Saturday, 21 July 2012

Self requisite for consciousness?

How do you define/differentiate "you" with "a conscious human being with a discreet consciousness"?

This question cropped up the other day and was related to a different discussion, however, it seems appropriate to answering a fundamental question that gets posed time and time again. 
It seems a common sticking point is that people cannot conceive of how humans can have a discrete consciousness, yet have no personal identity. 

This seems like a paradox at first but really it is not so complicated after all, if we take a brief look at some recent findings. This was actually arguing for other minds by a weak inference, however, it does outline the point I have just raised here.

It appears that consciousness is a precondition of experience for any cognising organisms and I certainly would not be willing to suggest there is a discrete self in any of them. I would willingly agree that we have a self model as Metzinger suggested, but this still does not imply a bona fide 'self' requisite for personal identity, since it is simply an illusion. We both know full well there is no master controller, no thinker pulling the strings and deciding to take action we have both seen it, right?

"You" is the product of this self model but because it is only a thought, it is a fantasy projection born from the ability to abstractly think and represent the world. The main problem is this. If the brain represents the world, then how would it know that it is representing the world? 

Answer, it has to form these representations from a multitude of sensory impressions, reproduce them to think with, and also have a faculty to understand them, hence the need for a conscious unity of apperception, which is a mediating centre for all this information. 

It is not "you" that is aware or controls this though, it is the brain - life lives itself, there is no you.

Chimpanzees show abilities that are cogent with this model. I would also wager that they had a self model as such but again not an actual self. This seems to be a precondition of the ability to think abstractly and when we see chimps making spears and gorillas using sticks to measure the depth of water, it is not absurd to say the brain has to process data in relation to itself, notice we have not invoked a self yet or we would be committing a category mistake. 

We are seeing level 2 sequencing of intuitions and this would indicate a faculty of sensibility (ability to receive sensory impressions in the brain) and understanding (ability to think using representations). 
What we are also seeing is spatial-temporal thinking, where ideas are reproduced in a limited form of imagination that involves a limited degree of mental sequencing. This allows the chimp to understand the concepts (non verbally of course) of sharp stick and then easier killing of its prey, in order to produce another "nyeep" that drives its actions. 

This suggests that even our primate cousins have a need for an arrangement of consciousness like ours, although I cannot know the experience of a chimp (See Nagel (1979) 'What is it Like to be a Bat').

Now, since this consciousness is rather a mysterious business, and this human being cannot know the contents of thoughts of another being, this garners this idea of separation from each other and it is of no surprise that we actually ended up believing in this divide collectively. 

However, this is actually happening in real life but if there is no master controller then how can there be a self? 

Quite simply this is a mechanism of evolution that has been crafted over millions of years and is still being crafted, its all a product of mother nature, god, universal consciousness, whatever the fuck you want to call it, but there is no room for a separate "you" in the equation. Period.

If we were to hold to your scheme here, which suggests that because conscious creatures have a discrete consciousness, they also have a self we run in to clear absurdities. First of all we would be able to demonstrate control over its actions from this self, which we already know registers as a negative through empirical testing. 

Secondly, if there was no division between each organism there would be no conscious experience at all or consciousness would be privvy to the entirety of consciousness. This allows for a collective consciousness and it may be suggested that this division is not absolute but then we would be getting in to metaphysics, which is where we will have to stop this tangent because then we are making idle speculations. 

Also your conjecture would suggest every living thing would have to have a self which is clearly false because we run in to all kinds of problems such as evolving a self that did not think and then illustrating a clear line where things stop "having" discrete selves.

Because the consciousness unity of apperception in this human being cannot know the representations that arise in another humans conscious unity of apperception, then this is where the idea of separation comes from. 

Hence no self, but discrete conscious experience for each human being. If I call it "you", it only invokes a self if you believe the word "you" means there is a self there, however, I use it as a pronoun and dropped the semantic meaning it has related to a discrete self that has its own identity. 


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