The problem of temporal identity of the “Self”
Identity of the "Self" in time is not a consequence of the similarity or cause-effect relationships of successive states of consciousness. Identity is also not determined by the structure of my body and brain since this structure is copyable. On the contrary, “Self” is something single; it cannot simultaneously exist in several individuals independent of each other. We consider Identity of the "Self" in time as a manifestation of the super-temporal unity of consciousness, directly experienced as a phenomenon of meaning.
Keywords: self, consciousness, identity, time, unity, non-locality, meaning.
Author: Candidate of Philosophical Sciences, Associate Professor, Theology and Religious Studies Department Saratov national research state University named after N. G. Chernyshevsky Russian Federation.
Our daily active life is based on the presumption of the temporal identity of our “Self”: I am the same identical subject throughout my life from birth to the moment of death. Otherwise, if the temporal identity of “Self” did not persist, it would be difficult to find a basis for maintaining an active life position - why should I do something if someone else, not identical to me, takes advantage of the results of my labors, even if it has a similar body and personality. Further, the temporal identity of "Self" is assumed when we speak about personal responsibility for our actions. Obviously, I should not be responsible for the actions of another subject. Thus, the idea of a temporal “Self” identity is undoubtedly of great importance for the substantiation of ethics. What is this supposed phenomenon of the time identity of the “Self”? How is this self-identity defined? Does it depend on material factors: the composition and structure of my body and brain? Does it depend on the contents of my memory? Can the self-identity be associated with the identity of my personality? Does it depend on the causal relationship of successive states of my mind? How does the self-identity relate to the content, and to the unity of my consciousness? We will try to answer these and some other questions in this article. We emphasize that we consider the temporal identity of “Self” as a plausible hypothesis and do not pretend to any proof of a real time-identity of “Self”. The situation is quite conceivable that my “Self” exists only for an instant, and then it is replaced by some other “Self” and we do not observe this process precisely because each instant “Self” will feel its identity to itself and will not be able to compare yourself with the previous and subsequent "Self". Thus the question is: if temporal identity of “Self” really exists, then what it can be, how it can be described and explained.
The temporal identity of “Self” cannot be explained from the standpoint of stating any identity or similarity of the states of my body, brain, psyche, personality, consciousness that are which follow each other in time— first of all because everything is in me: the body, the brain, and the psyche, both personality and consciousness are constantly changing, while “Self”, according to our assumption, remains the same. In addition, it is quite obvious that a very exact material copy of me, even if it has the same memory as me, has an identical personality and self-awareness, will be perceived by me as another subject, another “I”. I am the subject of my experiences and actions. But I obviously will not feel pain if my copy is beaten, I will not control the actions of this copy, which means that the “Self” of this copy will not be my “Self”. My “Self” is something absolutely single, it cannot simultaneously exist in several individuals independent of each other. From this essential indivisibility of “Self” it follows: a). The contents of my memory is not a factor that unambiguously determines my self-identity, since a creature with identical memory is possible, but it is not me. In addition, the memory depends on the random circumstances of my life and under other circumstances, I would have a different memory, but, obviously, would be the same "Self". b). The identity of "Self" is not the identity of my personality because we can imagine of identical personalities, but with different "Self". In addition, a person on large time intervals can change greatly, while “Self”, by assumption, remains the same. c). For the same reasons, the identity of “Self” cannot be determined by self-consciousness: two exact copies will have the same self-consciousness (consider themselves to be the same subject), but will not have the same “Self”. d). The identity of "Self" is not determined by the continuity of cause-effect relationships because cause-effect lines are capable of branching (as in a thought experiment with copying), whereas the “Self” is not capable of any branching. i). The identity of "Self" is not determined by the identity of the atoms that make me up, since the atoms are repeatedly updated throughout my life. The identity is also not determined by the structure of my body and brain, since this structure can in principle be copied, in principle, the identity of “Self” cannot be determined at all by the sum of any reproducible material factors, since multiple reproduction of these factors would lead to “reproduction” of “Self”, which, as we have established, is not possible in principle.
The variability of my body, consciousness and personality can be tried to reconcile with the idea of self-identification of the “Self” by postulating the existence of some eternal “transcendental Self”, which is a “pure subject ”, whose function is reduced only to the passive contemplation of changing states of my consciousness. This consciousness is “mine” precisely because its successive states are contemplated by the same transcendent (with respect to these states of consciousness) time-identical “Self”. The transcendental nature of the “Self” means that this “Self”, being the subject of all my experiences, is not something experienced in itself, is not the content of my consciousness and is in no way given to me as something contained in the experience. But if “Self” is not given in any way in experience, not experienced in any way, then how can we even be aware of the existence of this “Self”? Any concept is meaningful only if it points to some fragment of my experience, to something directly given to me. Thus, we cannot possess any meaningful idea of the “transcendental Self”. But in this case, if the idea of “Self” is meaningful, then it should point to something given in experience, which is the direct content of my consciousness.
If the “Self” is immanent to consciousness, then it must be directly experienced by me as some content of my consciousness. At the same time, it would be a vain task to look for in the consciousness some specific experiences corresponding to the “feeling of the Self”. D. Hume was right to say: "I see a wall, but I do not see "the Self" looking at this wall." In this case, in order to save the idea of the meaningfulness of the concept of “Self”, we can only recognize, that “Self” is all of my experiences. I am everything that I experience - any fact of consciousness is an experience of myself, since I am the totality of all my possible experiences. In other words, I am my consciousness in all its current and potential fullness. I am not only my present, but also my past and my future consciousness: I am everything that I experienced, I experience and will continue to experience in the future. The relative opposition of the subject and the object is in this case the opposite of the whole and the part: the fullness of possible experience and some specific limited experience. The belonging of an element of experience to the “Self” is a consequence of the entry of this element into the integrity of my possible experience (and not into the integrity of some other experience). In this case, the “Self” can be defined as my consciousness, viewed in the aspect of its synchronic (single-moment) and diachronic (different-moments) unity. The consciousness is “my” because of its unity, the interconnectedness of its elements, and the nature of this connectedness is fundamentally different from the nature of the connection of the elements of the experience of various subjects. The unity of the subject's experience is obviously the necessary basis for the existence of the phenomenon of knowledge as such. All knowledge is a synthesis, the result of comparing certain elements of experience with other elements of experience, and it is the unity of the “Self” that allows us to compare all these elements of experience as given to the same subject. To explain what “Self” is, is to explain how the unity of my consciousness is created, including its unity in time (which is its temporal identity).
Since we rejected the existence of a “transcendental Self," which, as it were, from the outside “holds together” the heterogeneous contents of my consciousness, it remains for us to seek the basis of the unity of the “Self” inside the consciousness, as something directly observed in consciousness. At the level of the actual sensory content of my consciousness, the unity of the “Self” manifests itself as the unity of the sensory images I experience and as the unity of the polymodal perceptual field I experience as a whole. Everything that I actually experience at the moment forms the polymodal “gestalt” - the integral structure of the experience, in which the individual elements of the experience are not isolated from each other, but they are experienced together with the relations between them - as a single image, integral picture of the world around me. But there are not only simultaneous, but also extended in time gestalt. Typical examples of temporal sensual gestalts are: perception of a melody, perception of words and phrases of audible speech, perception of movement, etc. From here follows some limited temporal nonlocality of our sensual “now”: this “now” is experienced not as an infinitely thin, “instantaneous” time “slice” of sensory experience, but as some relatively long interval of “visible presence”, covering, according to some estimates, the interval time of the order of several seconds (up to four seconds, in the auditory modality). Within this interval, successive elements of experience are directly perceived by the consciousness as a single whole, as a single image extended in time, a gestalt.
If the synchronic identity of my sensual actual “Self” at each moment “now” is nothing but internal (immanent to consciousness itself) unity of the actual experience (actual gestalt), then, obviously, similarly - as a unity, is also necessary to understand the temporal (diachronic) identity of “Self” at large time intervals that go beyond the sensual “now”. Just as the synchronous identity of the “Self” does not reducible to the similarity or causal connection of simultaneously experienced elements of consciousness (since they are not similar to each other and are not connected causally), but it is a unity of the diverse elements of consciousness, the diachronic identity of the “Self” is also it does not reduced to the similarity or causal relationship of successive states of consciousness - and there is as a manifestation of the super-temporal unity of consciousness. I am not only that I experience “now”, but also what I experienced earlier and will experience in the distant future. The temporal identity of “Self” in this case is nothing else than the temporal non-locality of my consciousness, in which different-time fragments of experience (relating to different “now”) are combined into a kind of insensitive temporal gestalt. Since we do not feel the past and future outside the “now” in a sensual form, we should talk about some kind of “supersensible” extra-temporal gestalt, in which the experience of the “now” somehow immanently correlates with what is not given sensually, what is outside the “now”, but there is a really “existing” past and my possible future experience.
How, then, do I directly experience this immanent correlation of sensory elements of the “now” with elements of the past and possible future of my experience? We assume that it is experienced as a phenomenon of meaning. Meaning is born when the object of understanding refers to certain contexts, correlates with some information, mostly contained in the past and partially in the possible future. I understand what is happening to me now, because this “now” is experienced by me as a direct continuation of what was previously in my experience and what probably awaits me in the future. At the same time, I, as a rule, do not notice any cognitive work of my consciousness on the “creation”, “construction” of meaning. The meaning of a situation or object is understood directly without any obvious extraction of information from memory or fantasies about the future. This, from our point of view, is explained by the fact that consciousness is “transparent” in the temporal direction - the past does not disappear from my consciousness when I have already lived it, and the future also does not arise from nothing, but somehow (in the system of alternatives) already "is" before I perceive it sensually. In other words, the meaning is the effect of temporal nonlocality of consciousness, because I really exist not only “now”, but in some insensitive way I am present both in my past and in the variants of my future, and this is the unity of the elements of my time-distributed experience is the basis for experiencing the meaning of what is happening in this “now” (see  for details).
If I really exist not only in the present, but also in the past and in the future, then does not fatalism follow from this, the predetermination of the events of my life? After all, from this point of view, my life, as a finished movie, exists at once in its entire length, as the totality of all the successive moments of my personal existence. In this case, my empirical temporal existence is like a time scan of individual frames of this preexisting “film of my life.” To avoid predestination, it is necessary to include in my “Self” not only my actual past, present and future experience, but also all options of my possible (alternative) past, present and future experience. My “Self” in this case is the totality of all my potential experience, existing as a single whole on the eternal plane of being. In other words, my real “Self” is everything that I can potentially (in different external circumstances) be able to feel, think, and experience in one way or another. All these possible variations of my mental life are already, as it were, potentially present in me in a kind of "implicit" form. Therefore, any of my changes, any turns of my destiny are not capable of taking me beyond the limits of my own “Self” - because in this “Self” all these possible variations of my experience are already contained in advance. But this “implicit” presence of my “possible” (virtual) life in me should be directly felt by me at every moment of time - in the form of certain components of meaning. The meaning is based not only on my present and past experience, but, to a large extent, on imaginary experience. It is this feature of the creation of meaning, we believe, that allows a person to distance himself from the existing sensory empirical reality and allows us to think about the world in a system of alternatives (in a “as if” modality) - which forms the basis of a purely human ability to create a culture.
The idea of temporal nonlocality of consciousness as the basis of the identity of the “Self” in time will not look something unnatural and impossible if we connect this with the concept of a 4-dimensional pseudo-Euclidean space-time continuum in the theory of relativity. Since the space-time continuum is divided into temporal and spatial components individually for each observer (the observer's world line in space-time identical with his time axis, and therefore, if the observers move relative to each other, their “time axis” will not be parallel), then we should think of physical time as something ontologically homogeneous with space, that is, as some statically existing time extent . In this picture, time is thought statically (the so-called “eternalism”, or the concept of “block-universe”) and the flow of time should be understood as the result of a consistent “reading” by the sensory consciousness of events during the “movement” of this consciousness along world line of the body of observer. In this case, the passage of time and the division into the present, past and future do not exist objectively, but only in the sensory perception of the observer - we perceive the world as if through a kind of "time slit” that glides along the preexisting time axis. The semantic component of consciousness, on the contrary, seems to be “spread out” along the entire time axis. Taking into account the quantum-mechanical picture of physical reality, we can evaluate as realistic the concept of the actual presence in me of the total possible (alternative) of my experience. Indeed, due to the quantum (wave) nature of reality, the world line of my body must continuously branch, encompassing all possible options for the action of my body in all kinds of (also infinitely branching) external conditions. At the level of sensory perception, consciousness chooses only one quantum alternative, making it perceived (and intersubjectively accessible to all individuals of our world), while sensory access to all other branches of quantum evolution is intersu- bjectively blocked. This act of selection of a quantum alternative corresponds to the phenomenon of reduction of the wave function (which, therefore, takes place only in intersubjective perception, and not as an objective phenomenon) . But at the level of meaning, consciousness is not selective - it deals with all branches of quantum reality at once and thus contains all the possible variations of my experience - all of which are my self-identical “Self.”
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