Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Grand Unified Theory of Parenting

I came up with this nugget a while ago, but I thought I'd dump it from my brain.

You might call it a Unified Theory of Properties All Successful Human Beings Must Have, but thats a bit over-pretentious.

In a person's life there are countless lessons, great and small, that one must learn. Ideally we could just tell each other what they are and be done with it, but unfortunately it seems that people just don't learn from sermons -- they only seem to truly comprehend when they experience the truth of the matter directly.

This poses a dilemma for parents. How do we set our children up for a happy successful life, if they're determined to repeat our mistakes?

My theory is you only need to teach a few basic pillars, and all other lessons follow naturally from those basic premises. They follow in order of importance.

1. The Foundation of All Society: Empathy -- the ability to feel what other living things feel.

Without this pillar, human society, and therefore civilization could not exist.

Having empathy means that you cannot do things to others that you would not do to yourself. This is the Golden Rule, and from the Golden Rule all morality follows.

2. The Foundation of Human Intellect: Curiosity -- the desire to understand the working of the world around you.

Without this pillar, human technology would not have progressed beyond the ability to hunt or gather enough food to just survive, and therefore civilization could not exist.

Having curiosity means that you start by questioning what you observe around you -- how? why? It also means that you must move past the question, and start interacting with your environment in order to begin searching out the answers.

This is Learning, specifically the essence of what we call the Scientific Method. And it is only from science that all objective knowledge can follow. (In the past humans have had pseudo-sciences from which they derived knowledge, but they have all eventually proven to be mistaken.)

3. The Foundation of Human Psychology: Self-Honesty -- the desire to resist the natural human tendency to accept an illusory perception of reality.

The study of adult psychology is essentially founded on the myriad set of biases built into our brain which plague human beings and cause untold misunderstanding. Without a drive to avoid these natural biases, we are constantly mis-interpreting our interactions with the world, especially other human beings, and left confused and hurt as to why we seem to always find ourselves in a position of conflict.

Having self-honesty means more than just a clear perception of bias -- more importantly it leads to a state of mind that finds it difficult, and a waste of time, to be dishonest with others.

Self honest people must naturally lead to all honesty, and honesty is the essence of communication. Honesty is more than just the absence of lies, it is the presence of truth. It means that what you say is an accurate description of your environment, and that will lead people to trust and listen to what you say.

4. The Foundation of Personal Success: Effort -- the desire to continue to face difficulty until it is overcome.

The natural order of life is a continuous process of challenge. We are creatures that resulted from the ego-less life-and-death process of Evolution. There is no cease, just a constant march towards improvement, like slinky walking down an infinite case of stairs. When we accept this process, and not see it as tiring or unfair, we can find the will to continue with our struggles.

Without effort in our actions, most of them would fail immediately, and all success in this world would be a result of mere luck. Every time we pick up after failure, we give ourselves improved odds of succeeding the next time.


Starting from only the above lessons, I feel it is possible for any person to naturally directly deduce the entire set of life lessons.

Do you feel anything has been left out?

(Note: religion and dogmatic philosophical interpretations have been intentionally left out, either because I think they are wrong, or they are right, but could be extrapolated from the above. If you disagree, I am happy to hear, and likely challenge, your opinion.)


Rosemary said...

This is such a great post, Mr. McDougall. I think you forgot to mention one more thing, or maybe it's so obvious it doesn't need to be mentioned, but I'd like to hear what you would call it a foundation of. I'll express it in a form reminiscent of the context where we met:

R. McDougall said...

Hey Rose! I'm glad you took the time to stop by my home gasket on the intertubes.

I think that you may have succeeded in being so subtle that I may have missed your point, so correct me if I am off base.

Love, for me is hard to define. Not just because its a word ridiculous over burdened with meaning -- infatuation, filial duty, friendship, lust, respect, obsession, romance, etc., but because it is essentially an emotional state highly dependent on the subjective interpretation of the person.

Have you ever felt love for someone, then they did something to change that? It wasn't the person who changed, it was merely your perception of him that caused you to fall out of love.

I tried to give my above reasoning in purely functional terms; what does this pillar really mean, what does it imply in terms of objective behavior. Putting an emotion in starts to walk into very subjective realms.

Maybe we can talk about teaching children that they are loved? Or maybe we can teach them how to love others?

In that circumstance I think we can view love as a drive, like hunger, that is innate in humans. We are born with a desire to feel the security of our family's protection and comfort. When we grow older, we naturally seek out strangers with whom we can feel the same way, mostly for the purpose of procreation and creating a home where our own children can feel loved.

In that sense I think that love follows from empathy. Since we all desire love, we give love to others so they will do so in return.

While that characterization of love as quid-pro-quo is distinctly unromantic, I think it is one that follows from evolution.

Recent research is showing that human altruism, doing good acts for no reward, is hardwired into our brain. While immediate rewards to not follow from altruistic acts by definition, the observable consequence of a good act is reciprocity from the beneficiaries. A society that is impelled by brain chemical rewards for altruistic act, leads to a society where people are interdependent, which leads to a population better able to survive, and thus altruism is always rewarded on an evolutionary scale.