January 27th, 2010 by Edward Miller

Who Am I? | paurian
Who Am I? | paurian
Pretty early on in my philosophical journey I decided that I was a pantheist, of the naturalist sort. Pantheism is all about the one-ness and unity of everything… and I do mean everything.

Considering this mindset, it should be no wonder why I recently came to the conclusion that we might all be manifestations of a single consciousness.  I was recently alerted that the philosopher Daniel Kolak wrote a book on this very concept called I Am You. This idea may not sound intuitive to most people, especially the rugged individualists of the West, but it is arguably just as valid as our usual working assumption that we are all separate entities.

Consciousness is sort of like a black hole, and we really have no idea what it is. Some speculate that black holes are really worm holes connecting two different points, and perhaps even other universes. If that is the case, we have no way of knowing that with our current evidence. However, let us assume we somehow found out that they were worm holes. We still wouldn’t know if they were all connecting to the same place or different places, since we cannot travel inside.

That is a good analogy, in my opinion, to this argument. By positing the I Am You argument, I am not necessarily saying this is True, but that it is equally valid (or equally invalid) as the hypothesis that there are separate consciousnesses, since we cannot penetrate the minds of others.

Considering the impenetrability of other minds, for all I know, everyone could be a p-zombie.  Likewise, considering our necessity to rely on sensory information to gain any knowledge about the physical world, it is possible that the universe is just a figment of my imagination.  I can’t say precisely how unlikely these possibilities are. Yet, I intuit that it is quite unlikely considering the apparent difficulty and irrationality in simulating an entire universe in fine detail simply for the purpose of tricking me. Thus, in all likelihood other beings exist and are indeed conscious, but whether they all share one consciousness or separate consciousnesses is equally unknowable.

Techies might like this analogy. If you are looking at two computers sitting side by side, without looking at the code there is no way to know if the applications running on them are locally hosted or are cloud applications. They could still be accessing the same cloud app even if the screens look different, because of customization.

Doug Hofstadter’s argument that we are all strange loops is a potential candidate for that low-level pattern which we all share. Recursion is a pretty simple concept. I could see the recursive pattern manifesting itself with varying degrees of intensity or even in crazy ways or non-human ways… but that recursivity is still there. If recursion creates this thing (consciousness) that is greater than the sum of its parts, it seems silly to claim that the consciousness exists only at a particular location in space. Since we can hardly even place a locality on it, why must we assume everyone’s consciousness is different?

Physics is strange with quantum particles being able to influence each other from across the universe through a process called Quantum Entanglement. Furthermore all matter exerts a gravitational pull on all other matter no matter far away it is. Why must we assume that this very mysterious thing, consciousness, must have a precise location in space? Quantum mechanics seems to indicate that what we think we know about space and time is not really accurate. Considering this, I can easily imagine us all being intimately connected, just as the stars, qubits, and all the matter are connected.

Here is a thought experiment. If the universe/multiverse is infinite and there is another organization of atoms somewhere out in the universe that is in the exact same organization as the atoms in your brain, then unless you reject the possibility of continuous consciousness, your consciousness could exist simultaneously in multiple places without being aware of one another… just as they could in the I Am You hypothesis.

Kolak gives another example that came up in a discussion with Derek Parfit. There are “split-brain” people who have a malfunctioning corpus callosum and thus have two streams of consciousness that are unaware of each other. Are they really two separate people if all that separates their awareness of one another is a malfunctioning corpus callosum? Perhaps all of us are in a similar predicament and we are all really the same person, we just don’t know it.

I had previously speculated that forming some sort of global brain would be the ultimate expression of the will to Embrace Unity, but if we are indeed all a single consciousness, then we are already a global brain, we just don’t know it. How then could we go about repairing our collective corpus callosum? I think the Unity of Consciousness argument has a beautiful aesthetic quality to it, and could have positive implications for bridging the egoist-utilitarian divide. If I Am You, then even the most selfish person would logically have to become a utilitarian.

Its conceptual beauty doesn’t make it true, clearly. But, at minimum, it casts some light on the unfounded nature of even our most basic assumptions by which we operate. Be it Time, Space, Free Will, Identity, we really haven’t a clue. To hedge your bets… be more compassionate.

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