Friday, September 14, 2007

Some questions

To paraphrase LeDoux, the idea that the self is created by and depends upon synaptic connections should not diminish who we are. I understand this point, and I agree. Nothing is actually changing here – the what remains the same – but our understanding of the why develops into something greater.

At the same time, I think that our (often misguided or ill-informed) ideas of what makes us who we are vary. For this reason, his statement most likely has a different effect on each person, and for me, it is a slightly disappointing, though illuminating, one. I like the idea of the magical, unknowable, mystical. There is a certain romance to nineteenth century attempts to make scientific sense out of a confusing world. Electricity and innovation seemed like something thrilling, wholly captivating, at that time, but they have since lost their romance and are now simply the flip of a switch that we take for granted. I like having the freedom to wonder about my soul, a part of me that doesn’t seem to physically exist anywhere, exactly, but is still (seemingly) present. I guess, simply, I like asking questions.

That desire for mystery exists in me with another interest, a contradictory force that is scared by the overwhelming nature of feeling unknowable and wants to explain and understand and classify. Hopefully, the more I learn, the more I will be able to grow, to control or change undesirable thought patterns or unhealthy parts of my personality. As LeDoux himself states, “Learning allows us to transcend our genes.”

So I do think it’s important, and better, to unlock pieces of the “mystery” of who we are, but there is a certain bittersweet quality to it, one that has characterized my on-going process of growing up.

I still have questions, though they may be answerable. I understand that our learned experiences will build upon and change our genetic predisposition, so that “learning allows us to transcend our genes,” but wouldn’t your genetic makeup influence how and what you learn in the first place? Or what you are receptive to learning? Do we ever have a freedom of choice, or is the combination of who we are and what we learn in control of our fate? And if we do have freedom of choice, can we trace where it comes from, or is there any part of our personality that does not point back to a specific part of our brain? Are there gray areas?

1 comment:

Madeline said...

"Do we ever have a freedom of choice, or is the combination of who we are and what we learn in control of our fate?"

I've wondered this myself! If everything we do is just the result of learned or genetic patterns established in our brains, who's to say that there's such a thing as free will at all?

Can we really say that there's any difference between humans and machines? A machine is made to respond to certain stimuli in certain ways, and to some extent it can "learn," affecting the way it will react.

Is simulated personality then any different than "real" personality? Every thought I have could just be the result of my brain's learned synaptic patterns.