Monday, July 21, 2008

Who are you?

New Scientist ran a great piece some time ago called "The Big Questions." One of these articles, on "Consciousness" was so filled with intriguing points of debate, and "starting-off points" that I suspect we could dissect it for dozens of posts. It's something I find myself reading and re-reading every few months. The area of the "mind" or "mind body problem" or "neuroscience and conscious" or "ego" or whatever you call it, is going to make the current angst over evolution vs. creation look silly by comparison (I suppose I'll have to get around to that one at some point too, since Creation of any kind, even the kind where humans"create" a painting or a blog entry, tends to suggest an aspect of the debate that is not well covered). Like I said, there are so many angles here.

But for now, the crux of the article above that demands to be addressed first is "you." The concepts of creation, design, intent, purpose -- reason -- are interesting. But before we can debate whether they exist at all, it seems clear that to exist, they each need a "subject" to be the creator, designer, thinker - in short they all need YOU (at least). But as the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland kept annoyingly asking "who ARE you?" Don't forget Alice's telling answer: "I…I hardly know, Sir, at present…at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then."

To simplify it a bit, constrain the question purely down to the material, and it's still hard to answer. Suppose for an uncomfortable moment that YOU are nothing more than the sum of your thoughts, something emergent from the brain states, neurons, and all that science. If true, even in part, the ironies of ironies, is also true. That is: the more we constrain the definition of YOU to the purely material (that we are "only" the sum of our thoughts or brain states, etc.) then the more it seems the YOU is transcendent -- unconstrained to anything material! That is, YOU (your thoughts, etc.) emerged in the body you now inhabit, but YOU can re-appear in some other form, any form that allows for the same thoughts and consciousness. It's the same YOU, just not tied to the physical you.

This also suggests that as you interact with others, or the thoughts of others (the Word?) - that YOU can be changed - "reborn" as someone else if the change is great enough. And now this is not some metaphor, but hard science. There is no other YOU that is left off in the process. As the article's author puts it:
...these words you are now reading, whose are they? Yours or mine? The point of writing is to take charge of the voice in someone else's head. This is what I am doing. My words have taken possession of the language circuits of your brain. I have become, if only transiently, your inner voice. Doesn't that mean, in a certain sense, that I have become you (or you me)? It's a serious question. Written text is a primitive but powerful form of virtual reality. In the beginning was the word.
There is a freedom there. Everything from what you read, who you interact with, how you engage them and allow their thoughts to engage you -- it all changes you or can.

I guess you could say it blows your Mind.

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