On personality and predisposition

Current prevailing science describes the universe as a barren and inhospitable place composed almost entirely of non-living matter and empty space. But on Earth, matter has somehow organized itself to produce living organisms. Even so, when, compared with the size of the universe, all life on Earth is a tiny, trivial speck. Existentially speaking, life appears pointless, without purpose, and will be forgotten. 

2500 years ago ancient Greek philosophers saw the universe as a single living creature that embraces all living creatures within it. The Stoics taught that nature is a rationally organized and well-ordered providential system, and all events that occur within the universe fit within a coherent, well-structured scheme.

More recently, theoretical physicist Vitaly Vanchurin published a landmark paper in the journal Entropy titled “The World as a Neural Network.” Hossenfelder described the structural organization of the Universe to be brain-like. 

Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder — renowned for her skepticism — wrote a bold article for Time Magazine in August of 2022 titled “Maybe the Universe Thinks. Hear Me Out,”

Whether we think the universe is a mindless machine or a rational being is fairly irrelevant. I doubt anyone reading this is consciously aware of the struggles of any single cell in his or her body, and I would imagine the universe, conscious or not, would have a similar relationship with us. 

What I think is most clear is that the universe, however one views it, adheres to certain mechanistic patterns called mathematical and physical laws. And what is equally clear is that we humans are a part of the universe and nature as much as planets and giant oak trees. We are not something special or separate and apart from the universe, we are made up of elements forged long ago in the bowels of stars. 

This means that like the rest of the universe we are subject to the laws of nature. Aside from the obvious physical laws of gravity and the like, we are subject to internal, genetic laws. We cannot escape our DNA. We do not choose our parents or what physical or mental attributes we inherit from them. We might discover and perhaps develop our talents and abilities, but we do not select these qualities from some list.  We are simply predisposed one way or another; we are not able to choose how we are predisposed.

According to Myer-Briggs, human personalities can be divided into 16 types. I don’t really know where I fit in their model, but I am definitely introverted, and happily so. I didn’t choose to be introverted; I came that way. My earliest memories are of reading books, hanging out with family pets and forming close bonds with just a few individuals. I’ve always found long hours alone practicing music, reading, running, bicycling, working out or writing to be fun and energizing. From what I’m told, a true extrovert would find that much time alone a trial. 

My personality was assigned to me at birth and nothing that has happened between then and now has changed my basic personality. There may be an exception here or there, but it appears to me that just like our talents and abilities, our personalities are predisposed. 

Does that mean no one can change? Well, maybe if someone really wants to change, there is a potential for change. The thing is, why would someone want to change unless they were already predisposed to wanting it? It’s just a fact that I can’t want what I don’t want. I can’t desire things I don’t desire. Where does the desire or the want come from? From within me. From my wiring, my programming, my genetics. 

I don’t believe anyone can force anyone else to change their personality. We can encourage; try to influence; or even incentivize with rewards or punishments; but bringing about real lasting change? Is it possible? I don’t think so. If there is any hope for significantly changing a person’s personality, it has to come from within that person. If that person doesn’t want to change or doesn’t honestly believe there is a pressing need for change, then the best you might expect is  a temporary, inauthentic acting job.  For most situations, perhaps that’s enough. 

We regularly observe that the universe acts in accordance with mechanistic laws. Moons revolve around planets. Planets revolve around stars. Stars revolve around galaxies. Tides wash in and out regularly as if obeying a schedule. Trees drop seeds from which new trees sprout. Old trees die and the new ones take their place. We are born, we grow and we die. And the roles we play while alive are mapped out for us by birth, our upbringing, our environment, our opportunities, our natural talents, our health, and a host of other influences far removed from choice or preference. We don’t even get to decide what kind of ice cream we prefer. We may have a preference, but we really don’t know why we have it and we rarely if ever even consider changing it. 

Since we are part of nature, and nature acts on mechanistic principles, it seems likely that we all are unknowingly acting on mechanistic principles. For me, that means when I come upon a person whose personality grates, I might try remembering that none of us has any control over our predispositions. So, while I might never want to be close to someone whose personality grates on me, I can choose to act polite, even if it is only a temporary, inauthentic act. Who knows, if I act often enough, I may get better at it. Or, I may even want to change a little. 

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