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Matthew Wieder

Student, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

TEDCRED 50+

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Can we "engineer" our own interests through repeated exposure?

This week in my Bioelectricity class we learned about muscle contraction and how individual muscle twitches build on each other until tetanus (complete contraction of the muscle) is reached. Muscles are made up of small individual contractile units called sarcomeres which when they contract by themselves change the length of the muscle and produce a force that is negligible. However, when the sarcomeres contract in unison, the tension force produced is great enough to allow us to perform all of our normal day to day activities.

We also had a discussion in class about science education and how to get more young people excited about science -- often times in class there was a certain interaction with a role model who provided key influence either in a positive or negative direction.

This led me to think about the idea of life changing experiences. Is it ever a single experience, a specific interaction with a teacher or other role model that leads us to the career choices we make or, are we more influenced by the small events and sets of circumstances that "sum up" and provide this life altering influence?

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  • Mar 29 2012: I think so. This is something social theorists have been studying for years (Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, and Erving Goffman especially). Because we can't have interests that lie outside of our frames of reference (we can't know or want to know something we've never heard of), by expanding these frames through acquiring new knowledge, having new experiences, etc. we can "engineer" our interests. Our interests will always be bound by the knowledge we have and the importance we place on the subjects in which we're interested (cultural, educational, economic capital), but by learning new things, we learn new ways of thinking and give ourselves new tools to create new interests.
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      Apr 1 2012: Hey Meggan,

      I think you bring up a good point. We can't know we are interested in something we don't know about, thus our interests arise in the set of things that we do know about. In the twin example, it may be true that we are genetically disposed to take greater interest in certain subjects over others. However, as Cal pointed out, the way this interest develops varies widely, and is largely related to culture.

      Suppose we are never exposed to something that we should genetically be inclined towards - then we shall never find out that we had a disposition towards it to begin with.

      With this information, it seems to me that we cannot engineer our own interests. If genes do carry these inclinations towards particular subjects, than I would say that we can't engineer our own interests, as our interests have already been engineered by our genes. What we can do is choose the pool of topics that we could potentially find interest in. If we inherently dislike a particular subject, I don't think we can genuinely force ourselves to like it.

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