Thursday, May 18, 2017

Split Personalities that we all have

Three Faces of Eve is a Joanne Woodward starring film released in 1957. It was a first of it’s kind movie based on the true story of Eve White. Eve suffered from multiple personality disorder (MPD). MPD has been a topic of debate for ages. While it was widely accepted in America, MPD got it’s share of resistance from Britain. With time, however, MPD became widely accepted with reports of one particular case claiming 4000 alter egos (1). Someone definitely have personality issues.

When I think of it, I believe we all have at least two different personalities, one being instinctive and the other being acquired. Instinctive personality (IP) are the genetic traits that we were born with. Our basic instincts are part of IP and are often ‘wrongly’ called as controlled by heart. (Heart, however, do have neutrons that can learn, remember and take decisions. Heart and brain are intricately connected and both responds to each other. How romantic is that! 2) The acquired personality (AP) develops as we grow. AP is not just what we perceive ourselves as, but also what we want others to perceive us as. It is a mental perception and is governed by our mind. Those who have suffered mental/physical abuse as a child might develop multiple APs. Comparing it to Sigmund Freud's structural model of the psyche, IP is comparable to id and AP to superego. Freud thinks we live our life trying to balance between the two with help of our ego.

Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow (3) introduces us to the two systems in the mind: System 1 and System 2. According to his definition:
System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.
System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.

Kahneman demonstrates the presence of the two systems with help of a simple maths problem-

The total price of a bat and a ball is 1$ 10 cents.  If the bat costs 1$ more than the ball, what is the price of the ball? 

The instinctive answer that most people give is 10 cents. System 1 is answering for you if that’s your answer. After doing careful calculations one finds out that the actual price of the ball is 5 cents. Those who curbed their instinct (System 1) to think about the correct answer were governed by System 2. System 1 is controlled dominantly by IP, while System 2 is controlled dominantly by AP. 

Most of the stresses in our life arise from the conflict between AP and IP, between our heart and mind if you want to put it that way. It is important for us to understand these two personalities that exists within us so that we can make a healthy balance between the two.

 Dan Ariely, in his book Predictably Irrational (4), mentions about an experiment done by asking questions to a group of men while they were having orgasm. They were asked the same questions when they were not in an aroused state. The conclusion of the experiment was stunning. In aroused state the preference of these men for odd sexual activities, including having sex with animals, were twice as high. They were 20% more likely not to have safe sex and five times more likely to slip a women a drug to increase their chance of having sex when in aroused sex then when they were normal. These people, who are just like you and me, were two entirely different personalities at two different levels of emotional state.

Why does morality takes a back seat when one is in aroused state? In aroused state IP takes over AP. The moral values that you acquired over the ages are forgotten. The act of murder or rape is most likely to be controlled by IP than AP. ‘Thinking from your heart’ is not always the morally correct decision. However, without the emotional part of your brain you probably would not be able to make any decision. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s research on people whose emotional part of the brain have been damaged showed that these otherwise perfectly normal people were not able to take simple decisions (5). It is IP that decides whether to fight or flight, it is IP that makes you fall in love without reason and it is IP that tells you to be in the present and enjoy your life. IP is neither your guardian angel nor a devil. It is the way you want it to be.

AP is something one learns over the years. It is influenced by your family, school and the environment that you grow up in. It teaches you not to cheat, not to hurt others, and not to look at your neighbor's wife. Remember the Ten Commandments? AP can be either governed by social norms or market norms. The warm and fuzzy social norms gives you a sense of community, and is important between friends and family. Market norms govern the decisions you take professionally and generally involves money or something of value. As long as you do not mix the two, like expecting monetary gains in return of your love or love in return of your professional work, you are doing good. These learning are essential part of our society. If you let your system 2 take the decision, more often than not it will be a wise decision.

Depending on our social conditions we create a mental image of ourselves. This perceived self is a myth that helps us become part of a society. We develop this concept of ourselves right at the childhood and it influences the choices we make in our life right till the very end. AP gives us an identity and it is not a bad thing as long as we understand that it is nothing but an 'essential' myth. Religion, nationalism, casteism etc are all part of our AP. The moment we become too rigid about our identity we loose our minds, like the religious fanatics. Thinking too much isn't always a good thing, especially when the thought is about yourself. This is because most of the time when you over-think you start to create fictitious situations and unnecessarily worry about your future. Sometimes it is a good idea to just be, let IP take over (as long as you do not harm anyone).

When we realize that we have two different personas and understand the strength and weakness of both we can learn to control them. We can use them the way we want and reduce the conflicts. It is important to mention here that these two personalities are not entirely split. They are interconnected and influence each other just like the heart and the brain. Peace is when both AP and IP dance in the same rhythm.

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