Triangulation And Consciousness

August 4, 2009

Have you ever wondered, like Elizabeth Bishop did: “Why should I be my aunt,/or me, or anyone?” I was wondering about this and I was dorky enough to google it. I came across an interesting thread in some message board, unusually insightful perspective of consciousness, and from the internet no less:

If you use a pen to make a dot on the surface of a perfect sphere, that dot has no identity, it is simply The Dot. If you make another dot, they still lack identity, except for the fact that one is not the other; but you still can’t tell which is which. Now add a third dot near the second one, and suddenly all three dots become individual, in the sense that you can spin the sphere and still recognize each of them by their relative distance to the other two.

(I believe this is also a hint as to why we perceive the universe in three dimensions: it’s the minimum number of dimensions necessary to establish the identity of objects. But that’s way out of topic…)

And later in that same thread:

Now if I am a collection of ideas, what makes “I” “me”, or rather why is it that I am this collection of ideas and not that other collection, I believe the only possible answer is: mere chance. You can only develop your identity as a result of mere chance. This is where the perfect sphere analogy comes in.

If someone asks you to select a collection of points on the surface of a perfect sphere, the first point can only be chosen at random. The second point must be chosen based on the first, but other than that, it’s still a random choice, with the sole exception that it cannot be the position defined by the first point (even with two points, you can’t still tell one from the other – they still don’t have identity). Only when the third point is chosen is the symmetry of the situation broken, and now all points have their own identity which is their relative position to the other two.

So the first being who became conscious had no problem understanding “why am I me”, since he could not be anybody else, for there was nobody else to be. The second being could conceive of being the first one, but would realize being the other and being himself are essentially the same thing, so the question “why am I me” was meaningless for him. Only from the third being on did the question of one’s identity become meaningful, but it is still a meaningful question without a meaningful answer other than “mere chance”. Which is why I said this was known since the beginning but at the same time it’s an eternal mystery.

It’s interesting to think of identity as triangulation. It doesn’t explain the “why” of anything, but the “why” of anything can’t be answered because it’s an invalid question. It’s the wrong question to ask. It only seems valid because you are you, and this randomness seems so much like fate.

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