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Notes Towards Day 14: Cultivating Habit

Anne Dalke's picture


Class Notes by fabelhaft

"We inhabit the corrosive littoral of habit"

I. Coursekeeping
notetaker: fabelhaft

looking forward--
for next Monday: read "The Will to Believe,"

(C.E., pp. 717-735) from the 1897 collection
The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy

looking back--
following up on making our commonplace books
more available to one another, more "habitual"....

 I am having a love-hate affair with my commonplace book.  I love being able to observe the evolution and development of my thoughts throughout the semester ... but it doesn't provide the larger intellectual context for them .... tracing my ideas more carefully, citing the origin of concepts, and linking to course notes, and class summaries. 

As aide: go to "my account"--> "notification settings" &/OR
use "Recent Group Book Pages" on the right hand column
(lists most recent 5 this enough?);
also: reverse chronology helps us, as readers!!!

report on/responses to Wai Chee's talk on
"Literature as Public Humanities," or:
what might happen when education is
taken out of its customary setting?

classroom not default/exclusive venue for teaching of literature
cf. venues (history of food, alternatives to incarceration)
where "literature seems almost to be beside the point";
& Facebook page on "Rethinking World Literature,"
where the conversation about literature is
built on a baseline platform of
social networking:
* unanchored (so! hierarchies suspended!);
* flatness of posts and even-handed archiving sequence
* "playing field less haunted by inherited biases";
* "oddly subtractive effect" of "thinner air," lacking "unwanted baggage"

* changes the way she thinks about students:
"they know a lot more than I thought they did"
(or: what can happen if you are not trying to control/
direct the conversation, as in a classroom....!)

II. back to William James
following up on Monday's conversation

about "the stream of thought":
fabelhaft: How do we explain to another person our unique thought-process?.... once you have to explain a joke ... something is lost in trying to translate a stream of thought from one person to another ... Explaining one's thought-process ... says a lot about a person.

today: "Habit," from Psychology: The Briefer Course (1892)
and my contemporary meditation(s)

Let's begin (again!) with you/
your associations w/ this keyword:
what is your relation to the habitual?
how would you draw it?
how would you put it in words?

What are your good habits, your bad ones? 
How do you acquire the former, and lose the latter?

What do you think of James's claim regarding "the great thing"
that habit is "in all education," making "our nervous system
our ally instead of our enemy"?

MissArcher 2: The article suggests that the structure of daily life depends on habit (I had an aha! moment with the phrase "creatures of habit"). I thought the balance between discussion of scientific neural pathways that form habits with real-life examples made the article relevant today

Reading Notes:
An acquired habit ... is nothing but a new pathway of discharge formed in the brain ....
Habit has a physical basis.

Plasticity ... means the possession of a structure weak enough to yield to an influence, but strong enough not to yield all at once.

a simple, mechanically, nothing but a reflex discharge .... The most complex habits ... are ... organized as to wake each other up successively ....

First, habit simplifies our movements, makes them accurate, and diminishes fatigue.

Second, habit diminishes the conscious attention with which our acts are performed .... our higher thought-centres know hardly anything about the matter .... In habitual action ...the upper regions of brain and mind are set comparatively free .... Habits depend on sensations not attended to.

Habit is the enormous fly-wheel of society, its most precious conservative agent ... It is well for the world that in most of us, by the age of thirty, the character has set like plaster, and will never soften again.

The great thing, then, in all education, is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy .... For this we must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can .... The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work.

Three great maxims:
in the acquisition of a new habit ... take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible.

Never suffer an exception to occur til the new habit is securely rooted in your life.

Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make ....
in the moment of their producing motor effects ... resolves and aspirations communicate the new "set" to the brain.

"A character," as J.S. Mill says, "is a completely fashioned will" ... an aggregate of tendencies to act in a firm and prompt and definite way upon all the principal emergencies of life .... general forms of discharge ... seem to be grooved out by habit in the brain.

Attention and effort are ... but two names for the same psychic fact .... habit ... is a material law .... Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day ...The hell to be endured hereafter ... is no worse than the hell we make for ourselves in this world by habitualy fashioning our characters in the wrong way .... We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never so little scar .... every fresh dereliction being counted.... Down among his nerve-cells and fibres the molecules are counting it, registering and storing it up to be used against him when the next tempation comes. Nothing we ever do is, in strict scientific literalness, wiped out.

Weeding, Seeding and Place-Keeping

Class Notes by fabelhaft