Sometimes a writer's job is to say what people are thinking, but say it better than they are thinking it. Watch me do that now.


Have you ever wondered who you are? You're not your body, because living cells come and go and are generally outside of your control. You're not your location, because that can change. You aren't your DNA because that simply defines the boundaries of your playing field. You aren't your upbringing because siblings routinely go in different directions no matter how similar their start. My best answer to my own question is this:

You are what you learn.

If all you know is how to be a gang member, that's what you'll be, at least until you learn something else. If you become a marine, you'll learn to control fear. If you go to law school, you'll see the world as a competition. If you study engineering, you'll start to see the world as a complicated machine that needs tweaking.

I'm fascinated by the way a person changes at a fundamental level as he or she merges with a particular field of knowledge. People who study economics come out the other side thinking a different way from people who study nursing. And learning becomes a fairly permanent part of a person even as the cells in the body come and go and the circumstances of life change.

You can easily nitpick my definition of self by arguing that you are actually many things, including your DNA, your body, your mind, you environment and more. By that view, you're more of a soup than a single ingredient. I'll grant you the validity of that view. But I'll argue that the most powerful point of view is that you are what you learn.

It's easy to feel trapped in your own life. Circumstances can sometimes feel as if they form a jail around you. But there's almost nothing you can't learn your way out of. If you don't like who you are, you have the option of learning until you become someone else. Life is like a jail with an unlocked, heavy door. You're free the minute you realize the door will open if you simply lean into it.

Suppose you don't like your social life. You can learn how to be the sort of person that attracts better friends. Don't like your body? You can learn how to eat right and exercise until you have a new one. You can even learn how to dress better and speak in more interesting ways.

I credit my late mother for my view of learning. She raised me to believe I could become whatever I bothered to learn. No single idea has served me better.


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+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 17, 2011
Scott, your 2nd to last paragraph in this was quoted in The Week magazine last week. I can't tell you how pleased I was to see it there. It is wonderfully quotable and still gives me chills whenever I read it. It is my new mantra- 'Life is like a jail with an unlocked, heavy door. You're free the minute you realize the door will open if you simply lean into it.'
Oct 21, 2011
If you are male, then you are your wife's personal servant.
Oct 21, 2011
I just thought of an inherent problem with this post.

If you learn that political idea X is wrong and Y is right, regardless of the truth, you'll never trust X sources. If you learn that political idea Y is wrong and X is right, regardless of the truth, you'll never trust Y sources. If you look at it from a distant perspective where everyone is a potential lying weasel, then you aren't going to trust X or Y.

Ergo a dilemma.

So how do you know what to learn and if what you've learned is the right thing?
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 21, 2011
This is so true. I have never married, so I date quite a lot. I learned by my early 30's that accountants, while appearing to be good partners in many ways, were doomed. I put it down to the fact that accountants learn at university that the route to success was "put in as little as possible, take out as much as possible, and always keep tally".

That is exactly how they treat girlfriends, parents, business partners and the world, far beyond the dollars and cents. They try to minimise what they put into relationships, and the moment they feel they are putting in more than the other person, they "cash out". Of course the only relationship they can possibly survive in, is one where the other person continually puts in much more emotionally, intellectually physically and financially. It makes them very tiring to be around.

I noticed it first in relationships, but later I realised they do the same in all aspects of their lives, and they really can't help it. It makes them very dangerous business owners, because eventually customers (and most bosses) get very annoyed with people who only put in the absolute minimum.
Oct 21, 2011
Whether this idea is literally valid or not, it's a very good self-help mantra. This is riffed on here:
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 21, 2011
"Life is like a jail with an unlocked, heavy door. You're free the minute you realize the door will open if you simply lean into it."

Love that. Stealing it, starting now.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 20, 2011
I absolutely agree, and I think a better understanding of that would have huge implications for the education system, from beginning to end. Also for public welfare, psychological health, and many other areas. The hardest part may be convincing people that they can learn their way out of a bad situation, given a chance. People like Scott truly believe they can learn to do just about anything. So many people just realize it or don't get the chance.
Oct 20, 2011
Your definition of who you are is too narrow. I agree that if you take a moment to step back and look around and see who you are a case can be made that you have become what you've learned. But you are just looking at your results - kind of like sticking your head up your #SS and seeing what your digestive system has learned to do with food.

I know the analogy is a bit odd but most people's lives are a mess and even though they have learned a lot of neat things in their lives the end result can be a lot like the contents of the large intestine. At least to them. But if we ask there friends and family...

Ask your small child who they think you are and the answer sounds much better than you would ever think. Who we are is a matter of perspective as much as anything else. Ask a new mother who her baby is and I doubt there are any words to do justice to her answer.. And the baby hasn't even learned that he or she even has a mother yet! That baby is everything to her and it hasn't learned one single thing.

I believe who we are starts with point of view. I bet Hitler thought he was really doing something good until the last few moments of his life but I doubt there are many people in the world that agreed with him.

I have to say that every time Scott does some thinking and writing the world seems to get more complicated and thought provoking (at least to me).
Oct 20, 2011
Thank you Scott Adams!!! You've inspired me to learn to become a world class jewel thief!!!!

I'm going to go practice bending my body around lasers now....
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 20, 2011
To me, the question of "Who are you?" has two levels of answers.

The more tanglible/pragmatic answer is more like Scott's. (e.g., You are what you do, learn, etc.) My two cents on this is that you are a combination of what you intend and what you pay attention to. IMO, Scott's further explanation of his answer speaks more to the questions of "How am I doing?" and "Is my life turning out as expected?" I think intention/attention are very much a part of that.

On a more abstract level, the answer to the question is: You're it. You are the whole universe. You are God. Whatever. You are a process. You are not living in a vacuum, but you are living in an environment. You and the environment go together like two sides of a coin. Explicitly different, but implicitly one and the same. Only, we forget that, and we play the game of "poor little old me" who got born into this mess. The question I pose is, can we overcome the dillusion of a small separate self, and remember our true belonging, our true self? Alan Watts wrote a book called "The Book: On the Tabboo of Knowing Who You Are". Not a great read, but speaks very well on this issue.
Oct 20, 2011
I am a highly sophisticated process.
Consciousness is a process.
Living is a process.
Thought and observation are processes.
When we die, many of our processes end (such as consciousness and living as a semi-complete system), and a couple new ones start (decomposition).

That's exactly why I don't believe in souls, gods, afterlife, or any of that. Because I see all life, including my own, and the ability to exist and refer to myself, as processes which will eventually end. My daughter is a newer instance of the process known as "living" than I am. We all started, we'll all run our course, and we'll all end, and many many more will start and end. It's interesting.
Oct 20, 2011
Love the idea, but I think a lot of native factors dramatically affect your worldview, starting with what's fair. As a white male in good health, tall, strong, attractive, and from a wealthy family, I find that few people share my perspectives on anything. Likewise, I can't really understand concepts like "no opportunity" and "loneliness." Seems to me that pretty much any achievement just requires a little effort, because that's what it's like for me. If it's not like that for everyone, then... well, hey, evolution.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 20, 2011
'You are what you learn' ties in very closely with your 'moist robot' belief. What you learn not only defines who you are but how you react to stimulus. We learn that, given certain conditions, if we react in a certain manner that it is likely to produce a certain outcome. In other words our behavior is programmed by our past experience. IE, we have no free will.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 20, 2011
Somewhat like your mother, Scot, my father taught me that if I learn to read well and have a library card there is nothing I cannot do or be. (Or I can at least learn the physical bounds I must content with.) But I also see many blogger writing about the question are we free to leaning anything or do we learn what attracts us and we are capable of learning. This go back to your idea of free will. I learn what I think I need to know, and in doing that I make choices. Are those conscious? Are those really choices or does my destiny require me to learn certain things as part of my role in the universe. Maybe I can learn to make different choices, eh?
Oct 20, 2011
Ok, so this is why I read this entry with a furrowed brow. Law school, engineering, the marines...these are all vocations that you choose when you've entered early adulthood.

First of all you're choosing what you want to learn at this point: why go to law school if you're not already competitive, or if you don't have a burning sense of justice. Why would you be an engineering major unless you already see the world as a machine to understand, or you just want to make lots of money?

And what do we learn before adulthood? Most of us are the product of the public school system. Does that mean before adulthood we are all the same? or at least those of us that attend the same high school?

A thought provoking blog post as usual, but this one isn't making sense to me.
Oct 20, 2011
Very good. Three related observations:

The most important thing I learned on the way to a PhD was how to learn and that I could discover things and not just get them from a parent, teacher, friend or book.

Since I took a course on experimentation, I view life as a series of experiments. Try something, see how it works, and if necessary try something different.

I think the distinction between knowing and learning interprets learning more narrowly than Scott means it.
Oct 20, 2011
- I'm not trying to defend Donald Trump, but how did you get to the 500Mil estimate. He's been valued by forbes in march 2011 at 2.7billion?
Oct 20, 2011
All that you touch
All that you see
All that you taste
All you feel.
All that you love
All that you hate
All you distrust
All you save.
All that you give
All that you deal
All that you buy,
beg, borrow or steal.
All you create
All you destroy
All that you do
All that you say.
All that you eat
And everyone you meet
All that you slight
And everyone you fight.
All that is now
All that is gone
All that's to come
and everything under the sun is in tune
but the sun is eclipsed by the moon. - Roger Waters
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 20, 2011
I would tweak your statement to read as follows: "You are what you KNOW."

This is something I noticed while visiting an old place I worked the other day - it was poorly organized, the walls were drab, everything was falling apart. When I was there, I got used to it and didn't know any better; now I've been working in a much nicer place for the last 3-4 years and I'm much happier and more focused, just because the environment around me isn't horrendously depressing.

You can't "learn" to be something you don't want. I'll never "learn" to enjoy, say, egg rolls - the taste of them makes me gag uncontrollably.

The real question for Scott's theory is: what if you DO like who you are, but the world around you does not treat you well? Can you "learn" to be something you don't like or don't want to be? I would posit that the answer is no, at least not ethically (you can be forced/coerced into something, but you'll probably always be resentful of it).
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 20, 2011
You choose your profession, then the profession chooses you.
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