Saturday, August 20, 2016

The many meanings of "make" all lead back to this: you make yourself

We'll open this post with a quote from W. B. Yeats, my favourite poet:


What does it mean to make something? The Oxford Online dictionary lists 13 different meanings for this one little word (one of the 1000 most used words in the language). That's a hint: this word is important (and "make" doesn't always make sense, but it does always make a difference.)



You can make a bed without creating one. You can make a change or a mess or a mistake (and sometimes have a hard time knowing which it is). You can make art or make things happen or make yourself go there. But whenever you make anything, you become a cause of something and not an effect.

Making matters because when we make, we are active in the world.

Whenever we are active, we encode both the action and its results in our brain/body/mind and the combination becomes a pattern we use to predict. When we act, we learn how action leads to changes that will satisfy or hurt. As we make, we make our expectations, which makes us into a kind of person who expects some things and not others. Whatever else we make, whenever we make, we make ourselves.

What's the alternative to making? You can be made: you can be defined by someone else or something else. You can be acted at or acted upon instead of making action happen. You can remember effects without causes and live in an unpredictable and mostly frightening world. You can be shaped by expectations made without willpower and lived without hope.

It doesn't matter all that much whether you make a mistake or you make a pie. Either way, you are giving yourself agency: the ability to change the world so that you can also change yourself. When Yoda tells Luke, "There is no try" what he means is that making an effort always has a result and that result makes a difference in determining how you predict what is possible.

So choose to make.


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