I exist, but what is I
Theories of consciousness abound, and like established movie stars, each has its own legion of fan boys. One more theory to this line up would do no harm, as to whether the world needs another theory, the answer is moot.
More than another theory, what the world needs now and badly is evidence, not one but a trail of it, a trail that will lead to the ultimate prize, the understanding of what man is, and what he is capable of.
The question of human self consciousness is definitely not new, and must be older than what we modern humans tend to give credit for. It is definitely not a question devised by pastoral people of the last ten thousand years to pass their time.
This hypothesis supposes that it was a burning question, particularly for the pre humans and their derivatives as they slowly settled into the modern human lineage*. For these generations the rise of the “I” and its identification was probably more acute than it is for modern humans, most of us hardly bother with the question at all. It does not interfere with our daily lives as much it had the pre humans.
That might sound too audacious a claim, however interpreting the evidence properly would give us better insights.
Consider the fact that by the time of the Greeks and their concurrent Eastern civilizations, the question of the self was considered as one largely settled, and the solidified results deserving of being written across temples across much of the known world. Much as we write E=mc2 on all and sundry without much thought to the intricate physics behind it!
More importantly even cultures not exposed to the mainstream, or cultures like that of the Americas which remained isolated until their rediscovery in later centuries all seemed to have gravitated to a common answer to the question of the self.
Based on which we can claim that the search for the meaning and extent of the self was the progenitor behind much of the world’s spiritual practices, that almost all religions and cults from the beginning of time are variants of the “Consciousness for Dummies” theme**.
The situation remained thus, and remains thus, but for the efforts of some recent scientists and philosophers for a more scientific approach to the problem. Rather than ask “Who am I” or “Who is I” as the ancients were forced to, given the absence of the proper investigative tools, the moderns tend to ask, “What is I”
The question has been made more acute in recent years, since this is considered the last and greatest of the unsolved problems of science, even otherwise skeptical scientists have thrown their hat into the ring.
So do we…
It is a big enough question to attempt an answer for, and one where any approach has equal probability in arriving at the right answer. To fail is not a problem, not trying however is. Let us make a start….
*Having stumbled upon this and other conclusions a few years ago, I searched the literature for someone who had similar ideas. It looked like Julian Jaynes had at least some of the same ideas, he called it bicameralism. However both the source of his ideas and his interpretations derive from a different perspective, and do not share anything with the idea tree that will be presented here.
.** A discussion of the scripture based ideas would take an entire book, so we will do it later at some leisure point or as asides.