#68 You Are Efficient Learning Machines!

by Steven Cerri on August 4, 2008

But what exactly have you learned?

Hello everyone!

This weekend gave me pause.

I once again realized how unique we human beings really are. We are just incredible learning machines. We absorb and learn like sponges. We live in this ocean of information, of patterns, of data, or chaos, and we absorb and work very diligently to deduce and hallucinate patterns. We find patterns everywhere.

And rest assured, learning requires patterns. No patterns equals white noise. White noise is no useful information. So our job, our nature is to cancel out the white noise in existence and find patterns. And once we find patterns we prioritize those patterns in terms of what is most useful to us.

We are “pattern identifiers extraordinare” and we should applaud ourselves. Our evolution, our genetic structure gives rise to an extraordinary pattern recognition machine, us!

It’s what led Newton to his three laws… patterns.

It’s what led Einstein to relativity… patterns.

It’s what led Heisenberg to his uncertainty principle… a pattern in the contradiction of patterns.

It’s what allowed us to evolve tools… patterns of successful hunting, building and social interaction, including war.

We are, bar none, the most efficient and effective, pattern recognition machine on this planet.

Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? Sounds like we ought to pat ourselves on our collective backs.

Well, not so fast.

In some respects it is our greatest strength. And in other ways it is our greatest weakness.

As the creator of the Matrix told Neo in the last film of the Matrix movie series… “It is at once your greatest strength and simultaneously your greatest weakness.”

This might be the perfect place for you to ask, “What the heck is Steven talking about?”

Well, let me explain.

We all know that pattern recognition is one of our strengths. Great. Applause please!

The weakness, if we can call it that, is that at a certain point in our life, that ability to learn and absorb is extremely critical, but we don’t have any “discernment”. In other words, we can’t distinguish what we learn as good or bad for us.

And what I’m talking about is your childhood. My childhood. The childhood of everyone.

Up until very, very recently, it was not a big deal. It was very important for children to learn, learn well, and learn quickly everything their parents could teach them. Because it meant survival. People didn’t get around much… think before airplanes. Parents had to raise their children to survive. To succeed. And to do so within the close proximity of where the parents, families, and the children lived.

Each son learned the profession of his father. Each daughter learned what to do as a woman from the mother. That was it. Nobody ventured much. If they did they were adventurers, conquers, etc. For the multitude of people, sticking close to home was it. Grow up like for father, grow up like your mother and you were successful and happy, whatever that meant in those times.

So learning everything you needed to know from your parents was good enough. The world changed slowly. Evolution only applied pressure on the fringes.

And then the world changed. The renaissance arrived. The industrial revolution came about. Flight became a reality. Medicine changed our world. Democracy changed how we saw ourselves in that world! Heaven forbid. People living together outside of marriage. Children being conceived just because one person wants to have a child. Goods and services being exchanged around the world. Traveling faster than the speed of sound. Living in outer space. Cell phones. Hip hop.

Soon it became clear that the following statement was true: “There is no way parents can prepare their children for the world the children will live in because the world the children will live in will be so different from the world in which the parents grew up that the teaching of the parents will no longer apply.” But old habits, old genetic codes, are hard to break.

So here’s the deal. Those of us living now were raised by parents who could not conceive of the world in which we now live. They attempted to teach us, since we are all such good sponges. But what they taught us, to a large extent, was good for them. Probably not so good for us. But we still learned it. And now the question is, is what they taught you still good for you?

Here is an example.

Think about your concept of authority. How do you respond to authority figures? Policemen? Your boss? The President of the United States? A government official? Are these your own responses or are they the responses you were taught by your parents? Or by others in your life who had a great influence on you when you were young? Can you even answer those questions? Can you even tell the difference between what you were given in your youth and how you could behave now?

Odds are, your responses are not your own… they are the responses of your parents. The best way to say it is that your responses to authority are those that were given to you when your were growing up, very young. And you are still using them now.

They influence how your respond at work. They influence how your respond to your boss. They influence how you manage other people. They influence how you deal with people across the oceans. It’s all driven by what you learned, as a great sponge, when you were a child. Are those patterns you learned way back then still serving you… or not.

Is it time to change? Is it time to be different? Is what your parents and others taught you long ago, still applicable now, or does it all need to be updated? Where you prepared to live and function in “their world” or the world in which you find yourself now.

We are very efficient learning machines. Perhaps too efficient. If you could learn just what you needed to make you successful now, what would that look like? What would you need to learn? And could you? Would you? How would it be different from what you leaned back then?

Look in the mirror. Ask yourself, “Am I behaving in a way that advances my career” or “Am I behaving in a way that is a reflection of what I learned as a child that might not be so useful today?”

Nine times of out ten, for most people, the answer is the latter.

Be well,

Steven Cerri

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