The Riddle of the Self
MAN AND HIS THOUGHT
This is how it was in the history of the species. But what about the history of the individual?
For the newborn child the world is not immediately something external. At first the warmth of its mother's caresses, the peaceful rocking of the cradle, the sweetness of milk are all part of its inner life-activity. It is not even aware of having a relation to the outside world.
But the “little ball of living flesh” grows daily and hourly and responds to external stimuli with increasingly complex movements of its bodily organs. It seems to reach out to flows of light, to air waves, to the touch of human hands. Thanks to the inherited organisation of its body it is able to accept or reject external influences. And from the very beginning the mother's sympathy becomes part of the intricate network of its instinctive relations with the world. The child's mastery of its environment is regulated by adults in accordance with their notions of what it needs.
Added to this, the organism's life-activity becomes connected with the historically shaped structure of human relations. The external world detected by movements of the child's organism was shaped long before the child's appearance on the scene. It presents itself to the child as a world in which every action relates people to one another, every object has its purpose, and even the most elementary, most natural goals can be achieved only with the help of specially adapted objects.
Even an individual need, as the first stimulus to this or that action, is formed, determined by the social means of its satisfaction. The social and the individual are literally identified in human life-activity. The most natural, biological needs (sleeping, eating, etc.) always take the form of a need for the objects of social life. The pillow for the head, the blanket, the baby's bottle, its clothes, all these objects are assimilated by movements of the organism as necessary factors of its life-activity. Each is designed for its social purpose and no matter what the baby's hand reaches for or where its eyes wander, everything regulates and guides its activity in accordance with the rules of human life and intercourse evolved by society.
So it is that the child becomes part of the “language of real life”, where people in communicating with each other constantly use objects as “symbols” of their needs, abilities, will, etc., where objects therefore regulate the relations between people, inform them of their purposes. We already know that the mastering of social objects in the process of their purposeful rise means mastering their objective essence. This should not be misinterpreted. The child does not understand the essence of things. It simply utilises it in its experience by mastering the practical purpose of the object. Here the decisive role is played by the relations between adults and their attitude to the child. Only if the child's actions are consciously and purposefully guided do things acquire a certain meaning for it. And not only things. People themselves, their actions, their attitudes come to have meaning as well.
Learning the purpose of things is possible only as a moment in the interrelation with other people, as a moment of social relations. The skills, habit of purposeful action with objects evolved only as the practical realisation of the relation with adults. Only when action with an object is realised for others and links the child with them, when the action is continued and approved of by adults, only then does it become the child's own action, individual and fully mastered.
Skills or habits in handling objects and in relations with adults, the images of things, personal impressions are preserveed, joined together and, as it were, stay around, ready to repeat themselves at the first demand of the situation. The memory, which unites all past experience in an integral inner world, constantly reacts to new impressions. Past experience combines with the sense organs in reacting to the objects around us. So it is not the excitation or inhibition of neuroses in the cerebral cortex but the skills or habits of active perception of things, of acting with their help, that evaluate every new impression. The automatic habits of action with objects, invisibly present in the process of perception, are superimposed on the unusual. shape of a new object, thus testing the possibility of handling it in this or that way and discovering its objective-practical purpose. And just as any desire (need) on the part of a social being is a need for objects created by society. So is the individual action motivated by a social need always in principle calculated to receive the support and approval of other people.
In childhood this appears in the most direct and obvious forms. By the action of crying the baby demands that its parents should feed it, change its bedding, and so on. Its every movement reaches out to people, every movement is addressed to them. The organism's whole life-activity is formed as activity realised together with other people. as social interdependence. Whatever the inner, personal stimuli, the action itself always means something objectively for other people.
In these first steps the patterns of movement of speech organs are also formed and contribute their specific coordinatory functions. These functions are shaped not by biological laws as such. The child's active and purposeful participation in human social relations regulated by speech is what stimulates the organism to learn the phonetic system of the language, which incidentally is no simple matter.
The “thing”, sound envelope of a word is in extremely complex object and the child has to put in a lot of effort to reproduce it. It is one long fight with obstacle after obstacle. The delightfully amusing talk of a two-year-old is a stage in its duel with the language of grown-ups. Watch a child puffing and blowing as it learns to climb the stairs. Marking time or trying to put both feet forward first, it slowly and uncertainly finds its way to the top. But it may be even more difficult to master the word “stairs”. “Shtairs”, “Sez”, “sairs” ... Luckily this word doesn't involve coping with the treacherous “th” or “w”.
These efforts are certainly not made merely for the love of trying. The same objective necessity that makes the child climb stairs brings it constantly into contact with other people forcing it to utter sound combinations with a definite purpose which is thus objectified for him in the sound combination itself.
No, sound is not the deputy of representation, of image. It carries meaning in itself. The sound itself compels the parent to act as the child expects. The sound is the social “thing” that the child masters to achieve its own personal aim. Personal interest, an inner need forces it to utter the right sound at the right time. It is just as much a matter of necessity as picking up a spoon. The spoon itself means something with which people eat. The sound combination “give” means something with which one gets what one wants.
When the purpose of the object with the help of adults and their words is learned through the child's own actions, the sounds of which these words are composed become a more important and significant reality than the object itself. The meaning of the object lives far more actively in the speech of adults, in their demands, instructions and so on, than in the heavy, movable objects themselves. Even a real chair is only “what people sit on” because the grown-ups call it so. The word's sound envelope carries a definite meaning indicating the practical purpose of the object.
In childhood (and not only in childhood) we all unconsciously adopt Platonic positions. That which a word calls upon us to do, that which it means for us in real, concrete relations with other people is the prime factor in regulating our behaviour, defining our attitude to the world. Since we already know that the meaning of a word is the practical meaning of things, phenomena, processes of the objective world mediated by the whole structure of language, “Platonism” (the apparent separation of the idea, the essence of a thing from the thing itself and treatment of the word and its meaning as reality) holds no fears for us. It is clear to us why the real significance of a word begins to run ahead of the personal sensuous assimilation of the thing the word indicates.
The living, constantly functioning system of sound combinations draws the child into its orbit, and every sound is not merely repeated but appears with strict regularity just when it is expected from the sense of the situation. It is always in strict order, necessarily interwoven with other sounds, and each of them and all of them together are essential components of action.
The sound of words, naturally linked with characteristic actions, is gradually assimilated by the child as something that has an independent meaning. The point is that, although they cannot be related to this or that concrete object, they already guide actions with objects and, above all, actions with other sound combinations reproducing the practical relations between people and objects. The logic of the linguistic framework and the structure of the language demand certain sound combinations when one has to orient oneself in an objective situation or when it is replaced by a linguistic situation. But in all cases the use of the logic, of language, the rise of the inseparable connection between the sound envelopes of words and their lexical meaning, is experienced by the individual and realised for definite purposes.
In the actions of individuals, in their sensuous-practical relation to the world of things and thing meanings and in relation to one another, the relatively independent system of language is gradually corrected by practice, and correlated with the “language of real life”. Separating language, words from action. from the individual's sensuous-practical relation to reality means regarding language as a closed and absolutely independent system in which symbols possess only the meaning determined by the formal rules governing their combinations. But the point is that the individual always uses symbols in a real, objective situation, organising joint action, helping to achieve a common aim. The constant interpenetration of word and action, their constant mutual conditioning test the coincidence of their meanings for the life-activity of society.
As the child's relationship to the world develops, external objects and experience of its bodily states through the use of words become conceptual, conscious. When it sees its own experience and the objective world through the prism of the experience of generations, of society as a whole, it acquires the ability to correlate its experience with the meaning implied by the words of the national language, which reproduce what is fundamental, essential and necessary in the perceived objects.
By assimilating the external world through its movements, by relying on the social meaning of things, the little ball of living flesh begins to see the world outside itself. It starts to treat itself as “I”, as “My self”, as the subject of perception, as a person. And by using the objective meanings of things, the necessary and essential discovered by people through practice and thus transformed into the independent meanings of words, by correlating these meanings with the meanings of its own and group actions, this person sees the essence, of things and comes to understand its relation to them. The universal (social) meaning of the objects he is now dealing with, constantly revealed in his living intercourse with other people, is directly represented (objectified) in the means of intercourse and the first among these means, the freest and best suited to the “pure universality” of our Something is language. It is language that constantly participates in converting the perception and understanding of the external object into self-awareness and self-consciousness.
When defining the state of self-awareness we run into a contradiction. The external object appears to us in the internal movement of the sense organs, but the experience of the movement of life-activity itself, is, unlike the object, the organism's sensing of itself. So it works out that one and the same state of the organism is both the registering of in object external to it, and the self-assessment of the given state.
How does this come about? Let us take any perception. It may seem that we are concerned with only one, unbroken movement, for example, the movement of the fraud over the surface of all object. But this only seems so. In order to feel the object, the hand does not merely obey the orders coming from outside, from the object itself. The organism, above all, the central nervous system also guides this movement. In the process of feeling an object the physiologically established habits of past experience have a feedback connection with the tactile receptors of the hand. The brain coordinates every new movement as it transmits signals to the motor muscles. Without such coordination the hand would remain helplessly suspended after the first contact with the object.
But what makes the brain coordinate each new movement? The universal, social meaning inherent in words and objectified in their material organisation. The hand touches the object. At once all the actions of which it is capable, which it has performed before, established in its physiological structure and shaped in the process of past experience, guide its further movements over the surface of the object. At the same time the object itself guides the hand's movement. The identification of informative points (the object's peculiarities) are assessed by all past habits; they are “cold”, “smooth”, etc. The hand glides over the surface, reproducing its shape, its image. And the object is felt as something under the hand and not depending on the hand, although it is the hand that feels it. Constant correlation of the given movement with past habits “represents” the movement to these habits and makes it the object of assessment, testing and coordination. And just as the meaning of the object identifies it as the thing under the hand, so the movement of the hand over the object is felt as something distinct from the object, as my movement, as life-activity of which I am aware. Such a duality is always involved in the integrated process of perception.
In his last “dream” of the Kurshskaya Sand Bar the author argued with an imaginary pupil of Bertrand Russell's. The argument was based on the British philosopher's theories that are known to anyone who has read his History of Western Philosophy. Yet another objection that Russell could have raised against the propositions developed here, may be borrowed from his book on human knowledge. I have not yet mentioned this objection. And deliberately so.
Now the time has come to resume the argument and conclude it. Once again I shall envisage my indignant opponent who has now decided to deliver the most telling blow against the “utilitarian philosophy of the cavalry officer”. (Incidentally, it is a curious fact that Alfred Whitehead in 1911, when working with Russell on the fundamental problems of mathematical logic, wrote: “It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books, and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilisation advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle-they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses and must only be made at decisive moments.” Russell's friend and co-author compares thinking (which one would imagine to be a calm, careful operation) with a cavalry charge, rightly believing that there are many operations (or impulsive actions enabling us to avoid obstacles) that we perform with the help of firmly established habits or skills.
And now let's go back to the old dream. I picture a lecture room, a blackboard, a table, bookshelves and our old acquaintance, the Pupil, for some reason with a piece of chalk in his hand.
Pupil. But your explanation of the mechanism of dreaming gives no answer to the fundamental question that should be asked: what programmes the cerebral cortex that transmits to the sense organs the impulses that set them in motion?
Author. No answer, you say? I'm not so sure. It seems to me that it does. But if you haven't noticed the answer, it's probably my fault. I didn't make my point clearly enough. It got lost in these endless arguments, digressions and comparisons that I have been using in vain apparently – to get my ideas across. But there is one thing I am quite sure of. The question you say ought to have been stated has been stated. And stated most definitely and clearly.
Pupil. But no answer to it has been given. And without an answer to this crucial question all your arguments amount to no more than rhetorical questions.
Author. Excuse me, but Spinoza showed us a long time ago that thinking, as an attribute of substance, is the reproduction in the spatial movement of one of its “modes” (man) of the real forms of all its other modes. In other words, everything that exists for man as his external world, everything that is found, felt, repeated, reproduced, in the movement of human life-activity, treats every new image as a problem. The brain is only control post of this activity; the activity follows the logic of the world itself. And the difficult “questions” not automatically solved by this “logic” but occurring in it as the clashing and disharmony of images external to man, their objective meanings, create their own internal semantic conflict that can be solved only by creatively clanging the images themselves. The laws of biochemistry, electricity, excitation and inhibition, the storing and emission of impulses in the neurons, and so on, which operate in the brain as a spatial body, are not responsible for the way an arithmetical, philosophical or everyday problem is solved. The image and meaning of a real objective event that happens outside the brain and its objective contradiction in relation to other, equally real facts of existence compel the person who calls himself “I” to change them by groping for and finding in their incipient movement a new objective image in which they are coordinated.
This is why we say that human life-activity is a reflection of nature, its self-cognition, self-evaluation and self-development. That is what I'm getting at!
The brain sends command impulses to the sense organs. “Who programmes the brain?” you ask. A very right and proper question. Right, because without an answer to that question the whole discussion about the nature of the human Self, the Ego is inevitably and rather dishonestly replaced by descriptions of “the neurophysiological mechanisms processing information” addressed to no one knows who.
(Here, I have a feeling that a third person who has evidently been listening to us attentively enters the discussion. As often happens in dreams, he appears quite suddenly without causing any surprise. He was there and listening all the time, his intervention was only to be expected. And as this Third Person goes on talking he gradually pushes the Pupil into the background.)
Third Person (addressing the Author). You have been talking very enthusiastically but you are going too fast and too far. I'm not sure I have understood you correctly. Let me sum up. On the one hand, if I understand you rightly, the mysteries of nature (its “difficult problems”) solve themselves, as it were, obeying only their internal logic. And this is the wore likely to happen, the more the images of natural phenomena, which exist in us as the ways in which the organs of our life-activity move, are free of their objective, material connection with the real processes happening outside us. In solving the conflicts inherent in these images themselves (or the objects themselves, which you treat as almost the same thing), the brain performs only a “motor” function and has no relation to the content of the conflict or to the actual finding of ways of solving it. It would also appear that all neuro-physiological states and actions are bound to occur in obedience to the self-developing logic of the objective meaning of perceived and comprehended images. The brain is commanded by the mind (if, like you, we understand mind as an integral organic system of movement of images of the external world and their objective meanings, which the movement of the organism discovers and establishes as existing outside itself). It is the mind that is responsible for what happens in the neurodynamic systems of the brain. That is all part of my first point. I have some other points to raise, but I should like to know whether I have understood you correctly.
Author. Well, on the whole, yes. But the funny thing is that your question throws into relief the unclear part of what I have been trying to say. I was in a hurry to convince you. So I took, so to speak, just the straight approach to the problem: external objects – person finding these objects outside him, reproducing their real images in the movement of his organs – contradiction between the images (their failure to coordinate), and, finally, person's search, efforts to change the images so as to coordinate them. In doing so I overemphasised that the stimulus to seek and the direction of the search were dependent not on the mechanisms of the brain, but on the content of the objective contradiction between “images” (objects). And while I still don't know whether you have accepted this aspect of the problem, you suddenly show me another aspect of the problem without which my whole argument does begin to seem even to me more than strange. I did not quite take into account the point you have just made. I was anxious to develop my own line. But I'm dreaming. So who is arguing with me?
Third Person. I am, of course. And I'm the one who does not agree with you in principle. The way you put things, it is nature itself that solves all its “problems” while man is just a kind of mirror in which nature finds it convenient to reflect them, and for the sake of clarity brings its trends and phenomena into conflict there in their pure form, so to speak. Or to put it another way, man is something like this blackboard, and you and I are opposite tendencies in natural processes writing out different opinions on it so as to later reach agreement. The blackboard (man, his consciousness) naturally takes no part in Nature's debate with itself. And I solemnly declare here and now that I'm against this conception. That's my second point, I am a human being, I can think for myself and I won't let you turn me into a passive, indifferent blackboard or mirror, passively reflecting conflicts going on outside me and even resolving themselves without my participation. My brain resolves these conflicts and that's why it's a human brain, a creatively thinking brain.
Author. Well, that's up to you. But there's devilry here somewhere. Just like in Dostoyevsky. All I can do is recognise you as the devil and continue the conversation ´ là Ivan Karamazov.
Third Person. What have Karamazov and the devil to do with it? And there's no point in bringing up Dostoyevsky either. Please, don't change the subject. Is man a tabula rasa, a clean blackboard, a screen for projections, a mirror, or is he a creator, a demiurge, a genius?
Author. All right, let's leave Dostoyevsky out of it. But wait a minute! Dostoyevsky was a creator, a demiurge, a genius. Dostoyevsky was a man, a human being and not merely the mirror of natural conflicts. Why do you insist that there is nothing or no one in man that can be a genius except the substance (structure, functions) of the brain? Nature is genius, but it is a genius only in man. With surprising accuracy you have hit upon the thought I was trying to express about the contradiction in the object itself as the cause and stimulus of thought in the subject, about the contradiction whose objective content sets the direction of the mental search for its solution. Yes, that's it! The brain as such is responsible for how the problem is solved only when the problem – is solved, when the creative activity of thought is not needed, when there is no need, as Whitehead put it, for cavalry charges, for flashes of insight. The standard pattern, the mechanical effect of habit is enough. If the brain is “out of order”, the standard pattern, the stereotype doesn't work and the results of the brain's “miscalculation” of the alternatives come into conflict with both the terms of the problem and the stereotype results that should have been obtained. But even the brain has to work in a new way when an objective contradiction reproduced in the movement of thought demands creative, non-stereotype solutions. But this “departure” from the normal working of the brain is caused by the need to find something new in the objects of our life-activity. But there are other departures from the norm. A schoolboy, for instance, who has overloaded his brain with passively memorised facts stands up in class in the morning and can't remember the next line after Lermontov's “Faster than the deer did Garun run...... All he can think of is problems in geometry. Is it only the brain that is at fault in that case? Or is it....
Third Person. Now you're off at a tangent again! Can't you make up your mind who does the creative thinking – Nature in us or we in Nature?
Author. We, of course. Don't get so excited. Let's think this out calmly, taking the schoolboy as an example, supposing he is writing an essay. The various subjects are chalked on the blackboard. He chooses one of them: “Gorky as the Stormy Petrel of the Revolution”. He thinks over the events of Gorky's life, remembers seine of the lines from the Stormy Petrel, the characters of his novel The Mother and so on. The content of the subject is real history, what actually happened long before our schoolboy was born, what flashed into the writer's consciousness and acquired new life in his prose and poetry. What will guide the schoolboy, what will make him write? The command impulses to the muscles, coming from the cortex? Yes, the muscles of his hand will be guided by impulses. Here they go: “The year 1905...... The muscles of the hand, the muscles of the fingers have moved the pen across the paper. But why does this figure and not some other figure appear?
Third Person. I understand you. Of course, one could say that the neurons store the facts of history, the facts about Gorky's works. The flow of information is switched on by the external stimulus – the subject written up on the blackboard – and sends a coded message to the hand muscles, which reproduce it (in decoded form, in words and figures) on a clean sheet of paper. But I won't say that. I quite see how naive it is to play patience with a lot of terminology. You and I are not interested in machines for preset reproduction of the information stored in them. We were talking about genius. I realise that thinking is creativity, a new vision of something past. But isn't the brain built in such a way that it can recombine the past in a new form?
Author. Why should it?
Third Person. Why?
Author. Why should it combine the past in a new form? There would have to be some cause, some stimulus that would make it reshuffle its store of information?
There are only two possible answers to that question. Either the stimulus is an attribute of the brain itself (it just can't calmly reproduce on demand what was fed into it in coded form by the sense organs. It has to recombine everything it stores because of its “creative instincts”). Or else the stimulus to carry out all the “reshuffling” operations is in the information itself.
Third Person. No question about that. Of course, it's in the information. Your schoolboy, admittedly, may prove to be a well-tuned machine for producing the expected stereotype transformations of the teacher's “input”. And he may have chosen the subject because he knows exactly what words are expected and in what order. Perhaps his quotations are already prepared, the standard superlatives well rehearsed, and the likely spelling mistakes already noted. But you are right to take the example of a schoolboy. Only not the one I have just described. Let him be an interesting person. You say he has just written: “The year 1905. . . .”
Author. Actually that beginning is rather a stereotype. Still, we won't be too exacting.
Third Person. Yes, that's understood. Well, the boy's hand is moved by something in the problem itself, in the actual subject of the essay. And you said that there were only two possible answers to my question (1) the brain is so built that it produces information creatively reprocessed or (2) the objective contradiction between the external objects felt by movements of the organism is the “stimulus” to create. The first I indignantly reject because I don't want to be a machine, even one that produces its own rehashing of the information input. I don't want to be the slave of my own “design”. I want my “design” to help me to be free in achieving a thought-out solution of external circumstances that can be realised in life and change those circumstances in accordance with their own nature. And for that – here you are quite right – the stimulus determining the direction and content of my inquiry must be the objects themselves. But the trouble is that even this second (and you only allow two) of your alternatives does not save your lad writing his essay from the purely passive function of registering external contradictions. Just think! The 1905 revolution in Russia, class antagonism at its peak. Wavering and vacillation among the liberal intelligentsia. Gorky boldly raising the banner of struggle. One can choose a direct, impressive way of beginning the essay: “The year 1905. . .” Or some other beginning. But if the objective problems of the subject are reproduced in our essayist's consciousness and they are the stimuli of his creativity, these problems do not themselves produce the solutions. He does that. But then “he” is the third alternative that you have ruled out by saying there are only two. And in doing so you have “buried” the main point in our question. The very question you were just asked: “Who programmes the cerebral cortex?”
And the answer comes of its own accord: he, the thinking subject. But then we are back at the beginning. Your answer – the contradictions in the objects themselves – is only an apparent answer. Let the brain receive contradictory information from outside, but the impulses that it sends along the effector channels are impulses that solve the contradictions. So according to you it appears that the brain itself does not solve contradictions; the solution is prompted by the objects, by the “semantic conflict” implied in them. But then our schoolboy creatively writing his essay is really writing from a crib cleverly devised to fit the problem. The problem solves itself and all the schoolboy has to do is to note the fact and write it down. Any individual colouring in his “creative work” depends only on his personal experience, certain unique associations that happen to arise in his consciousness. He is no genius. A mere mirror reflector, concretising in himself the objects or images of the external world and combining them in a new way, but as they insist on being combined. There's your “nature in us”! I don't think much of your theorising.
Well, I don't sleep well after such a bout of criticism. Particularly when I realise that my opponent's indignation is justified. Perhaps it was my discomfiture that made me wake up.
There really is some kind of devilry in this! What a dream to have! The way he pitched into me. How dare he? Calls himself a critic. Who was he anyway?
Like my friend from the sad short story of the previous dream, he never existed. But if that was someone inexplicably dear to me, this other one, this opponent, this controversialist – why should I dream about him? What strange questions one asks oneself on waking up! Why did I dream about him? Do any of us know why we dream certain things?
But what he said was quite reasonable. He contested my view and I couldn't answer him. On the whole, I must admit that what he said sounded convincing. Damn it all! What he said was something I never thought of myself either in dreams or reality. I did not have time to tell anyone about the view I was developing in my dream and, of course, had not heard any objections from anyone. So it looks as if there is someone inside me, listening to my thoughts and criticising them. I was looking for the answer to the question. “What am I?” And now there turns out to be someone else, this “he”, this “third person”. Why, the third? Oh, of course, there was that Pupil, he was the second. No, not the schoolboy, that was only an example. I mean Bertrand Russell's pupil. But that was all quite straightforward. I dreamed of him as a substitute for a perfectly real critic, his teacher. And I could have read the words of the Pupil in reality, in books existing outside and independently of me. I did not dream them up. Yes, the second person was the real objections of a perfectly real person.
So we find that the problem under discussion (“Who programmes the cortex?”) objectively contains a contradiction. I presented one side of the contradiction in saying that the programming is done by the objective world which the individual finds outside him and which is reproduced in the movements of his life-activity. The other side, so it seemed to me, lies in the actual framing of the mind-body problem as a problem of the nature of consciousness.  According to the very logic of this problem the mental, mind, is produced either by a movement occurring in the brain or is not produced at all because it has always existed since time began as mental substance. I have shown that this alternative arises only when the theoretician considers bodies interacting in space. The brain is a body and there are only bodies. Bodies interact. There is no thought in other bodies, so it must arise in the body of the brain under the influence of other bodies acting upon it.
I rejected this second side of the contradiction and pointed out the historical origin of the method of theorising that reduces the world of objects to the spatial interaction of bodies. I myself have tried through philosophical arguments to develop the opposite side of the contradiction, which reveals the process of the origin, development and functioning of human thought (which turns man's attitude to the world into a conscious relation) precisely as a process taking place in real historical time and through real historically developed means of human intercourse and activity.
This was how I reproduced one of the contradictions of the problem of the Self. And then a really existing person finds the internal contradiction in my case and puts the question: “But who programmes the cortex?” This astute question contained a twist that I had not noticed.
The pupil of Russell's that I dreamed of literally repeated his question and I answered it just as I had thought the answer should be in my waking hours. And when I answered I did not realise that he and I personified two sides of a new problem. It seemed to me that I was a hundred per cent right, so there was no need for the Pupil or his objections. But then a Third Person appeared in my dream and started pulling to pieces my “impregnable” position. How he did it, you will remember, so there is no need for me to repeat his argument.
The important point is that now I no longer find my position invulnerable. The Third Person has shown clearly enough that my case is not waterproof. But he didn't offer any positive solution either. He merely demonstrated the one-sidedness and incompleteness of my “solution”. Russell's works did not contain the arguments used by this Third Person. Nor do mine. Where did they come from?
But what if this Third Person is, after all, me? He is my dream, my vision, a glance at my own logic as if from the side. Don't we all argue with ourselves all the time? Are we incapable of seeing our own arguments from the side? Don't we evaluate, judge our own actions? After all, the situation in my dream is, if you like, the typical situation of any thinking.
No, it's not a matter of solving a stereotype problem with a known algorithm and a few new facts to be fed into the computer. We are concerned here with the thinking that, as Whitehead put it, is like a cavalry charge and is performed only when the problem cannot be solved according to a stereotype. I see one side of the question and there is another side that I can't accept. But then a Third Person appears and finds a contradiction in my view of the matter. This Third Person is myself, looking at my own work from the side.
Let's take an example from everyday life. You are hurrying to work. You know the way and are guided by habit. Your actions are automatic: a five-kopek piece for the Metro fare, down the escalator, then without thinking you turn a corner, that will bring you to a convenient door of the train for coming out at the other end. Your eyes scan the newspaper headlines. The train rumbles, the pneumatic door hisses and opens in front of you, and so on. You simply aren't thinking about where you have to go. But then a voice comes over the public address system. Owing to repairs, Oktyabrskaya Station is closed, passengers are advised to change at Prospekt Mira.
Oh, what a nuisance! Why change there? It's on the other side of town. I'll go to Turgenevskaya, and there... No, wait a minute, why go to Turgenevskaya? I had better try Novokuznetskaya. It's closer, and then... Yes, but then I'll have to make two changes...
And here we have all the characters in my dream. Here am I, Ego, who knows the way to work. Here is the Pupil – he tells me by radio that this time I won't be able to go that way. And, finally, there is the Third Person. He rejects my decision to go to Turgenevskaya. Now I am no longer acting according to a stereotype. I have to think and that means arguing with myself.
But then, returning to the question that interests us, I can answer the Pupil that the cerebral cortex is programmed by – no, not by the brain itself and, as my dream opponent correctly noted, not by the objective contradiction confronting me. The cortex is programmed by two people (I and the Third Person) which make up my Self.
What are they? Where are they? How do they arise in the life-activity of my body?
Here I ought to make a long pause and ask the reader to go back in his mind over all the zigzags and dead-ends of our by no means straight road to the solution of the riddle of the Self. We now have sufficient material to answer the final and most important question of all: what is it in our body that thinks, that creates, that sets the goals by which the world of objects (as yet in our imagination) is reconstructed in a way that it could never reconstruct itself? Only when we have answered that question shall we discover the mechanics of the imagination and of creativity in general.
8. The basic question or philosophy is being and thought. The mind-body problem arises where this problem is narrowed down to the problem of “brain and thought” (and this happens only when being, existence is revealed not through the history of human activity but in the mirror of the brain's spatial body).
Contents | The Riddle Answered