2. Discovering Your 'Self'
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usually thinks when one is grownup that, “I am just myself”, because it
seems so obvious, but I remember as a kid having discussions about where our
‘selves’ are. ‘I’ was
clearly not in my toes or my knees or for that matter anywhere in my body except
for maybe in my head. Those were my
first memories of realizing that the “self” is mysterious.
Learning to accept that you are yourself does not solve the mystery.
It just ignores it while more and more false attributes of whom you are,
are heaped over that original sense of mystery until it no longer seems to be a
mystery. Few people recognize that their own personhood is a mystery.
Fewer still care enough about the mystery to pursue understanding it.
We first need to reveal the mystery of being a ‘self’ before we begin
to explain it. Who are you really
or should I say what are you really?
is not enough in the way of explanation to say that you are this organism, this
body or this thing. Who is it that
is saying that? There are plenty of
organisms that don’t have the capacity to know who they are.
They are instinctual. They
react to conditions in an organic but mechanical way. They are not able to reflect on who they are.
Your dog may be very congenial but it doesn’t stop and reflect on its
self. You don’t expect your dog
to reply to the question of “How are you today?” like you do another person.
So here is the question. Who
are ‘you’ that reflects on yourself and can write up a schedule for yourself
on a daily planner? It is clearly
not enough in the way of explanation to say that it is ‘me’ as if it were
obvious. It is hardly obvious.
We want to know the why, what, how and where of that ‘me’.
vaguely consider ourselves to be singular things. We take for granted that we
exist and can do things such as see, hear, think, know and experience. This implies a relationship with our organism but do we
realize this? We are in the error
of believing that our organisms and ourselves are the same things. We are not aware that each of us is a virtual agent, a
‘self’, that speaks for his or her organism.
To understand ourselves we need to understand this relationship.
relationship with our organism is a different kind of experience than say a rock
has. To be something does not imply
that there is also self-awareness of being something.
There may be something experiential that it is like to be a rock but the
rock does not know what it is like to be a rock. There is an experience that it is like to be our organism but
the experience of being an organism is different than the (virtual) ‘self’
that is aware of it. I think it is
clear that insects have experience such as vision but they don’t know that
they are seeing. Vision is a real
characteristic of their material existence but they have no virtual ‘self’
to know about their experience. Imagine
yourself in a daze in which you are experiencing sights and sounds but your mind
is turned off. Your experiences of
seeing and hearing sounds are happening but you are not aware of them.
When you come out of your dazed state, you take control of yourself
again. The insect is instinctual.
It does not have a self that can lapse into a daze.
There is no ‘one’ to come back.
Sometimes, after you have been in deep thought while driving your car,
you can look back over the experience of the road you have just traveled and
realize that you were on autopilot. You
were in a rote and/or instinctual mode of functioning.
Where were you? How did you
manage to drive?
we know what it is like to be an organism without a ‘self’?
Most all organisms are the sorts without ‘selves’.
They have experiences (at least those with sensory systems) because
experience is a characteristic of the material organism.
They just don’t know that
they are experiencing. Our being
self-aware is a product of knowledge. (Knowledge
is an intangible.) The question
arises here as to what we want to call consciousness.
Do we want to call consciousness tangible experience (such as vision or
sound) or do we want to call consciousness our intangible awareness of that
experience? Experience on the one
hand is a material characteristic of our organism.
Knowledge on the other hand is the intangible contents (information)
found in the specificity of physical relationships in the brain.
Knowledge is at least in part supported by the same brain states that are
experiential. The situation is
this: If we did not have knowledge, then we would not know of our experience and
if there were no experience then we would not experience our knowledge.
I think, therefore, that consciousness must be defined as being this dual
was not my intent in this instance to introduce you to the meaning and
explanation of consciousness. Rather,
I wanted you to learn to separate your ‘self’, which is a specialized kind
of knowledge (and an intangible agent) from the phenomenon of your experience,
which is a tangible characteristic of your material organism so that you see
that your ‘self’ is in a relationship with your organism.
Sometimes it is aware of what you are doing but sometimes its is not. For instance, when you are in a daze or are driving on
autopilot, your ‘self’ is not keeping pace with what you are doing.
This happens more frequently than you may think.
Stop and honestly consider for a moment whether ‘you’ were involved
with determining your present posture, the position of your body, hands, feet
and legs. Did ‘you’ actively
decide to cross your ankles and maybe rest your head on your hand?
This is interesting because if ‘you’ didn’t determine your posture
then who did? That would be the
normal response but there is an error in its perspective.
The ‘self’ and the organism are not the same thing. The insect does not determine its own posture anymore than an
engine runs itself. On the other
hand, your ‘self’ can determine your organism’s posture to some extent but
it usually doesn’t think about it so your organism is left doing the mundane
things on its own.
fact is that your ‘self’ is not usually involved in the minutiae of how you
do things at all. The ‘self’
(along with other functions of the mind that support it) is more involved with
ideas that initiate activities. The
articulation of those ideas at the motor level is managed almost entirely by
rote. The sense that ‘you’ have
that you are your body and are in control of it is a false belief. The ‘self’ is merely tagging the false idea of its
control of your physical behavior to your behavior.
You will find through careful observation that your body is going about
the mundane activities of living mostly without ‘you’.
‘You’ naturally want to be in control or at least ‘you’ want to
believe that ‘you’ are in control of yourself so ‘you’ tack your
‘self’ onto to things that you do (selected things that are important to
your self-image) after they have occurred claiming that ‘you’ did them as if
‘you’ had premeditated them. That
seems like a hard verdict but I assure you it is a fact that you can observe.
the nature of your ‘self’. It
is not in the motor circuits that move your muscles nor is it in the motor
memories that tell your muscles how to move sequentially to perform elaborate
functions. The ‘self’ may be
able to design your activities for the day but it is not the function that
articulates your movements as you write the plan down in your planner. If you understand who ‘you’ are, you should be able to
watch yourself write in your planner almost as if you were watching another
person doing the writing. A
psychiatrist might be horrified by the idea of breaking this identification
between the ‘self’ and the behavior of the organism.
Our ‘selves’ have learned to be responsible for our behavior and it
certainly requires a mature mind to safely deconstruct that identification.
On the other hand, if you want to understand consciousness you will have
to see through this conditioned relationship between the ‘self’ and the
organism because it creates a flawed epistemological perspective.
A flawed perspective makes understanding consciousness difficult if not
impossible. You cannot escape the
confusing bias that a ‘self’ that is not understood creates.
For example, how will you understand that the experience of seeing is a
physical characteristic of your brain as long as you think that you are seeing
the appearance of an object itself? (Sometimes
I will allude to concepts without at the same time fully explaining them.
They will be elaborated more fully elsewhere in the website. This is unavoidable in a multi-dimensional subject such as
this. Your understanding will often
depend on the synchronistic development of the subject’s many facets.
I have done my best to make new ideas easy to assimilate but have no
doubt that understanding will require a lot of correlative review on your part.)
are a mental function (see SELF: From Action Plan to Person) that is filtered
through selected memories. ‘You’
have chosen (probably not consciously) these memories to dress up the function
that creates you. If the function
that is ‘you’ were not dressed up with personality and character, it would
be a ghost (transparent or without character).
The basic function that makes ‘you’ possible is more of what
‘you’ are than how ‘you’ have dressed it up. What we (outsiders, and
even ‘you’) recognize about your ‘self’ is your personality and
character that manifests in your organism’s internal and external behavior.
The function that creates ‘you’ is made apparent by being dressed up
with character and personality.
may be beginning to understand how there are processes that underpin the
experience of our personhood. Certainly,
those processes must explain every aspect of what we experience. The process of understanding one’s ‘self’ is pitted
against one’s own beliefs about one’s ‘self’.
It is no easy task to determine which of these beliefs are true and which
are mere ideas. The function that
makes ‘you’ possible acts through the filter of these beliefs and these
beliefs create your perspective. It
is for these reasons that consciousness is difficult to understand.
These beliefs create a perspective of which 'you’ are not aware.
‘You’ are in your perspective and your perspective is in ‘you’.
Escaping this trap requires challenging everything that ‘you’
are not a cohesive singular being. You
can see this in the problems that people have coping with themselves
emotionally. We each are the
relationship of a virtual agent (our ‘self’) and our organism.
We need to understand the properties of the agent as well as the
properties of the organism to understand ourselves.
The properties of the agent are emergent properties or intangible
affecters (because they are virtual properties).
They do not have a tangible existence but they have tangible effects on
physical events. When you have
understood the relationship of the ‘self’ to the organism, it will change
what it means for ‘you’ to see, experience, know and think. There is much
about your ‘self’ that you have assumed to be true that cannot be true.
we consider things in the world, one of their primary attributes is
discreteness. When we consider a
single object that object is within the boundaries of itself and nothing else is
within those boundaries. There is
never a case where we would think that two whole and spatially separated things
could occupy the same space. This
is a physical limitation of the most fundamental sort that we expect to be true
about everything. I will show you
how we expect it to be true about everything except about ourselves.
it comes to considering our relationship to our environment, we believe that we
see the things around us. What does this mean? This is an idea that is in direct
conflict with the idea that things are discrete.
Does it mean that my sight goes out of my eyes and surrounds the object?
Even if something that preposterous could happen, the object would still
be itself within its own boundaries and what it is could not be mixed with what
my sight is. If instead, we imagine
taking the object and putting it in our heads to see it, then it seems even more
absurd. So what does it mean to say
that I see some object? One of the
things that ‘I’, the virtual agent in me, cannot do is to see an object.
I call seeing is what an object does to me.
My brain receives stimulation via my senses that informs me of an object
and from that information it creates a representation of the object.
The object, as it is represented in my brain, is a discrete, whole and
spatially separated brain thing apart from the object itself, which I say that I
am seeing. The point I am making is
that we can’t be things that are not based in our own organisms; that seeing
is something that is part of my organism. What
is seen is experienced as a brain state. Therefore, a brain state representing a red tomato should
have little in common with the reality of a tomato.
rain waters a garden, the rain is left in the garden.
When a camera takes a picture, the light impression of the object is left
in the photograph by changing the photographic emulsion.
Clearly, when I see an object my sight does not invade the object as
rainwater does the garden. The
object leaves a light impression (though not like a photograph in quality) on my
mind/brain by changing it. But this
is not enough to explain what I believe about seeing.
believe that I am seeing the object. Having
explained how the object is really only a representation in my mind/brain and
that this is in itself the meaning of seeing in my organism does nothing to
explain my belief that I am a separate entity related to the object that I am
seeing. We may have explained how
my organism sees but we haven’t explained why I
believe that I see things where they are in the world that is external to my
organism. You may find that even
though you accept that the object seen is only a representation in your
mind/brain that you still believe that you are seeing it in the same sense of
seeing the object when you believed that it was separate from your organism.
I am saying not to be deceived by thinking that because you understand
the object is a representation in your head that you have now corrected the
error of believing that the object is separated from you.
object is separated from you in a belief
in your mind that is not directly relative to where or how you see an object so
it doesn’t matter if you have understood that the object is a representation
in your mind because you still believe that you are seeing it in your mind.
to imagine the experience of vision in a mindless organism.
What it experiences is not anyone’s experience.
It has no ‘self’ watching itself watch the world.
The light impression of the layout of the environment is mapped on the
neural networks of the organism’s brain and navigation is instinctually
computed to yield motor commands affecting the organism’s physical behavior.
The organism reacts instinctually to the environment.
There is no ‘self’ to feel the stress of decision making.
There is no intermediary agent in the computation process in the way that
our ‘selves’ are involved in what we do.
Its visual experience of the world may be intensely pleasant but ‘it’
is not aware of itself enjoying it. It
may be intensely pleasant nevertheless because it is just what the experience
for the higher primates, most animals that look into a mirror do not see their
images as their ‘selves’. There
is no ‘self’ in the organism to recognize its ‘self’ in the mirror. Our ‘selves’ identify with our reflections in mirrors and
they almost continuously identify with our view of the front facades of our
bodies, as we see them from the corners of our eyes.
The personality and character with which we dress up the function of
‘self’ includes in its mix of ingredients visual memories of our external
images. The ‘self’ always has
some referential data of itself in mind. If
it didn’t, it would be invisible to itself.
But there are times when the ‘self’ is nearly invisible.
is a brain state. It is not
something that ‘you’ do. You
believe that you are related to the object that you see or to the brain’s
representation of the object that you experience.
The belief implies to itself, logically, that if ‘you’ did not exist
then there would be no experience, that ‘you’ are necessary for there to be
experience. Otherwise, who would
know about it? It is quite hard to
imagine experience that someone would not know about because imagining is
knowing. Quite the opposite is
true. ‘You’ are irrelative to
the experience of seeing. It is a
brain state, a material thing whereas ‘you’ are an insubstantial intangible
relationship. The better question
is how do ‘you’ know that ‘you’ are experiencing?
believe that the answer lies in that the intangible quality of knowing is at
least partially formulated in the same place in the brain where the experiential
states are occurring so that a change in the experiential brain state signals a
change in the quality of knowing. Do
not despair if you do not follow this reasoning.
I feel that my assessment here is speculative because it is at the
forward edge of my understanding of intangible affecters.
The problem to be understood is how knowledge, which is intangible can
know about experience which is material. To
further complicate understanding, we cannot think of knowledge as being the
knowing of a knower. There must
only be intangible knowledge of experience without attributing to knowledge the
ability to perform the act of knowing an experience.
How does knowledge come to possess knowledge of something, which it is
not? Just as seeing is not
something that ‘you’ do, in the same way, knowing is not something that
‘you’ do. Seeing is a material
event whereas knowing is an intangible event.
In the case of knowing about experience, there must be a way that the
material event of experience affects the intangible event of knowledge so that
they are at least in synchronization. My
presumption is that the relationships that create knowledge are built, at least
partly, on the circuits that are experiential.
Therefore, experiential activity would manifest intangible activity.
In that way there would be a constant conjunction of the material and the
intangible, of experience and knowledge of experience.
Keep it clearly in mind that knowledge of experience is not experience so
that what we are looking for is the way in which knowledge of experience can be
synchronized to experience. This
discussion went far beyond what should be put in an introductory phase of
explanation about the ‘self’ but it fits here so I hope that you will note
the discussion and come back to it when you have more familiarity with the other
facets of explanation which are consciousness and intangible affecters.
So what are you really? Lets
see if I can give you the idea of what ‘you’ are in a large nutshell.
At the heart of the ‘self’ is a basic function that makes the
‘self’ possible. I explain this in the paper entitled Self: From Action Plan
to Person that is included in this website.
Our brains compute the virtual mechanism that allows the ‘self’ to
form. We don’t really know what
the neural correlates of thought and memory are but nevertheless it is obvious
that we are able to create information, process that information, store,
retrieve and act on it. Information
contained in sensory stimuli is represented in our heads in experiential brain
states. These are our experiences
of vision, sounds, tastes, smells, tactile feelings and emotions.
They are the presentation phase of navigation or what I call the Map.
The environment is mapped in our brain in experiential states. The world
that we are conscious of is this Map. It
is a map upon which navigation can be computed and correlated.
Imagine it being like the map used in a war games room where troop
movements are planned. We are
perceptually aware of the world because it is the way our organism navigates.
The response phase of navigation computes our movements.
In simple organisms, the response phase is rote or instinctual.
The presentation of the environment is related directly to stereotyped
responses. Obviously, these
responses allow some leeway or alteration relative to an objective but there is
no rational process mediating the responses to stimuli represented in the Map.
is relative to the process of mediating the organism’s responses to stimuli
that the ‘self’ enters into the navigation function.
Our behavior is complex and sometimes requires consideration of broad
options. Information about the environment is stored in memory by the brain.
Objects, as they are presented in the Map, are doing things. The brain stores
and remembers what these things do. The
mind is able to recall what something does, then alter the representation of the
functional path of the object and represent the altered path as a potential
motor response to a stimulus from a like object.
For example, if I see an apple fall to the ground while I stand there and
watch, I can alter this memory by imagining (imagining is the same as altering a
memory) that my hand catches the apple. In
the first place, a brain has to have the capacity to recall and alter a memory.
Conjunctively, the event of the specific alteration must occur.
It probably took a long time for the idea of catching something to occur
in evolution. On the other hand,
when one animal sees another animal do something the functional path of that
activity is available in its brain as a memory.
Mothers can train their offspring by this sort of demonstration.
tasks or options get more complex, the problem is retrieval of memories and
complex applications. Lower animals
do not identify their activities as their ‘selves’.
There is nobody inside of them to actively mediate their response.
Their brains are set up to alter responses automatically but the idea of
changing their own responses is not available because there is no ‘self’ to
have the idea.
needs to be the function of a ‘self’ in the brain of an organism in order
for it to mediate its own responses. There
needs to be some ‘one’ to whom the idea occurs that a response can be
altered. That some ‘one’ must
be empowered to imagine an altered response and empowered to affect it. These are the essential characteristics of a ‘self’.
The ‘self’ is a function of the human brain that mediates responses
to the environment. The essential
‘self’ and intelligence are mostly the same function.
They are both based on the operating system that facilitates creating an
action plan (the virtual relationship of an object, its activity and what it
acts upon). Intelligence is the
ability to rationally manipulate the memories of action patterns and the
functional paths of objects to produce new action plans.
The host organism is identified to be important and then intelligence
concentrates on formulating action plans relative to the benefit of the host.
idea of the host being the cause of this manipulation is the seed that
germinates into a ‘self’. The
power to manipulate is identified with the host and in turn the image of the
host is identified with the power to manipulate.
Voila! ‘You’ now exist. Out
of nothing (information) is created something, an intangible agent with the
power to affect tangible events by directing the motor responses of the
organism. The ‘self’ is an information processing structure that
relates itself to its own self thereby creating a ‘self’. ‘I am myself’ but who will now dare to say it seems so
function that makes the ‘self’ possible is transparent until it is dressed
up with characteristics. These are
personality, character and self-image. Most
of what those qualities are is self-evident in the differences of affect that we
see between people we know. The
‘self’ is primarily a function that provides a subject for an action plan.
An action plan must have a subject, which would appropriately be the
organism. This can be the
representation of the body image provided by the external and proprioceptive
senses so that 1. Who the subject is that will act is established (keep in mind
that we can design action plans for others to articulate) and 2.
The facility to accomplish the plan is ascertained (can the organism do
what it is planning to do). Do you
see that an action must have a subject, the subject who will perform its action? The brain is representing a subject, the action that the
subject will perform and the object of that action in a function that will be
used to direct motor responses that will cause the organism to perform the
planned action. The plan is
incomplete without a subject. There
must be a subject to perform the action.
subject only becomes a ‘self’ when it is identified as the one making the
plan. There is no ‘self’ in a
simple action plan. Action plans
form in the brains of most mobile animals.
That is just a fact. Their
subject is a simple body image. There
is no ‘one’ making the plan. It
just occurs. Action planning is a
function that permits the organism to adapt to variable conditions for survival.
This facility is not particularly important to a grazing animal but is
vitally important to a predator who must imagine its assault on its victim.
But in any case, the experience of these animals is not at all like ours.
There is no ‘self’ that believes that it is making the plan.
mental facility for action planning must first exist before a ‘self’ which
springs from the aggregation of the subjects of innumerable action plans can
begin to exist. But once our
‘selves’ exist, we then think that we are the cause of plans.
This belief is true in a way because one plan can instigate the creation
of another plan but only because there is a basic operating system already in
place that permits the formulation of action plans. There is no limit really to the amount of false information
that a mind can create and believe. It
certainly creates a lot of false information about the ‘self’.
The ‘self’ itself is instrumental in creating and perpetuating that
false information. The function of intelligence also derives from the function
of action planning. The ‘self’
interferes with intelligence on account of its being an agent that has an agenda
of its own that can often be in conflict with the best interests of organism.
will go into more detail on the genesis of the ‘self’ in the paper entitled
Self: From Action Plan to Person. What I have presented in this paper is highly abstract
without enough supporting theory. Before
reading Self: From Action Plan to Person it would be appropriate to read the
introductory papers on consciousness and intangible affecters.
These contain essential supporting theory needed to understand the