Self: Philosophy In Transit
Dainton (Barry)
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Authors Citing this Book: Dainton (Barry)


Amazon Book Description

  1. In the third in a new series of short, provoking books of original philosophy, acclaimed thinker Barry Dainton takes us through the nature of Self.
  2. When you think 'What am I1?', what's actually doing the thinking? Is it a soul, or some other kind of mental entity separate from your body, or are 'you' just a collection of nerve-endings and narratives?
  3. Barry Dainton takes us through the nature of Self and its relation to the rest of reality. Starting his journey with Descartes' claim that we are non-physical beings (even if it seems otherwise), and Locke's view that a person is self-conscious matter (though not necessarily in human form), Dainton explores how today's rapid movement of people, and information, affects our understanding of self.
    • When technology re-configures our minds, will it remake us, or kill us?
    • If teleportation2 becomes possible, would it be rational to use it?
    • Could we achieve immortality by uploading3 ourselves into virtual worlds?
  4. Far-reaching and witty, Self is a spirited exploration of the idea that in a constantly-changing world, we and our bodies can go their separate4 ways.

In-Page Footnotes ("Dainton (Barry) - Self: Philosophy In Transit")

Footnote 4: This strikes me as utterly misguided, but I therefore need to engage with it.

  • Penguin (24 April 2014)
  • For a useful website covering aspects of the book, see Dainton's Link (Defunct).

"Dainton (Barry) - Self: Philosophy In Transit: Prologue"

Source: Dainton (Barry) - Self: Philosophy In Transit, Prologue

  1. The chapter starts off with a well-dramatized rendering of a TE1 that is acknowledged as having first appeared in "Dennett (Daniel) - Where Am I?".
    • The conceit of the TE is that I wake up having found that my brain has been removed and held to ransom in a vat of nutrients.
    • In contrast with many BIV2 cases, the BIV doesn’t receive simulated experience, but real experience because the brain is in contact with the body by remote control.
    • Of course there’s some hand-waving description – a “transducer” in your skull is connected by wires to your ears, eyes, spinal cord, … and the brain is connected via a bundle of wires to a computer. The communication – two-way transmission of information – is “for all practical purposes” just the same3 as if your brain was in your skull attached in the normal way to your sense organs and spinal cord.
    • Everything feels “exactly” as normal4; pain reception and physical coordination are given as examples.
    • The hero of the TE is said to be a neuroscientist who – for many years – has been 100% sure that “we are5 our brains6”, given the way our minds depend on it, and are affected by damage to it.
    • If so, he ought to feel that he is in the vat, but he doesn’t. Knowing where your brain is has no effect on your belief that “you” are situated somewhere within your (now substantially empty) skull.
    • We are referred to Link (Defunct) for a “closer look”.
  2. Dainton now briefly regales the virtues of – and necessity for – philosophical TEs7 in general. This one (due to Dennett, as noted above) raises the question “what are we?” ().
  3. We can be as certain of our existence as we can of anything, but what sort of thing are we? What is doing the thinking8?
    1. It is natural to suppose that we are Human Beings9 – members of the species homo sapiens10 but many people think that while we “have” bodies11, we are more than biological organisms12.
    2. Dainton gives some stats to the effect that around 70% of people think that there’s more to us that biology and that we have – or are – souls13. The point of us being, rather than merely having, souls is that the motivation for souls is the hope or expectation of post-mortem14 survival. Since what’s worth having is one’s “personality, intellect and conscious mental life”, a soul is akin to a mind15.
  4. The purpose of this book is to look at competing views of the Self16. Just what is the self? In particular, Dainton wants to see whether the self is separable from the body. It need not be a soul, but he wants some bearer of our psychological capacities that can survive the destruction of our physical bodies.
  5. Dainton says – correctly – that the nature of the self is not just of theoretical interest. But his example is “with accelerating computer technology, and advances in neuroscience and medicine” the separation of selves from their bodies may become practical, and this will require us to “re-examine the ethical and metaphysical underpinnings of our legal frameworks related to personhood”. This may be so, but in my view, the issues are entirely different17 with respect to advances in computer technology, as against medicine and neuroscience.
  6. Dainton mentions two further standard TEs: Brain State Transfers and Teletransportation18. His conclusion – fairly standard for those supportive of the PV19 – is that these TEs demonstrate – whether or not these technologies are ever possible – that we are separable from our bodies, in that we’d have – he claims – all that matters20 to us in these circumstances. I doubt21 this. He also says that such TEs help us focus on “those features of our lives that are essential to our existence”. This sentence is capable of being misunderstood22.
  7. Dainton claims – reasonably enough – that consciousness23 is amongst the most important qualities of selves, despite it being an ill-understood and contentious phenomenon.
    1. While we all know what phenomenal consciousness feels like, the problem with consciousness is its relation to the physical world – in particular the brain. Is consciousness physical or non-physical? Science has advanced by being objective, yet consciousness is essentially subjective.
    2. Dainton locates the “problem” in the conception of the physical world that arose in the Scientific Revolution.
    3. What Dainton characterises as the most promising “solutions” will have contrasting implications for the nature and transformability of selves and their relation to the physical world.
  8. Returning to the “uploading24 to computer” possibility alluded to before, he floats the idea that – if such practices become possible and cheap – the number of computer-generated selves might in the future greatly exceed the number of physical selves – and that in consequence we ourselves might be such. He will investigate whether such ideas make sense25.
  9. Dainton now notes that the Self – defined as a mental thing separable from the body – has a bad press today, and is assumed to have been exploded26 by science. Dainton, however, hopes to demonstrate that a concept of a “unified conscious subject” is coherent and scientifically respectable.
  10. He will in the next chapter ("Dainton (Barry) - Dreams and Destinations") address the question what modes of transport selves can survive and claims that only metaphysics27 – rather than the physical sciences – has the answer.

In-Page Footnotes ("Dainton (Barry) - Self: Philosophy In Transit: Prologue")

Footnote 3:
  • Supply a note of just what might go wrong with this suggestion, and what the presuppositions are.
Footnote 4:
  • Again, add a note on the assumptions here.
Footnote 8: Footnote 17:
  • What Dainton has in mind is “uploading to computers”.
  • This seems to be a metaphysical confusion, but is not even a good thing. Immortals can be treated badly as well as well. Forever.
  • I intend to treat of this under the head of Transhumanism.
Footnote 21:
  • My thoughts on Forward Psychological Continuity suggest that we wouldn’t have anything that matters.
  • This is orthogonal to the question whether the TEs are identity-preserving, which I also doubt.
Footnote 22:
  • It depends on what’s intended by “essential” and “existence”.
  • If what’s in mind is “necessary for our well-being”, then – clearly – our psychological properties are essential. But if what’s intended is “our persistence” – then – as the animalists have argued – this is false. If we are identical to animals, then psychology is irrelevant to questions of our persistence.
  • But, of course, Dainton would disagree with animalism.
Footnote 25: He doesn’t at this stage mention "Bostrom (Nick) - Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?", but it’s in the bibliography.

Footnote 26: At this stage, Dainton doesn’t say why. There are continuing objections to Selves as unified theatres of consciousness, so it’ll be interesting to see what he has to say.

Footnote 27: Contrast this view with "Snowdon (Paul) - Philosophy and the Mind/Body Problem"!

"Dainton (Barry) - Dreams and Destinations"

Source: Dainton (Barry) - Self: Philosophy In Transit, Chapter 1

"Dainton (Barry) - Routes to the Modern Soul"

Source: Dainton (Barry) - Self: Philosophy In Transit, Chapter 2

"Dainton (Barry) - The Liberation of the Self"

Source: Dainton (Barry) - Self: Philosophy In Transit, Chapter 3

"Dainton (Barry) - The Phenomenal and the Psychological"

Source: Dainton (Barry) - Self: Philosophy In Transit, Chapter 4

"Dainton (Barry) - Selves, Powers and Subjects"

Source: Dainton (Barry) - Self: Philosophy In Transit, Chapter 5

"Dainton (Barry) - Taking the Plunge"

Source: Dainton (Barry) - Self: Philosophy In Transit, Chapter 6

"Dainton (Barry) - What Matters (and Other Matters)"

Source: Dainton (Barry) - Self: Philosophy In Transit, Chapter 7

"Dainton (Barry) - The Place of Mind in the World"

Source: Dainton (Barry) - Self: Philosophy In Transit, Chapter 8

"Dainton (Barry) - Future Selves"

Source: Dainton (Barry) - Self: Philosophy In Transit, Chapter 9

"Dainton (Barry) - Self: Epilogue - On Being Moved (or Not) by Time"

Source: Dainton (Barry) - Self: Philosophy In Transit, Epilogue

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