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Archive for the ‘Self improvement’ Category

Lamarckian Evolution?

An interesting article that appeared yesterday in MIT Technology Review talks about a revival for Lamarckian evolution.

Lamarckian evolution is a theory that had been rejected by science that proposes an evolutionary mechanism of transfer of behaviors from generation to generation in some way not related to DNA. Sounds kind of tenuous and indeed as I said it had been rejected.

However new experimental work suggests that childhood experiences in mice and rats get passed on to their offspring.

Why does this interest me? This would give a new slant on the nature vs. nurture debate.

If you are an optimist it also means that if you have a gene for something, you can still change it and even help your children overcome their predestined fate.

Alternatively as a pessimist, it could give new meaning to Ex 34:7 “פוקד עון אבות על בנים, על שלישים  ועל רבעים ” [“he visits the ill-doings of fathers on their sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren”]. Although in this case whether you blamed it on a gene or a Lamarckian mechanism the result is the same. If you believe you’re a victim, you will always have a mechanism to show it.

Personally I’m an optimist on this and I believe in people’s ability to change. Therefore I’m happy to hear that there is experimental evidence that I can also get a measure of immortality in this, to pass on positive change even to my grandchildren.

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Tuesday 30th September 2008 (and the next day as well) is Jewish New Year’s day otherwise known as Rosh HaShanah.

Rosh HaShanah is held by tradition to be the final day of the six-day creation, on which humankind was created. In order to celebrate the official birthday of our species, we do a lot of praying and eating to reaffirm our acceptance God as sovereign over the world and our place as his underlings.

This is all in preparation for Yom Kippur (Thursday 9th October 2008) when we stand in judgement for what we did (or didn’t do) over the last year. As I said in a previous post, the whole drift of this period is to make us think at least once a year about where we are, where we’re going and what we need to do to improve ourselves. Judaism believes in total accountability so there is no passing the buck.

In English and the few European languages I am familiar with, people tend to wish each other a “happy new year”. In Hebrew you wish a Shanah Tovah – a “good year” or in full “LeShanah Tovah Tikatev YeTehatem” (“may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year”). This echoes the belief that on the basis of our past year’s performance, God decides what kind of year we are going to have in the next year. He doesn’t do this arbitrarily but aims the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (Act 3, Hamlet, William Shakespeare) for best effect so that even one as dense as ourselves will understand where we are going wrong and where we need to improve.

As I said “total accountability” – this belief throws back to us responsibility for our seemingly random fate as well. We can change it (or at least sweeten it) by focussing, changing ourselves and improving.

So may you all have a great year – let’s make it one!

…and finally…

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Moomin commented in his blog on a post by Chris Guillebeau about living a life with no regrets.

There are (says Moom) different types of regrets. On the one hand you have regrets for what you sacrificed when you conciously chose to do something else. On the other you also have regrets where you didn’t sacrifice anything for something else, you just did nothing and missed an opportunity.

Moom says (paraphrased in my words) that you need to minimize your fretting in the first case and just get off you butt in the second. I can agree with that.

This is all connected to the thing with Teshuva. Teshuva is about reviewing your past and resolving to improve for the future. It is about a kind of spiral where on every orbit you are getting closer to what you want to be rather than just aimlessly circling your target.

If you made a wrong choice then don’t fret, fix it or do it better next time… and if your problem is making your decision for action then analyse your problem, resolve to act and get it done.

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I mentioned in my post yesterday that with the start of the Jewish month of Ellul we are entering the annual period of introspection and improvement – a process known in Judaism as Teshuva.

Teshuva is a very big thing in Judaism. the idea is that we are required to be in a continuous process througout our lives of personal improvement. We have free choice to choose to do good or bad and we are responsible for our choices. We therefore need to be constantly assessing our shortcomings and working on improving ourselves for next time.

This might sound like hard work and no fun but if you think about it, it is a far more positive and optimistic view on life than that propounded by some other religions. It also seems to me to be a very pragmatic and logical approach to life. Things can be better and we can do it. Fate does not determine the outcome and neither do we need to throw ourselves at the feet of a savior or rely on some supernatural promises. We just need to think about what we are doing and do it better.

To do Teshuva there are three stages and there is also a test to see if it worked. Anybody can do it, even if you aren’t Jewish and you don’t believe in God. That’s the great thing about it – it is so down-to-earth and pragmatically useful. The stages are as follows:

  1. Verbalize what you did wrong
  2. Feel remorse for it
  3. Decide not to do it again.

The verbalization is not a confession to another person who then forgives you. It can be even between you and yourself but it is important because as I have mentioned before on the subject of goals, unverbalized goals are rather worthless. The remorse is a difficult part. However without remorse, the next stage of making the decision not to do it again will be even harder.

Of course Teshuva itself doesn’t actually right any damage you may have caused to others through your past actions, so you are not off the hook until you have put right the damage as well. 

The test for good Teshuva is straightforward as well. You are in the same situation again, you have the same opportunity and you are able to make the mistake again. Do you live up to your resolution to change, or do you do it over again?

Anyway, so what’s this annual period of Teshuva about? The Jewish new year is celebrated annually as a special period for reflection on the past year and resolve to do better. Lots of prayers and lots of customs to make us think about ourselves, where we are and what we want to do better next year. We are supposed to be continually improving, but once a year we have a period set aside to encourage us to confront our needs for change.

So happy Teshuva everyone.

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Taken from CNet news.com this morning. Two sides of the coin.

“You don’t always realize how dramatic that transition is going to be when people aren’t depending on your decisions day by day.”

– Paul Allen (talking about his departure from Microsoft in 1983)

 “This whole thing about which operating system somebody uses is a pretty silly thing versus issues involving starvation or death.”

– Bill Gates (talking about his departure from Microsoft in 2008 )

I’m with Bill on this one.

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