September 22, 2022•1,049 words
I have recently learned about Jean Paul Sartre's idea of "The Look", and it kinda bothered me. Sartre's thought experiment was to imagine a person who was just stuck to a door - looking through the peep hole and listening in. They're just watching, expecting something to happen, but then they hear a creaking noise behind them. They suddenly realize that other people exist. In general, imagine you were some being with no interaction (real or imagined) with other people. Thus you wouldn't use words like "I" or even have a concept of the self, as there is no other perspective that could be "not-self". So you live your merry life, not knowing others exist. But then you gain consciousness of other people (real or imagined).
First off, we can realize that language as we know it simply can't exist without others existing. The concept of the self is quite integral to philosophy and just common use of language. Thus my idea that we could exist by ourself and think to the level of a socially integrated being yet not have language now seems impossible.
This idea also has ramifications on our authenticity. The key idea is that the realization of the self as an object in another's perspective causes a fundamental shift in thought. The realization that another could be watching makes one self-conscious of your actions. Thus the ability to act authentically, in the Catcher in the Rye sense, the conscious sense, kind of authenticity is forever compromised. I saw this webcomic  that I feel like encapsulates this loss of authenticity.
The thing that bothered me that the source of this realization. It can come even if there isn't actually another being there, so clearly it must be coming from ourself. But then what is stopping us from making the realization of the self ourself without believing there is other people? Furthermore, the ignorance of the mind before making the realization suggests there could be things we haven't realized that become fundamental after realizing it. Like the person without a self, we could be completely ignorant to some major idea that could fuel a lot of new though and just not know it. It also bothers me that there is such a clear distinction between pre and post realization in their mental capacities. This would then provide a clear differentiation of intellect.
But the idea of a clear marker for intelligence is at odds with my idea of a continuous free-will corresponding to intelligence. Some resolutions that come to mind are through continuity of language, the non-existence of a self, or through the failure of the idea of "The Look". The former resolution is that if we think of language as a skill that one has continuously and then having the ability to think of the self as a part of the skill of language, instead of intellect. Thus by divorcing the ability to think of the self from intellect, relegating it instead to language, free-will and intellect don't have to correspond to it. But this kind of feels like kicking the can down the road, since now we have to deal with language being a continuous property, when it intuitively seems like it should be a discrete one (i.e. fluent or not). It also implies a bound on idea generation ability, namely that no amount of creativity can come up with the idea of the self without this realization. However, this resolution is nice in that it builds on the idea that humans like to attempt to make the world (like language) discrete, when in reality it is continuous. This theme leads into the idea that there is no discrete self, as if there was no discrete self then the binary/discrete realization of the self is only perceived to be so by humans, when in reality it is continuous. Thus the sudden insight of the "self" gained through the perceived existence of others could simply never happen, instead it could be a sliding along the language spectrum. But this resolution means that there is no discrete self, a concept that is essential in my philosophy as the self is the free-will you have. I think my idea of the self as free-will could be salvaged if instead of having the free-will of the particles composing our body be bundled together as a single sum as the self, we have the self be a loose collection of the free-will of the atoms. But TBH, the non-existence of a discrete self is profound, so I'll probably explore this idea in a different post.
Another disturbing factor is that in order to have this realization, you must be able to distinguish between non-consciouses and consciouses. What I mean is that when you hear the creaking noise, you assume that it is caused by another, forcing the realization to dawn on you. But this gives other beings a concrete property that they must have in order to be consider other beings in your mind. This creates a connection between physical properties (like creaking a board when you step on it) as being essential for being considered a consciousness (and thus for the other to have a self). This is disturbing in that it grounds the concept of the self in the physical world. This wasn't as much of an issue in my philosophy, as the self emerged as a random collection of atoms' free-will, and not from a cultural perception. Imagine instead that we realize the other person's existence with sight instead. Then imagine that the lighting is very dim. Then if a person steps in front of you, that could be the trigger to self-consciousness. But if that person was black, then you might not be able to see them. This imbues the idea of self-consciousness with racism, as now you can't recognize the other, black, person as another being unless they trigger the self of self-consciousness. Thus in the perspective of the self-consciousless being, the black person isn't another being. Furthermore, it implicitly needs the idea of tribalism, as the other being needs to have some property that is shared with yourself in order for the "self" to recognize it as another being, leading to a necessity of a "tribe" of shared culture. Quite disturbing