Oneness Plus Two Equals Six: An Essay by Extropia DaSilva


In this scenario, only one theory of mind is running at any given moment. So, whenever the ‘Tal’ model is active, the other models are either completely inactive, or have slipped so far into the subconsciousness that they effectively do not exist. It is easy to see how an imaginary character like Digi or Tal ceases to be as soon as the mind focuses its attention on modelling other things, but the idea that ‘I’ ceases to exist is somewhat harder to accept. 

Then again, one can think of instances where people seem quite detached from reality. Patterns of light projected onto a screen, patterns of ink embedded on a page, result in us bursting out in laughter, or wiping away tears of empathy for characters that do not exist. In ‘Multiplicity: The New Science Of Personality’, Rita Carter explained that ‘David Suchet had a long stage run in ‘Timon Of Athens’ during which he found it increasingly difficult to flip back (to being David). One evening, a psychiatrist friend… shot at him a number of questions such as: ages of your children? Phone number? Date of birth?… The ‘Timon’ personality was so firmly in charge that his… memories were temporarily irretrievable’.

Of course, not everyone earns their living or spends their days roleplaying historical or fictional characters. But, as Rita Carter argued, ‘when someone says “I don’t know what got into me”, or “I just wasn’t myself today”, they are implicitly acknowledging the existence of a self other than the one who is speaking’. Perhaps, in normal circumstances, the brain can switch so rapidly between theories of mind that ‘I’, ‘Digi’ and ‘Tal’ seem to co-exist, when in reality if ’Digi’ is running the others are offline. Alternatively…


In this scenario, the three models are running simultaneously. On one hand, this scenario makes more sense than the previous one, since it denies the possibility that ‘I’ ceases to exist when the ‘Digi’ or ‘Tal’ model is active in the brain. Also, any lecturer explaining the computational theory of mind is sure to point out the massive parallel processing capabilities of the brain, which goes far beyond those multi-core chips that are all the rage these days.

On the other hand, what we have here is a conflict with most people’s basic concept of ‘self’. Rita Carter called this concept ‘Oneness’, as in the belief there is ‘a single, consistent, identity’. In stark contrast to this belief, the Parallel Mind scenario posits three mental models of identity running simultaneously: The primary is ‘I’ and ‘Digi’ and ‘Tal’. Of course, one can always claim that two out of the three do not exist. But they do exist as patterns of information interpreted into a model of a person, just as ‘I’ does. And once you start down that road you wonder if sounds do not really exist, unless and until pressure waves rippling through air molecules are funnelled into ears which then trigger auditory circuits, or if streams of photons are not light until they strike the retina and the visual cortex  builds up an image of a scene. And if you were someone like Morgaine Dinova, you would insist that sound waves and photons do not exist either, and are just convenient scientific models of some ultimately unknowable reality.


The Nested Mind scenario sees the model of ‘Tal’ existing within the model of ‘Digi’ which in turn exists as a model within the mind of ‘I’ which in turn exists… well we will get to that. Before that, I should point out the difference between ‘Parallel Mind’ and ‘Nested Mind’. In the previous scenario, the primary’s model of ’I’ is equal in size (abstractly speaking) to the models of ‘Digi’ and ‘Tal’. According to Nested Mind,  ‘I’ is biggest, ‘Digi’ is smaller and ‘Tal’ is smaller still. ‘Digi’ exists within the model of ‘I’ because, well, it was the primary’s life experience that built up Digi’s i-genome (see ‘Virals And Definitives’ for the definition of i-genome). And ‘Tal’ is nested within Digi because it is only through Digi that the Primary knows Tal. So you might also call this scenario ‘Matrioska Mind’ after those Russian dolls that split open to reveal progressively smaller dolls inside.

The question of where the mind exists has traditionally met with two conflicting answers. There is dualism, which professor Owen Flanagan also calls ‘Nearby’, because, ‘when I try to remember…it seems as if my mind asks my brain… (‘I’ live where my mind lives, not where my brain is housed)… the mind is not in the brain or the body, but it is close’. The idea that a person’s mind floats around in some metaphysical space close by, working the body like an invisible puppet master deftly plucking invisible strings, is a weird but popular one. It is, after all, the default position of anyone who believes the Self survives the death of the body and brain. Most people do believe in an afterlife of some kind or other.

No such comfort is offered by the other answer, which professor Andy Clark calls ‘Brainbound’. According to Professor Flanagan, brainbound insists, ‘the mind IS the brain. The mind isn’t in the brain in the metaphorical way that my beloved has a place in my heart. The mind is literally, physically in the brain because, well, that’s where it is and that’s where it was all along’.

Andy Clark himself has introduced a third alternative that he calls ‘Extended’. According to this view, ‘Mind’ is a pattern that is smeared across many brains and external memory systems. In the introduction to Clark’s book (which is called, ’Supersizing The Mind’), David Chalmers writes, ‘when parts of the environment are coupled with brains in the right way, they become parts of the mind’. Suppose you save records of important appointments on your personal organizer, and come to rely on the machine to recall information you entered and subsequently forgot (why retain so much information, when you only need remember which few icons to click in order to get the machine to ‘remember’ for you?). Well, in that case the personal organizer counts as part of the cognitive process that reliably results in you keeping your appointments. No wonder an interviewee once told Sherry Turkle, ‘when my laptop crashed, I felt like I had lost a part of my mind’.

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