Thursday, June 10, 2010

Perceived Productivity and Actual Progress

One thing that bothers me is when someone judges me to be an unproductive person simply because they cannot see any physical manifestations of my productivity. If I were to isolate my activities to another location out of this kind of person's sight and engage in predominantly mental work, for instance, the person would assume I would be doing something equivalent to nothing. Once while engaged in studying I was interrupted in order to complete an insignificant task that could have waited, and then told to be thankful that I was given "something to do."

While it is true that accomplishments should have some manifestation of the sorts -- whether it be an emotional change resulting from introspection, a physical device being built, or the likes -- progress can nonetheless still be obtained purely in the mental realm. If one is stumped by an intellectual problem that affects one's life, for instance, one could still be considered productive in a personal context by having sat on a rock for a few hours in order to solve it.

In truth, if this be a more common problem outside of my context, I think the root lies in the fact that one's mental world is entirely private. No matter how loud you think or daydream such mental activities will be hidden from other persons, even if their ear is pressed against your head. While a person may be intensely engaged in a mental process, lacking telepathy, the only thing other people can see is a person standing around "doing nothing."

As far as I have observed, the persons who hold that thinking is akin is idleness are themselves particularly unproductive people. Since they don't stop to *think* about how to maximize their productivity, instead opting for thoughtless action and habits, they end up wasting their time spinning their tires. A person who "wastes" a few minutes examining driving routes, for instance, is more likely to reach his destination quicker than the person who simply relies on his habits.

This line of thinking actually occurred to me last year when I spent a bit of time thinking about to optimize a process at my old job as a Park Ranger. A volunteer and I were working on rolling some caution tape, and I was annoyed with how excruciatingly long it was taking. I remembered a technique I saw on Mythbusters, spent an extended amount of minutes trying to develop a process -- rather than dedicating myself entirely to the rolling -- and came up with a massive shortcut to the process by attaching the caution tape to a drill, which saved significant time. A person who wouldn't "waste" his time thinking would have spun his wheels in the long process of rolling via hands.

I have to wonder if this association of thinking with idleness has any deeper implications in formal philosophy. I had been thinking about Marxism in particular, though I confess I haven't studied it yet, so I cannot make any claims to ideological or historical accuracy. If I recall what I've read correctly, basing their actions on the Marxist doctrine, statist advocates actually went out and murdered industrial leaders since they thought they were evil for "exploiting" workers, that the workers engaged in the physical labor were doing the actual work while the bosses were being idle (that is, wasting their time on mental work). This explanation, I believe, was intended for clarifying why some statist countries (e.g. Russia) went to economic hell so quickly: They killed the brains that drove the economy, feeling their mental work was nonessential and insignificant to the process.

Either way, it incenses me that such an association is made in any number of instances, serving as proof that the particular persons who adhere to this believe that the mind is nonessential to life.

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