Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Is self just a faulty cognitive pattern?

Hey folks, this one is a little verbose and technical but it is a reply to a question posed by Canis Philos. In this discussion we were talking about faulty patterns of cognitions and it became clear that really we are talking about beliefs. This is a WIP but there are some interesting consequences of the reasoning here.

>>Do you see the belief in the existence of an 'I' as a faulty pattern then?>>

No, I see it as a faulty belief.

Firstly, lets look at this question correctly. I think the pigeonhole you are trying to impose here is very ambiguous and it is due to the way you are using the word 'pattern'. It appears that you are not stipulating what this pattern is comprised of, however, we can certainly point to a couple of ideas that may illuminate my position.

In my system there is no "I", since the word refers to nothing tangible. It is merely a pronoun that some believe has real semantic meaning, over and above its functional role in linguistics. There is no "I", we need to be crystal clear about this.

Now, from this position we can infer that a belief in something that does not exist, is simply delusion. If I hold a BELIEF "unicorns are real", is this a faulty pattern of thinking?

It is only a faulty belief. We would have to provide an independent justification of WHY the content of this pattern is faulty.

Is a belief in a self a faulty pattern? No, it is a FAULTY BELIEF for the reason being that it entails the belief in something that does not exist. We would have to provide an independent justification of WHY the content of this pattern is faulty.

Now if we extrapolate this belief and furnish our unicorn scenario with a multitude of ideas we can start to look at cognitive patterns. Let us suppose that there is a unicorn sanctuary over yonder hill, and then let us furnish this idea with meadows, unicorns shitting golden poo, a complex system of activities to keep the unicorns entertained and deluxe stables with extra comfy hay. They are friends with all sorts of pixies, elves, toadstools and there is loads of other really C00L shit there to keep them occupied.

What we have done is taken a simple object of our fancy and multiplied it in to a complex idea. Again, we will try and attribute your criteria to this. Is it a faulty pattern?

No, again it is only faulty IN SO FAR AS IT IS BELIEVED TO BE REAL.

Now, we could look at the uses of the pattern of thinking involved in the unicorn sanctuary. I could paint a picture of this unicorn sanctuary and sell it at Sotherbys auction house for £1,000,000. I could also write a best selling children's novel, or create a range of toys for Hasbro.

Would it make sense to say this pattern of the unicorn sanctuary itself is faulty?


Is it coherent with reality?

Obviously not, since unicorns do not exist.

Ideas themselves, or cognitions organised in such and such a pattern are not necessarily 'faulty', even those of the extreme fancy.

What is the criterion of a faulty cognitive pattern then?

Should we follow this chain of reasoning to its end, any fair enquirer should conclude this distinction is necessarily arbitrary, and thus no chain of reasoning is sufficient to establish the validity of any such criterion.

Let us contrast the psychopath who keeps thinking about murdering someone. Is the content faulty in his thinking? We would like to say yes here, but then I ask “Upon what foundation do you establish such a judgement?”

It is clear that any attempt to impose 'faulty patterns' on to someone else is simply arbitrary, and is coloured by ones perception of societal 'norms'.

Is the psychopath's thinking coherent with reality?

To us we would want to answer no. However, the psychopath may be disposed to see everything as a threat, and thus it is his biological disposition to believe that he must act upon these thoughts.
Is his thinking flawed though?
In the given circumstances, we can only arbitrarily determine that this is faulty thinking, however, it may be determined by his biological disposition. It is apparent then, that any such endeavour to determine what faulty thinking actually is, can only be reliant on our beliefs about the world and the way "we" perceive things.

The reality is that the content of our thoughts is driven by a neural mechanism that may or may not be "faulty". To which we would then have to define a "normal" working mechanism. Thus it would be incumbent on one to demonstrate a valid chain of reasoning to define normal and it is in vain that one should attempt this.

Thus we can draw the following conclusions:
  1. Thought itself is either coherent with reality or not.
  2. Even thought that is incoherent with reality may ultimately constitute intentional states that ultimately have value to an organism.
  3. One cannot provide criteria for deciding which of these states are faulty, since it is merely arbitrary.
  4. Therefore, the only arbiter of any such content can be its coherence with reality, and we must look to the beliefs we hold about the content, rather than claim the content itself is faulty.

Thus it makes sense to say that belief in something that does not exist is faulty, therefore the belief in an "I" is a faulty belief.

But it makes no sense to say that thinking patterns, when conceived in this way, are in themselves faulty since we have no standard by which to say what is normal. The patterns that make up the self, the story, and all that it entails is simply content. Are we to say that the contents of our thoughts is faulty?

Is it a flaw that thoughts about oneself as an entity in the world arise?

No, we have no standard with which to determine whether this is the case.

Does the BELIEF in the reality of such thoughts constitute a flaw? Yes, because believing in something that does not exist is, NECESSARILY, delusion by its very definition.

Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that patterns are faulty only in so far as they are incoherent with reality, or believed to be true. Even then, these thoughts still may provide some value to an organism, so any such attempt to provide some kind of measure of what content constitutes 'faulty' is merely subjective, and thus no objective matter of fact can be established.

However, if one can look honestly at such patterns and deem that they are not suitable for determining their life course, it is clear that they can be challenged. Only each brain knows the right course of action for its best prospects. Notice that this does not require a self in any way.

The upshot is that any attempt to determine which are faulty patterns is completely subjective but this simply becomes do you desire to use:
a) Reality as the arbiter of whether said pattern is faulty?
b) Delusion as the arbiter of whether said pattern is faulty?

The brain reading this may now attempt to use free will to make a decision...

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