There is this theory I came across a few years ago during my philosophy class. The philosopher David Hume proposes the idea of tabula rasa. This theory states that when we’re born, we have nothing. No thoughts, no ideas, no opinions, no feelings, nothing. We’re just a hollow piece of meat. In our journey in this world, every person we meet and every situation we encounter leaves some marks in our hard drive (unconscious) and we’re molded more or less by that experience. As grown ups, we’re the sum of those experiences.
According to other big thinkers, this is not quite exactly true. Our temperament is something that we might be born with. It influences the way we interpret every experience, so even though we’re a blank page when we’re born, it influences what and how it gets written on that blank page (this is very hard to prove though).
In his book Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life, Brian Tracy states the following:
“A child is born without a concept about himself. Every idea, opinion, feeling, attitude or value that you have today as an adult, you’ve learned it in your childhood. Everything you are today is the result of an idea or impression you took and accepted as being real. When you think something is real, whatever it is, it becomes real for you. ‘You are what you think, not what you think you are.’”
As you notice, Brian Tracy doesn’t say that we’re born with nothing and honestly, it doesn’t matter that much for our present and future. Yes, we don’t have a self concept when we’re born and yes, everything we are today is the sum of what we experienced in our lives so far, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t change the way we are by choosing some experiences we encounter (we can’t chose all, but we can chose how we’re going to look at them all).
Based on our journey, our mind and our body gets into a certain shape and once we realize this, we might want to get a better control over them because our life depends on them.
“You don’t believe what you see, you see what you believe.” – Brian Tracy
What do you think about all these ideas?
29 thoughts on “We’re all born with nothing?”
Science says we carry genetic of our ancestors(parents and so forth) and that more or less contradicts Hume’s tabula rasa theory. however as a philosophy student it is important to interpret that whether Hume said tabula rasa that we have no idea what so ever, or only that we are not aware of anything when we are born and we acquire the traits as we grow up; as obviously in the later case it would our genetic feature that would shape how and what of ourselves and that refutes the first theory. or even more compelling case is that perhaps new born doesn’t understand what we understand but does understand something that we do not understand once we grow up, as even in womb fetus does know when it needs food, or need of movement… Would like to hear more from you on this…
*an important correction: I mentioned Hume instead of Locke.
The new born has a better understanding of it’s surroundings and it’s a huge part for development. Because of this, the environment shaped by culture, might have a bigger influence compared to the genetic legacy. Thank you for your inputs! They are very helpful.
Thank you! It’s always good to share and learn.
The blank slate was theorized long before Hume, notably by John Locke. Science has largely discredited it. Steven Pinker has made a career out of it.
True, we’re not born with memories. But our personalities…or temperament…along with mental capabilities like language are, in fact, innate. If we we’re born “blank slates”, nothing would be possible.
Not sure if that was your larger point. Just wanted to point that out.
True, John Locke has approached the idea before. We are born with the right tools (to keep the same register, we are born with the blackboard and the chalk), but I think that our environment is the one writing things on it. Thank you so much for talking your time to tell your insights about this! It really helps creating a more complete idea over the topic! 😀
We are born with nothing? I’m not sure about that. But what I’m sure about is that we all become who we are now as s result of what we experience and our reactions to those experiences. Beautiful piece of writing 😙
Thank you! Yes, experience has the final “word” 🙂
Brian Tracy is generally part of the NLP/Law of Attraction crowd for the business minded. Higher profile than the new age counterparts, same message: thoughts become reality. There’s generally something to the idea when it’s exercised as a conscious process. Too easily bound up in circular logic too if read too deeply into it. Makes for a good cottage industry though.
I think that the idea that people can take control over their lives creates excitement.
It most certainly does. It also perpetuates the concept of hope, an idea that never goes out of style.
Yes, that’s true! Thank you for your inputs about this. 🙂
It reminds me of the words to a song “born with nothing, die with nothing…paint your legacy on this unforgiving canvas” I think we do have a certain temperament but I believe even that can be influenced by our home environment as young children. Ultimately though, yes we are/can become anything/anyone we want but it is a matter of what we think of ourselves. For example I may have been shy all my life but the moment I start believing that I am confident and fearless you would never know I was ever shy
That’s right! And sometimes we are not strong enough to change this thinking and a high goal could give us that additional strength.
I can’t give a textbook sort of answer because I never went to school and studied this stuff, but I did grow up in an extremely abusive home and can say those last two quotes are relatable for me. I was always told I was stupid and could never amount to shit and I grew up believing it.
I’m not in a search for textbook answers. I’m in a search for people’s experience that can test those textbook answers, so thank you for sharing your thoughts! 🙂
Nature/nurture – I truly believe that it’s 50/50. If you have the brain chemistry or folds in your lobes to experience certain things, there’s not a lot that a nurturing or negative environment can do to shift that. It’s certainly possible to tinker with the chemicals, learn new ways of thinking and reprogram certain traits. It also takes a tremendous amount of work and self awareness, to say nothing of the “nurture” being there to support those changes.
I don’t feel like there is an either/or answer. People are people; some are more content than others, some are more positive, some are more depressed. We’re complex.
Yes, we’re very complex. And what we’re doing can define us 🙂
My mother was the first person to hold me when I was born. She was a very aggressive and fiery person. I would cry when she held me right from the start. Did I recognise her voice from being in the womb? My grandmother held me and I was pacified straight away. There was no nurture involved as I was newborn. My grandmother became my main care giver and then nurture took over completely. I have my grandmother’s placid nature mostly but with the odd blip sometimes. Don’t make me angry you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. 😉😉😉
She also hold you tight before you were born. Maybe in that time you got used to that anger? I won’t :))
Smiling now. I know you won’t.
Wow. I totally agree!
I struggle with the concept that we are a blank canvas at birth. “Lived experience” is the reality we base our concept of reality on but isn’t there also something to be said for the taught responses within the womb as a reaction to the mother carrying us. We know that a foetus responds to chemicals/hormones produced by or taken in by the mother but is there also something in the auditory simulation as well?
Lived experience is, as I say, the programming we base our responses on in the present but do we also become conditioned before birth through exposure to our mother’s experiences?
Great piece. Got me thinking so thanks.
Thank you so much for your insights here! Yes, there are influences before birth which are coming from the mother. I consider that they are “lived experiences” because are not wired in the fetus DNA, but they are “injected” by the mother so it’s also an external experience (with external I mean out of the own body).
Interesting thoughts. Thank you.
Good read! I think that we are born with nothing just as your title suggests. Everything is learned and can be unlearned once it stops serving us well. Thanks for this awesome post.
Thank you for your kind words and for taking your time to read! I agree that everything is learned and it’s in our control to decide what we want to unlearn. 🙂
Cool discussion. Really interesting to hear your point of view as I’ve always been interested in this area. How are we who we are? Loved your argument and prose. All the best. 🙂
Thank you! Human nature is fascinating 🙂