personal relationships: Those with a fixed mindset believed their ideal mate would put them on a pedestal and make them feel perfect, like “the god of a one-person religion,” whereas those with the growth mindset preferred a partner who would recognize their faults and lovingly help improve them, someone who would encourage them to learn new things and became a better person. The fixed mindset, it turns out, is at the root of many of our most toxic cultural myths about “true love.” Dweck writes:

The growth mindset says all of these things can be developed. All — you, your partner, and the relationship — are capable of growth and change.

In the fixed mindset, the ideal is instant, perfect, and perpetual compatibility. Like it was meant to be. Like riding off into the sunset. Like “they lived happily ever after.”

[…]

One problem is that people with the fixed mindset expect everything good to happen automatically. It’s not that the partners will work to help each other solve their problems or gain skills. It’s that this will magically occur through their love, sort of the way it happened to Sleeping Beauty, whose coma was cured by her prince’s kiss, or to Cinderella, whose miserable life was suddenly transformed by her prince.

This also applies to the myth of mind-reading, where the fixed mindset believes that an ideal couple should be able to read each other’s minds and finish each other’s sentences. She cites a study that invited people to talk about their relationships:

Those with the fixed mindset felt threatened and hostile after talking about even minor discrepancies in how they and their partner saw their relationship. Even a minor discrepancy threatened their belief that they shared all of each other’s views.

But most destructive of all relationship myths is the belief that if it requires work, something is terribly wrong and that any discrepancy of opinions or preferences is indicative of character flaws on behalf of one’s partner. Dweck offers a reality check:

Just as there are no great achievements without setbacks, there are no great relationships without conflicts and problems along the way.

When people with a fixed mindset talk about their conflicts, they assign blame. Sometimes they blame themselves, but often they blame their partner. And they assign blame to a trait — a character flaw.

But it doesn’t end there. When people blame their partner’s personality for the problem, they feel anger and disgust toward them.

And it barrels on: Since the problem comes from fixed traits, it can’t be solved. So once people with the fixed mindset see flaws in their partners, they become contemptuous of them and dissatisfied with the whole relationship.

Those with the growth mindset, on the other hand, can acknowledge their partners’ imperfections, without assigning blame, and still feel that they have a fulfilling relationship. They see conflicts as problems of communication, not of personality or character. This dynamic holds true as much in romantic partnerships as in friendship and even in people’s relationships with their parents. Dweck summarizes her findings:

When people embark on a relationship, they encounter a partner who is different from them, and they haven’t learned how to deal with the differences. In a good relationship, people develop these skills and, as they do, both partners grow and the relationship deepens. But for this to happen, people need to feel they’re on the same side. . . . As an atmosphere of trust developed, they [become] vitally interested in each other’s development.

What it all comes down to is that a mindset is an interpretative process that tells us what is going on around us. In the fixed mindset, that process is scored by an internal monologue of constant judging and evaluation, using every piece of information as evidence either for or against such assessments as whether you’re a good person, whether your partner is selfish, or whether you are better than the person next to you. In a growth mindset, on the other hand, the internal monologue is not one of judgment but one of voracious appetite for learning, constantly seeking out the kind of input that you can metabolize into learning and constructive action.

In the rest of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck goes on to explore how these fundamental mindsets form, what their defining characteristics are in different contexts of life, and how we can rewire our cognitive habits to adopt the much more fruitful and nourishing growth mindset.

https://mailchi.mp/brainpickings/midweek-pick-me-up-fixed-vs-growth-the-two-basic-mindsets-that-shape-our-lives?e=e3703c47a5

A good reading

from Maria Popova’s Brainpickings

“If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve,” Debbie Millman counseled in one of the best commencement speeches ever given, urging: “Do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities…” Far from Pollyanna platitude, this advice actually reflects what modern psychology knows about how belief systems about our own abilities and potential fuel our behavior and predict our success.

Much of that understanding stems from the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, synthesized in her remarkably insightful Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (public library) — an inquiry into the power of our beliefs, both conscious and unconscious, and how changing even the simplest of them can have profound impact on nearly every aspect of our lives.

One of the most basic beliefs we carry about ourselves, Dweck found in her research, has to do with how we view and inhabit what we consider to be our personality. A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled. A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behavior, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.

The consequences of believing that intelligence and personality can be developed rather than being immutably engrained traits, Dweck found in her two decades of research with both children and adults, are remarkable. She writes:

For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. How does this happen? How can a simple belief have the power to transform your psychology and, as a result, your life?

Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.