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A thought inspired by Thursday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Gittin 79

A thought inspired by Thursday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Gittin 79

The self, the written word, and time.

This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.

One of the central verbal fictions we use to make sense of our world is the idea that there is such a thing as “my self”, that there exists a unified entity, stretching over time that can be uniquely identified and referred to.

Calling this concept of “self” a “verbal fiction”, is not intended to imply that it is wrong or invalid. It is as valid as any other verbal framework we use, and perhaps more useful than many other verbal logic conceptual frameworks or perspectives.

This “self” is composed of many parts represented by different desires, drives and capabilities. A neurologist might say that the single individual we speak of is produced by a host of different clumps of neurons each activated at different times. When we think about ourselves or when we reflect on our own thoughts, we are really thinking about the various activation of these different parts of the brain.

However, this does not mean that thinking of ourselves or any other person as the totality of the interacting parts is invalid. A molecule is composed of multiple, often different atoms, but nevertheless it is very useful to think of this collection of atoms as a molecule.

Nevertheless, the concept of the self is not just the configuration of the parts of the body or brain at any one time, the way a molecule is a way of thinking of its constituent atoms. We see the “self” as a unifying concept that stretches across time. However, this self changes every second, with every word said, every thought and every new memory. None of us are identical in our physical or mental configuration at any two moments. We evolve, learn and change continuously all the time. We are also very different people in a relationship with one person as opposed to our personality in a different context. The “self” might be a useful concept, but it is a vague one.

The idea that we have some kind of unified and consistent identity across time becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because our deep emotional attachment to this idea encourages us to behave in a consistent, dependable and similar manner over the course of time. We choose to think and act in such a way that will make sure that this concept of a “self” is never undermined.

Our interactions with other people also incentivizes us to maintain coherence of behavior across time. We learn very early on that others expect to see more or less the same person each day and so we remake ourselves in the image of that expectation.

The introduction of the written record created one of the most prominent challenges to the concept of the consistent self. We write words that express an opinion, belief, attitude or perspective that truly reflect who we are at the moment that the words are written down. However, once that moment passes, we start changing, but the words remain stuck in time. The written word can be accessed by anybody, including people who know us as someone else, it can even be copied and mass produced.

Today the written word is just one among the ways permanent records are created and immediately distributed. Perhaps the hesitancy we feel about commenting in a public forum is not just a fear of exposure to the unsympathetic other, but panic in the face of being tied to a snapshot of our “self” at just one moment in time.

Moreover, no sentence carries meaning by itself. Each sentence or assertion needs a lot of other statements in order to be understood or, at least, to allow building more insight into some meaning. Others might try to conjoin words written at different times in order to build a more complete picture. How is this possible when the one who wrote one sentence is no longer the one who wrote the other?

If we were to recognize and abandon our need for consistency, we might free our creativity, but it is equally possible that we might just disintegrate our selves.

submitted by /u/eliyah23rd
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Source: Reditt

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