The Myth of Born Talent/Gifted skill/ and all that Crap

“What do you do besides science, Vidhu?”, the professor asked. I couldn’t say anything,  not even a word. He asked me if I like travelling or reading or some hobby, and I had nothing to say. I was thinking that why on earth he had to ask me this fucking question when I was expecting some questions on science, for I was sort of acing the second round of my PhD interview at the Department of Genetics, IISc. The interview was in 2010, and I had no hobbies then. I used to be just a regular person — thinking like what the society thinks.  I guess I never cared about hobbies or anything since I was under the notion that it doesn’t get you anything that would improve my life. The idea of living is to study, get good grades, get a job, get married, reproduce, and die. That’s it. Nothing else matters. But, if you want to become a photographer or painter or writer, you should have that innate talent; otherwise, you shouldn’t even bother to try as it would be a waste of time. I was following the same idea until I was asked that question.

If you are wondering about the result of that interview, I didn’t qualify it. I don’t know if it was because that I didn’t have any hobbies or anything. But, when I went back home what bothered me was not the result of the interview, but the question which made me not say a word. It touched a nerve. For a few days after that, I was thinking about starting a hobby of some sort. But, even then, I was under the impression that since I didn’t have an inborn talent or skill at anything, I couldn’t get better at those things. But, anyway, I decided to start a new hobby.

I googled and made a list of some doable hobbies. I started philately, but it was not an engaging hobby (although it has been going good since then. I have collected stamps of 65 countries and 350 different varieties of Indian stamps. Next, I tried photography. I thought I could get myself started by taking some shots with my mobile phone camera, and I did. I compared the images with the ones I see on the internet; the results were crap — absolute crap. I was discouraged and gave up on the whole hobby thing.

I tried photography again when my sister lent me her camera. It was better than the mobile phone camera. But, I had no idea how to operate it, let alone take good photographs. I googled and found out that it was a point and shoot camera and how to hold it, focus, and take photographs in the right way. I followed all that and the results were much better than those taken with the mobile phone camera. Within few days, I learned everything about that camera (its pros and cons) — thanks to Google. I started taking more and more pictures like I was possessed or something. I remember that my dad got worried, because he [really] thought that I was going crazy.

Later, I bought my Canon 1000D (until that time, I had no idea what a DSLR was), but it was very difficult to get some decent shots. I got discouraged at first, but I got back on track and started learning photography systematically. I haven’t given up on photography after that. It’s been almost 5 years, and I am confident to say that I take decent photographs. I got featured in Bing, Yandex, and two of my photographs had been selected by National Geographic Magazine editors. I am not bragging. You can check out my portfolio here:

 Besides taking good pictures, what was liberating was the realisation that you don’t need to have  a born talent/gifted skill for you to do something. It is just a fucking myth. After that, I decided to do something new every year. In 2011, I worked hard and learned photography; in 2012, I started my digital photography blog Shutterstoppers; in 2013, I started learning pencil drawing and digital painting; in 2014, I started developing reading and writing habit. I have been learning all these and trying something new ever since I had realised that there is nothing like a born skill; my life taught me that. You see, it is not your genes that are preventing you from becoming a photographer/artist/writer; rather, it is believing in some crap like you need some inborn talent to do or get good at something. It is absolute bullshit.

My first portrait (pencil on paper, 2014)
My first portrait (pencil on paper, 2014)
Pencil drawing (2013)
Pencil drawing (2013)
Digital painting in Ipad
Digital painting in Ipad
Taken in 2010
Taken in 2010
Taken in 2013
Taken in 2013

 By showing you all these, I am not singing my own praises here; instead, I want you to see, through these images, that this is a pretty good job done by someone who didn’t born with these talents. Also, I started my hobbies when I was 23, so your age doesn’t matter.

Let me explain all this in a philosophical (or boring) way.

What prevents most people from becoming an artist/scientist/athlete/photographer?

 If a man has a desire to become one (or all) of the above said, he  asks a question to himself first– Do I have the talent or the skill to do this? Is my purpose to become the above-said? Man thinks that, to achieve something or to become skilled at something, he has to have the innate ability to become an artist or scientist or anything he desires to be. But it contradicts reality. He thinks like that because he is under the illusion that he has to be gifted the particular talent he wants to achieve. Then he convinces himself that unless he is gifted, he cannot achieve something. His mind gets crippled by this illusion of innate endowment.

You might ask, how do I know that it is an illusion?; that, how do I know that there is nothing called an innate endowment, but it is all about our consciousness. Humans have the power of volition (and that is the only power we have). To become something you desire to be is up to our volition. Volition is an attribute of the faculty of our consciousness. It is a fact that humans do not fully understand about our consciousness or how the mind works. But, at the same time, he does not want to believe in uncertainty either; for uncertainty intimidates him. So he relies on mysticism. He believes in a supernatural being. And the whole idea of innate endowment is just an extrapolation of that.

When man tries to learn something, and when he makes mistakes or face failures in the beginning; self-doubt breeds in his mind. He asks himself, I am good for this? Am I talented for this? But, he never asks what can he do to negate these mistakes? He simply gives up by thinking that he is not gifted to do these things, instead of trying hard for it.

Conclusion

The only thing that is preventing you to become something is you — your philosophical view of life, your beliefs, etc. I still don’t have any regrets that I didn’t qualify that PhD interview. In fact, I am glad that I didn’t qualify; otherwise, I shouldn’t have had this realisation. It helped me to diversify my identity and improve myself. If I had qualified that interview, I might not have that realisation and you wouldn’t be reading this now. You see, roadblocks happen in our lives. But it is up to us to respond to those roadblocks; you can either blame your life, or do something to change it since you have the power of volition. I believe that every fucking person has potential inside him to become anything he wants; he just have to bring it out. All you need is the strong desire, time, perseverance to acquire a skill, not the some “inborn talent”.

Suggested reading: Philosophy: who needs it, Ayn Rand

A realist’s Blog: Why did it come into being, and what it is all about?

realism, pessimism, and optimism

You know that we all have voices inside our head, right? I don’t mean in a psychopathic or neural disorder kinda way, but those thoughts and talking to ourselves that are going on in our head all the time. It is almost impossible to think about nothing; the more you are forced to think about nothing, the more you think about something. So, we think about something always — sometimes we know that, and sometimes we don’t. It just keeps on playing in our head. Even when we are asleep, there are dreams that keep our brains busy.

There are different kinds of these voices (I still sound like I am suffering from some neural disorder or something and trying to figure all that, but it is not what I meant) : negative thoughts, positive thoughts, auto suggestions, bitching about others, and so on. Negative thoughts are the worst. They are like a rabid dog trying to chase us. Everybody gets negative thoughts, but some people can diffuse from them. By some people, I meant monks and people of such sort who say that they don’t think negatively. But, like I said, it is not possible to suppress any emotions or thoughts since the more you try to control any emotion the more it gets stronger. The only way is to diffuse from such thoughts — be mindful and realising what is going on. I have read that, through meditation, you can get better at this. Diffusing from negative emotion is like knowing that the rabid dog chasing you is not real, and once you realise that it is just a fear, it would only follow you where ever you go. But, if you think that the rabid dog is real and afraid of what it might do to you, it gets stronger

.Next is the positive thoughts. They are like an oasis in a desert. You think about them rarely like when you feel confident or want to overcome the negative thoughts inside you. It is rare, and everybody wants to go there and stay there for the rest of their lives. But, what happens is that, at one moment you see the oasis and the next moment it is gone. And you are back to being sick and miserable. I am not trying to be pessimistic or anything, I will explain this later. What I meant to say is that the manifestations of these thoughts are not real. They affect our emotional well-being in two different ways, but they are not real. But, strangely, these thoughts make us human; they are inevitable and they form because of our brain.

When you think positively, you see the oasis for sometime, and sooner or later, when some negative thoughts consume your mind, the rabid dog, which is following you, chases you out of the oasis and suddenly you find yourself running in the middle of the desert with that fucking dog on your tail. People who are immune to negative thoughts are not necessarily positive thinkers. Rather, they practice mindfulness and they don’t think positively or negatively. Their emotional health exists independent of these two thoughts. Yes, you can do this. It is a notion that you can only be in any of these states. But, that is not the case. It is not like there are only two states of mind. There is also a third one that is independent of these two, and if you are in that state, you will be in bliss. You can relate this in many instances as well. A common situation is being with someone. If you have relationship issues, you might feel that you will be happy only if you are with (or without, depending on what situation you are in) the other person. It is true, but that happiness is momentary. It will be like the oasis, and soon you find yourself being chased by that rabid dog when you see that the other person leaves you or is not with you. But, imagine being in a third state where you can exist without the other person. You will be emotionally healthy if you do so. For your information, these are not my ideas or anything. I had read this while I was reading about Buddha and what his philosophy is all about. And I don’t follow Buddhism or anything, but I like this philosophy; for I think it makes sense and it totally worked when I tried this. Similarly, you can apply this to materialistic things as well.

So, I am neither a pessimist nor an optimist. So what am I? I am a realist. Huh? You might think. Let me explain what realism and being a realistic is all about.

realism, pessimism, and optimism
Credits: pickthebrain.com

The common example to distinguish the  realism, optimism, and pessimism is the water in a glass one. You must have heard it before; it is a popular example the folks in the self-help industry give. This is how it goes:

Pessimist: The glass is half empty.
Optimist: The glass is half full.

But, the example doesn’t stop here. After all, you can extrapolate it to explain any kind of philosophical viewpoints. But in the self-help industry, they stop here, and they ask you to see the glass as half full; not half empty and shit like that. And you try to see every negative situation in a positive way, even though, deep inside, you feel like you want to jump off a cliff or something. But, what would a realist say about the situation?

Realist: The glass has some water in it.

Illustration of realism
Credits: thedoghousediaries.com

Yes. That is it. The problem has been solved. Go to sleep. You don’t have to worry about your philosophical bend or anything. Just see it as a glass filled with some water and don’t give a fuck about whether it is half full or half empty, for you have better things to give a fuck about.

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails. — William A Ward

 

Being realistic is knowing what is real; that, reality is independent of human consciousness. I don’t know how well you got what I just said. Let me try to explain in another way: Some 200 years ago, we didn’t know that black holes exist; before Copernicus, people thought that the sun was revolving around the earth. We have discovered so many things in this cosmos so far. But, just because we didn’t know something, doesn’t mean that they were not there — it is not like things sort of formed and we discovered them in the next moment.

We perceive reality using our senses and science, which are the attributes of human consciousness, not whatever we perceive is reality. Ayn Rand, in her book philosophy who needs it, says that there is a law of identity in this nature. That is, things exist; whether we can perceive them depends on us — our limitations and abilities.

So, being realistic is knowing that and accepting it. It is about accepting things the way they are. It is knowing that you cannot change anything which cannot be changed. If we change the physical things, there will be consequences (like, deforestation and stuff), and nature evolves into some other way. This goes with our emotions as well; we cannot suppress or change our emotions completely. Rather, we can accept that they are emotions and that is what makes us humans. This is so liberating if you try it. We cannot change it by changing our thinking, nor get rid of it. Like I said in the beginning, the more you try to avoid thinking about something, the more you think about it.

By this post, I am not trying to be a connoisseur of realism or anything. I am just talking about what I am, how I think and what philosophy I try to follow. Depending upon situations, I am a pessimist, an optimist, or sometimes both, and that makes me a realist. I used to read lots of positive thinking books, blogs until I had the epiphany of realism. These days I am trying to be realistic, and this blog is about my thoughts, observation and everything. I like describing things in unusual ways (I am inspired by George Carlin, J.D Salinger, and Adam Rapp) and you will read them in this blog. One of the reasons (or the main reason) to start this blog is to develop my writing habit. I like writing; it is like translating the thoughts in my head into text. Moreover, it feels good.

Like any other person, I brainstormed aI  lot for finding a “catchy” name for this blog, but I got bored and frustrated eventually and named this blog as ‘a realist’s blog’. I don’t blog with an assumption that I am absolutely right. I am wrong about so many things. But I like it that way, for it helps me improve myself. So you are most welcome to point out the mistakes (grammatical error, my perspectives, etc.) I make here as it will help me improve in every way.