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What is a Person?

The following exchange contrasts the view that persons are innately conscious entities creating thoughts, decisions and actions, with my suggestion that persons are imaginary events interacting with other imaginary events that occasionally name and talk to one another.

As Facebook demonstrates, such conversations can be diverting.

My suggestion is that consciousness is the result of what is going on, not its cause.

Even this understanding is confused. Asking whether consciousness is cause or consequence is the same as  asking whether eggs or chickens come first. In both cases, we are individuating or reifying events into images, then worrying about which came first. All we can say is that chickening or egging is occurring.

The reason this is worth thinking about is that worrying about which came first is likely to distract us from important questions. The quality of chickening influences the quality of egging.

This is all we need to know. This is all we can know.


Hi Vern,

I tend to think that (while we each have our own unique point of view - some of which are more rare than others) the insights and understandings gifted upon one's point of view won't die and/or permanently disappear from sight with that point of view.  The uniqueness of named events/expressions ... yes. But the expression itself ... no.


Regarding your observation about the need to share thoughts and understandings, I agree that that this is a  powerful motivator.   Even so, I do not think that this explains my  circumstance, at least not entirely. I often attempt to pass understandings along just because they seemed interesting, but the thing that really motivates me is a conviction that there is a way to think about human being and human beings that is a powerful antidote to arrogance and complacency.

I  am worried  that this understanding will not survive me.

A further source of urgency is that time may be running out for all of us.  I do not subscribe to this bleak prediction but the fact that many credible people are sounding such alarms is surely significant.

The underlying issue (and important realization about the nature of consciousness) is that the points of view you speak of are not achievements possessed by persons.  They are precarious, short-lived awarenesses that sometimes spawn fantasies about independently existing agents.  These fantasies are functional because they depict and often dramatize what courses of experience portend. The slowly changing rock event in the weed-event infested yard event may well trip up other person events.  These events may involve new individuals, or the original individual harmed.

In the first instance, we have warning signs and letters to editors.  In the second, we have what are referred to as memories.

The distinction is convenient but arbitrary.

The important realization is that points of view exist only to the extent that sustained, integrated, self-referring conscious experiences are occurring.

If not melded with what  is going on, in ways that make a difference in the future lives of participants, conscious events vanish without trace.

To take a familiar example: a musical experience will only survive past its performance if it has robust connections with the lives of the individuals comprising audiences.

  • Human beings have only been self-reflexively conscious for a small proportion of   evolutionary history.
  • There is  growing evidence that autonomous consciousness is waning as cultural resources are vested with Google search engines, calculators and become the provenance of  corporations, artists and  managers.

We do not worry about such  ' developments and improvements'  because we do not understand the ways they are undermining the requirements for sustained consciousness and the internalized resources that make such consciousness possible. Using a calculator rather than doing sums 'in one's head', remembering historical names, places and events, is illuminating in ways that Google cannot replicate.

Indeed, when generations vanish that were schooled in the old ways, it is fair to ask where curiosity and questions will rise from!

However, the conceit that worries me most is implicit in your notion that expressions will endure outside of being expressed.

This is like saying that seeds that are not planted still come to fruition.

In my understanding, the essential cultural component of sustained, joyous consciousness is dissolving in a caustic bath of arrogance.  This arrogance is  linked to  notions that we are innate, immutable souls, beings, persons ... riding around in and in charge of bodies.

In other words, we do not possess unique points of view.  Conscious being rises out of unique points of view. We sometimes articulate notions rising out of these points of view.

If possessing is going on, it is the other way around.  Cultural legacies are making and sometimes uttering predictions using  physiological  resources: brains, tongues, violins, books, the internet ....

Such activities are what we talk about when we refer to what it means to be human.

In the best of circumstances, such activities are unusual.  They are produced by those with talent, energy and time on their hands, usually while in the grip of some inspiration.

All or almost all human beings have this capacity.

Unfortunately, we have fallen into the trap of anointing ourselves persons by way of birthright, and take no further trouble.

Instead, we have been constituting and condoning proceedings that have not only been rendering the world toxic, but turning out the light of human subjectivity.



"if we are each the expression of a unique point of view we happen to be so lucky (or so unlucky) to be aligned with - and if that point of view disappears upon our death, as you pose - then there is really nothing further to be done about it, is there? ... we can't duplicate ourselves in order to have someone else be aligned with the same point of view ... how could we?

It seems to me, then, the best thing to do is to accept the point of view that we are aligned with, live it the best we can, and then that's it"


The problem is like the Cheshire cat's grin - no matter what one does, there it is, hanging in the air!

Who is is being 'aligned' with points of view?

Who is is dying simultaneously with points of view winking out?

The simple story is that no such entities exist.  Entities such as you and I are images distilled from what is going on.  We are just like all the other  images generating awareness similarly distilled from what is going on.

The capacity to distil events into a phenomenal universe - and then develop a language to talk about private experiences - defines what human beings are good at.

This account resolves existential problems.  We do not have to worry about death because we are not born into existence as separated entities.

This dissolves the  material vs. spiritual debate.  There is no presently existing universe full of objects, entities and causal events.

If we were not in the 'grip of a picture' (as Wittgenstein warned against), if we were not so sure of the independent nature of self and consciousness,  we would not dismiss this possibility so quickly.



I don't have a problem with how you view things ... you seem to think I am "stuck" on being a self ... you have no idea how much I feel like a non-self ... but, even if i were to mean what you mean when i say that it doesn't mean the course of experience that is "you" and the one that is "me" can understand each other more than that ... I am quite pissed with all the assumptions you have been making about me lately


We do not exist as discrete, concrete entities.  We exist as courses of experience.  Consciousness rises out of these proceedings.

Like all of us, you have an infected "I" lodged deep within your being and it is making you sick.  The fact that you are reacting vigorously just means we are close to a remedy and this sorry-ass conceit is fighting back.

Not surprisingly, this figment of imagination has co-opted natural self-preservation urges to unwholesome ends.