self & Subjectivity

25 November 2023
This event is ended
15h00 - 19h00
Today’s subject is subjectivity… and therefore itself!
No, just kidding… 😉
Seriously however…
Can self exist without subjectivity?
Can subjectivity exist without self?
Observing, whilst meditating or introspecting, that consciousness is no more or less than a stream of thoughts/sensation/feelings leads many philosophers, particularly in “Eastern” traditions, to conclude that an underlying self does not exist and that any ideas we might have (most notably in our normal day-to-day life) of being a self or of having a self are illusory.
However… what if “self” were to be conceptualized not as any underlying, stable, independent substrate of consciousness, but rather precisely just that subjective aspect or characteristic of consciousness itself?
By “subjective” we mean the – by definition – experiential character of consciousness. “What is it like to be a bat?”, as Thomas Nagel famously put it. The argument here is that consciousness is experience and experience by its very nature entails subjectivity, in whichever form or manifestation this may occur.
Subjectivity can precisely furthermore be just what we essentially mean when we talk about self, even if this subjectivity is as fleeting as experiences themselves are.
Another way of putting this:
Self does not necessarily have to be conceived of as an unchanging entity that underlies or supports or provides the background or context of our consciousness. Such a concept of self is arguably unnecessarily strict and can lead us to too quickly totally reject the existence of self (or to render it as illusory) as soon as we run into problems, whereas if we simply conceive of self as subjective aspect of consciousness, we can then acknowledge the existence of oneself while still recognizing that our self and its existence be as ineffable and impermanent as 1) our consciousness itself (soft version) or 2) our conscious experiences (hard, more extreme version).
This leads us now to an ultimately profound and paradoxically mysterious question, as seemingly enigmatic as the answer to which should presumably be rather self-evident (please excuse this pun!): *Why is it that you have your particular stream of consciousness (and with it, your body) and not another’s?* Looked at another way: All throughout history, billions of human beings have been born – other people, not you. Then at a certain moment you were born. This person, who is you, could easily have been simply yet another human being born, not YOU. Why do _you_ find yourself “alive” in your particular body with your particular (stream of) consciousness? After your death, the world will continue as usual and many others will be born, each with their own consciousnesses and bodies. The question remains whether you will return again (“reincarnation” – whatever this can mean?!) – but whether you will or not, is by far overshadowed by the much greater, more difficult-to-fathom question as to why and how _you_ exist in the first place and not simply another person having your same body and consciousness… Why is your body _yours_ and not someone else’s? Why are _you_ the subject/self of your particular conscious experiences and not someone else?