(first posted on Philosophy Forums: http://forums.philosophyforums.com/threads/self-emerges-via-the-asynchrony-between-internal-and-external-events-70543.html)
Ok, so I was musing on the brain and perception this afternoon.
I thought “Surely the brain doesn’t compare each photo-receptor to see if any are different to each other – it must apprehend the contour as a whole – or does the comparison happen so fast that we don’t even notice it? No, that can’t be how it works.”
Then I had another idea, thinking about ‘analog’ computers and real ‘real-time’ responsiveness: sameness doesn’t ‘warrant’ a signal, but difference does. The whole field of receptors sit ‘passively’ and only those struck by a signal ‘different’ to its neighbours fire. (BTW, the biological accuracy of this isn’t important at this point, because it’s not the point. I was merely fiddling with the sense of sameness and difference). And then I thought of the whole network of the brain as a passive ‘reactive’ entity – just ‘waiting’ for difference, somewhere from a nerve, to begin firing. Like a giant relay-race. (a visual: remember this cartoon?). A sort of ‘difference-driven response system’.
Then I thought a little more of how a brain like that could begin to ‘fire its own’ neurons, and I reasoned: the instant a path of neurons loops-back on itself we’ve got a ‘self’! (this comes from my whole line of reasoning on reflections and “not”)
A foetal brain is still never without ‘input’ though – if not the glow of daylight through a mother’s womb, then sound, or movement within the amniotic fluid – and (duh!) the mother’s heartbeat!
So when does it develop a ‘self’? I intuitively thought the previous – i.e. the instant a loop is looped. This would be the earliest, most basic, least ‘conscious’ self, but a self nonetheless.
Then came another question: “Why wouldn’t a born-blind person think that all the voices occurring to him are in his head (a figment of his imagination)?” Spontaneously, I’d answer “Because people talk to him ‘against his will‘” That is to say ‘out of turn’ or ‘out of sync’ with his own internal ‘self-clock-loop’. So this doesn’t ‘jibe’ with his own ‘sense’ of ‘self’. The voices come to him ‘unexpectedly’ and therefore he concludes that they are not a product of his own mind.
And then I pushed the idea further: My sense of ‘self’ is dependent upon the asynchrony between outside events and inside ‘events’.
Think about this: If every signal that your brain received were perfectly synchronous to every signal that your brain produced, just how ‘pronounced’ would your sense of ‘self’ be?
I don’t think I’d even be aware that I was perceiving anything. “I” would not exist! – That is “wu wei”.
To say “It is because things happen against my will that I determine a sense of an ‘objective’ reality” is to recognize the dependence of ‘self’ upon the asynchrony between ‘external’ events and ‘internal’ signals… even more so that “I determine a sense of ‘self’ defined as that very contrast – the asynchrony itself is my self.” (this is nothing more than a reformulation of my interpretation of the Present being the “not” between Past and Future – but expressed in the realm of cognitive science)
What do think? Does that seem reasonable?