Friday, 2 March 2007

What makes us us?

A friend of mine has just had a baby, her second child. This one, Edith, is quite different from the first, Oscar. Apart from the obvious physical differences due to sex there are definite personality differences too. She is quite happy to lie and gurgle all day whereas Oscar seemed to be trying to stand, walk, run from day one. Will this difference define them throughout their lives? What makes us us, is there some intrinsic self? Or are we born with a semi-formed character due to our experiences in the womb which will then change or evolve depending on further experience?

We do seem to have a notion of a self that somehow trancends experience. The essential, unchanging self that then interacts with the world and reacts to experience and forms one's character. Why am I always late? Am I intrinsically a late person and no matter what strategies I set up to deal with this, will always be a late person? Or am I always late because my mother always was and I just learned this behaviour? And what of the night thing? I am definitely better at night. I work best from about 10pm to about 4am, I never get the best out of myself if I try to work during the day to conform with current convention. So is this part of my intrinsic self or just a product of experience? And talent, where does that come from? Could it be possible that Mozart's apparent 'gift' for music was really just a product of the contingencies of his life?

What implications might the answer(s) to such questions have for how to live? Should we embrace what we are and then get over it or act to change?


Kim Ayres said...

The age old question: Nature, Nurture or Nietzsche...

mary.whitsell@virgin.net said...

Hello, Eryl. This question of whether personality has more to do with nature or nurture is one that I find fascinating. The longer I live, the more I am convinced that personality is something we are born with.

I have two children, and although I know that you cannot treat two children exactly the same, I made every effort to do so. And yet they have completely different personalities, and they have ever since they were born.

Having said that, I think there is a lot parents can do to help shape and encourage their children. But when people compliment me for my eldest's outgoing personality or my youngest's strength of character, I am amused to think that they hold me responsible. My kids have been that way from day one.