Toward a Naturalistic Theory of The Self: Are We All Of The One Self?

Summer is a good time for wildly speculative thinking, so wild that it might betray lack of understanding and discipline. But, it is good fun.

Say there exists a class or set which we dub the class of human selves.

I have a self, you have a self, we all have a self and these fit into the class of human selves, let us call this S(h). Say we go back to the first member of this curious set, that is the first individual member or element of the set or class known as Homo sapiens to possess an element of S(h). Let us call this element Lucy.

Say there was an alien about, and our alien wanted to develop a theory of the self. I don’t think the alien would be concerned so much with what sense of self Lucy possessed. I surmise that the alien would be concerned with the cognitive architecture of Lucy’s mind that gave Lucy this sense of self, given that the actual sense of self developed by Lucy was due to contingency and experience.

This theory would be the theory of the self.

Now my understanding of cognitive theories of the self is that they are not too dissimilar to Hume’s bundle theory, namely the self is a type of illusion that our minds conveniently furnish upon us. I have always liked this because, it seems to me, this is consistent with the Copernican Principle. We think we possess a special sense of me, but really this is just a type of artifice.

But what if, instead, there is just one self and that every member of S(h) is just an instantiation of that one self? These instantiations would be developed upon the basis of experience and contingency. That is, let us say that there exists a generative cognitive/computational procedure of the mind that has us develop a sense of self, that is a member of S(h), so that we grow a self much as we grow arms, legs and a language.

Consider the concept of instantiation from computer science

In computer science, instantiation is the realization of a predefined object. For instance, in object-oriented programming (OOP), a class of object may be defined with certain properties (associated variables), accessories (ways to access those variables), and methods (characteristic functions). An instance of that object may then be declared, allowing it to be used in the program. This process is called instantiation.

I am suggesting that maybe there is a computational procedure that instantiates members of S(h) in the light of contingent experience, and accounting for the properties of this computational procedure of instantiation is to have a theory of the self.

To be members of S(h) the elements must have some universal feature or features in common. Perhaps an empirical examination, say from psychology, that abstracts these universal features of the elements of S(h) might be an important first step in a naturalistic, cognitive, theory of the self.

I am, wildly, speculating that there exists a generative computational procedure, the universal self, that in the light of contingency and experience, i.e. information from the external world, generates instantiations of itself. The very expression, “the self,” is suggestive give its singular nature.

So my, your, and anybody else’s instantiation of the universal self is by no means unique or special. So, this becomes an account of the self that is in accord with the Copernican Principle but in terms of a rationalist, naturalistic, philosophy.

I have thought of some more lofty speculations but they are hardly intelligible to me. If I can make them intelligible I will see if I can share them.