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October 5th, 2019
How would you define ‘me’?
Perhaps you might thinking of qualities that you like to think might be attributed to you by friends and family who know you well. Perhaps hobbies, and a profession would come to mind.
But what about just the word ‘me’?
Linguistically it’s used to refer to one’s self.
But we need to take a step back from language for a moment. Each word we are using is it’s own thing. The sound we hear ourselves make, or the sound we hear when we say the word ‘boat’ is not an actual boat. It’s a vibration in the air that is picked up by the mechanisms inside our cochlea. The vibrating air is not the same thing as the boat that we see floating in the ocean. Nor are the graphical marks that we combine as b-o-a-t. These are meaningless letters that have a meaning when combined together. They stand as a verbal and graphical placeholder for the thing we use to float on water with. It would be cumbersome and very inefficient to use an actual boat every time we wanted to bring it to someone else’s attention.
However, if we return to the word ‘me’, what exactly is it a stand in for?
The person we see in the mirror?
Perhaps. But if we nitpick at this experience, we realize that it’s just a familiar configuration of light and shadow, that looks like the same thing we see every time we look in a mirror.
What about the limbs that we see in the lower half of our visual field?
For those of us fortunate to have all of our physical faculties, we generally see arms emerging from the lower sides of our visual field and between and below that a body that extends to legs and feet.
Some movies go so far as to plant a camera in this spot so that we seem to get the same exact view that someone having such experiences would have.
Is that what the word ‘me’ is standing in for?
We can make a similar argument to the one with the mirror. These limbs and this body that we see every time we look down is just a familiar configuration of light, color and shadow.
But there’s an added dimension of sensation. We can make these limbs touch each other, and there’s an experience that’s added to the experience of sight. With touch we seem to experience what we see from the inside.
However, we can all remember dreams in which much the same happens. We have a body and we can touch things. And yet, the reality of that sensation of ‘touch’ is questionable, because what happens in a dream is not real.
It invokes the line from the Matrix: what is real is just electrical signals interpreted by your brain.
We can circle back to the beginning and recall the qualities that we hope we’d be associated with, the hobbies we do and the profession that characterizes much of our action. These are far more interesting because they speak of ephemeral things. Can you touch a hobby? Can you see trustworthiness? How exactly do you experience the profession of the novelist? Even the novelist must sleep and do other things that can’t be classified as the profession of novelist. The actions that all of these things characterize are innately fleeting. Like that breath you took in the second minute of the seventeenth hour of the fourth day of last week.
These attributes of a person are dependent on time in that they take time in order to occur, and by the same virtue they end. They are more like processes.
The word ‘me’ makes it seem as though there is some definite thing that persists through time. The same way that a boat is pretty much the same boat when you go back to use it. Certainly the boat has perhaps decayed a tiny tiny amount and perhaps it’s a little dirty from being in the elements. But let’s ask, which has most likely changed more: the boat, or the thing we refer to when we say ‘me’?
What if the word ‘me’ didn’t exist?
Would you still exist?
Certainly. Which begs to wonder.
Is not the phenomenon of being conscious quite a bit more nuanced than the clunky box created by the word ‘me’?
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