• petrichor
    254


    I was gripped by your question some years ago until I realized something that I think solves a whole host of philosophical problems in one fell swoop. This question is indeed a good one and can lead to interesting things. I like the way it is formulated here:

    From Mind and Materialism, by Geoffrey Madell; Edinburgh University Press, 1988. 151 pgs., page 103
    V. Indexicality

    It has been clearly recognised by some that the fact of indexical
    thought presents a special problem for physicalism. This problem is
    most clearly seen in relation to the first person. Thomas Nagel put his
    finger on it in his paper 'Physicalism'. 1 Let us envisage the most
    complete objective description of the world and everyone in it which
    it is possible to have, couched in the objective terminology of the
    physical sciences. However complete we make this description,
    'there remains one thing I cannot say in this fashion -- namely, which
    of the various persons in the world I am'. No amount of information
    non-indexically expressed can be equivalent to the first person asser-
    tion, 'I am G.M.'. How can one accommodate the existence of the
    first-person perspective in a wholly material world? A complete objec-
    tive description of a particular person is one thing; the assertion,
    'The person thus described is me' is something in addition, and
    conveys more information. But this extra information isn't of a
    character which physical science could recognise. If reality com-
    prises assemblies of physical entities only, it appears utterly mysteri-
    ous that some arbitrary element of that objective order should be me.

    But this doesn't really address the question of why you find yourself being the particular person you are rather than someone else.

    I used to ask what the odds are that I would find myself being a human. I had an intuition that I could have been anything. And there is so much more that is lifeless! How did I get so lucky?

    Many people would say that you are your brain, that you literally are identical with your brain. This doesn't seem so problematic until you start to think about it. It isn't the identity with the brain itself that is problematic, in my view, but rather the extent of what "you" are. It is the problem of indexical extent. When people say you are your brain, what they are really saying needs to be clarified. They are saying that you literally are identical with this particular finite collection of particles and no more and no less. That's what "your brain" is. And if you are identical with your brain, that's what they are saying.

    If what these people say is true, then I literally am a three pound hunk of matter. And I am only this three pound hunk of matter. This is really strange! Why so little? Why so much? Why this particular collection of particles? Why am I not just one quark? Clearly, my identity spans multiple things. How? My identity seems restricted but extensive. I don't find myself being a whole population of people. What I am seems bounded somehow, as if there is a line drawn around this brain that designates it, and no more and no less, as belonging to me, whatever that is.

    Think now about the fact that these particles that compose your brain were once scattered all over, maybe a few particles in a carrot somewhere, some others in a rock, some others in a cloud, and so on. Were you these same particles then? Absurd, isn't it? What are the odds that your particles would just happen to come together in a brain like that?

    Consider that objectively, this boundary around what you seem to be does not exist. There are no magical membranes. Out in the world itself, there is no clear separation of a person from their environment. There is nothing special about the matter composing a brain.

    Let's return for a moment to the idea that you are lucky to find yourself being a human. While thinking about this, try to keep in mind that it is important whether you consider it from a first-person perspective or a third-person perspective. Objectively, it is silly to suggest that a certain banana is lucky to find itself being that banana, right?! Of course! But subjectively, matters seem different. The first-person perspective is what presents the puzzle. If you abandon it and try to solve the problem from the objective, third-person by declaring, "Of course this banana is this banana!", you miss the point!

    Think about the odds of winning a lottery. Suppose that we are to randomly select one person out of seven billion to win a trillion dollars. It is assured that one person will win. When the winner has been determined, objectively, it is not at all surprising that someone won. That was always assured. And if you are not among these people and are just seeing it all strictly objectively, no matter who wins, there is nothing surprising. But if instead, you are one of these people and you find that you are the winner, you will naturally be surprised! You certainly should not have expected to find yourself the winner!

    The situation with our identity as humans seems somehow similar to the lottery. Objectively, it isn't surprising that these creatures should be identical with themselves and should declare that they are themselves. Nothing puzzling at all. But if you find yourself occupying such a perspective, it seems different. There is the sense that you could be seeing the world from the perspective of anything. And if you were to draw one three-pound collection of particles out of a hat, the odds are overwhelming that you would end up with some lifeless material. Isn't it a bit surprising that you should find yourself in such a privileged position? Even if you can only find yourself being something alive, humans are vastly outnumbered by other possibilities. Why are you a human and not a mouse?

    Let's get to what I think is the solution to all of this. That you are yourself is not the problem. The problem is the belief that your identity is restricted, period. Drop the boundary. That's it. You are everything. You occupy all perspectives. There is only one. The world is itself. That's it. There are no demarcation lines separating this from that. There are no true individuals, no separate objects. The first-person perspective finds itself everywhere simultaneously, and likely at all times as well. The world is everywhere present to itself.

    There is only one thing to explain, and that is why our identity seems limited, why we aren't aware of being everything all at once. The answer to that lies in how information gets integrated. That which finds itself being me is the very same one as that which finds itself being you. But from over here, I don't know anything about being you because your memories are not in this brain. It's that simple. It is a question of access to information.

    Consider an amnesiac named Bob who uses a chalkboard in a room as a substitute for his lacking memory. If we show him something, he records his observations on the chalkboard. If we ask him a question about what he has observed, he consults the chalkboard. Suppose we move him to another room with another chalkboard. He doesn't know he has been moved! If we ask him about what we showed him in the other room, he consults the chalkboard in this room and finds nothing. He has no way of integrating information between the two rooms. He might integrate information between them if he has a mechanism for this, such as a notebook, a way of carrying information back and forth.

    This is analogous to what happens in experiments with split-brain patients, where it seems that by cutting the corpus callosum, we have turned one person into two, where it can be demonstrated that what is observed from only one hemisphere cannot be reported by the other.

    If we show that in room B, Bob cannot report observations made in room A, we have not thereby demonstrated that Bob in room A and Bob in room B are two different subjects. The situation with you and me is similar. From my brain (think room with chalkboard), I cannot report your memories. And there is the illusion that who I am is restricted to the information I have access to.

    Notice an interesting asymmetry with respect to time. You can remember the past, but not the future. When you look back, you feel identical with that past self because you remember those experiences. You have access. Not so with the future. Your future self is hypothetical and isn't really included in your sense of self. But once that future has arrived, you will feel that you are both that person and this now-past person.

    In reality, your relation to your future self is not much different than your relation to me. It is a question of access.

    The analogy of Bob in the rooms fails in a very important sense. Bob is someone who is separable from the rooms and moves between them. We are not similarly separable. It isn't that there is one little homunculus that runs around and occupies all the perspectives. No. There is nothing separable. There is just the whole world being identical with itself. There is one 'I', and it is everything. There is nothing from which it can be separated.

    Your body is experienced simultaneously by this one from the perspectives of all that interacts with it. You as 'other' and you as 'my body' are just what that particular body is like from two different angles. Both angles are experienced by the one subject simultaneously. But the information from the two perspectives is not integrated in such a way that there is a structure of experience that involves knowing that you are both at the same time.

    So why do you find yourself being you, that particular human? It because you find yourself being everything. If one person is sure to hold the winning lottery ticket, and you are all of the people, you should expect to find yourself the winner, as well as all those who didn't win.

    I think that people should rethink all anthropic principle stuff in light of this way of looking at things.

    Also, if you think I am crazy, just some guy on the Internet, consider that many important thinkers have held a very similar view, Erwin Schrodinger and Arthur Schopenhauer among them. Also, Daniel Kolak, a living philosopher, has written an interesting book called I am You:

    link
  • neonspectraltoast
    197
    Clearly you aren't just your brain. You have an entire body.
  • unenlightened
    4.7k
    Erwin Schrodinger and Arthur Schopenhauer among them. Also, Daniel Kolak, a living philosopher, has written an interesting book called I am You:petrichor


    Also this guy. https://jkrishnamurti.org/content/structure-self-centred-concern
  • Banno
    7.9k
    Nuh. Paul doesn't ask silly questions. He's an engineer.
  • Banno
    7.9k
    It's not a matter of grammar that I can see everyone's face except my own.bert1

    Well, first off grammar is connected to the world. So even when it is just a matter of grammar, it can tell us about stuff.

    Second, and for example, "I can see everyone's face except my own" is true not just for you, but for everyone; so should you feel surprise at it's being true? I don't see why; there is nothing unique about "I can see everyone's face except my own" such that your place in the world is different to everyone else, since the same is true for everyone.

    Realising that "I can see everyone's face except my own" is true not just for you, but for everyone, is part of the development of theory of mind (a somewhat misleading technical term). That is, a toddler or a cat might not be able to understand that someone else sees things from a different place; that they might not be able to see what you see. Something quite the same seems to be going on in the OP.
  • Banno
    7.9k
    Following https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/comment/413682

    There might be some more interesting modal considerations here.

    If Peter did have first person experience C, then isn't Peter just Petunia? "Peter" is a rigid designator, so we would say that in some possible world Peter had Petunia's first person experiences...

    Suppose that in some possible world Peter and Petunia swapped places, so that each had the experiences of that other. What would be different? Nothing.
  • Banno
    7.9k
    Not too shabby, Petrichor.

    Let's get to what I think is the solution to all of this. That you are yourself is not the problem. The problem is the belief that your identity is restricted, period. Drop the boundary. That's it. You are everything. You occupy all perspectives. There is only one. The world is itself. That's it. There are no demarcation lines separating this from that. There are no true individuals, no separate objects. The first-person perspective finds itself everywhere simultaneously, and likely at all times as well. The world is everywhere present to itself.petrichor

    I'd add that while this sounds profound, it isn't. For example, I take it that you are not here advocating solipsism, nor that your reader must be a Boltzmann brain, nor any other grand metaphysical consequence.

    Rather you are saying something like that my talking in the first person is talking about me... Hardly world shattering; but perhaps sufficient to dissipate the philosophical concerns of the OP.
  • neonspectraltoast
    197
    You're all honestly confused about why you don't identify as other people...?
  • Daniel
    64
    Question: Would you be able to tell you are a first person perspective if there were no other first person perspectives?
  • Harry Hindu
    3.2k
    I used to ask what the odds are that I would find myself being a human. I had an intuition that I could have been anything. And there is so much more that is lifeless! How did I get so lucky?petrichor
    Luck has nothing to do with it.

    The intuition that you could have been anything is evidence that you don't have an understanding of evolution by natural selection.

    Just as the theory solved the paradox of which came first - the chicken or the egg - it has also solved the problem of how you came to be who you are.
  • neonspectraltoast
    197
    It really hasn't, though.
  • bert1
    454
    You're all honestly confused about why you don't identify as other people...?neonspectraltoast

    I'm not sure why I am bert1 rather than someone else
  • Harry Hindu
    3.2k

    Is bert1 a human being, internet bot, scribbles on a screen, or what? You seem to know what you are - a bert1 - but are ignorant of why you are bert1? Is that not a question about causation?
  • bert1
    454
    You seem to know what you are - a bert1 - but are ignorant of why you are bert1? Is that not a question about causation?Harry Hindu

    Yes, I think it might be. But not about the causation of bert1 - that is independent of the question of why I am bert 1, that is to say, why an I looking out of bert1's eyes and not, say Banno's. One could rephrase to say "What caused me to be bert1 rather than someone else."
  • neonspectraltoast
    197
    If you're trying to suggest that all identities are identical aside from being in different locales inhabiting different bodies, you're sorely mistaken.
  • bert1
    454
    If you're trying to suggest that all identities are identical aside from being in different locales inhabiting different bodies, you're sorely mistaken.neonspectraltoast

    That's one possibility, I'm not sure it's the right one and I'm not sure it actually answers the OP even if it is right. But I'm interested in why you think this could not be the case.
  • neonspectraltoast
    197
    Experience. I was raised by a narcissist, and I know for a fact that dispositions are inherent from birth. A baby has a disposition, and it has little to do with appearances or experience.

    Maybe the astrologers are right, and it's the stars. I've been around enough babies to know that they are born with distinct dispositions, though.

    These can be ingrained or these can be discouraged, but they remain intact throughout life. In a very real sense, we are all still newborns.

    I don't know how to explain it. Why people are born with personalities and unique identities is one of the world's greatest mysteries. It doesn't make a difference if it all boils down to DNA. That's still not a sufficient explanation for why you are you. Your parents randomly had sex, and here you are, an actor on the stage.

    There's no sense in looking for explanations where there can't be any. A cosmic abberation is a cosmic abberation.
  • bert1
    454
    I don't think the question is about why we are the way we are. That question may well be answerable by reference to experience and DNA, environment, cosmic rays, astrology and whatever else. It's about why I am this one (regardless of the properties of this one) and not another one (regardless of the properties of that one). I don't know how to say it differently to get across the different idea. I can see why you think the question is about why I am the way that I am rather than some other way. Maybe this:

    The difference isn't about my being one of several possible qualitative identities, but about being one of several quantitatively/numerically distinct entities that I might have been any one of, but were not. (Not sure if that's right)

    Banno understands the question I think, even though he thinks it rests on a misunderstanding or mistake.
  • neonspectraltoast
    197
    And you honestly expect an answer?
  • neonspectraltoast
    197
    I understand the question. I'm not sure why you think it's even possible to be someone else.
  • InPitzotl
    123
    The difference isn't about my being one of several possible qualitative identities, but about being one of several quantitatively/numerically distinct entities that I might have been any one of, but were not.bert1
    Let me ask you a direct question. If I refer to the bert1 that typed this stuff onto the forum and submitted it, and I refer to the bert1 that is currently reading what I'm typing, are these two states of being the same bert1?

    If you say, "yes", and I imagine you would (and I would agree), then I want to directly ask you... how do you know? What is it about bert1-poster-of-quote and bert1-reader-of-this-post that makes these two states of being the same identity?
  • Harry Hindu
    3.2k
    Yes, I think it might be. But not about the causation of bert1 - that is independent of the question of why I am bert 1, that is to say, why an I looking out of bert1's eyes and not, say Banno's. One could rephrase to say "What caused me to be bert1 rather than someone else."bert1
    Hold on. You didn't answer the first question: What is bert1?

    You asserted that bert1 has eyes, so I'm assuming that your answer is that you are a human being. Don't we currently have a good understanding of how humans as individuals and as a species came to exist?

    You asserted that you are bert1, yet you go on to question how it is that bert1 is looking out of bert1's eyes, and not Bannos'. If those are your eyes, then why is there a question of how you came to look out of them? How did bert1 come to have eyes?
  • Echarmion
    1.3k
    So why do you find yourself being you, that particular human? It because you find yourself being everything. If one person is sure to hold the winning lottery ticket, and you are all of the people, you should expect to find yourself the winner, as well as all those who didn't win.

    I think that people should rethink all anthropic principle stuff in light of this way of looking at things.
    petrichor

    As interesting as that is, what is the actual argument here? Because my perspective is clearly limited in my experience. So if one wants to claim that this limit is illusionary, there'd need to be an argument as to what justifies that conclusion.

    It's about why I am this one (regardless of the properties of this one) and not another one (regardless of the properties of that one).bert1

    There seems to be, consciously or not, some sort of "humunculus theory" of consciousness underlying this question. Why would you think there is a "you" that is somehow independent from the properties of any specific "substrate"?
  • jorndoe
    868
    I'm not sure why I am bert1 rather than someone elsebert1

    Others are already them, in fact, everyone are themselves, it's quite common. :)
    Say, you can't experience someone else's self-awareness, since then you'd be them instead.

    A separate example of this sort of thinking:
    Some are suffering and poor (e.g. tragic stories of African orphans), some are more fortunate and have spare resources to post stuff like this on Internet forums.
    But why do I happen to be one of the latter, luckier ones...? :chin:
    I'm guessing that's (also) what @bizso09's opening post is about, but please correct me otherwise.

    Anyway, there's a theorem of sorts stating that indexical information can't be derived from non-indexical information.
    Suppose we have two similar, nondescript rooms, and a pair of twin robots, one in each room (alternatively, you and your identical twin).
    One room is δ, the other λ, and they're marked as such over in a dark corner.
    To the rest of the world, it doesn't make much difference which robot is in which room, describing the world (non-indexically) doesn't really differentiate, including to the robots if they had access to such a description.
    (For the sake of argument, since it's a thought experiment, we'll just ignore the no-cloning theorem and such.)
    But, once this robot checks the dark corner, it has acquired a (new) piece of information that makes a difference (to this robot), "I'm in room δ", and it can then go on about its business.
    Maybe not the best example; some writings feature the amnesiac Rudolf Lingens to illustrate the theorem.
    I don't think it's specifically about mind or physicalism or whatever as such, rather the other way around, self-awareness is essentially indexical.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.2k
    Seriously though. The question that the title of this thread poses is one that should have been answered when your parents taught you about the birds and the bees.

    Yes, I think it might be. But not about the causation of bert1 - that is independent of the question of why I am bert 1, that is to say, why an I looking out of bert1's eyes and not, say Banno's. One could rephrase to say "What caused me to be bert1 rather than someone else."bert1
    Are you asking how a particular view from behind some pair of eyes came to be named "bert1"?

    Maybe this will work?

    Individual human beings are a product of the genetic material contributed by a particular man and a particular woman.

    Bert1 is an individual human being

    Bert1 is a product of the genetic material contributed by a particular man and a particular woman.

    In defining Bert1 as a human being, we preclude that Bert1 has eyes and information about the world relative to his eyes. Bert1 also has an opposable thumb and walks on two legs. Just as bert1's eyes, thumbs and legs, and their corresponding functions and processes, are part Bert1, so to is Bert1's working memory that his information about the world relative to his eyes are part, which is a function and process of his brain.
  • neonspectraltoast
    197
    If bert1 were someone else, he wouldn't be bert1. That's why.
  • bert1
    454
    If bert1 were someone else, he wouldn't be bert1. That's why.neonspectraltoast

    Ok, that's good, thanks.

    I am bert1

    Is this a necessary or contingent truth? (Banno will like this)

    If "I" (when spoken by bert1) just means "bert1" then presumably the answer is that this is a necessary truth, and the problem is solved. I am bert1 because it is necessarily true that I am bert1. Denying this would entail the contradiction: bert1 is not bert1.

    If I is not in every sense bert1, then the fact that I am bert1 is a contingent truth, and could have been otherwise.

    So if we take the OP seriously, and think this an interesting question, and we think that I could have been other than bert1, then we must think that "I", even when spoken by bert1 does not entirely mean "bert1". That is, when bert1 is completely specified, there remains some leftovers, like cold Christmas dinner.

    So this question will split philosophers between those who think that (at least metaphysically) "I am bert1" = "bert1 is bert1" and those who think that "I am bert1" is not the same metaphysical statement than "bert1 is bert1"

    Thoughts on this characterisation of the problem?
  • neonspectraltoast
    197
    Sure there are leftovers, but that doesn't mean bert1 is Sammy Hagar.
  • javra
    1k
    So if we take the OP seriously, and think this an interesting question, and we think that I could have been other than bert1, then we must think that "I", even when spoken by bert1 does not entirely mean "bert1".bert1

    I’m having a hard time following. IMV, and in disagreement with causal determinism, of course you could have been other than who you are, but you would still be you.

    You present an issue of signified and signifier, or of designated and designator, in reference to identity. “bert1” designates you as a particular conscious being – which, as such, is a composite of particular past and present experiences and cognitive actions (here overlooking complexities of body and what determined it to be it … although I’d like not to fall into a dualistic mindset in so doing).

    You as a conscious being are designated by “bert1” due to your own choice, cognitive act, of which avatar name to hold. Had you chosen “bert2” instead, the designator would have been different due to your different cognitive actions. So you as designated conscious being would have held a different history of cognitive actions and would thereby now be a different you.

    There is the truism that a rose by a different name is still a rose. But, firstly, this would be a different designation provided from without that which is being designated – thereby not altering the internal history, so to speak, of that which is designated. Secondly, and maybe here more pertinently, without going into the details of what you as a particular conscious being specifies, every change in your experiences and cognitive actions is a change in what you as a conscious being are. However, if we’re searching for the you that remains relatively continuous over expansive periods of time – this so as to ask why are you you and not some other – this is a fuzzy or else elusive topic. An age old question that can be simplified into the dictum, know thyself.

    It seems to me that prior to premising what you as a conscious being are, questions of why you are the conscious being you are rather than being some other will be devoid of grounding.

    Or if I completely misconstrued, are you by "I" referring to awareness in general? But then are we not individual instantiations of this general property, individualized by our experiences and actions?

    Haven't read the whole thread, so hopefully I'm not repeating topics.

    ------

    BTW, I have the suspicion that the OP was aiming at trying to prove solipsism. :grin: If so, I’m glad you took things in the direction that you did! A whole bunch of “solipsists” conversing and debating over why I’m me and not some other … makes for a nice rebuttal. :up:
  • petrichor
    254
    Luck has nothing to do with it.

    The intuition that you could have been anything is evidence that you don't have an understanding of evolution by natural selection.
    Harry Hindu

    It seems you haven't yet understood what this thread is about or what I said. And why the hostility and insult?

    The question isn't about why this body has the form that it has, or how humans originated, how this particular human originated, or any such thing. Our question isn't pointed at the objective situation. The question regards puzzles of personal, subjective identity. Why am I seeing the world from this perspective and not another? Suppose that there are only three objects in the world, three spheres, A, B, and C. Objectively, all we can say is that there are these three spheres, and they are in such and such an arrangement. Questions like the one this thread deals with don't even yet arise as long as this world is described only in objective terms. We can ask questions about how the spheres came to be arranged the way they are. (And questions about how humans came to be, how they came to have their shape, and so on, which evolution by natural selection likely explains, are questions about how the world is objectively arranged.) But that has nothing to do with the question at hand. Where our question enters is when we find that we are one of the spheres. As a subject, we occupy some point-of-view in the world. If you find yourself as sphere A, you might wonder why you are occupying that position in the world rather than finding yourself as B or C. Why are you A and not B or C? In my post, I offer a possible answer to this sort of question.
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