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Four Reasons Why 'You' Don't Exist...

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Burden of Proof

by Gerry Canavan
Backwards City

More Reasons Why You, The Reader, Don't Exist

1. Unitary consciousness is an illusion.

As Daniel Dennett explains at length in Consciousness Explained, what you mistakenly think of as a single voice of consciousness inside your head is actually a massive series of independent, diverse, subconscious, and often conflicting impulses that combine into the false impression that someone is actually behind the wheel. But there is no one driving; there is no "you."

In fact, in many cases the choices you "make" and the sensations you "experience" are ex post facto rationalizations for reflex actions you have already taken. By the time your brain realizes the pan is hot, you've already moved your hand away. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of dreams, which appear to take place over minutes or even hours but in fact don't actually occur at all. Your dreams are, in reality, narratives you make up after the fact to explain the otherwise random impulses of the REM dreamstate.

You never actually dream -- you just imagine that you did upon waking. Or consider the corpus-callosotomy, in which the corpus callosum that separates the two hemispheres of the brain is surgically divided. When the two hemispheres can no longer communicate, they both exhibit characteristics of independent personality, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as split brain. Some neurologists believe the different hemispheres exhibit the split-brain characteristics even when the corpus callosum is intact; we just don't notice, because only the left brain can talk.

2. Continuity of consciousness is an illusion.

You think of your brain as something that's a part of you and yet not-you. Not so. In the sense that we conventionally speak of personality, of personal identity, there is no such thing. The idea that you have anything like a soul, that there is any aspect of your mental existence that is independent of your material brain-state, is a medievalist's delusion. There is only your brain. And as your brain changes, you change, without your even noticing.

Tomorrow, in seven years, in seventeen years, when you are seventy, your brain will be different and thus you will be different -- but nevertheless you will insist that you are in some essential sense the same person you are now. You will be, as usual, wrong. The only connection between you and that person will be that you have the same name, maybe own some of the same junk, and misremember similar memories. But it will not be "you," because the same "you" do not exist from hour to hour, much less from day to day or year to year.

Are you the same person when you are in a good mood as you are when you are in a bad mood? The same person in and out of love? How about before and after lunch? The tumor that will subtly alter your personality, making you unrecognizable to your friends and family and completely changing the way you experience the world, may already be growing in your cerebral cortex.

    3. The burden of proof.

    Okay, you think you exist, now prove it.

    Browse other reasons why 'You' don't exist:

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    Written by

    Gerry Canavan
    Backwards City


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    Anonymous Wally Glutton said...

    "You never actually dream -- you just imagine that you did upon waking."

    What about lucid dreams?

    February 15, 2006 10:05 PM    

    Blogger daksya said...

    Like Alan Watts said, the biggest ego trip going around now [1960's] is getting rid of it.

    Self is denoted a meaning that is not made explicitly clear because its referent is taken for granted. Because of this, there are actually two referents which are conflated by the lexical token 'self'.

    This equivocation leads to the use of bait & switch in these self-riddance arguments.

    The two meanings defined:

    1)the experiant i.e. the one who experiences (only this should be labeled 'self')

    2)the objects of consciousness thought to constitute self-representation i.e. this is my body, brain, hand.. and that is your body, brain, hand. The experiant has thoughts whose content is that certain persisting (quasi)stable perceptual data (sight of body, kinesthetic feel of hand) indicate that these constitute the self, but they are just objects of consciousness and subject to change like all other objects.

    February 19, 2006 5:54 AM    

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    If I don't exist, then whom are you talking to?


    March 16, 2006 12:59 AM    

    Blogger I am America.... said...

    The burden of proof thing at the end is cute, but...

    If I didn't exist, then I wouldn't be able to attempt to prove anything, or even to think I existed in the first place. Further your language would be meaningless in that it would have no referent.

    April 30, 2008 2:55 AM    

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    you guys are only disproving that you don't exist but your not proving that you do exist. but thats the wierd thing you get stuck on the idea that i think there for i am. but you aren't because of this an everything else so how do you exist but don't and why do i know i think i know i exist and now why do i now think i don't exist and how can i think i don't exist because i am thinking proves that i exist existance GAA IT DOESN"T WORK

    August 22, 2008 2:57 AM    

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