Jejudo, South Korea
From Danel Dennet's, Consciousness Explained, p. 428.
The need for self-knowledge extends beyond the problems of identifying the external signs of our own bodily movement. We need to know about our own internal states, tendencies, decisions, strengths, and weaknesses, and the basic methods of obtaining this knowledge is essentially the same: Do something and "look" to see what "moves." An advanced agent must build up practices for keeping track of both its bodily and "mental" circumstances. In human beings . . .those practices mainly incessant bouts of storytelling and story-checking, some of it factual and some of it fictional. . . . silently, tacitly, effortlessly keeping track of the difference between our fantasies and our "serious" rehearsals and reflections.
Okay, what is this process, and what is he talking about? From the title of the book, it should be easy to surmise that he is talking about consciousness but not consciousness as something inside your brain, or something spiritual, or something that can be pointed to. Consciousness then is the continual 'story', constantly revised, that we tell ourselves in our continual interaction with the environment. The center, the protagonist if you will, is not exactly there but the result of the process of the story-telling itself, it is as Dennet says, "a narrative center of gravity," the result of embodiment in the same way that a center of gravity is the result of the mass surrounding it.
The objection, in the form of a fictional character named Otto is this:
Otto: The trouble with centers of gravity is that they aren't real; they're theorists' fictions.
Dennet: That's not the trouble with centers of gravity; it's their glory. They are magnificent fictions, fictions anyone would be proud to have created. And the fictional characters of literature are even more wonderful. Think of Ishmael, in Moby-Dick. "Call me Ishmael" is the way the test opens, and we oblige. We don't call the text Ishmael, and we don't call Melville Ishmael. Who or what do we call Ishmael? We call Ishmael, Ishmael, the wonderful fictional character to be found in the pages of Moby-Dick. "Call me Dan", you hear from my lips, and you oblige, not by calling my lips Dan, or my body Dan, but be calling me Dan, the theorist's fiction created . . . well, not by me but by my brain, acting in concert over the years with my parents and siblings and friends.
. . .and I would add a host of other contingent, minor experiences that makes up the incredible narrative called you or me.
Is it right? I think it is. What does it mean? Well, I think it has tremendous consequences for certain areas of thinking and specifically philosophy but zero consequences in our day to day lives. A description of the self, or the 'I', does not replace the 'I''s importance, it only redescribes it. Since most of the time we happily use 'I' in the same way that we use a car; we don't really need a description of the engine to drive a car (We do when it breaks down of course), our day to day interactions with other people and things will go on much as it always has. On the other hand, one issue that might shift significantly is the importance of literature in people's lives, of narrative. There's a strong tendency to downplay literature in our lives, to focus and emphasize practical, hard-edged science and truth (analytical philosophy versus historical narrative) against mere fiction. If this is correct, our natural tendency to tell stories is not trivial, it is essential to interacting with the 'real' environment, to real situations. I think that renewed attention would be a good thing (as long as we don't consequently de-emphasize science, but I'm not worried about that).
I have a personal irony here, I remember when I first read Freud's "Interpretation of Dreams" and thought, "Well, it's a great way to read texts, but I don't see its value in understanding me. I'm not a text.
Well, if this is right . . .
Call me Brad.