Self-Discovery vs Self-Modification
Last Updated: 2019-08-08 18:04

In Normative vs Descriptive Confusions I touch upon a key distinction I've been thinking about lately. It's a set of conflicting attitudes towards my identity: Do I want to take my inclinations and wants as signs of the way that I really am, or do I want to strive to change myself into who I want to be?

When thinking about dichotomies like this, I think there is a hierarchy of responses:

  1. The default response seems to be acknowledging that the dichotomy is important, and that we must cater to both sides.
  2. Going one step further, however, you in particular probably do not have the correct mixture of the dichotomy meaning that you can probably get better results than what you are currently doing by biasing towards one side or the other.

  3. However, this doesn't solve why the dichotomy is there in the first place. You need some sort of model that can reconcile the differences, especially if there is some sort of apparent contradiction at play.

Thus, with regards to this specific dichotomy, I think that I used to bias towards self-modification and have since become a lot more impulsive / listening to myself. Or, at the very least, it seems like I pay less attention to actively changing parts of myself.

And while the rest of the rationality community seems to have adopted the more gentle attitude of looking at your behavior as evidence of your needs (EX: pica, Internal Double Crux, Focusing), I am still thinking about your relationship with yourself in the context of parenting styles:

  • Being forgiving and acquiescing to your body's needs is like being a good parent that isn't depriving your child of things they need to function.
  • But also sometimes you need to be strict because it can help the child grow. There is a time and place for being firm and unyielding. (EX: exercise)
  • Yet, you're also not always the parent. Sometimes your body actually knows better and you're just wrong. (EX: sleep)
  • Also, you are your body.

People are processes, and there are going to be strange tangled dependencies between beliefs. We're inconsistent. This is not an explanation.

Here's a first attempt at some pieces of the puzzle: Some traits are harder to modify than others. This is sometimes because they are less visible than others. Not all of our needs are nicely captured by our ontology of choice. Striving to become the person you want to become has problems when you are not specific about where you want to improve; getting better and something in the general sense is a confused concept. Acting to become the idealized version of you can run into problems like extra affect / virtue associated with your mental conception, which you might not have acted on directly, and thus you can fall flat with regards to your expectations (but perhaps not your specified goal). Another issue is when hidden traits are dependent on a lot of other traits. Some things require other things to function, and rooting around with a lot of your more lower-level things can lead to unexpected effects.

So, when trying to figure out whether or not to modify vs accept something as part of you, there are at least a few areas to be thinking about:

  • Is the trait a dependency for a lot of other traits? (But also, this is often not apparent.)
  • Can you be more specific about what sort of person you want to become? (Identifiables over aesthetics.)