Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Jan 29, 2006

Metamorphoses

I am most fond of literature that illustrates some kind of transformation or change in its subject. It doesn't need to be a tremendous, dramatic, or obvious change, but I have a hard time really enjoying a story that doesn't have any effect on it's participants. I don't enjoy it very much, either, if I find the change to be forced or illogical.

I think the primary reason for this is that I still view myself pretty much as a caterpillar. I'm not the same person I used to be, but I'm still not content with what I am, so I still want to keep changing in the future.

The idea of transformation is an ancient and frequent one, so I rarely have much difficulty finding things to read. From Ovid's Metamorphoses to fairy tales to modern rags-to-riches tales, the thread is always there. Change is what humans are all about.

In fairy tales, though, the transformation is always at the impetus of some outside source, some spell or fruit or fairy godmother that rewards the deserving or forces the wicked into some serious soul-searching. In modern stories it is more often the case that the change comes from within; a poor man decides to go out into the world and become rich, and does. Often the author attempts to describe what it is that some people possess that enables them to transform without the assistance of any outside agent.

Me, I'm still working on acquiring those traits; passion, determination, focus, drive. However, one of the really important things I've learned is that those traits are not the result of some external force, they are not acquired through genetics, luck, or upbringing. You can cultivate them. As Ayn Rand indicated in The Romantic Manifesto, it's pointless to sit and wonder whether you have the necessary mystic ingredient to become any particular thing. You will never know. You have to discover what is required to do it, and then take those steps.

When you do, you'll find at the end that, surprisingly, you did have that ingredient after all. You conjured it up out of thin air. You are your own fairy godmother.

14 comments:

EdMcGon said...

It depends on how you define yourself.

You are internally what you always will be. You may become smarter and wiser as you grow older, but that is only knowledge of reality, or the outside world. "You" will never change.

If you wish to change how the outside world perceives you, or if you wish to change how you exist within the outside world, then Ayn Rand's advice is applicable.

Jennifer Snow said...

I'm not sure I agree with this definition of what is "you", in fact, I'm reminded of James Taggart's plaint that he wants to be loved for "himself", not for anything he's done or said or felt or wanted.

If I change the things I do, the things I say, how I feel about some thiings, and what I want from life, how have I not changed myself? What, then, is "myself?"

EdMcGon said...

But are you really changing, or just coming to terms with who "you" really are?

Jennifer Snow said...

I shall quote Batman Begins. It's not what you are inside, but what you *do* that defines you.

I don't think there is some semi-mystical pre-determined "you" that you have to figure out, like some sort of huge puzzle. It is life that you have to figure out.

Just as there is no consciousness apart from existence, there is no "me" apart from the choices I have made. If I make different choices, I am indeed different. I am different in the sense that a tire is not identical to a formless blob of rubber. They may be similar in some respects, but they are not identical.

EdMcGon said...

While I agree your choices are indicative of who you are, they don't necessarily define you.

If a pebble falls into a pond, is the pebble best described by it's own qualities (i.e. hard, round, gray) or by what it does to the water (i.e. creates ripples, makes a splash)?

In truth, the pebble is best described by both of these. To only describe the pebble by what it does is to limit your understanding of the pebble.

By the way, if you are defined by your choices, how can you make different choices, since your choices have already defined who you are?

Jennifer Snow said...

I thought I was pretty clear in conveying that only aspects of me that are subject to change are under discussion, here, so I don't really see the point of this pebble/pond analogy.

You can change yourself, i.e. the fundamental choices that define your, because you can make different choices in the future. It's called volition.

It is even possible, although not always, to fix the results of damaging choices you've made in the past. Sometimes you simply have to acknowledge that you were wrong and you understand the error now.

Brian Faulkner said...

I agree with you, Jennifer. Here is how I see the development of the self. You are born with the power of volition, and as soon as you start making choices (to look at something new that's come into view, or to look away from it; or, a little later, to cry every time you want something, or choose to not cry) you start adding layers to that ability to choose. These layers are distinctly your own (are your own self-developing self), and form that earliest identity of you which people mistakenly regard as "she 's always been that way" or "she was born that way". At this early stage you, too, begin to have a sense of yourself, and, like you have said, you have the power of volition. Which means that you can add new layers, and they will be more consistent with who you already are, or less consistent. Which means that you have the ability to discover flaws or inadequacies in your character and to change them. So, yes, everyone can change who they are while still being who they are.

Jennifer Snow said...

Isn't the English language great? Put a slightly different slant on the same statement and it can mean completely different things.

This is why proper grammar is so important, btw; that and accepting people's explanations for what they meant at face value. See my post on listening skills.

EdMcGon said...

Ok folks. One more time.

You can change what you do. You can't change who you are.

You are born with a specific genetic code. Maybe science might be able to change it someday, but no matter what actions you take, you cannot change it.

In that genetic code is a program for your development (or growth if you prefer). This is what allows you to learn from external stimuli and respond to it. Eventually, you develop patterns of behavior for dealing with some external stimuli. There are some responses where you have no choice (i.e. reflexes, or subconscious activity). Your conscious activity only accounts for about 15% of your overall brain activity. There is a whole lot more of "you" than you realize.

I recommend reading Mark Twain's "What is Man" (http://mark-twain.classic-literature.co.uk/what-is-man-and-other-essays-of-mark-twain/). While it is very cynical, it does make some valid points about mankind's nature.

Jennifer Snow said...

There is a WORLD of difference between reflexes and subconscious activity. Your subconscious is subject to change via effort and repetition; i.e. the same mechanisms by which you acquired those subconscious reactions in the first place. Reflexes are autonomous motor functions; they can only be changed by tissue damage.

As for it being impossible to change your genes; this is the entire point of gene therapy. Heck, a cold virus changes some of your genes every time you get a cold (that's how virii replicate themselves, they turn your cells into little virus-manufactories) and any number of things can cause genetic defects. Often your body is good about finding these cells and destroying them, but not always; that's cancer.

You seem to have significant difficulty telling the difference between the man-made and the metaphysically given. The man-made is not necessary in the philosophical sense; it could have been other than what it was, thus it is subject to evaluation and change. The metaphysically given is not subject to change; you can rearrange the combinations of metaphysical entities, but they still are what they are and cannot be otherwise.

I can only imagine what your purpose is in attempting to convince me or anyone that they have what essentially amounts to no self-control. The typical purpose for these kinds of statements is to indicate that you have no choice but to bow to the edicts of some "superior" power that IS in control of your actions.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, since your profile indicates you are religious.

EdMcGon said...

I am NOT saying you have no self control. But I am saying that your self control is defined within the combination of your genetic code and the environment in which you were raised.

I AM saying that within your "self", there are goals which you want to achieve. Maybe you are aware of them, maybe you aren't. When you fail to achieve any of these goals, you change direction, much like a mouse in a maze. What you call "changing yourself" is merely trying to achieve your goals through different means.

By the way, I never said God determines who "you" are. If that were the case, why would there be atheists in the world?

And what exactly is wrong with religion, or religious views? Maybe I am reading too much into your comment, but you sound like a KKK member responding to a black man.

Jennifer Snow said...

There are many things wrong with being religious and religious views. If I thought otherwise, I would not be an atheist; it would make me more than just a bit of a hypocrit.

Now, as to whether YOU having those beliefs has any effect on ME, that's another story. In a free society, you can believe whatever you like and I truly cannot rouse myself to care. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, what does it matter to me whether my neighbor believes there are twenty gods or no god? It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

It has been my experience in the past that no one argues so strenuously over such a small semantic issue unless they have an agenda to promote. If you have garnered from the severity of my reply that I am about to cease humoring your promotion of same on my blog, well then I've successfully conveyed my point. Until now I have refrained from not publishing your further comments on this entry because that would be rude. However, since you've now found it necessary to make aspersions as to my moral character, I will not consider it rude any longer.

EdMcGon said...

Jennifer, I recognize this post won't be approved by you, and that's fine. But just to let you know, I did my own post about you over on my blog (http://politicsandpigskins.blogspot.com/2006/02/religious-bigotry.html).

Jennifer Snow said...

I know, I read it. I have no problem with general comments, but I said in my first post that I don't want to discuss or debate issues here.

Maybe I should put up a permalink to that post or something.