Being 1: Descartes said, "I think, therefore, I am," predicating existence upon thought. But I wonder if this is really true, as I find that many people, myself included, spend a lot of time NOT thinking, but rather, just spacing out. Does that mean I don't exist when I watch my laundry drying or stare out the window?
Being 2: Psychologist William James posited the existence of two main divisions of the self into "I" and "Me." "I" is the thinker about the self, and "Me" is the subject of thoughts about the self. For instance, it is "I" who says, "I am hungry." But how does the "I" know that "I am hungry?" "Because my stomach is empty," is the response.
"I" is the owner of "My" body, which responds to the demands and needs of the "I" without questioning. Or even more succinctly, take, for example the thought, "I don't like myself." Who is doing the liking and whom do they dislike? The self is the object of both articles, yet there is a subtle difference between the "I" who doesn't like "My-self." The "My-self" is the object of the "I" who does the judging of the "My-self," and finds it worthy or unworthy of personal affection. "I" is the chooser, but "Me" is the receiver of the choices of the "I."
So... If "I" am the thinker that proves the existence of "Me," then maybe when you are not actively thinking with the "I," the "Me" continues your existence.
Being 1: Does that mean that "Me" doesn't think?
If my existence is based on the existential "Me" instead of the thinking "I," then that would imply that Descartes is wrong and Sartre is right when he claims the "Existence Precedes Essence." If "Me" is the true foundation of my existence, then what is the "I?"
But if the "I" is not the foundation of the self, then what is it? An epiphenomenal free-rider on the back of "Me," as the behaviorists and certain brands of empiricists would have us believe? If the "I" is not a foundational part of being, then can I do without my "I?" It's never seemed to really do me a whole lot of good and often gets "Me" into trouble.
Being 2: Mysticism of all stripes teaches that the "I," also called the "Ego," is an impediment to realization and enlightenment. Most religions' ascetic practices are aimed at the diminuation or removal of the Ego or "I."
Being 1: What you seem to be implying is that there is a conflict or war between these two parts of the self - the "I" against "Me."
William James talks about the existence of multiple selves, that is, different personalities emerge within us under differing circumstances. For instance, the person who we are with our significant other is different from who we are at work, both of which differs from who we are with our parents or our offspring. The self who we are is constantly changing to suit our circumstances, but we do not notice these changes, as the body that houses them all and memory connect them.
James does not see any need to posit the existence of an ultimate self, such as a soul, as the selves seem to manage themselves seamlessly without the need for some kind of managing supervisor. Current Social Psychology research seems to support this observation of multiple selves, but what happens when these selves conflict (which they often do)?
Is "Me" constantly at the mercy of the fluctuating "I's," without help or recourse? For instance, when we say, "I couldn't help Myself," it sounds as if "My-self" is a victim of the out-of-control "I." At best, the "I" is ineffectual in aiding the "My-self."
If the "I" is constantly shifting and ineffectual, then I can't help but wondering if "I" even exists? If "I" do not exist, then who is asking this question, as it certainly seems to be "I," and not "Me" who ponders these questions of being and existence.
Being 2: It sounds like you could honestly say '"I" don't know "My-self" anymore.'
These questions all boil down to who/what do you identify your-self with? Are you the thinker, the "I," the ego, or are YOU more basic an elemental than that?
The "I" has thoughts, thoughts of the past, thoughts of the future. But "Me" only exists now. I can think about myself in the past or future, but I do not actually exist in either. But if I identify myself with the thoughts of the "I," I project myself out of the now, as the hopes, fears, plans and recriminations fluctuate from past to future and back again. The "I" judges, chooses, plots, worries, manipulates and anticipates, but the "Me" just sits there, waiting and watching the machinations of the "I." The "I" exists and seems real to us because we identify ourselves with it.
Being 1: But who is doing the identifying- "I" or "Me?"
If the "I" only exists because some part of my being identifies with it, which part is the culprit that calls the multiple selves into being? If the "I" is only real through identification, then it must be "Me" that is doing the identifying with the "I's."
But if the existential "Me" just sits there, as you claim, then there must be something else doing the identifying. Does that mean we need to introduce another element of self, or can "Me" be the identifier as well as the subject of the identified "I's?"
Being 2: This is where it gets sticky.
At this point, we depart from James, for it seems to me that you need some sort of notion of an ultimate self (or soul) to answer this question. The identifying agent in the self is not passive, as James' "Me" is purported to be, but rather acts autonomously to choose which "I's" define the self and which do not. For example, saying, "I don't know what came over me, I was not Myself," seems to imply that there are some standards that determine the identity of the individual speaking, which the prevailing "I" is applying, that are definitive of the dominant characteristics of that person. But, the prevailing "I" is unable to control or choose the behavior that is then deemed uncharacteristic of the holistic self. If the "Me" is the passive subject of the "I," then "My-self" did not choose the behavior.
Being 1: It could be argued that the chooser in such a case is a conflicting "I," but that begs the question of who is choosing which "I" is in control. If James is right, and it is only circumstances that determine which "I" is in charge at any given time, then how is it that the self ever gains "self" control?
Are some "I's" stronger than other "I's?" If so, then what happens to "My-self" if a destructive or anti-social "I" gets in charge of "Me" and won't let go?
Am I just SOL or is there something I can do? Am I doomed if an unwanted "I" hijacks me? Yet, even when I find myself in an unwanted funk, there is some kind of self-awareness that alerts me to the fact that something is wrong or not working.
Is this just a weaker multiple self knawing on me?
Being 2: The question of Self-Control is a very telling one - which self is doing the controlling?
The very term implies some kind of unified principle that keeps the impulses of the multiple selves in check. Our culture and legal system are both predicated on the assumption of self-control. We punish people who don't exercise it and try to instill it in our children.
But if we are at the mercy of situational selves, as James claims, then we can have no true self-control, nor can we be held personally responsible, as the "I" drawn forth at any given time is determined by the situation, and, under James' estimation, there is nothing else but other competing "I's" to keep the anti-social "I" under control.
If that is the case, then who is the responsible party? Is it fair to punish the whole individual for the acts of only one aspect of the holistic self? Is it fair to hold the weaker socialized selves hostage to a single rogue "I?"
Although these questions have been debated in the courts in rare cases of multiple personalities, I think most people would agree that a society based on this type of ethics would soon fail. And I also think most people would agree that this seems intuitively wrong - there IS someone/something that does choose which "I" will prevail, even if circumstances do call forth particular selves. There seems to be some part of the self that chooses whether or not to allow any particular "I" to take charge, and this is what we usually call "self control." We actually control which self we identify with and allow to take charge.
And we hold people personally responsible for choosing to allow the wrong "I" to prevail. For example, we deplore when addicts are unable to control their impulses to use, and want them to seek "treatment," with the underlying implication that they have the capacity to choose better, if they would only exercise it.
Underneath all of this is the implication that, deep within the self, underneath the multiple fluctuating "I's," there exists some agent that is responsible for an individual's choices, above and beyond circumstances and provocations. If that is not a soul, I don't know what is.
Being 1: But that still doesn't answer my question about the reality of the multiple "I's?"
Being 2: Without the changing situations, we have no changing "I's," suggesting that the "I's" do not exist independently. Plato would not grant reality to anything so changeable and unconstant.
But are we realists or existentialists?
If realists, then only the soul exists and the multiple "I's" are but illusions. This is a position held by mystics around the world.
If we are existentialists, we might still posit that there is something that exists prior to the essence-granting "I's."
Being 1: Ultimately, this boils down to being an article of subjective faith, as there is currently no way to empirically prove either stance. Indeed, an appeal to objectivity is likely unwarranted, as the Self can never be experienced externally.
We can only choose whichever approach seems to make more sense or to better match our own internal intuitions and experiences.
Province Of The Mind
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