Sunday, June 26, 2011

Me, Myself, And I

What is Personal Identity?
“Man is the measure of all things.”
                                                                      -Protagoras
 As you read this sentence, you have a feeling that you have a self which witnesses what is being read. This self is the closest thing that one can identify with. This self may seem explicit and self-evident, but under careful inspection it proves to become more ambiguous then anyone would imagine. Normally one equates themselves with their bodies or memories through time. In the realm of metaphysics on the other hand, the issue of identity gets separated into two categories: qualitative and numerical. The former is qualitative identity; this kind refers to appearance similarities, like that of identical twins. The latter is numerical identity; this kind of relation can be thought of as the part of yourself which stays constant through time; this would be the connection between you now and you in the past or future.
The discipline of metaphysics is concerned with a strict philosophical sense of personal identity; in other words, this paper will be concerned with the numerical (monad-like) condition of identity through time. The aim of this paper is to defend the position that personal identity (PI) is a subjective cognitive phenomenon with no independent objective validity.
Before we move on to explaining the radical implications of PI as a subjective cognitive phenomenon, there needs to be a clarification of what it means to exist subjectively or objectively and how these realms relate. The notion of the Map-Territory relation can help explain how objective and subjective realms relate; they show how subjective experience (map) is not related directly to the things in of them selves (territory). We can think of the map as our subjective experience and the territory as objective existence independent of consciousness. It is plain to see how the map and the territory are not equal- the map is a limited representation of the territory, constructed for the practical means of traveling. This happens as well with our subjective existence; our brain filters unimaginable amounts of sensory data so that only what is relevant to our spatial-temporal goals gets registered. Therefore, the map is not the territory because the map is limited by its pragmatism toward survival based goals.
When thinking of reality in terms of the map-territory relation, the notion of skepticism presents itself. Can we ever truly know what is out there? A solution to this dilemma is to rethink what it means to exist. What does it mean for something to exist? It is clear that in order for something to exist it must be perceived. For instance, the pen in front of me is defined by its shape, color, weight, texture, ect. These attributes constitutes the identity of that object (pen). However, what gives it these features is my pigeonhole like perception which is arbitrarily narrowing the stimulus down to what I perceive as the pen. Yet my perception does not recognize other features like electrical fields, radiation, radio waves; all this is all a part of the “pen”. Hence, it is not possible to say that the pen exists (as we identify it) outside of our perceptions. So one can stipulate that the amount of information one can derive from a particular object is infinite. An example would be either macro or micro observations of matter; no matter how big or small you get, there is always more to see. There are no end points or fundamental parts to anything. So the objective side of existence has no definite set, because the perception process itself is what defines the objects feature or identity; and different perceptions can yield different reactions. To illustrate, imagine two people, an experienced mechanic and a novice trainee. Both are gazing at a car engine, yet their perceptions differ. The trainee can only see an ambiguous mass of metal that has no definite boundaries between parts. However the experienced mechanic can make out a much more defined picture. Yet the mechanics view is not the ultimate view, and it is possible that there can be an infinite amount of succeeding persons with ever increasing knowledge of the engine. In other words, there is no final/complete or basic/fundamental way to experience phenomenon. Thus, we can picture reality as equaling experience. Experience is existence; there is no existence outside of experience (maps of maps). Then what can we say is out there? Metaphysics is concerned with the territory, but the territory has no definite/default nature or structure. And existence entails some sort of form or feature, but these are properties of experience!
In order to better understand how things in of themselves have no definite nature, we must break up existence into three categories: True, False, and Latent Potential. Essentially, things can exist, not-exist, or have the potential to exist. As experience is existence, what lies outside of experience is the potential for experience. This explains how when one leaves a room and comes back later everything is where it was when they left. This is because the perceiver anticipates the arrival of the room in its state (although the state itself may have changed due to things like other perceivers interactions). The potential for the room exists when one leaves it, but not the room as it is to perception. Thus everything exists as a relative binary between perceiver and perceived; and everything else outside of experience is the potential for experience. The dictum by George Berkeley sums this up perfectly: esse est percipi/to be is to be perceived.
Returning to the notion of PI in a reality where existence is experience, it becomes plain how PI is a subjective phenomenon with no objective validity because there is no objective existence as is. PI is product of language because to define I is to define PI. So language is conceptually prior to PI because one needs an I before they can say they assume an identity. Therefore there is no constant PI outside of conditioned responses to particular stimuli, and these particulars are ambiguous and unstable so they do not reflect the strict numerical identity metaphysics is concerned with. Consequently, there is no such thing as a constant numerical identity outside of the quasi-identity generated by accustomed cognitive processes.
This view of PI explained above is from a first person perceptive. Many of the fallacies and criticisms of other views on this topic come from the third person perspective. Before it was argued that in the absence of consciousness existence is in a state of latent potential. Therefore there is no such thing as a third person or objective perspective. Rather what we call the third person view is a perspective from the social consensus; this would be how the culture as a whole defines realties, but this exits in the minds of persons, not objectively. All in all, PI is akin to a psychologically continuous relation.
Moving on to some of the other positions for PI and how this model Conditioned Cognitive Phenomenon Theory (CCPT) improves on them. First is the body argument; it plainly affirms that identity is equated with either physical appearance or molecular composition; however the problem here is the constant ebb and flow of matter, nothing is static. CCPT avoids this problem by insisting a subjective perspective. The Second states that identity is equated with survival. The problem with this is any one thing that survives is made of smaller things that survive(like cells and molecules) and may also be a part of a greater organism(like an ant colony). So identity as survival is not constant in this argument because it is arbitrarily given by a perceiver. The next position is that the souls constitutes identity. But the problem here is what is a soul and how can we tell the difference between souls. CCPT avoids this indistinctness by relating the processes to cognitive phenomenon. To continue, memory is considered to be constitutive identity. Yet the problems arise with situations like sleep, gaps in memory, comas, and hypnotism. The fact is that memory is not a perfect representation, it is plagued by bias. Nietzsche explains, “I have done that says my memory. I cannot have done that says my pride, and remains adamant. At last-memory yields.” He illustrates how our memory works like a self-justifying historian. As a result memory cannot fit the numerical condition of PI. Lastly there is the argument that PI is equated with the brain. Problems with this view arise from thought experiments about fission/fusion and transplant cases. If you split a brain and put it into two host bodies, what happens to the one person before the transplant? CCPT avoids this error by equating identity not with the brain per se, but with the high order organization which is a result of the sum of all the brain parts creating something greater then themselves combined. The term: the whole is greater then the sum of it parts can clarify this. Thus this raises the issue of the binding problem. There is no part of the brain that takes all your different sense organs and unifies them into your experience. As a result this unifying can be consciousness itself. So the centering of experience must take place outside the brain. And if we think back to how the universe only exists through perception, then we can conclude that this indivisible part of the universe-consciousness- is a fundamental part of it and is not bound only to brains.
In conclusion, PI does not exist in any numerical or static way. Instead what appears as constant PI’s is really an illusion brought on by conditioned cognitive phenomenon. Thus there is no territory; rather there are only maps of maps, and the potential for even more maps. Therefore there is no PI outside of vague and ambiguous cognitive phenomenon. The whole universe is a state of flux, the notion of a constant is strange; Buddhists refer to impermanence as Samara while the philosopher Heraclitus mentions it in the quote, “You cannot step twice into the same stream”.