26 January 2012

Who's there?

[With the claim that the self is like a waterfall, Julian] Baggini is trying to save the self from neuroscience, which is admirable considering that neuroscience continues to show how convoluted our brains are. I am not sure if he is successful – argument by metaphor can only go so far, empirical data wins at the end of the day.
-- so writes Sam McNerney. But Baggini's point may be sounder than McNerney allows. Nor is it particularly new. In A New Biology for a New Century (2004), Carl Woese writes:
Imagine a child playing in a woodland stream, poking a stick into an eddy in the flowing current, thereby disrupting it. But the eddy quickly reforms. The child disperses it again. Again it reforms, and the fascinating game goes on. There you have it! Organisms are resilient patterns in a turbulent flow.
It may be objected that a conscious self is an altogether different kind of thing from a non-conscious biological organism, but why?  Doesn't it make more sense to suggest that consciousness is, among other things, something like a light bulb on a dimmer switch: continuous from off through dim to bright?

John Keats wrote that he lived a life of allegory. However you take it, we are something like what Robert Sapolsky almost calls obligate metaphorists.

P.S. 30 Jan: See Self as Symbol by Tom Siegfried and Emblems of Awareness by Laura Sanders.

Setting aside any judgement on Rupert Sheldrake,  Mary Midgley is right when she writes: 'We need a new mind-body paradigm, a map that acknowledges the many kinds of things there are in the world and the continuity of evolution.'

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