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01 October 2007


Pseudosophie (of the Noumenal Realm)

Mr. Dawson; your approach is noble yet amateurish. Like my comment; it is very much a prima facie address of the issue.

I am very much interested in a naturalistic notion of the self; but, why not understand naturalism as a compatibility with science; but a compatibility with the language of mathematics? How about a definition of entity through set theoretic vocabulary; and the permutation of an entity through the mathematics of movement (calculus).

If we can understand a person as a mathematical entity; we'd be pretty good naturalists!

Lovely post, darling!


The lovely Pseudosophie has urged me to reply to this very important topic.

I'd like to say that this your tackling on the issue is very ad hoc (like our own postings to our admission) and this issue requires an important prolegomena.

We must identify the desideratum of a definition of 'self' (which you do to some extent); before any attempt of definition. This can be seen as 'defining the problem'; or addressing the common intuitions regarding this concept (Aristotle's philosophical approach).

You have seemingly captured some of the important desideratum of a notion of self; firstly, neuroscience; persistence and change; and the compatibility of the scientific approach and the metaphysical problems encapsulated through a single vision/metric (Naturalism).

I think the concept of self is very complicated (Destre laughs as I type this very sentence to you). We refer to the 'self' in so many ways; which kind of ways are authentic/legitimate; here are some cases:

i. Referring to physical property as female (a car)
ii. The legal status of nations or corporations (which are legally 'persons' who are able to prosecute)
iii. Related to ii. the 'ecological' status of the manifold of persons (ie. society).
iv. Non-humans
v. Multiple personalities (so-called dissociative identity disorder)

You are very noble to attempt to tackle this difficult issue. We at NR shall continue to monitor your intellectual progress.


p.s. any philosophers among us should think 'error theory comes in here somewhere!'

Michael Pereira


The self as a manifold of experiences and propositional atoms cannot be maintained as a metaphysical thing unless we maintain the necessary causation of those events so as to individuate an entity; otherwise we have some weak notion of the self which is easily permutable and not very stable.

For the reasons and fears you have just mentioned (change); the language that refers to the 'self' is not workable through a rigorous or sophisticated logical system.

If I cut your arm off; are you still Barnaby? Or are you Barnaby (minus arm).

If you age a day; are you still Barnaby? or Barnaby (t+1).

The notion of the self is so vague that it belongs to natural langauge and not that of logical propositions. This kind of entity is not something we want in our vision of the world; for propositions we could establish through logic to construct a 'Barnaby Dawson' would be too atomically complex; or too simple to the extent that it would be trivial and some kind of fake assumption.

I'm not saying we should abandon talk about 'selves' and 'persons'; but that they are more workable through the language of social science and hermeneutical philosophy (the continental strain of Post-Kantian philosophy *ugh*); and for us naturalists; the vocabulary of the self is a white elephant.

In conclusion; I maintain the natural language (semantic) self; the epistemic self; but not the metaphysical self. Thus my strong proclamation: THERE IS NO SELF.

Disclaimer: There may be an avenue for the metaphysical self; but I won't elaborate this argument just yet as I am still refining it.

Michael Pereira

Barnaby Dawson

Its nice to see such a response to a post. This is definately to be encouraged in the future!

I'd be the first to admit that the above post needs refining. I've certainly jumped in at the deep end here. I shall be coming back to this issue (probably many times) so stay tuned!

I have a few points in response to all of your comments though:

Pseudosophie: I would very much like a definition of the self in mathematical terms (note I don't mean computational terms necessarily). I suspect that such a definition would be very enlightening.

Sinistre: I shall consider writing a prolegomena (now that I have looked up the term on the web). If I feel up to it I will. Perhaps it would be valuable, as you say, to define precisely what questions I'm trying to answer or at least construct a framework so that an answer can be recognised as such. That might be hard.

Michael: I agree that it is difficult to incorporate the notion of self into logic. I've seen partial attempts that have come out as a real mess. I agree that we should keep our logical notions simple. This is quite a challenge when trying to find a definition approximating any natural language term. I'm optimistic that it can be done however.

Finally I'd like to say that I think the right way to go about looking for a definition of 'the self' is information theoretic.

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