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Actions and self-definition

 
 
Reply Mon 8 Aug, 2011 07:57 am
Am I defined through my actions alone? Some people assert that a person can only be a certain way if they act a certain way; in order to be heroic you must act in a heroic manner, in order to be a coward you must act in a cowardly manner.

This seems to assume that there are heroic acts and cowardly acts, and that by acting in one way rather than another you become what which you choose. But doesn't this depend on what counts as heroic or cowardly? Surely it isn't my actions that define who I become, but rather it is the interpretation of my actions by others, that define who I become. It also assumes that before I act, who I am is yet to be decided, that I have no solid identity, or even any particular psychological characteristics that may influence my choice.

Is that really the case? Or rather, is it not the case that given my social, cultural, psychological and biological conditions, that the way in which I act has been determined by these factors, in which case self-definition is not possible because I was always going to act in a particular way?
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JLNobody
 
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Reply Mon 8 Aug, 2011 05:18 pm
@existential potential,
I guess we ARE predisposed to act and react within a range of physical possibilities. And that we tend to exaggerate the extent to which we "choose" what we do.
Don't you think that what we do is "determined" by combinations of forces? I feel like I am constructing my action profile, totally enjoying complete "free will", but. people who know me well are not surprised by the ways I typically behave in normal situations. People who do not know me have fewer expectations and, therefore, expect conventional responses based on role expectations for people having my statuses.
When people define me by my actions, it is--you are right--a frequently political process. If I fight when I'm drunk, my enemies will say the alcohol reveals my true nature, but my friends will say the alcohol makes me do it.
What do people do when I commit an heroric act in the morning and a cowardly act in the afternoon? They exercise the interpretive possibilities in our complex reality--and hope their interpretations will sell.
existential potential
 
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Reply Tue 9 Aug, 2011 04:48 am
@JLNobody,
That is very interesting. It seems that a person can only act "out of character" to those people who know him well.
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vikorr
 
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Reply Tue 9 Aug, 2011 04:18 pm
@existential potential,
I'm of the view that consciousness makes up about 3% of our lives. I can't support that with stats Smile

In relation to actions defining us - our beliefs/circumstances/environment(but mostly our beliefs) affect our actions, and our actions affect our beliefs/circumstances/environment (but mostly our beliefs).

Most people miss the last part of the above paragraph - our actions do in fact have a great capacity to influence (rather than define) who we become. If we believe one thing, and go against that belief - we can excuse it easily as an abberation. If we do it a second time, we might go 'I am weak' (or some such). If we do it a third time...each time it becomes easier and easier to go against our beliefs, until we actually change our beliefs to suit our actions (because we all believe we are good). Easiest example is a person having an affair - the first time ever they feel really guilty, the second like they are a bad person...by the twentieth time they are thinking 'this has got to be right'...and most then engage in many other affairs.

What others view us as is not who we are. Does a paranoid person see you for who you really are? What about a man in a roid rage? What about a person who refuses to see the 'bad' in anyone? Do your best friend and your worst enemy see you the same way? etc.

Quote:
It also assumes that before I act, who I am is yet to be decided, that I have no solid identity, or even any particular psychological characteristics that may influence my choice.
I've found this to be rather incorrect - your reactions (the way you react, rather than the very specific reaction) are fairly preprogrammed to the very vast majority of situations - from the pitch of your voice, to the speed you talk at, to what your hands are doing, to where you are looking, etc. The easiest place to see this is in guys that have trouble approaching girls - if you watch them, you will see that they do it in almost the same mannerism each time, or how a 'lowly' person reacts around much more powerful person who challenges them...yet these reactions can be reprogrammed.
existential potential
 
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Reply Tue 9 Aug, 2011 06:10 pm
@vikorr,
I can see that if our beliefs do not conform to our actions, if we maintain that way of acting, then eventually our beliefs will alter until they conform to or suit our actions.

But isn't there also a sense in which belief about ourselves, which are shaped by our actions, can have a very powerful effect on what we deem possible for ourselves? If we have a certain understanding our who we are, that almost always encompasses things like our abilities, skills, feelings, etc. Some people go so far as to say that they wouldn't do such and such because "that's not me".

Isn't that way of understanding ourselves, by defining ourselves in a single particular way, inherently limiting?

When you start socializing with new people, and doing new things, you soon find yourself feeling and thinking in new ways. But if you have a very rigid self-conception, then the horizon of what is possible for yourself is clipped and limited by that self-conception. You don't bother doing something new, because you believe that you wouldn't enjoy it, because you have this very fixed understanding of yourself.

What I am saying is that it can happen that people can mistake a representation of some part of themselves, such as their own perception of their ability, to be an actuality, and by doing so they may dismiss a possibility for themselves as being impossible, therefore limiting their own possibility of becoming.

vikorr
 
  1  
Reply Tue 9 Aug, 2011 09:08 pm
@existential potential,
Quote:
But isn't there also a sense in which belief about ourselves, which are shaped by our actions, can have a very powerful effect on what we deem possible for ourselves? If we have a certain understanding our who we are, that almost always encompasses things like our abilities, skills, feelings, etc. Some people go so far as to say that they wouldn't do such and such because "that's not me".
If you mean that they wouldn't do something because they think it's wrong - fair enough. If you mean they wouldn't do something because they may be embarassed by it - then this is their 'beliefs' affecting their action (most fears exist in the absence of positive beliefs, and in effect are beliefs about what we should fear...but if you don't like that, then just include them in 'things that affect your actions').

As I mentioned - beliefs affect your actions & your actions affect your beliefs.

Going by that - you can see that if you have a 'fear' - you can overcome it by doing/acting/practicing.

Quote:
Isn't that way of understanding ourselves, by defining ourselves in a single particular way, inherently limiting?
Only if you believe that is all there is. Only if you believe you can never improve. Only if you accept that fears rule your life (ie your beliefs affecting your actions).

Quote:
What I am saying is that it can happen that people can mistake a representation of some part of themselves, such as their own perception of their ability, to be an actuality, and by doing so they may dismiss a possibility for themselves as being impossible, therefore limiting their own possibility of becoming.

True enough - I would ask people : what is the foundation that you are built upon?

We are largely a structure, and while that structure influences us greatly, we can change that structure. And the core beliefs that we have affect all our other beliefs. I am using 'core belief' here rather loosely, to involve self view (which is a belief), fears (which are mostly beliefs about what we should fear), automated responses (which are built on our beliefs, but then reinforce our beliefs about who we are as we act them out). That is why the foundation is so important. We can reinvent our foundations (as well as the upper structures) and come out 'better', happier people.

The way I've experienced it - one you understand the concept of 'building', you realise that you will never stop learning, never stop improving. Excellence is achievable (more quickly with a good foundation) and yet 'ultimate excellence' will never be achieved (you can always improve)...hence you can never stop learning, and there will always be challenges before you.

Once you realise that - you also then realise that everyone has something to teach you.

Many philosophers talk of doing away with attachments, and yet they are impossible to do away with (has to do with the wiring of our brain). Rather, I think we should embrace them, and think we should guide the formation of them in a way that serves us - and take responsibility for 'who we are' and our very lives . In someways it is similar to 'doing away with attachments' in that you realise you can change your programming/attachments, and you therefore realise they aren't permanent, but something you put in place to serve you. Once you view it that way, you can then evaluate your programming/attachments as time goes on, and if need be, reprogram them (ie the meaning they hold is that they serve you in your life...and if they no longer do that, they no longer need to have meaning)

Most people have grown up with haphazard programming - letting the random events in their 'life' dictate to their subconscious, and holding on to those structures long after their usefulness has passed ('issues' from childhood for example), rather than consciously creating what structures their subconscious should form so that their subconscious serves them in a way they deem useful. In this way you can have your subconscious serve you, rather than you serve your subconscious.

And a large portion of being able to program our mind to serve us (not the whole portion) comes down to understanding that 'our beliefs affect our actions & our actions affect our beliefs'
Fil Albuquerque
 
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Reply Tue 9 Aug, 2011 11:43 pm
vikorr
 
  1  
Reply Wed 10 Aug, 2011 12:15 am
@Fil Albuquerque,
I rather liked that video.

It would be interesting to see a video on split second decisions - particularly the ones made in life threatenning situations.

I remember one time driving on a highway, approaching a minor cross intersection. A vehicle was sitting at the crossroad - it was only something I noted in my periferral vision - I never once looked directly at it. As I approached it started to cross the road in front of me. I swerved off the bitumen and then back on to it (if not I would have collided with it), and only after I had passed the vehicle did I realise what had happened - as far as I am able to determin, none of my actions were conscious to me - not the recognition of what the vehicle was doing, nor my reaction to such.

All that said, I didn't think the video was as astounding as the professor.
0 Replies
 
existential potential
 
  1  
Reply Wed 10 Aug, 2011 04:08 am
@vikorr,
Quote:
And a large portion of being able to program our mind to serve us (not the whole portion) comes down to understanding that 'our beliefs affect our actions & our actions affect our beliefs'


In that respect then, if I understand this properly, action is of great importance for "self-growth" I guess you could call it.

Its not a simple process of change however. People more often than not become caught up in their own self-perceptions and beliefs, which in themselves justify certain actions whilst dismissing others, and they thus become caught in the circle of belief-action-belief-action; each one plays the role of reinforcing the other. This can lock people into a structure in which they may be unhappy, but they cannot see beyond it, because all they perceive and properly understand is their own structure of belief-action-belief-action.

How does such a person change?
Change, in my opinion, is partly based on becoming aware of the structure, and observing it to see it for what it is; and its on that basis that we can begin to alter ourselves, through action.

vikorr
 
  1  
Reply Wed 10 Aug, 2011 04:30 am
@existential potential,
Quote:
In that respect then, if I understand this properly, action is of great importance for "self-growth" I guess you could call it.
As a personal perspective, I like to think that people grow...though I'm also of the belief that if we are not growing, we are dying.

Quote:
each one plays the role of reinforcing the other. This can lock people into a structure in which they may be unhappy, but they cannot see beyond it, because all they perceive and properly understand is their own structure of belief-action-belief-action.
Yes.

Quote:
How does such a person change?
Change, in my opinion, is partly based on becoming aware of the structure, and observing it to see it for what it is; and its on that basis that we can begin to alter ourselves, through action.
Yes - awareness is a key ingredient.

But don't forget that while action affects beliefs, beliefs affect action (they are two sides of the same coin). It's true that you can change your beliefs by through action. It's also true that you can change your action through belief...but this path is more difficult, and requires action to reinforce it. That said, without nurturing your belief at the same time as you act, the acts themselves would become less grounded...giving rise to the likelihood of hypocrisies and inconsistencies...so belief and action are two sides of the same coin.

It is also the reason we should always be true to ourself (and without being so, we cannot be fully genuine with others...for inner conflict means some part is not in agreeance)
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