A Theoretical Purpose for Consciousness and the Mote of a Soul Part One
Part One: The Self is Distinct From Body and Mind
Everyday, I am becoming more convinced that the only pursuit worth the effort is to know myself, and that all other efforts, aims, and goals are derivative of this one pursuit. You might say that the purpose of Individual and Aware life, at least in my mind, is to know yourself. This is distinct from the purpose of life in general, which is the continuance of that life via the delivery of its genetic qualities to future generations. The parallel development and purpose between the self and the biomass that houses it is at the core of my theory.
When considering the self, this concept of being that we all seem to grasp yet continues to elude our understanding, we might ask where the self resides? What is “the self”? The most simplistic answer might be that the self resides in the body, or that the body is the self. I believe that this is incorrect, that the body is a vehicle for the self, the machine that the self uses to engage and interact with its environment. The body does not seem to be infused with this idea of self. When I clip a hangnail from my fingers, I do not sense that my self is diminished, and I imagine that even if I were to lose a limb my “self” would remain intact. My vehicle might be extremely hampered, but I would be no less me. Our language indicates this line of thinking; there is a distinction between what we mean by “me” and “my body”, though sometimes we mistakenly extend our sense of self to our body and even beyond. People in a car accident often exclaim “He hit ME!” when in fact they mean “He hit my car.” If extending self to a person’s possessions, like a car, is incorrect, then I think it is also incorrect to consider the body the self.
Unfortunately, part of our social indoctrination includes considering possessions as an extension of our being. If you are not born with it and cannot take it with you after your life has ended, it cannot be you. We bury the husks left behind by the departed. There are cases where the body and autonomous systems continue to function even when consciousness has ceased, resulting in what is referred to as “brain death”. In those situations, the medical opinion is clear that the self, whatever it is, has vacated the premises. Since the body did not leave with them, then can the body be the self?
The next most likely answer is that the self resides in the mind, or that it is the mind. What I think is meant by “mind” in those instances is the mental processes the physical organ of the brain produces. The idea of “mind” extends also to those processes, experiences, and perceptions. I believe that the assumption that the mind is the self it also incorrect. The mind, like the body, is a machine… a tool used by the self. It is the controls the self uses to manipulate the body and the processor through which information about our environment and experiences is translated in a meaningful manner. The physical aspect of the self, the brain, is merely another organ of the body. If the brain is damaged, does the self diminish, or just the capacity to function? Again, there are medical examples of trauma to the brain resulting in amnesia so severe that a new personality, sometimes even with different skills, emerges to replace the identity that was lost. If the self where the mind, would this be possible?
One might argue that the processes supported by the brain, the mind, is the self, and therefore the self is simply an elaborate function of the mind and not distinct from it. As complex as our minds are, we have managed to duplicate its processes artificially. Computers have been built that, when we discuss processing power and functions, far exceed the capabilities of our minds. Yet, the awareness which this argument suggests is an extension of those processes is not present in those machines. Awareness, I believe, is integral to the self. While the processes of the mind (and in the future a computer) may support this awareness, this self, there appears to be a distinction between them.
The brain, the mind, and its processes are a vehicle which can support and house consciousness, or the self, but the presence of the vehicle does not necessarily mean the presence of a driver. Lower animals have brains which in some cases rival our own in regard to development, yet our consciousness, our sense of self, appears to far out-strip any other example in our biosphere. This self, or consciousness, may be a phenomenon occurring as a natural evolutionary trait… simply an elaborate survival mechanism. If that is the case, why is it not present in other animals given its obvious success? Why aren’t there examples of other primates creating civilizations, or cetaceans striving to communicate with us? I suggest that it is because when discussing consciousness as a survival mechanism, specialized senses, thick coats of fur, and sharp teeth are far more advantageous than an overly developed frontal lobe. Consciousness is distinct from, and not imperative to, the survival of a single organism or a species. I believe it might serve another purpose.