Monday, 24 July 2017

Between 'I am I' and 'private objects'

      'I exist, although I might not have existed.' — What kind of fact is that? Whom am I informing? and on what occasion?
      For the longest time (four decades, in point of fact) I found the following argument persuasive:
      'I am I' can only ever be the assertion of a tautology. I might as well say, 'a turnip is a turnip', or, 'everything is equal to itself' (the so-called 'law of identity').
      If one tries to fill out the content of 'I am I' by describing 'what only I can know' about the contents of my consciousness, the end result is nugatory, sheer emptiness. 'Always get rid of the private object in this way,' advises Wittgenstein. 'assume that it constantly changes, but that you do not notice the change because your memory constantly deceives you.'
      It is futile even attempting to state what I mean when I say (to myself) 'I exist', or 'I am I', because a statement is necessarily something that conveys meaning to another individual, another subject, another 'I'.
      That's not the end of it, however, because there is still something to say. Previously, I was quite inventive in finding 'things to say'. In The Metaphysics of Meaning, I argued that the temptation to assert 'I am I' as if it meant something is the expression of a deep metaphysical illusion. In Naive Metaphysics, I took a different tack, arguing for a metaphysical contradiction between 'the subjective and objective worlds'.
      An 'illusion', a 'contradiction'. Anything, but actual, literal fact.
      If materialism is absurd, as I claimed, and for the reasons I gave — that materialism cannot account for 'my existence' — then there is, there must be an actual fact here. But how to express it? I can't state it. I can't even 'show' it (whatever that would mean) because showing, like stating, implies another subject that the putative 'fact' is shown to.
      'I can show it to myself.' — That's the question. How can I?
      — I am beginning to see the point of Sartre's take on this seeming paradox in Being and Nothingness, following on from his earlier essay The Transcendence of the Ego. I can be consciously aware of objects, as in ordinary sense perception, or I can be aware of my awareness, or aware of my awareness of my awareness, etc. At each iteration, an 'object' is brought into being, but the actual subject, the ego, never appears. The subject of a mental act, can never as such be an object. In the terminology of Being and Nothingness, the 'For-itself' cannot as such be something 'In-itself'.
      And yet, as Sartre notes, we constantly make other subjects 'objects' of our awareness, and moreover are aware of being 'made into objects' by another subject's 'look' (as in the famous story of the keyhole Sartre saw this pessimistically as a dialectic without a resolution, a battle that neither side can ever win.
      Leaving aside Sartre's dialectic of self and other, I will always and forever be distinct from GK, the spatio-temporal continuant from whose physical point of view I encounter, engage with, act upon the world. Freedom, true freedom, is the impossibility of encompassing the actual subject within the causal order. Every change that I bring about in the world, through my actions, comes (as it were) from outside the world.
      And now it occurs to me that there is a very simple and familiar way to model this.
      Previously, I have used the concept of virtual reality (as in a 3d shooter game) as a model for Aristotle's hylomorphism. The 'objects' in the game are defined by rules (their Aristotelian 'form') that dictates how they behave in a given 'physics model'.
      For example, in the 3d shooter game 'Marathon', gravity is lower than it is on Earth, that is to say, qua virtual object you can 'fall' a greater 'distance' without 'hurting' yourself. When designing a Marathon scenario, physics models can be varied according to taste.
      In the virtual environment of the 3d shooter game, 'monsters' are 'bots' whose behaviour is written into the program. This behaviour is more or less predictable: some monsters will give chase if you shoot at them, others will wait for you to come to them. But there are also one or more virtual agents or 'marines' whose movements are actions of the players, interacting with the program. Each player is outside the world of the program, a human being in the real world. (One thing marines and monsters have in common is that marines, like monsters, are more or less easy to 'kill'.)
      However, the model can be iterated. The 'players outside the program' might be virtual agents in a more comprehensive program — if what we term 'the universe' is just virtual reality or computer simulation. The alien beings playing this game will themselves appear as 'human beings', jostling along with any number of indistinguishable 'human bots' whose behaviour is written into the 'universe program'. (We can call these 'zombies'.)
      How do I know that I am not a mere 'human bot' or zombie? I just know, because I have point of view, I am an agent. But that's all I know. I know that I am, but I don't know what I am.
      For what it's worth, my sense is that, at the present time, the possibility that the universe might be a computer simulation is given more credence than the possibility that mind-body interactionist dualism might be true. What I seem to be moving towards is the notion that these two seemingly distinct possibilities might ultimately amount to one and the same thing.
      But aren't these hypothetical 'alien beings' themselves spatio-temporal continuants inhabiting a 'real' physical world? Sure, if you are taking the model literally. I am suggesting that one might view this rather along Aristotelian lines — effectively, a version of idealism: less extreme than Platonic idealism, but an idealism nonetheless. There is no physical mega-computer generating 'the world'. There is just purposeful reason (Aristotle's 'unmoved mover') that has created our world of 'forms'.
      The form of a person would be to exist as 'a being such that its own existence is an issue for it' — an existential take on Aristotle's 'rational biped'.

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