OR "Shared Reality, part 1"
All of our reality, what we see, what we understand, what we judge, what we desire, what we even think - all of this DOES NOT ORIGINATE FROM WITHIN YOU BUT FROM SOURCES EXTERNAL TO YOU, AND HENCE IS UNIMPORTANT.
What you are, is different from what you think you are, since what you think you are, is based on your specific experience of life. And that experience is external to you, and hence cannot be used to describe you, especially when one has very less amount of control over the external surroundings. All action that you do, which influences the surroundings, was itself determined by your experience upto that point of time. And the same argument can be applied repeatedly. Ofcourse, genes also have a role in all this (and not a trivial role at that), but the role of experience cannot be undermined.
[And whether genes are part of your experience is one interesting offshoot that we dont want to get into at this point]
To appreciate the role of societal experience in making what you are, try describing what you are, given the context of your current reality.
You will begin with your role in society - you are a student, or you work here, etc (how and what services you exchange with the society), how you relate to other people (how and what emotions you exchange with the society) and then you will describe your hobbies, what you like and what you dont, what path of life that you have gone through (what experience has this society given you), what are your behavior patterns (how your experience with society has caused you to behave), and then some people might give their goal of life (how their mind has analysed the information about society to come up with a goal, which was itself based on their experience in life) and so on.
If you look at all of this, you will find that you are trying to speak about yourself, but actually you are only speaking about your experience in society and its effects. [You are also speaking about your genes here, dont get me wrong, but you are also very significantly speaking about your social experience]
Now comes the litmus test.
Imagine that you had spent your life in a hypothetical situation in the African jungles, with some totally different people as your parents and your community, under totally different circumstances. There the conditions had been so difficult that nobody could be certain that any person in the area would see the light of the next morning, because the wild animals living around the community would attack every night. Where your parents had been killed when you were two. Where you spoke in an African language, where you hadnt even remotely heard of the existence of a thing as electricity, where the only task you did in your life was collecting food for the next week by hunting wild boars.
Now imagine what would your reality had been, had you gone through this. Think about all of your personality traits - would they have been the same? Or so would anything else?
The best inference comes, however, when you imagine instead of this african jungle with lots of people, you had been living in African jungles at a time when you were the lone human on the planet. You were in africa, but alone. Alone on the whole planet. Though you had company from the wild animals living around your house. You had grown up among these animals, and you hadnt seen another human in your whole life.
Now imagine and think.
What would you say about yourself (assuming that you knew spoken language, which you wouldnt) given these circumstances?
Would that be similar to what you describe as yourself now?
If all of our reality including what we think about ourselves is so dependent on our experience then where do "we" come into the picture, separate from the experience?
The point is - you dont exist separately from your experience. Atleast in the way you imagine yourself to exist.
Its a question of where to draw the line.
You might want to draw the line at the soul (or whatever metaphorically it means), and say that you are your soul, and the rest - your body, your brain, this world - are nothing but your experiences. And hence at this level you can not differentiate between descriptions of people, since they all can be completely described by the previous sentence. And hence, spiritualists would call everyone God or an "equivalent" part of God (Hinduism: you are part of Brahman, everyone is atman, God is Parmatman)
Then you can draw the line at the continuity of the complex thinking process in your complex brain as the seat of conciousness, which is you. [brain became so complex that its complex thinking started to have illusions of awareness, and of becoming conscious] So whatever you take in from the senses, becomes your experience. It will appear that you yourself will change with experience, since the brain changes its neural connections based on the experience it gets. But this will not happen if you take the meaning of continuity of the thought process as the continuity of the thought process separate from the brain the thought process runs on, and the contents of the thought process itself. If we look at it this way, then it almost becomes similar metaphorically as a soul, although with one point of difference - souls are said to be permanent, and this is not. (I personally feel that the soul actually metaphorically appears quite similar to this continuity of thought; for solving the permanence problem by looking at the phenomenon itself - of developing a feeling of consciousness after reaching a complex state of thoughts - as being permanent, while only this instance of the phenomenon as temporary) [.. plz read this past post for on this continuity of thought as consciousness...]
[ In the above two cases, you count gene as part of your experience: you got the genes from the society in the first place, you got them from your mother and father, who met each other in the society exchanging emotions, and then got their genes themselves from their parents from society]
Then you can draw the line at the genes. You can say that you are your genes, and you produced a brain as your "extension" in order to help you replicate yourself. (I guess that Richard Dawkins has some theory like this in The Selfish Gene, a book which I really want to read whenever I can find time) You then change according to whatever your experience, but the way you change is a property of the genes. So you can be completely described by only your genes, and experience is secondary. So "you" are just a characteristic of a brain which was developed in the way the genes are, and it was developed because of the genes. So in effect "you" are the "genes" themselves. [This is a not an uncommon place to draw the line, when people from one country try to prove they are superior than the other country, they are trying to say that their genes are stronger. And even more pertinent example is all racist wars like the Hitler against the Jews stuff]
And finally you can draw the line at your genes+experience. So in effect, this is saying that you are nothing but your genes AND your experience. (And actually you had no control in defining/shaping either for yourself.)
The distinctions between drawing the line at different places is generally not clear to us when we interact in this world in practice, I think, and we usually tend to overlap one way with another.
Anyway, its late night, and now if I glance up, I think that I should have written this during the day.. :-) ...would have turned out much better because my brain would have been thinking straight rather than skewed.
(related next part)