That which observes

I accidentally posted this on the wrong blog a few weeks ago… ooops.

There was a portion of a writing prompt for my human development class that I thought was very interesting.  “Can you recall any specific instances from your adolescence when your thinking underwent a change?  How might this change have related to your cognitive development?”  I don’t know that the kernel of who I think I am has changed since I was two.  Though my mind has grown, developed, and changed in ways that are often more dramatic that my physical growth and changes.

I don’t know how this is true for everyone.  I don’t know that many people have shifted temperament, or needed to step outside their mind, or evaluated their identity.  Most people would consider such things part of who they are, and maybe they are not wrong.  Maybe I’m like a bionic person, and the question there is how much of yourself can you replace and still be who you are?  (I really disliked the movie Bicentennial Man, by the way, but I suppose the argument was that at some point he had a consciousness emerge and from then on it was replacing the parts.)

I do know my memory goes back further than most people, and as soon as I realized this it became central to my identity.  Observing my life.  But who is it observing my life?  I’ve often wondered if there was someone inside me watching me, which is perhaps not a normal thing to think but was the premise of Being John Malkovich, which concluded, I think, with the idea of a little girl having very puzzling intrusive thoughts due to the presence of someone else in her mind.  This idea is also attested in the notion of angels and the holy spirit knowing what you think, and recording your actions and intent.

I guess my idea of it was someone from the future, where a technology exists that allows you to read the memories of others, is replaying my life.  So rather than being a puppet as in Being John Malkovich, I am a book.  But I don’t really know how the story would get interesting from that.  I suppose if reading my book caused people to catch some of the mental illnesses I’ve had, and the authorities tried to shut it down, and that just made people more desperate to try it.  I used to think there was something catching about reading Orson Scott Card.  I think that’s why people are so upset when he then does things they disagree with.  Interestingly, in Saints Card indicates that the stories worth writing have to do with what makes people who they are, or in which people demonstrate things about themselves they may not have known.

Some parts of the body are more vital than others, and some can be replaced.  Yet none of those parts is, by itself, life.  Most people seem to consider that if a person is “brain dead”, they are dead.  Most people think doctors know what brain death means, but they don’t necessarily.  At least, I think that’s what the internet was saying last time I checked.

So, temperament.  When I was an adolescent I thought I had my mother’s temperament.  In some ways I didn’t like my personality, bemoaning that I was “loud and obnoxious.”  This comes up in Gone with the Wind (the novel).  Scarlet continually wonders why she can’t be the kind of lady her mother was.  As St. Paul would say, that which I would, I do not do, and that which I would not, I do.  Why do we behave different from our ideals of how people behave?  Why do we fight so passionately over what people should hold as ideals of behavior (i.e. religion).

The person I believed I was, was outgoing and guided by intuition, caring and perceptive (if you know Myers Briggs, and ENFP).  Then when I was 22 my son died and I had a psychotic break.  And I basically did a 180 on every aspect of my interpersonal style.  Introverted, relying on the subjective and logic, and embracing judgement.  I think those sides of me had been there all along.  One of my high school advisors told me I was the most analytical person they had met, and this was a person who taught advanced math as well as AP English.  I became a tax preparer and a bookkeeper.

I do think we have some choice in what kind of person we want to be, provided the materials to be that person lie within us.  It’s like how evolution cannot simply mold any animal it may fancy.  The genetic variation has to already exist within the gene pool, and traits are selected from those.  There are alleles that can compete over time, and now and then an event may weed the phenotypes down, but the variations still exist.  So who knows if I merely pretended to be like my mother, and then pretended to be unlike her.

In some ways I think my relationship to my temperament has a life of its own, like my relationship with my mother:  unconscious immersion in the familiar, alienation, and eventual reconciliation.  It may be the story of our lives, of what God proposes to do in sending us to earth.  He sent us away from him because it was the only way to actually find out who He is.  Maybe He does it so we can come back and explain it to Him.  I don’t know.  My mother doesn’t really want to know who I think she is, and honestly I don’t think about it a lot.  I think she’s a good person, and she needn’t worry about where she will go when she dies (though she says she does).  She’s had some struggles, sure, some things that didn’t turn out like she’d hoped, but she loved people and that’s what we believe counts.

So why write all these words about who I am and who I think people in general are?  Perhaps because love involves connecting those kernels or souls or whatever you want to call them.  Seeing past the constructs.  It is a strange thing between Mormons and other Christians, what is meant by “the image of God.”  It is the other Christians who say it isn’t literal, but that image somehow means mind.  As if that makes it less sacrilegious.  But I’ve only discussed it with that one Methodist doctor.  And to some extent the Presbyterian doctor, though those arguments were much more personal and not benefited by his education.  He did not believe we have free will, but I am not sure he believed God does either, or what it should have to do with God’s image and what aspect of that resides in humanity.  Surely love, but is that agentive?

At this point, I believe love simply means seeing or knowing a person and allowing that to illuminate ourselves (which I realize may sound self-centered, but I am somewhat autistic.)  But what do they say, love thy neighbor as thyself?  I believe to love someone unlike yourself expands yourself (another nod to Card, in Xenocide).

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