All the Whos In Whoville

by rsbakker

Aphorism of the Day: ‘Who’ and ‘what’ are like the weather and climate of consciousness. ‘Who’ tells you how to dress, day in and day out, while saying nothing about the mystery of rain or sunshine.


It occurred to me the other day that I could use a ‘cogito grudge match’ to simplify and illustrate what is at stake in Blind Brain Theory.  First, consider the classic Cartesian cogito:


Now consider an alternative, one I came up with long ago by mashing Nietzsche’s and Sartre’s twists on Descartes’ foundational claim together:


So here’s the question: What, introspectively, could allow us to eliminate the second cogito as a possibility? In other words, how might our experience differ if the second cogito were true?

The question is one of the difference between actually apprehending a self in action versus positing a ‘self’ post facto. Between being a metacognitively ‘sighted brain’ versus a ‘blinkered’ one.

As it turns out, there’s no introspective way to settle this question of apprehending versus positing. Why? Because there’s no metacognitive way of guaranteeing that any judgment I make regarding manifest selfhood doesn’t grossly misrepresent what is actually doing the judging. ‘It just feels right,’ counts for nothing. Is it a genuine who doing the judging? or is it an alien what that merely judges itself to be a ‘who’ (say for reasons of computational efficacy)?

So the dilemma faced by Self Realists is one of substantiating their case outside appeals to introspective intuition. According to the Self Antirealist, you are simply a supercomplicated brain that congenitally misrecognizes itself for something far, far simpler, viz., a cartoon ‘self.’ And indeed, when we crack open the brain, all we find is brain and more brain, lot’s of ‘what’ with nary a ‘who’ to be seen.

The Antirealist case, it seems to me, is far and away the stronger one. It just happens, like so much else in science, to be counterintuitive. Whoville has always been empty.

What BBT does is 1) Provide arguments for why metacognition/introspection is structurally and developmentally doomed to ‘gross misrepresentation’; 2) Extend this particular argument to all intentional phenomena; and 3) Show how the considerations pertaining to (1) can be used to resolve or dissolve a wide variety of millennial puzzles pertaining to the human soul.