Video: No-Self, Self, and Selves

First, this is an extension of sorts from a prior post on No-Self, Selves & Self, but I wanted to create a short video for my YouTube channel to establish somewhat of a foundation for my intended video on the causa sui argument. Related content can be found on this one of the Theseus posts.

This video is under 8-minutes long and provides some touch-points. I had considered making it longer and more comprehensive, but since it is more of a bridge to a video I feel is more interesting, I cut some corners. This leaves openings for more in-depth treatment down the road.

As has become a routine, I share the transcript here for convenience and SEO relevance.

Transcript

In this segment of free will scepticism, we’ll establish some perspectives on the notion of the self.
Most of us in the West are familiar with the notion of the self. What’s your self? It’s me. For the more pedantic crowd, It is I.

We’re inundated with everything from self-help to self-awareness to self-esteem to selfies and self-love. We’ve got self-portraits, self-image, and self-harm. We’ve got self-ish and self-less.
We’ve even got self-oriented psychological disorders like narcissism. Attending to the self is a billion-dollar industry.

And whilst psychology and pop-psychology seem to consider the self to be a nicely wrapped package fastened tightly with a bow, it’s a little more contentious within philosophy. But there are other perspectives that don’t include the self, from no-self to slices of discontiguous selves. Let’s shift gears and start from the notion of having no self, what Buddhism calls no-self.

No-Self

Buddhism is an Eastern discipline, so it does not have the same foundations as the West. According to this system of belief, the notion of a personal identity is delusional, so there is no self at all. This obsession and clinging to this delusional self is a major cause of suffering.

the notion of a personal identity is delusional,
so there is no self at all.

In this view, all is one and indivisible, but self-deception leads us to believe we are individuals, each with a discrete self. In fact, the Buddhist notion of Enlightenment—as opposed to the Western notion of Enlightenment—is precisely this realisation that there is only one self, and this is the collective self. But, to be fair, except for the times where the self has yet to be developed—we’ll get to this in a bit—, this notion of no-self is aspirational in the sense of losing one’s self in order to reduce suffering.

The concept of selflessness exists in language, but this is more aimed at sublimating the self in favour of a greater collective good.

Self

The self is the central feature of many personality theories from Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung to Rollo May and Abraham Maslow. From individuation to self-actualisation. The self is self-referenced as I and me. Historically, the self had been considered to be synonymous with some metaphysical soul. Nowadays, psychology has taken the reigns on definitions.

One version of the self can be thought of as a single thread connecting beads of experience through time, time-slices of experience. We’ll come back to this. This sense of self extends backwards in time until now and contains aspirations projected forward in time as viewed from the perspective of now.

This sense of self extends backwards in time until now and contains aspirations projected forward in time as viewed from the perspective of now.

Whilst we use terms like ‘person’, ‘self’, and ‘individual’ somewhat synonymously, they each have different meanings. Whereas ‘individual’ is a biological term; ‘person’ is sociological or cultural; ‘self’ is psychological. Although the default position in the West is the adoption of the psychological notion, where each person has a self, there is also a philosophical notion. Given that the perspective of self is so ubiquitous with people accepting it as obvious, that it feels like I shouldn’t even spend time producing content to fill this space. But for a sense of completeness, I shall.

Psychologist William James distinguished between the ‘I’ and ‘me’ sense of the self, but let’s not parse this and consider each a stand-in for the self as experienced by the self. In this view, the self is generally considered to be the aggregation of continuous phenomenological moments and how we interpret them into a sense of ‘identity’.

In the West, the notion of having a self is imposed by convention. To feel otherwise is considered to be a sign of mental illness. As much as I want to share Foucault’s perspective on how delineating mental illness operates to the benefit of power structures, let’s just consider this out of scope. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5, notes that a key symptom of borderline personality disorder, BPD, is a ‘markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self’. Become selfless at your own peril.

There are challenges with the notion of self even in psychology. In developmental psychology, the self—differentiating one’s self into an identity separate from the world—, is not acquired until about the age of 18 months. Lacan had suggested that this so-called mirror stage developed at around 5 months as part of ego formation, but further research disputes this.

Although I won’t go into detail, individualist cultures experience the self differently than collectivist cultures. The origin of the concept of the individualistic view of self can be traced to early Christianity. In American culture, Protestantism seems to be a primary driver of the individualistic view of self. Let’s continue.

Selves

Heraclitus quipped, ‘No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man’. This is a nod to the impermanence of the self. Instead, there are selves.

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man

Heraclitus

Galen Strawson proposes that although he understands intellectually what others mean when they use the word self, he doesn’t share this experience emotionally. Unlike the phenomenological slices connected by a thread, he doesn’t feel he has a thread. He posits that he experiences this prevailing sense of narrativity episodically without continuity.

A typical view of the self is that one feels narratively connected to past slices—the 5-year-old self with the 20-year-old self and with the 50-year-old self, whether that 50-year-old self is in the past, present, or future. Even though we are not the same person, there is some felt affinity.

My View

As for me, I consider the self to be a constructed fiction that serves a heuristic function. I don’t feel as disconnected as it seems Strawson does, but I don’t feel very connected to my 7 or 8-year-old self. And I can’t even remember before that. I’m not even sure I’ve got one data point for each year between 8 and 12, and it doesn’t get much better until 18 or 20. From there, I may be able to cobble together some average of a dozen or so per year without prompting, but I don’t even feel like the same person. Many of my views and perspectives have changed as well.

I don’t even feel like the same person

I was in the military until I quit as a Conscientious Objector. During that time, I became aware of Buddhism, and I doubled down on my musical interests. I worked in the Entertainment industry until I became an undergrad student, transitioning to become a wage slave whilst also attending grad school until I graduated. I’ve had several career foci since then. With each change, I’ve had a different self with a different outlook.

Can I connect the dots? Sort of. But I can also create a thematic collage out of magazine clippings or create art with found objects. I can tell a disjointed story of how I transitioned from X to Y to Z. It may even contain some elements of truth. Given how memory operates, who can tell?

In any case, what about you? In the next segment, I’m going to be discussing why we may not have free will owing to a lack of agency based on a causa sui argument.

Do you feel like you have a self? Does your sense of self have any gaps or inconsistencies? Do you feel you don’t have a self at all?

Let me know in the comments below.

Justice and Intent

When discussing the topic of justice, besides the element of the event of offence, another element is typically intent. In this case, a father inadvertently left an infant in his car. He was supposed to drop the child off at daycare but forget and instead drove directly to work. The temperatures were hot, and this contributed to the death of the child. Upon discovering this, the father suicided.

I have copied the story below in full, as these things have been known to go missing every now and again.

A Virginia father died by an apparent suicide after finding his child dead inside his hot car, authorities said.

It appears the father accidentally left the 18-month-old in the car for at least three hours on Tuesday, leading to the child’s death, Lt. Col. Christopher Hensley of the Chesterfield Police Department said at a news conference.

When the child didn’t arrive at daycare, the father apparently realized the toddler was in his car, Hensley said.

Around noon, family members called police to report that the father was talking about dying by suicide in the woods behind his house. The father was the only person home at the time, Hensley said.

Responding officers found the car in the driveway with an open door and an empty child seat, Hensley said.

Officers went into the home where they found the dead 18-month-old, he said.

As officers continued to check the perimeter, they found the father dead in the woods from an apparent gunshot wound, he said.

Hensley called it a “horrible tragedy on so many levels.”

This marks the eighth child to die from a hot car this year, according to national nonprofit KidsAndCars.org. More than 1,000 kids have died from hot cars since 1990, the organization said.

Click here for tips on how to keep children safe from hot cars this summer.

ABC News

An interest of mine is justice, hence this post. I’ll get to that, but there is also a narrative of social priorities to extract from here, too.

The first is that we live in a society where 18-month-olds almost need to be separated from their family. Of course, the privileged can defend that they have sitters or au pairs or nannies. In the past, there were extended families and Clinton’s Village. Each has its plusses and minuses. I am not a fan of the idea of women serving as baby factories, pumping out babies and serving their plight as wage slaves, but that’s not my call. I also understand that raising children is not the most mentally stimulating activity, but that’s beside the point.

In this case, the father was more focused on getting to work than the welfare of his child. And given the outcome, it’s obvious that he had feelings for the child—although perhaps it was more the fear of the repercussions of being blamed. One can’t know for sure, but I’ll opt for the charitable rendition.

Let’s return to justice. Justice is the sense that one gets one’s just desert, but what is just and what is desert? In the artificial form of justice purportedly practised by lawyers and jurists, this man would not likely be held responsible for legal reasons without even having to plumb the depths of philosophical reasons.

It’s been said that karma operates with three levers:
intent, action, and reflection.

In this case, intent appears to be absent and reflection seems to be apparent in the outcome. The action was the lost life of an infant, a human life. Equally weighted, he’d be one step back and two steps forward, so his register would not be in the black. But this is not how he judged himself.

Even given the karmic model, it’s easy to imagine the reactions. As easy as it is for me to sit back behind my keyboard and be dispassionate, I can imagine the mother not being so reserved. Humans are blame-machines. I’ve been spending the past three or four months researching this topic peripherally with a focus on human agency, but in a reductionist model, humans seem to need to blame. And if there is no object, they have no qualms about making one up. Humans are good storytellers—more so, story-receivers—, but let’s not get distracted. He knew he would be blamed. Not least of all, he blamed himself.

Although I don’t subscribe to the notion of self—or even of intent—, it seems obvious that this father did. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if this were me—and I don’t want to try. But let’s not lose sight of the complicity of society that forces humans to make a choice between family and survival.

No Agent, No Agency

There is no spoon” is a classic line from The Matrix. Reality is a construct. I agree, but I’m not sure I believe that we can get under this reality to experience it differently. And this might hinge on a distinction between experience and perception.

Losing Ourselves is a book just published in the US and forthcoming (July 2022) in the UK promoting the Buddhist notion of no-self or selflessness. I’ve been partial to Buddhism since, when I lived outside of Tokyo, I was exposed to it in 1980.

Book Cover: Losing Ourselves

For me, this intersects with my anti-Agency endeavour. If the Self is a construct, there is no Agent, and without an agent, there is no Agency. I realise that this is a meta-position and not uncontroversial, but I do like to collect ideas and perspectives in my quiver.

Obviously, there seems to be a strong drive (at least in the West) to construct selves, not the least of which serves the purpose of an object to confer praise or blame. Interestingly, I’ve heard much about objectification, but not many seem to care about this form. It’s more about sub-objectification.

It’s OK to parse the person from the fabric of the universe, but don’t further disintegrate that person.

Self-Creation

The self is a construction. Although we can form memories at an early age, this is possibly why we can’t remember our earliest years, as our sense of self had yet to be constructed and realised. Not all people construct or even define ‘self’ in the same way, per Strawson’s ‘selves’ and other notions of selflessness.

I understand when Strawson (and others) says he does not feel the same sense of continuity as others with strong senses of self believe. I don’t know what a person, who truly believes in selflessness or the total denial of the self, feels—a person who totally embodies the Buddhist concept that everything is one and any division is an illusion.

In the West, there are entire industries fleecing the public of billions upon billions of dollars on the notion of the self, strengthening the self and how others perceive one’s self from an outside-in perspective—psychology and its progeny of self-help reaping the lion’s share.

For the record, although I agree with both Strawson’s and the Buddhist perspective, I am still under the illusion (as I am with agency) that I have a self and agency. Unlike the Neo character in The Matrix, I haven’t discovered how to break the illusion to find the man behind the curtain, but I do feel a sense of discontinuity or lack of contiguity.

It’s All About You

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. I’ve gotten myself down a free will rabbit hole, and as I’ve said before the problem isn’t about free will. That’s a red herring. The issue ultimately distils down to agency and how one defines you or the self.

Image: There may be free will, but you can’t have it

First, the notion of you or self is a construct.

Second, the notion that this constructed self somehow has autonomous agency is a meta-construct. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

Tea or Coffee

Let’s say for the sake of argument that free will is possible in the face of determinism or indeterminism, which is to say that it is compatible with other of these options. Daniel Dennett seems to say that these things can be compatible, but where they matter are trivial. We have free will to decide if we want tea or coffee, whether to add cream or milk, and whether to add two or three spoonfuls of sugar—or was that honey or unsweetened? But so what?

My argument is that (1) there is no you to decide and (2) even if I accept the notion of you, nothing about you is of your making. Everything about you comes from external forces. The only information you can process comes exogenously from without, and any endogenous interpretive processes rely on external inputs. You are on the titanic, and the best you can do is to rearrange deck chairs.

No-Self, Selves, and Self

An idea that Galen Strawson mentions is that of the self and the case of self and selves. I’ll presume he also considers the case of no-self, but I haven’t heard his position on this—at least not yet.

About the No-Self

In the East, Buddhism teaches the notion of no-self or non-self. Anattā (अनत्ता) captures the idea of the everchanging. By this doctrine, nothing is permanent. Any separation from this is merely an illusion. In principle, this leads to the Four Noble Truths:

  1. Life is suffering
  2. Suffering is due to attachment
  3. This attachment can be overcome
  4. There is a path to achieve this (the eight-fold path)

Life just is suffering.

There are many incantations of this, but these four capture the essence. The points here are that life just is suffering. No one escapes this fate—not wealth nor power—because we become attached to these things. The self (or Ego) is another attachment. In identity politics, people tend to get upset when you don’t accept or at least identify with their self-perception. Personally, I don’t believe in identity, but I understand how it is meant idiomatically, so I can operate in this space.

About the Selves

What Strawson says (at the risk of misinterpreting him egregiously), is we have many selves. We are a composite of time slices. As he quipped, each Planck time moment is a new self. We tend to construct these selves into a single self—I suppose in the manner that a 2-hour film shot at 60 frames a second would consist of 432,000 frames and yet have a continuity analogous to a self.

Self, No-Self, Selves Depictions

About the Self

In the West, the notion of self is as ubiquitous and uncritically accepted as rights, private property, and Democracy. As their Declaration of Independence reads, some things are self-evident. This self is obviously constructed, so let’s look at how these selves are merged.

Selves to Self

Cognitive processes function to stitch these time-sliced selves into a cohesive narrative about ourselves. In fact, it tends to pick out keyframes of memorable events. Strawson posits that there are (at least) two types of people: Those who create these identity narratives, and those who don’t. Given the pressure toward self, especially in the West, it may be awkward or uncomfortable for those who don’t toe the line in this arena. And if you don’t abide to the notion of self, don’t worry, you’ll be burdened with at least one, more likely one per person you interact with—or observed by. As in the US justice system promises relative to legal representation, if you don’t have one, one will be appointed for you. (I’ll spare you another psychology cum pseudoscience rant.)

There are two types of people: Those who create these identity narratives, and those who don’t

Some religions attempt to solve compositing the selves into a self by introducing a soul that acts as a core. In some belief systems, this sole is even able to serve as a core for some future incarnation and some versions of karma carry with it burdens of past lives.

I am partial to the Selves interpretation. Some Gestalt and apophenia—not to be confused with apotheosis, albeit perhaps related—serve to do the heavy lifting. I don’t think that any (or at least many) people disagree with the idea, even if one is partial to the notion of a self, that a person is not the same at 1, 10, and 100. We can identify this person as Sanjit, at each observation, but Sanjit is materially different at each point. We just construct a narrative as in the case of the film frames. I can’t imagine it’s easy for a person indoctrinated into a world of ‘self’ that seriously grasping a sense of ‘non-self’.

It seems, I’m disrtracted and rambling at the moment, so I’ll end here. I think I’ve captured the essence of my thoughts.

Cows Are Suey*

As I research the agency/free will quandary, I am finding a lot of common minds, as it were. On the free will versus determinism spectrum, I can’t say without reservation that I accept determinism or indeterminism, for that matter, but I can say that free will is weak tea. Causa Sui comes into play, but I’ll get to that.

As an aside, similar to the theism versus atheism debate, keep in mind that this debate hinges on free will taking the privileged position occupied by theism. When discussing compatibility versus incompatibilism, it’s whether determinism is compatible or incompatible with free will. I feel that the privilege of free will in this debate is telling insomuch as it reveals a bias on preferred perspective.

If you’ve been reading, I like what Derk Pereboom has to say, but I feel we have a bit of a gap in our accord. But I’m very partial to Galen Strawson’s line of argumentation that doesn’t rely on determinism to declare the free will argument pointless. I believe that there is space to fill in some gaps in his position regarding social responsibility, and maybe there are no gaps; I just am not yet familiar enough with his position. From a strictly deterministic position, I find Robert Sapolsky’s position appealing, but it still ends up being a pissing match. To be fair, I think any position will be a pissing match. I’ll elaborate on this next before I touch on causa sui.

Losing My Religion

In my book, free will is an anachronistic vestige of religion. Not to go too far down a Foucauldian path, religion is a power play. As religion constructs gods, it also constructs notions of free will. Power structures like to leverage these concepts for their own ends.

Interestingly, religion first gave us determinism—at least the Abrahamic monotheistic varieties—, but it needed to construct free will or it would have undermined its ability to cast blame and guilt. When science matured, it said, ‘Hey, hold on there. There’s no room for gods in physics. Everything has a cause and was determined at the start. Your intuition was right at the start. Free will is bollocks.’

Causa Sui

Finally. Causa Sui is the Latin name for a self-caused cause, one that is not the result of prior events. Here is where I really like Galen Strawson’s account. His argument is premised on 4 factors, the first of which is what you do flows from the way you are.

What you do flows from the way you are.

Galen Strawson

In essence, you’ve somehow got to get to be responsible for being the way you are, but you can’t you can’t get back behind yourself in such a way as to be responsible for the kind of person you are. You’ve got to somehow have chosen it, but you can’t choose it unless you already exist as a creature who has preferences.

No Causa Sui

You’d somehow have to get to be the cause of yourself to take fundamental ultimate responsibility for yourself and therefore for your actions that flow from the way you are and therefore free will—indeed more responsibility and free will, and therefore we do not have free will.

In the diagramme, we see you, and the influence of external forces, but at no point are you ever responsible for your own actions. Even if you did make a so-called conscious effort to do something else, it would still be the result of one of these other sources.

Perhaps an inapt example would be for a homosexual person to ‘decide‘ to be a heterosexual person. This is not to say just to act like a heterosexual person, but to actually be attracted to the opposite sex. It should be obvious that this can’t be done, but if you are having difficulty, imagine the mirror example where you are a heterosexual person and you ‘decide‘ to be attracted to people of your own sex. Of course, this is akin to deciding that you like cilantro when you don’t, deciding you like Justin Beiber when you don’t, or deciding that you don’t actually enjoy chateaubriand when you do. Even if you manage to act the opposite of your sexual orientation, it is still not you who is responsible for the apparent change. It’s a response to social forces and external conditioning. You are the way you are because of the way you are. You’ve had absolutely no say in the matter.

You are the way you are because of the way you are.

So what’s the big deal? you might still be asking yourself. If you’ve just done something morally or legally “wrong” —emphasised by big bold scare quotes, you need to be punished or at least blamed irrespective of how you became you, right? Let’s ignore that I am a moral non-cognitivist at the start and pretend that this moral indignation is otherwise meaningful.

Quarantine Justification Theory

Let’s say that someone has done something outside the bounds of social acceptance in some milieu. To make it even easier to consider, let’s imagine for a moment, instead, an autonomous robot that was designed to seek glass and smash it. This robot has no conscience and no free will. It is just a robot programmed to break windows.

This robot has been unleashed on our community. In one sense, some might blame the robot for breaking the windows, but we know that whoever programmed this robot is to blame. But we don’t know who programmed it. What we do know is that we want to stop the robot from breaking more windows.

So we track down the robot and we disable it—or perhaps it’s designed in such a way that it can’t be turned off. Even though the robot is not to blame, it is a menace and we’ve collectively decided to disarm it or quarantine it. We build a glassless room and sequester it away so it can do no more damage.

Some people find this scenario a reasonable justification to quarantine the actor, but I think that this has at least one problem, I’ll mention two considerations I have.

Not a Robot

So, let’s revisit quarantine justification theory with a human actor, and let’s presume no causa sui. As we can’t blame the robot actor, neither can we blame the person actor. As with the robot, the goal is not to punish but to quarantine.

Not to Blame

Now let’s add a dose of reality. This human is not on a window-breaking rampage. Instead, s/he vandalised the window of a shop for some reason; let’s say that s/he was short-changed and wanted to exact damage equal to the shorted change. A police officer witnesses the act and takes the perpetrator into custody. What should the judge do? Remember, the person did not create themself, but s/he did the act s/he was accused of.

The image below shows two scenarios. In scenario A, you are integrated with society; in scenario B, you are quarantined. The question is what is the justification for quarantining you.

Quarantine Justification Model

It’s difficult to argue that this person should be quarantined because this was a tit-for-tat response, not a rampage. It’s unlikely to happen again. One might try to argue that this person should be fined or, in line with quarantine, incarcerated to be made an example, thus acting as a scapegoat to serve as an external social pressure mechanism to disincentivise this retributive action. But this would ostensibly be punishing this person for something beyond their control.

We can even loosen the scenario to consider a person who has robbed a liquor store or kidnapped a child. These events are all too common, but there is nothing to suggest that a person will repeat this activity, so quarantine cum incarceration is hard to justify.

I can envision someone reading this thinking that we need to do something. We can’t let this person get away with it, but if you find yourself drifting in this direction, it’s your programming. You can’t help yourself. You don’t even have this degree of agency.

I haven’t given it enough thought, but it feels like this is similar to the dissonance when one grasps something intellectually, but instinctually or emotionally something just doesn’t sit right. Whilst you try to get outside of yourself, your programming doesn’t allow it.


* If you haven’t sussed it out quite yet, ‘cows are suey’ is how Google’s auto-generated transcript heard causa sui in an interview with Galen Strawson on this topic, and the rest is history.

Ultimate Responsibility

Robert Kane argues that ultimate responsibility (UR) should guide us in determining whether someone is responsible for their actions. He gives the example of a drunk driver who gets into an automobile accident. If the actor tries to skirt responsibility because s/he was intoxicated, hence incapacitated, then [1] we can still rewind to an action taken that caused this intoxicated state and then [2] choosing to drive—a causal relationship articulated by Aristotle. This seems fine, but it’s a specious defence.

According to Kane

According to Kane—noting an issue raised by some—, it doesn’t require an assessment that a person could have done otherwise. This condition has numerous implications for free will.

For example, it doesn’t require that we could have done otherwise for every act done of our own will. But it does require that we could have done otherwise with respect to some acts in our past life histories by which we formed our present characters. Kane calls these self-forming actions (SFAs). According to Kane, [3] we act from a will that’s already formed, but [4] it’s our own free will by virtue of the fact that [5] we formed it by other choices or actions in the past—self-forming actions—, [6] for which we could have done otherwise.

Consider the drunk driver. If this were not the case, there’s nothing we could have ever done differently in our entire lifetimes to make ourselves different than we are—a consequence that’s incompatible with our being, at least to some degree, ultimately responsible for what we are. And that’s what I think free will requires.

Kane’s Challenge

I marked passages in brackets [n], to serve as a reference for my commentary here. Some of my responses may be repetitive, so I’ll try to make any redundancies recursive.

[1] Kane suggests that even if the person is incapacitated at the time of the accident—hence not responsible in the moment—, we can trace events back through time and pinpoint an event that caused the incapacitation. In fact, we can trace it back to the decision to imbibe in the first place. I have two objections here, but I’ll defer the second one to my next reaction.

Kane says we can rewind to some causal event. We are in agreement on this point, but I have a question: why stop there?

In engineering, there exists a concept called root cause analysis, and there is a concomitant heuristic called the 5 Whys. Essentially, using the DUI example as a discussion point, we can refer to the accident as event T0. Then we can trace back.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll ignore trivial or immaterial events such as s/he encountered a detour and so took an unfamiliar route or s/he fell asleep at the wheel, missing a green light, which caused a delay, which meant that she was in a place to happen to hit another vehicle—presuming that if s/he had been a minute ahead of her fateful schedule, there would have been no other vehicle to hit. This might be a logical line of inquiry, but let’s shelf it.

So, tracing back, at T-1, we find our actor already intoxicated and starting the car. At T-2, we find our actor drinking the last of multiple rounds of alcohol. We could trace back all the way back to, say, T-5, where our actor made the decision to take the first drink.

We may have difficulty pinning down where the impairment kicked in. Was it the drink at event T-2 or was it earlier, say, ay T-4, where all subsequent drinks were not assessed rationally? In any case, even if we stop at the last lucid state, T-5, then everything that follows can be said to be related to that event. But I have a problem.

[2] Firstly, if s/he was mentally incapacitated, how could s/he make a rational decision to drive or not? Secondly, even if we say that s/he became mentally incapacitated at event T-4, then the decision at that juncture was not rationally deliberated.

We could introduce a twist here, which is to assign culpability to the drink server. Some local statutes exploit this by making the barkeep culpable for serving a drink to an already intoxicated patron. Of course, this has the same issue noted above because we can’t say with any reliability whether the actor was intoxicated at T-2 or T-4. Let’s not get mired in this. This is not my biggest concern.

My key concern is in stopping there at T-5. Why not go back to why s/he even had the first drink? Why not go back to why she drinks in the first place? Why not keep going back. More on this ahead. Let’s continue.

[3] Kane says that the actor, the decider, already has a formed will. In this, he is introducing another concept—one of the self or the individual. Let’s continue, and I’ll get to that, too.

[4] Echoing the self, Kane doubles down and says that this self has a will, and the actor owns it. As such s/he is responsible for these willed actions, these caused actions. So, let’s dig in.

[5] Kane asserts that we formed this self by other choices or actions in the past that he calls self-forming actions. This is where in my mind this skein of logic unwinds.

Ignoring whether the self is anything but narrative convenience, why should one accept that the actor has any agency in this so-called self-forming? What proof do we have that this actor is just a victim of circumstances—from geworfen until event T0? Even without invoking determinism, I think it’s safe to assume that this actor is a consequence of, at least, hereditary and (monomorphic and polymorphic) genetic traits including temperament. Then we have structural influences, such as family, peers, institutions, and authority figures, societies and cultural norms.

It might be difficult to determine what percentage of the self are formed by this, but it would be disingenuous to defend this as self-forming rather than formed by some crucible.

[6] Kane’s final point is about whether one might have done otherwise. He downplays this point, and so shall I. If someone insists that this is important, I’ll address it at that time.

Enfin

I left out some key points that I’ll likely return to in future. Essentially, Kane is a traditionalist who pines for virtue and character, two concepts I feel of figments intended to act as tools of power maintenance. I feel this will get us down a rabbit hole, and I am rabbitted out, so let’s end here.

Cicada-caused

Myselves

Disappointed from the start, I was hoping to have coined a neologism in myselves, but I’ve been beaten to the punch. Although my spell-check doesn’t appear to agree, myselves is a legitimate albeit nonstandard term.

Followers of my content will recognise that I don’t fully subscribe to notions of self or identity, so being a philosopher and linguaphile I am constantly on the search for another way to describe my reality.

Galen Strawson — What Are Selves?

I became aware of Galen Strawson through Daniel Dennett and who I share perspective on in a recent post, Testudineous Agency. In an attempt to better understand his position, I resorted to a Google search and unearthed some first-person narratives. I find I share a certain affinity with him.

Ostensibly, Strawson feels that free will and moral responsibility don’t exist. But he goes deeper. He acknowledges that not only do the concepts of free will and moral responsibility not have shared meaning for unequivocal communication, but even if we parse the terms more fully into free, will, moral, and responsibility, we still don’t come to accordance. More on this later.

In the case of myselves, one of my first reactions was to consider the anti-plural-pronoun application-as-singular-object-reference cohort: It’s not proper to refer to he or she as they and him or her as them—or for that matter, his or hers for their.

As for me—the me interacting with this keyboard in this moment—, the idea of thin-slicing my differentiated selves, nanosecond by nanosecond, picosecond by picosecond—or by femtoseconds or attoseconds. Or why not Planck time slices?  

Just a short post for now. I’ll see where is ends up.

The self as a centre of narrative gravity

As with ‘identity’, ‘self’ is a fiction. I’ve commented on this time and again. To be fair, I haven’t done much direct research on the topic. It just always felt a bit specious to me. Yet again, I feel that hubris and apophenia get the best of humans.

And then I am reading Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained—published in 1991 no less. Skimming further, I find he published an article from which I lifted the title of this post.

I’ve long adopted his position on consciousness—well before reading this book some 30-odd-years after it was published—, but to find this was a pleasant surprise.

In a nutshell, the self is a confluence of events. His centre of gravity approach is borrowed from physics. In this television interview, he does the topic better justice than I would.

This is a well-behaved concept in Newtonian physics. But a center of gravity is not an atom or a subatomic particle or any other physical item in the world. It has no mass; it has no color; it has no physical properties at all, except for spatio-temporal location. It is a fine example of what Hans Reichenbach would call an abstractum. It is a purely abstract object. It is, if you like , a theorist’s fiction. It is not one of the real things in the universe in addition to the atoms. But it is a fiction that has nicely defined, well delineated and well behaved role within physics.

Daniel Dennett

Plus, why not hear it from the source?

Before this, I viewed it more as individual frames from a film—appearing to have motion and contiguity but in fact, is an illusion that takes advantage of human sense perception deficits and cognitive gap-filling functions.