Self-Binding

A long Atlantic article of the ‘multiplicity of self’ had an interesting section on a topic called self-binding.

 

The atricle’s topic is a familar one: we all have competing personalities.  It complicates the study if happiness, because different things make different parts of ourselves happy at different times.  The classic example is the internal battle between the dieter and the cake-eater.  The author explains…

…we can make sense of the interaction of these selves by plotting their relative strengths over time, starting with one (the cake eater) being weaker than the other (the dieter). For most of the day, the dieter hums along at his regular power (a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10, say), motivated by the long-term goal of weight loss, and is stronger than the cake eater (a 2). Your consciousness tracks whichever self is winning, so you are deciding not to eat the cake. But as you get closer and closer to the cake, the power of the cake eater rises (3 … 4 …), the lines cross, the cake eater takes over (6), and that becomes the conscious you; at this point, you decide to eat the cake. It’s as if a baton is passed from one self to another.

 

But what I found most interesting was what followed:  what we sometimes do to physically prevent one of our selves from taking control…

Self-binding means that the dominant self schemes against the person it might potentially become—the 5 acts to keep the 2 from becoming a 6. Ulysses wanted to hear the song of the sirens, but he knew it would compel him to walk off the boat and into the sea. So he had his sailors tie him to the mast. Dieters buy food in small portions so they won’t overeat later on; smokers trying to quit tell their friends never to give them cigarettes, no matter how much they may later beg. In her book on gluttony, Francine Prose tells of women who phone hotels where they are going to stay to demand a room with an empty minibar. An alarm clock now for sale rolls away as it sounds the alarm; to shut it off, you have to get up out of bed and find the damn thing.

 

I do these things.  Do you?  It’s bizzare to think about.  With all we are able to accomplish, we often cannot control simple things about ourselves.

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