A Typology of Selves

(not all the same thing)


We all think this is wonderful. Aren't you very interested in this biggest of all big deals, your and everybody's self? That's the thing that we feel is threatened, it's what we have to fight for, what we're trying to make the most of in our lives, isn't it? So maybe a Typology of Selves will bring you some mental ammunition against your own flaws: We all have flaws, like arrogance, egotism, defensiveness, but having better or different ideas about what we might get so hot about, our supposed self, might give us a chance to tone down the misery for us and for others, and up the playfulness and joy. Do you think that might be useful?

So I'm here to help. Maybe a little clarity might be interesting: what is this thing we are always thinking about? Curiously, some people think it's fine to not know what they are thinking about, even when they spend their entire lives thinking about it. And others think they know what they are, only to discover later that they now don't believe it. Are you curious? As a linguist, I am a descriptivist scientist of language. And people use this word, 'self', to refer to lots of different stuff. So I've been keeping track, in no particular order, and not exhaustively, but this is quite the fun and diverse list. Still, it seems that some of these items do share certain qualities, and so I will label them as follows:

Surprisingly, only the center of motivation has all of these. (Perhaps the Darwinian, or organismal Self could also be allowed to reach for S, M, L, B, if we admit those others do occur in evolved Organisms.)

Therefore (TL;DR): The center of motivation is the central meaning of the word, "self".

But that's the conclusion.

You have a lot more fun you could have in this zoo of observations. So have a look at this list, think about them, follow the links to a discussion of each, so you know what I mean. I'm curious, would you describe these things differently, or include something else, or exclude some? Let me know!

What might we mean when we refer to or experience or think about our Self?:

 
Names for Self
        Features

Subjective
Experience
Merger of
Reference
Logical
element
Bleached of
Content
Organismal
Function
Sufferer of Pain
S
Witness
SB
Tool of Reason
MLB
Goffmanian Self
ML
Target of Attribution
ML
Center of Greed
SML
Legal Entity
ML
Target of Karma
ML
Self as God
SMB
Shiva the Destroyer
SB
Goal of Hinduism
SMLB
The hurdle of Buddhism
SB
PNSE Dependent Variable
SB
The Agent or Doer
ML
Excess Attention
SB
Binder of Emotion
SM
The Great Abstraction
MLB
Center of Motivation
SMLBO
Roleholder in Story
SML
Subject of Identification
SML
Grammatical Self
ML
Pronoun; Logical Unit
MLB
Merger of Reference
SMLO
Syntactic/Semantic Role Holder
ML
Consciousness Itself
S
Darwinian, Organismal Self
O
Immunological Self
O
Evolved Cognitive Self
MLO
Default Mode Network
SM
Family Systems unit
SML
Jungian Self
SB
"I am" as Qualia
SB

  • Bound experiencer of subjective pain (S). What do I mean, you ask? Well, don't you agree that when you experience pain it is you that experiences it, yourself? Noone else experiences it, you do. And don't you agree that you are bound by that experience, that pain is in a way inescapable? Well, then your self is bound to be the experiencer of subjective pain. That's what I mean.

  • Witness. Awareness which is aware of awareness itself. (S,B) When one is aware of oneself being aware, that point-circularity of self-awareness within one's awareness has a quality known as witnessing, in which the conscious self is perhaps aware of this or that but is also aware that it is itself aware, thus in a way it is separate from the content of the experience of this or that particular thing, and plays this separate role of being the witness.

  • A tool of reasoning. (M,L,B) We like to do chains of logical reasoning, if this then that, if that then the other, etc. It is quite convenient in this chains to think of things, people, entities of some kind, as being a sort of abstracted element that has its own unique identity, a sort of arithmetical or logical self. For example, call it an entity e. What is e's self? Just being e, nothing more or less. Well then we can say if e has this quality then e has that quality and therefore e has the other qualty, and our chains of logical reasoning operate using this sort of variable or counter or reference. It's a tool of reasoning. We can hardly reason about things in the abstract without some kind of tool like this, in which we reduce everything compllicated or individual about something to a mere identifier. But once we have an identifier, we can make all kinds of stateements about it. That's how reasoning works: first abstract out the entities, and then make predications or propositions or logical statements about them, and follow the reasoning, about these entity things, each of which has its own unique identity or as we really mean to say, it is itself, it has its own identity, its own self. This is a very fundamental tool of reasoning.

  • Goffman's Self: The persona as attributed by others. (M,L) Some cop pulls you over thinking a person with that kind of car, or taillights out, or lack of concern about running red lights, or whatever, such a person is a likely perpetrator of a variety of crimes and misdemeanors, so let's check them out very carefully. Is that you yourself in the nature of you and how and what you are? No, it's the attribution that the other person puts on you, when they see, understand, think about, and interact with you. It's in their head, not yours. It's entirely outside you, although it may have something to do with your behavior, or car repair schedule, or attention to the road, it is no definite association. It's their idea, not your being. Nonetheless, that's what they take you for.

    Suppose you're ugly, fat, stupid, and/or foreign, to name some dimensions of inhumane, pointless prejudice. These are currently used widely for hierarchy management, putting some people up and others down, still, legally and also unfortunately widely socially. People think it's acceptable to use these dimensions to judge, condemn, and exclude folks whose character and competence would deserve better. I'm saying those other folks who treat you bad, grind you down, ignore your presence, or disrespect you, they are thinking about you as being some kind of a person. It's your attributed persona. They are attributing a certain persona to you, and reasoning about how to interact with you based on that attributed persona, that person they think, for now, that you are. Is it your self? No, by definition no. But it is what they think you are, and they are acting on that basis for now. And perhaps through negotiation you can get on the same page together, maybe a better page, from your perspective. Show your character and competence, maybe, as an example. And some day, perhaps, they will be ashamed of their pointless and inhumane prejudice.

    When I read the great Erving Goffman's writing about the Self, I was shocked. He had this idea that you are what others take you to be. Well in society it's not entirely false. It's at least a negotiation. It's a negotiation between the self you want to be taken as, and the self they see you as. Either they will persuade you that you are the useless punk you seem to be, let's say, or you will persuade them that you have a positive contribution to offer. Generally I hope the inside story ought to win. But it can't be denied that useless punks are incompetent and lacking in certain pro-social virtues. If you hate those high-status so-and-so's for judging you, well let it go, in a way, because the world is full of judgement because everyone has to decide who they want to work with and make their own world better, and useless punks don't make anyone's world better, except maybe if there's a gang of them and they all think they are making a sort of useless punk gang utopia. But such groups tend to naturally fall apart with the lies and betrayal and the not following through with constructive mutual assistance which being useless and punk-like tends to produce. So good luck with that. Maybe you actually can bring structure to your gang's world and make it a better place. Time will tell. But meanwhile maybe people who are presently going somewhere with their lives won't be wasting time waiting for you, so the negotiation about your attributed persona, your Goffmanian Self, the ball is in your court. What are you really all about? You can't really say you're not about that. So that's a Self. It's on the list.

  • A target of attribution of responsibility, role, centrality. (M,L,B) Who is responsible? That person, himself, herself, their self. We might talk about a role, someone took up a certain role, well who took up that role? They, them, their self. The idea of a self being the one that has the responsibility or that plays a role is central to the idea of responsibility and of roles. We can hardly think about society and obligations, rights and responsibilities, without some hook to hang them on. The hook is the target that we hang them on. We attribute responsibility and all those things to something. To What? To some person, whatever person it is, it is that person, himself, herself, it is to the self of that person that we attribute those roles rights responsibilities, etc. Who? Who has these? That person has them, their Self has them. So the self is the hook on which we hang our claims, the target of attribution for role and responsibility. The thing that is central to an attribution is the self that we aim at, the target of our attribution.

  • The attributed center for greed. (S,M,L) Who wants something? You. What are you that you want something? I'm me, just me, I'm my own Self. Well if you want something, you feel desire or greed for something, you're the one we attribute that desire or greed to, it hangs on you, so you is at that center of you the greed or desire that we attribute to you. You[1] are the attributed center of the motivation we attribute to you[2]. See how complicated the meanings are here? You[1] is actually you. And you[2] is this computer variable which has your name on it, maybe, and which, when people including sometimes yourself think of you as having a certain motivation, desire, greed, whatever, they put down a little proposition in the computer, or in their mental computer, their mental representation of you, a little expression saying, X wants Y. Is X you? No, you have arms and legs; X is a data structure in a computer that purports to represent something about you. Like at the social security administration, they have one for you with your name and social security number, and those are attributed to you, like a framed degree on the wall it somehow says something about you, informs the world about you. These are not you. But they are taken for you, taken as you. And even when we think we want something, we quickly have the thought about what we want, more or less in our mental computer describing how My Self Wants Y, and that thing that stands for My Self is more like a computer variable than it is like your whole inclusive self with arms and legs and a whole brain not just a greedy part. The confusion is, we take the one as being the other. We act as though the SSN, the password and the login means we can send the money. You're not there, but we take you as being there, and we act like it. The system works pretty well, if our representations are faithful. But it's a confusion of levels to think that you are your representation, even when it's your own representation of yourself and what you want. Still we think I want such and such, and in this way we assert that this attributed center of desire is our Self. Which puts it on this list.

  • A legal entity for holding ownership and property rights. (M,L) In the law, selves are called persons. Persons are abstract things that include natural persons like you and me, and fictitious or incorporated persons like corporations, which aren't persons in any other sense. But the law operates on this "person" abstraction, and so society has decided to let corporations be people too.

    Political/Polemical Footnote: This is a fiction, or let's be clear, a self-serving lie made to especially serve corporation-owners. It would be less of a lie if punishment in the form of severe interactional restraints were applied to non-natural as well as to natural persons. I'd like to see corporations found guilty of crimes be punished by sentences of so many years in which they cannot carry out their normal actions or transactions out in the freedom of the public, just as when criminals are locked up for so many years they cannot carry out their normal actions and transactions out in the freedom of the public. Then a crime committed by any person would have an equal punishment, instead of the self-serving status quo in which non-natural persons cannot be punished except by fines which are never more than a small cost of doing business.

    Making an equivalent analog for imprisonment and applying it to corporations would actually follow the logic that corporations are persons too, since persons of either type, natural or incorporated could then be sentenced equally to periods of imprisonment or shall we say restraint, subject to supervised and limited interactions with others and none with the public. If that were made the case, then the argument that corporations are persons would be more sensible.

    At present corporate persons face very limited consequences. Natural people can be punished by putting them out of action in prison, whereas corporations haven't yet been subjected to restraint of action or transaction as penalty for crimes, so this suggests that, No, they aren't really persons from the perspective of criminal law.

    So what holds ownership? What owns property? In the law, a person does. The self of that person is the thing that gets to own stuff: itself. Nothing outside it, but the self of the person, gets to be the owner. That's the idea which the law gives us.

  • Target of karmic retribution. (M,L) When what goes around comes around, who gets it? The same one as started the cycle, the self who sent it around is the self who caught it on the return. Who's gonna get it? You, they, them. Each of them individually, their own self, is going to get it. That self deserves it, since it is the responsible party for the bad (or good) actions whose consequences are coming back to it. When karma aims its arrows back around looking for who to hit, what is it's target? The one, that very self whose actions constituted the karma that is coming back around.

  • Deified, Considered as God: Shiva (S,M,B). In ancient Hinduism sculpture is itself theology. The self is iconically represented as the meditator. Suppose you are meditating on the Self, then what do you look like? Shiva himself, in the form of a meditator. Painted and sculpted in iconic form as the ideal meditator, full of strength and steadiness, even the greatest splashing crashing river makes a waterfall on his head and he is undistracted. Serene and undisturbed. Sitting in the perfect posture on the perfect seat under the perfect moon. Perceiveable by others in the color blue, just as he perceives himself internally as blue light, as the Hindu writings say. These artistic features are also the characteristics of the ideal meditator, an idea for meditators themselves, to do what? To contemplate as being their own self, to themselves be. The mantra is, Shivo'ham: I am Shiva. The artistic image of the meditator is the meditator's image of himself (and/or herself; Shiva in some representations is half female). Shiva is considered as, taught as, understood as the great Self, and thus this sculptural image represents something his devotees can use to meditate upon, to meditate upon their own great Self, to meditate on Shiva, to resolve the distinction between art and experience and find that they themselves are Shiva.

  • 3 of 5. In Shiva's Dance of 5 steps, the third step. (S,B)

    The divine play of life is represented in a second Hindu religion icon, in this case the sculpture of Dancing Shiva, the Nataraj, the King of Dance. It is a young athletic dancer, dreadlocks streaming, dancing wildly yet calmly inside a circle of flames, arms akimbo, one foot on the ground. The Nataraj is Shiva, the Self. The further theology of Shiva's divine play is expressed in the elements of the sculpture. The circle of flame is this small circle of life we live, pressed about fearfully on all sides by destruction. The foot stands on a squalling baby child which is our Ignorance. The arms are more than two, because we have more powers than creation and destruction. One arm holds a hand-drum, the kind you flip back and forth and the ball on the string hits one drum-head then another. As you flip the hand drum the rhythm and shaking and seeming reality of the world comes into existence, this is the first Power of Shiva, or Creation. Another hand is held out to us in blessing, holding us, this is the second power of Shiva, Sustaining. A third hand is there too, with its own flame burning on the palm, this is the third power of Shiva, Destruction. That foot, and the squalling baby, those are the fourth power of Shiva: Ignorance. But there is one free foot, and one more hand, we are not done yet. The free hand points at the free foot! What mystery is this? The feet are traditionally the feet of the Guru, the object of devotion and worship, traditionally and perhaps universally the feet of the master, the feet of one's parents, the feet are the where you go to bow down and to express your loving surrender to another. Shiva is said to be the Primordial Guru, and his last hand is pointing at his free dancing foot. Surrender, dear one, he points. Bow down your egotistic self and become the disciple, find the loving surrender in your divine play of life. This is the fifth power of Shiva: Grace.

    Incidentally, Pratyabhijna Hrdayam asserts that to fail to know that these are your own powers is the definition of being a "mala covered samsari" (dirt and misery covered sufferer wandering in worldliness).

    Layers and layers here. The next layer is this. These five powers of Shiva can be considered as phases in the cycling of subjective experience. When something comes into and goes out of our experience, there is a subjective beginning, middle and end, a (1) Creation, (2) Sustaining, and (3) Destruction. But a little more deeply considered, more usefully from the perspective of a seeker of a higher happiness, the end phase can be itself divided into three. (3a) The end of the concrete details of the particular experience, during which self-awareness may still remain, the witness Self. (3b) Then the mental noise of egoic understanding in which one is like a reactive squalling baby in reaction to our thought of what we think is going on, Ignorance. And (3c) the grace which can indeed follow, with a sense of new possibility in every moment, given surrender: Grace.

    (1,2,3a,3b,3c) are a model of subjective, psychological experience that can be useful for seekers of grace, sufferers from, well, sufferers, as we all are, I should say.

    Next layer. Hindus like to identify aspects of subjective reality as nameable Gods. If worshipping everything is a healing process for oneself, then having gods' names for all kinds of different stuff would be a great help in making sure we can worship everything. It's an old idea, so just bear with me a minute.

    So in this angle on polytheistic Hinduism, there are three primary gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and they represent the first three phases of experience, (1,2,3). 3a might be further qualified as Shiva, the Self, 3b as Maya or delusion, and 3c the Guru, which is defined abstractly, psychologically, as the power of grace. Anyway that's what I get from it.

    Next layer. In one of the very great scriptures, which summarizes Hindu psychology describing our infinite powers as conscious beings, how we have hidden them from ourselves, and how to wake up, there is given an alternative technical interpretation of the five powers of Shiva, saying

    "Abhasana rakti vimarsana bijavasthaapana vilaapanatastaani", "Another [interpretation of] that [the five-fold action of Shiva is as] manifestation, relishing, recognition, settling of the seed, and dissolution."

    Here then, recognition is the third phase.

    Recognition of what, I say? Well, it's Self Recognition.

    Incidentally, and by way of making this personal to me, this was my consistent, repeated, and profound personal experience as a youth. I went to my after school sports, continuously for the four years of high school, and I'd practice and run or wrestle or throw with all the concentration and effort I was capable of (as a bit Asperger I was the kid who didn't know when to slow down; coaches never taught me that). So the experience was intense and full of "consciousness", which I would describe as "highly motivated intense attention and effort bringing every mental and physical resource to bear to do my best" at whatever it was, say throwing the discus, or lifting a heavier weight, or whatever.

    Bringing this back into the Hindu psychological model, that was a lot of Creation and Sustaining. The experience came into me very intensely and fully, I was totally identified with becoming better, with doing my very best. Okay that's (1, 2). Then I'd go home, where all things were Quiet. The contents of my intense experience at school and practice were gone from my mind, but the echoes of the intensity and the awareness of my body and mind now doing nothing were still there filled with perhaps these after effects of effort and attention. I had a clear sense of Self, which I thought everyone must have since it was so entirely natural. I was aware of my own awareness. It seemed to have a location, or to be especially present, in the space between my eyebrows. It was, it is, where I am. If I say, What am I? My answer is, That. That energy between the eyebrows, the location where intensity of effort and attention is gathered and aligned and grown to its highest pitch and most inclusive power.

    So this would be phase (3a), the phase of Destruction in one view, which is consistent since the past experience is now Gone, thus necessarily Destroyed. Or in the other view it is the phase of Recognition. Recognition of what? Self recognition. In that state, my awareness was self awareness. It had the qualia expressed in the words "I am".

    Well, that's a version of What is the Self. Phase (3a) of Shiva's Dance.

  • The goal of Hindu philosophy, to become one with the Self. (S,M,L,B)

    It's Shiva again: Shiva is the Self. Seekers in the Hindu context are encouraged to see themselves as aiming to become one with the divine. What is that goal? The Self. How can you not be the self when of course you already are yourself? That is an academic question for those who want to play games; whereas the seeker burning with suffering and the desire for liberation may conceive salvation in any terms that bring it, and this traditionally does do so. Empirical study agrees, so we may accept it, at least for the purpose of this list.

  • The hurdle of Buddhist philosophy, to go beyond Self and attain Void. (S,B)

    The Hindus seem to say All is the Self, whereas the Buddhists say All is Void, and There is no Self. Perhaps the latter are referencing the hurdles that self-centered thinking and egotism represent for our emotional progresss and flow. I think the argument is academic, as is shown by Martin, next.

  • Jeff Martin's reduced self-talk as a criterion differentiating levels of Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience. (S,B)

    Let's summarize Jeffery Martin's thesis work and you can google him and go read about it too. This was a gigantic project in which he located, contacted, qualified, interviewed, cogitated about, and classified, 300 living saints, enlightened beings, or zen masters, or arhats, or whatever the term might be in their local spiritual tradition and community. Women, men, Western and Eastern traditions, he was inclusive, but they had to have a community around them that expressed a consensus on the claim that this person has what we are all aiming toward.

    So with 300 interviews of 4-20 hours each, he asked about perception, memory, emotion, self-concept, all kinds of stuff, and what he found was that the vast majority of them fell into one of four categories, which he called 1, 2, 3, and 4.

    Folks would have an epiphany experience or some more or less rapid transition, and find themselves in this new state of being, and often they would say Nothing could be beyond this, but then sometimes they would have a transition to higher numbered location, and then they'd say Oh yeah I was confident before but I had no idea and NOW I have reached the limit. So an ordering kind of fell out of the data.

    So in location one, if I may summarize for him, the person had the knowledge, based on at least some experience, that the limits of their body was not the limits of their self. They had had an experience that the whole universe was inside them, or that their body expanded to fill the world, or somehow the boundary holding self in and non-self out had merged so that the self became an expanded concept for them, and perhaps an expanded experience at least some of the time.

    Then in location two, the person went so far with that that they were unable to have the opposite experience. The whole world was their body, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They couldn't identify what part of their experience was to be the limited thing that they had formerly considered to be their self. Everything was their self.

    In location three, everything is their self, sure, but with the quality of love. All the sights are beaming with love, the sounds are vibrating with love, the smells are just love love love everywhere nothing but love. Sleep in love, awake in love, sounds pretty nice.

    And in location four, the emotional quality of love in experience goes away. Described sometimes as a void, or as space, or a spacious feeling or perception, there is perhaps freedom there, but neither hate nor love, positive nor negative emotional reactivity. Emotional valence itself is lost.

    So that might be rocking your world and one could go on, but clearly there is some kind of empirical concept, or subjectively asserted concept of Self that is relevant to these four locations. If everything is the Self, then that is a bit different from the self we are thinking about when we say I'm feeling X about Y, my self is feeling X about Y.

    And the main point I'd like you to retain is that Martin says that at each level the transition is associated with a significant reduction in self-talk. They just talk to themselves less about themselves. So I will say that's consistent with Bliss Theory, but to not be self-serving here, let's just say there's another concept of self to put on our list.

  • Attributed agent, a.k.a. Doer.(M,L)

    When you believe that you are the person doing what you are doing, then that's called attributing agency or doership to your self. This has an important role in emotional regulation, according to Bliss Theory, as it imposes inhibition and downregulation onto the emotional system. We certainly think it coordinates action socially, but the example of saints who live competently in the world proves otherwise. We also think it keeps us responsible, avoiding psychopathy and sociopathy, though those are not everyone's most likely form of mental error. Attributed agency is generally oversold, overbought, and in the end underdelivers, if we are seeking transcendence.

  • Excess of, or spare, attention (S,B)

    I include this perhaps as just a personal contribution. But in my own experience it is that particular time in which I am giving all the attention I can to a task I am absolutely straining to control or accomplish, when I try even harder than that, then excess attention occurs. For example, running the mile, one may try and try but the legs won't run any faster. But I'm still trying and trying. It is this excess of attention, coming from effort that has maxed out but one is trying to do more even so, that I'm describing. In that state, I personally experience that interesting qualia of "I am". It tends to be in the space between the eyebrows, and when all resources are brought to bear with maximum intensity and maximum effort on what I am doing and when full attention is given to it, then at a certain point the system pops into an excess state, and that energy has the quality that it is aware of itself. It's like being aware that you are trying, when you are really trying. You can hardly not be aware of it, if you really are trying, right? And the more, the more. So that that excess of attention turns into self awareness.

  • Binder or Intensifier of emotion (S,M)

    Oh here's a foolish and big one. When we see some circumstance, oh it has a feeling associated with it. It's not just a mere fact. Someone's Mom died? Bad feeling. Someone won the Nobel prize? Good feeling. Well but if it was YOU, then now it's a much more intense emotion. Same emotion, but amplified, multiplied, exploded, I would like to say, Bound, as in, your emotional system is Bound to feel that feeling, when that situation is now actually about You. So when we attribute the situation to our self, then that is an intensifier of the emotions of the situation. It's called taking things personally. If it's a multiplier, I think the multiplier might be on the order of 1000x. I had an argument for that once, but I've forgotten why, leaving me only the result.

  • The Great Abstraction (M,L,B)

    You could say it is abstraction itself. Abstraction is the process of substituting something more general, less detailed, in your thinking, for something that it will be substituted for. So 'plant' and 'animal' are abstracted as 'organism'; organism is more general, less detailed, and you can substitute organism for plant, and also for animal, in certain situations.

    Well when you take that process of abstraction and take it to the extreme, when you take every detail of distinguishing information away from something specific that you're considering, well what is left at that point? You're left with a counter, or a variable, or a name, perhaps minimize it down to an entity, e, an arbitrary member of a set, which exists only in the concept that it is separate or different from others and it could be referred to as e, while even all the others could be equally substitutable with the same variable name. There's nothing left but its identity. Well in the logical way of thinking, that is the Self of the thing. Its unique identity, which we can consider to be like a point in space, or a mathematical abstraction without any features or characteristics, except that it is what it is. Such a thing having its unique identity even so bleached of everything you might know about it, still has this logical self. The logical self, you might say, holds its unique identity, or you might simply say, is its unique identity.

    In this way the Great Abstraction is this kind of a self, a nothingness in qualities, but a uniqueness in identity, and I guess it does have one quality, that you can refer to it, perhaps give it a name.

  • The center of motivation (S,M,L,B,O)

    The center of motivation turns out to be the hero of this story. What are you? You are your own center of motivation. Figure that out, and you will be a self-actualized human being. I'll give you some examples, as I encounter them, and you'll see what I mean.

    But as a generality, consider the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is what everyone else wants you to do, and if you care what they want maybe you can be manipulated into wanting that too. But it's weak. Strong motivation is intrinsic motivation; it comes from you yourself, from your center of motivation. Outside your own center of motivation? Extrinsic. Authentically what you yourself actually care about? Intrinsic. So the center of motivation is a essential concept.

    There is an ineffability to motivation because it is hard to say what that core quality of interest itself actually is, except that by looking at a lot of instances one might generalize typical exterior characteristics like the sex/death/moral-indignation trichotomy that Labov found in his study of narrative interest.

    Labov says, the form of language which is of greatest interest to linguists in the study of nonstandard, vernacular dialects is spoken language, and in particular is that subset of the spoken language found in segments of recorded sociolinguistic interviews in which is minimized the kind of self-consciousness in speech which modifies the true, local, vernacular dialect. Specifically, the most vernacular style is that in which the least attention is paid by the speaker to the form of speech, and the most attention is paid to the content of what he or she is saying. Empirically, the most vernacular forms are found in spoken narratives containing indicators of spontaneous interest such as laughter or excited breathing. After his long career of recording and evaluating this kind of data, he reported that these narratives can generally be assigned to one of three categories: sex, death, or moral indignation. Stories in those domains have interest; stories outside those domains do not. Questions that elicit such stories are short and bring the subject directly back to the time of an exciting and significant, actual event in their lives, as in "Was there ever a time when you were in serious danger of death, you know, when you said, This is it."

    Motivation seems impossible to demand or manipulate, and difficult to elicit, without the genius of an interviewer like Labov.

    For oneself, one has to feel it, and neither can others force it upon you nor can you even force it upon yourself. One is more in the grip of it, than able to impose upon it.

    2023-06-25 Indeed the center of motivation, the place in us that decides how to orient and seek, is outside our conscious awareness: indeed to the contrary we perceive what it tells us to, not the reverse. Only earnest self-inquiry brings us into any kind of dialog or hoped-for equality with it. Our subjective experience is its servant; the motivational center is our master. This justifies phrases like "The Great Self", where that thing is mysteriously impersonal, a self that is in a way outside us, outside our perceiveable experience, even though it is within us as our drive center. We can see its effects, but we don't see it, nor control it. Thus we humans are multiple. To control it, for example to motivate oneself to do the right thing, requires gentleness, subtlety, persuasion by profound experience, as I mentioned earnestness, perhaps curiosity: sincerity of purpose. Yet these are themselves its own characteristics, not things we bring to it. What a mysterious dialectic!

    Yet motivation seen as prioritization and recruitment/alignment of organismal resources in service of a goal, target, or activity, seems a fundamental target of natural selection.

    This logic is fundamental:

    An organism which isn't properly motivated: doesn't achieve the correct prioritization in complex evolving circumstances, doesn't recruit and align its internal resources to move toward the goal or activity, would seem to be less able to effectively do the right thing and therefore less able to survive and reproduce.

    Living, or even merely complex, systems, once they develop the ability to do different things, or do similar things differently, are immediately subject to natural selection of this type: if they are able to consistently make the right choice in the right circumstance, then their fitness is optimized, and if not, then not, leaving them vulnerable to, how shall I put it, chaos. Most generally, in the face of choice, choices that lead to flourishing are the 'right' choices. A choice-implementing system, which makes pro-flourishing choices, will flourish. H.

    This seems also the reason that so much of life and especially emotion is inhibitory. Two choices might not be mutually exclusive at the bottom level of their implementation, such that a simple teeter-totter switch can select one versus the other; they might be independent capabilities, independently triggered, and the system might have to evolve post-hoc, or higher-level, relative prioritization mechanisms, in order to keep others under control when one is the most pro-flourishing of choices. Or it might not, but that would lead to less flourishing. Considering evolvability, rather than a branching control system built into the underlying mechanism of two options which exist in some kind of tradeoff, a top-down shutoff system might be more easily evolved, to simply or widely shut off everything but a target choice in some class of circumstances. Either specific or general mechanisms could be considered inhibitory. With many choices, and only one at a time doable, all but the chosen must be inhibited. Even the chosen must be downregulated to its suitable level of activation, to titrate effort to difficulty, and to avoid waste.

    Choice, prioritization, recruitment/alignment of internal resources, and motivation, these seem to be sides of the same coin. This is the idea of the center of motivation as the self of organisms. Organisms are selected for their motivational capabilities and competence. Whatever they do, they must do that and not everything else, and do it if necessary with all their resources, and that is what it means to be an optimally surviving organism.

    The evolutionary depth of this urgent organismal concern provides a suggestive explanation for why we humans cannot necessarily motivate ourselves through rationalization or manipulative self-talk. Our organismal being has its own pre-human, survival-linked, calculational system and controlling urgency of priorities; and the evolutionary late-comers, even epiphenomena, of our apparent rationality and our self-talk capabilities might unsurprisingly fail to reach the root of the process, which runs its own show, has always done so, and must. We can't fool our deepest self, our Chooser, our center of motivation.

  • Organizing role for storytelling and attribution, whereby the fountain-like, pulsed, emergent flow of new disparate experiences is integrated into one or more self-attributed evolving story lines, consistent with and in service of one's moral/aspirational vision powerfully motivated by the need to keep, the desperate fear of not keeping, one's shit together. (S,M,L)

  • Identification's subject. E.g., according to one's Religion, Ethnicity, Party, etc., each being used by many people to define or identify themselves. Two separate things are found in this: attribution to self and to others. Attribution to self occurs rather late as one has to learn through growth and life experience how others treat you and by that metric you may grow to observe that one is different from others in some consistent way, and in a pride moment one can identify with one's different group, often a sort of 'Yes and F you too' tribalism, a shallow and unsatisfying version of self for a rich and complex person of many facets, but when the social forces are heavy, a path often taken. Whereas attribution to others occurs when people with limited knowledge latch onto societally-established observable and distinctive features as a basis for stereotype-based treatment of others, attributing a tribe to another person and expecting, for the time being, in the vacuum of better information, stereotypical interactions. Attribution to others trains others in attribution to self. Yet it would demand a high degree of openness-to-experience for anyone to not use what little they do know (their vernacular stereotyping system) to gauge how to interact with others.(S?,M,L)

  • Linguistic or Grammatical Self. "Self" and "be" are different grammatical categories or roles or overlays of the same thing, noun and verb, since the being of a thing is its self. As noun, an attribution is asserted, the thing is characterized as having a certain thing-hood, its nature or self is, hence, to be the thing that it is.(M,L) As verb, being extends this nature or self through time, as it may continue to be. (M,L) Such grammatical role distinctions may be vacuously attributed, even unhelpfully, but language is a convenient resource and offers this as an available bit of quick reasoning. (M,L)

    Merger of reference in semantic interpretation: Reflexive pronouns and other word morphology, as in the -self suffix in "myself", "itself", "themselves", etc., express the merger (M) of two references as pointing toward one and the same point, as part of extracting meaning from the words. In "He saw him" and "He saw himself", the seer and the seen are different in the first sentence, and one and the same in the second. Similarly "He saw his hand", "He saw his own hand", the 'his' reference is merged or identified with the sentence subject by the possessive-reflexive marker "own". (M,L) Similarly, the auto- prefix references a similar merger of two roles, as in auto-immune, cf. below, the attackable other and the self are merged in auto-immunity. (M,L,O)

    Subtly different, essentially the same, is when a cat chasing its tail seems to fail to recognize its target as its self: the non-merger of an experienced other, interesting and attackable inferrably because of its non-self-hood. If that tail were merged into the cat's self-perception, we infer, it would not chase it. Self as merger of reference. Merger doesn't express directionality, but perhaps this is an asymmetrical process or form similar to the topic/comment structure in the theory of linguistic pragmatics, exemplified by "As far as John (is concerned), he is chronically late." The construction, As far as X, Y, makes X into the topic of the following comment Y, which is "about" X. In the same way, merger of reference may start with one, a first, as in baseline, background, topic, or subject, then proceeding to detect another as potentially other, then carrying out a merger operation to collapse the second with the first. (S,M,L,O)

  • Consciousness qua Agent, Patient, Experiencer, Self. Consciousness is its being (S), but it may be attributed nominal roles such as these.(M,L)

  • Darwinian Self, the logical priority by an individual organism of that individual organism's own survival and reproduction. Self-prioritization, however implemented, by whatever mechanisms and interactions, directly and logically correlates with survival and reproduction and thus evolutionary fitness, at the level of the organism. Any evolved capability that orients the organism to its own survival and reproduction would seem specifically adaptive, specifically a target of natural selection. Therefore cognitive and all other capabilities which make organisms self-centered or selfish, and to focus attention, resources, and efforts on themselves, are automatically understandable as evolved optimisations of Darwinian fitness. Exceptions to this are exceptional, are what require explanation. (O)

  • Autoimmunology, or the Immunological Self. Here 'self' is a determination by the immune system, T cells particularly, that some potential target cell, material, antibody, etc., is or is not to be attacked and destroyed; so as to preserve self. Auto-immunity means a failure of self-recognition, driving the immune system to attack rather than ignore self. Other auto-immune related diseases include allergy and transplant rejection.(O)

  • Puzzling this over in this morning's gradual wakening, the concepts of logical merger and of organismal self-prioritization seem quite different and unrelated. In the latter, evolutionary design characteristics of behavior and form are required, forced, by the nature of evolution, to prioritize and successfully support organismal self with whatever mechanism (H). In the former, a logical machine representing a variety of hypothetical elements in a rich semantic space being explored cognitively identifies two hypothetical elements as actually one in a particular view that it takes. These concepts are so different as to seem unrelated.

    However the story by which the cognitive merger of logical elements is useful for organismal preservation, may go through the emotionally significant, cognitive function Ip(s)(p). How?

    The organism needs to preserve itself; it evolves cognitive layering and complexity; it establishes an analog of organismal self in the cognitive layer, the cognitive self, yet ties this logical tool to organismal function by the characteristic of emotional binding. This is the evolutionary-functional logic for Bliss Theory's core statement: Identification Binds.

  • Default Mode Network. Some brain studies have found some commonality in the activities of the brain during wakeful resting as contrasted with carrying out cognitive tasks during brain experiments; resting being the control state for most neuroimaging studies. This has led to the hypothesis of a "default mode" in which the brain is quite active doing something, even when it is, from the experimenter's perspective, doing nothing in particular, such as daydreaming or watching the clock or experiencing boredom, etc. Pop psychology has latched onto these reports and attributed these findings to a self-aware state of being, separate from doing anything, a scientifically-grounded Self. The studies themselves point out various regions of the brain that get more active when the job is over or hasn't started and less active when the task is ongoing; and that various of these regions form a functionally connected network in that their blood oxygen usage is temporally correlated. What the actual function is, for this functional connectivity, is unspecified, except the function of blood oxygen level variation, which is suggestive but not exactly specific. Since the whole point of the brain is its interconnectivity, what's the particular point here? And since the whole point of inhibition, which is a primary activity of the nervous system and brain at every level, well, here we find activity in some regions reduced during activity by others, and what can we draw from this? There is no doubt a neurological basis to experience of all kinds, but "rest" is not exactly a specific category of experience, when one person's rest is another's excruciating boredom. Deeper analysis seems called for. Still this is among the things people might be referring to when they mention the "self".(S,B,O)

  • The "Self" of the Internal Family Systems counseling system, based on "Parts work", in which a variety of subpersonalities "take over" in particular types of circumstances and "carry a burden", "frozen in time" from some past trauma where extreme roles were taken on by that part, and where therapy consists in being curious and loving toward that part (parts being classifiable into "exiles", "managers" and "firefighters" which normally collaborate harmoniously). The parts might be in collaboration, inner children full of creativity and desire to connect, but then burdened with pain, shame, terror, then put away to keep them from overwhelming us. Such exiled parts are easily triggered, so that flames of emotion overwhelm you, then other parts have to jump into protective roles, managing the external world of relationships, appearance, and performance (parentified inner children, overpromoted, therefore rigid and critical; caretaking parts; parts that keep you in your head to be safe rather than experiencing your intolerable vulnerability and feelings; parts that respond to the pain/terror/shame of the exile, perhaps taking an impulsive, reactive, damn-everything I'm-getting-you-away-from-here, firefighter role, or addiction, or rage, irrespective of damage to life relationships etc.

    When in a family two are talking and one gets hot, a third might be watching and taking one side, and that side needs to step back after which (or so that) things calm down. In IFS, getting one part to step back while another part steps up and knows how to be compassionate and understanding to the rest, that latter part is in everyone and IFS calls it the Self.(S,M,L)

  • Jungian Self. A proper treatment would require a thesis, so I'll let you write it yourself. Perhaps I can refer you to Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Send me a summary! (S,B)

  • Qualia are the distinctive subjective qualities which populate our experience. One of the qualia of human subjective experience is self-awareness. Exactly parallel with other qualia such as redness or pain or the smell of fresh laundry, etc., the I-am qualia shares a pattern of three items. First, each has or could have a label (or labels) as in "red" or "myself". Second, each contains or provides category knowledge, namely that the thing is red, or that I, myself, am conscious here. Third, each provides a directly-sensed experiential quality present to one's inner eye and shining continuingly with that particular subjective quality as long as you experience it (S). Label, Category, and Experience combine in the qualia of subjective experience, and I hereby assert that Self is one of the human subjective qualia available to experience (S).

    I have asked several people if they have a part of their own experience which they experience as their self, to which the typical answer is quizzicality and complete lack of understanding. Like, what is Tom talking about?! Perhaps it requires a Myers Briggs N personality type to attend inwardly and then be able to perceive it. But some hints might help, if you're still wondering what I mean by Self as Qualia:

    • This directly perceived quaity within human subjective experience is available for perception within the aware but less-reactive or detached state that might be called witness consciousness.

    • Wordsworth's poem dances around this, mixing in a sense of effortless delight as well as certain theatrics of springtime:

      I wandered lonely as a Cloud
      That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
      When all at once I saw a crowd
      A host of dancing Daffodils;
      Along the Lake, beneath the trees,
      Ten thousand dancing in the breeze.
      The waves beside them danced, but they
      Outdid the sparkling waves in glee.
      A Poet could not but be gay
      In such a laughing company:
      I gazed – and gazed – but little thought
      What wealth the shew to me had brought:
      For oft when on my couch I lie
      In vacant or in pensive mood.
      They flash upon that inward eye
      Which is the bliss of solitude,
      And then my heart with pleasure fills,
      And dances with the Daffodils.

      That vacant or pensive mood, that blissful solitude, that floating on high solitary detachment, these are moments in which the Self qualia is more visible.

    • Also, it is enhanced during the subjective contemplation of the in-breathing process, not through attention exactly towards the breathing, but toward, in a way, that direction that breathing is moving: inward.

    Moving right along... The Label and the Category knowledge of the Self qualia are also subverted by transitivity; they are used as a reasoning anchor in the reasoning process of limited identification, whereby character or characterization in situation, is attributed to the self, which may be expressed with the words "I am (such and such)" (M,L). Those are outside the qualia of Self-perception itself; they are attributions or inferences that one might make, to limit what one thinks one is. M or Merger of Reference fits in here because one thinks about something in one's circumstances, there is so-and-so, and further more I am the one that is that so-and-so. By a step of reasoning one merges the thing that is so-and-so, and yourself, so that you hold the thought that You are so-and-so. That's merger of reference. L or a Logical element can also occur if you make logical inferences about so-and-so, how good or bad it is, etc., then you apply that logical inference also to yourself, elaborating your thought with the inference I am so good or so bad etc. I'm going to reiterate most pedantically, sorry about that: these references and inferences and reasonings about one's attributes are NOT actually related to the experience of "I am". You might falsely think that because you are in the situation, and in that situation you sense this qualia, that you are licensed to believe "I am that part of that situation", but just recognize those are two different things, the almost-sensory experience of I-am-ness, and the reasoning about what's what in the situation. Right? Thank you.

    Now in the [I] (pronounced "optional identification") theory of emotional inhibition, which I also term as Bliss Theory, a faulty and optional reasoning process computes from the Self qualia combined with (aspects of) the circumstances, X, in the situation, that "I am X". Thus limited identification is carried out by that cognitive/emotional system, and in [I] theory, the emotional system is inhibited, crushed down, and in fact required to feel no other feeling than that which is consistent with that identification. This limitation, or bondage, is a form of suffering since as long as you keep believing you are that limited thing, you are stuck with that feeling. There is no escape, if you hold on to that belief.

    This is such a strong tendency on the part of humans that we consider it sufficient punishment for crime to isolate individuals for a suitable duration for them to contemplate their limited identity as a criminal, which brings with it the suffering imposed by that inhibitory emotional requirement that what one identifies as imposes emotional limitation and requirement and binds us to that feeling. “I am a criminal“ is a limited identification, with a character or characteristic in those circumstances, and feeling miserable about that is the punishment, within most, perhaps not all, people's inner system. That is, incarceration, in addition to its benefit of separating habitual criminals from further potential victims, has this punitive mechanism: misery X duration equals punishment, where the misery is the emotional experience consequent on the identified thoughts, "I am a criminal, I am guilty, I deserve to be put away from my supports, I am put away like an exposed infant."

    But even a positive self evaluation through a positive character or characteristic that the evaluator identifies with is binding and inhibitory. Observe the face on an Olympic wrestling champion: the grimace of the conqueror is often visible: a highly controlled, bound, limited, indeed compressed, effortful, clenched, physical expression of emotion. Compare such bound states with playfulness, humor, unbound even hysterical laughter, lightness of being, non-judgment, free flow, an open perception of the miraculous unfolding of life.

    So yes we think we are some limited thing, and the Self qualia helps us to think so if we think "I am" must be converted into a transitive sentence, "I am X".(M)

    It may be blasphemy to attribute limitation to the divine; still, I do so in this particular way: the (unlimited) Self, though it could be identified as the Divine, is subject to being one of the qualia of (at least) human experience, with the three elements in the pattern: Label, Knowledge, Experientiality (S).

If I had to summarize, well, here:

All relevant life is organismal so that is the ground: Life, Pambios, the being of us all. And the logic of evolution certainly requires special, indeed unique, attention to self by organismal processes, simply to achieve survival and reproduction on evolutionary timescales; these are not optional and their logical and motivational requirements are not dismissable except in an evolutionarily irrelevant sideshow. As examples, cell walls and skin provide most obviously for what I'm here calling "attention to self": the design features of the organism are selected for if they succeed in making the organism itSELF survive and reproduce, and if its internal processes are contained and thereby enabled to repeat their activities in a controlled environment, to grow and concentrate rather than to scatter, become dissociated, become lost, then they have a higher likelihood of sustained success. Selection for organismal self-maintenance is obviously a high priority in evolution. H.

As organismal complexity increases, many layers up, we have organisms with multi-layered representational systems. If details and strategry are different layers, such a system is adaptive: Get the details right, get the strategy right, both, separately, and perhaps also together. Hmm, in an organism with multiple layers of useful representation, is consistency between the layers, is self-consistency, adaptive? To some degree, yes, subject to the utility of the layers themselves. In particular the representations at each layer must remain at least compatible, perhaps even homomorphic, with the undeniable, the bitter tautological logic and required motivational frameworks whose prioritization and urgent service are every organism's evolutionary duty.

As a perhaps late evolved layer in the multi-layeredness of brain anatomy and representational capability, we also evolved a higher-brain, higher-mind analog of organismal self useful in calculations for many circumstances and purposes. Flexible, we allow attribution of anything representable in the intellectual mind to that abstracted self-analog, which exists in the calculational space of the abstract symbol manipulator in our highly evolved heads, whatever that looks like. But: that thing is, remains, would be selected to be, bound to the motivational system, nearly as tightly as survival is bound to the animal motivational system. Whether emotional binding is processually identical with attribution itself, or whether they are separate-but-bound-together, evolution perhaps likes it, that our emotional motivations and choices might be tightly bound to our circumstances as perceived and conceived. And they are bound, when we carry out the action of identification, according to Veatch's Mathematics of Emotion, a.k.a. Bliss Theory.

With these extra layers of representation, we humans naturally perceive in ways compatible with tautological logic (i.e., given a category, distinction, or contrast, we perceive usefully and reason efficiently about what is in or out of the category, on this side or that of the distinction or contrast, tautologically because those are your two choices and there is no third), and naturally we think linguistically, that is within each thought many layers (phonetic, phonological, morphological, syntactic, semantic, pragmatic), and with relevant, uptakeable (shared) contrasts. So for us, asserting some logical element for this or that purpose and then merging it with another, is just baseline thinking activity. When we attribute some element has this property, and another has that, and then that it's just one element after all that has both the properties, that's normal and not even very abstract thinking. "Run Spot run" already has a dog, and something that's running, and the two, dog and runner, are the same one thing. It's not complicated -- for us.

But then an evidently parallel, simultaneously operating, identically logic-constrained layer of attributional and reasoning machinery operates quite deep in our emotional psychology, whereby we often, normally, regularly, but not necessarily, indeed we optionally, get fooled by this very same kind of logical referential merger operation, internally asserting or believing that such-and-such, there, *IS* me, here, or in Veatch notation, I(s), and by means of #4, we then get wrapped around various emotional axles of dysfunction (taking things too personally) and function (it can be functional, though perhaps not optimal, when such attribution helps us to get on the same page in order to play harmoniously with others, or to get with our own program in life in order to achieve valued aspirations).

When bleached of particularizing self-attributions, our logical concept of self can become a mere label, an element without a type, an e, lacking evident or assertable properties, which isn't especially exciting or liberating or otherwise emotional in itself unless also our experiential being is bleached of self-attribution, through a certain non-operation within the Inner Judge system, non-self-attribution. The latter, by disinhibiting the emotional system from the inhibitory effects of story, role, and bound identity, leads to flow state, optimum performance, spontaneous mutual presence with others a.k.a. intimacy, experiencing the now or the current moment fully, experiencing unbounded immanent meaningfulness, also (if I may reduce to caricature) Hindu enlightenment (merger with the universal Self), Christian enlightenment (merger with universal love), Buddhist enlightenment (merger with Void), (all being special cases of Jeff Martin's four-plus locations of Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience). As if that were not enough, it also leads to the less mystical and faraway, the universally acknowledged, the high, virtues, like humility, trust, forgiveness, gratitude, service, and others, which we all can realistically practice and which include the serenity and very bliss, the non-downregulated, unrestrained, the free emotional flow states, which this work aims to encourage and to suggest how to have and to keep.

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Copyright © 2000-2021, Thomas C. Veatch. All rights reserved.
Modified: October 25, 2021.
Indexed: March 9, 2023.