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BellaOnline's Philosophy Editor


On the Continuum of Self - Matter and Mind

Guest Author - J.L. Wells

“Know thyself.” This was the command that was inscribed at the temple of delphi. It was the basis of the philosophy of the Cynics and other schools in the ancient world. By following this command light can be shed upon the relationship that exists between mind and matter. By knowing the nature of self the connection between mind and matter can be derived.

Throughout the history of philosophy there have been many ideas about what the nature of the self is. From the moralistic idealism of Christian ascetics to the modern movement toward materialism these concepts of self have typically been polarized between mind and body. While some “new age” people have begun a move towards holism it is typically done with the body still being subservient to the “higher” nature of the mind. In reflecting on this problem some basic principles spring to mind. First the nature of mind can be wholly material or wholly ideal or an interaction of both. The every day experience of life points out that it is in fact both.

One aspect of life that shows us that the self is not wholly material, as usually thought of, is the fact that individuals make choices that do not resemble choices made by other individuals even though the stimuli involved in the situation are the same. If the self were wholly material then all actions of that self would be controlled by material stimuli. Though the interaction of material elements is indeed complex this complexity has its limits. Thus there would be a predictable range of actions that would present themselves and with all things being equal volition would be replaced by the set and predictable chemistry of the brain. This leads the materialist claim to absurdity because all people experience decision making in their lives and this decision making is often completely different from one case to the next.

Yet the self is not wholly ideal either. If it were then it wouldn’t be affected by damage done to the material. There are many examples in medicine that demonstrate that this is not the case. One of the most famous cases was that of Phineas Gage. This railway foreman suffered a horrendous brain injury and subsequently a vast change in personality. Thus the self isn’t wholly ideal.

This leaves us with the third option; the self is both material and ideal. Yet this conclusion leads us to another objection: how can that which is ideal interact with that which is material? At this point the concept of the continuum of self should be presented. A continuum is something that has a unified identity and partakes of at least two dissimilar states. It will aid one to use an example at this point. Light has existence in two states, one as a wave and one as a particle. Thus the self has its particle state (material) and its wave state (ideal). The next step in the concept is to make the propostion that what appears to be ideal is instead an extremely subtle existence of material. Thus while light has two states in which it can be measured it is in both states light so self while having physical extence in both states is measured as being material and ideal. Thus the interaction between each state of self is carried out in a physical way, just as all other things interact because the ideal is the extremely subtle actions of the physical.

Saying that the self is a continuum is the conclusion drawn from the above argumentation. It has been demonstrated that the self must exist in both physically material and physically ideal states it remains to be demonstrated that the self is a unified identity.

The unity of self can be addressed in many ways. First it must be shown that the self is a unity in a particular moment. Then it must be shown that the self is unified from moment to moment.

When a person experiences the world they perceive it in three principle ways. First they can sense simply what is presented through the five senses. When someone is doing this they are using empirical sensation without any concepts. This can be done when one is thoughtlessly enjoying a sunset or some other phenomena. Secondly they can experience an amalgamation of empirical sensation and conceptualization. This is experienced most often in every day life. Thirdly we can experience concepts which are so abstract that they have no basis in the material world. These last experiences often times take the form of “eureka” moments when we, like Archimedes in his bath tub, put two abstract concepts together, volume and density, to form a new concept, displacement. I name these empirical sensation, discursive reason and intuitive reason respectively.

The self is unified in the moment. This is demonstrated by the fact that we do not experience another self informing us of these different state based perceptions. Often times the self is perceiving from more then one state at a time, and is so by definition when using discursive reasoning. Thus the self is a unified identity in the moment.

In order to demonstrate that the self is a unified identity from moment to moment apodictic evidence must be used. Yet this must first be defined before being employed. An apodictic experience is one that has an unyielding quality of truth. In other words it is unquestionably true. This evidence must be demonstrated by a set of questions that all people of sound mind would answer in the same way. Thus the questions: 1) Do you experience “I”ness right now? 2) Did you experience “I”ness last tuesday? 3) Did those two experiences of “I”ness differ in any deep or drastic ways? Rationally we would expect people to answer yes, yes and no. Thus the unified identity of self from moment to moment would be established.

Thus it can be seen that the self must be a continuum. This is because it partakes of at least two distinct states of being while maintaining a unity of being. It is the same when it is thinking with discursive reason as it is when using empirical sensation or intuitive reason.
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