• What Makes Me… Me

    A friend on G+ asked this question:

    My discussion Q is: What exactly makes YOU who YOU actually ARE?

    This is basically Thomas Nagel’s question, from What is like to be a bat? … but for purposes of this community, my Q is aimed more specifically at why YOU (the subjectively inside ‘you’) had the neural connections to come to the atheistic view, as opposed to others, who have not made that move or ‘migration’?

    Here is link directly to Thomas Nagel’s article (1974):


    First of all, thanks emerson, for making me think more about this.  I was originally going to write a post about all the decisions I made and all the things I read and experienced that led me to atheism.  Then I saw this video (which is presumably going viral as we speak)

    And that got me to thinking more about how I became the person to wanted to know and who sought out new information.  I remain much the way I am… practical vs. theoretical.  But I still have that desire to intake knowledge, compare to my experiences, and learn.

    And I love doing that.  Wil is right, do what you love.  I love exploring new information.  I love learning new things.

    But then, it got even more interesting.

    The concept of free will came up.  Is it possible that I was destined to become an atheist?  Not that no matter what I did, I would become an atheist, but every decision that I made on the road to atheism was inevitable.  These two things are very different.

    It’s funny how genetics plays such a massive part in our lives.  Genetics goes much beyond mere looks or raw ability.  I believe this, but cannot prove it.  The reason that I believe this is because I see so much of my parents in me.  Considering that my dad is my polar opposite, he left before I was 8 years old, and played very little part in life since then, it’s stunning to me how often I suddenly realize that I’m doing something the exact same way my dad does.  I’m talking about everything from basic personality flaws (we both have an addictive personality) to that funny way we hold cups while sitting at the table.

    Are we more instinct based (derived from genetics), that we think?  I do think so.  And I think that when we have very powerful computers, we can analyze genes and their interactions and how they cause a brain to develop.  I hypothesize that when we can do this, we will find that many of the things we think are learned behaviors are really not.  As we run these simulations, we will find patterns beginning to form.  These patterns will be behaviors, personality traits, and modes of thought that we currently believe are learned.

    We think that they are learned, because we think that we are not animals.  Humans think that they are somehow different, better than other animals that are more or less instinct driven.  But we aren’t really.  Just look at the relationships formed in high schools and compare them to a tribe of monkeys.  There’s stunningly little difference (having seen both in action).

    What is curious is how the genetics from mom and dad became me.  Mom is a firm believer in her religion.  Not very fundamentalist, but a believer.  But she’s also very intelligent and well read.  She wants to learn about the history and culture of the Judean people in the time of Jesus just as much as she wants to learn about Jesus (probably more so).  Dad is a right-wing conspiracy theorist to the hilt.  But he’s very good with building things.  I’ve seen him show several degreed engineers why they are all wrong.  He loves to read to, but it very selective about what he reads.

    Somehow, these two people who both are big believers resulted in someone who is incapable of belief (the above is a hypothesis and is based on the observations I’ve accumulated).  These two people have resulted in me.

    Once my genetics were fixed, was my decision making process fixed as well?  I don’t know.  I think that, had I grown up with my dad around, I would be a very, very different person than I am now.  But that’s not what ‘lack of free will’ means.  It means that the decisions I make are not really decisions.  I’ve made the choice based on past experience, personal knowledge, and thinking ability long before the time for the decision ever came up.

    It’s the experiences that we’ve had and how our brains are constructed that make the decisions for us.  We THINK we are making decisions, but in reality, we wouldn’t be who we are if we made different decisions… even if we didn’t want to make the decision we did.

    Having an addictive personality (thanks dad) has allowed me to see this in action.  I will not do x.  I will not do x.  I will not do x.  Shit, I did x.  The decision was made long before I tried to decide otherwise.  I can justify it, wish it was different, whatever… but I still make the decision that I’m programmed to.

    The programming can change, but it is HARD.  Believe me, I’ve been thinking and working on this for a long, long time.  It’s really hard to be self-reflective and to admit things about yourself that you’d rather not.

    At this point, you probably know more about me than either of us is comfortable with.  But here’s the thing.  You know I’m an atheist.  You know I’m a skeptic.  You know I love biology and science.  You knew all this prior to this post.  And that’s what’s important.

    Unlike what Nagel is trying for, we cannot experience each other’s lives.  We can only judge each other by what we say and do.  I’ve never met any of my fellow SINners, I’ve likely not met but one or two of my readers.  You only know me by what you read and I write.  And maybe, that’s enough.

    We don’t have to have shared experiences to know that we are similar in many ways.  You wouldn’t be reading my work if you didn’t want to learn or to think.  I wouldn’t be writing it for the same reasons.  I don’t have to have been abused by a priest or attacked by true believers to have anger toward religion and be an atheist.  Your experiences are different than mine, but we are both atheists or skeptics or free-thinkers or lovers of cats.

    I am me.  You can never be me (and I think we should both be grateful).  But that’s OK, what makes me me is utterly unique in the universe.  There will never be a combination of genetics and experiences that will make me again.

    OK, I think I’ve gone beyond insightful thoughts and into rambling.  Let me know your thoughts.




    Category: AtheismCultureLifeReligionSkepticism


    Article by: Smilodon's Retreat