What is I#

Preface#

These are my thoughts on the lecture “Myth of Myself” by Alan Watts.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C48hI9Qb2q4

I’m a big fan of Alan Watts and find his lectures fascinating. What I like most is how he segues from one topic to another in a continuous flow of his thought.

My take#

I want to combine philosophy of soul and “I” with software engineering. In particular, with the concept of Entity and Value, as they are introduced in Domain-Driven Development.

Entities underscore the essence of identity, value objects encapsulate immutability and lack of a distinct identity.

For example nails in a box are represented by their amount. They have attributes such as length and mark of steel, but these attributes are immutable (for the sake of software modelling). Entities, on the other hand, are unique. For example, users of a web service. They have attributes as well, but these attributes can change over time without affecting the identity of the user.

For our purposes let’s say that user’s identity is defined by a unique primary key. It doesn’t matter whether the key is a sequential integer or a long random string. The main point is that users of the system never interact with the primary key. In fact, they never see it. The primary key is internal to the system and never exposed outside.

A user can change their email, username, password, phone number, any external attribute. But their identity won’t be affected, it still their account, even if nothing is the same as a day ago.

Now, let’s make a leap into philosophy. Let’s say that we (people) are the users, and “I” is this internal primary key, which defines our identity, but is never exposed to us. We can change our attributes, but our identity remains the same. We can change our views, mood, we constantly alter our memories and gain new knowledge, while forgetting things we don’t need. My point is that this is getting pretty close to common perception of “I” or soul. “I” which has desires and needs, has body an mind, but is not the same as any of them.

I can replace a body part, such as an arm or heart, but I will still be myself. Where it gets confusing is the brain, of course. If my brain is replaced by someone elses, I won’t feel like myself. At the same time, if my brain is transplanted into another body, “I” will move to that body, too.

So “I” is anchored inside of the brain. Which means that it’s essence is in the way the synapses are interconnected. What if we make a surgery and sever part of the connections? If the injury is not serious, it won’t affect my perception of myself. I might lose some knowledge and skills, or an ability to feel some emotions. Would I still be me? Or would it be someone else?

What about a patient in a hospital with a dead brain, connected to a machine that pumps blood and oxygen? It’s still the same person, their identity didn’t disappear or change. Their mind is gone, but the internal primary remains.

Conclusion#

I don’t know where I go with this. There’s definitely some overlap between the concepts of entity and “myself” (or soul). I like how it’s inaccessible (unobservable) to us, so we can make whatever we want out of it.