The self

(Contemplating) The Self

Brendan Weber on Medium asks – What is the self? A difficult question…..

While I align strongly with the general thrust of your thesis, many of the specifics seem to be overly simplistic and inadequate to the task as a result.

It now seems clear from vast evidence sets that as human beings we embody at least 15 levels of complex adaptive evolved cooperative systems, and at each level we can have multiple sets of context sensitive valences (tendencies towards particular actions in that context). Some of those are deeply ingrained in our genetics, and can be influenced by experience, some are deeply embedded in the unexamined assumptions of our cultures. Some of them we learn through experience. Some of them we adopt by choice (in as much as we develop the ability to choose).

So most of what we are is deeply constrained by things we have little or no conscious awareness of most of the time.

As to the role of religion, that seems to be much deeper than your description indicates. It seems very probable that religions are in a very real sense evolved entities, that survive in the environment of human minds; thus they are in part influenced by the survival of the individual humans holding some aspect of them, partly by their influence on the survival of groups, and partly on their ability to spread – and that latter becomes a deeply complex exploration of the many levels of cooperative systems within us, and the associated levels of cheat detection and removal strategies (the many levels of our antivirus systems in a geek-speak sense).

There is a lot of deep wisdom encoded in many religious systems that have withstood the test of time.

The experience of vastness seems to be something else.

Reality seems, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, to be vastly more complex than any entity can deal with in real time. Thus all entities must have simple models that are useful enough to work in reality. And that quality of usefulness has time and energy bounds to it, so more accurate models are only more useful if they can be computed quickly enough and at a low enough energy cost to be useful in that particular context (particularly those requiring rapid response).

This then combines with the need we all have to start from very simple models (usually binaries like good/bad, hot/cold, heavy/light, wet/dry, etc) and then progress to more complex approximations to reality. This is particularly so in respect of truth values, where the simple True/False must give way to the probabilistic interpretations of modern science. But none of that takes away from the utility of the simple models in some contexts.

We must all accept that however complex our models, even if they contain Quantum mechanics, general relativity, complex adaptive evolutionary systems, etc, they are all most probably “simple” approximations to something vastly more complex. And that can be a very mind-bendy idea.

Very unsettling when one first encounters it.

Back to vastness – thus our subconscious minds have to simplify down the vast amounts of data they receive, to present us with the normal experiential reality of our conscious experience.

When we learn the trick of stepping back into the data coming into the subconscious, it is so much bigger than our normal conscious experience, that it often seems infinite, yet all the data I have is that it is only an approximation, a very limited subset of what the reality beyond is actually like, and subject to all manner of deep bias and heuristics. So not exactly a “gold standard” of anything, however useful and amazing it is – experientially.

So for me, our selves, and our personalities, are vastly deeper and more complex and more ever evolving things.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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