Struggling with Meaninglessness

searching meaning in meaninglessness

Your Own Little Destiny (updated)

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(Updated content in brown) 

We can do as we will, but cannot will as we will – Schopenhauer, philosopher.

I have written before that our intelligence is inborn. I have written recently that our moral values, to some extent, is also inborn. Now, how about our personality, behaviour and our beliefs? Are they also inborn? It’s controversial, but my personal answer is yes.

But a mere yes means nothing. I will put fourth various arguments to support why my view is correct. So, digest the essence of my arguments properly. Here we go..

Studies of identical twins who were separated at birth and then tested in adulthood, showed that they have astonishing similarities. And this happened in every pair of identical twins separated at birth in every study, much less so with paternal twins separated at birth. My favourite example is a pair of twins, one of whom was brought up as a Catholic in a Nazi family in Germany, the other was brought up in a Jewish family in Trinidad. When they walked in to the lab in Minnesota, they were wearing identical navy blue shirt with <?> , both of them like to dip butter toast in coffee, both of them kept rubber-band around their wrist, both of them flush the toilet before using it as well as after, and both of them like to surprise people by sneezing in crowded elevator to watch them jump.Steven Pinker, Cognitive Scientist. (from TED)

[I recommend you to click on the link and watch the video, if you are interested to learn of the delusion of being politically-correct]

This is indeed significant because it implies that if I could be 100% perfectly cloned, thus creating Ronn-B, and this Ronn-B is placed in some tribal village in Africa, chances are that the original Ronn, who lives in Malaysia and Ronn-B  in Africa, will have a very similar personality. I think this is a significant hint that our personality is not really affected by environment but rather, it is somehow fixed.

Influenced by family and friends?

Just observe any family which have 2 or more sons (or 2 daughters) and you will notice many times, the 2 brothers (or 2 sisters) do not share similar personality and behaviour despite being raised by the same parent.  Perhaps, one of them is more ambitious while the another is more laid-back. Or maybe one is more reserved and introverted and another is more outgoing and extroverted.

They were raised in the same home by the same parents for years but why such difference exist? My answer is clear – contrary to popular beliefs, personality and behaviour is not largely learnt from the environment, (though it still play some role) but rather is an inborn one, largely influenced by our genetics.

And you may ask – Isn’t it obvious that the brothers or sisters have different group of friends, hence, different lifestyle? Maybe the older brother’s group of friends are party-goer and outgoing people, and that’s why he too became outgoing  while the younger brother is a geeky guy because he was surrounded by geeky people, therefore creating disparity in personality between the two.

Yes, it is very easy to think what you are today is the product of the environment around you. But what if it is not the environment who chose you but rather you chose the environment? In other words, your close friends are NOT a group of people who you just ‘fatedly encounter during the course of your life’ but it was YOU who, consciously or unconsciously, chose people who you can get along  with your personality or lifestyle comfortably well, mix with them and then label them as ‘close/great/best friends’. While for people you are not really interested with, they will just remain a normal or a hi-bye friend.

Examine your thoughts. Reflect back the earlier chapter of your life and think back on how you chose your close friends and you will realize my words have some essence of truth. You and your best friends must have many things in common, or else, it will be extremely difficult to even become a friend.

If so, what you are today is not really influenced by the environment around you. You are what you are supposed to be, largely determined by your genes, since the day you were born.

The Structure of the Mind

Many months ago, I read an article of a guy who sustained brain damage in an accident. Before the accident, this guy is a typical nice guy – a gentleman, polite and well-mannered. However, after that unfortunate accident, his personality changed due to the damage to his frontal lobe which deals with emotions. He became hot-tempered, impatient (short attention span) and impulsive. He is now an entirely different person.

In other words, this man did not choose to have such personality … it was the brain damage which altered the structure of his brain which had affected his normal emotions and he is now powerless to revert back to his former self.

In another instance,  Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist, related a story of hers when she got a stroke several years ago on the left side of her brain. Her entire left hemisphere was totally shut down and guess what happened? She couldn’t recognize alphabets and numbers although she was sure she knows about it. All she saw was some ‘alien symbols’. When on the phone calling for doctor, she only hear gibberish voices like “uh oh uh ah”. As the left hemisphere of her brain was shut down, so as the brain region which deals with language. There’s absolutely nothing she can do about it.

Try to imagine how it is like if you were in her shoes. That will be a really strange experience, isn’t it?

These are the extreme examples of ‘you-can’t-do-anything-with-your-brain’ scenario. But this is true even in lesser extent in the sense of our personality.

Puberty is perhaps the best example to illustrate my point here. First, we have to know that our brain does not stop developing until around mid-20s. Basically, that’s the age where our maturity and intelligence will peak. However, puberty during teenage years is a condition which tell the body that we are now already in adult phase, hence creating a conflict – The body tells the brain that it is already an adult body and fully matured but the brain is still half-way developing! And this is the ultimate reason why teenagers are rebellious by nature and parenting is the most difficult at this period – it’s like an adult trapped in a teenagers’ mind.

Parents will usually teach and give advice to their teenage kids, telling them what is the right thing to do and what is not right to do. But often, many words and advices given went to the left ear and gone out at the right ear. This is because, a typical teenagers brain’s structure is not developed enough to understand the essence of their parent’s message. For instance, they can’t understand why their parents keep insisting that smoking is bad for health when many adults are doing it, therefore in these teenage kids’ mind, smoking can’t be wrong. By letting the brain completing the pattern, they came to the conclusion that they’re right and their parents are wrong because of being old-fashioned and stubborn. This is the result of lacking in ability to see the big pictures – just like the ancient people thought the flat world was the truth until disproven later by sophisticated astronomical techniques and mathematics.

So, this gives a very clear view to us that many times, the experience and wisdom of parents is totally rejected by teenage kids for one ultimate reason – the structure of the developing mind in teenagers do not have such capacity to allow them to see from their parents point of view, hence the rebellious nature.

And for the same reason, I will say religious people couldn’t see atheist’s rational point of view of a world without God because their mind do not allow them to view a world void of divine being. Similarly, you can’t call a crazy guy to calm down, because his mind’s structure will not understand the necessity or purpose of calming down.

In the book God’s Debris by Scott Adams, he said this:

“People think they follow advice but they don’t. Humans are only capable of receiving information. They create their own advice. If you seek to influence someone, don’t waste time giving advice. You can change only what people know, not what they do.” – Scott Adams.

I find this pretty meaningful because it means that every input we received is subjected to individual interpretation and bias. When your father tells you that “You should study hard and get good results!”, you may heed his advice because you understand the value of education. Or maybe not, because you don’t see any purpose of scoring well in the exam papers. Everyone has an unique internal structure to interpret this ‘information’.

Or perhaps, you study hard because your father threaten to cut down your pocket money if you don’t score well. In this case, this is not a teaching which brings ‘enlightenment’ in your mind but only a form of repression in forcing yourself to study.

What Is The Environment’s Role?

There are people who were raised up in a religious family but doubted religion and became a non-believer in their later life. There are people who were raised up in a non-believing family but chose to become a believer in their later life. There are people who remain a non-believer. There are people who remain a believer.

Why so? In this age of information, isn’t it that we are exposed to the same amount of information on religion and atheism? But why does one group chose this path and another group chose the other one?

Actually, they did not choose. They just went back to the path which their mind wants to belong to -The path which their mind are structured to fit in, the beliefs that they are comfortable with.

From what I can see, the role of the environment is merely playing the Repressing and Boosting game to individuals. I will give you an instance.

Sarah is a typical shy and reserved girl. One day, her friend Jenny decided to introduce some friends who are outgoing to Sarah. After a period of socializing, Sarah seem to became more outgoing and befriend these people.

Here, there are two possibilities of Sarah’s origin of personality.

1. Sarah grown up in a repressed environment (eg. super conservative family) where she didn’t have much opportunity to go socializing with people. Despite Sarah seemingly ‘learnt’ socializing skills, the fact is, she didn’t. She just discovered that her true-self is an outgoing social animal and she completely enjoys the experience. She has now break free from repression.

2. Whatever the environment Sarah grown up at, she is actually a true introverted girl. When she first befriended the people, Sarah boosted her personality just for that occasion, got out of the comfort zone, and went on to socialize with them. However, the fact remains that she is a true introvert, which means in the future, she will feel the same awkwardness feeling when getting to know new friends. 

The word repression may sound like quite an intense emotion. Well, if you think of a killer who is holding a knife and stuck in a dilemma whether or not to murder his victim, then yes, I suppose this degree of repression will be pretty intense. But that’s only the extreme level because we still have to consider the everyday repression which we all experience (but without much questioning).

For example, consider sexual repression. Thousand years ago, pre-marital sex was considered a major taboo and anyone caught engaging such activity will be dealt with heavy punishments (because the country law was fully controlled by religion). However, today as we live in a more secular society, except for certain Islamic country, nobody will get hurt by having pre-marital sex. In some people’s eye, the shift in such culture left a bad impact because it encourages over-openness. But I choose to see it differently – the shift of culture didn’t changed our behaviour, It merely loosen the level of repression in us.

Ethics and Fairness?

One major argument against non-freewill is the so called ‘scary’ thought that if indeed human being do not have free will, therefore people will not take responsible for their actions.

We need to understand that there are two different ways of perceiving the world. One is an idealistic world and another is the reality. Sure, everyone dreams of an utopian world where immorality and injustice are non-existence. Sure, everyone hopes this world will remain peaceful without war. Sure, everyone wants humanity to live on and keep progressing. But all these will remain just an idealism. It is something that we want and hope for, not to be confused with the actual state of the world.

Therefore, to say something which involves the element of deterministic, like for instance, you cannot learn to be more intelligent, it will bound to be controversial because it goes against the idealism of typical human being (most of us will feel insulted if we are labeled stupid). But again, idealism is idealism, reality is reality. If the idea of non-freewill scares you, that’s because it contradicts your ideals and beliefs. The nature or the reality, is always neutral.


When you are lining up in a long queue, it is not right to say – ‘I’m stuck in a long queue’ because, you need to understand that the world do not revolves around you, although it seems like it. Rather, YOU ARE the QUEUE because you, along with many other people, played a part to create the long line of queue. Similarly, we need to throw away the idea that everyone has a rational explanation why they have certain personality, talent, intelligence, beliefs, etc. Free will is an illusion and we have to accept the fact that there are some people who were born luckier and some people born less lucky than the rest. Remember, your genes have more say than your will, hence, we cannot will as we will.

It may seem insignificant at first, but when you shift your perspective from ‘I have thoughts’ to ‘I am the thought’, your whole mind-set of perceiving the reality will change along with it and naturally, you will start to have a better understand of how human being really works.



Written by elan85

October 3, 2008 at 9:04 am

Posted in Philosophy, Psychology

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