We are made of parts.

A “self” or “soul” is simply the name we give to the point of attention which reflects upon our environment. It is one example of a thing that comes to exist only when things of a particular type come together as a unified whole.

We can understand this idea to an extent by looking at structures and machines. However, many people dislike the comparison to a common physical thing, because it violates the sense that there must be something else involved . . . some intangible “more” that we require when considering ourselves. I mean, certainly we understand a house is a different thing than a pile of construction materials, but I think what we’re after is the more elusive notion of home that often accompanies the physical structure.

So it seems reasonable to attempt to understand this idea by considering similarly intangible things that arise from component parts – like organizational affiliations. Or even individual relationships. Whenever multiple people with some understanding between them exist together, there arises a new sort of . . thing that is not present when you have only the component parts. It is an abstract, ethereal thing, but people acknowledge its presence nontheless. It alters perception and changes behaviour. Consider a military force. Or Anonymous. Or Microsoft. Or this:

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
– Matthew 18:20, 1769 Oxford King James Bible “Authorized Version”

Any organized group exists as an active entity only so long as there exist members of said group who perceive through the filter of that group’s motivation and act in its name. When these factors are in place, that group could be said to have agency1 – it can take an intentional action to effect change in its environment. It can also internalize feedback from its environment to alter itself – in this sense, a degree of reflexivity is also present. When those things fall away, the entity which emerged in their union is dissolved.

Similarly when the required components for consciousness fall away, so too does the capacity for experience and change on behalf of the unified entity to which we refer as a person.

The nature of what I consider “me” resides at the intersection of my biology and my experiences2. I am a composition of these things, which form a sort of lens through which my “point of attention” continues to perceive. That lens is tinted a particular shade that filters the “unnecessary” and highlights the “interesting”. It has a curvature which distorts the shape of reality into an image that makes sense to me. It provides a working view of the environment, but has inherent limitations based on material and design.

My biology and experiences working in concert determine my perception of the world and the direction my thoughts will take. I perceive and interpret. I connect concepts together. I build a model of the world in my mind. I run simulations. I understand. I use that understanding to interpret my next set of experiences.

If my accumulated experiences were somehow separated from my body – if the pattern representing my current understanding of the world could be taken as a snapshot and extracted (erased) from my mind – the entity that I am would cease to be. I would not exist in the body, which no longer contains any echo of my life. Neither would I exist in the extracted pattern3, as it lacks a substrate on which any further processing can occur.

Caution: A wild speculation appears!

Emergent consciousness is not really conducive to embracing the most commonly understood notions about life after death. However, I must concede that it doesn’t strictly rule out the idea that you might sort of . . . re-emerge into existence. If there were a new consciousness that came into being whose initial state synced with your final conscious state, it might be a bit like picking up where you left off. Just without all the memories cluttering everything up.

As I understand it, that is pretty much what happens when we sleep anyway, except our memories are still there when we wake. I imagine this is what provokes the feeling of continuity when considering your own existence, even though technically speaking you are a slightly different person because you have been re-wiring your brain all night. You are not exactly who you were the night before, but you are close enough that the brain has little trouble reconciling the two “snapshots” into one consistent image.

I think this is essentially how object permanence and categorization are possible. The brain doesn’t bother with exactness, and that gives us the ability to establish sameness between things based on a couple of key criteria, rather than needing them to match precisely.

And this is maybe why we can understand things via metaphor too?



1Is it conscious? I don’t know really, because whatever that new entity is, it isn’t the same as [my understanding of] a person, it just has analogous properties.
2Though technically speaking, I suppose you could view all of your biology as representing the experiences of your ancestors – in which case you could say that everything that you are is accumulated experience. However, you could also acknowledge that everything you experience is ultimately goverened by your biological reactions to external events. Your personality began to form on the basis of your initial impressions, which are rooted in physical reactions. In which case you are a biological byproduct.
3At least no more than I would exist as an image in a photograph, or a recording of my voice.

We understand outward.

A few months ago, we were watching a documentary called Moog – about the guy that created Moog synthesizers.

At one point the guy is talking about golf and wonders how someone gets to the point where something like a golf club is felt as an extension of the golfer’s own arm. It struck me that it must happen in the same way that a person comes to understand their arm is a part of their own body. They simply develop an awareness of it in terms of relationship to the body, sensation and intent.

Again comes down to self/environment dichotomy rather than body/environment dichotomy. Body is just very localized environment. It is the first thing perceived, and so is the first layer of “self”. Since it develops so early on, it becomes rather intimately linked with my notion of what *I* am.

Isn’t every reboot and reinterpretation just fanfic anyway?

They are all just attempts to view a story through a new lens – this is how we process culture.

http://glamdamnit.tumblr.com/post/55713093884/my-sister-asked-if-the-events-of-the-labyrinth

Originally spotted here:

http://io9.com/this-amazing-labyrinth-fan-created-backstory-just-blew-978028657

Should this dude have just written his own original story? Maybe. But we do seem to love a new take something old. It’s no secret that humans crave novelty, but there also a strong need for a thread of the familiar to clue us in on how to interpret what we are seeing. Consider how much people enjoy remakes. And remixes. And makeovers. And cross-overs. It’s like, “Ok, I am really familiar with this character, but what if they were in this situation or what if they met this person? Or what if we took this story and made it darker and edgier.”

I would guess it has to do with the underlying mechanisms we use to model new situations based on previous experiences (such as dreaming or fantasizing). Or the way in which we work backwards to try to figure out something that has already happened – by speculating on what may have happened and comparing against evidence/experience currently available to us. We are essentially checking to see how tightly or loosely it “maps” to what we already know or expect.

I wonder if something about the novelty to familiarity ratio determines how “good” something is perceived to be. Or how well it maps back to what you compare it to. That has got to be something that would be entirely based on the individual. Possibly on how willing they would be to re-evaluate a concept they are using as the basis for understanding novel concepts.

For example, if my beliefs are heavily steeped in religious tradition, I might be unwilling to accept new information that contradicts what I understand – the new information does not map tightly enough back to my own beliefs. If my beliefs say “do not try to reinterpret your beliefs”, it will probably not occur to me to try to map back the other way using the new information to reinterpret . . . basically everything that constitutes my understanding of the world.

Also, if I too readily abandon my beliefs in favor of novel information, I become sort of naive or not very trusting in my own understanding. I might be more willing to try to acknowledge every single idea as valuable and believe you should never tell anyone they are wrong. My head would be a constant swirl of re-evaluation, and I might never get anything done because WHO EVEN KNOWS WHAT IS WORTH DOING?

Is this basically the difference between conservatives and liberals?

Reincarnation

Within each of us is the person we once were. A sleeping pattern of paths, along which thoughts once flowed in response to experience.

A situation which stirs the echoes of those experiences calls out to your previous self. It will wake, assert itself and you will be as you once were. Your attention will flow along the paths established until the path out can be found or forged again.

Things I have come to understand about myself.

1. I have the tendency to over-complicate things.
2. I procrastinate. A lot.
3. I am a perfectionist, but only with regard to things that have little or no value to anyone. I will become absorbed in tasks like rearranging files on my hard drive. Or establishing the perfect naming conventions in a script with three functions.

I believe that perfectionism develops as a way to avoid making progress while still sort of feeling like you are doing something meaningful. It alleviates the nagging feeling that occurs when you know there are matters to which you should attend. It lets you focus on something with which you are already familiar, which can sometimes be more palatable that doing something entirely new. It lets you stay in your comfort zone, expend little effort and all the while you get to feel a certain superiority about your devotion1.

I put off starting tasks and projects that do not demand immediate attention because I make it a giant ordeal in my head. Because it is now a giant ordeal, it probably has some important implications or consequences or something, and will likely have who can even guess what impact of unfathomable magnitude on situations I have yet to even conceive of.

Certainly, for something so important, I wouldn’t want to run the risk of starting incorrectly. Need to consider all the factors. Do some research. Come at this thing from all angles. Clean my desk. And now it’s like mid afternoon, so I should probably get some lunch. And run to the store – and a couple other errands while I’m out. Get all this low-hanging fruit out of the way so my mind will be clear to tackle this really important thing I have to do.

I actually get kind of a lot of work done while trying to avoid doing any particular given task. I feel like I ought to be able to exploit this somehow to improve my life.

Once I manage to get started on something2, I rarely encounter the sort of difficulties that I had envisioned during the triage stage. It’s like, if I could just initiate a task without picturing every potential difficulty, I would have no issue. I should allow myself the comfort of believing that if I just nudge myself forward a little, my brain will go with it and keep things rolling.

But I don’t really have that kind of trust established with my brain. It has totally fucked me over in the past when we had to decide whether to play Age of Mythology3 for three hours or get started on the philosophy paper due in eight hours.

1See also: prayer.
2I will work diligently until it nears completion, then fuss with minor details to avoid finishing and starting over with something completely new. One method I use to this end is starting a new project.
3In fairness, I did lay low the enemies of Ra that day.