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IEET > Rights > Neuroethics > Personhood > Life > Innovation > Vision > Futurism > Staff > Hank Pellissier

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“The Self” in the Future: Will it be Extinguished, by Neuroscience?


Hank Pellissier
By Hank Pellissier
Ethical Technology

Posted: May 16, 2012

Will “the self” survive because it can provide people with a greater sense of happiness? Or is it - perhaps along with the constructs “Free Will” and “Determinism” - doomed to the dustbin of history? Should cyborgs, avatars, and a rewired human brain be developed with a stronger or weaker sense of self? An interview with Dr. Garret Merriam, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at University of Southern Indiana.

This interview was conducted via email, in early May 2012.

Hank Pellissier: My understanding is that the notion of the “self” was rather “invented” by the Greeks; then it faded until it was brought back during the Age of Enlightenment - is this correct?  Does this mean that the notion of the self is primarily a European idea?

Garret Merriam I think that while there is some truth to that, it’s also an oversimplification. There is something like ‘the self’ that transcends cultures; even in prehistoric China people realized there was a difference between their being hit over the head with a stone axe and their neighbor being hit over the head with a stone axe. That basic sense of ‘self vs. other’ is neurologically hardwired and is not unique to humans; other primates, cetaceans, elephants, some bird species, octopi, and dozens if not hundreds of other species exhibit it, so it cannot be a cultural artifact.

But there is a more sophisticated sense of the term ‘self’ that is built upon that more basic sense that does seem to be a cultural creation. When we think about a written biography, an account of a person’s whole life, character, personality and accomplishments as belonging to/constituting this single unified thing that we also call ‘the self’? That has a distinctly Greek texture to it. It is this sense of self that’s the controversial one, and what I think most philosophers mean when they debate the nature of ‘the self’ (and how I’ll be using the term from here on out.)

Ancient literature in other cultures—Egyptian, Hindu, Chinese, etc.—that predate classical Greece don’t seem to emphasize the significance of the individual ego in the way the Greeks did. It isn’t wholly absent in these other cultures, but a rather arrogant Eurocentric bias blinded scholars to it’s presence in these cultures for some time. But the did Greeks focus on it more, develop it more, make it a more explicit and central part of their thinking on human nature. And while it did fade away during the Middle Ages, it never fully disappeared. (Stories from the high Middle Ages, like The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales, while not as ‘self’ centered as the plays of Sophocles, nonetheless have well developed characters that reflect their author’s sense of ‘self.’)

It came back like gangbusters in the Renaissance, with the invention of the personal essay (Michele de Montaigne) and later, in the Enlightenment with the development of the modern biography (Samuel Johnson). It reached it’s apogee with the Romantics (early 19th century) and started to crumble thanks to the work of Sigmund Freud by the turn of the 20th. The existentialists made a go at resurrecting it again, in the mid-20th century, but it’s hard to say how well they succeeded, and inasmuch as they did, their notion of ‘self’ is pretty far removed from what the Greeks or the Romantics thought of as ‘the self.’

Hank Pellissier: In your opinion, is the future going to be an era where philosophy and psychology gets increasing influenced by new neuroscience knowledge?  In 50 years, will the notion that we have a “self” be outdated?  In 100 years, will the idea that we have a self, free will, and self-determination, be entirely laughable?  

Garret Merriam: I definitely think philosophy—like nearly everything else about culture—will become deeply influenced by developments in neuroscience. I doubt it will be COMPLETELY saturated; you will still be able to do philosophy without mastering neuroscience. But much in the same way that psychology became something of a parallel discipline to philosophy in the 20th century, and most philosophers took the psychology literature very seriously in their own work, the same will be true of neuroscience in the 21st.

I’m more hesitant about the idea that neuroscience will kill the idea of ‘the self.’ I think it might be a good thing if it did, but some ideas are recalcitrant and just won’t go gently into that good night, and I suspect that ‘the self’ will be one of them (it has so far, in spite of thinkers like Freud.) The notion of ‘self’ will transform, as it always has in times of great cultural upheaval, and mold itself to the new contours of the culture, but I bet we’ll still be talking about ‘the self’, at least in our unguarded vernacular, 100 years from now. After all, we still talk about ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’, even though we’ve known for nearly 500 years that it’s not the sun that’s moving, it’s the earth.

“Free will” may prove equally recalcitrant (it certainly has despite powerful philosophical arguments against it), but I personally have an ambition to help send it to the dust bin of history. I think both the notion of ‘free will’ as well as it’s presumed default of ‘determinism’ are both useless concepts and I have high hopes that neuroscience will be able to eliminate them in favor concepts that can do a much better job of explaining human action. My recent research has been focusing on this.

Hank Pellissier: Are humans happier with the notion that we have a self?  Is that why the notion was constructed?  Happier with everything that accompanies the notion of a self, i.e., identity, individualism, alienation, “self-awareness”, personal growth, contemplation of the self, etc.? Are we really happy with all that, or would we be happier with regarding ourself in strictly neurological terms?

Garret Merriam: I don’t think the notion of ‘self’ was a deliberate creation, so it would be wrong to say it was constructed in order to make us happy, or for any other conscious purpose. That having been said, there is a fair amount of empirical evidence, principally from positive psychology and social psychology, that suggest that people with a strong ‘sense of self’, a healthy ego, are happier than people without it.

Cross culturally, there is a key balance between what you might call a ‘radical individualism’ (in which the individual is the only thing that matters) and ‘radical collectivism’ (in which the community is the only thing that matters. Happiness seems to happen most when you’re somewhere in the middle; you have strong community ties with good social capital, but a high premium is placed on individual rights and liberties. That is, cultures that have a healthy sense of self are happier, but when that is taken to an extreme you get what the sociologist Emile Durkheim called ‘anomie’—a breakdown of social belonging and cultural identity. When that happens, people are just as miserable (but in different ways) as when they live under the thumb of a dictator.

How neuroscience will impact this is a complicated question, and I think it will depend a lot on how we as a culture mange the use and direction of neuroscientific research. Ideally, positive psychology will fuse with neuroscience (as it already seems to be doing, at least in a preliminary way). That will make the increase of human well-being one the central goals of neuroscience in the 21st century. This will require a deep understanding of the sources of human flourishing, not simply medicating us until we stop asking troubling questions.

Suffice to say, I think it would be very peculiar indeed if neuroscience told us both that in order to live happy lives we have to have this very specific notion of ‘self’, while at the same time disproving the existence of such a ‘self.’ That’s not to say it won’t happen, but it would be ironic, tragic and just highly unlikely. Why would evolution produce such a tragic species as that, that so crucially depending on this rather culturally specific notion of ‘self’? It’s certainly not an adaptive trait, so it would have to be a side-effect of some kind. If so, then perhaps we could use neuroscience to correct for it.

But here of course is where the nightmare scenarios start to creep in. Once neuroscience starts tinkering around with those deep aspects of human nature, such as our (alleged) need for sense of self, where does it end? We may end up in a Brave New World where we don’t just jettison the things that inhibit our flourishing, but we also jettison the things that make us who we are. And if who we are is valuable, worth preserving, then neuroscience may become a threat our very existence.

I don’t think there is any easy answer to problems such as these. But I am sure that the best way to position ourselves to find the answers is through neurophilosophy, by studying the developments in neuroscience and bringing them to bear on these kinds of traditional philosophical problems.

Hank Pellissier: This next question is rather far-out.  The question is, if humans decided that it was more “fun” to have a “self” would it be possible to rewire the human brain, in any possible self, so that the notion of a SELF made more sense?  Would it be possible to construct a cyborg, for example, that actually did have a self?  Would that cyborg be at an advantage over humans, in terms of less doubt, stronger sense of identity, clearer goals?

Garret Merriam: Like I said in response to the last question, I imagine any engineering would likely work the other way: enhance human well-being by making us less dependent on such philosophically and scientifically dubious notions as ‘the self.’ But in principle it should be possible to work it the other way around. Whatever exactly the ‘sense of self’ is (assuming the ‘sense’ is real, even if the ‘self’ is not) it must manifest in the brain somehow, hence we should be able to measure it, manipulate it and control it.

In practice, however, I doubt it will work that cleanly. ‘Sense of self’ is not a specific thing, like levels of serotonin or norepinephrine. It’s some kind of emergent property, and those are notoriously difficult to pin down and dissect. I think by the time we have enough technical facility to get our hands around something like that our conceptual apparatus will have changed drastically and we won’t be nearly as invested in our notion of ‘self’ as we think about it today.

Hank Pellissier: Here’s a (set of) questions—looking 200 years into the future, and imagining numerous different scenarios of advanced civilizations, what percentage of these possible advanced civilizations do you see as having: 1) No Self at all, no regard for the notion of Self, just seeing as an antiquated notion. 2) Same sense of Self as Earth today, general popular belief in it, except among scholars and neuro-intellectuals. 3) 100% Belief in a Self, either through some type of enhancement, or mind-file feature, or cyborg overthrow, or redefinition of the term.

Garret Merriam: 200 years out is a very long time-horizon. It’s hard to grasp how many turns of the screw that is in terms of scientific advancement. I’m about as confident in any prediction that far out as I would have been in Socrates’ predictions about the year 2000. That having been said, I don’t think that should prevent us from trying, so long as we take our predictions with a large block of salt.

As such, I actually don’t think any of these three is terribly likely. (1) & (2) both seem ruled out by historical patterns; our notion of self always changes with the culture, and given how many cultural changes we’re going to experience in the next 200 years it’s highly unlikely that our we’ll have THE SAME notion of self. But by the same token, some notion of self has stuck around, in spite of these big upheavals, so I doubt it will be completely eliminated, either.

(3) seems like the most plausible of the options because there is some reason to think that a sense of self does make us live better, so enhancing that would make sense. However I think the very process of pursuing that kind of enhancement would change our understanding of what self is, so I don’t think “100% belief in the self” would be a terribly accurate description. It will mean something pretty different. I’d call it something more like ‘Self 2.0’ (or rather 5.0, or 10.0, or even larger, depending on how you parse the history.)

Hank Pellissier: Do you think the notion of the “Self” is a wishful-thinking fantasy, a desire for something positive that doesn’t exist?  Do you see it as misinterpretation of how the brain works? Do you think “the self” has desirable qualities that future advanced civilizations will seek to incorporate into new minds?

Garret Merriam: I think ‘misinterpretation of how the brain works’ is probably it. We’ve known since Freud that we’re not terribly good at understanding what’s going on for us through simple introspection, and the ‘evidence’ (such as it is) for ‘self’ seems pretty much entirely from introspection. As I’ve said, there does seem to be some positive value
in it, but I suspect we’ll figure out a way to keep that value without holding on to this particular concept—we can take the cake out of the box, as it were.


Dr. Garret Merriam was previously interviewed by Kristi Scott in an IEET article entitled, “Transhumanism and Neurophilosophy.”


Hank Pellissier was IEET’s Managing Director on January-October in 2012, and an IEET Affiliate Scholar. He’s the author of two e-books, Invent Utopia Now and Why is the IQ of Ashkenazi Jews so High? He is currently at BrighterBrains.org
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COMMENTS


The vast majority of us would agree that Man, with her neo-cortex, occupies the top rung of the evolutionary ladder, and self-awareness is the current end-product, i.e. minerals are (dead..) matter, plants = minerals + life, - animals = plants + consciousness, and Man is all that + self-awareness.

Given then, that self-awareness is the jewel of evolution, it would seem strange that some of us have become homunculus-phobic, and that anyone in their right minds would come to think of the Self as a problem.. However, it may not be self-awareness as such that is the jewel of evolution, but our intellectual capacity to examine and question the nature of our(selves). We discover, through introspection, that the Self is nowhere to be found, and may come to the conclusion that it is most likely an illusion, a useful illusion up to a certain point perhaps, e.g. how would our immune-system function without a “sense” of self and other.., but as we become ever more aware, and empathetic.. – (well.. I think we do..) – we experience a growing desire to break free of our solitary confinement, our narcissism, our anthropomorphism…

What has been termed the “Modernist Agenda”, sees the Self as the central unit of description and explanation, - an isolated nuclei of consciousness locked in the head, and correspondingly, the goal of modern psychotherapy has been to enhance the experience of the observing self, discriminating it from the contents of the mind.

Not so in postmodernism / social constructivism, which, in the words of Kenneth Gergen, could lead to “a conjoint reality of far more promising potential”, provided we succeed in losing the self”..

As a student of psychology, I read the following somewhere and wrote it down:
“..something revolutionary has happened: the self, so essential to post-war political and religious ideology, has been discarded by official social science. This is an unwanted consequence of the new physics. A robot-like intelligence is to replace the self. This is a hard product to sell; it just doesn’t have sex appeal. The self could be associated with passionate, even religious feelings, but this robot brain leaves us cold”…

My own preference would be some synthesis of the Modernist Agenda and postmodernism, which is to say.. I wish to transcend / evolve the Self, but in order to do so, I value my current / old self, even if fictive, as an essential tool.

What do I imagine lies ahead ? – I believe there will be a slow transition from carbon-based life / selves to.. I don’t know what. The self will survive and evolve, - neuroscience may convince us that there is no ghost in the machine, - that it is a mental construct, not physical hardware, but ironically, it is this same insight that could also make us realize that we are also, perhaps.. the universe broken apart in the illusion of separateness..

In “The Universe Story”, Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry writes:

“The eye that searches the Milky Way galaxy is itself an eye shaped by the Milky Way. The mind that searches for contact with the Milky Way is the very mind of the Milky Way galaxy in search of its own depths”

Perhaps, then, the answer to the age-old question:  “If there is no self, who becomes enlightened” ? is: The Universe itself, but I / You are part and parcel thereof.





@ Joern Pallensen

That is some very insightful stuff.  More people should read what you just said.





I find studying neurology, even lightly, very illuminating. Learning how our brains were developed, how we “think” and how we attach our consciousness to a “self” - is very reassuring to me, quite a bit like meditation.

In the future, I think it would be great if we could actually, precisely see how other people see the world. If we could see the world through multiple “selves” - that would, I imagine, deeply diminish our personal attachment to the “self” that we have constructed for our own individual use.

We want, it seems, to both lose ourselves and strengthen our selves. It would be great if the future provided easier options to do both, flipping from one to the other. Drugs, I suppose. There is grim contented ego-gratification in feeling a singular lonely isolated individualism, even if it a bit masochistic, and there’s also rapture in losing all self-consciousness, just flowing with activity around oneself, with our internal dialogue shut off.  I’d like though, to get exactly the feeling I want when I want it.





There seems to be a lot of emphasis in the interview on the extent to which the “self” may be cultural, which to my mind is unfortunate to the extent that our concept of self, while indeed partly cultural, is to a large extent the result of natural psychological processes. I certainly think it has been massively bolstered by the emergence of language, since language allows us to go through the cognitive gymnastics required to maintain a robust sense of self, but beyond that my hunch is that the effect of culture is much less important than the basic psychological processes of memory formation, goal-setting and the twin desires to maintain homeostasis and give both to someone or something, i.e. leave a legacy. I doubt there is much variation across cultures with regard to these essentials.

What is also missing, and in my opinion this is the huge big elephant in the blogosphere, is any serious consideration of how these (largely) innate psychological processes will be affected once the bandwidth of connection between individual brains starts to massively exceed the current capacity of communication via our five senses (primarily the optic nerve). Once the technology is there it is difficult to see how this will not happen, and it is equally difficult to see how individual autonomy will be maintained.

For example we like to talk about mind uploading. What we know about uploaded files is that they can be merged, copied, deleted, combined in myriad ways such that you can’t really say this file started out as X and then evolved: it is the temporary result of an emergent, distributed process.

I heard a talk at TEDx Brussels last November suggesting that corporations are the new species. I think this is about right, and not only ecause they have acquired human rights in the US. Robust identities will emerge, but they will no longer be tied to specific human bodies.

And this is a challenge for me, because I still want to be around in 50 years time. But who or what precisely is the future “I” that the present “I” still wants to be around then? In the case of anti-ageing technology and protection of the identity that is currently tied to my own individual brain against corrupting influences from outside, the answer is clear (though I’d like my mind to be backed up from time to time as insurance against accidents). If instead my identity gets merged and combined with myriad other identities to create something new, as happens in the corporate world already today, then the answer is much less clear, and I begin to wonder why the present “I” should care.





In the first para it should be “give birth”, not “give both”.





I agree with Peter that the sense of self is primarily physiological, what appears to change with culture is the level of importance given to defining and maintaining that separate self. There are many cultures in which community is more important than self and there are many rituals and disciplines to aid in the weakening of self to the good of community.

Group events such as rock concerts or sports events produce a loss of self as people get caught up in cheering or singing along. Tragic events such as 9/11 or the Challenger explosion also broke people out of self mode.

One line in the interview caught my eye:

“Why would evolution produce such a tragic species as that, that so crucially depending on this rather culturally specific notion of ‘self’?”

Why not? Evolution is not conscious. There are plenty of tragedies in the course of our planet’s biological story. The appearance of algae that utilized the energy of the sun to form CO2 into sugar and oxygen committed unwitting genocide of the vast majority of anaerobic organisms for whom oxygen was poisonous. In fact the course of evolution is one of the use of tragedy to weed out the weak, or at least the inflexible.

Perhaps through the pain that the self inflicts on the self and the world we will evolve to a better way of interfacing with the world.





@Alex
I agree that the importance attached to defining and maintaining a separate self varies across culture, and that various rituals and disciplines aim explicitly at weakening the self to the good of community.

How effective they are, though, is another matter. The Christian concept of self-denial is an obvious place to start our analysis; dissolution or denial of the self is also an important concept in Buddhism. I think some monks probably do a reasonably good job at at least achieving moments of transcendence, but then as you say traumatic collective events such as 9/11 or the Challenger, or indeed positive ones such as a football match, can have a similar effect, but without all the verbiage.

I guess the most extreme form of dissolution of self occurs in fundamentalist religious cults, and they therefore make a particularly interesting object of analysis. Yet my hunch is that in reality, even in those cults, the individual sense of self is still very much alive, except - and this is a crucial distinction that is relevant also in the context of George Dvorsky’s article - for those on the boundaries who are getting their individual selves fragmented as they are assimilated into the group. This is what George referred to as cognitive dissonance. It’s not that the individual self disappears, but it fragments, with the aspects of self not in accordance with the group’s beliefs and values being suppressed. Others may be perfectly happy and comfortable in the cult, being largely unaware of the outside world. What gives the community its cohesion is the alignment of individuals’ sense of self-hood, not their lack of it.

This has important implications. For example, a Christian who preaches self-denial may associate the world “self” mainly with the kind of worldly desire that he has been taught (and is teaching others) to suppress, while in reality having an extremely robust sense of self in relationship to God and the community. Conversely, traditional American values are deeply individualistic in their rhetoric and role-models, yet in reality, as Francis Fukuyama has pointed out, Americans are some of the world’s most avid joiners, and readily form in-group loyalties in which their individual self may appear subordinated to (but in reality has become aligned with) the needs of the groups.

By contrast, once the bandwidth of connection between individual brains significantly exceeds our current biological limits, we will achieve levels of transcendence and dissolution of self that today’s Tibetan monks can only dream of. And I agree that the pain that the self inflicts on the self - that is to say our dissatisfaction with the status quo and prospects - will be the vehicle for change, though whether this will lead to “a better way of interfacing with the world” is far from clear. More likely it will lead to a world that is so totally unlike our present one that our current ideas of “better” or “worse” become completely obsolete.





I think we should try to see things from a more concrete perspective for a moment.

The most obvious notion of individual identity is NOT an illusion (unless we consider everything else illusory as well). Each one of us have a heap of living cells, all with the same DNA (more or less), packed together and squeezed inside a skin bag. Also the skin has that same DNA, by the way. All these cells display voluntary and involuntary movements, according to specific biological functions - meant to maximize reproductive efficiency.

You cannot miss to identify a person. This is not an illusion. And well - quite obviously - what happens to one organism does not necessarily bother another organism. This is a very general principles, and includes bacteria too. Two organisms have two identities. They are two, separated entities. Often - very often - one organism do to other organisms extremely unpleasant things, things that it would not want others to do to itself. A predator likes to eat, but typically does not want to be eaten. Does this stop its predatory desires? Apparently, the notion of self is not such an illusion, once we get out there, in the wild.

The only way we can get rid of this individual identity is - by letting different bacterial colonies and invertebrates eat us, piece by piece. It is called - decomposition. And this is something almost everyone tries to avoid. Death is exactly this - the decomposition of our individual identity. Salvation is - literally - the preservation of this individual identity (thanks to a benevolent God, or a benevolent cryo-therapist, or a benevolent mind-uploader). Most people want to be saved. That is why certain religions, including transhumanism, are so appealing. We want to preserve ourselves, individually - a not mixed together with a myriad of other structures in some kind of mental soup.





@André

The notion of individual identity that you describe is consistent (if somewhat simplified) until the last few sentences, when it suddenly lurches from a purely biological organism-based notion to the more psychological notions we have been discussion. A bacterium does not have a sense of self. We may find it convenient to regard it as an individual for the duration of its lifetime as a single organsim, but it just does what it does without any kind of awareness, and therefore without any notion of self. Self-consciousness emerges in higher primates, and perhaps dolphins and whales, but it is a different thing to biological identity. And mind-uploading, just like the “salvation” imagined by traditional religions, is quite irrelevant in the context of this biological notion of identity. I will cease to exist as a biological organism when my body dies, irrespective of what happens to my mind.

The question is, how useful is this biological conception of identity for the purposes of our discussion? You say that we want to preserve ourselves individually, and not “mixed together with a myriad of other structures in some kind of mental soup”, but in reality we have conflicting desires: the desire to maintain homeostatic, yes, but also the desire to lose ourselves, to merge, to transcend. In some the former is more dominant, on others the latter. Depends whether you’re on ecstasy or caffeine.

To the extent that we do seek immortality, and thus wish to prevent the destruction of our identity, it is important to be clear what is the nature of this identity. If we go with your biological definition, then anti-ageing technology and/or cryogenics are the only choices. Mind uploading is as irrelevant as going to church. But if we ever do manage to upload a human mind, and perhaps download it to another body (biological or not), you can be sure that this person will not accept your biological definition of identity. And if two people, lovers perhaps, decide at some point in the future to connect their brains with technology providing bandwidth vastly greater than the optic nerve, such that they can access each other’s memories directly and thus lose any sense of separate psychological identities, then I suspect they will not find such a definition of identity particularly convincing either. You are able to confuse biological and psychological identity only because, thus far, individual brains reside in single human bodies and are only weakly connected with each other. This will change.





“Depends whether you’re on ecstasy or caffeine” - LOL !

That is GREAT humour, Peter, - and at the same time it is perhaps also a profound statement..

The subject of conscious experience is mind-boggling, and I’d love to comment on what you’ve all been saying, but I’ve been busy following my son’s chessgames live over the internet, plus of course, in case you don’t know, the World Chess Championship is also under way. Oh, and come to think of it, the US Chess Championship is also being played these days, - in case any of you are interested. All this requires a lot of caffeine..

As for now then, allow me to entertain you with my compilation of dictums about the ontological status of the Self, and corresponding interpretations, which I wrote a couple of years ago.

“Communicamus, – ergo sum”.. ( Social constructivism ) = Self is fictive

“Cogito, – ergo sum”.. ( Dualism ) = Self is a reality

You think = You are attached.., – therefore you are NOT !  ( Budhism ) = Self is fictive

I suffer.., – got the “Bell’s theorem blues”.. *,  – therefore I am..
( Quantum Entanglement /dis-Entanglement.. ) = Self is - maybe - real

There is a “Ghost in the Machine“.. , – therefore..  ( Schizophrenic.. ? ) = Split / fragmented Self is - maybe - real

There is a “Ghost BEYOND the Machine”.., – therefore..  ( Idealism / dualism ) = Self is real, - and Universal perhaps…

“It” (the brain) binds, – therefore I am.. ( Neuro-scientific ) = Self is fictive
“It” interprets, – therefore I am..  (Neuro-scientific) = Self is fictive        

I’ve got a virtual,  second life *– therefore I am..
( Escapism.. ? / “Kurzweil-ian”.. ) = Self is fictive (up until this point in time…)

I’ve been computer-modelled, – therefore I am..
( Transhumanistic / Blue Brain ) = Self is fictive (up until…

According to Immanuel Kant, the Self, or “something = X”, is “a necessary, transcendental point of reference“. It is ontologically real, but “completely ungraspable, as well as in-experiencable“..

Kant also observes, that this paradox “mocks and torments even the wisest of men“..  -  and THEREFORE I / WE..  { ; – ) 

* Bell’s Theorem Blues: http://www2.cruzio.com/~quanta/bell2.html
* Second Life: http://secondlife.com/





@Peter

I have to warn you, I am going to be a little harsh in my following reply. I am honestly sympathetic with your attitude and with the spirit behind your words. You should know this by now. And of course I profoundly respect your beliefs and your expectations regarding transcendence. Just, that very same respect makes me also think that I should be frank with you. So, please allow me a certain degree of expressiveness here.

“The notion of individual identity that you describe [...] suddenly lurches from a purely biological organism-based notion to the more psychological notions we have been discussing.”
This makes me think that - after so many years, Descartes is still making so many intellectual damages. There is no psychological identity as something distinct from physiological identity. It is just a metaphor - and a very confusing one too. There is no Psyche beyond your body. Period. Your cells are not tied together by a mysterious, ethereal structure. So, in the best hypothesis, we were indeed discussing about the same thing. In the worse hypothesis, you are talking about ghosts.

“A bacterium does not have a sense of self.”
I have never said that. Any single bacterium has obviously a self, you can identify its limits easily each time. I do not know about its awareness. But since we are at it - I might add that I really do not know whether or not you have a sense of self too. And this is not just a solipsist challenge. It is about the very nature of awareness, which cannot possibly be objectified.

“Self-consciousness emerges in higher primates, and perhaps dolphins and whales, but it is a different thing to biological identity.”
And, prey tell, how did you come up with that list? Did you have philosophical conversations with many beasts, and only apes and marine mammals seemed aware enough? I hope you do realize that your list is absolutely arbitrary and you have no proof whatsoever for your statement. Were you referring to those experiments involving self-recognition before a mirror? - or to the capacity of certain primates to deceive intentionally their social partners in sophisticated ways, implying somehow a conceptual knowledge of their own individual social image? How can you say that somehow - certain behavioral patterns suggest that a spiritual parasite must have overtaken the previous biological, mechanical identity? Where is the connection? Where is the emergent criterion? How can “res cogitans” interact with “res extensa”? This is where Descartes lost his battle.

“The question is, how useful is this biological conception of identity for the purposes of our discussion?”
It depends on whether you just want to enjoy the illusion of transcendence, or you want to do something concrete about it. And, sorry, but the only way to transcend your physical identity - is give way to crows, worms, and bacteria. You need to die to transcend your individuality. Sure, you still can try lysergic acid, Lilly’s bathtube, or whatever - you can indeed get mystic feelings of oneness, cosmic unity. But, it is just drugs. You are fooling your brain. Is it this what we want? Smoke and mirrors?
There is a rather eloquent passage from an Italian philosopher (who blew his brains out in his young days) Carlo Michelstaedter. He lamented that, no matter what, he just could not get rid of his individuality. Even if he merged to the ocean, even if he drowned himself. It will still be his individual form progressively expressing itself in destruction. Only after that form is gone - fusion and unity will be possible. But a fusion of what? At that point there would be already no substrate for transcendence.

“If we go with your biological definition, then anti-ageing technology and/or cryogenics are the only choices.”
Yes, you smoked me out. Immortal organisms already exist. So, this is something - at least theoretically - possible.

“And if two people, lovers perhaps, decide at some point in the future to connect their brains with technology providing bandwidth vastly greater than the optic nerve, such that they can access each other’s memories directly and thus lose any sense of separate psychological identities, then I suspect they will not find such a definition of identity particularly convincing either. “
This is Descartes again doing damages, combined with more modern metaphors. Your brain is not a hard disk. Your self is not a software, or a dimensionless ghost, pulling your strings from within. Your memories are not just there to be read, like files and folders, or photos albums. These mechanisms are so much more complex, mutually interactive, every individual brain displays such uniqueness in its functionality and plasticity - that is absolutely impossible to use another brain as a sensory device. No matter how thick are the nerves we solder into each other. What you said is so far from our physical possibilities that any religious, colorful myth looks comparably more realistic. It is really not different from Eckhart’s mystic poetry. You often ask about usefulness. So, what’s the use of such fantasies?

I am not confusing biology and psychology. I am just pointing out that we have a large event horizon here, when we speak about the self. And it is very easy to tell fantastic stories and chase ghosts. Transcending individuality is not a thing of the future. It is something we have been doing since the beginning of life on earth. It takes very little. And we call it - dying. What we should do instead, I believe, is to focus on the implications of realistic changes, with a clear ethical vision in mind. And, why not, a little hope for a brighter tomorrow.





@André

Did I say there is a Psyche beyond my body, or that my cells are held together by a mysterious ethereal structure? No. But I’m genuinely curious to know why you dismiss so categorically the idea that psychological identity is something separate from physiological identity. To me it is patently obvious. When I am asleep my psychological identity temporarily ceases to exist, but my physiological identity doesn’t. My psychological identity is a story I tell myself, a simplifying fiction, that helps give meant to my life and is part of the natural functioning of a healthy human brain when immersed in a sophisticated language-based civilisation. My physiological identity is something that you can observe directly, as we observe that of a bacterium; my psychological identity is something you deduce from the stories I tell you about myself. They are two very different things.

I’m less surprised by your dismissal of mind uploading as a halfway realistic technology, because this is a deeply controversial subject and there are plenty of good reasons to be sceptical. Obviously you are not a believer in strong AI. I’ll let you battle that one out with Giulio et al!

Re higher primates and whales, I understand that such animals display evidence of having a sense of self, that is to say an ability to conceive of themselves as distinct from the outside world. It’s something that comes with cognitive sophistication. Basically we know roughly what is going on inside a human brain when people display evidence of awareness (such as telling us that they are aware). Of course it is perfectly possible to design a robot to tell us it is aware, but in the case of other humans we assume that when they tell us they are aware they are, because that is how we behave ourselves. This is how science works: we discern patterns, we extrapolate, we make simplifying assumptions.

Otherwise you are like the mathematician in the joke about the astronomer, the physicist and the mathematician travelling through Scotland. They see a black sheep in a field, and the astronomer says, “Look, the sheep in Scotland are black.” The physicist says, “No, we only know that this particular sheep is black.” And the mathematician says, “No, we only know that half of this particular sheep is black.”





@Peter
First of all, thanks for that joke about black sheep. It is quite of a pearl. I will use it, a lot, to punish my guests in the near future.

Now, let us get to the juicy bit.
“When I am asleep my psychological identity temporarily ceases to exist, but my physiological identity doesn’t.”
Your psychological identity does not cease to exist while you are asleep. Not only your brain is quite active during sleep, also you have a lot of interesting experiences - just typically you do not remember them. It is really not so different from getting stinking drunk - you do many things, you speak, walk, interact with people, and then - poof - the next morning, you do not remember a thing. Does it mean that drunks have no psychological identity? There are many phases of sleep, and during most of them you still have a sensory relation with the environment, you fantasize, dream, sometimes think, or move yourself. Your mental life is till there, just in a more confused state, less connected with your memory systems. Yes, there is the so called “stage N2 - NREM sleep” in which your body actively seek to isolate itself from the surroundings. In that phase, I suppose, we all do not perceive, visualize, or think anything at all. But, on the other hand, all these phases are very entangled together, they alternate and blur in sequence. So, I might agree with your statement about the temporary suspension of psychological existence - only if I reduce the notion of “psychological identity” to the notion of “vigilant, rationalizing psychological identity”. But that would be very limiting. We would be basically dismissing as irrelevant a good 30% (but probably much more) of our mental life like that.

I cannot observe your psychological identity. The funny thing is that - even you cannot observe your own psychological identity. Introspection is the most misleading of all practices. You simply cannot objectify the very subject of your experiences - without transforming it into something else. I will make you a simple example. Close your eyes, and think about a red cow. Then open them again. Now, can you really say that you “saw” a red cow? With which eyes? To which detail? In the past philosophers and psychologists used to say that such visions are fainter visual perceptions. But, is it really like that? How can you have a dig a faint impression of something you have never even seen?

“My psychological identity is a story I tell myself [...]” I might agree with this statement, somehow. But then, how can you say that it ceases during sleep? Fictional entities do not cease to exist. They never existed in the first place. And, of course, fictional properties cannot be attributed to men, whales, apes, or bugs too. So, let us try to make sense here.

You seemed to criticize my reductionist approach, but - at the same time - you admit that psychological identity is a literary fiction. Something is not right here. Is it a very useful fiction - like the one about an invisible, old man in the sky who watches you 24/7? Something tells me that you, as any other living being on this planet, have a quite clear idea of your psychological instantaneous identity. That is not a fiction. It is just the physiology of perceptions, conceptualizations, and linguistic processes. It is there, you know it. Descartes knew it too. Just he thought, wrongly, that such perspective structure could be separated from how brute matter operates.





André—

I suspect you are right in saying that Descartes “thought, wrongly,
that such perspective structure could be separated from how brute matter
operates”.

However, as I’ve suggested earlier, it is this same “insight” that allows us to view the mind /Self as somehow an integral part of our brains / bodies, and, in fact, could lead to a demystification of the Mind / Brain-body problem.

Question is, then, is the self / mind an ontological reality, or is it “nothing but” a (fictive) construct of past and current experiences, culture, etc.
If we consider how neurons interconnect,  it turns out that there is more to this than experience-dependant “plasticity”. Henry Markram and his Blue Brain Project team have discovered how small clusters of neurons interconnect independent of experience, and that “some of our fundamental representations or basic knowledge is inscribed in our genes” 

In other words: We have innate knowledge.

Markram suggests that “this could explain why we all share similar perceptions of physical reality, while our memories reflect our individual experience”, - but why not think big: Could such innate knowledge also contain “representations” / building blocks of the Self.. – Question is, where should we draw the line between innate and “psychological” Self ? – and the HARD question is: What proof do we have that consciousness / Minds / Selves are not a fundamental property of matter that “emerges”, perhaps, with sufficient complexity ?

For the sake of argument, let’s assume Selves are – basically – a property of matter, - does it not follow then, that the Self is not a fiction, in the same way that, say, electricity, is not a fiction..

I dunno.. , this may sound like New Age woo-woo to you, and perhaps it is, but I wish someone could explain to me in a convincing way why the Self is not a property of matter.. , not to speak of vice-verse..

Apropos electricity.. :  one or more theories of consciousness propose that “consciousness results when a brain produces an electromagnetic field”.





It is interesting that in all the discussion about band-width and where the ‘self’ resides that we miss the point that there are already many situations in which we lose our individuality and become a part of a larger whole, though admittedly neither permanently or completely. As I said at large events, but also in riots and in personal combat. In ecstasy whether it is in listening to music or watching a storm at sea. I wonder if what we are evolving to become will be more of a group mind such as a flight of swallows where we experience both free will and the connection to the community.





@Alex
We haven’t missed the point that there are already many situations in which we lose our individuality and become part of a larger whole. Scroll up. But as you say, this kind of “transcendence” is neither permanent nor complete. Nothing like it. For me, it is the band-width issue that is the elephant in the room. If we want to understand (and prepare for) the future that’s what we have to get to grips with. The rest is detail.

@André
Given that I don’t remember all this mental activity while I sleep, why should I not dismiss it as irrelevant to my identity?

Regarding stories, there are fictional stories and non-fictional stories. Fictional stories are made up, a work of the imagination, inspired by real events but with no intention of actually describing or explaining them. Non-fictional stories do attempt to describe or explain. They are necessarily simplifications, but that does not make them fictive.

You may be right to criticise the idea that my psychological identity ceases to exist when I sleep, but not because of the mental activity, not because it is a fiction. Better to say that it is disactivated. That is to say, the processes by which I maintain a sense of self, of psychological identity, do not function effectively when I am asleep.

To be honest I may have been conflating psychological identity itself and the process by which we create out psychological identity. The psychological identity is, according to the terminology I am using (which may possibly be idiosyncratic), the (non-fictional) story we tell ourselves about ourselves. Just as fictional entities cannot “cease to exist”, one could indeed say neither does this non-fictional story. But the process by which we create and maintain it ceases to operate when we sleep. It is maintained in homeostasis,  as the hard disk of a computer is maintained in homeostasis when it is shut down. And when we die, it is destroyed. Parts of the story itself may live on in various forms, but the complete story, with all those memories…you may not like me to say it ceases to exist, but if all copies (printed and digital) of the works of Shakespeare were to cease to exist and all people who knew them by heart were dead or had had their memory erased, could they be said to still exist?

Now if you have followed me this far, we can now consider again in this light how “biological (or physiological) identity” fits into all this. In a sense it is still a story. The physiological identity of a bacterium is still a story we tell ourselves about it. But it is not self-identity.the bacterium is not describing itself. But then am I really describing myself when I describe my physiological identity? Am I my physiological identity? Of course I can use the word “I” to refer to my physiological identity if you want, but then should this “I” incident my past and future selves or not? And why should I necessarily make this choice? What is clear is that there is some kind of psychological process going on in my brain that is causing me to type these words, and it would be inconsistent with common usage to use “I” to refer to anything that didn’t include at least that process. But frankly it could be anything Fromm the process itself to the entire universe. Up to now it has tended to be more or less aligned with our physiological identity, including past and future, but with certain features regarded as salient highlighted and others entirely forgotten. And once those bandwidth issues are upon us, I think this is going to change massively.

Already we have people like Giulio refusing to include their bodies in their sense of self. And he’s not wrong to do so. He is just making what for many of us might seem an unusual and unnatural choice. But then we used to think that sleeping with people of the same sex was unusual and unnatural, but now we know better (some of us at least).





I hope this topic is not being over thought/analyzed.





Christian, what are you afraid might happen if it is? smile

(That’s actually a serious question, as well as a light-hearted remark.)





@ Joern
“If we consider how neurons interconnect,  it turns out that there is more to this than experience-dependant “plasticity”.”
I agree absolutely. Evolution is all about innate knowledge. There was one thing Darwin said that always fascinated me - even if it is frankly trivial. It was the idea that coconuts trees (like all other lifeforms, anyway) seem to know in advance the characteristics of their environment even before germinating. They “know” that they will have to navigate for some time on the ocean. Trees seems to be pretty stupid. Yet, somehow, evolution carved this knowledge into their very wood, into their seeds.
Now if seeds carry innate knowledge of the world outside, I suppose that is quite prudent to assume that also large parts of ourselves, brains included, have the same feature.
I agree also with your unifying approach. As I said, I am a reductionist, but this does not mean that I consider ideas as “brain juices”, or mere illusions. I am more inclined to see “selves” as inherent to lifeforms only. Pieces of matter that do not relate adaptively to the environment cannot have a spiritual individuality. But unicellular little beasts should. Just to clarify my position here, I tend to subscribe Jakob von Uexküll’s theories about Umwelt. Of course we are talking about quite complex issues, for centuries philosophers have tried to analyze this. Yet, I think it is rather useful to keep certain theoretical premises
1) minds cannot migrate from one substrate to another (in other words, Descartes’ dualism does not work, and metempsychosis does not exist);
2) minds cannot but be dependent on material physic-chemical arrangements (our minds they are not supernatural ghosts);
3) minds are private spaces by definition and cannot be objectified or analyzed, even by introspection (any analysis of the human mind, no matter how detailed, cannot be scientific).
These of course are only my ideas. But I have quite a few reasons to support them.

@Peter
“Given that I don’t remember all this mental activity while I sleep, why should I not dismiss it as irrelevant to my identity?” Not really. Many things that your explicit, long-term memory does not retain have a huge impact on your rational psychological structure. Many events that you experienced when you were a toddler shaped your development, and your contemporary mind. Now you do not remember anything - but can we really say that they were irrelevant to your identity?

“That is to say, the processes by which I maintain a sense of self, of psychological identity, do not function effectively when I am asleep.”

I agree absolutely with this. It is not your “self” that vanishes sometimes, but it is your perception of it. It is very important to stress this point. And this is why an amoeba have a “self” but probably does not have any sense of this very “self”. All lifeforms must have a sense of their external environment (they would die soon, otherwise), but not necessarily a sense of their own individuality. Our memory system is the only structure that keeps us together as one historical unit. Only here I agree with you about the idea of “self” as some kind of biography. This is why destroying all your memories is functionally equivalent to (mental) death. When you remember something you saw long ago, you do not just go and take a look to that something, from a dusty corner of your hippocampus. When you remember something - you rather revive yourself looking to that something. Your brain reactivates its own perceptions - but we are talking about its own, perspective perceptions. Your individuality is already involved in that memory. You do not remember an object. But a subject seeing an object. Another brain would not even be able to relate to these memories at all. This is why I am so categorical about individuality and reductionism.

I wrote the comment mostly because I do not think that neuro-science will split our identity in many pieces in the future. Since years Changeux is repeating that our brain functions like a parliament, where neurons agree or disagree with each other, vote issues, and our unifying self arises a product of this complex interaction of countless individual agents. Does this change anything at the psychological level for anyone? You know, it’s a bit like saying that you cannot put a glass of the table because their atoms contain so much empty spaces that the glass would probably merge into the table and fall. My point is that we cannot get rid of our individual self without getting rid of ... ourselves, at the same time. It is not a matter of bandwidth. In your metaphor - it would be like trying to connect two hard disks from two separate computers, using two separate operating systems, while the files are already opened by softwares on both ends. You just cannot do it, even if you plug a great, gold-plated, super-isolated, fire-wire cable. It would not work with these two computers. Imagine to try this with two biological substrates.





@André re “My point is that we cannot get rid of our individual self
without getting rid of ... ourselves, at the same time. It is not a matter
of bandwidth. In your metaphor - it would be like trying to connect two hard
disks from two separate computers, using two separate operating systems,
while the files are already opened by softwares on both ends. You just
cannot do it, even if you plug a great, gold-plated, super-isolated,
fire-wire cable. It would not work with these two computers. Imagine to try
this with two biological substrates.”

This is a good point, but it does not convince me. The technical challenges are formidable, yes, and PERHAPS they will turn out to be insurmountable, either for the reasons you provide or others. But my guess is that even if a real merging of identity into a new common identity proves infeasible, we will at least be able to achieve direct communication between brains that are sufficient to severely compromise individual identity.

Earlier in this thread I mentioned the example of religious cults. And emphasised the relatively superficial sense in which individual identity is subsumed or repressed - or, as I put it more correctly, _fragmented_ - into a communal whole. Yet the very fact that you can do this to the extent you can with just words, the auditory canal, and whatever other sensual (including visual) information is brought to bear, suggests that with technology we will be able to take brainwashing to new and more infamous lows. This is not something about which we can afford a shred of complacency.





I agree - psychological manipulations, brainwashing, and weakening of individual prerogatives are great risks. While I am, theoretically, skeptical about the transcendence of mental individuality - illusory transcendence can be a very dangerous weapon. A typical mantra of oppressive political structures is - you are worthless as an individual, join our team, something bigger than you, and you will be better off. Very dangerous memes, indeed.

As I said elsewhere to Giulio, I have practical approach. I think mind uplading is infeasible - but, hey, I would like to try it, if someone, one day, will come up with something similar.

Our senses make us transcend our individuality already, somehow. They relate our structure to the rest of the environment. The limit of this transcendence is that - to exist and function properly the individual subject must be there. So it is a transcendence that needs you not to transcend too much, you still have to be the center of your perceptions - otherwise… no perceptions at all. Our brains are already already interconnected and communicating. Language is the trick, together with our body semiotics. And it is already very complicated to get each other’s words right. Imagine more personal biotic signals, from the depths of our brains.





Quite so…..with increasing bandwidth will come increasing possibilities for miscommunication smile





The whole issue of self and body is simplified if you realize that our bodies are the illusion, not our selves. Matter is just energy and information, so we too are just energy and information. The self is the awareness of the top level of information.





Alex, I think it was probably Einstein who said that one should make things as simp,e as possible, but not simpler.

The debates on this blog are supposed to bring enlightenment, not false simplicity. Funny how both the Christians commenting on is thread appear to be afraid of complexity. What belief are you afraid might be undermined by considering the arguments more seriously?





Peter, I am stating a scientific point of view, not religious. At the quantum level there is only energy and information, quarks are defined by the direction of spin and their position. String theory as far as I understand it is also about information in the world.

My point was that if we spend too much time fussy about the body we miss the reality that it is the information that is important. You mention the problem of bandwidth quite rightly, because the amount of bandwidth that will be necessary to manage the kind of information load to share in the way that we are talking here will be several orders of magnitude above anything that we have now.

If we have a “self” it means that we have a particular package of information about who we believe ourselves to be. Right now that self is firmly attached to the bodies we wear, but it doesn’t need to stay that way. The more we learn about how we work in neuroscience the more we learn that what we “are” is a great deal about how we process information and how the energy of the processing is caught by the scanning technology.

I am not a non-materialist because I’m a Christian, I’m a non-materialist because of my understanding of science.





Alex, I didn’t say you were a non-materialist because you were a Christian. I said, in response to your suggestion that regarding our bodies as an illusion would make things simpler, that we should not try to make things simpler than they actually are. Of course we always do, but in this case I think we can do better than “the body is an illusion”.

Will respond to your comment on the “post-atheism” thread before commenting further here. The discussion here is not about religion, but I like to know who it is I am conversing with.





Actually Peter, you pretty much did say that my non-materialist view came from my Christian faith. You then generalized about Christians and simplistic thinking, then wondered about what part of my faith was threatened. If you don’t agree with something I say, it is useless to try to attribute it to my faith so you can brush it aside as religious nonsense. If “the body is an illusion” is too simplistic for you, state that without the religious crap that you added in.

Stating that we are energy and information is not reductionist nor simplistic. Perhaps the comment about self being awareness of the top levels is a little simplistic. The fact of the matter is that discussion about self is about how we perceive, process and utilize information. The material body is just the conduit for that. That isn’t to say that we can easy get rid of the body, but I will argue that the body isn’t as important as we want it to be.





“Actually Peter, you pretty much did say that my non-materialist view came from my Christian faith.”
Nope, didn’t.

“You then generalized about Christians and simplistic thinking, then wondered about what part of my faith was threatened.”
I pointed out a pattern I had observed on this thread. I did wonder which part of your faith was threatened. Still do.

“If you don’t agree with something I say, it is useless to try to attribute it to my faith so you can brush it aside as religious nonsense.”
That’s not what I am trying to do Alex. See my response on the post-atheism thread. I don’t say that the comments you post here are religious nonsense, but I do suspect that your wish to over-simplify things may be related to your faith. Sorry, but I have a right to my suspicions.

“If “the body is an illusion” is too simplistic for you, state that without the religious crap that you added in.”
Now, now! See above regarding my motivations. Yes, saying the body is an illusion is (way) too simplistic for me, and more importantly it’s simplistic in a not very insightful way. We do have to simplify things, obvious, but we should try at least to make our simplifications insightful. In fact it’s probably more accurate to say that “the body is an illusion” is totally wrong.

“The fact of the matter is that discussion about self is about how we perceive, process and utilize information.”
I don’t think it’s anywhere near that clear-cut. There are many ways to define self. That’s the whole point of the debate I’ve been having with André.

“The material body is just the conduit for that.”
Conduit or illusion? Can’t have it both ways. And what is “just” doing in this sentence? It plays that role, yes. Are you seriously says that’s ALL it is?

“That isn’t to say that we can easy get rid of the body, but I will argue that the body isn’t as important as we want it to be.”
Who wants it to be important, Alex? And what makes you think that “importance” is a matter of scientific or moral truth? The body is precisely as important as we want it to be.

Just as you don’t have to jump in to defend religion ever time someone criticises it, I don’t have to jump in every time one of your comments irritates me. I know. Perhaps things will get better once we’ve managed to give IEET some (more) clarity, focus, purpose and direction.





Both the original article and the extended discussion of it are interesting indeed.

I will, however, throw in one small suggestion. To wit, that “self” may be something that transhumans/posthumans simply won’t think much about. In a small piece of my own on a related topic, that of identity (http://hplusmagazine.com/2012/05/10/call-me-ishmael-or-not-the-identity-crisis-and-transhumanism/) I argue that there are concepts which seem vitally important to us but which will seem mildly laughable to our successors.

I wonder if “self” and “non-self” won’t fall into that category.





@VictorS
I can only agree with you, and that’s a funny story about your tequila-swilling acquaintance! If the self indeed disappears, then it is difficult to see why anyone or anything will be agonising over it. You don’t regret your life when you are dead. It’s the transition that causes distress.

That being said, just as we don’t passively accept death just because we know we won’t mind being dead, so I’m not willing to passively accept the dissolution of self. I still want to be around in that weird and wonderful future, and for that there has to be a clearly distinguishable “I” to be around.





@Alex
“Matter is just energy and information, so we too are just energy and information.”
Alex, while I usually support your arguments about the importance of religion, this time I have to criticize your statements.

What you say is not just a oversimplification - it is wrong. You cannot employ scientific concepts to refute materialism. Science cannot but be materialistic. Concepts like energy, mass, spin, electric charge have been introduced to understand, explain, and predict physical phenomena, not spiritual ones. Between the many theoretical premises behind the notion of energy, for example, there is this one - physical objects are real. If physical objects were illusory, the notion of energy loses any significance. You cannot refute the very premises of science, with your bizarre interpretation of a few, scattered scientific statements.
Logically speaking you are doing a “category mistake”. It is like saying - tables are illusory - they are just pieces of woods packed together. Tables are real, physical objects are very real. And you know it yourself. I presume you would not feel safe to jump from a roof, or to put your head inside a fireplace. Those “illusions”, as you call them, would pretty switch your spiritual reality off. If you were so sure about the illusory nature of physical objects, you would behave very differently (and very recklessly). This is why I do not flee before a photo of a tiger - I know it is just an illusion. Do you similarly ignore precipices, knives, and such? I guess (and hope) not.

@VictorS
Nice piece, thanks for posting the link. Next time someone throws a postmodernist stereotype at you, you can revenge with an archaic, chauvinistic stereotype in return. You will see some amusing fireworks.
However, I cannot agree with your point - essentially for the reasons I stated above. This communal existence, this reciprocal merging - already exist in nature. And we call it death. Your individual form merges into a number of other other, interconnected, and interrelating forms. It is not fun.
I noticed, in particular, your definition of possible posthuman - “a collection of coupled bodies and brains”. Well, brains ARE parts of our bodies, you should remember this. The more we know about our physiology, the more this quasi-Cartesian dualist approach reveals its limits. If you allow me a joke - a collection of coupled bodies and brains is a ghastly sausage - is not something I want to be.

@Peter
“I still want to be around in that weird and wonderful future, and for that there has to be a clearly distinguishable “I” to be around.”
I could not have said it better. I am with 100% on this. Basically we can say that we merged our brains on this issue.





@André smile smile





Andre E=MC2 (that’s squared)





@Alex

We are all rather familiar with that equation (I suspected you had that in mind when you wrote the statements I criticized). First of all, MASS (the M in Einstein’s equation) is not MATTER, the two concepts are not synonyms. MASS and ENERGY are both properties of matter. But, I concede that mass is traditionally important property of matter, and, for many reasons, most people do not distinguish the two ideas. Let us play a little game. I can rewrite that very same equation like this :

M = E/(C^2) (i.e. : squared)
And now, I say that energy is just an illusion, a mere variable in the definition of mass, something that exist only in relation to masses.

And how about this one:
C = 2^√(E/M) (i.e. : square root)

It seems that the speed of light is just an illusion. The square root of the relation between energy and mass. Without matter, without energy and masses, there is no speed of light - therefore, total darkness. Who could have thought that you needed matter to see the light? (this last one is a highly religious thought)

So, please, let us not take scientific concepts out of their context and their genesis. Do you know why that equation is so well-known? Because it predicted how much energy a nuclear fission could produce. In other words, it foretold how much damage you could do by throwing a 10k pounds bomb, filled with U-235, on Japanese civilians. Not really a spiritual issue. Unless we consider incinerating masses of people as a liberation of their spirits - or their energy, I do not know.





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