Individuation, identity and self

This program is devoted to question and understand the essential nature of the individual identity from the scale of indistinguishable quantum particles, through fermionic or bosonic atomic conglomoerates up to neural self projected by the brain.

Being Human means to unavoidably commit oneself to a network/hierarchy of beliefs rooted primarily in the way we become self-- this individual person-- through acquisition of language. It is not difficult to single out the notion of the individual and identity as the most significant ingredient in the network of these beliefs.

This belief hierarchy, based on these notions, penetrates / spill over non-trivially in our formal/numerical artifacts aimed towards understanding Reality.

Some gradual instances from the episodes of History of modern Science: Episode I: Prelude to a greatest ever enigma Gibbs' paradox, which surfaced during the late 19th century, is one of the early instances of a Failure (Nature's tricky rejection!) of `our belief' to extrapolate the `everyday meaning of numerical identity' into the domain of statistical behavior of Gas molecules.

Episode II: Interlude (1900--1920..) The prevailing discomfort with the ontology of newly entertained member of our picture of reality-- energy quantum (named photon much later during 1923 by Gilbert Lewis )

Episode III: It took only 4 years (1924--27) to manufacture the formal toolkits of standard quantum mechanics! Quantum statistics as well as the standard quantum formalism seem only to suggest an amplified version of Gibbs' paradox, in that Bell and Kochen-Specker theorems rule out models in terms of local or noncontextual preexisting propertie.

Effectively, the formalism seems to present difficulty to preserve our ability to create marks of identification / discernibility / Principle of Identity of Indistinguishable (PII).

Episode IV: Standard quantum Formalism is now ready to be understood. But, where is the LINE OF DEMARKATION between the Reality governed by Quantum rules of undefined individuals and indeterminate properties on the one hand, and the world of our everyday experience, on the other?

The lessons left as early as late 20s of the last century was that, Nature doesn’t seem to allow extrapolation our everyday belief beyond a certain ( yet unknown!) extent ! But standard quantum mechanics doesn’t prescribe any exact location of the demarcation line / CUT wherefrom the strange rules of quantum really take over!

Standard logic and Set theory seems to be inadequate to capture this sense of Failure of Individuation / ontological priority of Individual instantiated by standard formalism..

All about (re)creating discernibility ? (I) Keeping in view the quantum mechanical lessons about the difficulty to preserve discernibility, the immediate next question was (effectively ) about the possibility to RE-CREATE DISCERNIBILITY which was equivalent to the question of saving REALISM by introducing local hidden qualifying features ( preexisting parameters )

Early Phase of struggle to understand the theory (1930-- early 40s)-- For Bohr, Einstein, early Schrodinger.. and few others .., who bothered most about foundation …, the situation was initially very much about a CHOICE between a quantum mechanics with a strong subjective undertone ( defended by Bohr and his followers* ) AND a quantum mechanics without preferred role of observer ( defended emphatically by Einstein and early Schrodinger ..) - between a quantum reality strangely not supportive to any preexisting properties AND a quantum reality ‘ out there’ independent of observer ..… mimicking classical democracy.

Next Phase-- Many stray proposals to save realism.. Including the birth of traditional quantum logic as a realist response to Bohr …, War involvement of Physicists..etc shifted focus elsewhere from foundational issues

(II) Turning point to have a fresh interest about the old issue of CHOICE which most physicists thought as an inconclusive philosophical issue -

Comparatively better framework of discussing (1952--60s) possibilities of QUANTUM MECHANICS WITHOUT OBSERVER.

This question of CHOICE ( as well as recreating discernibility from general philosophical point of view ) is well known to have been given an exact framework of discussion following Bohm’s Theory ( 1952) as well as Bell’s inequality( 1964) and

Bell-Kochen–Specker( BKS) Theorem ( 1967 ) ... as any question of ‘recreating discernibility’ is effectively equivalent to the question of preserving Realism by introducing , as it primarily seem , local hidden qualifying features ! .. coexistence of these threats/ Impossibilities to save realism with Bohmean mechanics is particularly striking to indicate something more mysterious than is usually thought.

Schrodionger’s prophetic vision during the Dublin seminar and other unpublished essays during this time ..

A broader scope of discussion was really in sight (A): After Bohm , BKS ( 1967 )in one hand, and later Schrodinger’s emphatic stress on the other , to dispense altogether with Identity and sameness , .. the whole debate was provided with a broader scope of discussion within a framework overlapping more meaningfully than ever with concerns usually discussed more in Philosophy departments ….! We need not bother here about the subtle difference among the Bohreans

We can broadly categorize the scope of discussion entailed in terms of three overlapping areas - i] Question of saving discernibility has been discussed at length for a long time by philosophers with/ without any reference to quantum mechanics. Saving discernibility/ individuation within classical framework can be readily appreciated as a traditional philosophical agenda … with the methodological scope described clearly , for example , by Quine … “ … Ontology is doubly relative . Specifying the universe of a theory makes sense only relative to some background theory and only relative to some choice of manual of translation of the one theory into the other . Identity is thus a piece with ontology.

Accordingly , it is involved in some relativivity . Imagine a fragment of economic theory. Suppose its universe comprise persons , but its predicates are incapable of distinguishing between persons whose income are equal. The interpersonal relation of equality enjoys , within the theory , the subsitutivity property of the identity relation itself ; the two relations are indistinguishable .

It is only relative to a background theory , in which more can be said of personal identity than equality of income , that we are able even to the above account of the fragment of economic theory , hinging as the account does on a contrast between persons and incomes . ” [ Quine , 1969] But one must take a very careful note of the fact , that the possibility to develop any background theory in Quinean sense PRESUPPOSES ( / or at least doesn’t overrules) spatial exclusiveness , but quantum mechanics , as we have seen , offers even more challenging situation to do so when spatial exclusiveness fails . ( Fermions seems to retain so , but not quite unproblematically ) Different possibilities to save / recreate PII /discernibility ( in effect Realism in whatever weak sense ) in quantum mechanical context ( discerning ‘indistinguishable’ quantum systems ) has been discussed at reasonable length in recent philosophy of science literatures….[ References : Adam Caulton’ 2010 , Simon Saunders’ 2008…, GianCarloGhirardi’ 2008.. ] ii ] Bohmean mechanics as well as Bell Kochen Specker paradox ( 1967) in view – After the work of Kochen and Specker and Bell, it can be said that the old threat against Realism seems to have been substantiated. To put the ‘threat’ briefly, KS has shown that a realist interpretation involves an algebraic contradiction and Bell showed that Realism entails Nonlocality! Later Schrodinger’s proposals to dispense altogether with the notion of Identity and Sameness for describing quantum reality.


  1. Emergence of self in the neurobionic brain

Emergence of self in the neurobionic brain

A direct study of neural dynamics in the brain is difficult because it involves billions of neuronal connections at multiple scales. The creation of an artificial sensory organ, say a bionic retina on a silicon chip, must be based on an abstraction that gives a smart mapping of the brain dynamics. This is done by transforming it via a cognitive map into a function space using techniques from category theory. The result is a process calculus that can act on fMRI data to produce outcomes that mimic brain behavior. Quite apart from such medical use, the mapping technique can be used for software design that can be used in big data management. The present project aims to use this method to understand how a unified self arises in our daily experience. The mapping must show a multiscale behavior whereby only outcomes on the largest scale are presented to the conscious agent, while details of lower scales are suppressed to the subconscious or unconscious.

-- Kallol Roy

External References

  1. Many of Buddhism's core tenets significantly overlap with findings from modern neurology and neuroscience. So how did Buddhism come close to getting the brain right? -- by David Weisman.

Last updated: March 11, 2014.

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