the incompleteness of persons

You can't bite your own teeth, see your own eyes, shake your own hand, kiss your own lips, steal your own property. You can't avoid starvation by eating yourself. You can't conceive, produce or reproduce yourself (without outside help). You can't love or hate yourself, unless you have no integrity (ie you are not completely integrated).

If a self could have parts, then a part of a self could love and/or hate another part of the same self. (Conceivably a partial self could love/hate another partial self.) But a self with integrity has no parts: they've all been wholly and holistically and comprehensively integrated within the whole.

This post examines whether a self, a person if you prefer, can be subject to Godelian incompleteness (GI). The issue of what is or what could be a person is examined extensively in this blog under the "personhood" label.

GI is said to apply to "formal systems" such as Arithmetic. My non-technical (and probably dubious and distorted) "understanding" of GI is that in formal systems such as arithmetic and geometry, there are statements that are true but unprovable within the system. In particular, the "foundational truths" of such systems, the axioms, cannot be proven to be true within the system.

In Euclidean geometry, for instance, it's axiomatic that the angles of a triangle add to 180 degrees (180°), (whereas in hyperbolic geometry, they add to less than 180 degrees). But the axioms of Euclidean geometry can't be proven to be true inside of Euclidean geometry. To prove their truth or otherwise, one has to step outside of Euclidean geometry, into a "meta-geometry", at a higher level of abstraction.

Judgements/assessments made within a formal system, about that selfsame formal system, are unavoidably self-reflective. And self-reflexivity almost always leads to paradox.

In similar vein, applying GI to a person, yields the proposition that the truths of a person can't be proved by the person zirself, from within the person zirself. The truths of a person can only be proved outside of that person, from within a "meta-context" at a higher level of abstraction.

To put it crudely and simplistically: a person can't make accurate judgements about zirself; accurate judgements about a person can only be made by other people. Or in other words, you can't yourself correctly judge whether or not you are, for example, a "good person" or a "kind person" or an "evil person"; judgements about you can only be correctly made outside of you, by other people. And those other people comprise the "meta-context", at a higher level of abstraction, from within which correct judgements about you can be made.

More generally, the truths of personhood can't be proved from within personhood, but rather only from within a meta-context, at a higher level of abstraction.

So, what is the truth of being a person? What is/are the axioms of personhood? Here are some possibilities for consideration:

  • I exist (there is such a thing as me)
  • I don't exist. I am a "mere" epiphenomenon inherent in the patterns of electrical impulses that run through my brain
  • I am separate from everyone and everything else
  • I am united with everyone and everything else
  • I was born, and will die, and that will be the end of me
  • I was born and will die and will be reborn
  • I am alive; there is such a thing as life
  • I am an ambulatory bag of blood, meat and bone; there is no such thing as life: just molecules in motion
  • cogito ergo sum ("I think, therefore I am" (Descartes).
The contradictions of personhood/consciousness, cannot be resolved by a person from within personhood/consciousness. The contradictions can only be resolved by stepping outside of personhood into a meta-personhood, at a higher level of abstraction.

Another possible application of GI is to Language, as a formal system: an issue explored in this blog under The Incompleteness of Language.


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mgeorge said...

The denial comes after growing up or success, a fixation that the mental model is reality. Even a party fantasising that it is a "superpower" needs honest feedback and even help, e.g. to snap out of the fantasy that the human factor in climate change is insignificant.

masterymistery said...

mgeorge, very well put. Superpowers as children, or perhaps more accurately, adolescents: always in denial, obsessed with image, determined not to take advice or accept instruction, deaf to feedback, prone to self-harm and self-mutilation, and with a liking for bullying weaker powers. Also, they prefer to escape into fantasy (eg via computer gaming) than deal with reality for what it is.

Thanks for your comment. Instructive as always. Cheers, MM