Monday, November 28, 2011

Do I Exist?

Reflections and Considerations on the Topic of the Self

Part One of Five

I am not well read on this topic (or any topic, for that matter), but I am quite interested and this seems like the sort of question that one can just jump into since it concerns a matter wherein introspection is a meaningful investigation. Naturally, reading what other people have said becomes useful when it comes time to refine and make sense of one's introspective discoveries, but having an initial conception provides something to be refined.

It seems that we must start by discovering what we mean by “I.” First, to begin discovering what I am lets look at what I do or what things I can say about myself.

What is it that I normally might say that I am doing or say are facts about myself?

1. I am typing on a keyboard.
2. I am contemplating the nature of the I.
3. I am cold.
4. I am a libertarian.
5. I will type on a keyboard.
6. I am thirsty.
7. I am drinking.
8. I am not thirsty.
9. I have typed on a keyboard.
10. I am in California.

All of these could reasonably apply to I. I would like to elaborate on these sentences....

Numbers 1, 5, and 9, I think, show something very interesting. It says that whatever is typing on the keyboard in the present (1) is identical to what will type on the keyboard in the future (5) and identical to what has typed on a keyboard in the past (9). We can see here that it is tempting to say that there must be something unchanging for this to be true. Something must be consistent from 9 to 1 to 5 if I did, am doing, and will do all three.

Number 2 denotes that I must be capable of contemplation, therefore I must be capable of mental activity.

Number 3, however, seems to require a body that possesses heat receptors, this only seems true at first, though. Cold can be understood two ways: having a low temperature or having the sensation associated with heat receptors responding to low temperature stimuli. In the former case, something physical is required, in the second even a disembodied mind could experience that as an illusion. Do we ever associate the former with I? Do we ever say “I am cold” and mean, literally, I have a low temperature? In a way, we do, when we say we are cold we are implying that we are in an environment that has a low temperature, but we always say it on the basis that our heat receptors are responding to stimuli. For this reason, I say that whatever we might mean when we say “I am cold,” all we can actually experience is the feeling of cold. I can not actually experience a drop in temperature.

Number 4 says either that I can be a part of a political party, that I can subscribe to certain set of doctrines or attitudes, that I can hold certain beliefs, or that I can consider myself to have something in common with certain kinds of people.

Number 6 seems to say that I can have needs. Thirst is, after all, the sensation of needing a drink. But much like cold, we only say that we are thirsty on the basis of our sensation of thirst. Suppose our bodies needed water, but we had no sensation of it, in that case we would not say that we are thirsty. This is another example of I having the experience of a sensation.

Number 7 says that I am capable of action. I am performing a movement. Now, suppose someone fired a shock into my brain that caused my hand to grab a can, move it toward my mouth, and pour its contents down my throat. In this case, would I be drinking? I say 'yes,' but not in the same sense. I say that I would be drinking in the same sense that I am in California in number 10. I am in the situation of drinking, but I would not say that I am drinking in the sense that it is normally used, that is, in the sense of willing an action.

Number 8 simply says something like number 6, only its negation. Rather than a sensation of thirst it is an absence of a sensation.

Number 10 indicates that I am situated. Regardless of my choice, the fact is that I am in California right now. Why is it that I am in California? Even apart from any sensation of being in California (perhaps I feel very much like I am in New York?), I am, in fact, in California. This means that I am subject to space.

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