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My subjective world can never die...


To: Marcus S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: My subjective world can never die...
Date: 19 February 2005 13:03

Dear Marcus,

Thank you for your email of 7 February, with your fifth and final essay for the Pathways Philosophy of Mind program, in response to the question, ''My subjective world can never die, can never cease to continue, for with every new moment it is as if it had never existed, and will continue no longer than that very moment.' Discuss.'

Congratulations on completing your program. Your certificate and report will follow shortly.

The quoted statement is taken from my book Naive Metaphysics (the end of Chapter 9, 'Attributes of my subjective world'). The important thing to bear in mind is that I am not talking about subjectivity as such, or the nature of subjective awareness.

Your essay does address the nature of subjectivity or subjective awareness. How does subjective awareness differ between a young child and an adult? How do we develop a sense of self? You also venture the thought (which occurs in Leibniz's theory of 'monads', and also in Whitehead's theory of 'actual entities') that every entity in the universe may be conceived as having a 'subjective side' inasmuch as there is such a thing as a perspective on the universe from that entity's 'point of view'. For example, we can tell the history of the universe from the point of view of the rock which came into existence in a volcano blast.

The rock may have a 'subjective' side but it is not aware. The infant is aware, but has no concept of 'self'. And so on.

How, in these terms, can we make sense of the strange idea that 'with every new moment it is as if it had never existed, and will continue no longer than that moment'? You draw the reasonable conclusion that, 'The man in his maturity... cannot honestly say to himself, 'My subjective world can never die.' This separates him from the immature mind, which does not know the meaning of 'subjective' and 'die.''

Yet, I envisaged the person making the claim as a philosopher, who has thought deeply about the problem.

In the world, viewed from the objective standpoint, there are entities each of which has a perspective on the world, some of which are aware, or conscious of themselves and of a world of other things, some of which are aware or conscious etc. Subjectivity as such, or subjective awareness is part of the objective world. The 'mature man' appreciates this, and realizes that his identity through time is an objective fact. He has a beginning in time and an end, he was born and he will die.

But I have argued that each of us must recognize an extra element, which cannot be incorporated into the objective world in this way. This is the unique fact, as I would express it, that 'I am GK', or, as you would express it, that 'I am MS'. The objective world remains the same, contains the same entities, the same rocks, animals, babies, mature men, whether I consider the fact that 'I' am in it, that one of these many possible perspectives is 'mine', or not. As a matter of objective fact, there will still be GK, whether I am GK or not.

This is the mystery that I have labelled the existence of 'my subjective world'. My subjective world cannot be constituted of subjectivity or consciousness as such because these are already incorporated into the objective world. It is not something 'extra', in the sense of another entity existing in addition to the objective world. The only remaining alternative is to say that it is just that very same world itself in its entirety, but with the additional quality of being 'this' or 'mine'.

It is this (I allege) that we fear to 'lose' when we contemplate the certainty of death. But this fear is baseless, because the 'this' only exists in the 'now'.

One way to express the same point which doesn't make it appear to depend on a dubious metaphysical 'theory' is to consider problem cases of personal identity.

Consider the case of symmetrical splitting which we've looked at before. If you think about the 'I' who says 'I am MS' as being 'in' this body, then the question arises what will happen to your 'I' at the moment of symmetrical division. Will it 'go right' or 'go left'? The illusion of two alternatives depends on viewing the 'I' as referring to an invisible nugget of individuality which resides 'in' your body, a 'soul'. My soul will go into body A or body B but I don't know which.

Objectively, there will be two MSs or GKs, each rightfully claiming identity with the MS or GK who existed before. But that still leaves the problem of what to do with the 'I'. I claim that it cannot be both, therefore it must be neither. It follows that whatever - at any time - the 'I' in this non-objective or metaphysical sense refers to cannot be an entity which persists from one moment to the next .

All the best,