This essay is short and pithy. Robert Fuller insists that instead of asking “Who are we?” the more appropriate question is “What are we?” The answer being that we are a machine. He favorably quotes various thinkers of the past who have come to the same conclusion, such as Mark Twain, John Barth, David Human, and Charles Darwin. In brief chapters with titles asking am I my body? my mind? my witness? my soul? a home for identities? pure consciousness? he repudiates each possibility. Instead the self is our collective genome (DNA), menome (personal constantly-changing neural network), and wenome (we are formed by how others perceive us). This means that “self” is a misnomer because it implies autonomy and self-sufficiency. In a way, there is nothing new in this essay to anyone who has thought deeply about the question identity, but Fuller summarizes this view of self with simplicity and clarity, and does so with snazzy terminology. He is very optimistic about the effect that adopting this tripartite summary of the self will have on mankind. Since the mind is a machine, it can be debugged, just as a computer can be debugged. Fuller argues that “the lion’s share of human suffering can be traced to erroneous self-conceptions. Once people realize that existence is co-existence, wars will diminish, he believes. I’d love to think so, but I don’t see how the fact that megalomaniacs depend upon others to form their bloated conceptions of themselves will make them less inclined to dominate and exploit others to make themselves more powerful.
Fuller seems to take it for granted that machines with a similar sense of self that humans enjoy it in the not-too-distant future. I do not think this is likely, but I know far less about the development of thinking machines than Fuller does. If such a machine is developed, one which is our superior in every way, that would seem to be cause for healthy paranoia.
In dismissing pure consciousness as the “ground of being” Fuller says “there’s no harm in that, but neither is it useful when it comes to doing and undoing, to behavior and modifying it.” This is the classic materialist-reductionist perspective. Another way of looking at it, if consciousness has intrinsic existence, then it has participated in evolution of the genome, as well as the ongoing formation of the menome, and the wenome. The sense of self would be dependent upon this intrinsic consciousness. In which case, the self is not strictly a machine, and it is unlikely that manufacturing machines with a sense of self is likely. If consciousness exist intrinsically, then it would possess intrinsic qualities. These qualities would have something to do with doing and undoing behavior and modifying it. The possibility of intrinsic consciousness at least provides a different perspective to the materialist-reductionist dogma.
NEW REVISED EDITION. This short ebook is a compilation of Robert W. Fuller's article series "Why Everything You Know about Your 'Self' Is Wrong". The series explores how our understanding of selfhood affects our sense of individuality, our interpersonal relationships, and our politics.