Re: virus: (un)selfishness

Robin Faichney (
Fri, 25 Apr 1997 14:52:00 +0100

Martz wrote:
>On Wed, 23 Apr 1997, Robin Faichney <> wrote:
>>>If the study of the nervous system progresses to the point where we can
>>>accurately model the human mind and we can trace effects back to causes
>>>right down to the level of individual neurons we may well be able to say
>>>*precisely* what motivated a given act.
>>Not so. Whenever you identify a cause, you can ask what caused that,
>>right back to the Big Bang. A decision to stop at any particular point
>>can only be arbitrary.
>Agreed, but when examining *any* system that arbitrary decision must be
>made; 'what are the boundaries of the system?'. For the purposes of this
>discussion I had been taking a human / humans as the system, therefore
>my prime concern has been that which is within the system and that which
>has a direct effect on it.

I never suggested going outside that area. The problem remains
even if we confine ourselves to the brain. The original suggestion
was that it might be possible to trace a chain of causation back to
"the self". So do you think maybe there's a certain set of neurons
that, if we could trace a neural firing pattern back to it, we could
say "OK, his self did that"? Sorry, but neither this, nor any similar
story, is remotely plausible. Dennett explains why -- if you like
I can dig out references. Basically, it is not possible to locate
the neural correlates of consciousness (assuming you associate
that with the self) in *either* time or space. To think otherwise is
to believe in the "Cartesian Theater", and is a legacy of dualism,
according to Dennett.

>>It's only because there's a self-image that
>>"you" think "your self" is responsible for anything, or that anything/
>>everything "you" do is "selfish", or that "you have" a "self".
>Ehhhmmmm, so what?

If you accept there's no real self, you can't consistently claim
that a chain of causation could be traced back to it.

>>>I'm reminded of an experiment....
>>>....... What does this say about motivation?
>>It tells us that small electric currents come into the picture.
>It also tells us that reflection alone *cannot* reveal our motives to
>us. It also requires examination from an outside source.

No, it just tells us introspection is not entirely reliable. But then
knew that, didn't we? :-)