The self and its biological function: contrasts between Popper and Sartre

Wilfried Allaerts


In the present paper we aimed at a reflection about the cross-overs and contrasts between philosophical thoughts of a biological function of the Self (Popper, 1977) and theoretical reflections about the nature of biological self-reference idioms. Contrary to extreme materialistic or physicalist philosophies of consciousness, the interactionist view on the Self and its brain, places the Self, both conscious and dispositional, within a biological functionalist approach. As a consequence, the biological Self according to Popper (1977) is marked by an anchorage in time and also in space by so-called World 3 models. Hence, Popper's biological Self notion may be regarded as 'positional', similar to the positional consciousness of world and Self as expressed in Sartre (1943).
Recently, several efforts have been provided in neurophysiology, neuropsychology and neuropathology to dissect the anatomy of cogni- tive disorders as a heuristic tool to define the biological functioning of cognitive and other mental processes.
However, the biological function notion, and the functionalist approach to the Self, are renounced in the philosophical analysis and novel 'La Nausée' by Sartre (1938). The renouncement of the func- tionalist approach is inspired by the so-called essential contingency of nature (Sartre, 1938). We feel this is an interesting position, for it illustrates the incompleteness of the biological function notion in self-reference idioms, for, these functional self-references are necessarily posi- tional and marked by some relation of cognition. This is in strict contrast with the non-cognitive and non-positional consciousness of the Self-being-conscious of an object (Sartre, 1943). Sartre's monism of the phenomenon and the consequent annihilation of the inside-outside dualism, moreover, is interesting for it discloses an important philosophical and psychological theme, essentially related to the relation- ship between the awareness of time and the awareness of Self.
On the other hand, the perception-oriented phenomenological approach, unveals apparent inconveniences for the task of analysing biological self-reference idioms (Allaerts, 1997, in press). We here present some possible causes for these inconveniences: (1) the asymmetrical apprehension of the extendedness of space and time; (2) the inherent limitations imposed on the simultaneous awareness of time and Self (Popper, 1977); (3) the lack of perspective towards the aspect of functional significance or, according to Sartre, the resolute refutation of the functional significance perspective (Sartre, 1938, 1943).
Comparing the philosophical positions of Popper and Sartre, shows that both explicitly refer to the biological functionalist approach, but also that their positions are strictly opposed with respect to the merits of this biological self-reference idiom, allowing a dialectical confronta- tion of both philosophies.

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