Vertical Development

Your Identity As a Mental Construct

The difficulty in applying this concept to individual learning is that, in this case, you are the system. It’s a little disconcerting being accelerated, turned inside out, and then sucked into an alternate dimension where everything you were sure was true is wrong. Or worse, irrelevant.

The interesting thing about constraints is that they are never on you. They are constraints on your context, shaping the space of possibilities you allow yourself to consider. You can’t change anyone’s mind (have you noticed?), but you may be able to change how they perceive their context. If you succeed, they may be able to step out of the criteria by which they enumerate their options. Life does not present itself in the form of multiple-choice questions. It is we who choose the choices, and we do it together.

What all this has to do with learning is that the deepest assumptions can only be revealed through experience and stories, not by reading books or having intellectual arguments. We do these things through the same old lens, and thus cannot examine the lens. It takes another free mind, reaching up and taking off our spectacles, to show us the cracks and the foggy areas. At some point, this way of listening turns into a way of thinking, as you apply it to your own thoughts. Unmoored from your own certain beliefs, you step back from what seemed just a moment ago to be your very identity, only to find that it is just a mental object. With each step backward, you distinguish your self one by one from bodily sensations, from emotions, from opinions, from thoughts, from principles, from values, from systems, from goals. They are all tools, to be taken up and put down again when no longer needed.

This backwards movement, if we are not afraid to embrace it, even accelerate it, starts to take on a pattern of its own once again. It starts to consume itself, emerging inward into a deeper, more complex flow. Moving backward with increasing speed, we start to feel as if we’re falling, the former selves flying by like the floors past a runaway elevator. There is no way to look down, to see where we’re going, only where we’ve been. But this provides just enough information to allow us to steer: toward discomfort, toward fear, toward our best guess of where the next bottleneck may lie.

Tiago Forte, The Throughput of Learning

Leave a Reply