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 Is the "self" an illusion?

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Aaron
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PostSubject: Is the "self" an illusion?   Sun Oct 21, 2007 10:22 pm

I was having a discussion with a Buddhist and the topic of the individual self came up. His position was that the self doesn't really exist. That it's an illusion that we create in order to make sense of the world around us. His main argument was that if the self exists that we should be able to point to it's location somewhere.

I disagreed with him and I'll share my reasons why but I'd like to here your thoughts on it first.

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PostSubject: Re: Is the "self" an illusion?   Sun Oct 21, 2007 10:46 pm

Here's a post on another forum regarding a similar question. In his recent book David Hofstadter tried to define, in scientific terms, the entity we call the Soul or the Self. LIke your Buddhist he concluded that the soul/self is an illusion. I agree with most of the book, but my Deist worldview gives me an alternative to calling the sense of Self an illusion. I can't get into the technical background details right now, so this post may seem to stray off-topic. Long story short: for me, the Self is not Real, it is Ideal---but it's not an illusion, it is a real idea.



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Quote from article

But Hofstadter is one of hundreds of scientists and scholars showing how interconnectedness actually works. What’s being described is a vast web of information — some contained in genes, some in brain structure, some in the flow of dinner conversation — that joins us to our ancestors and reminds the living of the presence of the dead.





I am currently reading Hofstadter's book, so I can comment with some superficial understanding of what he's talking about. As in his previous book GÖDEL, ESCHER, BACH, the concepts he is trying to convey are very abstract, abstruse, and easy to misconstrue. In I AM A STRANGE LOOP, he is talking about the entity traditionally called the "Soul". But he goes to great lengths to show that the Soul (or Self-Concept as I call it) is not an immortal entity that "inhabits" the body. Instead, the Soul/Mind is an "emergent" quality of a complex brain/body. Since Qualities are not material objects, they are difficult to define, and to imagine.

I think the key to understanding "Consciousness", and "Soul", and "Self", and "I" is to see that they are "informational" entities, not material objects. Unlike matter, Information is something that I can give away and still have. My "Self", for example, is a Meme that can exist in my mind, and to a limited extent in yours. Hofstadter's wife died suddenly, leaving young children, but a part of her "Soul" had been transferred into Doug's mind during the years of their marriage. So he consoled himself, as many Christians do, with the idea that some "essence" of Carol still existed in the world, in the hearts and minds of her loved ones.

Unfortunately, such an abstract, dis-embodied, essence is more of a rational idea than an emotional feeling. That's probably why most people in the world prefer to imagine that the loved-one is still intact, just in a better place. Even hyper-rational Hofstadter, seeking relief from grief, seems to picture Carol's physical body instead of an amorphous metaphysical essence. The difference is that he knows the difference.

Even though I have a background to understand what he's getting at, his primary metaphor of "strange loops" is such an unfamiliar technical concept, that it never really resonated emotionally with me. I think he could reach more people by explaining how "Emergence"*** works. It's more of an everyday experience, even though most people are not consciously aware of it. But once you get it, you go "a ha"! I am an emergent quality of my body.

*** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergence
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PostSubject: Re: Is the "self" an illusion?   Sun Oct 21, 2007 10:58 pm

Well, without getting all philosophical about I say he's wrong. The "self" is everything we are. Every idea, thought, want, need, emotion, everything we see/hear/taste/touch/feel/think/do is part of the "self".
Conversely, all ascetic religions - like Buddhism - are really just seeking means to break from the self, that is what the discipline of thought and action, diet and drink, is all about - to gain power over the self.
It may be that ultimately everything is an illusion, after all there's %20 chance we exist in a computer simulation. However, the self is very real, and no more of an illusion as anything else in the universe.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the "self" an illusion?   Mon Oct 22, 2007 3:30 am

Many people in western cultures tend to think that anything eastern is automatically profound and full of wisdom. Its not. There are many wise revelations that do come from eastern cultures but this isn't one of them. It's just as Descartes said, even if all else is an illusion I must exist in order to percieve that illusion. Think about it. If the self was an illusion then who is being fooled?

I want to be very clear here. I mean no disrespect to Buddhism but all religions have tenets that are just not very well thought out. This is one of thiers. Giving it more weight than it logically deserves is the worst kind of political correctness. Most Deists I know wouldn't hesitate to criticize Christian stories about Adam and Eve as nonsense so why should I take this any more seriously?
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Aaron
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PostSubject: Re: Is the "self" an illusion?   Mon Oct 22, 2007 9:52 am

Uriah wrote:
Well, without getting all philosophical about I say he's wrong. The "self" is everything we are. Every idea, thought, want, need, emotion, everything we see/hear/taste/touch/feel/think/do is part of the "self".
Conversely, all ascetic religions - like Buddhism - are really just seeking means to break from the self, that is what the discipline of thought and action, diet and drink, is all about - to gain power over the self.
It may be that ultimately everything is an illusion, after all there's %20 chance we exist in a computer simulation. However, the self is very real, and no more of an illusion as anything else in the universe.

Well I guess I can save my explaination now because that's pretty much what I said. Smile

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PostSubject: Re: Is the "self" an illusion?   Mon Oct 22, 2007 10:01 am

Gnomon wrote:
I think the key to understanding "Consciousness", and "Soul", and "Self", and "I" is to see that they are "informational" entities, not material objects. Unlike matter, Information is something that I can give away and still have. My "Self", for example, is a Meme that can exist in my mind, and to a limited extent in yours. Hofstadter's wife died suddenly, leaving young children, but a part of her "Soul" had been transferred into Doug's mind during the years of their marriage. So he consoled himself, as many Christians do, with the idea that some "essence" of Carol still existed in the world, in the hearts and minds of her loved ones.

There a few good points in there. The first being the importance of information in defining "the self". I would just add that the self is more than just information however. IMO the self is a wholistic concept that includes both information in the form of mind, thoughts, feelings, emotions, personal history, etc., and matter/energy in the form of our brain and bodies.

The second interesting point is the idea that our selves are something that we can share with other people and that a part of us can live on through other people. Once again this can happen on an informational/subjective level via conversation or mutual experience and/or material level via transplant surgery, sexual reproduction, etc.

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PostSubject: Re: Is the "self" an illusion?   Fri Oct 26, 2007 6:01 am

This reminds me of another thing in 1984. Winston asked about the fictional character Big Brother,"Does Big Brother exist?" Obrien answered,"Of course he exists." Then Winston replied,"Does he exist like I do?" Obrien answered,"You do not exist."

Are you sure you didn't hear this from a materialistic atheist because it sounds identical to their claim that souls don't exist because they don't find any when doctors dissect people? It's self evident that my soul exists and not being able to point at it shows materialism to be wrong. Atheists say,"Show me God and I'll believe there's a god, show me a soul and I'll believe we have souls. Otherwise I'm going to stick to the belief that there is no god, there is no soul, and anything that seems to be a sign of either is an illusion." It seems funny to me that when atheist try to use materialism to show that God doesn't exist they also deny their own existence.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the "self" an illusion?   Fri Oct 26, 2007 6:46 am

The thing about Atheistic Materialism is it is also based on faith. Materialism holds the world has an objective existence (that is it does not need to be observed). And the only way to know the world is through empiricle investigation. But that means for one to accept Materialism under these terms they must observe the world not being observed!

Now who said Atheism wasn't faith based? Think
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PostSubject: Re: Is the "self" an illusion?   Fri Oct 26, 2007 7:20 am

Everything is faith based except self awareness. That is pretty much the only thing I'm 100% sure of. I exist. What concerns me is how blind and how unreasonable a faith is. If someone's faith in something or the lack thereof is so strong that they deny their own existence then I would say that's the most blind and unreasonable faith possible.
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