The Subject of Consciousness
© C.O. Evans

Chapter 6

The Experiential Self - 6.3.8
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3. The Dependence of a Persisting Self on Sustaining Activity

[9] We can now draw out the wider implications of this investigation for the continuousness of consciousness as a whole, and the persistence of the subject of consciousness. If my argument is sound then we have shown that awareness is a state which lasts for a time. But every awareness is an element of consciousness, so we can draw the conclusion that the consciousness as a whole of which one of its elements is continuous is itself continuous for just as long as the awareness lasts. But that leaves the possibility that there is a discontinuousness in consciousness from one awareness to the next. Only if the continuousness of consciousness outlasts the continuousness of a particular awareness will we have a state of affairs in which it will make sense to say that the subject of one awareness is the same subject as the subject of another awareness. This condition is fulfilled because the subject can have a number

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of contemporaneous awarenesses. One can be seeing an orchestra as well as hearing it with the result that a visual awareness is concomitant with an auditory awareness. It follows also that we must be able to engage in more than one bodily activity at a time: in the present case one must be looking at the orchestra and listening to it at one and same time. However, it is not at all necessary for both activities to end at the same time. I can go on looking at the orchestra long after it has played its last note. This has a twofold consequence. In the first place, because the two awarenesses are concomitant and are both elements of one consciousness they both are awarenesses of a single subject. In the second place, because one awareness may continue after the other has ceased, the subject must persist over the time covering both awarenesses. This was all that we set out to prove. But we can generalize the matter still further by pointing out that the persistence of a subject is assured by the fact that the concurrence of bodily activities ensures the continuousness of consciousness from one awareness to the next provided that these bodily activities are simultaneous for part of their duration.

But what if one bodily activity follows another without either being concomitant with the other or with any other bodily activity? No sooner do we present this possibility to ourselves than we see that we must be describing a situation in which there is a gap in consciousness. That is to say, we are referring to a state of affairs in which we are no longer dealing with a single period of waking consciousness. The gap in consciousness is created, in other words, by the fact that there is for a time no bodily activity whatsoever. But when we are faced with that problem we are no longer in the perspective of the self-approach but have immediately switched to the perspective of the persons- approach.

It should be noted that the claim that bodily activities can be concurrent - on which my argument for the continuousness of consciousness and hence the self is based - is supported by my theory of a reigning relevancy system. When our consciousness is organized about a relevancy system the bodily activities sustaining the awarenesses that enter that system must be co-operating together and not competing. That is to say, certain forms of attention presuppose the possibility of joint bodily activities, and this consideration closes the door to the objection that it is a gratuitous assumption on my theory that bodily activities must be able to occur concurrently. It can also be pointed out that this analysis would

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explain why we use the presence or absence of bodily activity as a criterion of the presence or absence of consciousness in the case of another person.

The account of the self's persistence through time was necessitated because we not only have native knowledge of ourselves as subjects of experience, but in addition our experience of being selves is an experience of being selves persisting through time. The account does, however, lend itself to a possible misunderstanding, and I wish to remove the source of this misunderstanding so far as I am able. Once it has been granted that the self persists, we immediately seem to run into the question: Is the self at time tl the same self as a self at time t? We run into this question because to say that the self persists seems to entail that the self at one time is the same as the self at a later time. But this question I claimed to be the concern of the persons-approach and here we find it breaking out in respect of the self-approach. The answer consists, I think, in seeing that the question cannot break out.

To ask of any particular, Is this the same again? is to ask for a re-identification of it. Such a question implies the existence of an intervening time when the particular was not under observation. If, however, the particular had been kept under continuous observation no question of re-identification could arise. If I have not taken my eyes off the object it is necessarily true that the object at time tl is the same as the object at time t. There could be no question of my finding this out: there could in turn be no question of being mistaken, since the only mistake I could make would be that of believing I had been continuously observing the object when I had not (and then the situation collapses into one of re-identification). Thus just as for the observer the question does not arise whether the object under continuous observation is the same at a later time as it was at an earlier one, so too the question does not arise whether a self at one time is the same as at another time as long as there is the continuous experience of being a self. It should not need pointing out that the parallel in the two cases stops when we reach the notion of continuous observation. In our own cases we do not observe the self - not even continuously. But we do continuously experience being a self. Thus it is only a deity who could say of a self that the self at tl is the same self as the self at t. For oneself the question does not arise.

In this chapter I have tried to show that the view of the self I have been putting forward does not fail on the question of the self's

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persistence through time. If this attempt has been successful the chapter will also have served to bring together with greater logical coherence many of the concepts that have figured in isolation in earlier chapters. In the final chapter a reconciliation between the self-approach and the persons-approach will be attempted.

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Footnotes