People Programming People, and Why Everybody Should Learn Coding

28 Oct

In the hypnosis field, there’s often an idea that goes around about being able to “reprogram” people.

This is amusing, given that most of the folks who claim to be masters at this sort of programming have probably never written a single line of “Hello World” code, and wouldn’t recognize an IDE or a debugger if it bit them on the butt!

I’m thinking of this topic especially with the recent circus around the “Obamacare” website rollout… pundits and politicians pontificating about programming and proper project management. People talking about putting together a “tech surge” and throwing more developers into “fixing glitches” — apparently clueless about something as basic as Brooks’s Law:

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.

As a hypnotist with a fairly decent technical background (I used to manage the app development department of a start-up in the first dot-com bust, architected and wrote most of the code for one of the world’s largest B2B ecommerce sites, been a computer lover since the days of Apple II and IBM 80286, etc.) this kind of goofiness is fun to observe.

In any office environment, many of us have become familiar with the “Annoying Tech Guy”:

You’ll notice that a classic symptom of the A.T.G. is the use of jargon. This is often used as a way to confuse people who aren’t “clueful” about the technology. It discourages “outsiders” from asking the right questions, while enabling the techie to feel superior as the possessor of special knowledge.

Using jargon and terminology like “hacking” to describe personal change is a way of exploiting the general public’s simultaneous interest and cluelessness. It’s meant to turn off people’s brains and just give them a reason to assume that the “Master Elite Hacker” has some sort of expertise… “It’s like how the CSI:Miami technician wrote a GUI program using VB to backtrace the suspect’s IP address!” How exciting! No, it’s just gobbledygook.

There is a big problem with attracting customers and clients by switching off their critical thinking ability. The problem is — you end up spending much of your life having to deal with suckers and people who are going to fail, no matter what. This may be fine for those who are in the business of selling audio programs or group seminars or similar products over the internet, but if you’re working face-to-face interpersonally with individual clients, that kind of approach will eventually drive you up the wall.

For one thing, working with real individual humans is not like using BASIC. Hypnosis isn’t like “implanting” a program that goes:

20 GOTO 10

Instead, working with humans is much more like “cellular automata” — the kind of programming that leads to “The Game of Life” (not the board game).

Cellular automata is based on very simple rulesets that can lead to extremely complex and dynamic behaviors. Here’s the interesting thing: the output of such rules are often literally impossible to predict, even though the initial rules are well-known!

So it’s always interesting when people in this field claim that they’ve come up with a magical step-by-step process which will lead to permanent personal change — GUARANTEED! These claims are usually accompanied with disclaimers like “as long as you follow these exact steps, you’ll get these exact results.”

No, that’s not how things work. In reality, as well as in the world of cellular automata, two people can follow the exact same steps and end up in totally different places. This is why the most important factor for success is working with the right people.

What the heck is going on here? It’s output from the Game of Life.

Here’s another funny thing about how the concept of programming is misused in the self-help field: so many people seem obsessed with the idea of “believing in yourself” — and so many folks will claim that they can “reprogram your mind” and make that happen.

But you know why real programming and real coding are such excellent skills to learn? Real programming and coding will help you learn that:

  • Code does not care about your self-esteem or confidence or belief. It just runs based on how it was written. Trying hard to “believe in yourself” is a dumb thing to devote yourself towards, because it is an inefficient use of energy and effort.
  • It still does not matter how well you write your code, or how much you “believe it’ll work” — you should expect it to fail at some point because of some unknown factor, therefore error-handling is a must. Incompetent programmers ignore this principle, and cause the whole system to crash!
  • You learn how to create and fix things by first understanding basic principles, recognizing the problem domain, then trying different things, observing results, trying different things, etc. You cannot learn programming with the expectation that “someone will teach me how to program”, or by reading a manual. Programming and hacking are about FIGURING THINGS OUT FOR YOURSELF — which is why the plethora of articles like “5 Life Hacks for Being Successful” is kind of strange.

The CPU god laughs mercilessly in the face of human wishful thinking

For these reasons, I think that if you want to improve your effectiveness at processing life, learning even a little bit of actual programming and coding skills could be useful, even if you’re not a “techie” (maybe even more so if you’re not already inclined).

When you devote some of your brain to the task of learning programming, it will help you develop mental discipline, flexibility of thinking, in addition to being creative and logical at the same time. Check out CodeAcademy, it’s a good way for people to learn basic coding concepts for free –

PS. You can do this without worrying about becoming “Annoying Tech Guy”! Just be careful about becoming one of those folks who goes through a tutorial or two and declares themselves an expert :-).


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