age-smHow far back in time do you recognise yourself? There may be long self-life and short self-life people; speculatively, the difference may even be genetic.

Some interesting videos here on the question of selves and persons (two words often used by different people to indicate different distinctions, so you can have a long talk at cross-purposes all too easily).

Too much content for me to summarise quickly, but I was particularly struck by Galen Strawson’s view of self-life (as it were). Human beings may live three score and ten years, but the unchanged self really only lasts a short while. Rigorously speaking he thinks it might only last a fraction of a second, but he believes that there are, as it were, different personality types here; people who have either a long or a short sense of identity over time. He is apparently near one end of the spectrum, not really identifying with the Galen Strawson who was here only half an hour ago. Myself, I think I’m towards the other end. When I look at photographs of my five-year-old self, I feel it’s me. There are many differences, of course, but I remember with special empathy what it was like to look out through those eyes.

Strawson thinks this is a genuine difference, not yet sufficiently studied by psychology; perhaps it even has a genetic basis. But he thinks short self-life and long self-life people can get along perfectly well; in fact the combination may make a strong partnership.

One other interesting point, Raymond Tallis thinks personhood is strongly social. On a desert island your personhood would gradually attenuate until you became more or less ‘Humean’ and absorbed in your environment and daily island tasks. It doesn’t sound altogether bad…

7 Comments

  1. 1. Sean C says:

    I feel this so strongly. I have a really short self-life, my friend has a really long self-life and we can get along fabulously. I find my sense of self really just switches over and over again, or something. Anyways, where did you find this talk/reading I would like to hear more?

    [All I know is in the video on the linked page, Sean. Clearly Galen Strawson has written a lot about personal identity etc, but I don’t know where he might have covered this more fully. – Peter]

  2. 2. SelfAwarePatterns says:

    I’ve always intuitively felt like I had a short self-life. In many ways, my worldview has changed radically over the span of my adult life.

    But every time I’ve taken a personality test, the results have always been similar, even when separated by decades. (I seem to vascillate between INTP and INTJ.) I’ve heard this is common, that we’re not nearly as fluid as we intuitively believe.

  3. 3. Peter says:

    But perhaps you’re a sequence of INTP/J people?

  4. 4. Scott Bakker says:

    I think of the selfhood debate as a quintessential ‘crash space.’ Short magic, it stands to reason our basic capacity to self-identify should express some kind of ancestral need to self-identify. There need not even be a ‘self,’ so long as the kluge used discharged those ancient functions reliably enough. The kinds of problems these gentlemen are attempting to solve are about as removed from those ancestral concerns as can be, which is why that basic capacity flounders the way it does.

    This is just one of those problems that simply vanishes on my view.

    I guess my question to you all would be why, when a kluge is all that’s required (the ability to self-identify as far as ancestral contexts required), evolution would not only go through all the trouble of constructing an exceptional entity, but the metacognitive apparatus capable of accurately cognizing it?

  5. 5. Callan S. says:

    I think of the situation as kind of like the rings of a tree – your youth is there in the core, but a ring grows around it, then a ring around that and so on.

    In evolutionary terms, why would a tree be given rings? Dunno, just did. Not saying the situation is definitely the above – I always thought one is simply being asked to speculate on these matters, clearly awaiting further information. Though perhaps they will find synaptic structures have history bands in the brain?

    One other interesting point, Raymond Tallis thinks personhood is strongly social.

    And how do they figure out person hood? Via social means? Seems kind of a bias there, right? Perhaps ‘Humean’ is the real you and what we think of as human is really the mass of graffiti we leave on each other day to day and over time?

  6. 6. ihtio says:

    Scott Bakker,

    I don’t see how classifying all mind-related hard problems as “crash spaces” is helping. “Self”, “person”, “personality”, “personhood” are concepts, just like “space”, “force”, “electricity”, “money”. The way to go is to have a clear understanding of how we use them, when not to use them, etc.

    Your surprise “why would evolution go through the trouble of constructing a metacognitive apparatus capable of accurately cognizing the self” is extremely loaded and full of hidden assumptions. Did evolution go through the trouble of constructing anything that is accurate? Even the gene copying mechanisms are not accurate. Perception and memory are not accurate. And on and on. Why would evolution go through creating the apparatus for cognizing the self? And why would evolution go through the problems of creating apparatus that “cognizes” mathematics, music, space, music, language? See, the line of attack you present can be used for almost anything.

    The problem of “self” and the self-span continuum from the post can actually be solvable. We should just work on clarifying concepts, operationalizing them, devising ways for measuring and identifying on which point of the continuum an individual can be put. A more useful and manageable picture could arise from this.

    Yes, there need not even be a “self” or a “mind” or a “brain” or an “apple”. What may in fact be the case is that there is something out there that the mind kludges into something discernible from the rest and calls a “self” or an “apple”. I don’t think the post tackles the issue of ontology. If we would venture into ontological issues, we would have many similar problems indeed. Whether there is a “self” or not is not even an issue. The “self” is whatever we want it to be for scientific and discursive purposes.

  7. 7. Scott Bakker says:

    ihtio: Crash spaces turn on an understanding on the heuristic nature of the concepts, and how they generate conundrums when applied to problems they simply cannot solve. So I agree entirely: “the way to go is to have a clear understanding of how we use them, when not to use them, etc.” This is the foundation of my approach.

    As for why evolution would provide the capacity to do mathematics (and everything comprising culture): this is a very good question. I’m not sure what it has to do with my question, however, which has nothing to do with the exaptation of basic capacities. So I’m confused. Are you suggesting the self in an exaptation of pre-existing capacities?

    “The problem of “self” and the self-span continuum from the post can actually be solvable. We should just work on clarifying concepts, operationalizing them, devising ways for measuring and identifying on which point of the continuum an individual can be put. A more useful and manageable picture could arise from this.”

    Are you suggesting we’re closing in? Any concept can be operationalized to fit some experimental context so long as it possesses some systematic relationship to what’s going on. Just look at the psychological bestiary! Are you saying *everything* operationalized in psychology is ‘real’? Or are you saying (as I would say) that everything operationalized in psychology possesses some bearing on the ‘real.’ If the latter, then the million dollar question becomes one of understanding ‘some bearing.’ My position does precisely this in a very parsimonious way.

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