I have some very strong memories from my childhood that I have a feeling might have been especially formative in particular ways.
This page is a stub, created on 2020-06-11. Its contents are notes on the issues and angles I want to address about this topic.
- In elementary school, we had a "science lab" with Mr Cowan. My vague recollection of this lab was that it was typically more physics-oriented (as against chemistry/optics with Ms Smolen (sp?) and another one for oceanography), but we also learned a lot about the rules of logic and had interesting logic puzzles. I remember one we had as homework, where we had to assess whether it was illegal for a plane to land on the freeway. What really stood out to me was the conversation I had with my dad about it. I wanted to approach it deductively, where there either was a concrete law about it or not, and that just determined the answer--and I didn't know whether there was such a law. I was stumped. My dad tried to coach me in a certain direction: "Why would a plane land on the freeway?" I still wasn't getting it. He pointed out that in the real world, a plane would only land on the freeway in case of an emergency, so the whole issue of codified laws was irrelevant. I don't know that it landed with me explicitly at the time, but subconsciously, I think this had the effect of helping me to be able to resist rationalism later in life. Don't get me wrong, I wanted to derive Objectivist principles from axioms using deduction alone (a fool's errand, if there ever was one), but I think that experiences such as that one helped me to be open to a proper, inductive, grounded approach to philosophy and human knowledge generally.
- As a kid, I was obsessed with reading and re-reading (and re-reading!) the books that were part of Time-Life's A Child's First Library of Learning set. I definitely credit a large part of my curiosity about the world and desire to understand things to these books, which, while giving away some of the answers (instead of making me work for knowledge!), presented and explained a lot of things in day-to-day life and the natural sciences in a way that was cognitively accessible to a young child. My experience was one of deep satisfaction in grasping how things work. (Given the disaster that is government education, even with the best curricula at the most privileged schools, this was probably a saving grace in terms of preserving my love of learning.)
- At some point when I was pretty young, somewhere in the range of 3-13 years old (probably younger than 10, though), I remember being at the bathroom sink, brushing my teeth. I had plugged the drain with the stopper so that the sink filled up, then spit out my toothpaste into the sink basin. I can't remember what I was doing exactly; maybe I was curious about how diluted the toothpaste was in all that water and to see what would happen to the concentration if I started draining the sink while also running the water. What happened next, though, was that my dad came in and scolded me for what I was doing, telling me that I would get a stomach ache. I was pretty confused, since I didn't see the connection between that and filling a sink with water and spitting toothpaste out into it. I don't know how much later (years?), but I realized that my dad must have thought that I was drinking the water in the sink, a thought that was utterly repulsive to me. I don't know exactly why this anecdote stayed with me, but I wonder how much it's related to my feeling so triggered at the idea of not being understood or of others' not having a good grasp of my skills, abilities, and knowledge, maybe assuming the worst. At the very least, one thing I think I gained from this was a clearer understanding of the difference between someone's beliefs and the facts, as well as the role that premises play in forming conclusions.
- In middle school, I think in 7th grade, PE period was ending, and we were supposed to be lining up in front of the lockerroom to be let in to change back into our regular school clothes. But I suddenly ran into a friend of mine who had graduated and was visiting. (When I was in 6th grade, she was in 9th grade, since they hadn't moved the 9th grade to high school yet, and we were in the individualized-pace math class together that year.) I can't remember her name now, but I was excited to see her, but extremely anxious because I was supposed to be in line. I said that I wasn't supposed to be there, and she, this 10th grader, replied with wisdom to the effect of "Sometimes, there are more important things in life than rules.". I don't know how much it landed with me at the time, but somehow, that really stuck with me over the years, and I imagine that it was at least subconsciously critical to the development of my attitude toward rules, specifically, that conformity externally defined rules is not some intrinsic value.