The begging questions of all philosophers can be seen from two perspectives, one tries to define or at least map the boundaries of what is knowable. Marx and Nietchze began with defining the human, which prompted a post-modern movement of neuroscience and cognitive science. Sam McNerney’s piece about the unified self “Who’s There?” Is the Self a Convenient Fiction? is a rather laughable blurb in the realm of cognitive science. His notion of a unified self contradicts thousands of years of scrutiny to the subject. The causal outlay of the topic goes against hundreds of thousands of quite literally pages written by the greatest philosophers. The unified self as an illusionary projection in an attempt to describe the various phenomena perceived of the functioning self. The words that are used in the following and in fact in McNerney’s piece need to be strategically picked, otherwise, the conscious reader could be deceived by his or her own prejudices toward the subject and content matter. The following will explore and analyze principles of self-identity, the mind body dichotomy, as well as the concept of freedom in an attempt to fully embody the subject matter discussed in this course.


Perhaps one example of McNerney citing a principle in self-identity is his reference to mental substance makeups: “But you don’t have to have a severed corpus callosum or a deep understanding of Genealogy of Morals to appreciate how modular ourselves are. Our everyday inner-monologues are telling enough. We weigh the pros and cons between fatty meats and nutritious vegetables even though we know which is healthier.” Granted this quote is more along the lines of a mind body issue, this writer would posit that it more about the self cognizing objects and the re-cognizing that said object is not-I. This notion supports McNerney because he is applying it to empirical reality. Self-identity can only occur in manner that suits metaphysics. One needs to transcend common modalities of thought in an effort to rigorously define the boundaries of the self prior to any application in our empirical reality. A jump of this kind, from the self-identified “I” to decision making in terms of mental substance is dangerous. Questions arise if that inner monologue really you and if an individual is capable of cognizant decision making.

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One needs to define the self, which involves principles of defining consciousness and such. This is not such an appealing endeavor. The self can be reduced down to the “I,” the one specifically used in Descartes “Cogito ergo sum,” meaning “I think, therefore I am.” Indeed you exist, however the thoughts about whom you are also present. This “I,” can be diverted into two different concepts, the empirical and the transcendental “I.” The former is understood in normal colloquial English as “me.” What the philosopher searches for is how one gets to this point. It requires a suspension of assumptive principles. Much like Descartes we must pour acid of doubt even on our transcendental “I.” We know that it exists, because it makes itself known when cogitating about thinking. The “I” is robust and announces itself into existence. The issue should be not how it works but why it works and what the origin of said “I” is. Self-consciousness and self-identity are most certainly two different things but they are bound to each other in exposition. One easily can identify his or her own self, but the question is if he or she can be consciousness with it.

It works in way of community. When one suggests a notion of community it is more like a unity of ideals. Take for instance a book. This book has no universal bookness. It has unique components in order to help to define its overall form. The book is a unity of pages, cover, words, publisher, labor, etc. Upon the realization of this unity one then has “book.” It works in a very similar vein of consciousness.

To recognize self-consciousness in order to make one’s own consciousness appear in focus. The process materializes as such: individual A is walking along with no one around, he or she is not even cognizant because there is no relation of which to judge themselves. There is no barometer for Individual A to identify them because at this point there is no other individual to negate such an idea. Individual A exists as the only individual until Individual B shows up. Individual B forces individual A to identify the other as not-I. In this recognition of not-I it is posited that if this is not-I then there indeed is I to speak of and that is Me. Individual A just announced his own self-consciousness by recognizing that Individual B is not Individual A. It is quite confusing and begs a complexity that is hard to verbalize. We’re talking about the boundaries of all possible knowledge here, beyond the boundaries is the “unknowable,” rather, the “unthinkable.” When there it is very hard to keep a steady thought because again, we’re on the border of unthinkable. A thought experiment that is relevant to such a theory can be described as such:

Close your eyes. Place the palm of your left hand on the top of your right. Then, try to determine whether the top hand is feeling the bottom or the bottom hand is feeling the palm of the top. The conclusion should be that one hand cannot feel the other in such an instance. This is self-consciousness, in that it is the exterior expression of interiority. It is the self trying to identify itself.

A second issue is this notion of the unified self being an illusion “Unified self is somehow an illusion and is not certainly a disagreeable thing. It make us able to assert narratives and stories that assist us to establish our individualities in this world” This is wrong. To promote a concept of illusionary thought is irresponsible and obstructs potential progress of the cartography of the brain and the self. The unified self either exists or it does not, suggesting it is an illusion makes the fact that the unified self is implicitly a farce. Illusions have non-truth implied it in the general premise. Self-identity may be an illusion in that it is a satisfactory principle created in order to explain phenomenological events. Stories that help to establish the actual world obstruct and have the capacity to delay breakthroughs. Every philosopher endorses a modality of thought which embraces negation and deduction in an attempt to reveal truth and apprehend it.

When a notion of endorsing an illusion arises it should be detested and treated as a detriment to the pursuit of knowledge. Self-identity in this regard can be seen as an obstruction of the actual. Self-identity is only used as a tool for the means of discussing empirical reality and from the get-go ignores the content of the actual. This kind of admittance begs an abstraction of what is, which does deter the layman in figuring these principles out, but as Socrates wrote, the only person in charge should be the philosopher king, because only the philosopher has the ability to abstract properly. Referring to the identity of self as an illusion, and an accepted illusion, is by far wrong. The problem lies in beginning at a standpoint that Descartes endorses, whereby, there are too many presuppositions without any conditions for the possibility of self provided.

Mind-Body Problem

The mind-body problem is one that should be given extra special credence when being discussed. The notion is remarkably easy in description: how is the mind, intangible in nature, connected to the body which is the most tangible thing one can grasp. McNerney provides an interesting thought “the fact that we are a very complex collection of things does not mean we are not real.” It is quite true that there exist a reality outside of our minds. One would describe various stimuli as a rationale for reality. Sense data is a proper resource for the existence of reality. A well-read philosopher would appeal this statement, in that, one should not trust sense-data and this contention point should be taken into consideration. Barring any substance that alters or disfigures sense-data, as well as barring any diagnosed mental irregularity, sense-data is highly valuable and generally does not deceive the recipient of said data. The real exists because objects are cognized by the intangible mind. This connection (presupposing there is a connection) must exist in the form of chemical interactions between a processor and data. The mind could operate very similarly to a computer, since computes inputs from external stimuli, much like the characters that appear on this document as a reaction from the fingers of this writer on to a set of predetermined keys. Input is sense-data which is received by the body (the fingers) and the output is computation (the brain assembling these characters in an order that would make sense to another computer (or reader)). Once this document is turned-in the eyes of the reader accumulates sense data (the reading of words on a page) and assembles the inputs into a mentally digestible product. The mind is the computer, which has certain and particular functions.

With the advent of new information we can say that such an intangible force that can be called the mind is really tangible in the form of electrical pieces of data being sent around it. It is like a hodgepodge of information on a DVD, as it is read a projection is outputted on a display like a television. This output is comparable to the mind. All of this is grounded on the presupposition that in fact reality exists. None of this makes any sense if the body and all other sense data is a simulation via The Matrix.

“It is needful to save the self from neuroscience, which is admirable considering that neuroscience continues to show how convoluted our brains are. I am not sure if he is successful – argument by metaphor can only go so far, empirical data wins at the end of the day – but I like the idea that personal and neurological change and inconsistency does imply an illusion of identity” (Baggini). The self cannot be an illusion. It may be an illusion to McNerney because it is employed in an empirical, real world modality. Neuroscience can explain the functionality of the self, the mechanisms of it, moreover it aids greatly in the discussion of the self. One should not be quick to dismiss the cognitive functions of the brain by way of science because it can aid in the defining of boundaries of knowledge.

The issue is how the mind-body problem can be solved in an empirical reality. It probably cannot but it does not solicit a notion of illusionary precepts. If one were to endorse withdrawn truth then all were left with its pure abstraction. When in this modality of thought existence vanishes, and all that remains is a mythical land of thought. Furthermore, the body exists in actuality, no one can really disagree with this, but because the mind can withdraw from reality then people call into the question of its existence. This is fallacious in its logic and should be ignored. The mind can retract from reality but it doesn’t necessarily retract physically from reality. The mind can quickly be reoriented back to physicality from urgent sense data in the form of “Heads up! Watch out! Hey, you!”


(1) The role of freedom has also been on the minds of philosophers of the yore. It is usually the ending point of any various systems a philosopher constructs. Freedom is the determinateness that one refers when making a decision or determining something. The issue always lies with how this determination is made and why. McNerney describes a situation “When it comes to what we think about, what we like and what we do Walt Whitman captured our natural hypocrisies and inconsistencies with this famous and keenly insightful remark: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes).”” It is true, when one thinks of making a choice often it is involved in a contradiction or paradox of logic. Due to this question of cognitive dissonance raises as a relevant issue. The notion is as follows: two decisions exist which are in conflict with one another, only one can be chosen, which one and why it is chosen. A popular example is tobacco use. Users are fully aware of the detriment tobacco use presents; however they continue to use it. This cognitive dissonance promotes an existence of freedom even if the user is actively choosing the more detrimental path. Determinateness in this respect is not predetermined; it is an active process that exists in actuality.

The theory of predeterminations is also something that would be hard to argue for. The existence of any form of virtue implicitly calls for a negation of predetermined notions. Choices are presented and there is no arguable force that promotes one or the other that in a manner that binds the chooser. It is a theory that discriminates against the human condition. If one were to engage in a reductio ad absurdum argument there may be one thing a person cannot choose: hunger. The will to eat may take over any rational form of free determinateness, but perhaps only then.


The principles discussed are crucial in the realm of self-hood. Self-identity is the means of discussion existence. Proving that the “I” is an actual thing enables existence to grounded in argument. McNerney causally rips through this in his blog and needs to focus more on the concept. The mind-body problem is always relevant in the discussion. One ought to explore the neuroscience of issue prior to engaging in a discussion. With the advent of such new information and knowledge the old world concepts of dualism need not to be applied. We ought to study the transfer of information in the brain and how it correlates to a functioning mechanism like a computer. Freedom is the ultimate question involved in a discussion of self-identity. If one has embraced recognition of self then does this recognition unbind the apprehended mind? Determinateness lies with unbounded self and has no need for a supernatural idea of determinateness.

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