Learned Helplessness

I spend a lot of time (for a fly?) thinking about Learned Helplessness. If I recall correctly, the idea is derived from an experiment where a dog was called, and as soon as it left its cage, it was electrocuted. After a couple shocks, it no longer came when called. I believe this is also summarized as “fool me twice, shame on me,” but I digress.

For much of my life, I have agreed that this is evidence of “Learned Helplessness,” but I have recently had another interpretation. Specifically, I don’t really think this proves what it supposedly proves. I don’t think it proves helplessness is taught. Leaving aside the fact it wouldn’t work on my dog, I think the conclusion is a leap, given the experiment.

Indeed, I think it’s common that humans like justifications. I often think about the four-minute mile. For years, the conventional wisdom was that humans were incapable of running a mile in under four minutes. As soon as someone did it, several more people did it. It was as if they had been waiting for permission.

When I was a child (aka “Back in my day”), there were motivational posters about reaching for the stars, but since people are always living “at the end of history,” I don’t know how apparent it is to the motivational poster-makers that the children they seek to inspire may someday be adults. And for better or (and) worse, time keeps ticking.

Point being: reach for the stars!

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