more »" />

The permeable, in fact nonexistent, boundary of self

by Langdon on September 19, 2011

I believe, (and I don't use that word very often, but I'm trying it on now to see how it fits,) I believe that what I experience as my "self" is merely the superficial expression of a vast body of sensation and processing. In fact, "body" is a good word for all that comprises me that's otherwise invisible to me. This isn't a new idea, of course, and it's been validated repeatedly in recent years with studies illuminating the relevance of subconscious processes that holistically compute information and present its conclusions to the conscious mind as a physical feeling.  The "gut feeling" is truly one of the only ways a vast, alien, hidden brain can communicate with the superficial mind so that action can be taken in our environment. But how does this subconscious self obtain its data? We certainly have a very accessible library of facts and relationships that we draw upon when we make conscious decisions.  We'd have to assume the hidden self knows English to access that library, or that there's a layer of translation between that library and our visible, knowable selves, which is a pretty shocking idea itself. But that hidden self also has access to levels of subtle information that the exposed mind doesn't- The quickness of someone's stride, a fluctuation in their voice. The smell on their breath, or on the breeze. A change in temperature in the air.  Indeed, levels of unimagined resolution that would blind and overload the exposed mind if we were aware of it all. Again, hardly a new idea.  But consider that all those sensations, themselves, are affected by everything in their own environments. Taking people as an easy example, the quickness in someone's stride is a consequence of variables in that person's recent history. Perhaps they're late for an appointment. Perhaps they're remembering a movie they saw in which someone was being chased. Likewise with the fluctuation in their voice, conveying a history unknowable to us, or an inner, private sensorium just brushing the surface of the knowable world. The smell of their breath, affected by the choices made by the guy who made their sandwich at the deli, who in turn, was affected by an article he read about umami, or the fact that he simply ran out of the good mustard. Our hidden minds are the recipients of this fractal chain of interactions, and I can't believe that it can sort out what's an intentional message and what isn't. If our hidden minds are holistic processing engines, computing in parallel a vast sea of information and passing it up to our visible minds, then our exposed minds, our decisions, and our experience is literally and fundamentally connected to the behavior of every person, and every event on Earth, and beyond. I think this is pretty obvious, but the implications are profound. Individual minds must function like individual neurons in a globe-girdling meta-mind, connected to many other neurons, but experiencing, to differing degrees, signals passed to it by every other neuron in the network. I can't imagine what the face of this intelligence looks like at a scale evolved to comprehend it, but it must manifest at a certain scale. It simply MUST. Okay, I guess that's not a new idea either, but it's pretty shocking every time it occurs to me, not least for its obviousness. Yet, what utility can the acceptance of this reality afford, and what can this mean for the life of the neuron? More thoughts later.

Previous post:

Next post: