Re: Enhanced Personalities (was Causes of Sexual Orientation)

Anders Sandberg (
14 Jul 1998 12:31:41 +0200

"Scott Badger" <> writes:

> Anders Sandberg wrote:
> >An interesting question is what would happen if it was
> >possible to relatively simply adjust one's brain to change sexual
> >preferences at will. How many people would try it? My guess is that
> >relatively few adults would do it, since their preferences had already
> >become a part of their self-image and they would not want to change
> >that. Among adolescents experimentation might reasonably be expected
> >to be higher. It would be interesting to study more what traits people
> >regard as too central to be changed and what traits they could accept
> >changing. For example, practically everybody seems to accept a better
> >memory or sharper perception, many people would likely want to
> >'polish' their personalities but not change them outright, and very
> >few if any people want to change their basic value systems. Is this
> >because the things we might accept changing are not as rooted in our
> >values as the 'sacred' parts?
> I'm not so sure about this. You appear to suggest that the behavioral
> patterns which make up our personality exist because we prefer those traits
> over others. As I'm sure you're aware, personality is also a product of
> complex interactions between our genes and the environment (neither of which
> we have a whole lot of control over). I think many people have personality
> traits that they don't particularly value. Many introverts, for example,
> might prefer to be more socially competent and outgoing. Many who are
> impulsive would prefer to be have greater control. Some who rely heavily on
> thinking through everything in a highly rational manner might prefer to have
> better intuitive skills and vice versa. I think most people would try to
> achieve a greater balance if they could pick and choose personality traits
> (a little more of this, a little less of that). They might try to tailor
> their personality to be more congruent with their career to enhance their
> success and work satisfaction. They might make changes designed to enrich
> their relationship with a significant other and gain the satisfaction that
> comes with enhanced intimacy. Too large of a change would, I agree, be too
> scary for most.

Exactly. But how large is that change? I think most people would like to do some tweaking of their personalities, but would they change them much?

We tend to build a set of attributions about ourselves, that evaluates and explains how we are to ourselves. Even fairly negative traits are often attributed positive values ("I'm not aggressive, I'm assertive") and become part of our self-image. This suggests that we might not *want* to change some parts of our personality or self simply because we have already given them positive attributes (regardless of whether they actually are positive sometimes or we are just protecting our self-image), even if they are fairly negative. A violent person might have a hidden fear of weakness and being a victim, which makes him regard his violence as something subtly good (he might of course explain it away in a variety of ways to make it acceptable to himself and others). If given the chance to become less violent, would he take it? Most likely not, since doing that would both go against his self-serving bias of regarding his behavior as neutral or good, and his hidden fear of being weakened.

So there are already personality traits I think people would not change, even if they would afterwards think the change was for the better. This is an instance of a general problem, many mental structures are self-supporting loops and resistant to change, regardless of their use. The classic example on this list is of course religions and similar memes, but they are likely common on all levels.

The question here is how this affects self-transformation. We can of course learn to identify this kind of loops, and that will make it easier for us to change those that are not in accord with our values. But we should be aware of higher-level loops, for example involving our own self-transformation values. It might turn out that given an initial personality and no too extreme circumstances, self-transformation can only reach part of the space of available personalities, we deliberately chose away the others. The end result may be a consistent personality with few low-level self-supporting loops and a few high-level memes regulating possible changes that make further change regarded as unnecessary. As circumstances change, the person will sometimes change too, but unless these high-level memes are changed (a fairly drastic modification) the person will remain on the same general track. This doesn't exclude tremendous personal growth, but it will be more of the same, not anything utterly different.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
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