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All About Me

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All About Me

#1 Post by God » July 20th, 2007, 1:51 am

OK, this thread is all about "me". Not ME, in the personal sense of who is currently writing this, but "me" in the generic sense. I'm referring to the "condition of being subjectively aware". Some will know that I already tackled something like that in another Scottish-based humanist forum. However, there I started with my (then current) theory and I don't recall it as being ultimately very productive. So I'd like to have another go at it, please, and hopefully with a somewhat more open mind.

Bit 1

Subjective awareness does not appear to me to have been dealt with very deeply by philosophers, or at least whatever ideas and conclusions they have come up with have not been as deeply ingrained into the general population as with other subjects. An exception, of course, is the classic phrase from Descartes "I think therefore I am", which recognises the individual's subjective awareness (thought) as being the only fundamental certainty. Even then, as far as I am aware he does not go on to explore the phenomenon itself, but simply uses it as a basic given certainty upon which to base an exploration of the nature of reality; which ultimately leads, as I understand it, to a "proof" of the existence of god. A conclusion which is highly contested today.

The only other one I know of is someone I only learned anything about recently, Maurice Merleau-Ponty (yes whitecraw, from "Mr McGoo") who I understand concludes (approximately) that reality can only be experienced from the unique point of view of the individual, and knowledge of it can never therefore be complete. Which is no doubt interesting, but still has little to say about the actual nature of subjectivity itself.

I am not aware of there having been any in-depth analysis of the origin of subjective awareness. Of course I realise that doesn't mean that none has been done. I am a long long way from academia in my own life, so of course myriads of studies are bound to be in progress of which I am entirely ignorant. On the other hand, it seems to me that in this modern world, things of potential interest to the general public do tend to trickle into the public realm. And what could be of more interest to any member of the general public than an increased amount of knowledge about the nature of her or his own subjective awareness?

The general assumption today seems to be that the condition of subjective awareness is something which has arisen as a product of evolution. The theory I imagine goes something like this. That as life increases in complexity it develops reflexes which serve to enhance the capability to survive; that in time these reflexes in turn develop and evolve into a functioning organ to specialise in such things as finding food, self defence, habitat and so on, ie a brain; which continues to develop in complexity until it ultimately "trips" into subjective awareness, such as experienced by most human beings.

However, I am not aware of there ever having been any attempt to test this theory in any scientific way, or even of there having been any real consideration of any necessity to do so. It seems to me to be something which, contrary to scientific practice in most fields, has just been "assumed to be so". Maybe I'm wrong about that, in which case I shall no doubt be told so.

And indeed, from the Other Place I find the following:
White Craw wrote: I tend towards bundle theory myself; though I came to it through Hume rather than some New Age reading of Buddhist scripture. When Hume introspected, he discovered that he had no experience of any ‘continuing subject’ of the thoughts, feelings, impressions, etc. that constituted ‘his’ experience, but only of those thoughts, feelings, impressions, etc. themselves. He therefore concluded that, on the basis of experience alone, the ‘self’ cannot be said to be a substance that perceives (like Descartes’ ‘mind’), but can only be said to be simply that bundle of perceptions themselves. Radical empiricists later took Hume’s bundle theory of self as their main point of departure in the development of the theory that the basic ‘stuff’ of the universe is neither mind nor matter but experience. The world is just as it appears to be; nothing more, nothing less.
Can this conclusion of David Hume's, regarding the self, be reasonably be paraphrased as "I am what I experience"? And has it been tested and supported by others? Has it been subjected, in any way, to the "scientific method"? And does it bring us any closer to an understanding of what precisely this subjectivity consists?

If that which I perceive to be my self comprises of the bundle of my perceptions then I remain curious as to why they remain "my" perceptions. I am myself, always at this particular centre of being. I accept of course that the actual atoms, cells, and so on which make up the framework for this particular bundle {... but now you see just writing this stuff makes me feel incredibly stoned. And I have to stop.

10-20 mins later.

OK, I went downstairs and watched a bit of a crap movie, and now I'm back to have another go at confronting this particular demon. Plus I have some Cheddars (munchies? My god I really was stoned!)}


I accept of course that the actual atoms, cells, and so on which make up the framework for this particular bundle ("me") have changed, although I continue to experience my self as a centre of perception, and despite Hume (above) that perception appears to be continuous. The "me" that exists now I feel as being the same "me" as when I was a child; I can remember things that happened when I was a child. However, when I specifically try and remember my first conscious memory I find I am unable to do so. It all gets vague. Some things I think I remember, such as watching the heavy rain falling through the french windows, are in all likelihood actually amalgams - not memories of single events but a composite, made up of many similar instants. And the fact of its raining is probably largely because, had it not been so, I would probably not be inside looking through the glass doors at the garden, but out there myself playing in it. Hence, no particular memory of looking out through them at the sunshine, although it is inevitable that I must have done so on occasion.

There is doubt therefore that my memory of what happened to me (whatever "me" is precisely) throughout my life is exactly the same as what actually did happen to me. More than doubt. It really is pretty certain that what I think of as a recollection of past events is actually a kind of mnemonic summary, more sketch than record of what actually happened. Yet it feels so real!

My little experience I had earlier made me think. I have had that kind of thing happen before, when thinking about or talking about this kind of stuff. A sensation very similar to being stoned on hash. How can I describe it? Trance-like, I guess. A kind of "silent buzzing" in the brain, and also a sense of reality drifting; a feeling of being unreal, akin to dreaming perhaps, only different in that one still feels awake. Here it comes again... just a touch that time, stops as soon as I stop typing, but then builds up as I get more and more conscious of my own self-examination.

I suppose something like it is to be expected. If what I am, as I read somewhere recently, is an instance of "nature perceiving itself" then it's pretty likely that any attempt, by me, to analyse that process of perception, is likely ... this is like typing through glue ... likely to get pretty convoluted. A bit like sawing through the branch you are sitting on, I guess. You have to take care to remain on the tree side of the saw cut else ... woops-a-daisy!

Wonder what my blood pressure is right now. 195/140 I shouldn't wonder! Yikes!

Anyway, it is now well gone my bed time so what I'll do is post this for now, and come back to it later. Leaving a question to sleep on:

Why am I this particular bundle though?

Oh yeah, and whitecraw, can I possibly ask a favour? I realise you'll be likely to have something very pertinent to say on the subject matter, but can I ask you, ever so humbly, to hold back for a bit in order to let us poor mortals (this poor mortal in particular) fumble and flounder around for a bit before attempting to haul us (me) out of the mire? I hope you won't mind me asking that of you, but I don't think you will, because you've been pretty understanding so far.

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#2 Post by Titanium Wheels » July 20th, 2007, 9:49 am

Hi there!

I am not so sure that we can get very far with philosophy with this one compared with psychology in which quite a lot is now known about how memory works and how various things are experienced.

Take for example memory. You would like to know what your earliest memory was. Now it helps to know how memory is stored. It seems that it is stored as what yoou might call 'snapshots' which, when you want to remember something requires putting back together to make what one might call a 'film'. When there is something that doesn't quite make sense the brain fills it in which accounts for people having different memories of the same event.

Now think of what it actually is to experience 'now'. What do we mean? Effectively it i somwe total of the sensory inputs of the brain; i.e. vision sounds, smell, skin and joint sensation and so on. All these inputs are combined in the brain to give you the feel on a continuous whole though it probably is rather like a film with discrete pictures sun fast enough to appear continuous. In the 'now' the various sense organs are fully running supplying input for the final picture, whilst in remembering, the sense organs are not active but the parts of the brain the process the various senses are fuly active but working on stored information.

This stuff by the way can be shown using fMRI scanning which shows up the areas of the brain that are active and working. Of course, all of this is just effects produced in the mind, the software of the brain, not the actual cells so that once brian activity ceases at death there are no memories or knowledge.

Finally, I think it is clear that consciousness of 'now' is a bit of an illusion but seems to work quite well, allowing us, as it does, to do things that other animals cannot manage such a language and other cerebral activities like math.
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#3 Post by God » July 20th, 2007, 10:18 am

wheels5894 wrote:Hi there!

I am not so sure that we can get very far with philosophy with this one ...
But we can have some fun trying. Last night for instance I got as high as a kite, just typing. I mean high man - I was floating about like a real furry freak brother. And all I'd ingested was some Appletiser and Tonic. So I intend to continue along this potentially fruitless line of enquiry for a while yet, if only to take advantage of any other buzzes which I might find there. With caution, naturally.
wheels5894 also wrote:Finally, I think it is clear that consciousness of 'now' is a bit of an illusion but seems to work quite well, allowing us, as it does, to do things that other animals cannot manage such a language and other cerebral activities like math.
Yeah, but if there's an illusion then there's something experiencing that illusion. I guess it is that "ultimate experiencer" which I am attempting to pin down.

It's like what they say about cricket ('though I don't get it myself): "It matters not who wins or loses, only how you play the game". It's fun folks!

But right now this particular "experiencer" has to go and experience some mundane financial power production. C U later.

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#4 Post by God » July 24th, 2007, 1:15 am

If one accepts the premiss that what I am (what the generic "me" is) is a bundles of perceptions, then why am I this particular bundle? Why am I not Maria, or Leonardo di Caprio, or anyone else, come to that? Don't misunderstand - I'm not complaining. I enjoy being me. Very much so, I may say. What I am is puzzled. Why am I this particular bundle of perceptions?

It's a difficult one this. Obviously, if there is going to be subjective awareness, then it has to be both subjective and aware. Which means that each instance of subject awareness has to be an individual subjectively aware entity. Which is what I am. My subjectivity is centred upon a specific and contiguously variable sample of matter, commencing at one particular point in space and time and (presumably) destined to end at another such point.

The condition of my subjectivity is akin to a little story I was once told about a woodcutter's axe. As a child, Merlin was walking through the forest meditating upon the nature of objects when he encountered a woodcutter who was sitting on a stump oiling his axe. "That is a very fine looking axe" Merlin commented, and the woodcutter showed it to him with some pride.

"How did you come by it?" asked the boy, and the man told him. "I inherited it from my father." he said. "It originally belonged to my great great grandfather, and has been passed to me down through the generations."

"It is in very good condition for such an old axe." observed Merlin, "It must have been well looked after."

"Oh yes, very much so." said the woodcutter. "And of course the head has been replaced at least twice and the shaft probably a dozen times".

"Remarkable." said the boy and went on his way, musing while he continued his stroll: "Every bit of it has been changed a number of times, yet somehow it undeniably remains the very same axe."

So it is with the self. While the atoms, molecules and cells of the individual's body change over time (some say that a person's body is completely replenished every seven years) the actual subjective identity of the individual appears to remain intact throughout the individual life.

Since the substance of one's self therefore changes over time, how is it that the identity of that self is nevertheless seemingly locked into its particular set of continuous material conditions? No matter hard we may try (and according to some psychologists, as I understand it, the urge to try is extremely strong) it seems we can never completely merge, let alone exchange, with any other such self. And even if we could do so, the fact would still remain of the individual's particular focus within the context of the material environment.

Ooh - it is a puzzle.

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#5 Post by Titanium Wheels » July 25th, 2007, 9:11 am

OK, God, where do you suppose is the bit that is you; the bit that could not be anyone else? We have established that the body and all its cells change regularly so it can't be something physical, r could it. Let's leave axes and move on to something less scary.....

I have a program on computer called DigDug. It is a very simple game requiring the players character going round collecting various things whilst no getting killed. When I got m y first computer, a primitive Amstrad one, I got hold of the game and my 6 year old son loved it. later, I bought a 465 machine and guess what, the game ran beautifully but on completely different hard ware and software. Today, it still runs on my machine which is dual core and running 64 bit Vista and my original machine has long gone.

The moral? Well you and i are recognised by others by three things, our looks, our voice and the way we express our thoughts. how do these remain basically the same...

Our looks are at least to some extent defined in our DNA and, once adult, cells the die are replaced and adopt the same configuration as the old ones leaving appearance the same.

Our voice is the subject of all sort of things but to a large extent the anatomy of the chest, throat, sinuses and mouth. These don't change that mush as above

Thoughts? What are thoughts and how do we have them? Well, look at a brain - it's just like a gray jelly with various marks and shapes but no sign of a thought. (Mind you, my computer's processor is no better.) What we end up being is the patterns of messages passed through the various neurons, in vast numbers that make up the brain. Their pattern of firing and the connections each one makes forms what we know as our mind - where we have our thoughts which are simply collections of firing neurons. On the whole, Neurons don't get replaced so their connections, once formed remain stable and provide, by their firing our thoughts, our memories and anything else you have in mind.

So there is the answer to where the 'you' is and why it doesn change over time.

[As a footnote, researchers have discovered that sometime brain cells are grown in adults and some work here may help in treatment of some diseases.]
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#6 Post by God » July 25th, 2007, 9:47 am

It's a theory. But it doesn't work for me. There feels to be more to subjectivity that a mere "pattern of messages". Who's receiving them?

I'm thinking more along the lines of a dimension. That each subjective awarenes is an aspect of a subjective dimension.

Alongside other dimensions in the space-time continuum.

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