posted on Jun, 1 2016 @ 07:46 PM
The philosopher and phenomenologist Dan Zahavi argues that at the most minimal level, the human self is the self of our own individual point-of-view
on the world. Being a body, with a head oriented forwards, with my eyes constraining how I see, this is Zahavis "minimal self", and I largely agree
with it. Being a body and seeing through your body is always basically the fundamental invariable from body to body and person to person. The self
sees through eyes fitted within a particular head, looking out upon the world. The eyes can close, and still, something "unique" to the perceiving
mind keeps its unique "self-ness".
But this of course is partly a confabulation. The self Zahavi describes is an abstraction, because it ismpossible to be a self that is not shaped by
its unique experiences. In whatever animal, the body and perceiving of the organism represents a unique evolutionary lineage, literally expressing its
present dynamical equilibrium as an "image" for the perceiving onlooker, even though they too exist in the same way as dynamical systems structured
by a unique history of contingent events between itself and it's relations with the "outside". This is why its valid to say that the "self" was
born with the first organism on Earth 3.8 billion years ago. It's emergence marked the entry point of the dual into what had hitherto been a monad.
It is also true to speak of ourselves as an elaboration of this animating life-process into the present, evolving into what Stuart Kauffman calls the
"adjacent possible". Every mind, each embodied in a different way, comes to associate with the external world in a different manner. The rule or
laws that human development seems to follow are entirely relational and ecological, from the point of conception to the various points of fetal
development, to the first 2 years of life when brain growth more than doubles its neonate volume, it is the events surrounding the event which define
the behavior of the developing structure.
Inside the mothers uterus, the developing fetus receives molecular "messages" from the "world" of its mothers biochemistry. What happens here is
an interesting ontological transformation: the thoughts, feelings and social and theoretic problems of the embodied human mother, are continuously
communicated within the nervous system and cardiovascular system to developing fetus on the inside, leading most scientists working in human
development to conclude that the "baseline tendencies" of the newborn child to be heavily biased by the presence of the mothers biochemistry. Diet
and nutrition and thinking and emotion regulation are two poles of an integrated biochemistry that feeds the developing fetus with information; some
are relevant and helpful (if your mother lives in a world with low caloric resources, its good logic to prepare the developing organism with the
suitable metabolic biases) and others aren't. But the more basic point is the contiguity between parent and offspring: the belief that the lived
experiences of the parent doesn't impact the biology of the offspring is now scientifically untenable; high cortisol secretion (i.e. experienced
mental stress) during pregnancy predicts a higher-reactive temperament in the child. The logic, again, can be made sensible: if the mother is being
stressed by the world, maybe it would be adaptationally good for the organism to be aswell.
The ecological philosopher Andreas Weber has recently written a beautiful book (The Biology of Wonder) that keenly describes the possibility of all
biological life to be expressions of a basic "desire to live", as a basic, fundamental purposiveness, that is expressed externally as the physical
accretion of molecules into something like Kauffmans "autocatalytic sets", into teleologically structured unities, becoming something like Deacons
Teleodynamics. Whats the unity of self-cohesion begins, its pushes forward at the edge of chaos, or supracriticality. The most amazing thing of all is
that this process may be intrinsic to natures laws: the making of life may in fact be something that emerges as a dynamical probability within a
particular phase space in physical matter, only to "explore" and "find" the resources to maintain its internal cohesion.
On a side note, does such an idea obviate God? No. God or the necessity of a God is a personal issue, probably the most personal question a human can
address to him or herself. How anyone person answers it, is, again, a function of a cultural history towards it - cultural being a shorthand for the
present developmental structure of their current dynamical existence. But the idea of God, surely, is not as stupid and meaningless as someone like
Richard Dawkins has claimed it to be; nor it is as necessary for morality and human meaning as many fundamentalists claim it to be. It's at the same
time tremendously subtle and patently obvious. The very embeddedness we experience as individual objects of personal experience places us in two true
relations, yet many people instinctively go to the easy solution: God exists (and so they try to force the other into seeing things in the same way;
even though the very act of forcing induces an affective opposition in the Other against their intrusiveness) or God obviously doesn't exist. The
former focuses on the obviousness but ignores the subtle aspects of the question (which then brings about a more empathic, sensitive attitude towards
Others) whereas the latter can think about the technical aspects of the question, yet ignore (or dissociate from) the obvious "beg the questionness"
of being a being who is a unique self, and so wonder about an ultimate meaning about existence (i.e. God).
Each human mind is a storehouse of images and feelings that derive their functional logic from evolutionary developments from earlier dynamical
systems i.e organisms.
A Collection of Attractors
In strictly dynamical terms, the behavior of our phenomenology (what we experience) is a function of how our adapted biology (via prenatal
development) reacts and anticipates the world. In this flow of images, feelings felt during perception becoming dynamically "linked" with
anticipatory motor processes, thus linking for a whole life time - and all the familiar stories that occur therein - perception-motivation loops that
evolve to maintain a coherent "self-concept" image for the developing mind.
Notice that I try to maintain a dynamical focus in my description of the functioning of our phenomenology. It is an irrefutable truth that the brain
"expresses" consciousness, or as I would put, the brain-body expressing the dynamical biochemical stability of a exploratory energy, now become
aware of itself because of the emergence of a recursive logic that makes consciousness aware of itself - and so functionally organized around a
conscious self-concept, or ego, by which we humans experience meaning in the world.
There is thus a strange dualism in us: we are biomolecular autocatalytic sets of intense biomolecular complexity, and yet, we are conscious,
experiencing and needful beings; so needful that the very knowing of its existence spreads a petrifying meaning of its mortality. The biomolecular
process, which began with a certain external knowledge of purposiveness of wanting to exist, to a being that has paradoxically become organized by
this impersonal bio-molecular process to become fearful of its own perceptions of mortality.