I shall begin by reviewing four sources of the meaning and significance of the word and concept "person", then discuss the relationship between the concepts of "mind" and "consciousness" and finally compare and contrast two alternate hypothesese relating to personhood.
DramaOriginally, the word [persona: Latin] meant a theatrical mask or dramatic role: a false or misleading front adopted by an actor to entertain an audience and/or portray a hero or god. We now use the word script in a similar way. Gay folk are often forced to adopt a heterosexual script in order to conform to conventional society. Sometimes they do so so very thoroughly that they almost forget their own reality and come to live the role that they have had forced upon them.
PsychologyIn secular usage, the phrase "the human person" is synonymous with "human nature". So one might say that "sexuality is an important aspect of the human person". The issue is further confused by the existence of the word personality, which is sometimes equated with person, as in "Socrates is a jolly person" which means the same as "Socrates has a jolly personality". If person and nature are radically different, then it is technically improper to apply the adjective describing an aspect of nature (i.e. personality) to the person.
TrinitarianismIn connection with Trinitarian doctrine: the three Divine Persons are equated with God's three under-standings [sub-stancia: Latin, hypo-stasis: Greek] of HimSelves, and contrasted with the single Being [Ousia: Greek] that Is God. So while there are three initiations, three causes, three beginnings, three purposes and three resolutions and endings: three doIngs in God, all divine activity that Is initiated, caused, purposed and resolved Is coherent and unitary.
The Tritheist heresy split the being of God, constituting each hypostasis as a self-sufficient and independent being-in-itself. The Sabellian or Modalist heresy saw each person as a mask behind which God hid: representing and revealing himself as he wished in one of three guises, as he acted in the World. This amounts to the notion that the three persons are not essential to God, but are only aspects of how he chooses to conduct his relationship with created being. As I have explained elsewhere, the Eastern Church; with its belief in the primacy of hypostasis, tended to view the Western Church; with its belief in the primacy of being, as Sabellian: just as the Western Church tended to suspect the East of Tritheism.Incarnation doctrine: the single Person of Jesus is said to unite two natures, one Human and one Divine. Sometimes it is suggested that this unification is that of joint possession: so the Second Person of the UnDivided Trinity possesses and acts through two natures, each of which is a mode of operation. Sometimes it is suggested that the unification is that of synthesis or constitution: so the two natures come together either as or to form One Person, the God-Man Jesus Christ.
This dichotomy mirrors the ambiguity of ontological precedence:
I shall now explore the two alternate extreme accounts: first that the person is generated by or identical with the nature; second that the person is independent from and possesses the nature.
On the one hand, as a Platonist, I find the idea that I am (my self is) the abiding patterning (or form) of my mind attractive: but what then of external violence (for example brain trauma) that disrupts, distorts, corrupts or destroys that patterning? On the other hand, I see no connection between such a patterning and my internal, personal, experience of consciousness, which is the issue at stake. To a degree I don't need to argue for the distinction between consciousness and mind. It is well recognized that one is unconscious of much of one's mental activity: hence the term "unconscious mind". Although an account of consciousness that makes it a property of part of the mind is formally possible, I am not interested in this: because it makes no connection with my own experience of consciousness.
I find it quite impossible to express what I mean by consciousness. The best I can do is to try and elicit a reaction of recognition from anyone that I discuss this matter with. It is all to do with words like "I", "me", and "mine", somewhat related to the words "self", and "aware" and to a still lesser extent "know" and "feel": for me, these last words are suspiciously related more to Mind rather than Consciousness. I suspect that a living and thinking being that was not conscious would not have need of such words as these. The passive grammatical form would always suffice, there being no awareness to hang a sense of causality upon.
Awareness does not imply reaction or recognition and certainly is not identifiable with either. Awareness is not behavioural. It can be entirely passive: as in certain distressing medical conditions; or uncomprehending: as in a new-born infant, and so not amenable to any interrogation or external experimentation at all. It such situations it still exists, and is potentially be of the most profound significance. Consider the case of someone paralysed by a partially effective anaesthetic regime and then operated on. The fact that there is no reaction to the surgery is of no consequence: the only thing that matters is the agony undergone by the conscious patient!
Note that I am not stressing self-consciousness properly so called in this discussion. I don't think this is important. Once an entity is conscious, becoming conscious of its self is just a (fascinating) technical matter of self-reference. Without a self to be conscious of and a consciousness to be conscious with, one cannot be self-conscious. However, "self" and "consciousness" adequately constitute the "self-consciousness": nothing else is required.
It occurs to me that "the self" might be a good name for the model-idea of the mind that the mind has of the mind: but I can't envisage how this model idea is any more "aware" than any other.
Leaving aside the matter of consciousness, and self-consciousness, I think the hypothesis "person and particular nature are interchangeable concepts" could be an adequate basis for describing human reality. My human nature comprises my living body and my mind (or intellectual soul). On the current hypothesis, I - my person - is identical with my nature, hence I can say "I am body and soul", or better "I am an ensouled body". Similarly "Jesus is both human: body and soul; and divine."
The computer hardware/software analogyComputer hardware supports software. Though they are different kinds of thing, the software is nothing more than a certain behaviour of the hardware. Certainly, this behaviour has a significance which can only be appreciated, interpreted and understood in a wider context. Nevertheless, whether the behaviour is understood or not by an external observer; it remains, so far as the computer is concerned, programmed activity. The computer hardware neither specifies nor gives rise to any particular software, but is open to external definition. In other words, it can be possessed by any number of demons, processes or programs. Moreover, the software is transferable from one computer to another without any loss of identity. Nevertheless, the software has no independent subsistence. It is utterly dependent on the hardware for its existence, which is nothing more than a certain behaviour of the hardware.
My conscious mind is comparable to a piece of "user application" software running on a computer. My sub-conscious mind is comparable to the "operating system" that supports the application software. A major difference between mind and conventional software is that mental algorithms (both conscious and unconscious) are adaptive and self modifying. We do not learn just by accumulating data, but more significantly by letting experience modulate our mental processes themselves. I don't think that our conscious minds are a single process (in a unix sense), but many complementary, competing and interacting processes. Sometimes, as when we fall in love; or suffer from certain (other ?) mental disorders, one processes comes to dominate our minds, and we become obsessed or captivated by a pathological compulsion or delusion.
This suggests a demarcation between the conscious and unconscious mind. The conscious mind is the set of currently active models of external reality; the unconscious mind is the set of inactive models (awaiting trigger by some interrupt condition) plus the support soft- and firm-ware that services and regulates them. These system utilities are not about objective reality, though they are indispensable as a support and basis for modelling it. They are, as it were, the mataphysics behind the physics.
Unfortunately, this demarcation is obviously false. In order to ride a bicycle, one develops a "balancing by steering" model. At first one is conscious of making use of the model, but it rapidly fades into the unconscious, even while it is being called upon! Perhaps a better demarcation would be on the basis not of activity but of malleability. The consciousness mind would then consist of those active models of external reality that are presently open to revision. Consciousness would then be coextensive with mental revision and adaptation: what we normally call "learning".
SleepIn slumber, no models are active in the sense that they are being used either to predict or organize and interpret external sense stimuli. Hence a sleeper is unconscious, by definition. I suppose that in dreams, some ideas are active in the improper sense that the models are being put through their paces: being tested for distinguishably pathological behaviour and corrections applied if such is detected. This, then would be how nightmares arise and suggests why they are so frightening: a nightmare is an incipient instability or other pathology in one of our models of reality. This is why sleep is so important: without it ideas can mutate dangerously without opportunity for correction. Simply put, sleep deprivation drives one mad. Amusingly, I write this after a very bad night's sleep.
was male; Greek; wise and homosexual: in another he was none of
these. These are all characteristics of the specific human nature
that he possessed and graced the world with. They are what he was,
not who he was. As the hemlock that the Athenian Democrats forced
him to drink deadened first his body and then his mind and finally killed
him altogether, as his noble personality guttered and died: he was no less
(the hypostasis) Socrates, though he was no longer the person (in
the informal sense) that he once was. That person: his specific
human nature, was the sum total of his virtue and activity. It was extinguished
as he died. The person (hypostasis) Socrates: the subject who loved and
was loved and then betrayed; who believed and was believed, was not changed
by the poison that he drank, neither was he diminished by death: though
in death he lost the human faculties of action.
There are two different interpretations to be put on what I have just said:
It might even seem that the person is a cypher: all that we know of someone is an impression of their nature, their personality. Their inner spiritual identity is forever hidden from us. Nevertheless, it is vital to Socrates that he is who he is as well as what he is. If he were not aware, he could not will and so direct his nature to act - in accordance with its intrinsic characteristics.
When we decide to act, our decisions are flavoured by the relative importance and detailed significance we give to various factors: our personal security; the pleasure or pain anticipated; the long term effect on inter-personal relationships and so on. This is where our choices are either well ordered or disordered. Our decisions are also affected by other mental characteristics or habits (vices and virtues) like impetuosity, compassion, complacency, trust, cynicism or credulity. As we act, our actions are limited by our capabilities: for example, our propensity to fumble; stutter; forget a minus sign, guess, imagine and inspire.
The importance of the personality is in the successfulness of this two way mediation between the object (external reality) and the subject (internal reality). Both realities are in a sense more important than the intermediary that allows them to communicate, but (quite apart from the fact that for another person, Socrates' personality is a part of external, objective, reality) the personality or mind is in a sense just as important. This is first because without it there can be no representation of the Object, and second because it is the only means by which the Subject can act. Without his nature and personality, Socrates is no-thing; without his person Socrates is no-one.
quite apart from the biological procreative process.
Jesus had a human soul
and that all living creatures have souls. It also means that all souls
are material. They are nothing other than the coherent and significant
behaviour of neural systems: but note the word
soul-behaviour is not adequately interpretable apart from its context and
purpose or finality.
The human soul can, inaccurately, be described as spiritual in
as far as it is associated with and somehow linked to the conscious
human person or spirit.
"'Into thy hands I commend my spirit' [Ps 30:5], etc. The soul he treats as an opponent. As for the body, the saints made little account of it. Fearing to be wounded by deceivers he commends his spirit to God, speaking of His providential powers as His 'hands.' The Saviour too, when nailed to the cross, made use of this saying. Spirit is a term Scripture sometimes uses for the mind; as when insisting that a virgin should be holy, 'in spirit and in body' [1Cor 7:34]. Sometimes it employs the term for the soul or life, for instance in James, 'As the body apart from the spirit is dead' [Jas 2:26]. And sometimes for the consciousness which is associated with life, as in the words, 'No one knoweth the things of a man save the spirit that dwelleth in him' [1Cor 2:11]. The passage before us may be understood in the three senses. He speaks of having been ransomed by God from his enemies as though he had been taken captive."
The following unsatisfactory trivial response can be made: "The influence of the spiritual consciousness on the mind is manifested by the inordinate amount of philosophical writing (such as this very document) concerning its very self!" If people were not conscious, or if their consciousnesses could not affect their behaviour, they wouldn't spend any time debating what it means to be conscious!Earlier in this essay, I dismissed self-conciousness as not very important. This was because I took it to mean exactly what its name might give one to think it meant: the consciousness of the self of itself. In fact this is not really what it means. When it is realised what self-consciousness truly is, it becomes altogether more significant.
All that the self is directly conciouss of is its own mind. If it is conscious of anything else, this is a mediated consciousness at best; the self is only directly aware of mental representations and models of reality. Now, if a subject is truely self-concious (as opposed to merely cognescent of the fact that it has a mind, which is not at all the same thing) then the mind must contain some (very limited and inadequate) model or representation of the consciousness. If the origin of this model is the same as that of all other ideas: a need to explain, account for and predict certain identifiable phenomena, then the fact that a subject is self-conscious corroborates the hypothesis that their consciousness or spirit is a cause of mental events. Hence, self-consciousness (or a profession of self-consciousness) is itself indicative of the existence of the spirit.
I don't like this hypothesis. It strikes me as rather baroque and artificial. It introduces a physical/spiritual redundancy or duplication that I find aesthetically displeasing. Obviously, my personal likes and dislikes are not proper grounds for dismissing this hypothesis! It does, after all, have the virtue of being somewhat testable. Assuming that the higher primates do not have spiritual souls (which I acknowledge is an unwarranted assumption) it tends to follow that the level of sophistication of their thought processes and ethics should be hugely below that of human beings: quite out of proportion with the difference in brain complexity. Personally, I doubt that this is true, and I therefore tend to the conclusion that either the higher primates also have spiritual souls or that the "spiritual soul" does not act as a co-processor for the brain.free-will.
"Spirit is awareness, intelligence, recollection. It requires no dogmas, as does animal faith or the art of living. Human morality, for the spirit, is but the inevitable and hygienic bias of one race of animals. Spirit itself is not human; it may spring up in any life; it may detach itself from any provincialism; as it exists in all nations and religions, so it may exist in all animals, and who knows in how many undreamt of beings, and in the midst of what worlds? It might flourish, as the Stoics felt, even in the face of chaos, except that chaos could not sustain the animal life, the psyche, which spirit requires for its organ. From the existence of spirit a psychologist may therefore argue back to the existence - at least local and temporary - of some cosmos of organized matter: but this dependence of mind on body is a lesson taught by natural philosophy, when natural philosophy is sound; it is not a free or evident requirement of spirit in its first deliverance. On the contrary, the body which is the matrix and cradle of spirit in time, seems a stumbling-block to it in its spontaneous career; and a rather long discipline and much chastening hardly persuade this supernatural nurseling that it is really so domestic, and that it borrows its existence from a poor, busy, precarious animal life; or that the natural rhythms, pauses, and synthetic reactions of that life are the ground of its native affinity with the eternal." [George Santayana: "Platonism and the Spiritual Life"]However, for the life of me, I cannot see how this allows for my acute experience of actually being conscious! It seems to me that there is an ontological leap from the concept of mind to that of consciousness or spirit. Unlike the gap that used to exist in our perception between animate and inanimate matter, this is not one that can be at all described in terms of behaviour. The "characteristics of life" that I was taught in high school: "movement, reproduction, respiration, nutrition, excretion" are all phenomenologies. This list is a basis on which a definition, account and understanding of what Life is can be erected. A similar list might be concocted to represent the "characteristics of mind" (I shall refrain), and again, an account can be set out of what Mind is. In contrast, I suggest that no such list exists for consciousness. The characteristic of the consciousness is to be conscious: that is all. This is no help whatever as a guide as to how a theory of consciousness might be put together.
The typical worker in this field tends to ignore this disjuncture and simply treat of "the problem of mind". They presume, without question or justification, that if this was completely solved, then so would be the mystery of the human person. I sympathize with this response to what I perceive to be a daunting problem, but I do not accept that it is wise. Moreover, I suspect that it is both harmful to the ethical character of work undertaken on this basis and will tend to hinder technical progress in the field.
life story. I know that "that was me, back then" because I remember
those things happening to me. Nevertheless, I am not my memory,
still less my memories of me. The fact that memory is necessary for me
know that I am does not imply that it is necessary for me to be
who I am. My consciousness is somehow sequential and only exists in
the present (whatever that is!) my memory only serves to corroborate my
self-identity by bringing the past to bear on the present: making records
of past events part of present reality.
Consciousness has got something to do with time. Indeed. it is the origin of the concept of "now". Without an observer, all times are equivalent in a Relativistic Minkowskian Block Universe. Unfortunately, this observation doesn't help us. Time is almost as mysterious a concept as consciousness! Perhaps when Physics provides us with a better understanding of what time is and why it seems to flow, we will be in a better state to understand our own conscious understandings. On the other hand, it is possible that it will be an advance in metaphysics that will give the clue to how we should account for time.
Consciousness is all to do with observation. Whether one accepts or rejects the Copenhaganist view of Quantum Mechanics (in which reality is not objective but depends crucially on the observer), it remains true that awareness requires a conscious knower. Truth requires a Subject that learnS, as well as an Object that is learned Of, but even truth: correspondence between idea and reality, is not right opinion (ortho-doxy) unless the subject is some-one, not some-thing, and so can hold an opinion.
|ordination of women. On the other hand, there is no need to adopt this hypothesis. It is sufficient, it seems to me, to hypothesize that self-identification as male or female occurs as part of the mental process. As a gay man, I am convinced that this is where my sexual orientation lies. I do no believe that my sexuality is determinant of me as a person, it is just a very important part of my personality: my nature. To what extent gender identification and sexual orientation are genetic and/or environmental is immaterial, once established they are substantially immutable.|