What makes up the self

Following up on my last post, I am also wondering about where IQ comes from.   As noted there, there seems to be a genetic component to IQ because IQ tends to be stable over an individual’s lifetime, and there seems to be an environmental component since IQ scores have been increasing in recent generations.  On that latter observation, I assume there must have been other periods with multi-generational declines of IQ or else we would not be able to explain the ancient Romans, let alone the ancient Egyptians.

Within the modern materialist viewpoint, IQ must be some combination of nature (often reduced to genetics) and nurture or the environment.   Within this constraint, there are multiple proposals ranging from all from genetics or all from environment and everywhere in between.   As noted in first paragraph, even superficial familiarity with the evidence suggests it must be a combination, but still there are strong advocates of something close to a 70/30 split where 70% is either genetics or environment depending on the advocate.   My impression is that popular opinion compromises with a 50/50 split, but this to me is the same as saying we don’t know.

On this blog, I have frequently contemplated on the nature of intelligence.  In summary, I believe intelligence is immaterial.   Intelligence may be passed between generations or shared within generations through some other explanation than genetics or environment.   I am open to the idea that someday we may discover some new explanation for intelligence.

I think there are many atomic parts of the self.   The genetic component makes our physical bodies possible and the environmental component places constraints on how our bodies turn out.  But these two are not sufficient.

I think a future discovery will explain how a species reproduces members of the same species.  The genetics provides the molecular (protein) building blocks and the environment provides the material, but there may be something else that guides the process.   That something else may simply be a deeper understanding of the genetic processes, but I’m open to other possibilities.

More importantly to me is the origin of intelligence, consciousness, memory, and soul.  (While writing this post, this video came out that describes one way to solve the problem, but it presents a niche audio presentation of the core question about the origin or explanation of the self).

I concede that the soul may not exist, and it doesn’t matter that I think it does.  I bring it up as a metaphor because I think most people at least understand the qualities of the soul even if they think it is a fairy tale.   If a soul would exist, it seems to be something that is neither inherited from the parents, nor emerges from the environment.   For the religious, the soul is a creation of God, or some link to the spiritual world.   The existence of the soul is not essential to a working definition of the self, but it at least suggests there may be some aspects of the self that come from neither genes nor environment.

Closely related to soul is consciousness and the experience of qualia.   The experience of consciousness is real, although it has been argued that it is an illusion (although I don’t understand what is the audience of that illusion).   Consciousness is a part of the self, and I don’t know how it is something that can be inherited from my parents, or something that can come from my environment.   Consciousness seems to be well formed from the moment of birth and my recollection of consciousness from around 3 years old doesn’t seem all that different from what I have over 50 years later.

Consciousness, like the soul, may be dismissed because it has no real implication outside of the self.  In a model of the social world, we would lose very little if we assume everyone else were just computer simulations or philosophical zombies.   I would argue that consciousness and soul do play into what persuades me, but it matters very little in the grand scheme of things whether or not I am persuaded anything.

That leaves the problems of intelligence and memory.  These do matter to the outside world.  At the very least, these enable me to be employed and society at some level feels it is valuable to compensate me for the exercise of my intelligence and memory.

Some memory such as instinctual behaviors or learning proclivities do appear to be inherited.  I don’t see how they can come from genes, but I defer to scientists who say they do.   The more valuable memory comes from the environment by way of training, education, and experience.   Still there remains how memory is stored and how it is retrieved.   Science locates these mechanisms inside the brain and the brain is a product of genetics and nature.  Yet, that doesn’t convince me that the skill of memory is inherited or a product of nature.   There seems to be too much variation between parents and children, and too much variation between peers growing up in similar environments.   It seems to me that memory skill is very specific to the individual.  I don’t understand the reason for this, but I’m hopeful that someday we will find some other influence that is neither genetic nor environmental.

Finally, there is the question of the cause or origin of intelligence.  It seems to me that intelligence is more similar to my understanding of a soul than it similar to my anatomy.  My anatomy is clearly defined by genes and environment.   I respect the scientific claims that intelligence, like memory or even consciousness is a byproduct of my anatomy.  I’m just not convinced.

Part of the problem with intelligence is that so much of my intelligence is hidden from others.  We live in a social world and there are social norms about what can be discussed.  I know far more about my intelligence than I do about anyone else’s.   Even for celebrity intellectuals with broad acclaim, I suspect most of their full intelligence is hidden.   Perhaps the filters are even more restrictive for them because they have to play the role that currently benefits them.

The internal filters of acceptable discourse restricts our ability to measure our internal experience of intelligence with the experience of others.   This filter gives us the false impression that some people are smarter than others.   People may be smarter than they appear and yet the socialized filters are so strong that no one else will never know it.   If it is not expressed, we assume it doesn’t exist.

Perhaps the variation of innate intelligence in humans is narrower than we measure with IQ tests.   These tests may be measuring the filters on intelligence, where those filters may be beyond any conscious ability to change.   The person may be smarter than his brain allows him to act.   In some cases, the filter may be hiding the person being dumber in some circumstances, for example reflexively responding to danger despite being convinced the danger isn’t real (in the example of Pyrrhonian skeptics).

Personally, I tend to think that the IQ distributions generally accurately represent the variation of intelligence.   As I discussed in the last post, the variation in intelligence seems to be more important than the variability of mean intelligence for different groups, such as sex, occupation, or genealogy.   Even when there is a difference in means within different population, it is often noted that variation within any group is much larger than the difference in means of different groups.    The more important question to answer is what explains the variation in intelligence.

The variation in intelligence matches my presumption that intelligence is more like the soul than it is like the body.  In other words, I am not convinced that intelligence is a product of either genetics or environment.   There is something very individualist about where one lands in the intelligence bell-curve.   I’m describing the basic intelligence that precedes learning and defines how we perceive ourselves.   Intelligence and memory are dependent on consciousness and soul.  Either they share a similar explanation, or together they suggest that there is something other than genetics and environment that explains the existence of a self.


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