Soft Skills Self Development

Mastery. Marginalia ROBERT GREENE

1 Mastery Marginalia ROBERT GREENE 1 Mastery

2 What follows are supplementary Mastery quotes that complement and contextualize what you’re reading in the book. It is similar in nature to the side material that has accompanied my previous books, and is only available in this document. As you will see, the material is best read in conjunction with the book. I hope you enjoy it and it helps you on your own way to achieving mastery. ROBERT GREENE 2 Mastery

3 Introduction Pp Mastery

4 It should also be noted that even today, humans have a potential for skills and symbolic thought that is probably never, in any of us, fully exploited. We could learn languages, aspects of mathematics, crafts, or sporting skills that we do not in fact learn. We are endowed with considerably more potential than we can use in a mere lifetime. MICHAEL C. CORBALLIS, The Lopsided Ape: Evolution of the Generative Mind Stating the thing broadly, the human individual thus lives usually far within his limits; he possesses powers of various sorts which he habitually fails to use. He energizes below his maximum, and he behaves below his optimum. In elementary faculty, in coordination, in power of inhibition and control, in every conceivable way, his life is contracted like the field of vision of a hysteric subject but with less excuse, for the poor hysteric is diseased, while in the rest of us it is only an inveterate habit the habit of inferiority to our full self that is bad. Admit so much, then, and admit also that the charge of being inferior to their full self is far truer of some men than of others; then the practical question ensues: to what do the better men owe their escape? And, in the fluctuations which all men feel in their own degree of energizing, to what are the improvements due, when they occur? In general terms, the answer is plain: Either some unusual stimulus fills them with emotional excitement, or some unusual idea of necessity induces them to make an extra effort of will. Excitements, ideas, and efforts, in a word, are what carry us over the dam. WILLIAM JAMES, ON VITAL RESERVES In this universe, there is a great treasure. If you possess it, then whether you are a boatman or a cartman, a servant or a maid, you are a person of great fortune and virtue and wisdom. If you don t possess it, then even if you are an 4 Mastery

5 emperor, a daimyo, with high rank and great wealth, you are poor and ignorant, a person of low estate. ZEN MASTER HAKUIN, Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin Snell s mention of a man who walks like a lion betraying a kinship with the beast is not just poetical, but has a practical meaning. Trackers, in cultures dependent on hunting, learn to get inside the animal they are tracking, to reflect it as much as possible in their own being, what it must have been feeling and thinking as it left its track: this is how they succeed in finding it. Perhaps, when we empathise, we actually become the object of our empathy, and share its life. We already know from the discovery of the existence of mirror neurones that when we imitate something that we can see, it is as if we are experiencing it. But it goes further than this. Mental representation, in the absence of direct visual or other stimulus in other words, imagining brings into play some of the same neurones that are involved in direct perception. It is clear from this that, even when we so much as imagine doing something, never mind actually imitate it, it is, at some level which is far from negligible, as if we are actually doing it ourselves. Imagining something, watching someone else do something, and doing it ourselves share important neural foundations. IAIN MCGILCHRIST, The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World At a very rudimentary level we are reminded of this reciprocity of self and others each time a newborn baby mimics an adult s behavior. Stick your tongue out at a newborn baby and the baby will stick its tongue out too, poignantly dissolving the boundary, the arbitrary barrier, between self and 5 Mastery

6 others. To do this it must create an internal model of your action and then re enact it in its own brain. An astonishing ability, given that it cannot even see its own tongue, and so must match the visual appearance of your tongue with the felt position of its own. We now know that this carried out by a specific group of neurons, in the frontal lobes, called the mirror neurons. I suspect that these neurons are at least partly involved in generating our sense of embodied self awareness as well as our empathy for others. In addition to their obvious role in empathy, mind reading and evolution of language mirror neurons may have also played a vital role in the emergence of another important capacity of our minds namely, learning through imitation and therefore the transmission of culture. Polar bears had to go through millions of years of natural selection of genes to evolve a fur coat, but a human child can acquire the skill required to make a coat by simply watching his parent slaying a bear and skinning it. Once the mirror neuron system became sophisticated enough, this remarkable ability imitation and mimesis liberated humans from the constraints of a strictly gene based evolution. The result was a rapid horizontal spread and vertical transmission of cultural innovations of the kind that took place about 50,000 to 75,000 years ago leading to the so called great leap forward the relatively sudden dissemination of one of a kind accidental cultural innovations like fire, sophisticated multi component tools, personal adornments, rituals, art, shelter etc. Among the great apes, orangutans alone are reputed to display imitation of sophisticated skills often watching the keeper and picking locks or even paddling across a river in a canoe. If our species becomes extinct, they may well inherit the earth. V.S. RAMACHANDRAN, A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness Carl Friedrich Gauss, the great mathematician [his] father was a bricklayer, his mother a peasant, and Gauss s own son came nowhere close to matching his 6 Mastery

7 father s mathematical skills. Many of the top notch creative geniuses appear to have no family pedigree whatsoever. Consider the cases of Newton, Shakespeare, Beethoven, and Michelangelo. DEAN KEITH SIMONTON, Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity Never tell anyone he has no talent. That you may not say. That you do not know. That is the one absolute prohibition laid down. MARTHA GRAHAM, QUOTED IN Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham, Agnes de Mille What makes the difference between an outstandingly creative person and a less creative one is not any special power, but greater knowledge (in the form of practiced expertise) and the motivation to acquire and use it. This motivation endures for long periods, perhaps shaping and inspiring a whole lifetime. MARGARET A. BODEN, The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms If children grew up according to early inclinations, we should have nothing but geniuses. JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE, The Autobiography of Goethe, vol. 1 But starting in the 1990s, this static view of the brain was steadily supplanted by a much more dynamic picture. The brain s so called modules don t do their jobs in isolation; there is a great deal of back and forth interaction between them, far more than previously suspected. Changes in the operation of one module say, from damage, or from maturation, or from learning and life experience can lead to significant changes in the operations of many other modules to which it is connected. To a surprising extent, one module can even take over the functions of another. Far from being wired up according to rigid, prenatal genetic blueprints, the brain s wiring is highly malleable and not just 7 Mastery

8 in infants and young children, but throughout every adult lifetime. We can now say with confidence that the brain is an extraordinarily plastic biological system that is in a state of dynamic equilibrium with the external world. Even its basic connections are being constantly updated in response to changing sensory demands. And if you take mirror neurons into account, then we can infer that your brain is also in synch with other brains analogous to a global Internet of Facebook pals constantly modifying and enriching each other. V.S. RAMACHANDRAN, The Tell Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist s Quest for What Makes Us Human 8 Mastery


10 Although each organism is genetically constrained to develop certain features characteristic of the species, these genetic codes cannot dictate the exact destination of each developing neuron. Millions of neurons grow and die during this time, travel great distances, and forge connections quite unpredictably. So even though the overall pattern of brain regions is similar from person to person, each individual is born with a structurally unique brain. This prenatal level of selection organizes the brain into primary repertoires singular groups of neuronal connections that create the first marks of individuality at birth. JOHN J. RATEY, M.D., A User s Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain An unfulfilled vocation drains the colour from a man s entire existence. HONORÉ DE BALZAC, La Maison Nucingen I respect a person who knows quite clearly what he wants and steadfastly proceeds in that direction, with a true sense of direction and purpose. Believe me the greatest part of misfortune, and what is considered evil in the world, comes about because people fail to recognize their true goals, or, if they do, to work steadily toward them. They are like those who have the sense that a tower should be built, but whose materials and efforts only suffice for a cottage. If you, my friend, whose highest aspiration was to come to terms with your nature, had adapted yourself to your family, a fiancé instead of making the great and bold sacrifices that you have, you would have been in continual conflict with yourself and never known a single moment of peace. Whether it be reason or feeling that makes us abandon one thing for another, or choose this over that, it is my belief that steadfastness and persistence are the qualities most to be respected in any human being. JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE, Wilhelm Meister s Apprenticeship 10 Mastery

11 What are geniuses like? What kinds of people are they? They are hugely diverse, but a few characteristics are shared by virtually all of them. The first is an intense curiosity and dedication to one s work. Geniuses are usually sure about what they want to do, single minded, committed, and they have a firm sense of direction. They often work with a ferocity and intensity, even when impeded by doubts and frustrations. They also share a capacity for sustained diligence. Isaac Newton said that he discovered the law of universal gravitation by thinking about it continuously; Charles Darwin attributed much of his success to a capacity to reflect for years on an unexplained problem; Einstein asserted that curiosity, determination, and hard work were vital ingredients of his effectiveness, and the great English painter J.M. Turner, asked to reveal the secret of his success, gave the straight reply the only secret I have got is damned hard work.perseverance is at least as crucial as intelligence. An interesting and perhaps surprising research finding is that, compared with assessments of young children s intelligence, indications of their capacity to delay gratification and avoid acting too impulsively are better predictors of future competence. It is especially advantageous to be able to keep trying. MICHAEL J.A. HOWE, Genius Explained Geniuses are the luckiest of mortals because what they must do is the same as what they most want to do. W.H. AUDEN Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, “He who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is nobler than he who ploughs the soil. And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness 11 Mastery

12 of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet.” But I say, not in sleep but in the overwakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of grass; And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving. Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy. For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger. And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine. And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night. KAHLIL GIBRAN, “ON WORK” As a young woman, Florence told friends that she would one day marry and have a son named Glenn who would be musical. She played music to him when he was in the womb, and she surrounded him with music from the day he was born: she sang and played for him, played the radio and recordings, and generously exposed him to what music Toronto had to offer. Glenn s gifts quickly became apparent. As a baby a few days old, said Bert [his father], he would reach his arms up and flex his fingers almost as if playing a scale. When he was three years old, Glenn s parents determined 12 Mastery

13 that he had perfect pitch when he correctly named a note being sung on a record. When he was four, Florence began to give him piano lessons, and he took to the instrument instinctively. By the time he was five, he was picking out tunes and making up his own. He loved playing, and never needed to be encouraged to do so. He would practice for hours, and his parents eventually had to enforce daily time limits (Fulford remembered a four hour limit being imposed at one point.) Bert said that locking the piano was more effective than corporal punishment in enforcing discipline. As early as age five or six Glenn had decided he would become a professional pianist. KEVIN BAZZANA, Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould Coming home late at night, regretfully leaving electrometers, test tubes and accurate balances, [Madame Curie] undressed and lay down on her narrow bed. But she could not sleep. An exaltation different from all those she had known kept her from sleep. Her vocation, for so long uncertain, had flashed into life. She was summoned to obey a secret order. She was suddenly in a hurry, whipped onward. When she took the test tubes of the Museum of Industry and Agriculture into her fine, clever hands [Curie] returned, as if by magic, to the absorbing memories of her childhood, to her father s physics apparatus, motionless in its glass case, with which, in the old days, she had always wanted to play. She had taken up the thread of her life again. EVE CURIE, Madame Curie: A Biography Nancy Edison also sensed, or discovered by chance, the real direction of her son s interests; for one day she brought forth an elementary book of physical science, R.G. Parker s School of Natural Philosophy, which described and illustrated various scientific experiments that could be performed at home. Now 13 Mastery

14 his mother found that the boy had truly caught fire. This was the first book in science I read when a boy, nine years old, the first I could understand, [Thomas Edison] later said. Here, learning became a game that he loved. He read and tested out every experiment in Parker; then his mother obtained for him an old Dictionary of Science, and he went to work on that. He was now ten and formed a boyish passion for chemistry, gathering together whole collections of chemicals in bottles or jars, which he ranged on shelves in his room. All his pocket money went for chemicals purchased at the pharmacist s and for scraps of metal and wire. Thus his mother had accomplished that which all truly great teachers do for their pupils: she brought him to the stage of learning things for himself, learning that which most amused and interested him, and she encouraged him to go on in that path. My mother was the making of me, he said afterward. She understood me; she let me follow my bent. MATTHEW JOSEPHSON, Edison: A Biography I don’t know any more about the future than you do. I hope that it will be full of work, because I have come to know by experience that work is the nearest thing to happiness that I can find. I want a busy life, a just mind and a timely death. ZORA NEALE HURSTON, Dust Tracks on a Road 14 Mastery


16 The voyage of the Beagle has been by far the most important event in my life, and has determined my whole career. I have always felt that I owe to the voyage the first real training or education of my mind; I was led to attend closely to several branches of natural history, and thus my powers of observation were improved. That my mind became developed through my pursuits during the voyage is rendered probable by a remark made by my father, who was the most acute observer whom I ever saw for on first seeing me after the voyage, he turned round to my sisters, and exclaimed, Why, the shape of his head is quite altered. FROM The Autobiography of Charles Darwin and Selected Letters Everywhere is the individual who wants to show off, nowhere honest effort to subserve the Whole. Hence a bungling mode of production is unconsciously acquired. As children, people make verses; and they fancy, as youths, they can do something until at last, manhood gives them insight into the excellence that exists, and then they look back in despair on the years they have wasted on a false and futile effort: though there are many that never attain a knowledge of what is perfect and of their own insufficiency and go on doing things by halves to the end of their days. If all could early be made to feel how full the world is of excellence, and how much must be done to produce anything worthy of being placed beside what has already been done of a hundred youths now poetizing, scarcely one would have courage, perseverance, and talent, to work quietly for the attainment of a similar mastery. Many young painters would never have taken their pencils in hand, if early enough they could have felt, known, and understood, what really produced a master like Raphael. JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE, QUOTED IN Conversations of Goethe 16 Mastery

17 Well it means that you observe, and observe, and observe. It means that you try to see reality for what it is, and realize that the game you are in keeps changing, so that it s up to you to figure out the current rules of the game as it s being played. You stop being naïve, you stop appealing for [others] to play fair, you stop adhering to standard theories that are built on outmoded assumptions about the rules of play. You just observe. And where you can make an effective move, you make a move. WILLIAM BRIAN ARTHUR, QUOTED IN Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, M. MITCHELL WALDROP Before we decide that not much can be done to improve our mental capacities, consider the encouraging results of intelligence studies. An enriched environment a more challenging cage for rats, more things to do and talk about for humans enhances the brain s general functioning, making the individual smarter and more challenging and interesting to be around. In rats, neuronal dendrites (nerve cell extensions) are more elaborated. (Picture a tree in January and compare that same tree s appearance in July.) Comparisons of brain cells in humans growing up in enriched versus psychologically impoverished environments haven t been carried out, for obvious ethical and humanitarian reasons. But there is little doubt that a similar process takes place: not more cells or bigger cells, but increasing numbers of cell connections, culminating in more elaborate and intricate neuronal networks. In practical terms this means that even in old age we can exert some measure of control over how smart or creative we are. Our activities, habits, and interests not only define our personalities in the psychological sense, but actually affect the physical structure of our brain. Throughout our lives we can enhance our brain s performance and modify and enrich its structure by extending our range of interests and expanding our intellectual horizons. 17 Mastery

18 But we can no longer blame anyone or anything other than ourselves if, because of laziness or disinterest, our brain never develops its full potential. RICHARD RESTAK, M.D., The Brain Has a Mind of its Own: Insights from a Practicing Neurologist The modern era is often described as a skills economy, but what exactly is a skill? The generic answer is that skill is a trained practice. In this, skill contrasts to the sudden inspiration. The lure of inspiration lies in part in the conviction that raw talent can take the place of training. Musical prodigies are often cited to support this conviction and wrongly so. An infant musical prodigy like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart did indeed harbor the capacity to remember large swatches of notes, but from ages five to seven Mozart learned how to train his great innate musical memory when he improvised at the keyboard. We should be suspicious of claims for innate, untrained talent. I could write a good novel if only I had the time or if only I could pull myself together is usually a narcissist s fantasy. Going over an action again and again, by contrast, enables self criticism. Modern education fears repetitive learning as mind numbing. Afraid of boring children, avid to present ever different stimulation, the enlightened teacher may avoid routine but thus deprives children of the experience of studying their own ingrained practice and modulating it from within. Skill development depends on how repetition is organized. This is why in music, as in sports, the length of a practice session must be carefully judged: the number of times one repeats a piece can be no more than the individual s attention span at a given stage. As skill expands, the capacity to sustain repetition increases. In music this is the so called Isaac Stern rule, the great violinist declaring that the better your technique, the longer you can rehearse without becoming bored. There are Eureka! moments that turn the lock in a practice that has jammed, but they are embedded in routine. 18 Mastery

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