Eric (datan0de) wrote,

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Anima & Self-Awareness

nesteddoll made a post recently asking where the self resides and whether the brain and the soul are one and the same. I've been pondering that question quite a bit since I've begun openly questioning the existence of God.

No, that's not exactly correct. Actually, I began wondering about that first, which lead to my questioning the existence of The Spiritual. I've been meaning to post about this, but as usual never got around to it. Since S's post brought it to the forefront of my head, I may as well do so now.

So here's the thing: I know that I'm self-aware. It's central to my experience of the world around me, as well as the world inside my fat head. I think. I feel. I react. I create. I ponder.

In fact, I ponder a lot. I think it's part of why I get lost in conversations and why I take so damn long in the shower- I get to figgerin' about stuff, and forget that I'm supposed to be getting ready for work or whatever. So I ponder about my thinking and I ponder about my feeling and I ponder about my reacting and I ponder about my creativity and I ponder why I'm pondering this all and then I ponder "how did I just suddenly become 20 minutes late for work?". All this pondering (sick of the word yet?) has yielded some conclusions, and I find them a bit disturbing.

See, I think I can explain myself. Completely. Everything about me, who I am and what I am and what I represent and what I like and what's important to me and what interests me and who I love and who I want to blow up and who I'd like to fuck- everything that makes up me as a person, can be deconstructed down to software, hormones, and glitches.

When I natter about technical stuff, perform day-to-day activities, interact with people, and generally go about my business, if I think about it hard enough I can almost read the code that's running through my head (or feel the wheels turning, if you prefer). "Why did I do a instead of b?" "Because I compared the cost x with the benefit y and, projecting out the long-term consequences z, a came out ahead. Meanwhile, having put off b for later, b_urgency = b_urgency + 1. It isn't always this sensible, but it pretty much is always this codifiable. Implemented as the neural connections in my brain, the software is the basic engine that drives me as a sentient being. It's not differentiable from my brain because it is my brain. This is a difficult conclusion to wrap one's head around (so to speak)- that I'm a couple of handfuls of gray matter and an assload of neurotransmitters.

Hormones act like a filter, coloring my perceptions and the way the software deals with them. Whether I react to something with humor or aggression or arousal is largely based on a biochemical bias. If the software decides that pissed_level = 6, the hormones determine if the current anger threshold is 6 or 8 and the overall system responds accordingly. It also provides the illusion of sapience being a meaningful concept- it feels real, even when the software realizes that it's an illusion perpetrated by chemical reactions.

Glitches represent pretty much everything else. Maybe it's bad wiring or faulty code. Maybe it's myelin deficiencies on specific neurons causing cross-chatter. Regardless, it adds a random element that sometimes produces interesting results- either stupidity or creativity. Seemingly creative ideas on my part seem to be largely the result of a thought getting twisted around or corrupted while bouncing around in my head. The rest are attributable to my poor hearing, and the mis-parsing of things I hear.

As far as I can see, this realization is of no practical use whatsoever. The way I perceive the world around me and the people in it isn't changed at all - I just feel a little less special. But which perception is right? Am I a sentient, self-aware person or a complex series of chemical reactions? Both, I suppose. One definition is more literal and microscopic while the other is more practical and macroscopic. Going back to the computer metaphor, which more accurately represents the computer I'm typing on right now- an array of bit switches and electrical connections comparing data and doing calculations or a GUI environment running iTunes and a Live Journal posting app? Strictly speaking, the former is more precise, but the latter is an abstraction which is more meaningful and useful.

So what room does this leave for a soul? As a discrete metaphysical entity separate from the body it really doesn't leave any. If what we describe as the soul is, in fact, that abstract layer we perceive that arises from the simpler, more materialistic underpinning of any complex system, then perhaps there is a soul after all- but different from the classical definition, and certainly less mysterious. I'm undecided as to whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.
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