You’ve heard a lot of people call others their doppelgänger or siblings from another mother. When it comes to our individuality, what really constitutes our solitary self as human beings? Who are we? What are we made of? Who are you? Who am I?
The self is an impalpable topic, which fascinates me. The 2014 publication, Self, is probably the most interesting yet strangling philosophical text I’ve come across. Barry Dainton, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Liverpool presents to the reader several scenarios that require you to channel your sixth sense.
In the prologue, he makes you the subject of an assumption. Imagine waking up in the morning and realising that something above your head- your brain is missing. Your computer has a message left by the kidnappers that reads, “You will receive an email from us shortly – your brain will be returned to you.” Beyond mind-boggling, this context serves as a central part of Barry’s belief and argument. Barry constantly refers to theories and texts by olden philosophers and scientists on the quest to understand the self, while constantly making assumptions. In the end, a couple of things that probably constitute the self of a human being arise. Our consciousness make us more than just physical beings. But we are also more than just consciousness. Barry terms part of the self as our stream of continuous consciousness (C-System).
The self is more diverse and elusive than we think or has been deduced, because the exact point of the brain that owns the mind and how it synchronizes all other bodily/mind functions hasn’t yet been conclusively and unanimously been identified. Barry writes: suppose you lost all consciousness or you are dead in dreamless sleep – would you still be yourself or someone else? If you were to teleport, would the other person who arrives in the other destination, worlds apart, still be you or someone else with certain aspects of your self? If you had an accident and lost all consciousness and your memory, should you be considered to be a new person?
Regarding how future technology might affect the self, Barry presupposes that shall technology find a way of working closely with the human brain in the coming centuries, human beings would simply use memory chips with other people’s C-systems. And if you had this chip, you could at a moment live inside the mind and consciousness of whatever personality you fancied from the past or future, even Michael Jackson or Napoleon. “These virtual reality trips to the past would certainly be used occasionally in history lessons, and future historians will no doubt make more use of the facility, as would novelists and others with a particular interest in what it was like to live at a certain period.”
A more advanced technology would have future people either have a way or extending life cells and lifespan in general or immerse minds, through memory chips attached to computer software or technology simulation, into a virtual world, where you could create your world or rebuild your existence anew—pretty similar to architectural simulation of the film: Inception. (This part of the book shikas me a good one!)
Barry is convinced that if technologies like global wireless internet connection on mobile devices, something that seemed like magic centuries ago, was invented – there are so many more innovations similar to magic that could be invented. Barry writes: It is very important to appreciate just how powerful the most powerful computers of the future might be. He refers to Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom’s simulation trilemma argument:
- The human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a technologically advanced stage.
- It is unlikely that any advanced civilization will run large numbers of simulations of their own history.
- We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.
But to what extent will technological simulation on humans be survivable? If you could get into a virtual world, teleport, acquire or exchange personalities and consciousness, would you return to your original self, dead or alive? Barry speculates. The self remains a subject as deep and vast as the ocean. In summary, Barry asserts that the human will is self-driven. It is possible that you could survive almost anything, in life and through afterlife – but only if it’s what your mind wants and determined to achieve.
The self can’t be defined solely though physical attributes or the pumping of a heart but by the memory’s composition, and how this is influenced by past and present social and genetic factors. The present, however, seems to trigger most our autobiographical memories, even more than video recordings and pictures. “Psychological research has shown that our memories are not passive replays of (mental) recordings, but active re-creations, which typically involve a sizeable number of fictional elements.”
I bought this awesome book in Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum Bookshop. It isn’t for the light-minded. Expect to encounter jargon and some uninspiring diagrams. But if you can keep up with Barry’s book and your mind’s interpretations of this information; you will be a step closer to understanding the self and it’s facets like souls and how it all evolves though continuity and streams of life.
BONUS: You might dig my other post on ‘what’s your self without Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram?’ Cyber Space Obsession: when is time to hit delete?
I found a review of Self + other similar books. Read here: “Is there such a thing as the self? Teleportation and LSD trips could help us understand the nature of personal identity”