culture Philosophy Psychology

Positive Feedback Loops and the Emptiness of Self

Self and subjective psychological depth may be little more than a convenience – a fabrication or persistent fantasy and self-propagating illusion.

Contemporary neuroscience seems to be heading down a path already well-worn by so many: that self and subjective psychological depth may be something of a fabrication or persistent and self-propagating illusion. David Hume suggested that we are not anything much at all beyond our perceptions and sensations. Buddhism also seems to have arrived in the same place some significant time ago. While these views are interpretations of evidence, experience and philosophical assertion which may be strongly questionable through any alternative filter or methodological and conceptual framework, they are compelling as an explanatory framework for various causal loops in our experience of reality.

What is particularly interesting from this perspective of no-self (or at the very least – an utterly contingent self) is to consider what role is actually played the apparent, notional or assumptive self of popular belief and discourse. Biological and evolutionary systems rarely afford the continued tenure of systemic novelty which does not serve some useful purpose. More often than not, multiple purposes are fulfilled by the same constellation or configuration of material or systemic pattern. The purpose and effective reason of self may be as that anchor upon (and through) which collective systems of social and cultural organisation find themselves expressed.

We humans rarely notice that this diverse symbolic and material world of our own invention is only of significance (if not of consequence or effect) between our ears. Collective, shared acts of suspended disbelief in the unreality of our symbolic fantasy rely in fundamental ways upon the collective weight and emergent influence of pivotal networked nodes that all those individuated selves represent. The self is in this way the inverse reflection of cultural, technological complexity; we possess interiority and subjective depth because the external (shared) world is in reflexive codependence and co-genesis with this imaginary internal depth. Of course, this situation and state of affairs possesses all the topological mischief of a Möbius strip in that the interior world of self (and psychological individuation) and the exterior world of culture and technology are undergoing unrelenting mutually self-propagating metamorphosis at a global systems level: they are literal mutual co-creations.

I was on public transport recently, watching 95% of the people in that shared commuter space hypnotically, narcissistically absorbed in the positive feedback loops and semiotic resonance of visual, tactile and symbolic obsession with their mobile phones. What if both we and our shared cultural or technological experience were actually no more than the recursive feedback loop of a circularly self-generating information and energy pattern ? This is the process of the exponentiated replication of the process of replication itself; thus the experience and apparent facts of acceleration and amplifying complexity. This is also an utter ontological vacuum; an existential void without any existence other than the circularly self-supporting, apparent, imaginary (and culturally or symbolically and linguistically-acquired, thus – purely aspirational) subjective depth.

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