Thursday, February 27, 2014

More on flexible sense of self (part 2)

I was once in a forest of extremely tall trees. They were centuries old, and most of them looked majestic but some of them looked odd because they were growing in such an awkward position. Some were growing in the middle of a rock, maybe, with roots stretched out over the rock, or on the edge of a cliff, roots all exposed. Probably it was not smart for these trees to choose to grow in those locations, but of course trees do not know any better. They do not have eyes. They do not even have the ability to choose where they grow. They're just growing blind. They don't know what they look like or understand even what they're supposed to look like. All they do is encounter the world and adapt  -- blindly, but in the only way they know how. It reminded me of this Annemarie Roeper quote from her book "The 'I' of the Beholder"

You have your own agenda, your inner mandate. This mandate originates from all sorts of sources. It moves in all sorts of directions but functions as a unit. It becomes a life force. You are destined to grow a certain way, as is the flower and all living beings. Sometimes flowers persist in growing even between hard rocks. Their life force can compel them to grow in unexpected places, but they cannot grow well if they aren’t nurtured. Sometimes they get crippled and unhappy and cannot grow much. But other times, persistent strength may move the rock out of their way.

This is exactly the fate of human Selves when they encounter the world outside. They must follow their agenda. So, yes, there is a plot, but the course of this plot is not predictable, because we don’t know how interaction with the world changes its course. It is the greatest drama in the world.

Sometimes I look at my Down Syndrome relatives and try to imagine what they would look like with identical genetics but without the extra chromosome. Do people wonder that? Who would I be if I were raised in some primitive culture on an island somewhere? Or raised by actual wolves? I always ask my musician friends whether they think they would have stuck with it as much or even gone farther if they had just chosen a different instrument to play. It's sort of odd to me, these people who have a very strong sense of self. Do they not feel the arbitrariness of that self like I do?


  1. "I always ask my musician friends whether they think they would have stuck with it as much or even gone farther if they had just chosen a different instrument to play."

    When I think about contrafactuals like this, I can't help but think, "what if a different sperm had fertilized the egg that became me?"

    The probability that any of us would exist, instead of a hypothetical "sibling" is infinitesimally small.

    Normally when this happens I recall that I'm alive and I feel quite happy.

  2. "Do they not feel the arbitrariness of that self like I do?"

    Doubtful. Their roles, their agendas, inner mandates, etc. do not allow them to think outside of their selves. I feel like I missed the class where everyone was taught that their identity was to be held like some life raft.

    1. Do you hold on to your eye color? To your height? I don't hold cling to my identity as if it's a life boat. It just is.

    2. That is because you are secure in it right now. But what if you lost it?

      You have also proven the concrete and entrenched view of self in neurotypicals with that statement. You perceive it in yourself, and project it as fact for everyone else - hence the disagreement.

    3. I am not projecting my sense of self on sociopaths. I was responding to the last sentence of the original post: "I feel like I missed the class where everyone was taught that their identity was to be held like some life raft."

      The key word here is "taught". Nobody "taught" me to have a set sense of self. Like many of the self-aggrandizing socio comments on this blog, the original comment implied that, as an empath, I am the way I am because I'm not brave, strong, or intelligent enough to be anything else.

      In answer to your question, I can't "lose" my Self. I can change over the course of my life, but I have a core Self. It is not feigned, created, or taught. It simply is.

      A common problem, as I see it, is that sociopaths project their lack of Self on neurotypicals. They observe that empaths have a set identity and from that surmise that some external force or internal weakness keeps empaths in the mold they originally chose for themselves. What I'm trying to say here is that there isn't an element of choice. I didn't choose to be an INTJ, the same way I didn't choose to have brown eyes. Moreover, no one taught me my personality, and I'm not choosing to keep my personality in response to some external incentive.

    4. The very act you are performing is the definition of projection. That isn't to say it is wrong - it is natural since almost everyone does it. So there is no need to be defensive, because you are not wrong. You are now just aware of it.

      And it is taught. It is taught by parents, teachers, religious leaders, and every other person you meet. They compare you to a standard, while you naturally reflect on a given standard. This happens to all people, sociopath or not. Sense of self is a wholly human mental construct.

      I will say, while your reply was well constructed, it seemed too hollow. Deflecting the argument back by verifying it seemed like an act of "tag back" in tag, or "you're wrong, just because". As if you were yelling back, instead of fighting back. A lack of substance, and just emotional lash-back. Considering you are articulate and appear intelligent, I feel you have not done yourself any favors in resorting to petty retorts. So I welcome an improved response, because I think you have something more to say than just that.

    5. Bob, I fail to see how my response is an example of projection. Projection involves the application of one standard or concept to another. Since I was advocating a multiplicity of perspectives and approaches (empath and socio), "projection", in my mind, does not describe my response.

      I also don't fight to win, incidentally. This is something a lot of people - empath and socio - have a hard time understanding. I'm not really a competitive person. Competition bores me. Typically, I debate to come to a resolution, rather than to win. If, in the end, I'm partially or completely wrong, I'm ok with that. So I don't really view this as a game of tag, or as a hyper-emotional wrestling match.

      Now to the point. Your example of "student" is very interesting me. You seem to equate roles (i.e. student, female/male, religious believer, colleague) with self. You're right; roles are taught. Self is not.

      In fact, your wording reveals tension in your argument: "Sense of self is a wholly human construct." Take any other sense - sense of smell, for example. Some are born without the sense of smell. Some lose the sense of smell over the course of their lives. But sense is not something that anybody gives to anybody else. You can be born without a strong "sense" of self, but that doesn't mean that sense of self in the general population constitutes some type of widespread delusion.

      And if self is merely a "human mental construct", why then does it persist in a variety of environments and under a variety of circumstances? One's Myers-Briggs personality type does not change, even if one moves to a radically different place. Additionally, there have been several studies of identical twins separated at birth. Remarkably, they tend to have very similar jobs and habits and even tend to dress in similar ways.

      Persona isn't completely static, of course. People don't have the same mannerisms or turns of phrase at 16 that they have 35. But certain core personality traits don't seem to change. And those personality traits haven't been taught by anyone to anyone. They are innate.

    6. Also, if self didn't exist, then psychopathy as a diagnosis wouldn't make sense. The definition of psychopathy relies on core personality traits.

    7. Self is developmental. It is built. As a construct, it is built as humans age (primarily from childhood to adulthood). This sense of self, which stems from what is technically referred to as "Metacognition", grows through experience in the environment (ie. people, events, etc.). This is a fundamental study in Developmental Psychology. "Theory of Mind" does not start to form until ages 3-5.

      It is important to differentiate between self and personality. What you are referring to is actually personality. Sense of self is about the underlying mechanics of how you think of yourself, not what you think you are. You need the former to see the latter.

      By the way, you were not advocating a multiplicity between empaths and sociopaths. "What I'm trying to say here is that there isn't an element of choice." - for sociopaths, it is. For yourself, and other empaths, there isn't. That is, in itself a projection, because the viewpoint places one *concept* - a concrete self, as applicable to everyone. And it is, to most, but not all.

      "A common problem, as I see it, is that sociopaths project their lack of Self on neurotypicals." You're right, they do. Their lack of self allows them to form a mask of their construction to interact in an idealized form for a given person. But that is a *different* kind of projection. That is about placing utility - "using" - their lack of self advantageously. If it was a psychological projection, which was what I was using the word in, it would mean they see all people as lacking a sense of self. In Psychology, Projection is in what I've given in layman's terms "You imposing your views of your self on other people, like projecting a movie on a screen."

    8. "What I'm trying to say here is that there isn't an element of choice." - This was meant to apply to empaths, not sociopaths. Sorry if I wasn't clear. I realize there is an element of choice for sociopaths. That's the whole point. I was trying to draw a distinction between sense of self for empaths and for socios. Hence, the multiplicity of views.

      And the original commenter was projecting, in the latter psychological definition of the word you cite. Again, with the "taught" thing. He/she was saying that empaths are "taught" to have an identity, revealing his/her bias that identity is created and/ or imposed, rather than innate.

      I wouldn't call mask construction a form of "projection", but that's merely semantics, I suppose.

    9. One other thing to note. ME was asking of sense of self as a question to discuss, not a statement of fact.

      "It's sort of odd to me, these people who have a very strong sense of self. Do they not feel the arbitrariness of that self like I do?"

    10. This is a separate comment as I only just had your reply refresh on my page.

      The clarification helps your argument. As for the teaching analogy, it was a satirical reference in how a sociopath sees it - since it is a learned process in sociopaths (not innate), they "missed the class".

  3. To them it is anti-arbitrary. Self is seen as a concrete and entrenched thing, as a terrestrial psyche that is singular and comprehensive. The perception is a reflection, and against others is projected. Perception and projection also apply to sociopaths - to us self is arbitrary in its fluidity and transitional properties.

    To use a musical analogy, empaths see self as a single song, with a beginning and end encompassing everything in-between. For a sociopath, it is the notes and chords of the moment being played - there is no beginning or end, without encapsulation - that exists only as far as what is currently being heard.

    1. You're not making any sense.

    2. Take a step back and look at the properties suggested. Your self - your consciousness - is perceived two different ways by non-sociopaths and sociopaths. Non-sociopaths see self as fixed ("concrete and entrenched") like a block of stone. It exists, is undeniable, and is not something you can lay your hands on and mold. Sociopaths perceive self as moldable ("fluid and transitional") that constantly keeps reshaping into different forms. This is how non-sociopaths see it as anything but arbitrary, which was a direct response to ME's question.

      Perceiving this self, for anyone, uses two fundamental factors. Reflection, or "You choosing to look at yourself, like looking at a mirror." and Projection or "You imposing your views of your self on other people, like projecting a movie on a screen."

      The diction used was using structured concepts for the non-layman, and the musical analogy was tailored to ME so the structure given could be related to a topic she is very comfortable with. It was intentionally condensed so it wouldn't be necessary to re-iterate concepts that were already familiar. Admittedly, it's not very useful for everyone looking in from the outside, but it is when specialized for certain people. It had a bunch of psychology shop-talk in it.

    3. Important note, I should have just given the second response. This is what happens when I play intellectual tailor at 1 am.

    4. My take away from this is that because sociopaths aren't anchored by emotional connections to others and a need for their approval there is far less incentive to present a fixed sense of self.

    5. To me, a "sense of self" or the concept of "self" seems like such an infinite topic in that it could be influenced by so many philosophies. Religion is the first that comes to mind. Do you believe you have one life? After that life do you go to heaven or hell? Are you atheist and believe you have one life, die, and that's it? Do you believe in eastern philosophies where we have more than one life? That would mean we've had many past lives and more to come? Are you that same self and just your physical form (body) dies?

      It just seems too simple to say that when it comes to a sense of self there are only two options, a sociopath sense an a non-sociopath sense. It's like saying there are only two patterns for snowflakes.


    6. In this case it's not the philosophical or religious reasons for self that are being considered, but the more fundamental perceptions of how they see themselves. Not what. Each self is unique - no two are alike - which is taken as a given. It's the perception of how a self is tooled or sculpted, not the end product.

    7. Bob,

      If the primary features of any Personality Disorder are "personality traits(that) are inflexible and maladaptive and cause significant functional impairment or subjective distress", and sociopaths perceive themselves as moldable, fluid, and transitional, vs empaths as fixed, concrete, and entrenched doesn't this speak to the core of what a Personality Disorder is?

      In other words this speaks directly to a sociopath's cognition (ways of perceiving self and interpreting self). A sociopath perceives an interprets ones self as arbitrary and fluid, but projects a personality that is inflexible to others.


    8. You've just hit the problem with the issue of personality disorders themselves. Sociopathy is, by its very nature, not inflexible. The misconstrued perception of it comes from the idea that a lack of (insert appropriate text here) leads to rigidity. That because something is lacking, they can not perform certain acts. It is a fallacy to think that, because while a sociopath may lack empathy, that they can not act in a way that appears empathetic. Just because they lack the ability to feel it, doesn't mean they don't understand it.

      If they were inflexible, as you said, then they would never be able to emulate the behavior, or manipulate people with a full range of empathy as well as they can. It is a unique distinction that separates them from other personality disorders.

    9. Bob, i enjoy listenning to you. Your fluency, yr writing style, yr intellect on this subject - its so captivating to the audience. Id follow yr blog if you had one. :)

  4. The principle of "Divine Superintendence" tells us that Almighty
    God preordains all the "big" things about our lives, including era
    of birth, gender of birth. general wellness and disposition, length of
    life, and manner of death. We DO have "free will," but only to a point.
    An animal tethered to a pole by a long rope has the "freedom" to
    move about to a point.
    Humans and incoporial beings are accorded varying degrees of
    infulence, but cannot transcend their boundries.
    Our present lives are a kind of "probabtionary period" prior to the
    assumption of "God" status. So we must get through this dark eion
    with the aid of Jesus Christ and God The Father.
    But in order to do this, we must personally invite Jesus Christ (God's
    peace offering) into our hearts. Then we will be bouyed up in spite of
    the terrors of the world, because we will no longer be a part of the

  5. Chances are in a primitive culture such characters as sociopaths and the psychopath are left in the bush as 'witch children' who don't belong in the tribe. Brings to mind a scene from Hannibal where he is being followed, he knows it and he is going to kill his pursuer, he walks bast some African immigrant who stares after him, clearly aware he has run into the course of a dark spirit. The question is whether our current society can adapt and channel and nurture such characters. Also the syuggestion seems to be heavy on nurture, but of course you can get down to minutiae and say DNA is environmental, just the bodily environment...

  6. I'm starting to grok how we view our "selves" differently from others. But is it just a matter of our perception? It seems like our perception of something intangible is its only attribute. It's not like someone else can see our "self" and correct us about it.

    I have always had a hard time conceptualizing my future, at least more than a few years out. When I was younger I interpreted this to mean that I was just going to die young. But as I aged, that time-horizon would shift. I find it hard to commit to big decisions because I can't penetrate that wall in my perception. I'm in my thirties now, and I've stumbled past what I previously conceived of as my expiration date several times. A year or two ago I mentioned this in a casual conversation with a friend, and she teared up and said it was the saddest thing she had ever heard. It doesn't strike me as sad; it's just how I perceive things. I don't know if this is related to the self, but it at least relates to the way I seem to perceive myself differently.

  7. i'm a yogapath and very flexable)


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