by Gerry Canavan
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.
- Highway hypnosis.
- Low blood sugar.
- Brain tumors.
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.
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