Sunday, 27 February 2011

Do we have personal continuity? and if not, how can we have souls?

The objections to our idea of a self (to repeat wikipedia) is that: that the intuitive concept of self is an evolutionary artifact. In the monkey-riding-a-tiger model of consciousness the brain models its own unconscious processes just as it models other people. This modeling makes the assumption that the model will continue to apply through time, and so assumes they are the same person they were yesterday. This leads to the intuitive sense of self. The sense of ‘self’ has also become part of our language, part of our concept of responsibility, and the basis of self based morality.

According to this line of criticism, the sense of self is an evolutionary artifact, which saves time in the circumstances it evolved for. But sense of self breaks down when considering some rare events such as memory loss, split personality disorder, brain damage, brainwashing, and various thought experiments. When presented with these imperfections in the intuitive sense of self and the consequences to this important concept which rely partly on the strict concept of self, people tend to try to mend the concept, possibly because of cognitive dissonance. Critics of personal continuity believe that this leads to extending the concept of self beyond its practical application and justification.

It is logically impossible to have the illusion that you have a mind: because an illusion is a false belief held to be true and only entities with minds can hold beliefs.

No doubt all our ideas are to some extent products of evolution: neuroscience itself is. This has nothing much to do with whether it is true.

The soul is the essence of who we are – not a separate physical object.

I was playing Beethoven’s 10 Violin Sonata (with Ruth Palmer) on my 55th birthday. As it happens her Strad is older than the Sonata, my piano much younger. But it is the same sonata as the one Beethoven wrote. If we were playing it on the violin that was originally used, and from the original MS, it would be amazing, but it would still be the same sonata and would make (intrinsically) no difference to the music. Indeed it could be that my piano and her violin are far better instruments than the ones on which the sonata was originally performed. That is a bit like the Resurrection: our music on better instruments with strings that don’t break or go out of tune.

Or in the immortal words of John Donne: “when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated”

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