Re: Are First Person prime?

From: David Nyman <>
Date: Tue, 08 Aug 2006 18:25:22 -0000

1Z wrote:

> I don't even know what you mean by "first person".


It's a bit late in the day perhaps to tell me you 'don't even know what
I mean by first person'! However, I'll have another go. I'm concerned
to distinguish two basic meanings, which failing to specify IMO causes
a lot of confusion:

1) First person 1 (FP1) - the point-of-view that is directly claimed by
an individual (FP1i) such as David or Peter, or what is generally meant
when the word 'I' is directly uttered by such a person.

2) First person 2 (FP2) - representations of an FP1 point-of-view as
modelled within members of the FP1 community. The usage of 'David' or
'Peter' in point 1) exemplifies one type of such representation, whose
presumed referent is an FP1i person.

My speculation is that both of the above arise through specific sorts
of differentiation of an axiomatically FP1 context (FP1g). My reason
for this speculation is to simplify the ontological assumptions. If
our existential context is FP1 then any zone within it is also FP1 and
consequently, when structured into FP1i persons, yields the direct
experience with which we all claim familiarity. I have been at pains
to point out that the nature and content of experience are a function
of such structure, and we shouldn't think in terms of 'conscious rocks'
or whatever. Having established such an FP1 context, we can then go on
to show that FP2 and third person (TP) are simply other zones, not
themselves organised for self-experience/ self-reporting, that are
categorised in specific ways for specific purposes. They are not novel
ontological states.

> You seem to think that the boundraries of the self are given by
> secondary,
> non-fundamental structures and properties, likewise qualia.

This is a good point. However, it prompts me to deny that the
structures you refer to are 'secondary'. In claiming the FP1 context
to be 'primitive', I'm saying that it is irreducible. We have to begin
somewhere. Likewise, in relying on 'differentiation' of this context
(and here I'm designedly agnostic about whether this 'differentiation'
resolves into comp, strings, or whatever) I'm also claiming the
independent irreducibility of primitive differentiation. I've
discussed this in one of my replies to Bruno in this thread. Clearly
the undifferentiated FP1g context can yield no experience since thus
conceived it can have no 'content', either 'perceiver' or

So it must be differentiated. Now it seems to me that such a basic
notion of differentiation (prior to any schematisation into
fundamental-object-of-the-month) is primitive and irreducible, not to
say semantically paradoxical (since an undifferentiated whole that is
the sum of everything cannot in logic rely on symmetry-breaking from
any source whatsoever). Such apparent paradoxicality is a good test of
'primitiveness'. Both primitives are required, because without the
'whole', the mutual transmutability of all phenomena is
incomprehensible, and without the 'part', no phenomena can arise at
all. Consequently the differentiation process, and the structures to
which it gives rise, are as fundamental as the context itself.

As to 'qualia', I'd like to put it as follows. In my account of things,
our existence within the FP1g context is what gives us our purchase on
the (rest of the) world, what enables us to 'grasp it'. Whatever we
perceive, we do so in terms of our existence in this form. Such direct
access, what we sometimes call 'experience', is by this token both
incorrigible, and literally indescribable. To take one of the
favourite examples, the 'experience of red', this is something which we
know by 'direct grasp', and as such it takes its place within our
'shareable knowledge base', or SKB. But we cannot 'describe' (i.e.
reduce) this direct experience, even to ourselves. What we can do is
to refer to it ostensively - to 'point' to it - and to relate it to
other elements within the SKB.

This puts us on precisely the same footing as the other members of the
FP1i community with whom we can share the SKB. So IMO 'qualia' are an
attribute of the FP2-type modelling of the SKB. You know what I mean
by the term because we can both 'point' to parts of the SKB that in our
view possess this attribute. But the 'redness-of-red' is the medium,
the 'means whereby', we grasp some element of the world directly, and
is in itself not transmissible - it's not part of the SKB information
content, it's the *medium* of the SKB (and everything else). In this
direct FP1 aspect 'red' is a fundamental structure based on a primitive
context with a primitive process of differentiation.

> Why shoukdn't FP1i be the most primitive 1st-person,
> arising from 0-personality ?

It depends what you want 0-personality to mean. Of course I don't
claim that FP1g has 'personality' in the FP1i sense of a single
individual point-of-view. What I'm claiming is that both have the same
ontological status, and since when we come to the 'individuation' of
the context - i.e. ourselves (amongst others) - we know incorrigibly
that this ontology is first-personal, this status must per simplicitas
be first personal. You may wish to distinguish 0-personal from third
personal, in which case we might be able to agree on a more mutually
satisfactory terminology (I'd be more than happy to abandon my terms
for more transparent ones).

In my view the conceptual problems in trying to rationalise first
personal with third personal is that IMO 'third person' is an attribute
applicable only in a metaphorical or classificational sense to
'objects' within the SKB. The SKB is the 'third personal world', but
because ordinary language and inter-personal discourse forces us to
communicate exclusively in terms of the SKB, this puts us into a
schizoid state between the 'world-out-there' (i.e. our ostensive
references to the SKB, the FP2 or descriptive world) and the
'world-in-here' (i.e. our 'experience' or 'direct grasp' of the SKB,
the FP1 or instantiated world). When I posit the FP1-only ontology,
I'm saying that all of this can be modelled as the 'world-in-here',
though of course not in a naive solipsistic sense - i.e. not the
world-in-FP1i, but the world-in-FP1g.

> All of that is structural and therefore seconfary to any prime
> substance.

I think that would be a telling point but for my arguments above.

> You could have done the same starting from a 0-personal position.

I hope you can now see why I believe that I could not, unless it turns
out that you mean by 0-personal what I mean by FP1g. To test this,
could you elaborate on how in your view the 'directly manifest' first
personal point-of-view (not, mark you, FP2 descriptive analogs thereof,
such as the reference in this sentence) arises from the 0-personal. If
the 0-personal entails that under appropriate structural delimitation,
such 'pinched-off' zones display FP1i first person-hood - such as that
in which I presume you are modelling these words *right now* - then it
may turn out that we are merely confusing terms rather than concepts.


> David Nyman wrote:
> > 1Z wrote:
> >
> > > > I'll try to nail this here. I take 'ontology' to refer to issues of
> > > > existence or being, where 'epistemology' refers to knowledge, or 'what
> > > > and how we know'. When I say that our 'ontology' is manifest, I'm
> > > > claiming (perhaps a little more cautiously than Descartes): 'I am
> > > > that which experiences here'. I take these to be an ontological
> > > > continuum or set of equivalences, not properties: I ->experience ->
> > > > here. For reasons of economy, I see no need to postulate any other
> > > > ontological status.
> >
> > > What about all the stuff that appears, subjectively , to be not-me ?
> > >
> > > If I ignore it, I am not making full use of my only epistemologial
> > > resource.
> > >
> > > If I treat is as 1st-personal as well as third-personal, I am
> > > overcomplicating things.
> >
> > Hi Peter
> >
> > I'd like to be really careful here to avoid getting into some of the
> > same loops that so frustrated Alan on the FOR list! I may well be dead
> > wrong in what I'm claiming, but at least I'd like us both to be clear
> > on precisely what in fact this is.
> >
> > Firstly, my overall enterprise is to arrive at some general description
> > of things that relies on as few explanatory entities as possible. Now,
> > IMO we cannot avoid taking first person into account - I find I can't
> > begin to have an intelligible discussion with anyone who doesn't accept
> > this (not you clearly).
> I don't even know what you mean by "first person".
> You seem to think that the boundraries of the self are given by
> secondary,
> non-fundamental structures and properties, likewise qualia.
> > From this, if first person is to be a given,
> > the simplest approach is to explore whether, ontologically speaking, we
> > could take it to be the sole given, and my project has been to see
> > where this leads. One of the difficulties has been to pin down the
> > language to distinguish the different meanings associated with the term
> > 'first person', so I've attempted to define certain usages (which I'm
> > happy at any time to abandon for better ones). These are:
> >
> > 1) FP1g - primitive 'global' first person entity or context
> > 2) FP1i - individual person delimited by primitive differentiation
> > (which is agnostic to comp, physics, or anything else at this logical
> > level)
> > 3) FP2 - narrative references to first persons, as in 'David is a first
> > person', an attribution, as opposed to 'David-as-first-person', a
> > unique entity.
> > 4) TP - third person, or structure-read-as-information, as opposed to
> > structure-demarcating-an-entity
> >
> > Later on in the reply to Bruno from which you quote, and in some of the
> > earlier posts, I make the point that starting from such a generalised
> > or undifferentiated first person context we can see that certain sorts
> > of structural differentiation can create delimited zones within the
> > whole. Some of these zones take the form of individual first persons
> > (FP1i).
> Why shoukdn't FP1i be the most primitive 1st-person,
> arising from 0-personality ?
> > Within each FP1i person so constituted exists a 'set of
> > capabilities' and a 'structural model of the world'. Which part of the
> > FP1i acts as 'perceiver' and which 'perceptual model' is simply an
> > aspect of function-from-structure. It happens to be the former that
> > has the organisation for representing information and self-reporting,
> > so it's the one that gets to enjoy 'experience'.
> >
> > Within the structural model of the world - our only means of
> > representing, and through 'downloading', sharing information with other
> > first persons - there will of course be regions that we variously label
> > 'self' (e.g. 'my arm') or 'other' (e.g. Peter Jones'). The latter, I
> > presume, would be an example of what you call 'stuff that appears,
> > subjectively , to be not-me'. Of course I agree that 'If I ignore it,
> > I am not making full use of my only epistemologial resource'. So, I
> > don't ignore it.
> >
> > However, you go on: 'If I treat is as 1st-personal as well as
> > third-personal, I am overcomplicating things'. My response to this is
> > two-fold. First, of course, it is simply not the case that my
> > representation of 'Peter Jones' is the same as its presumed referent in
> > the world 'Peter Jones'. My assumption is that it is informationally
> > connected with this referent, and to an extent co-varies with it, but
> > it is well for me to remember that such representations are my
> > reponsibility and not yours. But more fundamentally, and this is why I
> > recapitulated my overall project at the outset, the intention is to
> > simplify, not complicate. My representation of 'Peter Jones' is a part
> > of my subjectivity, and it is a part I label 'third person' to
> > distinguish it from 'self', an evolutionarily useful distinction.
> All of that is structural and therefore seconfary to any prime
> substance.
> > Peter Jones in the world I take to be another first person entity
> > (FP1i) that derives this status in virtue of being another delimited
> > zone, appropriately structured, within FP1g, the single ontological
> > context. Outside of my subjective model of the world, and that of
> > other first persons, in no sense is Peter Jones in the world 'third
> > person'. Only the *references* to Peter Jones are subjectively
> > categorised as such within individual world-models, and these are FP2
> > first-person analogs, or third person descriptions of first persons -
> > as distinct from 'instantiated first persons'.
> >
> > Now it seems to me that all of the above has been accomplished without
> > moving outside of a primitive first person ontology. I have
> > distinguished various zones within this single context, and I've
> > suggested how one information structure can be used to 'label' another
> > (i.e. stand in relation to it) as 'third person' (description or
> > narrative), 'self', or 'other', and all without deploying any other
> > ontological type, other than metaphorically. That's what I'm trying to
> > achieve.
> You could have done the same starting from a 0-personal position.

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Received on Tue Aug 08 2006 - 14:27:29 PDT

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