Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

What is the "self"? What is "consciousness"?

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

Rand defines the self as follows: "A man’s self is his mind—the faculty that perceives reality, forms judgments, chooses values."

In Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, she elaborates: "Consciousness is not a primary object, it is not an independent existent, it is an attribute of a certain kind of existents." And: "The notion of 'self' is an axiomatic concept; it's implicit in the concept of 'consciousness'; it can't be separated from it."

I'm trying to clarify the relationship between "self" and "consciousness." If self is a "faculty" of awareness, how is that different from consciousness? For self to be held implicit in consciousness, that must mean the two are non-identical but indivisible. Could one say that the "self" is "the perceiver," while "consciousness" is the awareness that one is perceiving? 

Given that "a man’s self is his mind," how does one identify what constitutes his mind? A "faculty" is an abstraction, not a concrete. Does the "self" have any ontological status at all (if that makes sense)? 

Sorry if this is muddled. My thoughts on the subject are certainly jumbled right now, and I would greatly appreciate some clarification! 

Edit: I'm sure the primacy of existence (as opposed to than the primacy of consciousness) is important here somehow, but I'm not sure how to integrate it. Would love some thoughts on this.

Edited by SelfishRandroid
Link to post
Share on other sites

SR,

There are concrete things that can only be identified by abstract thought. An example would be an electron or the magnetic field it generates if the electron is moving. An attribute such as the electron’s electric charge or it ability to produce a magnetic field are attributes. I suggest that faculties are just functional attributes.

Functional items arise only in a biological setting. The mental is only within the biological. Those are positions of Rand (me too).

As you know, in the ITOE, Rand called out a category of primary existents which she titled entities. Here other basic ontological categories called out there were actions, attributes, and relationships. In your quotation, she is saying that consciousness is an attribute, not an entity. By “certain sort of entity” she would mean certain animals. The attribute consciousness is a functional attribute, and such would seem reasonable to call faculties, continuous of a philosophic tradition of speaking of mental faculties.

Faculties are powers, I’d say. If we spoke of the faculty of walking, we would not mean anything but the ability or power to walk. I imagine it’s just traditions of talking to typically say ability to walk or faculty of thought.

It would be natural within Rand’s metaphysics, I’d say, to take primacy of existence to consciousness to be statement about a relationship. All of Rand’s fundamental categories—entity, action, attribute, and relationship—are existents. The latter three, as you know, are dependent on the first one, the primary form of existent.

Rand took the solar system to be an entity. The biological consciousness-system could be an entity, and this is natural to call mind. It can be an entity set within a larger entity, just as the solar system. But mind is a functional system set within a larger array of functions of the animal. A self is that mind.

Consciousness is sometimes not awareness of an awareness. It is just awareness of things not itself sometimes and most fundamentally. Some animals could have consciousness-selves without awareness of their consciousness-selves, I think.

The question of how one identifies what constitutes one’s mind is something I’ll have to leave. For the answer, I’d look both to modern developmental cognitive psychology and to history of philosophy on the constitution of the mind: the Greeks, Arabs/Scholastics, early Moderns, right on through philosophers to now. Big project, that one!

I think it is right to see consciousness as action, as attribute, or as to relationships. These fundamental categories do not have the exclusivity had by Aristotle’s categories. The can all be true characterizations of a thing, appropriate in different contexts of consideration. 

Edited by Boydstun
Link to post
Share on other sites

Sorry for the errors:

The third sentence should have omitted "An attribute such as" and "it" should be "its".

The second sentence in the third sentence should begin with "Her" not "Here".

The last sentence should begin with "They" not "The".

Link to post
Share on other sites
On 7/4/2020 at 6:17 PM, SelfishRandroid said:

"A man’s self is his mind—the faculty that perceives reality, forms judgments, chooses values."

 

17 hours ago, Boydstun said:

Faculties are powers, I’d say. If we spoke of the faculty of walking, we would not mean anything but the ability or power to walk. I imagine it’s just traditions of talking to typically say ability to walk or faculty of thought.

17 hours ago, Boydstun said:

It can be an entity set within a larger entity, just as the solar system. But mind is a functional system set within a larger array of functions of the animal. A self is that mind.

Just to confirm, isn't "I" self? If so, I is a power, or "the power".

Based on that definition.

"I", implies "the power". (in me (but that may be redundant)) 

It has interesting psychological effects.

Also, to be selfless is to be powerless.

I was just entertained by it, not making any assertions here.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Warning:  The following is to be taken as poetic rather than literal...

 

Religio - re connect or re-linking back

 

Identifying the self with the universe, or the planet... is in the direction of mythical or religious thinking... because although you are in and of these things, you are not identical with them... being unseparated from them and indeed embedded in them.. it is a natural direction in which mystical thinking points... we are star stuff... made from elements formed in supernovae... in a literal "tree of life" billions of years old... each a node on an unbroken branch of ancestry and direct physical, chemical, biological causality ... the eyes, ears and minds of the Earth, the solar system... this is religion and myth... and so perhaps such is going too far.

 

So too perhaps, identifying the self, the "I" with the whole person, an undivided individual, is mythical thinking.   Those far flung parts of our physical bodies not under voluntary control even indirectly: secreting, pumping, and processing, just as the stars whirl, the planet spins, and the continents drift. So too, identifying the "I" and "self" with the body is going too far into myth and religion.

 

So too even with identifying "I" with the whole of the brain and its doing, in identifying with the whole of its processes... where so much occurs autonomously, in the background, subconsciously, or in the depths of sleep.  So much is unbidden and out of our conscious control that we should treat them as foreign as all the rest... lest we be mythologizing ourselves... and such would be going too far.

 

 

Perhaps finally then we might hold onto the "I" as only that tiny portion of all that which is the first-person view of willed conscious experience... whose range of will is a feeble and fleeting "focus or not"... perhaps a rejection of anything mythical or anything religious is to identify only with that one little spark and its feeble range of direct causative power...

 

And yet there is room for something more akin to mythologizing the self... perhaps... for that tiny spark can be the root cause of whole civilizations, and one day, cause continents or even planets to move ...

and perhaps there also is room for a re-linking to those things with which any "I" participates and is enmeshed: in a complex relationship as literally as old as time and as wide as the universe...

identifying the "I" and the "self" with the Objective experience of the nigh infinite whirling whole through but one of many of its utterly unique center points about which it all goes round and round and round. 

Edited by StrictlyLogical
Link to post
Share on other sites

SL, Poetically said, I think the poetic manner is a singular way to condense and express this unbelievable totality of life and one's life's existence. There are wonders here, how this animal made of star-stuff could become consciously rational and aware of its consciousness which ~almost~ seem mythological or religious. "Lest we be mythologizing ourselves" - of the species and of the individual being, I don't know of how one cannot. Obviously, without the supernaturalism. That autonomous "I" unique to you was who could observe, will to think those things, question them and marvel. This recalls, I like that old "You are a child of the universe: no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here". We are "right" to be here and right for "here", without any intention of the Universe.  And another, from that song: "I sing the Body Electric ... I toast to my own reunion, when I become one with the Sun".

Edited by whYNOT
Link to post
Share on other sites
On 7/4/2020 at 9:17 PM, SelfishRandroid said:

Given that "a man’s self is his mind," how does one identify what constitutes his mind? A "faculty" is an abstraction, not a concrete. Does the "self" have any ontological status at all (if that makes sense)? 

I'm not sure this was covered yet.

I think of consciousness as specifically general awareness with mental states. A process, as was mentioned before.

Self in this context would be the entire history of that conscious activity. Memories of your life, history of mental states, cognitive development, things like that. A self would be more complex, because it requires directed thinking. A relatively simple consciousness like a beetle can be vaguely aware of things like the presence of food, but it doesn't direct its thinking in terms of values or memories. 

Edited by Eiuol
Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, Eiuol said:

Self in this context would be the entire history of that conscious activity.

I will challenge you on that (mainly in regards to one's own perspective or experience of self because the above statement my apply to others experience of you(as a self)).

Let us say, one day you wake up and you have lost memory of a lot of your past.

Do you not have a self?
Are you not yourself?
Did you lose part of yourself or all (as in you are a completely different self)

Or, you simply lost your memory, you are fully intact, an "I".

I think you would agree, that you still have an "I" that decides, observed, etc.
Does the law of identity not apply to "I", as in you lost a bunch of your memory, yet you still have an "I"? The same "I" as before.

The other question would be:

If there are small "I" and a large "I". That "I" that never changes in me through all the memories,

vs.

At 10 am I am NOT hungry
At 12  I am hungry

Same I, but a different experience of the world. 

But, after the huge meal, some will say, that was a different me that ate the food because I am so full right now, I could puke. 
Don't tell me about hungry. I don't even know what that is.

And Finally, there is the self that  you never see that other see.
They see your twitch on your face while you don't notice.
They see you slight frown of surprise while you were trying prevent them from knowing.
And they know how loud your snoring is but not you.

Link to post
Share on other sites
On 7/8/2020 at 7:36 PM, Easy Truth said:

Let us say, one day you wake up and you have lost memory of a lot of your past.

Do you not have a self?
Are you not yourself?
Did you lose part of yourself or all (as in you are a completely different self)

Depends on if the memories are recoverable. 

The idea about the entire history of conscious activity is that that entire history is connected. If you literally had no memory whatsoever of your past (knowing English, remembering how to ride a bike, knowing the fact Ayn Rand is from Russia, remembering your favorite book when you were five years old, how to read, etc.) and none of these things were recoverable (as could happen from a stroke that destroys part of your brain), you would not be yourself anymore. On the other hand, if those memories are recoverable (because the brain damage is not severe enough), you would still be yourself. 

I agree that there would still be a self after the irrecoverable and traumatic amnesia, but I will add that it is not the same self. It would be separate and distinct. A new history would begin once you woke up from whatever caused the memory loss.

On 7/8/2020 at 7:36 PM, Easy Truth said:

If there are small "I" and a large "I". That "I" that never changes in me through all the memories,

Same continuous history of conscious activity, so still the same self. Focusing on the history of a particular consciousness avoids the issues of having to ask if a new mental state is a completely new self. You don't ask if the Nile River is still the same Nile River as one hour ago, and in the same way, you don't ask if your stream of consciousness now is still the same stream of consciousness as one hour ago. 


Notice that you are talking about essentialism, or perhaps something like a substance. Is there a permanent "I"ness underlying your memories and your values? If we say that consciousness and self are activities, rather than an entity or a substance, then we have to say that there is no permanent "I"ness. 

Edited by Eiuol
Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Boydstun said:

For anyone interested in these issues, I'd encourage getting in hand Damasio's layout of core/extended consciousness and core/extended self in The Feeling of What Happens.

For introduction it is easy to view Antonio Damasio on his book Self Comes to Mind, especially 457

It's been many years since I read a few of Gerald Edelman's books, so my memory of their content has faded. Anyway, he made a similar distinction between primary consciousness and higher consciousness. An Amazon search on his name will give a longer list of the books he wrote.

Edited by merjet
Link to post
Share on other sites

 "Building on this foundation, he now shows how consciousness is created. Consciousness is the feeling of what happens-our mind noticing the body's reaction to the world and responding to that experience. Without our bodies there can be no consciousness, which is at heart a mechanism for survival that engages body, emotion, and mind in the glorious spiral of human life".

"...our mind noticing the body's reaction to the world and responding to that experience." Sounds like "the pleasure-pain mechanism", which all sentient life has. What is Damasio saying contra Descartes- "I feel, therefore I am"?

Edited by whYNOT
Link to post
Share on other sites

In What idea in Self Comes to Mind do you expect to cause ripples in the world of neuroscience?, Antonio suggested that the human brain stem shares characteristics observed in the reptilian brain. Hearing that reminded me of Harry Binswanger in his Selected Topics in the Philosophy of Science lecture associated the evolution of the human brain sharing aspects with the birds.

 

 

 

 

Edited by dream_weaver
Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, whYNOT said:

 "Building on this foundation, he now shows how consciousness is created. Consciousness is the feeling of what happens-our mind noticing the body's reaction to the world and responding to that experience. Without our bodies there can be no consciousness, which is at heart a mechanism for survival that engages body, emotion, and mind in the glorious spiral of human life".

"...our mind noticing the body's reaction to the world and responding to that experience." Sounds like "the pleasure-pain mechanism", which all sentient life has. What is Damasio saying contra Descartes- "I feel, therefore I am"?

(Some classical philosophy, related to the following, though without modern neurobiology, is here at OO.)

Tony, let’s open to page ten of that work The Feeling of What Happens.

“You are looking at this page, reading the text and constructing the meaning of my words as you go along. But concern with text and meaning hardly describes all that goes on in your mind. In parallel with representing the printed words and displaying the conceptual knowledge required to understand what I wrote, your mind also displays something else, something sufficient to indicate, moment by moment, that you rather than anyone else are doing the reading and the understanding of the text. The sensory images of what you perceive externally, and the related images you recall, occupy most of the scope of your mind, but not all of it. Besides those images there is also this other presence that signifies you, as observer of the things imaged, owner of the things imaged, potential actor on the things imaged. There is a presence of you in a particular relationship with some object. If there were no such presence, how would your thoughts belong to you? . . . Later I shall propose that the simplest form of such a presence is also an image, actually the kind of image that constitutes a feeling. In that perspective, the presence of you is the feeling of what happens when your being is modified by the acts of apprehending something.”

Sample page from this work:

Scan 1.jpeg

Edited by Boydstun
Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you, Stephen. I am getting up to speed on Damasio, e.g. here:https://www.edbatista.com/2011/07/antonio-damasio-on-emotion-and-reason.html

and will need time to take in your paper.

I have recently been in a debate in which others maintained that emotions must precede reason, consciousness is emotion, etc. which is lethally prominent in societies today - and that Damasio was the expert in this field, so I'm looking into him. They could be misinterpreting him.

There are critical components I've not seen yet in Damasio's work on emotion and reason: identification, value, value-judgments and the "self-programming" of those in the subconscious. How does one *sense* which emotion is appropriate to feel for the bear one meets in the woods? Without some previous acquaintance, foreknowledge, etc.?

There may be lack of causality and reversed causation (e.g. "I am angry because I strike" - James). But beyond doubt, the emotions provide invaluable, instant signals for our good and survival/well-being.

For me the most masterful writing on emotions was done by Branden, whom I'd say built upon and refined on Rand. His thinking is evidently true to the point of being self-evident and irrefutable, I think. Just one indicative excerpt from Honoring the Self, ch. Rational Selfishness:

"Another area of confusion concerns the relationship between reason and emotion. Rationality tells us we must not follow our emotions blindly, that to do so is undesirable and dangerous. Who can dispute that? But such counsel does not adequately deal with the possibility that in a particular situation our emotions might reflect the more correct assessment of reality. A clash between mind and emotions is a clash between two judgments, one of which is conscious, the other of which might not be. We do not follow the voice of emotion or feeling unthinkingly; rather we try to try to understand what it might be telling us.

[introspection required, NB as with AR. "Why do I feel that?"].

[...]

"This I might mention, is an example of where my approach differs from Rand's. She was far quicker to assume that in any conflict between the mind and the heart, it was the heart that had to be mistaken. Not necessarily -- although ultimately only reason can decide". HtS

 

 

Edited by whYNOT
Link to post
Share on other sites
31 minutes ago, whYNOT said:

I have recently been in a debate in which others maintained that emotions must precede reason, etc. which is lethally prominent in societies today - and that Damasio was the expert in this field, so I'm looking into him. They could be misinterpreting him prejudicially.

They would be misinterpreting him. Damasio means that emotions precede reason in terms of neural development, and psychological development beginning as an infant. This isn't an epistemological claim about how one ought to think, as if we must depend upon emotions as a means to knowledge before we begin reasoning. Although a system of reasoning requires a system of emotions in terms of how the brain functions, it doesn't follow that emotions are of primary importance (and Damasio doesn't say that emotions are primary). The link you gave shows this basically.

I don't think he's making any deeper claim than "emotions should not be ignored!". As a psychologist I disagree with some of his theory on the level of details, but his general idea is good. 

Edited by Eiuol
Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Eiuol said:

They would be misinterpreting him. Damasio means that emotions precede reason in terms of neural development, and psychological development beginning as an infant. This isn't an epistemological claim about how one ought to think, as if we must depend upon emotions as a means to knowledge before we begin reasoning. Although a system of reasoning requires a system of emotions in terms of how the brain functions, it doesn't follow that emotions are of primary importance (and Damasio doesn't say that emotions are primary). The link you gave shows this basically.

I don't think he's making any deeper claim than "emotions should not be ignored!". As a psychologist I disagree with some of his theory on the level of details, but his general idea is good. 

"This isn't an epistemological claim about how one ought to think..."

That is significant, and if as far that goes, no problem. But here's my problem: causality.

  "Emotions are evoked by perceived or imagined stimuli that generate a wide range of physiological responses--body states, as Damasio calls them--that in turn generate sets of mental images associated with those body states. For example, if you're walking in the woods and come across a bear, your perception of the bear's large bulk, possibly moving quickly toward you, will result in a series of physiological changes. Your pulse and respiration will quicken, your blood pressure will rise, your pupils will dilate, and adrenaline and other neurotransmitters will be released. Your brain senses these physiological responses, generates a host of mental images associated with this collective body state, and you experience the feeling you know as "fear." Note the sequence--the unconscious physiological responses precede the conscious awareness of the feeling". (from the essay)

"Your perception - will result in - your pulse etc. - your brain senses these physiological changes - the unconscious...responses precede the conscious awareness of the feeling."

This seems bunk to me. Your "brain" is the last to know -- effectively.

Surely and conversely, one's senses, see (hear, touch, smell) an existent, stimulus or situation which instantly raises a subconscious - but previously consciously evaluated, good/bad for me - threat, and instantly brain chemicals are released, pulse rate jumps (etc.)

Therefore, a consciousness initiates the process immediately causing the physiological responses and they in turn are what we *feel*, physically experience.

Edited by whYNOT
Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, whYNOT said:

This seems bunk to me. Your "brain" is the last to know -- effectively.

The passage you quoted sounds like he was describing a bottom up process, where stimuli are gradually processed by afferent neurons in the nerve signals are sent to your spinal cord, up the brainstem, then spread out to the cerebellum and the rest of your brain. This isn't controversial, and very easy to observe by any neuroscientist when they look at neurons directly. By the sound of it, what he terms emotion is bottom up. As I recall, Damasio makes a distinction between feelings and emotions. 

It doesn't say anything about top-down processes, which undoubtedly exist, where signals are sent the opposite direction, through efferent neurons at the very end. Any cognitive psychologist like Damasio believes in top-down processes.

You would be right if he was claiming that all brain processing is bottom up. That would be the thinking of a radical behaviorist probably, who effectively thinks everything is the result of bottom-up processing. 

Edited by Eiuol
Link to post
Share on other sites

It may well be that Damasio is misunderstood or misrepresented, but what I regularly hear from his champions who follow his neurological inputs, is essentially this:

"The body knows".

So, no need to mention such annoying things as the organism's value-in-itself - nor the human's absolutely necessary, conscious value-judgments, (and everyone knows how judgmentalism has become unpopular) - the specific emotion one feels is ¬always¬ ineffably correct, moral and true. You are excused from your emotions, they aren't a product of your identification and evaluations.

The consequences on behaviors among people is what concerns me. With reason and volition in steep decline, determinism and emotional primacy on the rise, what we see is not the proper relationship of reason and emotions as Damasio may have intended, but the collapse of reason.

Edited by whYNOT
Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, Eiuol said:

The passage you quoted sounds like he was describing a bottom up process, where stimuli are gradually processed by afferent neurons in the nerve signals are sent to your spinal cord, up the brainstem, then spread out to the cerebellum and the rest of your brain. This isn't controversial, and very easy to observe by any neuroscientist when they look at neurons directly. By the sound of it, what he terms emotion is bottom up. As I recall, Damasio makes a distinction between feelings and emotions. 

It doesn't say anything about top-down processes, which undoubtedly exist, where signals are sent the opposite direction, through efferent neurons at the very end. Any cognitive psychologist like Damasio believes in top-down processes.

You would be right if he was claiming that all brain processing is bottom up. That would be the thinking of a radical behaviorist probably, who effectively thinks everything is the result of bottom-up processing. 

Doesn't outward-in and inward-out, better metaphorically describe the processes? Bottom-up, etc. is confusing. Of course, one knows one is capable of doing both, with "inward-out" a sort of 'reverse flushing of the system', a periodical system check as I see it. That's unsurprising, uncontroversial, as you remark.

If I may describe consciousness as the persisting and discerning subject of awareness - naturally (by experience of introspection), one also knows what IS the aware-subject. Awareness and self-awareness are mutually supportive. "Discerning" is the good word I think, since it embraces identification and evaluation.

Edited by whYNOT
Link to post
Share on other sites
16 hours ago, dream_weaver said:

In What idea in Self Comes to Mind do you expect to cause ripples in the world of neuroscience?, Antonio suggested that the human brain stem shares characteristics observed in the reptilian brain.

 

 
 

 

 

Also uncontroversial, d_w. The brain, reptilian or mammalian, had to be built upon - - something.

A common brain stem atop a spinal chord, in all creatures makes biological sense. As does the entirety of a brain working harmoniously and hierarchically, without contradiction. All animals are 'designed' for survival. Those which have and do, best utilize their inherent nature, as man must (although not automatically and instinctively, as is 'given' to other species).

Edited by whYNOT
Link to post
Share on other sites

Highly recommended: “An Exploration of The Relationship between Reason and Emotions” by Marsha Enright in JARS V4N1 (Fall 2002)* — forty-three pages integrating psychological and neurological findings, including integration of Rand/Branden and Damasio.

I first learned of Magda Arnold, a psychologist who struck a distinction between feeling and emotion, from Robert Efron's review of her book Emotion and Personality in The Objectivist (Jan. 1966). From that review:

“Dr. Arnold makes an interesting, and to my knowledge, an original distinction between ‘feelings’ and ‘emotions’. Feelings, she states, are the positive (pleasurable) or negative (unpleasant) internal states which are the direct and immediate effects of sensory stimulation either from external or internal sources.They follow from appraisals of how sensations affect us. In contradistinction, emotion are reactions to the appraisal of perceptions. Whereas feelings follow from the effect of sensations on our body, emotions follow from appraisals of the phenomena of external reality. . . . Dr. Arnold develops her distinction very effectively when she traces the development of emotions from the simple feeling states of the newborn baby to the complex emotions of adult life.”

Chapter 2 of Damasio 1999 is titled “Emotion and Feeling.”  

I attach a scan of Notes from Torres and Kamhi 2000, which includes historical connection of Rand, Branden, and Arnold and which gives glimpse of the integration of Objectivist thought with up-to-date research on emotions and consciousness included in their book What Art Is. (Click on image.)

MA.jpeg

Edited by Boydstun
Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, whYNOT said:

Doesn't outward-in and inward-out, better metaphorically describe the processes?

Yeah, I think that would make more sense when talking about consciousness, especially when we come to realize through more research that the brain isn't simply divided into a primitive brain and an advanced brain (it's not like the reptile amygdala can do as much as the human amygdala). On the other hand, top-down can reflect signals being sent literally from the top from your cortex on down, as would happen if you decide to wiggle your toe. 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

"Contrary to Rand, most theorists hold that the stored information involved in emotion may include certain 'hard-wired' (i.e. genetically determined) responses such as an innate fear of snakes".

Strongly doubt that. Many children have handled snakes under supervision without necessarily feeling fear. The fear is most likely a consciously or subconsciously learned response from adults (additionally maybe, one's repulsion for a creature which moves silently and swiftly without limbs). Place a (harmless) snake in the vicinity of an infant and she will probably react with pleasurable curiosity, going by all the other things and small animals a child takes to, disproving the innate theory.

And which are other instances of "stored information involved in emotion"?

Edited by whYNOT
Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...