Rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.
Friday, March 24, 2017
Can People Change?
Heraclitus believed that everything was constantly changing (painting by Johannes Moreelse)
One of the biggest and most overarching questions faced by
anyone interested in the human mind is the question of whether people change.
Most people who are honest probably would answer “no,” “I'm the same.”
The only problem is that it's notoriously impossible to be objective about the
self. That’s the reason why even the most practiced clinician cannot
effectively practice self-analysis and also why people who know each other too
well like old married couples are not very effective evaluators of each other. When you see someone all the time your pre-conception of them is so
set that it’s likely to trump reality. That’s also why people who see each other all
the time aren’t really able to recognize the physical change, called aging,
that’s likely to be occurring. Individuals pursue all manner of attempts to
change, but changing human character seems to be the highest hurdle. You may
change your attitude and cognitively learn to do away with maladaptive
behaviors, but still at the heart of the self, the same beast lurks, constantly
transforming and camouflaging itself in ever new ways, like some kind of
constantly mutating virus, always on the verge of creating new
symptoms. Ask anybody suffering from OCD; in many cases they eliminate one
obsession (like needing to check if the gas is turned off), only to find
themselves at the mercy of a new compulsion. Some experts argue that behaviors are whatconstitute character,
while those who deal in so called depth psychology might say the whole is
greater than the sum of its parts and still another point of view might be held
by those who argue that human character exists totally apart from its most
visible manifestations, much the way Plato’s ideal forms are something which,
by definition, elude apprehension. Those who embark on the journey of classical
Freudian analysis sometimes spend years on the project of human character, only
to find that while their so-called character may have been changed (together with the lens through which they view the world), they still
suffer from many of the symptoms they had initially sought help for in the
first place. A philosophical attitude becomes necessary in the face of such a
seemingly paradoxical understanding of human personality.
Francis Levy's debut novel, Erotomania: A Romance, was released in August 2008 by Two Dollar Radio.
His short stories, criticism, humor, and poetry have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Village Voice, The East Hampton Star, The Quarterly, Penthouse, Architectural Digest, TV Guide, The Journal of Irreproducible Results, and other publications. One of his Voice humor pieces was anthologized in The Big Book of New American Humor (HarperCollins). He is presently the Co-Director of The Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination (philoctetes.org), where he supervises roundtable discussions on topics as varied as “The Psychology of the Modern Nation State” and “Modern Traffic Theory, Behavior, and Imagination”.