Category: The Self and Its Brain

Springer International: 1985.

The self as a product of World 3

But the human consciousness of self transcends, I suggest, all purely biological thought. I may put it like this: I have little doubt that animals are conscious, and especially that they feel pain and that a dog can be full of joy when his master returns. But I conjecture that only a human being capable of speech can reflect upon himself. I think that every organism has a programme. But I also think that only a human being can be conscious of parts of this programme, and revise them critically.

Most organisms, if not all, are programmed to explore their environment, taking risks in doing so. But they do not take these risks consciously. Though they have an instinct for self preservation, they are not aware of death. It is only man who may consciously face death in his search for knowledge.

A higher animal may have a character: it may have what we may call virtues or vices. A dog may be brave, affable, and loyal; or it may be vicious and treacherous. But I think that only a man can make an effort to become a better man: to master his fears, his laziness, his selfishness; to get over his lack of self control.

In all these matters it is the anchorage of the self in World 3 that makes the difference. The basis of it is human lan­guage which makes it possible for us to be not only subjects, centres of action, but also objects of our own critical thought, of our own critical judgement. This is made possible by the social character of language; by the fact that we can speak about other people, and that we can understand them when they speak about themselves.

The social character of language together with the fact that we owe our status as selves – our humanity, our rationality – to language, and thus to others, seems to me important. As selves, as human beings, we are all products of World 3 which, in its turn, is a product of countless human minds.

I have described World 3 as consisting of the products of the human mind. But human minds react, in their turn, to these products: there is a feedback. The mind of a painter, for example, or of an engineer, is greatly influenced by the very objects on which he is working. And he is also influenced by the work of others, predecessors as well as contem­poraries. This influence is both conscious and unconscious. It bears upon expectations, upon preferences, upon pro­grammes. In so far as we are the products of other minds, and of our own minds, we ourselves may be said to belong to World 3. [!!!]

The blockheadedness of IQ

It seems likely that there are innate differences of intelligence. But it seems almost impossible that a matter so many-sided and complex as human inborn knowledge and intelligence (quickness of grasp, depth of understanding, crea­tivity, clarity of expression, etc.) can be measured by a one-dimensional function like the “Intelligence Quotient” (I.Q.). As Peter Medawar … writes:

“One doesn’t have to be a physicist or even a gardener to realize that the quality of an entity as diverse and complex as soil depends upon … [a] large number of variables … [Yet] it is only in recent years that the hunt for single-value characterizations of soil properties has been virtually abandoned.”

The single-valued I.Q. is still far from being abandoned, even though this kind of criticism is leading, slowly and belatedly, to attempts to investigate such things as “creativity”. However, the success of thes attempts is very doubtful: creativity is also many-sided and complex.

We must be clear that it is perfectly possible that an intellectual giant like Einstein may have a comparatively low I.Q. and that among people with an unusually high I.Q. talents of the kind that lead to creative World 3 achievements may be quite rare, just as it may happen that an otherwise highly gifted child may suffer from dyslexia. (I have myself known an I.Q. genius who was a blockhead.) [123]

The task of being a person

Against this, I suggest that being a self is partly the result of inborn dispositions and partly the result of experience, especially social experience. The newborn child has many inborn ways of acting and of responding, and many inborn tendencies to develop new responses and new activities. Among these tendencies is a tendency to develop into a person conscious of himself. But in order to achieve this, much must happen. A human child growing up in social iso­lation will fail to attain a full consciousness of self.

Thus I suggest that not only perception and language have to be learned – actively – but even the task of being a person; and I further suggest that this involves not merely a close contact with the World 2 of other persons, but also a close contact with the World 3 of language and of theories such as a theory of time (or something equivalent). [111]

Learning to be a self

In this section my thesis is that we – that is to say our personalities, our selves – are anchored in all the three worlds, and especially in World 3.

It seems to me of considerable importance that we are not born as selves, but that we have to learn that we are selves; in fact we have to learn to be selves. This learning process is one in which we learn about World 1, World 2, and especially about World 3. [108-9]

Explanatory reductionism

This reductionist idea is interesting and important; and whenever we can explain entities and events on a higher level by those of a lower level, we can speak of a great scientific success, and can say that we have added much to our understanding of the higher level. As a research programme, reductionism is not only important, but it is part of the programme of science whose aim is to explain and to understand.

However, do we really have good reasons to hope that a reduction the the lowest level will be achieved? [18]

The corroboration of facts

While no evidence can be conclusive, we seem to be inclined to accept something (whose existence has been conjec­tured) as actually existing if its existence is corroborated; for example, by the discovery of effects that we would expect to find if it did exist. However, we may say that this corroboration indicates first, that something is there; at least the fact of this corroboration will have to be explained by any future theory. Secondly, the corroboration indicates that the theory that involves the conjectured real entities may be true, or that it may be near to the truth (that it has a good degree of verisimilitude). [10]

When is something “real”?

I suggest that the entities which we conjecture to be real should be able to exert a causal effect upon the prima facie real things of an ordinary size: that we can explain changes in the ordinary material world of things by the causal effects of entities conjectured to be real. [9]

Man a machine?

The doctrine that men are machines, or robot is, is a fairly old one. Its first clear and forceful formulation is due, it seems, to the title of a famous book by La Mettrie, Man a Machine [1747]; though the first writer to play with the idea of robots was Homer.

Yet machines are clearly not ends in themselves, however complicated they may be. They may be valuable because of their usefulness, or because of their rarity; and a certain specimen may be valuable because of its historical unique­ness. But machines become valueless if they do not have a rarity value: if there are too many of a kind we are prepared to pay to have them removed. On the other hand, we value human lives in spite of the problem of over-population, the gravest of all social problems of our time. We respect even the life of a murderer.

It must be admitted that, after two world wars, and under the threat of the new means for mass destruction, there has been a frightening deterioration of respect for human life in some strata of our society. This makes it particularly urgent to reaffirm in what follows a view from which we have, I think, no reason to deviate: the view that men are ends in them­selves and not “just” machines.

We can divide those who uphold the doctrine that men are machines, or a similar doctrine, into two categories: those who deny the existence of mental events, of personal experiences, or of consciousness; or who say perhaps that the question whether such experiences exist is of minor importance and may be safely left open; and those who admit the existence of mental events, but assert that they are “epiphenomena” – that everything can be explained without them, since the material world is causally closed. But whether they belong to the one category or the other, both must neglect, it seems to me, the reality of human suffering, and the significance of the fight against unnecessary suffering.

Thus I regard the doctrine that men are machines not only as mistaken, but as prone to undermine a humanist ethics. However, this very reason makes it all the more necessary to stress that the great defenders of that doctrine – all up­holders of humanist ethics. From Democritus and Lucretius to Herbert Feigl and Anthony Quinton, materialist philo­sophers have usually been humanists and fighters for freedom and enlightenment; and, sad to say, their opponents have sometimes been the opposite. Thus just because I regard materialism as mistaken – just because I do not believe that men are machines or automata – I wish to stress the great and indeed vital role which the materialist philosophy has played in the evolution of human thought, and of humanist ethics. [4-5]

Understanding is reconstruction

What I suggest is that we can grasp a theory only by trying to reinvent it or to reconstruct it, and by trying out, with the help of our imagination, all the consequences of the theory which seem to us to be interesting and important.

Understanding is an active process, not just a process of merely staring at a thing and waiting for enlightenment. One could say that the process of understanding and the process of the actual production or discovery of World 3 objects are very much alike. [461]

Things that exist nowhere

World 3 is the world of the products of the human mind. These products, in the course of evolution, were first probably encoded only in the human brain and even there only in a fleeting way. That is to say, if an early man told a story of a hunt, or something like that, then the story would be both encoded in his brain and in the brains of his listeners, but it would soon be forgotten and in a sense disappear. The more characteristic objects of World 3 are objects which are more lasting. They are, for example, early works of art, cave paintings, decorated instruments, decorated tools, boats, and similar World 1 objects. At that stage there is perhaps not yet a need to postulate a separate World 3. The need arises, however, when it comes to such things as works of literature, theories, problems, and, most clearly of all, such things as, for example, musical compositions. A musical composition has a very strange sort of existence. Certainly it at first exists encoded in the musican’s head, but it will probably not even exist there as a totality, but, rather, as a sequence of efforts or attempts; and whether the composer does or does not retain a total score of the composition in his memory is in a sense not really essential to the question of the existence of the composition once it has been written down. But the written-down encoding is not identical with the composition – say, a symphony. For the symphony is something acoustic and the written-down encoding is obviously merely conventionally and arbitrarily related to the acoustic ideas which this written-down encoding tries to incorporate and to bring into a more stable and lasting form. So here there already arises a problem. Let us pose the problem in the following way. Clearly, Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony is neither the score he wrote, which is only a kind of conventional and arbitrarily coded statement of the symphony; nor is it the sum total of the imagined acoustic experiences Mozart had while writing the symphony. Nor is it any of the performances. Nor is it all performances together, nor the class of all possible performances. This is seen from the fact that performances may be good or less good, but that no performance can really be described as ideal. … In that sense the World 3 object is a real ideal object which exists, but exists nowhere, and whose existence is somehow the potentiality of its being reinterpreted by human minds. [449-50]