Thursday 17 January 2013

Identical Intuitions part II

Having looked at our concept of identity and reduced it down to two types, we are able to look at how there are certain presumptions made when we identify things. If you remember, we got down to to either identifying with the functional role of an object, or with its matter.

We introduced the problems with the Theseus case in part I, and much subsequent philosophy of identity has been based on trying to fix these problems. If you remember, we had established that no chain of reasoning was sufficient to establish when a change in identity occurs, when we are talking about changing physical matter around. 

We also introduced the difficulties of identifying something by its functional role. I will now turn to these and introduce the quagmire we generate, and then demonstrate how the human brain has developed a clever work around to beat the limitations of this system.

So, to start us off we can ask how does our attribution of a concept work in practice?

In the Ship of Theseus example, we were applying a name to an object. This time round we are going to come from the opposite angle and see if our object is of a sufficient kind to fit the category we are imposing upon it. To keep things simple we will use a 'car' analogy. 
I have found people do mix these conceptions of identity up, particularly before they even entertain the LOOKing process, but usually it is simple to scythe the two apart upon a quick examination. What I want to show you is how to avoid making this mistake, and also a more devious yet ingenious one, that arises from the brains natural tendency to structure experience in a familiar way.

Firstly, we could try to find a point where we can remove the cars identity, to the point where we can no longer class it as a car. If I remove the battery so it cannot receive any power, intuitively we want to say it is still a car, because it simply requires that a new battery be connected to the terminals, and then it will resume its functional role. We are not particularly inclined to remove the identity of the car just because it has no battery.

Imagine you went to the garage and the mechanic replaced the battery...

Would from the moment he removed the battery, until he connected the new one mean it was not a car during this time?

To say it was not a car for this period would be very counter intuitive, and it seems safe to say that by removing a small component, it is not going to affect its identity. This is how we intuitively feel about identity.

Another example to contrast with this could be a battery drill that has multiple functions. I can change drill bits, screwdriver heads, and even put a food mixing attachment on it if I really wanted to. In these cases, it suggests that there is some kind of continuity of identity despite the physical make up being changed.

What we are saying really is that the drill itself is unchanging, it is performing its functional role by rotating the chuck. Any attachments do not constitute the drills continuing identity, although we may call it a screwdriver, or sander instead just for convenience temporarily, particularly when it is set up in a particular way.

If I am on a contract sanding down the walls say, and my drill has been configured to have a sandpaper disc on it, I will be less likely to call it a drill and would probably hear “Can I borrow your sander please mate?"
By naming it something else, we are not suggesting its identity has fundamentally changed, but we are using the role it is performing to identify it.

However, we seem to think that there is some unchanging essence about the drill, and from the sum of its parts, arises some new property which we use to identify it, such as sander, screwdriver, or even food mixer. (Try not to imagine someone mixing a cake with a drill ;)

Intuitively it seems that changing a small part of something does not consist in changing its identity. However, there is a relevant difference between the car battery and the drill cases we looked at above. In the former instance, by removing the car battery I was interfering with the cars ability to perform its functional role. 
Without the battery the car cannot start the ignition circuit, and it would be sat there until this was remedied. In the latter instance, I was adding a utensil to the drill and changing its functional role. We agreed that by addition or removal of something small we are not changing its identity but what we have done is come round full circle.

We can introduce a range of cases where we take away 1% of the parts all the way to 100% of the parts. Like the Theseus example, when we try to establish an argument about how many components we need to remove before it is no longer a car, we find that any figure is arbitrary and thus we cannot establish any chain of reasoning.

Does this still hold for the drill case though, surely we can simply swap out attachments and change its identity?

Photo by M. Quinn Sweeney

The problem is, we denied earlier that the drill changed its identity when we put different attachments on it. We still wanted to claim it was a drill that's identity was abiding throughout the transitions in to egg whisk and screwdriver. We merely named it by its functional role to make things easier for ourselves at times, but we would want to deny its identity changes.

When we look at our comparison again, it seems clear here that we are trying to have our cake and eat it. Our intuitions seem to be when I am adding parts on to the drill, I am not changing its abiding identity. When I subtract parts from the car I am not changing its abiding identity. 
At some point in our additions or subtractions, we would intuitively say, there must be some point at which it no longer holds its identity, although it admits of controversy in trying to attribute a chain of reasoning for describing this change with our range of cases. 

In both cases, however, we are changing the functional role of the object in question and this seems like a logical candidate in which to attribute identity to.

However, this leads to consequences...

If we try to use a functional role method of identifying, this means that while the mechanic is changing the battery in our earlier example, when a component is removed that means the item fails to realise its functional role and as a consequence, the car is no longer a car.

By opting to choose functional role for attributing identity, we have the consequence that when something loses its functional role, it loses its identity. This would make the attribution of identity unsatisfactory. When the attachment on our drill is changed at a whim, we would also be changing its identity each time. 
This seems deeply counter intuitive even though we admit that we call it a different name depending on its functional role. Identifying with functional role is not something we can adhere to strictly in practice, so we... umm... don't.

As a convenience of language we dispense with the 'broken car' and just call it a car. With the drill, it does not matter too much if we call it screwdriver or drill, we are referring to the same thing. Imagine if something had a slight change and we had to be so pedantic as to refer to its new functional role each time, this would cause a lot of unnecessary use of language.

Do we have concepts for describing the functional role of a car without a battery?

No. None spring to mind, perhaps 'broken' could suffice and usually it does. The way in which we practically avoid this functional role conundrum, is by utilising the same concept and annexing a property, such as “not working”, or “broken” to an object.

Notice here, that our very propensity to do this gives us the notion of the same object persisting as an unchanging entity over time. If we use physical matter, no argument is sufficient to establish when a change in its identity occurs.

If we use functional role to identify things, this provides us a very accurate way of providing an objects identity, although we find many objects undergo various changes as to render their identity non-existent permanently or temporarily. The upshot is that when the cars functional capacity is removed by removing its battery, it necessarily loses its identity.

This would make any identity attribution impractical for human purposes, but what we have done is found a work around solution that allows us to treat this transitivity as the same object that persists over time.

How is this done?

We mix both the concepts of functional role with physical matter. What we actually do is switch between these two modes of identity. In the first instance, I may use the concept car to describe the functional role of a collection of parts configured for a particular purpose. 
When this functional role can no longer be realised, instead of sticking to our rigid conception of identity when I remove the battery, we simply switch to the idea that the physical matter that consists of the bulk of the machine, is actually what constitutes its identity.

With the drill case, our propensity to attribute this identity to physical matter means we can add attachments to the drill and then attribute a new name for its functional role, but still claim the drills identity is abiding.

Essentially, the brain uses a bait and switch method to iron out the inconsistencies in both approaches.
What the brain is really doing behind the scenes is flitting between these two modes of identity and using them in tandem. 
Since both are problematic, we have to switch between the two in order to deceive ourselves in to believing there is a coherence to the world made of identity concepts, which we seem to think translates in to abiding identity over time.

So in our car case, we attribute a functional role to it and when its capacity is diminished, we annex another concept to it such as broken, or we switch to identifying to the physical matter itself. 
With the drill, we are happy to name it by the functional role it is now performing, but the conflict and counter intuitions we had about changing its identity, is simply our propensity to give the drill an abiding identity as an unchanging piece of matter that persists over time, and thus we treat the attachments as augmentations of the drills original identity.

This is just one of the ways in which we are deceiving ourselves about the stability and permanence of the world around us. On the contrary, identity is a useful illusion and it bears testament to the brilliance of the human brain, in that we need to deal with chunk level phenomena and it uses the resemblance of patterns in the world to save us a whole bunch of unnecessary language, processing, and allows us to essentially makes short cuts which make our lives easier on the whole!

So, do we need to get rid of identity, should we need to rid ourselves of this illusion?


That is not the point because it is a very useful illusion.

What we should do is start to investigate how we apply identity to things and start to question the way in which we attribute it. Since we are living through a representational construct that uses identity as a given for our mental map, we can start to pick apart how we are flitting between these modes in our experience. The key really, is start to look at our assumptions and look at the way in which our experience is built.

Just to recap then, we have seen how we attribute identity in the real world and demonstrated how we change between both identifying with temporal-spatial objects as matter, or identifying with the functional role they perform. We have seen that we also annex concepts that appear to give these objects stability as things that persist over time in our experience.

We are starting to see how we attribute these shifting default modes of identity, and demonstrated how it appears to give a a coherence and abiding permanence to the world. We live our lives structured around this idea of permanence and identity provides one of the building materials of the brains mental map. 
However, if we are living purely by this map, we are living a representational construct that is  often incoherent with reality itself. The point is not to eliminate this representational construct altogether, I mean this is part of the glue that holds communication, science, industry, relationships, and society as a whole together.

But to see right through it and see the light of reality illuminating it...

Now, that also has powerful uses too. Once you see how the brain works with these unchallenged generalisations, you will have gone at least a small way in to seeing through the brains mapping process a little and this may give you some traction during the LOOKing process.

To put it simply, before we look we are engaged in generalising and trusting an inaccurate representational map, relying on notions such as identity which seem unquestionable to us. 
When we are looking, we are trying to see through the generalisations that the mind throws up and discard the map to see what really exists. Of course, the how to LOOK part is inexplicable, but trying to see through these patterns and trying to see if they are coherent with reality is on the right track.

By seeing the layers of illusions you are subject to... That is how you start to expose the fiction and start to get those honesty muscles working.

You need to LOOK at the way in which reality is constructed, and that is the right track as opposed to conceptualising about it. This blog post is a conceptualisation but hopefully it will help you to focus on getting some traction in the LOOKing process and give you a shove in the right direction.


Lazy Abe said...

Hey wats up , check this vid out it's interesting. And also I've been tryin out experiment 4, but the question that has been hanging around in my head is "what is this sense of "self" really?"

Gh0$T V1Ru$ said...

Hey Abe, good to hear you have been looking in to it, and are willing to challenge your presuppositions.
The link is broken when I tried but I have watched the video before and it is an interesting idea. I don't think neurotheology is taken too seriously by academia, but it is good to see someone taking the initiative to try and give a reductionist explanation that may be testable one day. The upshot of this is that it undermines the sophists who give enlightenment some kind of divine providence, when it may just be a simple case of the repeated conditioning over time of neural activity.

As for no self playing in to this, it seems that it is more a case of aspect perception and LOOKing from the right angle. No self is simply the clear seeing of what is real and from this point it provides a base line of reality from which honest enquiry is possible.

As for your question "what is this sense of self really?", you might need to question what a sense of anything is. For example what is a sense of direction, a sense of danger, a sense of understanding? I won't give you the answer here, since you need to investigate this honestly, but you should come up with something that requires testing and then smash the crap out of it from every angle.

As for experiment 4, you need to stick it out for a while until it is demonstrated intuitively. A conceptual understanding is not adequate for this, so I recommend trying to make looking a priority until you train the brain to start to become aware. At first, you will simply keep forgetting to do it!

Let me know how you get on


Lazy Abe said...

Thanks Gho$t, I'll get bck to you soon.


M. Quinn Sweeney said...

Hi, glad you like my drill whisk photo. I'd appreciate it if you give proper attribution for my work though. Best,
M. Quinn Sweeney (

Gh0$T V1Ru$ said...

Hi mate, I have given you a link and credit. If you would like me to remove the photo (I will have to dig out my de walt and mock it up instead :) then please contact me.
This might sound weird but have you ever questioned your own existence? How would you justify a legitemate claim of ownership, essentially what is ownership? Can you own a photo? Might sound reasonable on first glance... How about ownership of your actions? Would you have to be separate from the body to have ownership over it? How would you suppose this was possible?

Lazy Abe said...

What's up Gho$t,

I've been sticking with exp 4 and yes a lot of bodily actions are automatic e.g. falling asleep and waking up in the morning, scratching an itch, poking nose, emotions (otherwise nobody would choose to be sad or angry, breathing and many more.
I've also noticed that the "I"(identification) is not there until a thought about it pops up. This happened whilst walking to the bus stop from college.

Exp 4 is really good and i'll keep at it a bit more.

I also tried Exp 3 were i had to punch myself (not literally).

. So sitting there on the couch
. hand forms a fist
. and managed to convince myself that i was gonna punch mein face.
.The body contracts and breathing becomes shallow.
.Thought pops up saying " that fist is going to punch me".

When that thought popped up i was a bit surprised to be honest, it just came out of nowhere. Where's the "me" that is about to get punched? *silence*

If we believe that we are persons, then there's also room for a possibility that we are not persons. People will never know until they look into it.

I hope i havnt gone off scale here :)

kind Regards

Gh0$T V1Ru$ said...

Hi Abe,
Good stuff with Exp. 4, were you surprised about what you found though? It is is rather shocking when you start to look honestly isn't it?!!! Just keep looking and working that honesty dude.

As for experiment 3, the point is really to see the mechanism in place that you have no control over, you can watch the mechanism in action and see that instinct for avoiding injury playing out. I guess it kind of throws up dissonance and you can see the mechanism in action, where the brain overrides the conscious desire.

Sometimes people tell me they hit themselves in the face, but the brain stops the strike having full power! :D It does make me laugh at the apparent absurdity of sitting in a chair and preparing to give yourself a slap, but that is exactly how I came up with the demonstration! I was challenged to do this by an objector, and since I was newly liberated I had to test the limits of it out and I saw the potential of this for looking. The point is not to self harm it is just to focus and see what is going on in experience.

"Where is this me?" has an answer. All it takes is an honest LOOK at real life.

If we believe that we are persons, then there's also room for a possibility that we are not persons. People will never know until they look into it.>>>>>>>>

OK, but what is this "we" then? What is this "we" that believes? You are starting to see that its all an illusion, keep looking :)

Lazy Abe said...

Sup Ghost,

It's been a while and i hope you are doing OK. I've been keeping at the experiments but I've been forgetting a lot. Contemplating on whether "I" exist or not feels weird and a bit scary and I don't feel like going any further. But I'd like to see this through and hope you are still willing to help a brother out, can't this shit around my head it feels strange.

Kind regards.

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