Do the brain posess a true, core, personality? Or is the brain a posse of your personality

Are our brains wired out of the box – do we have core ”off the shelf” features?


Today is International Women’s Day, which I try to honor every day. I figure the other 364 days are General Male Day… This is not a specific post on gender issue – I believe making an issue of an issue is bringing risk to recreate the issue – thus keeping it at status quo. Still the issue should be addressed, continuously, with great curiosity and vigilance. In order to do so, perhaps there should be an International Men’s Day inaugurated.


I have a friend who advocates the brain is ready wired out of the box – in his view all entities and features of the brain are sort of programmed in the genes and physiology – he believes that each and every human has got a core that contains a “true” personality. I know I’ve got a “trewe” personality, but that’s pretty much individual.


A modern engine in an automobile is able to adapt through intrinsic heuristics to its surroundings; ambient temperature, air pressure (altitude), fuel (gasoline, alcohol), etc. If you have a turbo charger, you may keep the power and torque even if the surrounding oxygen mass in the air volume decreases (altitude). On some models, you may even upgrade the car’s software via the Internet by sending a text message request to the manufacturer.


What’s my point here? Well, even something out of the box has varying characteristics and qualities depending on the outside environment, on how you work on it, and, on what conditions you supply it with.


I notice a hunch of dualism in the reasoning presented by my friend. He believes that a model, for instance Myers Briggs Type Indicator, reflects a core, a distinct model brain which is assembled by inherited parts. I believe in the core as distinct part, one of a kind, the set that describes mainly in performance and abilities, but I have a hard time digesting the core as a vessel of quality, morals and feelings – and communication. I’ll try to elaborate:


If we study Jung’s view on dualism, which might be a point since Myers Briggs in large has the Jungian typology as base, Jung presents an interconnected view on dualism – its all there, but on different sides of the coin. For me, that means that we, as thinking and feeling creatures, have the ability to use either part of the coin, Introvert – Extrovert, Sensing – Intuition, so forth. I would say that it all depends on our own awareness of our thinking/feeling. This could be described as the layers of onion peel acquired by experience, true, but is there a core? And what is that made of? Last time I studied an onion, the core was… a last set of peel!


When we are born, we are equipped with a basic body language connected to an urge to survive. The vessel is empty, at least language wise. We scream, some one feeds us or change diapers; we smile, someone smiles back – which is perceived nice and comfy. Hopefully the surroundings pay attention to our body language and slowly we pick up an understanding of the connection between our actions and the reactions of the surroundings. We start to learn our basic tactics to get something from “life”. As we grow, the productive and unproductive tactics turns to behaviors or strategies on a scale of sliding consciousness.


As we grow, we also develop the spoken language – somewhere along the way, we start to think and dream with our language. Every day there are kids sitting on a rock, consciously reflecting for the first time: “Hey, I’m here! I’m thinking things! I can think whatever I want! I’m on the moon!!” Along comes society (Mommy Dearest), saying: “Do this (dishes), do that (homework). Behave! (do productive things – according to society) Don’t do that! (do not explore dangerous things – according to society) Don’t even think about it!! (add your own comment)” Now, by the end of your adolescence you have developed a number of more or less automatic strategies to fit in, to please common sense.


Studying dualism advocated by the Cartesian tradition, we find the mind distinctly apart from the surrounding, including our bodies. This perspective is common sense in science: You observe the subject objectively. As the objective observer you make sure whatever proof you find is reproducible – you do not fiddle with data and you do not have a hidden agenda. But “science” is not including only hard stuff as math and physics, it also includes a diverse variety of soft and spongy stuff, such as human medicine, psychology, sociology, economics, etc. Pretty soon we find it pretty hard making clinical test on societal phenomena – so we rely on statistics. But statistics are snapshots of by gone eras. And when did statistics project a financial crisis? What did Mark Twain say about statistics?


“Objection! Hearsay, your honor!”


The technologies developed in the name of science have produced great things for humanity. High tech gadgets together with the market’s invisible hand and Lutheran Orthodox Christianity (advocating “only with the sweat from your brow will you win your bread” as the only way to a possible redemption) acts as reinforcing forces in the loops which could explain the emergence of industrialism and the global market.


Lately, some not so great things have emerged – such as methane gas bubbling up from the melting permafrost in the tundra and sea beds of arctic. Good Lord, Mr. Ford! You couldn’t encompass the ripples of your moving assembly line, neither in time nor in implicit outcome.


“What in the world has this to do with anything!?”


Bear with me, I’m free flowing.


Now, what am I doing? I’m writing letters, combined to words, combined to sentences and paragraphs. This is my point. We use language as bearer of meaning. But the meaning is not absolute. As my friend pointed out, we are all different out of the box, but I believe we also attach different meanings to words. Language is not absolute – the same word has different meanings to each individual, partly due to our hardware’s performance, but also due to software – our individual perceived meaning of a word boils down to the situations we have learned and gotten our teachings of the qualities of that particular word.


Translations of words and sentences are known to create headaches in a wide number of situations, especially in this global era. Some of us bi- or multilingual – and the same word could invoke different meanings and feelings depending on the language used. I know three languages more or less by heart. For instance the word university, which stems from a forth language, Latin, meaning “all turned into one”, has different meanings in my languages. In English (American), it is connected with quality and creative learning, good times and stretching the limit. In Swedish it is partly the opposite. I figure it relates to my experiences. In Norwegian, I’m indifferent, since I don’t have an experience. Of course, if I attend classes in, let say Bangkok, I would probably be disappointed if I travel there with preconceptions, or worse, prejudice. Not because Thai universities are bad, but because they don’t fit with my (subconscious) ideas of the word University.


So, when we say we believe something, we say it and we believe it through our own language and through our own mind. David Bohm, the quantum physicists, once stated: “the general tacit assumption in thought is that it’s just telling you the way things are and that it’s not doing anything – that “you” are inside there, deciding what to do with the info. But you don’t decide what to do with the info. Thought runs you. Thought, however, gives false info that you are running it, that you are the one who controls thought. Whereas actually thought is the one which controls each one of us.”


On your lunch break, or on the way home from work, do an experiment – go to a quiet and tranquil place, sit down, relax, take a couple of deep breaths, and try to think of nothing. What happened?


I believe … our language and our reactions to spoken language are largely depending on the acquired individual meaning of the language. I also believe that this meaning is shifting over time due to how we perceive situations and interaction. I believe we have a choice in the way we act and react to situations, although there is tendency of finding the easy way out: “more of the same”, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and “not invented here”. In a way, the way we think, act and feel is reinforced by our perceptions of the expectations of the current environment and by the way we actually act (think and feel). I think we can track these three monkeys from the reinforced loop above: We dwell in a “fix a problem when it shows” and “make a buck out of a dime” society. We don’t encompass the secondary outcome of our solutions to demand – or demand for solutions. Impact is delayed in time and space – and we don’t have the ability to understand the complex system due to our acquired meaning and use of our language. But, “what goes around comes around”.


Time to wrap it up.


I believeour individual “core” is an empty vessel, maybe of such and such quantitative measures. On our path on this earth we fill the vessel with all kinds of stuff – sometimes very useful and handy stuff, sometimes a lot of garbage that make us feel bad or do thing we really don’t want to. If we peel our way all the way in to the core, we’ve also peeled away our language, bearer of meaning – and we’ve arrived to – nothing – which is dealt with in another post on this blog (mm – I really don’t like this reductionist dividing – the devil is in the details, as Coelho wrote somewhere). If we decide to do some garbage collection, we could carefully examine each peel and conclude if we’d like to get rid of it: “I know this thought, I know this feeling – it’s not very productive, it’s an obstacle in the long run – thank you for playing, your outta here!” Becoming aware of your thoughts and reactions.


The same goes in communication with others, learning together. If you’re aware of your reactions, thoughts, feelings, you may consider listen to the next guy without positioning yourself. If you internally engage in a debate or discussion before the other is done, it’s likely you make an interruption, and you’ll miss the point, the possibility of a new insight. Discussions often end up in a compromise: 1+1=1.5. Debates are even worse: 1+1=1/2.


“This guy is in orbit, by west Pluto! This is like what’s coming out of the south end of a north bound critter! He is wrong, and this is how I’ll prove him wrong…” Hey, you’veread me so far – at least give me that credit! “Ok, I’ll hear him out.” Why am I telling you this? Well, I have that monkey sitting on my shoulder, too. Sometimes I’m aware, sometimes not.


Right now it’s telling me not to post this heap of words. I’ll sleep on it.



So, is there a core? Yes and no. I think we’ve got a framework which has an immense impact on the ever transcending result. This might be considered as the core, although I don’t think we’re ready made out of the box. We need cultivation and nursing to become whole. Cultivation because the onion needs to grow through cycles of life; we need nutrition and we are exposed to weather and wind. Without nursing we’ll find our onion competing with weeds which is consuming nutrition, stealing energy and is creating a mess of contradictions and entanglements.


Be aware of what you think, don’t wear what you think.



~ av atrewe på 08 mars 2009.

Ett svar to “Do the brain posess a true, core, personality? Or is the brain a posse of your personality”

  1. I certainly met some people with a quad core, and some with seemingly no core at all. Guess that doesn’t contradict your theories though 😉


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