The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

27 January 2003

Seeing through it all

There are those who insist that life's obstacles are essential to the development of one's personality. Virginia Postrel, just recovered from IntraLASIK, sees things slightly differently:

One of the great fears of advancing biomedical technologies is that they will eliminate the conditions that form our personalities, that make us who we are. Being profoundly nearsighted has been a defining aspect of my life since I was a little girl. If my myopia could have been cured at an early age, I would have turned out different in some way (and so would chapter three of The Future and Its Enemies, where contact lenses play a major illustrative role). But now that my near-sightedness is mostly gone, I don't miss it a bit, or feel any less authentically myself. The same is true of migraines and depression, two other personality-shaping ailments I've mostly eliminated with drugs in the past six months. Suffering doesn't build character; it warps it.

I suspect I'd be warped even if I hadn't suffered anything at all, but the idea that we are merely the sum of our experiences has always bugged me, and I'm always delighted to find a reason to reject it.

Posted at 7:24 AM to Dyssynergy


Some people do overrate the value of "suffering," but there is value in overcoming challenges. If nothing else, they hone one's wit and build one's confidence.

People who never face challenges may also have confidence, but there's no way to know if it's genuine until something goes wrong...

Posted by: Kevin McGehee at 10:09 AM on 27 January 2003

I'm far too pessimistic to make this work, myself.

Posted by: CGHill at 9:26 PM on 27 January 2003

Obstacles will always be there. Always. It's not possible to do away with them.

Human nature does exist, though, and we are more than the sum of our experiences. You should read Stephen Pinker's The Blank Slate.

The Ghost in the Machine is false. So is the blank state theory.

Posted by: Dean Esmay at 3:47 AM on 28 January 2003

I dunno. Oklahoma seems to be a blank state most of the time. :)

I'll put Pinker on my reading list.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:18 AM on 28 January 2003

I don't really understand Dean's post, but I'll check out the The Blank State. But I do believe that we are the sum of our experiences. It is who we are. I do believe that everything that has happened in our lives has helped to shape us into the individual we are today.

Posted by: Martin at 7:34 AM on 28 January 2003

What Dean is saying is that that isn't all that shapes us. Some of who I am stems from the advantages and disadvantages that I got from my parents' DNA. As with Virginia, some of what comes to us before we have any experiences, affects how we respond to those experiences. And how we respond to experiences is what contributes to character, not the experiences alone.

Posted by: Kevin McGehee at 8:44 AM on 28 January 2003