Would you like you if you met you?

Would you?

This is of course an impossibility – how is it possible for you to meet you, and then to decide if you like you? Yet, this thought experiment might prove valuable in nudging us towards introspection and consequently, self-reflection. More specifically, it can prompt us to think if our actions are in line with our values.

In exploring this hypothesis, what you might try to do is to (1) imagine being someone else (a random girl or a random boy, or even a ghost or spirit) who has perfect information about you, and on that basis, decide if you are worth liking (romantically). (2) Alternatively, you might imagine meeting somebody similar to you – would you like him/her? (There are of course many other ways of approaching it, but I think these would come across as more intuitive.)

Approaching the question along these lines necessitates certain conditions:

– Since different people have different preferences, we shall assume for simplicity’s sake that a person’s likableness is generally determined by certain positive attributes. This applies if you are thinking along the lines of (1), but not (2) since you already know your preference.

– Suppose we can dichotomize our reasons for liking someone to (a) personality and (b) appearance, the latter poses a huge problem. Liking you entails liking your looks as well – if you think along the lines of (2), then really, how is it possible to like someone who looks exactly like you? This appears to preclude (2). Alternatively, we could give aesthetic appearance a certain value, not unlike how economists measure happiness in terms of utils. In such a case, you would have to consider liking someone with an equal aesthetic appearance value.

You might also wonder: is this question qualitatively different than saying: do you like yourself? In other words, is this really just a question of self-esteem?

Adeline suggested an interesting, if not entirely convincing, explanation for why the answer ought to be a yes, i.e. you should like you if you met you. First, we tend to like people similar to us (and who more similar to you than you?). Research supports this – just as how we prefer to mix with people who share our views and thoughts, we tend to identify better with people who share the same birthdays as us. Second, if we can identify the reasons that we would not like us if we met us, then surely it must be reason enough to alter our actions.

There is truth in that: we ought to change our behaviors if they are sufficiently undesirable to deter us from liking us. But consider how many of our 2009 New Year Resolutions we’ve managed to fulfill, and it becomes clear why it’s not such an easy task. Further, there’s the tacit assumption that we can control our behaviors. What of those who can’t?

Parkinson’s Disease typically comes about as a result of insufficient formation and action of dopamine in the brain. Ann, who was suffering from Parkinson’s, was put on Requip, a drug that imitates the activity of dopamine. Subsequently, the excess of dopamine led Ann to gamble away her fortune, and even then, she would steal from her grandkids to satisfy her compulsion. When Ann was finally taken off the dopamine agonist, the gambling compulsion immediately disappeared.* Then, Ann probably wouldn’t have liked herself had she met herself, and it wouldn’t have been any fault of hers.

And what of people with low self-esteem? They might answer no, because they could be too critical of themselves.

All these possibilities are certainly worth exploring – but only after I return from reservist.

Yours unfortunately,

Tim

*How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer

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