In a recent series of articles, New Scientist magazine explored what their lead article called “The Great Illusion of the Self.”
The article gave more space to why we don’t know much of anything about our selves than to what we do know, or think that we know, for “While it seems irrefutable that we must exist in some sense, things get a lot more puzzling once we try to get a better grip of what having a self actually amounts to.”
According to the article, we are sure of three things about our selves. We are continuous. We are unified. And we are agents.
“All of these beliefs appear to be blindingly obvious and as certain as can be” ; yet “as we look at them more closely, they become less and less self-evident.”
What does it say about the reality of the outside world if we can be fooled even about the state and composition of parts of our own bodies? And what does it say about the reality of our sense of self if we can’t trust our senses even when they report our apparent body states?
More evidence that the world, including us, is a construct, a mental representation of an otherwise un-experienced world “out there,” crops up in reports of a new study that fools subjects into believing that they have a phantom limb.
The pairing of two seemingly-unrelated articles prompts this posting, which examines some of the ways that we can reconsider our “selves” as something other than unitary beings, or even unitary perceptions of dynamic states of being.
At six thousand six hundred and some words, you’d think that Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality? (New York Times MAGAZINE, December 2, 2012) would have something of consequence ot say about its subject.
After a rather perfunctory summary of the research into the so-called “immortal jellyfish,” Nathaniel Rich’s article devolves into a mostly tongue-in-cheek profile of the weird Japanese hydrozoan researcher and karaoke song-writer who is the most enthusiastic proponent of the peculiar kind of immortality represented by the Turritopsis dohrnii.
In the latest issue of Philosophy Now, Raymond Tallis takes a semi-serious look at the great unknown, the under-examined third of our lives in which we are asleep.
The tone of Tallis’s article comes from the fact that he, like the rest of us, doesn’t know the first thing about sleep. Not just what it is and why we do it, but what it means to our concepts of consciousness and self that every night we lose control, passing from a world of physical perception to another of mental impression. Continue reading
Two new online articles explore the brain centres that may be responsible for self-awareness.
The first article begins with the question, how do we become conscious after sleep? The question can be rephrased to ask what brain areas become more active as we wake and regain normal self-awareness.
Whatever your definition of consciousness, or your opinion of brain scan studies, unless you’re up for some form of dualism there’s no real disputing that every cognitive state is associated with specific brain processes.
Science Daily published online a summary of new research into the brain states of “lucid dreamers,” people who, though asleep, are aware that they are dreaming and whose brain activity at the moment of achieving this “dreaming awareness” is more easily measured than is the brain activity of typical, non-conscious dreamers.
Big Questions Online (BQO) is a web production of the religion-promoting Templeton Foundation, and as such the site is prone to taking seriously some pretty silly ideas.
The latest example is the provocatively — and misleadingly — titled recent article, ”Does Quantum Physics Make It Easier to Believe in God?”
The article starts with “No,” then proceeds to a long summary of some of the major characteristics of quantum physics. It ends with the argument — and here’s where the silly comes in — that since concrete materialism is apparently undermined by quantum physics, all bets are off, and belief in God is more reasonable.
What makes this so silly, of course, is that even if the assertion that quantum physics disproves materialism were true, that would have absolutely no effect on the reasonableness of belief in God, or gods.
I’m usually drawn to online writing that reports good science or worthwhile social ideas. I seldom bother to respond to bad science or sloppy thinking. Today is an exception.
Browsing science digest sites, I recently ran across “Hidden Smiles and the Desire of a Conscious Machine,” by Malcolm Ramsey, published by H+ (Humanity +) on June 6th.
Intended as a thoughtful look at the possibility of artificial consciousness, “Hidden Smiles” is a muddled mash-up. It’s a good example of the bad writing wandering about out there in cyberspace.
Too harsh? Crossing the line from the critical to the uncivil? Hold your judgement until we’ve taken a look at the piece itself.
Daniel Dennett believes that our sense of self comes from our brains’ concocting stories, narratives that create the protagonists we call “I.”
Other psychologists and philosophers offer explanations of individual identity that agree, more or less. Antonio Damasio, for example, calls the rational, third stage of consciousness “the autobiographical self.”
Last week, Big Think published “Why Are People Drawn to Stories?” The article, written by David Berreby, features ideas from Johnathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal, a book that claims that “we live our entire lives in a web of story.”