Blackmore Chapter 8 - So far we have divided theories of...

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Unformatted text preview: So far we have divided theories of self crudely into two categories: ego theories, which entail some kind of continuing entity, and bundle theories, which do not. When taken in their most extreme versions, neither deals ade— quately with the strange cases of split brains and multiple personality, nor explains ordinary self—awareness. On the one hand, extreme ego theories entail mysterious, untestable entities. On the other hand, extreme bundle the— ories do not explain why we feel as though we are a continuing entity. In this chapter we consider some theories that try to avoid these problems. First we must be as clear as possible about the fundamental difference between the two types of theory. It might seem obvious that reductionist scientists should agree with Parfit, accept Hume’s denial, and be bundle theorists. After all, if the brain consists of millions of inter—connected neurons whose activity gives rise to behaviors, memories and perceptions, then there is no need for an experiencing self as well. Yet, as we have seen, some scientists still try to count the number of selves in a split-brain patient or ask whether multiple person— alities are really separate selves, implying at least some components of ego theory. The situation may be rather like that with the Cartesian theater. While it is easy, intellectually, to deny the existence of a persisting experiencing self, it is another matter to accept all the consequences of such a view. Some of these ‘e ElElldVHD' consequences are brought to life by some classic philosophers’ thought exper— iments. THOUGHT EXPERIMENTS WITH THE SELF Imagine that in the middle of the night, without leaving any traces or doing any harm, a mad Martian scientist comes into your room, removes your brain and swaps it with your friend John’s brain (impossible, of course, but this is a thought experiment). In the morning you stir, your dreams recede, and you wake into full consciousness. But who has woken up? Have you woken up in john’s body? Will you scream and protest, and hope that you are only dream— ing that you are in the wrong room and have hairy legs and a beard? If you think that each of you will wake up in the “wrong” body, then presum— ably you think that the conscious self depends on the brain and not the rest of the body. So in another popular kind of thought experiment the Martians only scan the brains and then swap the pat— terns of neural information. This time all your memories and personality traits are swapped over but the brains stay in place. Now who is it that ex— periences the feel of the hairy legs and the beard? You or John? Is the experi— encing self tied to the body, the brain, the memories or what? Ego and bundle theorists differ funda— mentally in their responses to such questions. The ego theorist might say FIGURE 8.1 “of course it will be me” (or “of course it will be John”) because the experienc— ing self must be associated with some— thing, whether it is the body, the brain, personal memories, personality traits and preferences or some combination of these or other things. In other words, for the ego theorist there has to be an answer. Ego theorists may try to find that answer by investigating the rela— tionships between the conscious self and memory, personality, attention or other brain functions. For the bundle theorist this is all a waste of time. According to bundle theory there is no continuous experiencing self so there is no problem with any of these strange imaginary tales. Yes, the person in the bed might scream and shout and be very unhappy and confused, but if you ask “Is it really me?” then you reveal your own confusion. There can be no answer to this question because there is no such thing as the “real me.” CONSCIOUSNESS Are you an ego theorist or a bundle theorist? If you are not sure, this next thought experiment is a good way to find out. Imagine that you are offered a free trip, anywhere you want to go, in a teletransporter. You are invited to step inside a cubicle in which there is a special button. When you press it, every cell of your body is scanned and the information is stored (though your body is destroyed in the process). All the information is then sent, at the speed of light, to your chosen destination and used to reconstruct a replica of you, exactly as y0u were before. Note that this is only meant to be a thought experiment, but some people believe that this, or similar processes, may soon be a reality (Kurzweil, 1999). Since your replica has a brain in exactly the same state as yours was when it was scanned, he or she will seem to remember living your life up to the moment when you pressed the button. This replica will behave just like you, have your per— sonality and foibles, and will in every other way be just like you. The only difference is that this psychological continuity will not have its normal cause, the continued existence of your brain, but will depend on the information having been transmitted through space. The question is—would you go? Many people would be happy to go. They reason that if their brain is completely replicated, they won’t notice the difference—they will feel just the same as before, and indeed will be just the same as before. Others would refuse to go. Their reasons may not be as rational but may be even more forcefully felt. “This journey is not traveling but dying,” they may say. “The person who appears on Nlars is just a replica, not the real me. I don’t want to die.” it may be some consolation that the replica will be able to take over their life, see their friends, be part of their family, finish their projects and so on, but still it will not really .. Acrivrrvgoi“ The teletransporter Imagine you want to go to the beautiful city of tape Town for a holiday. You are offered a simple, free, almost instantaneous, and TOO percent safe way of getting there and back. All you have to do is step inside the box, press the button and . . . The box is, of course, Parfit’s teletranSporter. In making the journey every cell of your body and brain will be scanned and destroyed, and then repli- cated exactly as they were before, but in Cape Town. Would you press the button? As a class exercise get everyone to answer ”Yes” or ”No.” Do not allow any ”Don’t knows” (if people do not want to answer publicly, then get them to write down ”Yes” or ”No”). Do not allow quibbles aver safety or any other details. This is, after all, a thought experiment, so we are not constrained by reality. The box is TOO percent safe and reliable. If you won’t go in, this has to be for some other reason than that it might go wrong. Now ask for a volunteer who said ”Yes” and ask him or her to explain why. Other members of the group can then ask further questions to work out, for example, why this person is not worried about having their body completely destroyed. Next ask for a “No” volunteer and let others ask why she or he will not go. Bear in mind that people’s reasons for not going may involve their deepest beliefs about their soul, spirit, God or life after death. It is helpful to respect these beliefs even while pushing people hard to explain what they mean. After the discussion, find out how many people have changed their minds. In a course on consciousness it is instructive to ask this same question again after a few weeks or months of study, and far this purpose it is helpful for people to keep a record of their answers. They may change. be “me.” These people cannot accept, as the bundle theorist must, that it is an empty question whether you are about to live or die (Parfit, 1987). FIGURE 8.2 - Where's the University? 'IIZ To delve deeper into these objections, consider some further thought experi— ments. Imagine now that only a few cells are replaced, or any proportion of them you like. Is there now some criti— cal percentage beyond which you die and a replica is created in your place? If 50 percent are replaced, what would you conclude? Would the person who wakes up be half you and half replica? This conclusion seems ludicrous, but still you may be tempted to say that there must be an answerathe resulting person must really either be you or someone else. If that is how you think, then you are an ego theorist. With this in mind we may now explore a few of the very many theories of self. The examples given here in no way cover all possible approaches to the nature of self, but I have chosen those that seem to bear especially on the rela— tionship between self and consciousness. In each case we can consider, first, whether the theory is an ego or bundle theory; second, how it accounts for the experience of seeming to be a unified and continuous self; and, third, whether it helps us to understand the nature of consciousness. WILLIAM JAMES William James is the obvious starting point, for he wrote extensively about both self and consciousness, and his ideas are still widely respected today. James built his theory first and foremost on the way it seems. Central to the concept of personal identity, he said, is the feeling of unity and continuity of oneself. He stressed that this is a matter of feeling, that one’s own thoughts have a warmth and intimacy about them that distinguishes them from others’. The universal conscious fact is not “feelings and thoughts exist,” but “I think” and “I feel.” No psychology, at any rate, can question the existence of personal selves. The worst a psychology can do is so to interpret the nature of these selves as to rob them of their worth. (James, 1890, i: 226) He begins by dividing the self into two ever—present elements: the empirical self, or objective person, which he calls the “me,” and the subjective knowing thought, or pure ego, which he calls “I.” The empirical self is easier to deal with and includes three aspects. The material self is a person’s body, his clothes and possessions, his family and friends—indeed all those things he is likely to call “mine”—together with personal vanity or modesty, love of ‘ CONSCIOUSNESS wealth and fear of poverty. Then there is his “social self,” which includes his reputation and how he is seen by others. As James points out, we each have as many social selves as there are people who recognize us and carry an image of us in their v ' mind, but in practice these divide into groups and we may behave differently with these different groups and feel ourselves to be a different person in different company. Finally there is what he calls the “spiritual self” (though this may seem an odd name to us today), by which he means mental dis— positions and abilities, and intellectual, moral and religious aspirations, together with moral princi— ples, conscience and guilt. In this last part of the empirical self he includes subjective experience. Within the stream of con~ sciousness, says James, it seems as though there is a special portion that welcomes or rejects the rest— that which can disown everything else but cannot be disowned itself. This “active element” in con~ sciousness seems to receive the sensations and per~ ceptions of the stream of consciousness, it seems to be the source of effort and attention and the place from which the will emanates. It is something like a sort of junction at which sensory ideas terminate and from which motor ideas proceed. He could hardly have described the Cartesian theater better. Yet the deepest problem lies with the “I”: that self that I care about, that felt central nucleus of my experience. This is “the most puzzling puzzle with which psychology has to deal” (James, 1890, i: 330). He describes the two main ways of dealing with it in a way that should seem thoroughly familiar to us: Some would say that it is a simple active substance, the soul, of which they are thus conscious; others, that it is nothing but a fiction, the imaginary being denoted by the pronoun I; and between these extremes of opinion all sorts of intermediaries would be found. (James, l890, i: 298) James criticizes both extremes. Those who side with the spiritualists and opt for a substantial soul can give no positive account of what that soul may be. So he rejects the “soul theory,” including the substantialist view of Plato and Hi Theories o The thought itself is the thinker. James,1890 Aristotle, as well as Descartes’ beliefs and later variations. The idea of a soul, he says, explains nothing and guarantees nothing. He also rejects Locke’s associationist theory and Kant’s transcendentalist theory. The transcendental ego is just a “cheap and nasty” edition of the soul, he says, and inventing an ego does not explain the unity of consciousness: “the Egoists themselves, let them say what they will, believe in the bundle, and in their own system merely tie it up, with their special transcendental string, invented for that use alone” (James, 1890, i: 370). On the other hand, those who side with the Humeans in saying that the stream of thought is all there is, run against the entire common sense of mankind. According to common sense the unity of our many selves is not a mere appearance of similarity and continuity, ascertained after the fact, but implies a real “owner,” a pure spiritual entity of some kind. Common sense cannot accept that our unity is only potential, like that of a herd of animals or a center of gravity in physics, but insists there must be a real proprietor to hold the selves together in personal consciousness. This “holding together,” then, is what needs explaining. So how does james escape from inventing a real proprietor or a special string of his own? His well-known adage is that “thought is itself the thinker, and psychology need not look beyond” (1890, i: 401). “The phenomena are enough, the passing Thought itself is the only verifiable thinker, and its empir— ical connection with the brain-process is the ultimate known law” (1890, Vol. 1: 346). What he means is this. At any moment, there is a passing thought (he calls this special thought “the Thought”) that incessantly remembers previous thoughts and appropriates some of them to itself. In this way, what holds the thoughts together is not a separate spirit or ego, but only another thOught of a special kind. This judging ThOught identifies and owns some parts of the stream of consciousness while disowning others. It pulls together those thoughts that it finds “warm” and calls them “mine.” The next moment, another Thought takes up the expiring Thought and appropriates it. It binds the indi- vidual past facts with each other and with itself. In this way the passing Thought seems to be the thinker. The unity we experience is not something :RACTICE I THE SAME ”ME” AS A MOMENT A60? As many times as you can, every day, ask yourself the familiar question ”Am I conscious now?" and then keep watching. As "now” slips away, and things change around you, try to keep steadily watching, and wondering who is watching. Is there some kind of continuity of self as you remain aware? Can you see what that continuity is like? Or is there none.2 The question is, ”Am I the same ’me’ as a moment ago?” What is really required is not asking (or answering) the question in words, but looking directly into how it seems. / CONSCIOUSNESS separate from the Thoughts. Indeed it does not exist until the Thought is there. He uses, again, the metaphor of a herd and herdsman. Common sense rules that there has to be a herdsman who owns the cattle and holds the herd together. But, for James, there is no permanent herdsman, only a passing series of owners, each of which inherits not only the cattle but the title to their own— ership. Each Thought is born an owner and dies owned, transmitting what— ever it realized as its self to the next owner. In this way is the apparent unity created. Is James then a bundle theorist? He rejects any substantial ego, so we might assume so. And presumably he ought to step happily into the teletransporter because when the replica stepped out at the other side, a new Thought would immediately appropriate the memories and warm thoughts sustained by the replicated brain and so induce just the same sense of unity and continuity as before. Yet James placed his own theory somewhere between the extremes and criticized Hume for allowing no thread of resemblance or core of sameness to tie together the diversity of the stream of consciousness. For James the task was to explain both the diversity and unity of experience, and he felt he had accomplished this with his “remembering and appropriating Thought inces— santly renewed” (1890, i: 363). Does his theory account for the experience of seeming to be a unified and con— tinuous self? Yes. He starts from how it feels and builds his entire theory around that. Finally, does it help us to understand the nature of conscious— ness? Up to a point—and James himself tells us where that point lies. In the end he cannot explain the law by which the stream of thought accompanies a stream of cerebral activity, nor why; as he puts it, “such finite human streams of thought are called into existence in such functional dependence upon brains” (1890, i: 401). In other words, the great chasm still yawns. NEUROSCIENTIFIC MODELS OF SELF Many neuroscientists deliberately avoid talking about the self or about self consciousness (e.g., Crick, 1994). Others discuss self—awareness as a subcate- gory of awareness in general, and some consider how the self concept devel— ops and how it can go wrong (see Chapter 18). Only a few attempt to explain why the self seems to be a continuous agent and a subject of experience. Their most common strategy is to equate the self with one particular brain process or functional area of the brain. Ramachandran suggests that his experiments on filling—in (see Chapter 6) mean, “we can begin to approach the greatest scientific and philosophical riddle of all—the nature of the self” (Ramachandran and Blakeslee, 1998: 255). Part of the motivation for these experiments was Dennett’s argument that filling—in would have to be done for someone, some viewer or homuncu- lus, and since homunculi cannot exist, filling~in does not occur. As we saw, some kinds of filling—in do occur. But the argument is not entirely false, says “The worst a psychology can do is so to interpret . . . sell/es as to rob them of their wort .” James, l890, Vol. i: 226 ‘(HAPTER EIGHT r Theories of self Ramachandran. Filling—in occurs for something rather than someone, and that something is another brain process, an executive process (Ramachandran and Hirstein, 1997). He considers MacKay’s executive process, and control processes located in frontal or prefrontal areas, but argues instead for the limbic system. The processes that best match what the self is traditionally supposed to do are those involved in connecting motivation and emotion with the choice of actions to perform, based on a certain definite incoming set of qualia. Filling—in can then be seen as a way of preparing qualia for interaction with limbic executive structures. SO our conscious ex— I mm Width- hflsellikfll periences are the input to this executive system. ' deal with animals, babies, Ramachandran concludes not only that a single unified self “inhabiting” the brain is an illusion, but that “It is not difficult to see how such processes could give rise to the mythology of a self as an active presence in the brain—a ‘ghost in the machine’” (ibid.: 455). However, he does not explain how this happens, nor how qualia can be inputs, nor how inputs can be expe- riences. Portuguese neurologist Antonio Damasio (see Profile, Chapter 18) distinguishes between the proto-self, the core—self, and the autobiographical self, based on his studies of brain damage and psychopathology (see Chapter 18). The sense of self, he argues, has a precon- =;. _ scious biological precedent in the simplest organisms. events HeaSealarfelluwmiheotearal Neamhtalaqyat This prom—self is a set of neural patterns that map the state of an organi...
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