X-Message-Number: 14302
From: "George Smith" <>
References: <>
Subject: To process - is that the question?
Date: Sat, 12 Aug 2000 12:56:32 -0700

In  Message #14293 From: "Scott Badger" he wrote in part on the Subject: To
be, that is the question.

I wanted to make some interspersed comments on these points.  My suggestions
here will be couched as absolute statements but please don't take them as
such.  These are just my views on this issue, subject to change.

> "The large volume of empirical research on the self has convinced most
> social and behavioral scientists that the self is real, and that no
> of the human experience is complete without accounting for it. Here, at a
> general level, are some things we know about the self:

The problem here is that we (I fit in your above categories) tend to become
all too sloppy in our use of words to define what we are referring to.

I prefer to distinguish between the concept of "self" and the persona.  The
persona is a strictly mental creation.  The word comes from the Greek word
referring to the mask used by actors in plays.  If I substitute the word
persona, a bundle of thoughts which, like a mask, is seemingly "worn" by the
"self", things seem to become much clearer.  For example:

> 1. The self is reflexive--it can become the object of its own attention
> (from various perspectives)--and this reflexiveness underlies many of the
> activities of the self.

The persona is reflexive.  The thoughts which compose the persona
(constantly?) habitually self regulate the persona as a whole.  One aspect
of the persona is to maintain an ongoing semblance of its own make up.  In
other words, the "mask" tends to work to retain its "appearance".  Rather
than carved from wood, it seems to be more like very thick oatmeal once a
human being gets past about age 4.

> 2. Most of our understanding of the world (e.g., other people, things we
> read or see) is filtered through our understanding of self.

Most of our understanding of the world is filtered through the persona.
Those ideas which conflict with the persona's "image" tend to be rejected or
scewed (Fesstinger's Cognitive Dissonance).  The persona affects conscious
perception directly in this way, and especially interprets events to
reinforce the structure of the persona.

> 3. Although, from late adolescence onward, the self is stable over time,
> particular situations different aspects of the self move to the fore,
> creating the appearance of fluidity.

Because the persona is composed of mental elements and because the
environment continues to stimulate new mental reactions to new perceptions,
the persona only TENDS to remain cohesive as it gradually (and inevitably)
is changed.  The persona is not a mental "entity" (some THING) but an
interconnecting grouping of thoughts, perceptions and memories which
actively inter react in accord with mental association patterns and sensory

> 4. Due to a variety of personal and interpersonal motives, the self on
> public display often does not match the self of which we are privately
> aware.

Those elements of the persona which work in social contexts are not always
those not so stimulated.  There are potentially an infinite number of
subroutines in the persona to access in response to any particular event,
mental or physical.

> Although these general, widely accepted properties of the self are
> important, and the principles and predictions that follow from them are
> many, there are some fundamental things we do not know about the human
> 1. We do not know where the self resides. Although the self is clearly a
> product of activity occurring in the nervous system, no one has yet
> identified areas of the brain that are associated with the capacity for
> self-relevant thought and emotion.

The persona has no location in space as it is not an entity but is an
ongoing mental pattern interaction.  One particular popular subroutine of
the persona is the creation of identity boundaries.  That which is "within"
these boundaries is labeled "the self" as opposed to anything outside these

These identity boundaries are arbitrary and change frequently depending upon
input.  For example, the persona can identify with social groups (tribes,
families, political parties, nations, religions, etc.), biological
structures (mammals, races, the whole body, the head, the brain, etc.) and
evidently with just about anything at all.  Exposure to certain chemical
changes (such as acute stress or LSD, for example) can dissolve the
persona's currently maintained identity subroutines and cause the persona to
identify with other people, places and things and even identity with ALL
experience.  The reverse seems to also be true.  Currently maintained
identity boundaries can be contracted and removed as examplified in the
exposur to the (currently illegal) anesthetic ketamine, wherein the persona
no longer identifies nor is aware of the physical body.

> 2. We do not know to what extent the self, at least the core of it, is in
> place at birth. The alternative, which, in its extreme form, is unsettling
> to many, is that the self is totally "written by" experience.

The persona relies upon mental inter reaction to "exist".  The concept of a
"self" comes from the mental creation of identity boundaries which vary
constantly depending on input to the persona.  As a mental structure, the
persona ceases to "be" in the absence of any input much as a comuter program
ceases to operate when the computer is shut off.

> 3. We don't know how profound is the effect of culture on the self. Is it
> possible that, in cultures that value the collective (e.g., family,
> religious group) over the individual, there is no clearly delineated self?

Human cultures are nothing more than specific persona subroutines, thought
patterns, which include identity boundaries which determine what the culture
"is".  Just as the persona is in constant flux so are all human cultures.

> In the way of summarizing what we know, here is a description of the human
> self:
> The human self is a self-organizing, interactive system of thoughts,
> feelings, and motives that characterizes an individual. It gives rise to
> enduring experience of physical and psychological existence--a
> phenomenological sense of constancy and predictability.

The persona includes all of the above.

The self is
> reflexive and dynamic in nature: responsive yet stable. "

The persona creates innumerable subroutines based on a strictly mental
creation I call "identity boundaries" which constitute innumerable potential
"selves".  (Boundaries do not exist naturally.  Every "line" is equally as
inclusive as it is exclusive.  Boundaries which are used to establish the
identity subroutine we call the "self" are only exclusive and arbitrary.
One-sided lines do not exist in nature.  In nature, lines connect as much as
they separate.  Boundaries only separate and are not found in nature).  All
of these are mental inter reactions and any "self" is in constant flux as
input to that subroutine changes.

The "self" therefore is only relatively stable IF the degree of flux is
perceived as slow in any particular context.  As in everything else, context
is everything.

> [Scott:] I would add that we must keep in mind other factors about the
> "self" that we wish to preserve.
> 1.  Is there really such a thing as an unconscious self and how important
> it's preservation relative to the conscious self?  More?  Less?  Would
> removing the influences of the subconscious mind be liberating or
> debilitating? What if it became possible to make the unconcious ...
> concious?

The issue of the so-called "conscious" versus the "unconscious" provides an
interesting way to catagorize the actions of the persona.  What one
subroutine has no current associated connection to (or has lost connection
to) another then that can be called "unconscious" from EITHER of the
subroutines' structural "perspective".  There are other models which divide
things into more functional aspects.

> 2.  The self clearly engages in self-deception.  Some of these deceptions
> are positive illusions, others are negative but they are an important part
> of how we perceive ourselves.  Point being, do you want to preserve your
> self-deceptions?

The persona clearly engages in multiple and sometimes seemingly
contradictory actions.  Some of these opposing actions can be useful in
certain contexts for achieving certain specific goals.  Sometims not.  As a
part of the ongoing flux of the persona, these contradictory actions are,
nevertheless, what constitute the persona as it continues its overall

> A bibliographic web site covering various aspects of the self can be found
> at:
> http://www.canisius.edu/~gallaghr/pi.html
> in addition there is a society and a journal for self and identity for
> interested at:
> http://www.soton.ac.uk/~psyweb/ISSI/
One amusing and insightful website deals with discovering how arbitrary the
identity boundaries are.  Retired British architect Douglas Harding
demonstrates how you have no head at http://www.headless.org

If we speak of the "self" as a given entity, this precludes the possibility
that things are quite different than we thought.  When almost continuous
paradoxes arise in the examination of any viewpoint, this may be a good
indication that we need to question our underlying assumptions.

I once bet my son that I could derive Godzilla from the application of the
quadratic equation if I could assign specific variables to the equation.  He
agreed.  So I said, "Given that x is Godzilla...."

If we begin from the assumption of a discrete entity called the "self", we
run into mountains of evidence that this entity is as hard to nail down as
custard pie, as elusive as the Holy Grail and as contradictory in its nature
as Schrodinger's cat.  So let us not assume that we need to add more
cornstarch to the pie, nor make careful drawings of what the Grail should
look like nor assume that the "self" is a quantum kitty cat.

Whatever is requred to generate the persona in theory, we do know that a
physical body seems to do the job currently.  Until this whole thing can be
demonstrated one way or another, keeping the body around seems a good place
to start.  That's one reason I like cryonics.  It is an effort to keep the
investigation going.

> I agree with Dave that it would be helpful to have a better understanding
> what it is that we want to preserve, but after reviewing some of the
> material at the web sites above, it becomes clear that questions
> the nature of the self are quite complex and far from being resolved.

I agree.  That's why I favor preserving everything available.  Head, toes
and whatever is in between.  Upload my mind, freeze my body, do it all!
There is nothing to lose even if there is nothing to lose.   ...ESPECIALLY
if there is no THING to lose.

Thanks, Scott!

-George Smith
"Quivis est, contradictio!"

Rate This Message: http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/rate.cgi?msg=14302