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Austin Philosophy Discussion Group (APDG) Message Board Philosophy for Real Life Monday night group › Choices for Self Identity (part 1/2)

Choices for Self Identity (part 1/2)

Jeffrey S.
JeffreyStukuls
Austin, TX
Post #: 1
On what do we base our self identity? Additionally, what criteria is used to select the best identity?

I group the answer to the first question into four broad categories: fragmented individual, self-less, networked-humanity, and intrasystemic self. Below I describe each and its implications. Each category contains many variations, so instead of detailing those, the primary differences of the categories will be focused on. Afterward, I offer some ideas on determining which is optimal and why. I look forward to everyone’s input, thoughts, and discourse around the topic. [Note, this post is split into two parts because the message board can only handle 7500 characters at a time. This is really meant to be one post, not two parts.]

Fragmented Individual. The basis of this identity is perceiving one’s self as an independent, separate being in a world where resources are scarce and survival is preeminent. This understanding comes both through one’s sensory input and the inherited information one receives while being brought up - from one’s parents, family, friends, schooling, and community at large. It is the most common basis for identity, one that was largely the only option for most of humanities evolution over millions of years. Certainly it appears to be the basis upon which our biology is programmed.

The fragmentation results from our senses differentiating inputs, making the storable bits of data in our memories that are useful for both interpreting and processing. For instance, we perceive a difference between our bodies and the rest of the world. We therefore believe we are our body. What is within our body (our skin) is us, and we view everything else as outside us. Similarly, we perceived differences among everything that comes to us through our senses (that is simply how the senses function). The apparent boundaries around each sensory input fragments what is actually there, including making it seem obvious that we are separate than the rest of the world - hence an individual. Imagine that in this way, we are all billiard balls, bouncing around the table of life.

This basis of self allows for arbitrary boundaries around others who can be considered members of the same group – family, country, race, religion, any ideological groupings, etc. This way we include other billiard balls within our sphere that are considered ‘us’, and all others are ‘them’. We (us) need to ensure our survival against them (and the rest of the world), who are outside of this arbitrary sense of self grouping. It is therefore possible to over-ride the biological imperative of self-survival to ensure the survival of the group members. Even though grouping is happening, this is still an extension of the same fragmentation - the same sense of scarcity and independence from the rest of the world.

Self-less. There is a special case of the fragmented individual where it becomes noticed that there is something that is doing the watching, or experiencing (or perceiving or observing), which is different than anything perceivable. When this occurs, identity can shift to being the part that is doing the watching, let’s call it the ‘watcher’, which is separate and unique from any ‘content’ that can be perceived. The fact that all our conceptual content, including memories, ideas, and emotions, can be experienced by the watcher means that what is usually used to construct one’s self is no longer considered self. Hence calling this watcher basis ‘self-less’.

Those who use this basis tend to recognize that any identity associated with any content - the body, thoughts/memories, or any grouping - is completely arbitrary. Furthermore, any such content is transient, so identifying with it causes suffering. So they identify with the watcher function, which they recognize as being the only constant, unchangeable part of the otherwise inherently temporary matter/energy in the universe. The body, and the body’s conceptual content, therefore becomes the vehicle through which the watcher watches the universe. Imagine here the self moves to the center of the billiard ball, so that ball itself is just as much outside the self as the rest of the balls, and the rest of the table of life.

(...continued in Part 2/2 - please put replies after that section, as this 'break' is arbitrary for the posting character limits...)
Jeffrey S.
JeffreyStukuls
Austin, TX
Post #: 2
Choices for Self Identity (part 2/2) (...continued from part 1/2 above...)

Networked-Humanity. In some special circumstances of the Self-less identity, it is recognized that all humans share the same common functions; both intangible functions - namely watching, emotions, memories, imagination - as well as the same tangible (sensory) functions - having a body, communicating, and transforming our environment, and the rest of nature. Similarly, it is recognized that the vast majority of the understandings used in the intangible functions was not directly experienced by the local body, but instead was uploaded as second-hand experiences while being brought up. This combination of having the same functionality, as well as using largely second-hand information to process, or make sense of the world, means we function much more like an interconnected network than as an individual.

This change came about with the evolutionary advancement known as language - the symbolic system that represents locally stored copies of data. This symbolic system allows for the transfer of memories and ideas stored in one body to be shared with other bodies that have the corresponding understandings of the symbolic system. Before language, we operated as unique individuals because the only content that could be stored locally in a body had to be experienced by that body. And all the accumulated understandings of a given body disappeared with that body ceasing to function. Since the invention and proliferation of language, the vast quantity of data stored in each local form is actually accumulated from both previous generations as well as shared among existing, living humans. Tools such as writing, art, pictures, movies, and their accessibility through books, magazines, computers, and the internet, have made much of what is known available to all humans.

This basis of identity draws a circle around all humanity as the self. All instances of the watcher experiencing a shared and increasingly common content among all other humans makes humanity more like a networkhood than an individual. In this case all the billiard balls are interconnected and make up a full sense of self.

Intrasystemic Self. The basis for this identity is recognizing the seamless unity of the whole, the entire universe, and that it is experiencing and transforming itself, from within itself (hence intra, or within, and system, or all parts), through individual vantage points. This is similar to Networked Humanity, in that these vantage points are mediated by conceptual ‘software’ and are really input / output feedback loops, where the input is sensory data, which gets processed by the local software, producing output as interactions (communication) and transformations in a common, matter / energy physical space. The outputs cause further inputs via sensory apparatus. The software medium and its conceptual content are also perceivable to the watcher function, where the watcher function is a function of the whole itself. This identity is as the whole and the recognition that any vantage point is the same whole interacting with itself through different physical nodes.

Recognizing the seamless unity of the universe is possible through science. For example, at sub-atomic levels the relative distances between the energy/particles is so vast that it is mostly empty space, much like the apparent vastness of the galactic emptiness. If that is what everything is ‘made up of’ in our physical space, then what part of the emptiness is really separate? In other words, what part of the empty space is actually not connected with all the rest of the empty space? If it is all really one whole, how can anything within it be separate than it itself? Therefore, the functions inherent in each local vantage point must really be the whole system experiencing itself from within itself. In this case the billiard balls ‘disappear’, as the identity shifts to the outer boundary of all that is perceived, as it must be bounded by the watcher function in order to be known to exist.

This understanding can also give rise to the recognition that almost everything ‘happening’ within the system is happening because of the functions that happen automatically, not because of specific volition. That things happen is because of the functions, processes, and sequence of the various components within the system. Sensing and perceiving happen automatically, as does the valuation to that which is perceived. Creating copies, processing them and storing them happen automatically. Physical action is similarly spontaneous reactions to the conceptual content that arises. The one exception is what the watcher notices among all the sensory input and all the local conceptual content. This one capability at each local vantage point is the one subjective ability to alter the otherwise automatic cause/effect sequence of the system.

What is the optimal self identity? Instead of answering that directly (in order to increase interaction & discussion), let me here identify a few characteristics of such an optimal self identity. An optimal identity is one that creates the most reliable results - that outputs produce the intended effects (or transformations) of the purposes for which they are generated. It would also do the inverse - produce the fewest errors, inconsistencies, and damage into the system in which it exists. It would have the closest representation to what is actually there, to what actually exists and how it functions. Similarly, it would allow for equal (or at least maximal) freedom for all components to live up to their potential, while ensuring such freedom is respected (or that the only inhibited actions are those that harm others). It would include everything, thereby be fully integrated into that same system. And finally, the decision making criteria which stems from the identity produces the best possible results for the entire system.
Gene R
fatal-error667
Austin, TX
Post #: 221
I see a bold attempt here at a sufficiently broad philosophical system/theory. That’s awesome! However I also see problems: some assumptions taken on board without due scrutiny, some conclusions don’t quite follow. It would take too long (and require a greater skill than mine) to do a complete critique, so I’ll just send some random snippets, one at a time. The first one is about…

…The Watcher

If we need “the watcher” as a subject of our perceptions, then what is the subject of perception of the watcher? Who watches the watcher? Could there be a need for the-watcher-of-the-watcher-of the-watcher…? I see a potential here for multiplying homunculi.

And if we do not need a watcher to watch “the watcher”, perhaps no watcher is necessary at all? Watchers as entities separate from watching could constitute an unnecessary multiplication of entities and be subject to Occam’s razor. Nietzsche made a similar point about “doing” that applies to “watching” equally well:

“Nietzsche argues that there is no doer behind the deed, taking as an example the sentence, “lightning flashes.” There is no such thing as lightning separate from the flash. Our assumption that there are doers who are somehow distinct from deeds is simply a prejudice inspired by the subject–predicate form of grammar.”
Sparknotes: http://www.sparknotes...­

If Nietzsche is right, and I think he is, then the watching IS the watcher. Shall we chuck the watcher off?
Kim
user 7355689
Austin, TX
Post #: 673
The optimal self-identity for me is the coherent self, a partly-fragmented (personal/private) and partly-integrated (social/public) self that (in the best possible scenario) has achieved an optimal balance for insuring the preservation of its autonomy (associated with independence of the rational mind making informed decisions without coercion.) The "watcher", for me, seems hardly self-less, as the continuous evolving self who is self-aware.
Gene R
fatal-error667
Austin, TX
Post #: 222
This snippet is about the best possible results

“And finally, the decision making criteria which stems from the identity produces the best possible results for the entire system”.

How can I, a 22 cubic feet of mostly water, speak on behalf of the entire system? If the entire system is the universe “experiencing itself from within itself”, what if the best possible result for it turns out to be an orgasmic universal explosion, followed by a contraction into pre-big-bang dot? Maybe I should mind my 22ft3-sized business instead.
James I D.
user 72846152
Austin, TX
Post #: 37
I am not a philosopher. I am just a physicist who is trying to understand if there is anything in ordinary philosophy that can help me to better understand the world. So, although my take on SELF may not be as philosophical as it should be, here is my first approximation:

When I try to contemplate in depth what it means to be my SELF I get a deep sense of uncertainty. Staring into a mirror doesn’t seem to help. Thinking of my life as a rerun movie creates a vague sense of a purpose-driven life but I am not sure why. Maybe my SELF just resulted from a random series of events that I have organized into a narrative. Or maybe a SELF can never be more than a contextual entity. Maybe there is no meaning to the existence of anything beyond its relations to all other things. If we remove all relationships among objects, it seems that even time and space would have no meaning.

Nevertheless, in most earthly contexts, I think that my SELF and most other living SELFs usually have some common properties.

1. Intentionality: Pointing toward, attending to some target, i.e. directedness.
2. Responsiveness: Reacting and adjusting to external influences.
3. Measure of predictability: Repeating behaviors under similar conditions.
4. Measure of unpredictability: Surprising behavior that remain unpredictable.
5. Inexplicable characteristics: An unknowable inner existence—many how and why questions have no “rational” answers.

Also, each SELF takes in information about its SELF and organizes it into a model of its SELF. This SELF-referential process can lead to a wide range of personal models. These models are rationalized by the demands of the environment, both natural and social. Unfortunately, all self-referential systems are troubled by paradoxes.


Any organized system can be characterized in terms of Entropy, S, which is a measure of the number of ways that the constituent parts of the system can be arranged. When the parts are randomly distributed, S is relatively large; and when the parts are well organized into special patterns for special functions, S is relatively small.

What can we say is common to all living SELFs? The embryological processes that construct them are highly ordered in very special ways. Also, the informational program that manages any living SELF is quite sophisticated. Living SELFs are open, non-equilibrium systems, and the openness is essential to the creation and maintenance of order. In a closed system, entropy, S, cannot decrease and usually increases, so it is extremely improbable that such a system could ever evolve into something more complex than that of its initial state! An open system can also be characterized in terms of entropy but its entropy can decrease, so it is capable of evolving into a more complex system. However, even an open system will have a tendency toward disorder unless it has a source of energy that is managed by a “sophisticated” informational program capable of building and maintaining ordered structures.

Thus, we can characterize a SELF as follows: It takes in high-grade energy [S(energy in)] and expends low-grade energy [S(energy out)] such that generally

S(energy out) >> S(energy in).

It also takes in information [S(info in)] from its “environment” and creates information [S(info out)] but the flow of information is not entirely clear. It is generally desirable to have S(info out) < S(info in) as, for example, in the case where the SELF takes in raw data and organizes it to effectively manage, for example, its behavior (to optimize survivability) or to create a personal model of its environment.

Finally, it is interesting to note that the beginning of life, a SELF, on earth is somewhat problematic. In order to create a complex life form, there had to be a process that promoted a continual decrease in entropy, i.e. a continual creation of order from relative disorder. This requires an informational program (that was built into nature at the outset) capable of creating order from a less ordered state. Nobody knows if the universe is a closed or an open system, but local regions are open even if the total universe is closed. Although the mystery of how life came into existence remains (even to this day), it is clear that a program for assembling increasing levels of order was built into to the laws of nature; and this is the fundamental basis for believing that humans and other SELFs came into existence through natural evolution.
Jeffrey S.
JeffreyStukuls
Austin, TX
Post #: 3
@ Gene:
Yes, let's remove the watcher as a separate entity. It's the function of watching that is important - I did not intend to add the function as an object.
Jeffrey S.
JeffreyStukuls
Austin, TX
Post #: 4
@ Kim:
I look forward to hearing more in the discussion on Monday!
Jeffrey S.
JeffreyStukuls
Austin, TX
Post #: 5
@ Gene, 22 ft cubic water...
I think you've hit on a good question - what would it take to be able to do that? Quick thought is that identifying oneself as the body (22 cubic ft) will make that very hard to do.
Jeffrey S.
JeffreyStukuls
Austin, TX
Post #: 6
@ Jim:
Wow, what a great perspective. A couple quick questions arises from your answer:
A) What can we derive from the fact that life/Self did arise, regardless of how low a probability it was/is?
B) Are there functions common to any being that has a Self? In other words, if we map commonalities of all sentient beings, what functions are common to all?
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