Could the Self be an IllusionRecent advances in Brain Research have helped us to locate specific areas of the human brain and match them with specific tasks or processes. There is a speech center, a center for orientation and face recognition, even a center for our memories, emotions and personality. Injury to specific parts of the brain, such as the center for face recognition, will leave the person affected as if one has opened a panel in the back of the head and switched the ???face recognition??? switch to ???off??? ??“ the person is utterly unable to recognize faces.This is a simplified analogy.
The brain is immensely complex and sometimes displays surprising regeneration capabilities, especially in children, but the point is that in many ways the different brain functions are surprisingly centralized. It is almost as if our brain, our mind, our very self, can be fragmented like Lego blocks. And what is even more important, science can principally show us just where these different Lego blocks are and how they are interconnected to create what we call the human mind.
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This rationalist explanation of the mind by science leads us to adopt, for the length of this argument, the physicalist or materialist view of the mind, namely that, to anything, there is only what physical and mental sciences can principally detect and explain ??“ in other words: ???humans are entirely physical, composed of matter alone???. We shall assume that there is no non-physical constituent to the mind, like a soul or spirit, since there is no evidence for that whatsoever, and its consideration would complicate the argument immensely.Some believe that there is some kind of center, a part of ourselves we can find by self-exploration, and pinpoint a thing which is our self. To that question, rationalism supplies a simple, yet immensely unsatisfying answer: Yes, there is such a thing, even if it can not be found simply by self-exploration in the usual sense ??“ it is the frontal lobe of our brain, which contains personality and emotion.
If this part is damaged beyond repair, we can not function as human beings.This answer is entirely unsatisfying and, some might say, totally useless ??“ what does that tell us about the nature of the self Something extremely important ??“ the self is an area of the brain just like any other area ??“ it is in no way privileged or different.But does that tell us the self is an illusion Removing the special status of the ???self??? in rationalist terms does a lot to support that point: ??? The Science of Evolution tells us that everything about us has a distinct and entirely unmystic purpose. The Self could well be just an illusion created by our advanced brain to help human beings adapt to living in complex societies ??“ a distinct sense of self could be an evolutionary advantage that helped homo sapiens come out on top. ??? When we sleep, our normal sense of self looses its meaning. Most of the time that we are not conscious we can be said to be ???switched of???, meaning not functioning or in more radical terms even not existing when we sleep. An exception are dreams, but even then we are still not always returning to our ???true??? self ??“ we are what ever the dream wants us to be. We can dream to be a butterfly or an alien or the President of France, and for all intents and purposes at that moment we ARE what we dream we are.
Such a division of the self further suggests that the self is an illusion ??“ if it was something omnipresent in every person, how could it be disrupted and re-created, how could it be modified so easily If the very essence of an every person was that thing, that self, than how can we dream to be a butterflyThe close connection of our sense of self and our views and desires and the dependability of our views and desires on our current, ever changing emotions further suggests the self to be not a unified real thing but just another brain oddity.The conclusion seems to lie clear ??“ the so highly praised ???self??? is indeed more accurately described as the ???sense of self???, which can be said to be an illusion.One should avoid being too triumphant over this resolution however, because the conundrum of the self is almost by definition unsolvable and eventually boils down to a matter of personal choice or preference.Bibliography ? Chuang-tzu, 1981, ???The Butterfly Dream??™ (extracts), in Chuang-tzu: the seven inner chapters, trans.
by A.C. Graham, Allen & Unwin, London. ? Dennet, Daniel C. 1981, ???Where Am I???, (extracts), in Brainstorms, Harvester Press, Sussex, pp 310 ??“ 323 ? Hume, D. 1739/1962, ???Of Personal Identity??™, (extracts) in A Treatise of human Nature, Book 1, part IV, section 6, Fontana/Collins, London, pp 238-249 ? Locke, J. 1694/1976m ???Of Identity and Diversity??™, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book II, 27, Fontana/Collins, London, pp 187 ??“ 190 ? Nagel, T.
1979m ???What is it like to be a Bat???, (extracts), in Mortal Questions, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 165 ??“ 180 ? Wilkes, K.V. 1988, ???Multiple Personality??™, (extracts), in Real People: Personal Identity Without Thought Experiments, Clarendon Press, London, pp 109 ??“ 128 ———————– Philosophy Distinction Course Core Module 2, Board Of Studies New South Wales 1994 Chuang-tzu, 1981, ???The Butterfly Dream??™ (extracts), in Chuang-tzu: the seven inner chapters, trans. by A.C. Graham, Allen & Unwin, London.