Life Lessons from Rock Band 2

March 8, 2009

‘I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop anytime….And what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is really mine’

Watch the Mister Rogers video again (skip to 5:08 if the speech is too intense for you, and it should be). Here’s what I wrote about it before.

My personal philosophy on life is better represented by the game Rock Band than by the movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Some of my impulsive decisions cause me regret, but the purchase of Rock Band was not one of them, because the game has made clear for me two facts about life. Here they are:

  1. Change and growth cannot be achieved with a sudden burst of willpower, but rather must be given time to develop fully.
  2. The processes of conscious thought, while necessary for early stages of character-forming, are useless when you have to make decisions “in the moment.”

For some songs, it is necessary to practice the various parts individually. What I’ve noticed about my practicing, however, is that it never follows the pattern where I start with a section I can’t play, then practice it over and over until I can play it perfectly. Rather, in any individual practice session, I start on a section, get better for a while, and then will start getting worse. Then I’ll quit for a few hours or a day, and when I come back I’m much better than I was at any point during the previous session. It’s as if, even though I already understood what to do in some sense, my mind and body needed time to incorporate that new knowledge into who I am. Powering through the practice session, with my conscious mind trying to assert ever more control on my playing, only leads to frustration.

Which brings me to the second lesson: for all my preparation, playing always has to be a matter of habit and feeling in the end. The more I think about what I am doing, the worse I play. Sometimes I will have to stumble through a song, watching the screen carefully and trying to hit every note, and that helps me survive in situations where I otherwise would fail, but when I’m really playing well, I’m barely conscious of what I’m doing at all.

So, this is pretty much what I think “free will” is all about. Making a decision is not an act, it’s a process. Your conscious mind is extremely powerful for shaping who you are, which is turn shapes the kinds of decisions you make. But if you neglect training yourself in the belief that your mind will save you in any tricky situations, you’re making a mistake. By the time you get to a tough decision, it’s already too late. It’s natural to think that you can’t control who you are, but I think that’s completely wrong. When you get right down to it, I’d argue that you’re more responsible for who you are than for what you do.

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