Get physical with that meta
SO, Metaphysics. What a wondrous topic to explore without any boundaries or constricting guidelines to really speak of. Sometimes the freedom to do what you wish is exactly what you need but, in this case, I feel as if it left me floating just a little bit too much. I did manage a topic to discuss, which is the physical elements of The Self, and more specifically if there even are any. The Self is often thought of as our ‘spirit’ and what makes us truly unique as individuals. My exploration will look into whether or not there are any biological factors that influence the creation and maintenance of The Self, such as our senses.
Therefore, my main question is: Are there any physical/biological elements or requirements of The Self?
Of course, this is almost too specific of a question to answer, as it is a simple yes or no to close the case. But, looking into some sub-questions, we can go on to assume it’s not a simple yes or no that will answer the question above but, a series of debates and hypothesis.
Can genetics influence the self?
How is cognitive functioning related to the self?
If we didn’t have a physical form would we be able to have the self?
Going into this topic of the “Philosophy of The Self”, I decided it was best to first get a proper definition for this vague term and see how well I could continue on with answering my questions after that.
As shown by the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, The Self is;
The elusive ‘I’ that shows an alarming tendency to disappear when we try to introspect it.
1. Ego, subject, I, me, as opposed to the object or to the totality of objects; may be distinguished from “not-me,” as in W. James’ statement (Principles of Psychology, I, 289) “One great splitting of the whole universe into two halves is made by each of us, and for each of us almost all of the interest attaches to one of the halves; but we all draw the line of division between them in a different place. When I say that we all call the two halves by the same names, and that those names are ‘me’ and ‘not-me’ respectively, it will at once be seen what I mean.”
2. The quality of uniqueness and persistence through changes (Lat. ipse), by virtue of which any person calls himself I and leading to the distinction among selves, as implied in such words as myself, yourself, himself, etc. (By transfer, this applies to the uniqueness of my thing, as in ‘itself’).
3. The metaphysical principle of unity underlying subjective experience, which may be conceived as dependent upon the given organism or as distinct in nature; sometimes identified with the soul.
Some philosophers doubted or even denied the existence of the self. Thus, Hume pointed out (Treatise of Human Nature, I, pt. 4) that, apart from the bundle of successive perceptions, nothing justifying the concept of self can be discerned by introspection.
The meaning of self, with its metaphysical, linguistic and psychological distinctions has become so ambiguous that it may be useful to distinguish between
(a) the self as applied to the bearer of subjective experience, or the physical or somatic (G. S. Hall, The American Journal of Psychology, 1897-1898) self; and
(b) the self as applied to the contents of that experience, or the psychological self, which is “an organization of experiences in a dynamic whole.” (W. Pillsbury, Attention, 217). — R.B.W.
In the second set of definitions, we can clearly see that there has been no solid decision on whether or not The Self is made up of any physical parts and what those parts may be.
Continuing on with my philosophical discoveries, I wandered into an article titled “The Illusion of The Self” which discusses the idea that The Self is something we have created within our conscience and subconscious in order to fill in a blank for ourselves that didn’t truly have any shape to begin with. It refers to books such as; The Self Illusion: How The Social Brain Creates Identity (2012), The Principles of Psychology (1890), and The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat (1985) and makes several comparisons to the Kanizsa triangle and how our brain automatically fills in perceived blanks that required no filling at all as there was nothing that exists to fill them in anyways.
So far the only question we’ve really been able to address here is How is cognitive functioning related to the self? This, of course, is related to the illusion of The Self we have created and its dependency on the ability to create a narrative of our lives and remember experiences that imprinted themselves on our forward path. The other two questions are mostly dependent on hypotheticals that we can’t fully comprehend or answer, especially the final question, which would require us to have absolute knowledge and an understanding of the pieces that make up The Self, as well as a hypothetical reality in which the senses are not present in order to study what it required to have The Self function. We would need to separate a self-conscious entity from its physical form at an extremely early stage and witness it’s development without physicalities, which is an experiment we just do not have the technology to conduct.
This has all lead me to the astounding discovery that I am no better prepared to explore The Self than I was initially. I have only lead myself into a multitude of confusing loops and dead ends in which my question has frayed to its core and gotten even more narrowed down and yet exponentially more widespread. This is going to be a bit of a challenge but, I’m fully prepared to break my brain in order to get even a smidgen closer to some form of truth.