Posts tagged with the self

A tiny portion of Doug Hofstadter’s “semantic network”.
via jewcrew728, structure of entropy


  • M. You live in a society where lovers choose whom to marry based on romance. So you don’t want to give up your right to choose a partner (or no partner at all). But if you actually lived under rules of arranged marriage, you would not want to be forever-bitter about something you can’t change. So you would accept your fate, go with the flow, and learn to love whom you had to.
  • She didn’t want to be pregnant. She couldn’t afford it. She was too young. There was so much else she wanted to do with her life. But once the baby was born, s/he became the joy of her life—and the mother wouldn’t change a thing about her past choices. (P.)
  • You need a vacation. You’ve focussed on work for too long. You plan a grand adventure. You negotiate a year off with your employer. On the plane ride to the coast, somebody asks, “What do you do?” and, without thinking, you give your normal response: “I’m a lawyer.” Unsettled, you arrive at the mooring where you’re scheduled to pick up the rented boat. A week into your trip down the coast, you find that you’ve succeeded in running away from nothing. You’re still alone with your thoughts, and they still have exactly the same consistency. It’s going to be a long voyage, achieving nothing, cleansing nothing, a propos of nothing. At least you’ve got work to look forward to when you return. [[[V.]]]

There is an algebra that describes this. Something like a von Neumann algebra (the logic of quantum measurements).


In the vNA, “measuring” X changes the information that X reports. You measure the Z-spin of an atom, you get the Z-spin information but you’ve affected the atom in measuring.

Similarly, instantiating myself in a different context (a society with different social norms, being somewhere else other than where I am) would change the answers to questions M, V, P (marry, vacation, pregnant).

Self-as-function, with input parameters.

My answer to M(me, where-I-in-fact-grew-up) is that, no, I don’t want arranged marriage. My answer to M′( me, where-I-in-fact-grew-up) is that, no, I wouldn’t want arranged marriage. But different-my′ answer to M′(me′, where-I-might-have-grown-up′)M(me, where-i-in-fact-grew-up). Real-me doesn’t think like different-me, and doesn’t correctly predict different-me′'s feelings. 

The diamond invention—the creation of the idea that diamonds are rare and valuable, and are essential signs of esteem—is a relatively recent development in the history of the diamond trade. Until the late nineteenth century, diamonds were found only in a few riverbeds in India and in the jungles of Brazil, and the entire world production of gem diamonds amounted to a few pounds a year. In 1870, however, huge diamond mines were discovered near the Orange River, in South Africa, where diamonds were soon being scooped out by the ton. Suddenly, the market was deluged with diamonds. The British financiers who had organized the South African mines quickly realized that their investment was endangered; diamonds had little intrinsic value—and their price depended almost entirely on their scarcity. The financiers feared that when new mines were developed in South Africa, diamonds would become at best only semiprecious gems.

The major investors in the diamond mines realized that they had no alternative but to merge their interests into a single entity that would be powerful enough to control production and perpetuate the illusion of scarcity of diamonds. The instrument they created, in 1888, was called De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd., incorporated in South Africa. As De Beers took control of all aspects of the world diamond trade, it assumed many forms.

The diamond invention is far more than a monopoly for fixing diamond prices; it is a mechanism for converting tiny crystals of carbon into universally recognized tokens of wealth, power, and romance. To achieve this goal, De Beers had to control demand as well as supply. Both women and men had to be made to perceive diamonds not as marketable precious stones but as an inseparable part of courtship and married life. To stabilize the market, De Beers had to endow these stones with a sentiment that would inhibit the public from ever reselling them. The illusion had to be created that diamonds were forever — “forever” in the sense that they should never be resold.

By 1979, N. W. Ayer had helped De Beers expand its sales of diamonds in the United States to more than $2.1 billion, at the wholesale level, compared with a mere $23 million in 1939. In forty years, the value of its sales had increased nearly a hundredfold. The expenditure on advertisements, which began at a level of only $200,000 a year and gradually increased to $10 million, seemed a brilliant investment.

Except for those few stones that have been destroyed, every diamond that has been found and cut into a jewel still exists today and is literally in the public’s hands. Some hundred million women wear diamonds, while millions of others keep them in safe-deposit boxes or strongboxes as family heirlooms. It is conservatively estimated that the public holds more than 500 million carats of gem diamonds, which is more than fifty times the number of gem diamonds produced by the diamond cartel in any given year. Since the quantity of diamonds needed for engagement rings and other jewelry each year is satisfied by the production from the world’s mines, this half-billion-carat supply of diamonds must be prevented from ever being put on the market. The moment a significant portion of the public begins selling diamonds from this inventory, the price of diamonds cannot be sustained. For the diamond invention to survive, the public must be inhibited from ever parting with its diamonds.

EDWARD JAY EPSTEIN, Have you ever tried to sell a diamond? in The Atlantic Monthly

Isn’t it awesome when your views, beliefs, preference, and behaviours were determined by a group of financiers and ad men?

Even the beneficiaries of hypertrophy have found it difficult to cope with extreme cultural change … they are sociobiologically equipped only for an earlier, simpler existence. Where the hunter-gatherer fills … one or two … roles out of … several available, his literate counterpart … must choose ten or more out of thousands, and replace one … with another….

Furthermore, each occupation—the physician, the judge, the teacher, the waitress—is played just so, regardless of the true workings of the mind behind the persona. [D]eviations … are interpreted … as a sign of mental incapacity…. Daily life is a compromised blend of posturing … and of varying degrees of self-revelation. Under these stressful conditions even the “true” self cannot be precisely defined….:

"…Self, then, is not … half-concealed behind events, but a changeable formula for managing … during them. Just as the current situation prescribes the official guise…so it provides where & how we will show through, the culture … prescribing what … we must believe ourselves to be….”

Little wonder that the identity crisis is a major source of modern neuroticism, and that the urban middle class aches for a return to a simpler existence.

E. O. Wilson (also quoting Erving Goffman), On Human Nature

Particularly the phrase “changeable formula” stands out to me. I think this means that our self-concept, seen as a function ƒ, takes the_environment as an input. (And that input has a nonzero derivative, i.e. it’s not a trivial input.)

Not only that; “the environment” isn’t limited to what_happened_in_our_early_years. We might feed that early_environment variable in as well, but in addition immediate conditions can change our self-concept. In equation form:

  • Self = ƒ (   ∫ early life,    present situation,   ...other stuff...  )

I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning. If you knew when you began a book what you would say at the end, do you think that you would have the courage to write it? What is true for writing and for a love relationship is true also for life. The game is worthwhile insofar as we don’t know what will be the end.

Michel Foucault

in an interview titled Truth, Power, Self printed 25 October 1982. via matryoshhkathe se