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The Question of the Self as ’Who’ We Are
Part of the question of the question is the question of the interpretation of the question, or more simply and more comprehensively the question of the question. Interpreting philosophical thinking is notoriously diﬃcult, yet philosophers in general take great pains to speak as clearly as possible. That leads to the question of what makes thinking, philosophical thinking in particular, so apparently diﬃcult.
To pose the question of the question is also to plot its course, its processional development throughout the history of thought. It is here that we trace the history of the question taken in itself as a term through ﬁgures such as Freud, Heidegger, Lacan, and Derrida, in order to build a critical lens capable of reﬁning the notion of the question and bringing it into some clearer semblance of focus. It is my contention that the question taken by itself has been given short shrift in critical discourse, perhaps owing to its resistance to being examined. Though questions are the common currency of theorists, the question of the question has yet to truly emerge into common view. Moreover, we cannot ignore the important metaphoricity of the question itself, how it functions inlanguage, and the etymological nuances it possesses. The linguistic standpoint will not become the deﬁnitive aperture of this question of the question, but will function as another point of contiguity that the question shares with both language and theory. - Kane X. Faucher, What is a Question?
Any question, posed as a question that includes the question itself, implicates othr attempts to ask the question. The question of the Self has been posed variously in philosophy, theology and in the sciences. Today the scientiﬁc worldview has the most immediate currency with many people, and while the question of the question has to include other ways of posing the question, the following will focus mainly on the scientiﬁc worldview and some of its attempts at posing the question. In terms of the question of the Self, and thus the question of the meaning of Self-identity, a constant diﬃculty is terminological. We have a number of words that refer to the being that one is, the I-subject, the Self, the Psyche, Spirit, soul, mind, etc. Science has had particular diﬃculty with these terms as they are diﬃcult if not impossible to make into an ’object’ for ’objective science’. Hegel, in his philosophical posing of the question, simultaneously implies the question of science as science, and its logic, in the guise of modern science, as logic. Two diﬀerent translations of the Phenomenology use the terms “Spirit” and “Mind”. Hegel uses words in very speciﬁc manners, some of which have been mistranslated, but more often translated correctly yet without really transmitting the intent of the original. Part of the diﬃculty with the titles of two of Hegel’s major works is that the terms are not easily determinable in translation or even in the original language, this not only goes for terms such as spirit and mind, where ’mysticism’ or ’religion’ is often posited as the reason for ambiguity, but also for terms such as science and logic particularly within the sciences themselves, which as determining terms are themselves more diﬃcult to determine adequately. The usual title of the book published after the Phenomenology is “The Science of Logic”. This simple title leads most to believe, without having so much as opened the book; they pretty well know what it contains. Science
is the pursuit of theoretical knowledge. Logic is the ‘law’ by which thinking is judged. Thus “The Science of Logic” would simply be an investigative exposition of Logic, its justiﬁcation, and how to put it to best use. Yet according to Sinnerbrink ”Wissenschaft or philosophical Science, according to Hegel, refers to the self-organizing system of speculative knowledge, whose introduction consists of phenomenology itself.” Without a good deal of ingenuity “the self-organizing system of speculative knowledge” is diﬃcult to reconcile with the usual meaning of ‘science’. Looking at the other key term, ‘logic’, we ﬁnd a similar discrepancy: according to the shorter Logic, “the diﬀerent stages of the logical idea are to be treated as a series of deﬁnitions of the Absolute, the deﬁnition which now results for us is that the Absolute is the Notion. That necessitates a higher estimate of the notion, however, than is found in formal conceptualist Logic, where the notion is a mere form of our subjective thought, with no original content of its own.” What does this leave us with, were we to rename “The Science of Logic” along these lines? The resulting title would be something like “The Self-organizing System of Speculative Knowledge as a Series of Deﬁnitions of the Absolute”. The case can be made that, at least in terms of ‘Wissenschaft’, in modern German it does, for the most part, indicate the same thing as ‘science’ in modern English. That would justify the use of the word, provided that Hegel’s meaning was explicated clearly in the text as being more like the ﬁrst part of the title proposed above. A not too dissimilar case could be made for the term ‘logic’. After all, the rather long and not immediately comprehensible title we came up with above seems a bit much as a title (perhaps as a subtitle?). That leaves the other two words, ‘The’ and ‘of’. What of these? As it turn out a simple and justiﬁable change in the second word, while not fully explicating the title, immediately lends the ﬁrst word, ‘The’, the correct intonation and meaning.
Replacing ‘of’ with ‘as’ circumvents an apparently obvious but entirely mistaken prejudgment as to the probable contents of the work. The ‘obviousness’ of the probable content ‘The Science of Logic’ becomes immediately puzzling when it is renamed “The Science as Logic”. ‘The’ changes meaning and even pronunciation, becoming The Science pronounced “Thee” rather than ‘The Science’. The Science separates what Hegel intends by Wissenschaft from ‘science’ as one or all of ‘the sciences’, leaving it on its own with an obviously diﬀerent, if immediately obscure, meaning. Pairing The Science with Logic, not as an of, but as an as, results in a doubly puzzling title. If The Science is unlike any particular science we may be familiar with, positing that it can be discussed as Logic seems even more puzzling. Simple, naïve logic could hardly be equivalent to The Science; commonly it’s considered an a priori for any science whatsoever. The puzzling nature of the book itself, certainly familiar to its readers, is quickly brought out in the title by changing one small conjunction. Hegel, as with many other thinkers, is most misinterpreted not due to lack of acuity or intelligence on the readers’ part, but more often due to an excess of those factors. Taking Hegel as literally as he often means something challenges the ideology of the reader to the extent that the reader uses all of his acuity and intelligence to redeﬁne “what Hegel really meant”, when what was ‘really’ meant is written as plainly and clearly as possible on the original page. Translation of course oﬀers an additional means of changing the meaning to one more comfortable to the reader(s) involved. In order to avoid words that may have had a more deﬁned meaning at the time of writing, but have since lost that meaning, and in some cases become so vague as to have virtually no deﬁned meaning, I have avoided words such as spirit, mind, soul, psyche, etc. when speaking of various aspects of the Self.
While that puts a lot of stress on the word Self itself, it avoids misunderstandings that ‘tag along’ with such words. ‘Mind’ and ‘psyche’ for instance, immediately bring with them the dualism between mind and body. ‘Spirit’ has become for the most part meaningless, referring in a vague way to anything not physical in nature. ‘Soul’ for many implies the tripartite distinction body-mind-soul: how a Self is supposed to exist as some sort of glued together threesome of poorly deﬁned enough terms leads only to initial misconceptions and the creation of pseudo problems. The title of the book contains two basic words: horizon and identity. Identity here refers to self-identity, both as the goal of most attempts at selfunderstanding and as the better accepted but less well deﬁned antecessor to ‘personality’ within mainstream psychology and social theory. The question in its bare form, then, concerns the relation between the horizon that limits any given perspective, and the ways in which human beings posit their self-identity; how they describe themselves (often only to themselves) as to who they are and how they are as a being. The nature of horizon is simultaneously part of the question of who we are as individual selves and as the social Self. Horizon, like other determinants, is itself not fully, or even to any great extent, determinable. That it is indeﬁnite is easily demonstrable for oneself; a related question is whether this indeﬁniteness and indeterminacy equates to a potential inﬁnity. Horizon ’isn’t’ in the sense of a being and the way we understand a being, another way of understanding the question of horizon as it relates to the question of who we are, individually and in a shared way, is whether horizon, while not being an in-itself for us, is itself a for-itself. The correlate of the potential inﬁnity in horizon is the notion of immortality of the Self. At ﬁrst sight this seems a contradiction, in the sense that the Self,
both individual and shared, is radically ﬁnite. Immortality however doesn’t intend an inﬁnite temporality, but rather intends that in being-a-Self there is no coming-to-be, because a thing can come-to-be in the sense of appearing only within the world opened up by the Self. In the sense of the shared Self this is easier to comprehend: without world in the sense of place opened by the social Self, it cannot be said that beings come-to-be in the sense that we understand the term being. The only way we can understand being is through a being’s appearing in being-experienced. That things ’were’ in some sense ’extant’ temporally prior to human beings is a necessity of our own historicality. However we cannot project in what sense being extant without being-experienced relates to the way we understand beings in their being, because we cannot project any reality that doesn’t include our experience of it.
Evolution as Being-Historical
In being-historical we retain things from the past as present, and only in the way that they are retained can they be said to have being. Being historical in this sense implies that the historical in part be determining for who we are, and as such be as a precondition for who we are. Human history is understood implicitly in that way, the actual insight of Darwin’s Origin of the Species, lost by the neo-Darwinists, is that we only experience nature in this manner, as a retroactively posited history that as precondition has an intrinsic directionality and teleology. The implicit understanding we have had of nature as historical grounds the idea of evolution. As one of the oldest ideas known, evolution is an observation and an obvious way to interpret the world in that it is always historical for us. ’Nature’ has the sense, within metaphysics, of reality as created, but even this is grounded fundamentally on nature as a experience of world as historical.
The early notions of evolution were based on what we would now term ’natural selection’ as a random process:
"The ﬁrst animals and plants were like disjointed parts of the ones we see today, some of which survived by joining in diﬀerent combinations, and then intermixing, and wherever everything turned out as it would have if it were on purpose, there the creatures survived, being accidentally compounded in a suitable way" - Empedocles, 490 BC
However, random change fails to account for what we implicity intend by the very term ’evolution’, which is growth as increasing complexity, as is seen in the ability to distinguish ’evolution’ from ’devolution’, something that would not be possible if the change were simply random. The theological view expresses this quite clearly:
We transcend ourselves by becoming more than we are now. Evolution is a process of becoming more. We achieve a greater fullness. Our self-transcendence includes the notion of newness because we are drawn into something higher. We are not changed into totally diﬀerent beings but we surpass ourselves and our emptiness is ﬁlled. The history of the cosmos is the interconnected history of its material elements, its living elements and the conscious life of its human elements. This history is not merely a continuation in time but it is primarily the development of that which is more and greater. In this history, something which existed earlier surpasses itself in order to become something more. If humanity is the self-transcendence of 7
living matter, then the history of matter and of spirit form an intrinsic unity in which matter has developed towards humanity and then continues on in us as our history. Hussey, M. Edmund (2012-11-06). The Idea of Christianity: A Brief Introduction to the Theology of Karl Rahner (Kindle Locations 682-689). . Kindle Edition.
This ’becoming more’ is the fundamental diﬃculty that mechanistic causality, whether via natural selection or via multiple means, has in attempting to account for evolution as observed reality. By contrast Darwin posited evolution precisely as historical interplay of life, something lost in the attempt at a return to pure mechanism by neo-Darwinists:
The neo-Darwinists such as Dennett appear to follow the former path, portraying nature in the image of a machine, thus achieving the same result as the one Alexander Koyre ascribed to Newton – a synthesis which substitutes for our world “. . .in which we live and love and die, another world – the world of quantity, of reiﬁed geometry, a world in Darwin and Vygotsky on Development: An Exegesis on Human Nature which, though there is a place for everything, there is no place for human being” (quoted in Costall, 2001, p. 474). At the end of his magnum opus, Darwin solemnly stated that “[t]here is grandeur in this view of life...” (Darwin, 2009/1859, p. 649). Indeed, there is. However, it is not an easy task to grasp this view because doing so entails going beyond the habitual dichotomous thinking in terms of two rigidly opposed and irreconcilable core metaphors – that of nature as a machine versus that of nature as a divine cre8
ation. The grandeur of evolutionary thinking suggests giving up both of these metaphors to instead view nature as a continuous and limitless process that stretches from the past into the future without breaks, thus uniting all living forms into one inter-related process, one web of connections without constrains imposed from outside by any rigid commands or predetermined design speciﬁcations. There is no mechanical analogy to this process because no machine is intimately related to all other machines that are and ever were in existence, and that co-depend on each other while co-adapting, together with others, to the world. It is precisely that there is no algorithm according to which life unfolds – instead, its course is anchored in a conﬂuence of a de facto inﬁnite number of forces of such diﬀerent order and of such dynamism and constant change that it is impossible to apply any algorithm to describe, model, or predict this process. In other worlds, the grandeur that Darwin’s approach implies has to do with an intimate interconnectedness of each and every form of life with all of life; the interconnectedness of all that is alive with all that ever was, is, or ever will be alive. This is the grandeur of a mutual interdependence of all forms of life with all other forms, where the world itself is entangled with the unfolding life and co-implicated in its dynamics and its history. This is the grandeur of life and nature that are seen as being, at one and the same time, contingent and unpredictable, ever-changing and continuous, open-ended and ordered – with all of these polarities ceasing to be irreconcilable dimensions that exclude each other. It can be said that there is a place for humans within this view of nature because nature, thus understood, entails a human (ideal) dimension –
the world in which “we live and love and die.”
This is in line with notions from systems theory of self organization and self optimization as the driving forces of evolution, and natural selection as the limiting factor, or brake, on self optimization. The ground of self organization / self optimization remains obscure, even though we can demonstrate both, and strong emergence of higher level systems as its ultimate manifestation, even within purely algorithmic formulations. In some sense self organization / self optimization / emergence in open systems that can take in energy appears to be the correlate of entropy in closed systems, and the ground of the interplay of appearing / passing away that we experience in things as enduring ’for a time’. In extending the notion of evolution to system itself we are positing historical directionality, ﬁrst to life in biological evolution, then to non-living reality as systemic development and emergence of higher level systems. While seeing reality as the historical world is teleological, directed in the sense that everything seen as historical is seen as still-present sustaining precondition, as precondition the teleology is retroactively posited, and necessarily so. This isn’t limited to the self-aware positing of human beings in terms of their own history - by creating a boundary a cell implicitly posits what is ’outside’ as its precondition, even though initially what is ’inside’ is identical to what is ’outside’, and only through the boundary having been established does it begin to diﬀerentiate itself as a cell with an environment. What needs to be noticed in this setting of a boundary is not simply that the organism didn’t exist prior to that, but neither did its environment. Reality seen speciﬁcally as historical precondition is what we mean by ’environment’, as opposed to ’nature’, which views reality in all the possibilities of the historical as such. Environment only becomes environment by the retroactive positing of the self-diﬀerentiating organism. Nature becomes
nature by interpreting the experience of world in a historical manner. The problem of reductionist mechanistic causation, aside from the simple issue that algorithmically it doesn’t work even for cellular automata as the simplest state machines, can be seen in Dawkins’ idea of the ’Selﬁsh Gene’, where not only is an anthropomorphic ’as-if’ necessary to sustain the ’explanation’ (the notion that there is some sort of ’hard science’ behind the verbal explanation is nothing more than scientiﬁc occultism), but the very notion of a gene being a gene and not a randomly complex molecule implies that in its being it is posited as a precondition for an organism, and posited as such retroactively by the organism.
Subjectivity and Self-Identity
A human being, as stated in the preview, is self-aware, which does not in itself require the posit of the I-Subject or subjectivity in any sense. One’s Self is in each case particular to the particular human being and simultaneously shared, to a greater or lesser degree, with every other human being. One’s perspective and horizon is, to some degree, diﬀerent from that of any other human being. Although this immediately brings to mind some sort of ‘absolute’ postmodern relativism, the fallacy in the latter is located in the closed-oﬀ view of the individual that underlies the analysis.
“Postmodern relativism is precisely the thought of the irreducible multitude of worlds, each sustained by a speciﬁc language-game, so that each world “is” the narrative its members are telling themselves, with no shared terrain, no common language between them;” – Slavoj Zizek, the Parallax View
A parallax view of world, where each Self has its own perspective and horizon, does not disqualify the observation that by and large the reality perceived by diﬀerent individuals is the same, that in most ways the self-narrative is a shared story about a shared world. The closer someone is to you, in terms of background, culture and experiences, the closer the shared view of Reality will match the personal view. Being-one’s-self always means being-with-others such that the shared Self is more determining than the individual. At the same time, the views of the shared Self, projected as they are by each individual, have a tendency to not describe the shared world in an involved manner. The ‘everyday’ way of viewing the world, as analyzed by Heidegger, is less authentic than the individual view, leading to the inescapable conclusion that society’s view of itself is largely psychotic. However the inauthentic view of the ‘nobody’ is far from being something a given human being occasionally ﬁnds themselves in, but is the initial state any person ﬁnds themselves in, and one to which they inevitably return again and again no matter how strenuous their struggle to individuate may be. As a result, this everyday view, ascribed to everybody and nobody at once, is a positive phenomenon of any given parallax view of world and the partially shared Self that needs to be understood. Self-identity, then, has to be understood initially out of the everyday situation in which the particular person is not always self-identical, where he or she is for the most part their own projection of how the context around them to wants them to be. One is initiated into one’s society initially as a ’one’, not fully perceiving what is intrinsically accepted in the initiation, by not perceiving it. Things within-the-world have speciﬁc meanings, meanings we learn as part of our initiation into society without being able to question their appropriateness or even their provenance. Thus our initial views on society, the things within it, the people it comprises and indeed ourselves are determined by the world-view
or ideology current in the complex of subcultures that we are initiated into.
A world-view is not a matter of theoretical knowledge, eitherin respect of its origin or in relation to its use. It is not simplyretained in memory like a parcel of cognitive property. Rather, it is a matter of a coherent conviction that determines the current aﬀairs of life more or less expressly and directly. A world-view is related in its meaning to the particular contemporary Dasein at any given time. Heidegger, Basic Problems of Phenomenology
The more transparent the world-view the more eﬀective it is. The unquestioned assumptions form a speciﬁc frame within which things and events are given a prescribed meaning, and the more invisible the frame the more diﬃcult it is to demonstrate that what is taken as simply “how things are” is in fact a conglomeration of unquestioned, while highly questionable, assumptions that one has simply been given from the time one learns to understand language. The distortion inherent in every worldview lies in its pretense to be able to fully determine the ’current aﬀairs of life’.
Subjectivity and the Self: the Failure of Cognitive Science to Apprehend its Topic The Self in its questionability is supported by many such transparent assumptions. Viewing the Self as identical with the I-Subject, while a relatively new understanding historically, has become such an embedded assumption that it is diﬃcult to dislodge the automatic equation of the two. A recent set of articles in The New Scientist under the heading “The Illusion of the Self”, attempting to
popularize cognitive science’s inquiries into the Self, ended with the contradictory result that the Self is an illusion. The result is contradictory because while experiences the Self may have contradict the identiﬁcation of the I-Subject with the Self, they do not therefore invalidate the Self, they merely demonstrate that the Self is not identical to the I-Subject, but something more complex, and not fully determinable. The actual results of the various tests cognitive science had performed that were looked at in the article were not particularly surprising from a perspective a priori distinguishing the two. The apparent paradox was a result of a basic mistaken assumption. If the point was to simply invalidate particular assumptions about the Self, the articles might have had some merit, but since (admittedly, perhaps in part in order to garner readership by stating something more ‘shocking’) the title of the series was “The Illusion of the Self” and not “Invalid Assumptions about the Nature of the Self” or something of that sort, the way the results were interpreted and expressed was ludicrous. One of the articles discussed the experience of the “present” as a construction, therefore illusory. Our experience of temporality as stretched from the past to the future, however, is not the same as the metaphysical notion of time, as a series of now points. Since time outside our experiencing it can only be posited through changes in state of other things, there is no simple way to “normalize” this perception, against which our experience could be judged as illusory. Philosophy has understood “the present” to be a nominalization of something verbal, “presencing”, for some time, which in itself makes the cognitive tests somewhat redundant, since they are only demonstrating what has been demonstrated with better evidence phenomenologically. The logic that since my perception of the present can be distorted by illusions the present is illusory is equivalent to the logic of saying that since I can experience optical illusions such as a mirage all visual perception is illusory, which contradicts the simple fact that we can in
various ways distinguish optical illusions from accurate perceptions. The further fallacy is that even given that the present may be illusory (in a nominal fashion, as objective) that the Self is therefore also an illusion. It is not simply ﬂawed logic, but paradoxical in that it leaves undetermined what, if anything, is experiencing the illusion and experiencing an illusory Self as accompanying the experience. That the being of the Self capable of experiencing both the present it does in usual circumstances, and that the illusions created in the cognitive tests contradict the assumptions about the nature of the I-Subject, demonstrates only that the basic assumption that the I-Subject is the Self is invalid.
The explanation is that rather than extrapolating into the future, our brain is interpolating events in the past, assembling a story of what happened retrospectively (Science, vol 287, p 2036). This seems paradoxical, but other tests have conﬁrmed that what is perceived to have occurred at a certain time can be inﬂuenced by what happens later. All of this is slightly worrying if we hold on to the commonsense view that our selves are placed in the present. If the moment in time we are supposed to be inhabiting turns out to be a mere construction, the same is likely to be true of the self existing in that present. (Jan Westerhoﬀ, New Scientist, February 20, 2013)
In that particular article, at least, the caveat is made that it is ‘worrying’ only ‘if we hold on to the common-sense view’ in question. However in some of the other articles the invalid assumptions are stated as factical reality.
CLOSE your eyes and ask yourself: where am I? Not geographically, but existentially. Most of the time, we would say that we are inside our bodies. After all, we peer out at the world from a unique, ﬁrst-person perspective within our heads – and we take it for granted. (Anil Ananthaswamy, New Scientist, February 20, 2013)
“. . . we peer out at the world from a unique, ﬁrst-person perspective within our heads”. Do we? We can posit that perspective, certainly, and when we ‘step back’ from our involvement in the World to look at it theoretically we often do posit such a perspective, but do we actually have that perspective ‘most of the time” or even ﬁrstly? When I wake up, for instance, I’m ﬁrst aware of world as the in-which I’ve awoken, often in the sense that it is diﬀerent from whatever I was experiencing during sleep. I am aware of the world and things within it in suﬃcient detail that I can stumble to the kitchen, start a pot of coﬀee, and in interacting with things in the world in that manner I become aware of interacting with the world as myself, prior to having posited an I-Subject in any way. Ironically the I-Subject was already seen by Kant to be illusory, based on the same Cartesian assumptons, it has simply taken cognitive science this long to re-arrive at the same junction.
This “concept or, if the term be preferred, the judgment ‘I think’”, says Kant, is something that is itself transcendental and cannot be an object. It is only in transcendental illusion that “human reason” takes this vehicle of thought itself as an object, as a ‘substantial thinking being’; it is only in illusion that this vehicle of thought signiﬁes the object of the rational psychologist: 16
[Of] the simple, and in itself completely empty, representation ‘I’ [. . .] we cannot even say that this is a concept, but only that it is a bare consciousness which accompanies [begleitet] all concepts. Through this I or he or it (the thing) which thinks, nothing further is represented than a transcendental subject of the thoughts = X. It is known only through the thoughts which are its predicates, and of it, apart from them, we cannot have any concept whatsoever, but can only revolve in a perpetual circle, since any judgement upon it has always already made use of its representation. And the reason why this inconvenience is inseparably bound up with it, is that consciousness in itself is not a representation distinguishing a particular object.
In general I posit the I-Subject if the questions of why or how I’m doing what I’m doing, as theoretical questions, come up. At that point I “step back” from my involvement in the world, in which I experience myself in a multitude of ways as in-the-world, in-time, etc., but I experience what I see, hear, smell, feel in a multitude of spatio-temporal ways. Since the author of the article doesn’t inquire into what happens prior to experiencing the “I” as ‘in my head’, ‘peering out at the world’, i.e. what occurs when we ‘step back’, since we obviously don’t literally step back, the assumption that we experience the world in this manner ‘most of the time’ is invalid. If asked about what we are doing in such a way that we step back and look at it theoretically, we might say that, but while we are actually functioning in the world in an involved way, not looking at it in a theoretical way, we would not describe our experience of ourselves alongside our experience of the World in that way. Interestingly the phrase ‘peering out at the world’, while it doesn’t describe our everyday
ordinary experience of world, does describe very well the peculiar relation to the World that people with autism, or in a more extreme case, people suﬀering from complete depersonalization display. This is an unusual manner of world experience, though, and results in diﬃculties for those that experience world in this way when required to functionally interact with other beings in it.
Your self even can be tricked into hovering in mid-air outside the body. In 2011, Olaf Blanke at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne and colleagues asked volunteers to lie on their backs and via a headset watch a video of a person of similar appearance being stroked on the back. Meanwhile, a robotic arm installed within the bed stroked the volunteer’s back in the same way. The experience that people described was signiﬁcantly more immersive than simply watching a movie of someone else’s body. Volunteers felt they were ﬂoating above their own body, and a few experienced a particularly strange eﬀect. Despite the fact that they were all lying facing upwards, some felt they were ﬂoating face down so they could watch their own back (see "Leaving the body"). "I was looking at my own body from above," said one participant. "The perception of being apart from my own body was a bit weak but still there." "That was for us really exciting, because it gets really close to the classical out-of-body experience of looking down at your own body," says team member Bigna Lenggenhager, now at the University of Bern in Switzerland. Further support came by repeating the experiment inside an MRI scanner, which showed a brain region called the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) behaving diﬀerently when people said they were drifting outside their bodies.
This ties in neatly with previous studies of brain lesions in people who reported out-of-body experiences, which also implicated the TPJ. The TPJ shares a common trait with other brain regions that researchers believe are associated with body illusions: it helps to integrate visual, tactile and proprioceptive senses with the signals from the inner ear that give us our sense of balance and spatial orientation. This provides more evidence that the brain’s ability to integrate various sensory stimuli plays a key role in locating the self in the body. (Anil Ananthaswamy, New Scientist, February 20, 2013)
The idea that the Self is skin bounded appeared at the same time as the notion of the I-Subject as the Self. As a result it’s no surprise that from the perspective of the Subject this kind of experience is unexpected. However the spatial nature of the Self has barely begun to be clariﬁed. We can say with some certainty that we experience ourselves as being-in (the world, society, my body) but in what way being-in is spatial is indeterminate. We ﬁrst experience the “in” as place, but place doesn’t always correspond with abstract dimensional space. When I’m on the phone while driving, in some sense I am “in” the car, and I’m able to continue to functionally manipulate the car “in” traﬃc, “in” the area I’m driving through, but simultaneously I am sharing a “place” through my being-with the person on the phone that is not spatial in any way, and I’m more immediately aware of that place, more “in” that non-spatialized place, than “in” my physical surroundings, although I can access my awareness of those surroundings and the sense of my being-in those surroundings if I care to, but this requires a directed mediation that redirects my attention. This in itself demonstrates that I am aware of myself in a situation even when my attention is otherwise occupied,
and can be aware of being-in multiple situations simultaneously, although my self-conscious attention may be directed to only one of them. The assumption that my being “in-my-body” as the place I’m most immediately aware of is not valid, then. When I pay attention, in a non-theoretical way, to something across the room, my immediate awareness of myself is as alongside the things I’m paying attention to, not “in-my-body” across the room. It’s only as the I-Subject, in a theoretical mode, that my perspective “from-my-body” becomes primary. Oddly though, precisely when we experience ourselves as the I-Subject “in” the body, “peering out at the world”, our ability to be bodily is impaired. We become awkward, ‘self-conscious’ in the common use of the phrase. Our habitual, familiar ability to function bodily in the world is no longer seamless. Our everyday involved sense of ourselves as bodily is not “in-the-body”, as a kind of entity-container, but “as” a body. As a body, we body into a room when we are not feeling ‘self-conscious’ of how we are appearing to others. Our experience of the outlines of the bodily self also changes in diﬀerent situations. To go back to the driving example, once we have learned fully how to drive we no longer experience ourselves as a body “in” a car, but as the car. Yet when driving an unfamiliar car for the ﬁrst time, for the ﬁrst short while we experience ourselves as “in” the car again, as we did when we were ﬁrst learning to drive and not yet accomplished at it. This points to how habit and the familiarity it brings is the origin, not of the Self, but of how the Self spatializes itself, and how it experiences itself as a body to begin with.
Self as System vs Self as Set of Attributes
We began with the notion that the Self, like any other thing of which we can say it is in fact ‘one’ thing, is systemic in nature. The word ‘systemic’ has the advantage of clearly indicating that it has to do with system, without implying a false
systematic nature to the multitude of systems that are not systematic; systems that are full of contradictions, oppositions, and random anomalies. Badiou’s notion that there is no ‘one’, using set theory as his demonstration, misses the point that a system is not simply a set. Sets are arbitrary collections, whether of elements in older set theory or other sets in newer set theory. The accumulation into a set doesn’t fundamentally change its members – as part of the set they are simply what they were, albeit now collected. Systems on the other hand are functional arrangements – they have the ability to function as one thing. For this to occur the relations between members of a system are determined as to their structure, whereas in a set the members may be moved, swapped etc. in any desired fashion. This arrangement of ‘parts’ of a system gives systems speciﬁc structures, structures that lead to the formation of aspects (systemic features found only in the system as-a-whole when it is functioning), as well as emergent features (features that appear due to relations between subsystems and substructures of subsystems). As a result, while a set is simply the sum of its members, along with any implemented functions that work on all members (such as an appropriate way to sort them), a system is generally more than the sum of its parts. This ‘more’ comes about both as functionality found in the relations between members that don’t exist in any individual member and through emergent features triggered by relations between substructures of the system. Further, these emergent features, within a complex system, can form their own systemic structures leading to functionality not found anywhere in the original system, or even in the original system as a whole at the scale of its implementation. The result of this latter situation is that the higher-level emergent system becomes determinative for the behaviour of the system or systems that comprise it. A system cannot be fully determined, though, from within itself, as Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem adequately demonstrates. Since we are
our Selves, there is no meta-system available from which the Self could be fully determined. Since a necessary aspect of the self involves being-in-the-World, but it is only an aspect, the Self and World are equiprimordial, they require each other but neither is the meta of the other, the World as a system is similarly not fully determined. The question of the Self, as to what it is, thereby gains an initial determination that can assist us in pointing towards the areas that need to be looked at in order to gain a fuller, more explicit determination of the Self. The question of the question of the Self concerns how, methodologically, one might approach the Self, given that the Self is in each and every case “who we are” and thus something one cannot simply look at from an external perspective, whether spatial or temporal. With the caveat implied by this inability to “get hold” of one’s Self in its totality, can the question of the Self retain validity as a question? As a guiding idea, a temporary way of holding oﬀ the question’s full impact until we have more familiarity with how the question of the self works itself out, we admit that any answer will be at best partial, perspectival and horizonal, but that it can still deal with truths that are not purely personal or solipsistic, due to the shared nature of the Self in question, and the resulting ability to look at the shared Self in a manner where individual perspectives can be checked against, and modiﬁed by, other individual perspectives that have the same reality in view. Words such as spirit, soul, or psyche have accumulated a wealth of disparate meanings determined by subcultural modiﬁcations of the assumptions that came to underlie the usage of the words. Disentangling the Self from the other words that at ﬁrst glance appear either synonymous or at least closely related is an initial necessity in order to ask the question of the Self as it is in itself.
A further problem lies in the fact that in most types of questioning, we adopt a questioning, or theoretical stance prior to actually asking the question. However this ‘stance’ is itself a speciﬁc mode of the Self, with the result that what is actually observed, even within a careful phenomenology, is the Self as it is only in that mode. Heidegger’s inquiry into the nature of the being in question in its everyday mode, rather than its theoretical mode, demonstrated that the theoretical mode was not the ‘usual’ mode of the Self, but an abstract, artiﬁcial mode in which we look at things rather than involve ourselves with them.
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