Real as a Rock
JoT re Rev re "Jehovah's Clones"

Rev, your critique is right on. My crazy riff on Jehovah's clones only makes sense if one takes the idea of one's "real" self seriously. In response to that rant, Jehovah's Witnesses could counter that they don't believe in "real" selves. JW's adopting the Buddhist tenet of "no-self" would be more than fine by me.

Your suggestion that we understand our "real" selves as social phenomena is an interesting one. To me it makes the key point that just because the self isn't "real" doesn't mean that it's not meaningful. More simply, even though the self isn't ultimately real, it's still real. It's as real as a rock, anyway.

Plato taught that there was an essential "you," a soul, that was more real than rocks. It turns out, however, that there is a "you." It's just not essential, and it is not more real than rocks are.

In some ways, the physical world of rocks and such is illusory. We experience the world through our limited senses and think about it with our fallible brains. Therefore, the "physical world" we experience is second-hand and imperfect.

But in the same way, you are illusory. You experience yourself through your senses and you think about yourself with your brain. You experience yourself second-hand and imperfectly.

We know that instead of being solid, a rock is actually mostly empty space, filled with molecules vibrating like crazy. In that way, the rock is illusory. It is not "really" the way we perceive it. You could say that it's not the rock itself that isn't real but our idea of the rock that isn't real, but our idea of the rock is all we have.

Likewise, we know that our consciousness is discontinuous (gappy), even though we experience it as continuous. The common idea of self that we use in this culture is as unreal as the "solid" rock.

The rock is not the intentionally created object that we once thought it was. Instead of an artifact molded by the Hand of God, the rock is the result of natural, mindless processes. It is not a manifestation of the pre-existing idea of "rock" or of the platonic form "rock."

Likewise, we are not in the image of God, but in the shape of apes.

So, if the question is, "Are you really real?" the answer is "As real as a rock." (You can say, "Yes, I'm as real as a rock," or "No, I'm only as real as a rock," depending on your mood.)

August 2001

Dennet's Consciousness Explained: more about gappy consciousness

Plato's Myth of Heaven and Hell: more platonic thought in pop culture