Honors College Application

What will you bring to the Honors College?

One of the key issues that comes up here in trying to answer this question is the extent to which the individual self, the personal identity – the thing this question expects will bring something to the Honor’s College – is actually a real thing worth preserving. The body is one thing. But what is this “self” that has something so valuable to offer and will persist throughout its time at the Honor’s College?

There is a lot of neuropsychological research showing that the “self” is in a strong sense an illusion – much like its sister illusion, “free will.” A year ago, I spent much time investigating this question in a rigorous way. To summarize my months of meditation, the neuroscientists Bruce Hood and Sam Harris, and 2600 years of Buddhist philosophy: The human mind’s image of itself is in fact a construct that the human mind creates in order to better understand and control itself, it’s not a “real thing.” And there are valid reasons to speculate that my mind – after Honors seminars and a ream of stimulating Honors coursework – might not offer what it offers now. Rather than constructing for you a story of a unified “self entity” that’s in control, a more intelligent and introspective take might simply be to describe myself as a partially heterogenous collection of patterns and subsystems. In this sense, any defining individuality that I describe now might not survive the immersion of my mind in the Honor’s College.

The key philosophical point here is: What is the point of not changing? Or, to put it more precisely: What is the point of attempting to be who I say I am? Is it to keep what I know to be important now around forever? That is a valid goal if I believe there exists a way of perceiving which is more valuable than anything I could possibly be exposed to. The closest I can describe to such a preservation-worthy way of perceiving is the following:

“For two full 584-million-mile laps around a ball of hydrogen swimming in infinite spacetime I will be at the collection of atoms known as UIC. I will then exist for an arbitrarily imposed human lifespan; then an eternity of nothingness. The normally- complicated question of “what to do?” is clear, because the only fathomable reaction to being a symphony of energy-field excitations in boundless space for an eyeblink in endless eternity is to love every moment of connection with other flashes of consciousness that happen to exist on the same speck of the cosmos that I do.”

Since the nature of the brain is to change and bounce around from subsystem to subsystem, my mind won’t be able to hold that state of consciousness for long. But if I could press a button that would allow the subsystem that thinks that way to become the unified, constant individual in the sea of nodes at the Honors College, I would.

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