This entire essay is substantially re-written in April 2019 to bring it in line with the evolution of my thinking expressed in more recent work. Additional work in November 2019 better clarifies the connection between mind and information.
I am not merely a dualist, but a tri-ist. Mind is not the only substantive entity in the universe of our experience that isn’t physical. To understand why my ontology makes room for a personality which is in the human (not the animal) case a facet of our selfhood experience, I have to explain what it is about human experience that demands our postulation of it. To do this, I must begin with mind in general and not “personal mind” or “personalized mind”. The higher animals give us what we need here.
Physics alone cannot give us mind though to be sure it is one of mind’s roots (see in particular “From What Comes Mind?” for a general over-view of the model, “Physics and the Evidence for Non-Material Consciousness”, and “Fantasy Physics and the Genesis of Mind”). Over-all the metaphysical ground of my views on this is theistic, specifically a theism sketched here in “Prolegomena to a Future Theology”. I am not going to go into the theology here, but I must delve a little bit into mind because the point of the essay is to argue that even postulating a substantive (in a quasi-Cartesian sense) mind is not enough to account for human experience. There is something else in addition to mind. That is to say, there are certain experiences that suggest such a thing exists, and this something I call personality.
Mind broadly speaking is purposeful. Animals have purposes for which they engage in their various behaviors. They do not articulate these purposes as such but it is clear that there is a reasonable sense in which higher animals can be said to be both minded (having some content of consciousness) and “act with purpose”. Indeed it can be said that life in general, even non-minded life (say paramecia) act purposefully and indeed they do. But lacking consciousness, it is less reasonable to say that such animals “act volitionally” and more reasonable to say that human beings impute purpose to life in general. Paramecia act, but the purposes of those actions are not the purposes of an individual, as these become in the higher animals. It is consciousness generally that adds both individuality and purposefulness.
But we notice limitations in animal mind that are absent in humans. Animal purposes are always local, limited to the present time. To find food if hungry, reproduce, shelter, even to socialize, all of it for its own sake. Humans by contrast exhibit all of these same sorts of local purposes, but they also exhibit purposes extended in time, purposes for next year, or a lifetime.
Animal do not recursively evaluate their purposes. They do not abstract. A lioness, being hungry, engages in the hunt for food. She decides on the specific course that hunt might take as new data emerges to her senses concerning the presence of food. But she certainly does not deliberate on the purpose of hunting in the abstract. Humans do exactly this. We are said to be “self conscious” and are able therefore to deliberate not only on the process of executing a purpose, but on the purpose itself.
Humans are also creators in a way that animals are not. Apes can modify sticks or other objects to use as tools, but only humans create new tools, even vast engineering projects that are more than mere modification of existing things. There is also the matter of art, social institutions, religion, and abstract-capable language.
It is these qualities that signal something special about human consciousness that needs explaining. At the same time, I have to explain how it is that we cannot locate this entity in a recursive examination of consciousness. Our self-consciousness does not permit discrimination of the personal from consciousness as a whole, even in the first person!
I follow here briefly with a sketch of my theologically-grounded theory of mind. See above linked articles and my first book all covering this in more detail. God is the source of the physical universe of spacetime. Into this universe, besides a physics of purposeless mechanism, something I have called “Cosmic Mind” is also added. Cosmic Mind is not a person, but rather a sort of field pervading space and time analogous to an electromagnetic field. Important here is that the field is in space and conditioned by time. It is non-material however. It does not convey any sort of proto-consciousness or panpsychism on the universe, but interacts only with certain complex organizations of matter-energy that we call brains. When nervous systems (of animals) become complex enough they are able to be perturbed or in some manner affected by Cosmic Mind and it is this interaction that manifests subjectively as consciousness.
This is the quasi-Cartesian aspect of my view. It is quasi-Cartesian because mind is not added to brains in Cartesian fashion, but rather emerges from brains, a property dualism, in response to, or because of, the universal presence of Cosmic Mind. Yes, there is an “interaction problem”. As it turns out attempts a purely physical explanations of mind (other than eliminativism) all have variations of the same problem. See the aforementioned “Fantasy Physics” article for much elaboration on this.
The point of Cosmic Mind in the theory (it may have other roles in the universe) is to effect subjective experience in sufficiently evolved nervous systems. Brains are, in effect, detectors of Cosmic Mind and consciousness constitutes that detection. Evolving mind at first detects very little of this signal producing minimal consciousness — perhaps a “what it is like to be” a fish or a lizard. More evolved brains are affected in richer ways and the nature of those individual minds deepens.
When we reach the human level, indeed the definition of humanity from a God’s-eye-view, the brain begins to feel the impact of parts of the Cosmic Mind signal not detected by any other animals. Specifically human brains begin to detect what the Cosmic Mind signal conveys of spirit, the hypothetical stuff of which God is made and the antecedent source of both physics and mind. From the subjective viewpoint, spirit is conveyed in the form of the values, truth, beauty, and goodness. See “What are Truth, Beauty, and Goodness” for further elaboration on these.
The detection of the values by human (and not animal) mind is not an automatic “good judgement” concerning what has values; what is true, good or beautiful. It is the discrimination of their three-part existence. The “spirit component” of the Cosmic Mind signal is always there. It impacts animal mind. But animals do not discriminate it as distinct elements in consciousness. Humans do.
Continuing the theological picture, something else happens when brains and therefore mind reach this level of physical complexity and signal-detecting richness. Such minds are personalized by God directly. In the fashion of Thomistic or Aristotelian Hylomorphic dualism, God configures each such individual mind with extra information (a form) that becomes fused with that consciousness in such a way that from any perspective (even in the first person) it is not possible to tell what part of subjective consciousness comes from Cosmic Mind alone, and what part from the fused-in personality.
No other mind in the universe, personal or otherwise, can make this discrimination, but it cannot be lost to God. Other minds, including ourselves in the first person are aware only of the combined result, mind simpliciter in the third person, and the content and structure of our own consciousness in the first. God alone knows what was done to each value-discriminating mind to personalize it. To emphasize, the added pattern is not physical. It is a form imposed on immaterial mind itself.
The relation between a value-discriminating mind and a personalized mind is contingent (nothing forces God to immediately personalize every value-discriminating mind) but constant. Value-discriminating minds are all and always personal, they are the minds of persons.
The idea of a substantive personality within the mind is derided in philosophy as a homunculus, a little controller commanding the rest of the conscious arena like the captain of a ship. This model proves to have many philosophical problems, but it is an incorrect model. When a captain steps onto a ship, you have a ship and its captain. The captain is added to the ship and remains distinct. But personality is not added to mind in this sense. Rather mind itself is personalized in the manner of a lump of clay turned into a statue. One does not “add statue to lump”, but rather transforms or forms lump. Once transformed, there is still nothing but a lump of clay albeit in a more structured configuration.
From any viewpoint other than God’s, “personalized mind” is still only mind. Even the individual (the person) whose mind it is cannot segregate itself from the mental arena as a whole that includes it. Even we, subjectively, cannot find personality through self-examination, because as Hume noted all we find are properties of mind. The character of our subjective mind includes personality (the imposed form) but we cannot isolate that inclusion. We do however experience its presence as a part of our mind-personality amalgam, our phenomenal sense-of-self. Our minds are what they are after all, but human mind has capacities that mind alone (animal mind) does not appear to have.
It can be useful to examine mind from an information perspective. In physics, information is another way to express the structure of and relation between physical objects. The more structured, the higher their information content. Information is an inversion of entropy. Stars are information-rich compared to clouds of hydrogen gas, but in the case of stars, the information added comes from nothing more than macroscopic and deterministic behavior described by natural law. Life is far more information-rich than stars and it is not clear all of life’s information assembled itself from nothing beyond the operation of natural law. There are those who quite reasonably suggest (having math to support it) that life’s information is unlikely to have assembled itself accidentally. But this is another subject.
As we move up the evolutionary chain of our biology we encounter artifacts of mind. A beaver dam for example is a configuration of sticks, logs, and other natural products suitable for habitation and young-raising by beavers. We can examine such a dam and quantify the information it contains in its configuration, but it is clear in this case that the specification for that information came from outside. The dam didn’t build itself. One way or another, the specifying information was imposed on the physical ingredients by the labor of beavers. If there is something it is to be like a beaver, then that information, the information to cut and configure the trees, lodges somewhere (from our third-party perspective) in “beaver mind”.
Beaver mind emerges from beaver brains plus its contact with Cosmic Mind. There is no doubt that the structure of brains can be described in information terms. Brains have all the information contained in life and then some. There are those who claim there is nothing more to mind than information coded into brains, but this is controversial. Nevertheless, from stars to life to brains we grasp that information is expressed in physical structure of one kind or another.
On my “Cosmic-Mind-Perturbation” model, can consciousness itself be understood in information terms? The structured perturbations of electrons by an electromagnetic wave in an antenna are information. Whatever goes on in the interaction between Cosmic Mind and brains it is reasonable to suppose that information is involved. If the interaction affects any part of the physical (electro-chemical) resonances of the brain we would expect to be able to measure it, though there is no guarantee we would recognize the significance of what is being measured. In any case, it does seem like the content of consciousness (as distinct from consciousness as such) is information rich. Qualia in particular are often cast in terms of information.
It isn’t as clear that consciousness per se can be cast in information-language. Information is quantifiable. Subjective experience simpliciter is precisely not quantifiable. Consciousness is an experience of a subject. It’s content is information-rich, but it might be the case that what can quantified of that information is a product of the brain alone. The information content of mind need not be a contribution of Cosmic Mind.
When we come to human mind, personalized mind, there comes to be, necessarily, information in mind itself, in its form not merely its content. Personality if it is conceived as a hylomorphic form on mind can only be information added to mind, structuring the gestalt of the emergent consciousness. But we can only infer this is the case, that human mind includes some directly incorporated information, from qualities we subjectively experience! We cannot ever hope to identify it. Personality is utterly transparent!
Individual mind, even apart from personality is likely unique. Given that no two brains (human or animal) are absolutely identical, no two minds are identical. But personality adds an additional quality of uniqueness, a unique pattern joined with and as that mind.
We can say that personality is an additional configuration on top of mind analogous to the way brains are a configuration on top of life. But even if life origin involved some purposeful addition of information to the universe, life remains self-sustaining from that point forward in time. Consciousness, by contrast (with or without personality) is dynamic and depends on the constant interaction between Cosmic Mind and brains. Mind’s presence (at least in animals on Earth) cannot be maintained in the absence of a properly functioning brain. If the brain fails or becomes functionally distorted in some way, consciousness is impacted and in severe enough cases disappears altogether. If the mind disappears, so does its personal configuration.
The specifics of the addition being a non-material extra-configuration of a non-material entity cannot be measured by any instruments. Any third party distinction is likewise forever out of the question. Even to our view, personality isn’t segregated from mind. God can distinguish it, but we experience nothing other than the mental arena that results from the fusion. From a phenomenological viewpoint it is all “merely mind”, in the same way that a lion’s mind is all merely mind.
Personality is epistemologically transparent in the first person because we cannot distinguish its information as such. We cannot distinguish where mind leaves off and personality begins. Everything that we do and experience as persons, what we subjectively experience to be ourselves, takes place in and through mind, the amalgam of personality and mind-simpliciter. We are forced (discussed further below) to infer that personality must be real and distinct, ontologically, from mind as such, but even the evidence that this inference is valid is experienced only in and through the amalgamation. The reality of personality is a metaphysical inference made with some phenomenal, but not epistemological support. It is to that phenomenal support that I now turn.
The Metaphysical Requirement for Personality
The evidence for our inference comes down to recognizing that human consciousness has qualities that cannot take origin in mind alone. This is the phenomenal evidence that something is going on besides mind. There are three such qualities: self-consciousness, persistence without change in time, and a partially a-temporal free will. The first and last are consequences of the personality’s separation (though we cannot discriminate it) from mind. The second quality is characteristic of personality itself.
— Recursive self-consciousness
Animals experience contents of consciousness and can evaluate those contents. They have limited free will. A lioness can choose between two zebras, one a bit nearer but appearing younger and faster than another somewhat farther away. She is quite able to evaluate both and make a decision (perhaps in error) concerning which is easier to catch. But the lioness is not able to evaluate consciousness as such, she merely accepts its nature and content as given. Only humans are capable of making this second-order evaluation and we are able to make it because our consciousness contains the extra personal information. Although we cannot find that extra information, its presence enables recursive evaluation analogous to the way having two eyes gives us a direct perception of depth in three dimensions.
Self-consciousness is the most uncontroversial of the three qualities personality contributes to consciousness. That is, it is uncontroversial that we, humans at least, are self-conscious. There is some dispute over this matter as concerns some animals, but I believe that these cases constitute a reading-in, an anthropomorphic imputation similar to metaphorical imputation of purpose to simple life. Most of this controversy comes from observation that animals exhibit complex emotions including feelings of compassion, affection, and even awareness of the possibility of other selves when they are not immediately present to the senses. At the same time, there is no direct evidence of self-evaluation.
In humans self-evaluation seems to compel attempts at expression. It is one of the drivers of language development. We see no evidence of a “compulsion for expression” in any animals. Animals who have shown remarkable ability to acquire human languages do not seem to use what they acquire to construct abstract propositions concerning consciousness itself. If an ape, taught to spell English words, in blocks wrote out “is my green the same as your green?” I would have to modify my view here.
If from our viewpoint we cannot discriminate personality from mind what then is contrasting about it to us? Self consciousness is an automatic consequence of amalgamated mind. The signature quality of personality itself is its changelessness. Even Cosmic Mind lies inside time and is subject to it. Mind, our mind’s, change over our lifetimes. Personality, the specific pattern or form amalgamated with a temporal mind never changes.
— Changeless identity
The person of God is changeless absolutely and for all eternity. He (perhaps with his two coordinates in the Trinity) is the only literally changeless entity in the universe. This needs some elaboration. Persistence in the material universe is not ever absolute. We say that material objects persist even though we recognize that they slowly undergo change over time. Not only material objects, but consciousness too changes with time. The contents change of course, and the overall quality and structure of the arena undergoes change as well. Yet the part of the “personalized mind” recognized by God as the person never changes and this self is but vaguely sensed by the subject as that entity takes and has taken ownership of that conscious life in and through all of the changes it otherwise undergoes.
There is no direct third-party access to subjective consciousness. To phenomenal experience, the person, my “I” is even more private than consciousness. I can to some extent examine my own mind, but even I cannot examine my personality distinct from that mind. Yet the amalgam does provide a distinct experience that is independent of what does change, our character, that which we express. Character can be measured. It is the expression, the output, of the internal personalized mind acting to control a body, evolving and changing along with everything else in the universe.
Anything about a human being’s behavior or inner state that can be observed or queried (e.g. “personality tests”) comes under character. None of it, internal (a sunny disposition) or external (observable behavior) is personality as I am using that term. Because consciousness (and more obviously the body) changes, character changes.
The persistence of a changeless self throughout the history of that character is even more invisible than the presence of a consciousness behind its expression in character! But the owner of those changes remains the same and is aware of being the same throughout. Despite having traversed many changes in character (and physical characteristics) over the course of our lives we are perfectly aware, under normal circumstances, that the same person owns all of those changes.
In theory, if we had an instrument that could measure, perhaps make graphic, a subjective viewpoint without personality, and then the same individual mind personalized, it would be possible to subtract the first measurement from the second and identify what it is about consciousness that constitutes its personalization. That is, it would be possible to recover the information difference between the two. But there is no such instrument nor can there ever be because the only detector that exists in the universe for this phenomenon is the personalized mind.
There is yet another reason why such a subtraction would not be possible. Human mind, mind capable of detecting value, is always personalized. Value detection (or its potential) appears to be the necessary and sufficient condition for the immediate awarding of personal status. This is another one of the reasons for the phenomenon’s epistemological transparency. We cannot have even a memory of a time when our consciousness was not personalized.
The quality of changelessness has everything to do with our (that is human) relation to time. Humans alone among the animals can project purpose into the future as such or act for the sake of the past. We can do this thanks to a fixed reference available as a temporal background in our experience. There are examples of what appears to be such capacity among the animals; squirrels storing nuts in the fall to eat in the winter come to mind. But I question whether the squirrel is projecting a purposeful self into a future time or merely following biological imperatives at any given time-of-year.
Humans uncontroversially project themselves, their “I” into the future and choose courses (in the present) to affect that future as such. If I am a competent architect with many successful projects, I do confidently project myself, that is the same self that today begins a new project into a future time when that project will stand completed. Of course I understand that contingencies beyond my control might block the future I envision. My present choices do not determine that future, but much experience supports our confidence that we can, under most circumstances, bring about that which we project and that the same “I” will own the completed project in the future as now takes ownership of its beginning.
Many people tell me that their person is not changeless. They look back and remember themselves as much younger people and declare that, of course they have changed since then! But when I point out that they also remember being the person who was once “that way”, the person who owned those differences at an earlier time they admit that this is so, but attribute this seeming merely to memory. This is not correct. They are confusing character with personality. Yes, their character has changed, and yes, they remember their old character. But they are also aware that a single entity has been present throughout those changes, an entity that owns and is responsible for them all. That thin sense of “awareness of sameness” is our only direct phenomenal handle on personality.
Memories are, as it were, complicit in our sense of changeless ownership because even that sense is had in and through consciousness. Personality is the core of our sense of changeless ownership, but it is that plus memories and synchronic (moment by moment) awareness that constitute the sense of identity as a gestalt. That memories are not the sole source of our identity is demonstrated by wide gaps (years perhaps) in memories of early childhood while we yet we retain the sense of ownership over those coming both before and after the gaps.
Even when my memories of some particular event completely disappear, for example as concerns my very young childhood of which few memories remain, there is nothing in my experience to suggest that I was literally a different person at that time. We have a very strong intuition that in that past we were still the same self as we are today even if everything about that self, memories, character, etc, have changed. But memories are important to our integrated mind/person sense of self. Without them, the personality has no purchase on what, exactly, it is a changeless core of…
— Free will
Free will is a power of mind. It is mind’s capacity to initiate causal chains in the universe that are both volitional and purposeful; causal chains that are not fully determined by prior physics. Higher animals have it. Human mind, has the capacity to discriminate values (truth, beauty, and goodness) and thus can exercise free will with respect to them. Animal mind is in someway affected by the values but they cannot choose with regard to that which they cannot as such discriminate.
Animal mind however is temporally constrained in two ways, human mind only in one. Humans and animals can exercise will only in the present. In addition, animals can only exercise will for the sake of the present. By contrast, humans can exercise will for the sake of the past and especially for the future. Like self-consciousness, this difference in human consciousness is a function of personality’s substantive reality, in this case, its changeless persistence. We have a binocular appreciation for the depth of time, the relation of past to present and future, because we have a reference, a thin awareness of changeless ownership of our experience beginning sometime in the past.
This awareness of ours has both a qualitative and quantitative character. As we “grow up” we are qualitatively aware of a significance to larger intervals of time. We are quantitatively aware of the magnitude of the interval through we ourselves have passed. We can be aware of these things because we have a changeless reference providing the temporal contrast to present experience.
The future has been open since the big bang but not until consciousness comes along is there something in the universe that can take advantage of its openness. Not until personalized consciousness comes along is there something in the universe that can freely elect purposes with which to direct action having only a contingent relation to the present in which the choice is made. We must begin somewhere to constrain the future and shape novel outcomes that are the end-products of those purposes plus our skills in acting over time to fulfill them.
This sort of freedom, not only the freedom to choose but the freedom to choose for the future cannot come from physics in which no mechanism, individually or in their totality, exhibits any present let alone future oriented purpose. Because our (human) partial-temporal-liberation is a function of personality’s changelessness, it can have only one source, a “changeless God” who can ground (is the only possible ground) of changelessness. God is the direct cause of personality.
The metaphysical inference
Neither of the three contributions of personality to consciousness appear to exist in animal consciousness. If consciousness is an emergent combination of brain resonances and Cosmic Mind, personality is a further information imposition on that consciousness. From our viewpoint, it all just looks like consciousness. Only God knows what part of our phenomenally unified consciousness is “the person”. That explains personality’s “epistemological transparency”.
Constancy is nowhere to be found in the physical universe except in personality. That constancy is personality’s distinguishing passive characteristic. Changelessness in time, in turn, sets up our capacity to experience directly the relation between past, present, and future. Our fixed point of temporal reference in the past that permits projection into the future. Animals have only the present and memories. It isn’t clear that their memories engender any intellectual sense of an abstract past in animal experience, but clearly we have one.
Self-consciousness is a property of the relation between personality and consciousness. Personality provides the contrast, the transcendence, needed to reflexively examine our own consciousness. What we find in that examination is of course partly the person indistinguishably (from the subjective) fused with the consciousness being examined. But that we have this recursive ability at all can only be because something about the fused entity transcends consciousness simpliciter. Changes in the content of consciousness of all kinds can be viewed abstractly thanks (in part at least) to the contrast generated by personality’s constancy. Finally, a temporally liberated free will is personality’s distinguishing active power. Persons are free to become purposeful original-causal agents and elect to effect (attempt to effect) temporally distant purposes.
Personality therefore belongs in our ontology. It must be real even though we cannot identify it directly and it must come from God because he is the only possible source of changelessness in anything. It is transparent, in the final analysis, because nothing distinguishes it from the mind gestalt in subjective experience (epistemic transparency). Personality permits mind to recursively examine itself, but there is nothing further to provide contrast to personality — and this puts paid to the homunculus problem. We experience personality only within the fused whole of our consciousness.
In a wider theological context there is more to be said about personality, but that “more” has nothing to do with our present [phenomenal] experience of it, but other inferences that can be made from its existence and origin. I discuss one of these in another essay. see “Why Free Will?”
22 thoughts on “Why Personality?”
You say that non-human animals do not project purpose into the future even if they exhibit some behaviors that hint to that: “But I question whether the squirrel is projecting a purposeful self into a future time or merely following biological imperatives at any given time-of-year. ”
So, why don’t you do the same with other humans? You only have their behavior (including spoken or written language) to speculate about their subjective life, so they could also be following biological imperatives and be complex automatons. You can only access your own subjective experience and ascertain wether you project purpose into the future, but you can not do that for other animals, whatever their species or physical similarity to your own body and/or behavior.
Hello and thanks for the comment. Sorry did not see it until now.. I agree with you about the squirrel, but the reason I think the human situation is different is because I experience that difference exactly when I “plan for the future”. Take the “bucket list” for example. There can be all sorts of things there that have little or nothing to do with biological imperatives and yet some people take some of those things very seriously and commit resources to fulfilling them even some not always in the individual’s genuine best interest!
You can find lots of behaviours in other species that have nothing to do with biological imperatives (think great apes, though not only them). Conversely many human behaviors that seemed to be non-biological have been shown to have their biological reasons behind. So you would be relying on our ignorance on the biological mechanisms at play (reminds me of the god of the gaps).
Yes my critics have pointed all of this out but as the article goes (as compared to my reply to you) the significant difference isn’t biological imperative but temporal orientation. Higher animals are (in my opinion) conscious and even “free willed” in a limited sense but apart from biologically driven behavior like the squirrel the difference that personality adds (along with recursive consciousness) is [partial] temporal transcendence. A dog can choose (in a limited range) its purposes but only for the present. It can choose to bury a bone today and then choose to dig it up tomorrow, but it cannot bury the bone today while *planning* to dig it up tomorrow. Only humans have that (partial) time independence.