Comments on “Selfness”

Other creatures

LPalmer 2016-11-04

Like the tarantula analogy. You might also be tempted to break down the very real barriers that exist between you and the tarantulas by giving them human characteristics. Which brings me (really clunkily!) onto to a point I wanted to raise (but wasn’t sure where to raise it): will you address anthropomorphization anywhere here? It seems to me to be a very common form of eternalism that denies nebulosity and can leave a very clear path to a nihilistic rebound.

I spent a longer time than could be considered healthy staring at a cricket on the wall today, which spent a long period of time utterly motionless, and getting strangely anxious about whether it was enjoying and valuing its own existence or not. It appears to lack self-consciousness, and biology would agree- but what do I know? I’m not a cricket. Being a cricket is completely alien to me. Similarly, ant colonies certainly do a lot of stuff, but do they find that stuff meaningful?

I suppose eternalistic anthropomorphization might act as a tempting but flimsy sticking plaster for these kinds of thoughts: if biology-based crickets and ants do stuff, and biology-based humans do stuff, and we find the stuff we do meaningful, then ants and crickets must find the stuff they do meaningful too (cue leap, maybe, to the extra assumption it’s the same kind of meaning we find in doing stuff). Emotionally appealing: check. Probably wrong: also check.

I guess my point is that non-human living things seem to present a particular challenge of nebulosity for us to deal with…


David Chapman 2016-11-05

Thanks, interesting thoughts! (I hadn’t planned to address anthropomorphization.)


Michael Taft 2021-01-24

Looking for a good source for adorable pet aardvarks. Thanx.

Matt C. Wilson

Matt C. Wilson 2021-09-18


This concept of selfness seems like a really important one to understand. Unfortunately I don’t feel like I came away with a solid grasp after reading this page - it’s all very abstract.

The tarantula metaphor is ok I suppose. I get the analogy to “focusing on activities that go back and forth over the boundary.” I would love some more concrete examples. You come closest with this paragraph, but I have to admit I struggle to think up my own examples for activities or phenomena that match up:

We cannot even control ourselves, because phenomena switch frequently from “self” to “other” and back; because “parts of self” have nebulous boundaries themselves; and because they are often more closely coupled to “other” than to other parts of self. As a dramatic example, when two people fall in love against their better judgement, each person’s emotions communicate more with the other’s than with their own more dispassionate thoughts.

The best I can come up with is dancing - two really compatible and attuned dance partners form a performance that neither of them (I don’t think?) think of as entirely their own or entirely their partner’s.

I might have “my moves” fairly clear in my mind, and can mentally visualize or conceptualize my partner’s moves. But in the act of dancing there may be moments of improvisation or stumble or mistake. In these moments, a really good partner can read and, in the moment, as the other partner is also so doing, respond well to the novelty and form a new pattern, restore the old, or, maybe, do something totally unpatterned.

Introductory introduction is introductory

David Chapman 2021-09-18

Yes, this web page is the introduction to what will (maybe someday) be a hundred-page chapter. Meaningness is a work in progress—although I’ve made no progress on this chapter in more than a decade. So it’s abstract because conceptually there’s another hundred pages of explanation, examples, details, and so forth.

Given my limited time for writing, most of the book exists only as outline. For some readers, that is completely useless. Others are able to extrapolate at least some of what this chapter (and other unwritten ones) will say based on the abstract hints given in introductory overviews, and say they find it useful.

What freedom?

Trent TG 2023-01-06

The concept of “free will” has irked me for some time, and you have expounded on the idea I had as a teenager trying to debate religious types on the concept of choice and sin.

That when we interact with one another, there is no singular entity devoid of the other. It is in the interplay of individuals (other animals too!) and environments that our desires and actions are forged then expressed. This in turn affects something or someone else in a different time/space.

All of my choices have been based on what I knew and seemingly wanted at the time (you can’t go back, as far as we know), I never regret anything beyond the capacity to learn something and my desire springs from an observation of others, their experiences and the consequences, then re-informed by my own, etc.

Choices and desires have never felt monolithic to me, the way so many seem to think they are.