virus: (un)selfishness

Reed Konsler (
Sat, 26 Apr 1997 09:47:11 -0400 (EDT)

>From: Robin Faichney <>
>Date: Fri, 25 Apr 1997 14:52:00 +0100

>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.

Yes, but...

The self cannot be traced back to a physical source smaller than
the whole brain...but then, neither can a computer program be
traced back to a source smaller that the whole computer. What
Dennett is essentially saying is:

"Hey, guys! If you open this panel in the back and look INSIDE
the machine it doesn't look anything like what we see on the screen
all the time. Look, here! All the data you think is stored in
hierarchical folders is just kind of spread whilly-nilly all over the
hard-drive. Look there! If you remove this little part the machine
doesn't know what time it is anymore."

Unfortunately the concept of "self" is as non-falsifiable as the
concept of "god". If you prove it isn't in one location or of
one structure people will propose others. It is, in the end,
a question of faith.

Personally, I adopt Dennett's idea: The self is the "user illusion"
of our neural computer...the mind is the "virtual desktop" of the
brain. But in accepting this view one accepts that such "ephemeral"
things have as much "significance" as objects of substance. Which
leads to the cycle "I am an illusion, the universe is an illusion, etc..."

This is where David R. starts raving about how obviously that line
of thinking is "invalid" becuase it's outcome is not acceptable. But
how one reacts to the concept of the illusory nature of experience is
entirely open. Just becuase something isn't "real" by whatever
criterion you wish to impose doesn't mean it cannot be of
significance; that you cannot act as if it were real.

"The self is an illusion" does not alone determine the answer to
questions like "Do people behave in a primarily self-interested
manner" or "SHOULD people behave in a primarily
self-interested manner". You have to add value judgements which,
of course, are difficult to agree on.


Reed Konsler