(not all the same thing)

People use 'self' to refer to lots of different stuff. Here's a list, in fact. Some of the items do share certain qualities, and so I will label them with 'S' for Subjective experience, 'M' for Merger of reference, 'L' for including a Logical element, 'B' for Bleached of content, 'O' for an unambiguously Organismal function. Surprisingly, only the center of motivation has all of these, possibly also Darwin could be allowed to reach for S, M, L, B, if we admit those others do occur in evolved organisms. Pambios! you include us all.

  • Bound experiencer of subjective pain (S)

  • Witness. Awareness which is aware of awareness itself. (S,B)

  • A tool of reasoning. (M,L,B)

  • Goffman's Self: The persona as attributed by others. (M,L)

  • A target of attribution of responsibility, role, centrality. (M,L)

  • The attributed center for greed. (S,M,L)

  • A legal entity for holding ownership and property rights. (M,L)

  • Target of karmic retribution. (M,L)

  • Deified, Considered as God: Shiva (S,M,B)

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Intensifier of emotion (S,M)

  • The Great Abstraction (M,L,B)

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

  • 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 now, 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 use what little they do know (their vernacular stereotyping system) to gauge how to interact with others.(S?,M,L)

  • Linguistic Self. "Self" and "be" are different grammatical roles 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 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 fails 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 assymmetrical process or form similar to a topic/comment structure, that starts with one, a first, as baseline, background, or subject, proceeding to detect another as potentially other, then carrying out a merger operation to collapse the second with the first. (S,M,L,O)

  • Puzzling this over in this morning's gradual wakening, the logical merger and the organismal self-prioritization seem quite different and unrelated. In the latter, evolutionary design characteristics of behavior and form are required to prioritize and successfully support organismal self with whatever mechanism. 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 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 Ip(s)(p). The organism needs to preserve itself, it evolves cognitive laying and complexity, it establishes an analog of organismal self in the cognitive layer, the cognitive self, yet ties it to function by emotional binding.

  • 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. (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)

  • 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, (which are classified 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, then flames of emotion overwhelm you, then the other parts have to jump into protective roles, managing the external world of relationships, appearance, and performance (parentified inner children, egos, overpromoted therefore rigid and critical), caretaking parts etc., like those that keep you in your head to be safe, then also in response to the pain/terror/shame of the exile, impulsive, reactive, damn-everything I'm-getting-you-away-of-here, firefighter roles, like addiction, 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 things calm down; in IFS, getting one part to step back then another part steps up and knows how to be compassionate and understanding to the rest, that part is in everyone and IFS calls it the Self.
  • Jungian Self.
If I had to summarize, well, here: all relevant life is organismal so that is the ground, Pambios, Life, 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 organismal complexity increases, many layers up, we have multi-layered representational systems which must remain compatible, perhaps 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 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, evolution perhaps likes it, that our emotional motivations and choices might be tightly bound to our circumstances as perceived and conceived. They are bound, when we carry out the action of identification.

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 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, 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, 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.