Saturday, October 18, 2008

maybe humans just swap out their thinking selves?

In the previous entry I questioned how much humans actually apply thought to their behavior. "First Person Plural", over at the Atlantic, offers another paradigm: humans switch between multiple selves that think differently. This very concept is reminiscent of I am a Strange Loop, which stated that the brain's many networked nodes commonly can and do house more than a solitary strange loop, which is the book's definition of a consciousness.

As I wrote previously in my response to the book, in my opinion the unitary self is an abstraction. It's a construct or a narrative. However, unlike the article I'm disinclined to replace the individual-self with a crowd-self, which to me seems like yet another helpful but ultimately imprecise metaphor for the reality within the functioning brain.

Instead of imagining a pair of rational and irrational selves, or the article's mention of the iconic angel and devil selves on one's shoulders, I imagine ephemeral electric storms competing to light up the brain. The brain's state is in constant flux. Observing our own brain state through the slim (censored) window of consciousness or others' through interpretation of their behavior, we categorize those states as selves. One self might be grumpy. A second, bashful. A third, happy. So these selves are no more than frames of reference for sets of associated behaviors. If a person's impatient self taps fingers or feet, then is tapping a habitual action performed by the impatient self or is tapping part of what defines the person's impatient self? It should be kept in mind that all of these supposed selves are exhibited by the same person.

Moreover, it then makes little sense to argue that all these selves are dormant or continually fighting for control. The described inner conflicts and the swapping out of selves are analogies for when some previously idle brain regions start firing more energetically. For instance, the tendency to suddenly start concocting inventive excuses when the time comes to carry out a presently unpleasant long-term plan isn't truly the substitution of one self for another. Perhaps nor is it the person reverting to a natural state of nonthinking, as I wondered in the previous entry. It's a concrete and immediate experience of displeasure galvanizing reactionary thoughts more strongly than the intellectually pictured goal.

In short, differing circumstances activate differing portions of the brain. Someone who has associated inappropriate actions with anger, maybe for many years, will have those actions prompted by anger and therefore appear to have a momentary angry self who acts differently than is typical. Since we are humans who are aware of our awe-inspiring capacity to store and retrieve a range of attitudes and impulses and reflexes, we should accept responsibility for them and attempt to mold them. Dividing up oneself into simplistic good and bad sides, then identifying with the good and striving against the bad is a faulty approach. There is only you, more specifically your brain and the networks and strange loops residing inside it, to blame for what you do. The road to freedom is taking charge of, exerting control over, your own brain.


  1. You should look at 'Ego State Therapy' -

  2. This is completely retarded and wrong. You are blatantly abusing the word "self" to mean "set of behaviours" or "fragment of personality" or whatever the fuck you mean by it. Not that I really care about what someone who corrupts language "means" by a word they do not even understand.

    'self' is an abstraction. Wow genius, however did you come up with that one? What the fuck did you think "I am a strange loop" MEANT?!

    Your problem is that you confuse knee-jerk reactions with self. You also confuse decisions occurring IN consciousness with consciousness itself. This is because you are a mentally challenged idiot incapable of higher consciousness. That is, of having a real grasp of self. And lower consciousness just doesn't explain human behaviour.

    (See, I am not just insulting you, I am explaining your lack of comprehension in the most painfully brutal way I can imagine.)

    Bravo Einstein, you've just rediscovered the fact that greater than 90% of humans have lives that are entirely unplanned and unthought. Shall we say ... UNEXAMINED. Thus, that advanced concepts such as 'self' and 'consciousness' apply only marginally to the near totality of humans, and in their entirety only to a tiny minority of humans.

    This doesn't make these concepts worthless. And it sure as hell doesn't mean you get to corrupt them however you like.

  3. @ Phil Braham:
    Sorry, not my bag, really.

    @ Richard Kulisz:
    I debated with myself (OR DID I?) for a while about whether to respond, but I can't help myself (OR CAN I?). And clearly, if anyone disagrees, he or she is free to continue to assume I am a "mentally challenged idiot".

    1. The linked article presented the multiple-selves perspective, not me. I referred to it as "yet another helpful but ultimately imprecise metaphor". My attempt was to deconstruct that abstraction, in part by pointing out that the concept of one self is also an abstraction. No, I didn't claim to come up with that on my own, but merely that it was my opinion. "First Person Plural" also didn't claim that its ideas were original, by the way.

    2. I'm not sure what you mean by higher and lower consciousness. If you mean dualism, I reiterate that dualism doesn't make sense to me. There are two questions: 1) Is there something other than physical reality?, 2) Does physical reality proceed according to physical cause and effect?. My answers are 1) No - or if there is the evidence is insufficient, and 2) Yes. Those answers don't leave room for dualism, yet a strange loop of thought bending back on itself is possible. To that I add that if higher consciousness is exemplified by not just insulting people I disagree with but doing it in the most painfully brutal way I can imagine, I don't want it.

    3. Whether you consider it obvious or not, I don't think people's lives are always unplanned, unthinking, or unexamined. I do think that the majority of them, however infrequently, plan/think/examine their lives (life crises and such). FIGURATIVELY, one might say that they temporarily swap in a contemplative self, but then swap it out again without it having any actual effect on their casual thoughts and actions.

    4. If I've implied that the concepts of self and consciousness are worthless, or abused/corrupted them, that was not my intent. My intent, expressed in the last paragraph, was to encourage dropping the lack of personal responsibility that can result from the multiple-selves perspective. For example, excuses like "I wasn't myself" or "I can't resist situation X because it brings out the worst in me". Furthermore, I believe that the more we learn about the brain, the more we learn about the underpinnings of what we experience as consciousness and self and the more we can choose to use that knowledge to improve it. Are addictions diseases or weaknesses of self? Why not both?