Sunday, July 8, 2012

Qualia and the Monitor

It is said that requiring a “self” - that is, some sort of additional entity that is truly “I” behind all of the body and brain's processes, would lead to an infinite regress. If our bodies require an “I” then who is the “I”'s I?

On the contrary, the mystery we are puzzling through, leaving aside for a moment the Hard Problem, is this: it sometimes seems very much as though we are not our bodies or our brains. That is, it sometimes seems very much as though we are reading information gathered from our bodies and interpreted by our brains, but not that we are actually located there. It seems that way due to the limitations of our consciousness. It is known, for example, that our brains perform complex calculations to keep our eyes focused, that tiny emotional stabs come about after extensive analysis from the unconscious telling us when to act – such as when a football player knows when to throw the ball without having to consciously infer such, and that our brains can sustain our circulatory and respiratory systems without our conscious involvement.

In what way do these things belong to me?

It is not that we suppose that there must be a homunculus in our brains somewhere observing our experiences in a Cartesian theater. That would indeed lead to an infinite regress since the little homunculus would need a homunculus of his own. All that we need here is a dualism, and it is a dualism that casts our true selves as something radically different from our body, and the reason we suppose that we need a dualism is that it seems like we our reading our bodies rather than being our bodies.

Rather, it sometimes seems as though we approach the bundle that we call our body the way we (alongside our bodies) approach a computer. The computer performs numerous calculations in the background, it processes information, it checks conditionals written into computer coding, it crashes processes, it runs spyware, it checks for updates. Occasionally we are made aware of these background processes when the computer needs input from us to proceed, but largely these things take place without our knowledge. We receive the information that is meaningful and relevant to us on our monitors. Everything else is left in the background.

It is very much like this with the body. Much of the experience of being a body is hidden from us. All we have are those quales that we can make sense of. For this reason the body is alien to us. But then, if the body is alien, what is "us?"

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