I've been thinking about this topic in relation to artificial consciousness. Specifically self-awareness.
(I can define terms precisely if requested, but usually prefer to be as general as possible:)
Essentially I'm defining this as asking the question "what is the self?" is a requirement of self-awareness. If the question can be definitively answered, there is no need to ask or contemplate the self.
It's the process of asking the question that constitutes self-awareness.
This relates to the Delphic maxim to "know thyself" and Socrates subsequent affirmation, but also to the Buddhist concept of impermanence, where an implication is that we're a product of change, and that which constitutes the self is never static.
It was the concept of consciousness as a recursive function that got me thinking about it this, and it turns out this concept has been well defined:
At the phenomenal level, consciousness can be described as a singular, unified field of recursive self-awareness, consistently coherent in a particular way; that of a subject located both spatially and temporally in an egocentrically-extended domain, such that conscious self-awareness is explicitly characterized by I-ness, now-ness and here-ness. The psychological mechanism underwriting this spatiotemporal self-locatedness and its recursive processing style involves an evolutionary elaboration of the basic orientative reference frame which consistently structures ongoing spatiotemporal self-location computations as i-here-now. Cognition computes action-output in the midst of ongoing movement, and consequently requires a constant self-locating spatiotemporal reference frame as basis for these computations. Over time, constant evolutionary pressures for energy efficiency have encouraged both the proliferation of anticipative feedforward processing mechansims, and the elaboration, at the apex of the sensorimotor processing hierarchy, of self-activating, highly attenuated recursively-feedforward circuitry processing the basic orientational schema independent of external action output. As the primary reference frame of active waking cognition, this recursive i-here-now processing generates a zone of subjective self-awareness in terms of which it feels like something to be oneself here and now. This is consciousness.
SOURCE: Peters, Frederic Consciousness as Recursive, Spatiotemporal Self-Location
While most of us don't go around asking the big question "what is the self?" constantly, there's a case to be made that all kinds of autonomic functions are asking the type of questions Peters refers to on a continual basis, until we cease functioning.
Which leads to my question:
- Has there been any formal philosophical exploration of the idea of the self as a necessary conundrum?
Here I'm talking about the idea of mystery in a religious context to make the point that human consciousness can be deemed miraculous, where miraculous is used without the normal religious context. What I am really meaning here by mystery is something that is never completely knowable, and appears miraculous.
I suspect it relates to inescapable nature of subjectivity in our everyday phenomenal reality: no subjectivity, no self.