P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 38
11th August 2002
I. 'Mind, Body and Personal Identity' by James Martin
II. Ask a Philosopher: some statistics
III. The Pathways Questionnaire
I. 'MIND, BODY AND PERSONAL IDENTITY' BY JAMES MARTIN
'Philosophy has always gone astray by giving the
name of "I" to the most unlikely things but never
to the thing you can call "I" in your daily life.'
-- Jose' Ortega Y Gasset (1883-1995)
('In Search of Goethe from Within')
Who am I? And who am I not? Why am I 'me'? What have I become? And what have I
'lost' in the process of attempting to define my 'being' in this interlude
between our two eternities? How much of 'me' is 'pure thought', or worse yet:
simply a physical response in origin and perhaps substance. Am I nothing more
than an involuntary response? Gone mad.
There is something exciting happening here. Something that grabs my thinking to
enable an enthusiastic response. It's not academic. I am not here to examine
what Descartes, Berkeley et al 'meant'. Although it seems I have spent an
extraordinary time block with these 'great thinkers' of philosophy, religion
and politics over my mature lifetime. Because of, and despite this fact, I
would rather examine 'me' now, and then compare my own search for identity --
comprising both mind and body with what 'they' (classic philosophers) have
discovered or discerned on their own -- and in their own time.
There are no real road maps or clues that can yield the elements of a 'personal
identity' -- but, there is something here larger than our thinking, grander than
formal education, more meaningful than the lives of our ancestors: Our Perceived
Experience. That which is unique to our individual life. The one that is
perceived. And examined. The one that cheers for itself. And suffers alone. And
the one that struts and strains for a physical presence that preserves and
pretends itself part of the whole. At odds with itself perhaps, the mind-body
connection is Descartes legacy. But my child.
The problem appears to lie in what makes 'identity' of one person in time --
and through time. For me, 57 years of perceptions yields experience (and
experience equals perception) -- events, both major and insignificant. From a
remembered childhood, to the current hour of my life. Every experience has
yielded some result or other -- a degree of satisfaction, a so-called success,
periods of boredom, consistent disappointment, grief, sorrow -- and yes,
longing. How generous I have been to myself in my own thinking! to elicit such
responses in these thousands of clashes, arguments, resolutions or
reconciliations -- with myself -- and those I loved over a lifetime, and those
long forgotten even in the moment. Events in review, both locked and floating
as charged memory cells, isolated in that part of the brain reserved for
recall. Perception as remembrance. Intangible acts of thought -- dependent on
physical processes. Or not.
What is identity? Is it nothing more than the subtraction or addition of some
conscious elements and labels of identity that precedes us -- and follow us,
often thrown upon us by society that yields some definition, no matter how
elusive it is manifested? No one seems to disagree with Samuel Butler who said,
"everything is what it is and not another thing". I've been told the difficulty
here is to know when we have one thing and not two. Let me begin:
I was a husband once. For 31 years. We had two children. Now they are 30 and
26. The sense of 'identity' that motivated my actions it appears were
institutional labels that became conscious relating. Marriage is an interesting
concept. Society often demands it if we are to conceive and raise out children
with some formal structure using the 'family' as it central focus. Yet, it
doesn't take much research to realize half the marriages, more or less end in
divorce. Dissolved is the idea that this institution (marriage) is mandated for
life. A necessary perception. Does this mean our identity is locked up already,
one predetermined set of outcomes after another? Universal in its application
and resolve. It seems not only does the relation between mind (perception) and
body (physical processes) compete for attention and relevance -- but that even
our perceptions are not our own...where in fact, they belong to the necessity
of 'man' to believe in his relevance and continuation.
You might think that perhaps even 'perception' has an organic base, rooted in
process and resolve. Why not? The body functions that mingle with the mind
include learned responses of walking and movement, both required integrations
dependent on the signals sent from the brain to the limbs and back again.
Our perceptions are shaped by our mental experiences and the physical
consequences; the ability to interpret them rests on our need to make 'sense'
of our life in each stage of existence. Mid-life seems an appropriate time lime
to meditate a while on the roles we have played throughout our life. Child,
adolescent, adult, and finally at life's termination point.
Oddly enough, the older we become, more often than not, we see our 'identity'
comprised of monitoring a physical self and its eventual decline, as well as
our perceptions of 'who we once were'. The relevance of such a definition is
that we in fact are 'following' both our physical presence and at last, what
was our most important 'thoughts' that comprised our belief system of
perceptions over a lifetime.
The Big Three responses to the problem of defining what 'me' is: Dualism,
Materialism and Idealism -- each offers some sense of continuity 'after the
fact': that is, from my own examination of my life, inside and out, I see
myself in these linguistic labels.
Am I the sum of my body and mind? Each taking a center stage to the
understanding of the other. Body-mind, Mind-body. I call on one. One calls on
me. I can control my thoughts. At least as I am conscious to think of thinking.
But I react to the pain of an unknown throbbing in my chest. I think of my
possible demise. The incomplete life not quite fulfilled. My mind and body are
in perfect harmony, are they not? One relies on the other. Physical signals
sent to my brain and resolved by my thoughts. And so it goes with the rest of
my collection of organs. Each interdependent on the other. Oh! this body and
its parts. What a wonder of biology. To be dissected, labeled, reissued, used
again in transplants. A physical presence we hold preeminent.
But without thinking about them, how do we know they really exist? Are their
names or labels required to make them real? Two entities, the physical, and
mental, separate but equal perhaps. The physical cannot be the mental. Or can
the mental ever become the physical? Can mind and matter unite? as one. Or do
they co-exist, each to be reacted to by the other. When I think a thought, does
my body care? or is it simply 'listening'. And when I think a thought, is my
body 'on alert' to the mind's orders of the day? It seems so. One can't live
without the other, or at least the thought of a complete human being includes
body and mind functioning in some harmony or a parched chaos. I suppose the
very thought of mind-body relationship often wore out Descartes late at night;
sleeping till noon was a requirement.
Or, can I describe 'me' in terms of a materialistic self, that is, the body
obviously exists in this state, but for the materialist, it appears that mental
states are not separate from the body. Such is the view the world is entirely
composed of matter. The Ancient Greek philosophers Democritus and Epicurus
might say I consist of invisible and indivisible bits called 'atoms'. And much
later (17th century), Hobbes' "Leviathan" captured the same notion in his long
poem. That the laws of nature dictate our best being. Direct observation of
nature might explain it all based of scientific knowledge -- not from a first
philosophy of philosophic reasoning. Known also called 'physicalism', based on
the laws of physics that matter resolves into forces and energy. I suppose for
the physicist, matter and energy mix. But it doesn't answer (hopefully) the
nature of the mind and its companion processes -- essentially consciousness. Of
course, I remember the epigram I wrote:
'If we are but the charge between the cells,
what have we lost and what can we gain?'
-- from 'A Man's Life' James Martin
(Four Seasons Press 1994)
There is that possibility then. And what about consciousness? Nothing more than
a physical state too? And what we think doesn't matter? Babbling idiots, us.
Trapped in the body. Mind is body. Body is body. Very confusing existence I
would say. For now, I must pass. However, I think I will drift to the third
response for possible comfort and maybe a sense of security to house the 'me' I
have come to think about. Idealistically speaking, of course.
As I observe my life past, in the moment, and to its completion, I do so with
the understanding my physical existence are the experiences I am left to
conceive of -- all of which take place in my mind's view. So in retrospect, my
perception is based on my perceptions of events. There is neither pain or
pleasure in these associations, at least not at the moment. They (perceptions)
simply 'were'. Yet, it seems to me there is a dilemma here too: how can we both
aware of physical objects while it appears physical objects are independent of
us, holding court in an external world outside our ability to create them? I
mean, now what can we authentically perceive outside our internal senses. Of
course, the argument becomes more dense with Locke's Representative Realism vs.
Berkeley's notion that we can hold fast to the physical world itself and
believing ideas are dependent on the mind. And what is 'real' through Idealism
is a mind-construct. Hmm. That seems hard to prove otherwise, since it is
impossible at this juncture to characterize a perception outside the medium of
the mind. You have to admire a man like Berkeley. At least he can't be
My-Oh-my. All these barriers toward a unifying theme of 'Identity'. Yet, when
one considers Dualism, Materialism, and Idealism, are not each interdependent
in a way that accounts for our viewing 'self' if not comprehensively, perhaps
as best we can? all the time realizing , we do not create worlds, but find
ourselves in one. Or do we?
I'm not in Ohio anymore. My wife is dead. Two years this month. My Son flew
back to Washington DC recently after a brief visit with me in Wisconsin. I see
his Mother in him. Her conscious state lingers there. But so does mine...and
all who passed his way, genetically, as well teachers, friends, and every
influence ever recorded and absorbed. We (and they) are all there is seems.
Identity is hopefully never stagnant, but perhaps transitory, migratory -- and
finally, collective in its conscious-absorbing 'self'.
And the desire to Love takes hold once again. It is the same inflection and the
same song -- perhaps the same inflection with a new twist. Who would have thunk
it? Yet 'what was' 'is'. In a odd and mysterious way, to love again, is to love
always -- and also, to never stop loving. Its temporal object may physically
change, but its necessity changes us. Even though the outcome is often in doubt.
My daughter and her husband are six months pregnant -- the first in the next
generation will be a girl. We are all there too as 'collective identity'. Yet,
neither philosophy or poetry will answer us completely this time. But we hear
their call, and eagerly move closer to what we cannot know -- with tears,
laughter...and in awe of our very soul that it be known somehow. Someday.
(c) James Martin 2002
II. ASK A PHILOSOPHER: SOME STATISTICS
The last issue (Issue 37) of 'Philosophy Pathways' carried a feature 'Pathways
to Philosophy: the first seven years' which included some pretty impressive
statistics on the 'Ask a Philosopher' pages. So impressive, in fact, that we
had to double check to make sure. Are there really over a million words on the
seventeen pages of Questions and answers? Well, no. A recount revealed the
number to be a mere two thirds of a million. However, the true number of
questions answered turns out to have been more than the 'upwards of a thousand'
referred to in the article. The actual number of questions answered to date is
1172. The number of separate answers is in fact greater than this, since some
of the questions have two or more answers.
Meanwhile, on the Questions page, a statistic which we neglected to mention,
the number of questions still awaiting an answer is currently 408. This puts
the ongoing success rate in answering questions at a shade under 75 per cent.
In other words, someone who submits a question is three times more likely than
not to receive an answer from one or more members of the 'Ask a Philosopher'
There are currently a total of 43 philosophers on the Ask a Philosopher team,
while around a dozen answer questions on a regular basis. The majority of the
regular contributors are Pathways mentors.
In order to speed up the service, questioners normally receive their answers
direct from a member of a panel at the same time as the answer is submitted for
posting on the Answers page.
However, there is always room for improvement. If you have expertise, even if
in only one or two areas of philosophy, and would like to contribute to 'Ask a
Philosopher', just pick any question or questions from the Questions page and
e-mail your answer(s) to email@example.com . Or you can add your
'second opinion' to one or more of the answers on the Answers page.
Easy to remember URLs:
Ask a Philosopher: http://go.to/ask-a-philosophe r
Questions page: http://welcome.to/philosophers
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2002
III. THE PATHWAYS QUESTIONNAIRE
Visitors to the Pathways web site will have noticed a new feature: a silver
button near the top of the launch page next to the photograph of the open
window. The button has the word 'Questionnaire' written on it in bold letters.
If you click on the button, up pops the Pathways Questionnaire form.
Along the top of the page you will find a row of friendly faces, to put you in
the right mood.
The form can be completed in a couple of minutes. The idea (apologies to those
to whom this may seem to be labouring the point) is to entice some user
feedback which will help us plan enhancements to the services we provide.
If you are thinking of taking a philosophy course, this is also the place to
ask about the Pathways programs, or the Associate and Fellowship awards.
The form does not contain any 'mandatory fields'. This means that you do not
need to give your name or e-mail address if you do not want to. If you do give
your e-mail address, however, we promise that it will not be communicated to a
third party, or used for any purpose other than contacting you if you have
asked us a question, or if necessary to reply to your comments.
- We look forward to hearing from you!
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2002
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