Who are you and who is in charge?

Dialogues (monologues? multilogues?) of the self, with the self, can produce understanding, empathy, congeniality, even love. But these solipsistic conversations can also involve negative emotions---hostility, confusion, hatred, recrimination, resentment, contempt, and the like.

Many a person who believes ze is overweight, for example, experiences inner conflict. Part of the person wants to stick to a diet; another part wants to feast on fast-food. This kind of conflict frequently involves a person arguing with themself, castigating themself for being weak and unable to resist temptation. But how can this be, that a person can be in conflict with themself? To be at war implies plurality. Yet personhood is a singularity. Or so we believe. Or so we are taught and encouraged to believe. But is it true?

In my view, there is no such thing as "the" self or "a" self, singular -- an homogenous, indivisible, fundamental thing. There is no homunculus (little person) in the control room inside your skull behind your eyes. There is no-one in control. Consciousness is an emergent property, a gestalt, an aggregation of multiple dynamic processes and sub-processes, sometimes collaborating, other times opposing. Some of these processes and sub-processes (or modules, if you will) "fly low under the radar", below the threshold of consciousness: we're not even aware of them. Things happen in the mind without the mind's "owner" (?) being consciously or unconsciously aware of them.

Consciousness is not a thing; it does not live at any particular address in or outside of the brain; it cannot be found anywhere in the material world. It is a dynamic gestalt of processes, and it tends to emerge whenever a certain threshold of complexity is reached.

You can't find the place in the brain where consciousness resides, because it is not material and thus does not have a material home in the material domain. But is identity, selfhood, personhood defined by where it lives, it's hardware? I think complexity is more relevant than residence. "Artificial intelligence/awareness", for example, in my view is virtually inevitable in the future, when software will reach the threshhold of complexity that provides the means for consciousness to emerge. But the substrate on which any software runs is irrelevant to the issue of whether the software can be said to be alive, aware or intelligent. Likewise re the thing we call "life". Complexity correlates with life, irrespective of the substrate, whether silicone- or carbon-based, hardware or wetware.

In a real sense, a planet can be alive if not conscious. In fact, I believe that the whole of reality, including but not limited to the material universe, is alive and well and aware and intelligent. But how can a lump of rock be conscious? How can a cloud of dust be conscious? A gestalt-based perspective (the whole is greater than the sum of the parts) can reveal hidden categories. My foot is not smart but that doesn't mean I am not. It depends on what you include and what you don't, in the set theory sense. It depends on where you draw the boundary. The food I ingest is not part of me until digestion is complete, at which point some of the molecules of the food are indeed part of me, or are they? It depends where you draw the boundary. Humans define things all the time. We categorise things. We say, "this is part of that", and "this is not part of that". We are very good at creating definitions of what it means to be a member of this or that particular class or category or set. But we often forget that the definitions we create are arbitrary. We create definitions to serve a particular purpose at a particular moment in time. But the definitions we create are relative not absolute.

Vegetarians for instance will not eat fauna but will eat flora, on the basis that fauna are somehow more worthy than flora, and therefore deserve not to be eaten. Flora are categorised as being members of the set of eatworthy things. Consider a belief-system in which both fauna and flora are off the menu, in which only minerals are eaten on the basis that only stuff that is not alive is eatworthy. Clearly "mineral-arians", vegetarians, vegans, carnivores and omnivores draw the boundary separating the worthy from the non-worthy at very different contours. It all depends on where you draw the boundaries.

The thing we call "intelligent life" can be found on at least one planet in this universe. If she wanted to explain herself the universe might say, "My interstellar dust clouds are not smart, but I am. Intelligent beings reside within me; I am at least as intelligent as the sum of the intelligence of all parts of me."

Consider, for example, a political party. The party produces new policy and modifications to existing policy through a process in which heterogenous factions and sub-factions battle it out or cooperate, as the case may be. The end product is for external consumption by "other" people (members of the public, voters, constituents, journalists, etc).

In similar vein, the self or soul of a person (any conscious, self-aware entity) is an ongoing, dynamic aggregation that manufactures products and services for external consumption (ie "other people"," other selves").


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mgeorge said...

Can Fascism admit that anything other than the puppeteer cabal is intelligent? Remember, "we have been given dominion" over the Earth. The planet is named here only because travel, expoitation and pollution of space had not been envisaged yet. Yes, I have sounded another sour note.

masterymistery said...

Hi mgeorge, thanks for your comment. Good to hear from you again. Notes are only sour to those who don't listen to them with appropriate attention. Perhaps the biggest fascist of all is Jehovah. If that comment offends anyone, I apologise -- to each their own. Cheers, MM