Dynamics of the self

To understand the new possibilities of the digital world we need a new framework in which we can describe the position of the self and its relation to the world and to his own body. Using the philosophical concepts we have inherited from the French philosopher René Descartes and others we are not able to understand what the World Wide Web in his new dimensions will do with us. We call this digital reality we are working with and in which we find our way Reality 2.0 in contrast to our material reality we have lived in so far: Reality 1.0. This Reality 2.0 needs new concepts to understand what a digital existence is doing with our views on our self, our identity and our well-being. I suggest a new framework:

heteronomy – autonomy
heterotopy – autotopy
heteronodus – autonodus

Heteronomy versus autonomy

René Descartes showed us the dynamics of the self in the relation heteronomy – autonomy. Surrounded by a heteronomous world (where religious heteronomous concepts and the place of God is most powerful) he drew attention to the autonomous subject and the autonomous position of the self based on rationality. This subject is still part of this heteronomous world, is influenced by it but it got an own substantial position in thinking. These new concept influenced our philosophical and psychological thinking about the self to the present day. This concept is not wrong but it lacks the essential attributes and qualities to reply the questions which were put by Reality 2.0 and its digital translation. For instance what does it mean that I can have different digital identities? The traditional concepts of self lack this new ways of approach. And in the philosophy of Descartes and many others the position of the body is neglected. There is a preoccupation for the subject and his autonomous place in Reality 1.0 based on rationalism against the heteronomy of reality visualized in significant others and the sacral reality (for those who were believers). The French philosopher Emanuel Levinas noted that all Western philosophy has failed to give the heteronomy of the other subject – heteronomous against my autonomy as a subject – the right place in thinking. His thinking becomes ethical because the significant other needs an adequate answer from my site as I show him my respect and all the attention he needs. Resuming: The attention for the autonomy of the subject was the main trend in Philosophy.

Heterotopy versus autotopy

the French philosopher Michel Foucault was one of the first to draw attention to the fact that the subject is part of many networks. During his life the self is influenced by the places and situations he lives in. Foucault calls these places heterotopies. Examples are the school, military-camps, living on a ship and so on. The dynamics of the self are expressed in relationships and networks, in situations and behavior as an answer to new challenges to find your way in these new situations. I was inspired by this concept to invent a new idea of a relationship between the self and his own body. We have and we are our body. With our body we are part of this world of relations, we use our body to invent, to realize our concepts of the world in this world we are part of. We communicate with it, so without our body personal life is almost impossible for the subject. Our self needs his body and is inseparable of it – metaphorical spoken – the self lives in his body, it is his home. The body is the living-place of the self, a self-place, an autotopy. This autotopy is part of many heterotopies – it is going through this heterotopies and is influenced by them. We can got ill for instance, or participation at a football-match or another sport-event can gives us a kick and we sway on the emotions of the crowd in the sports stadium.. Resuming: this concept of autotopy tries to give the body the right and appropriate place in philosophical thinking in a world of heterotopies.

Heteronodus versus autonodus

When we are connected in the World Wide Web in a digital way, when we can create an digital identity, we are becoming nodes in this kind of reality. In Reality 2.0 the physical presentation of a subject is relative. You can call it a node-position the self is taking. And we can differ between the position of the self as self (autos) and the position of the other (heteros) as a self. In the digital world the manifestation of the dynamics of the self is digital and not material. We are all heteronodus and autonodus at once. The fact that the self is dynamical means that I can reflect my own position in the networks but also that I can take any kind of node-position. Space and time experience niddle-noddle in this new reality. As long as we have a material body that acts in Reality 1.0 and 2.0 this body is a guarantee for the coherence of my reflections and actions. But when my body in a digital world is not longer necessary, when it got connected to a machine / computer, what happens then with my identity? What is the core of the self in this new situation? The prophetic and visionary movie The Matrix is responding this new situation in a special way. The material world, Reality 1.0, disappears for our eyes and we only experience Reality 2.0. At the moment we are still speaking of software and hardware but in reality 2.0 the difference is gone. We are becoming all part of this new world and the material conditions got out of side when you want to believe the makers of The Matrix. Resuming: the relationship between heteronodus and autonodus gives us a new possibility to think about the self in a digital environment.


The German philosopher Martin Heidegger tried to express the transitions of the self in a new technical world in Sein und Zeit. This self became part of the surrounding world (Welt), and the being of this self was called an existential way of living expressed in the verbs Dasein and Sein zum Tode. He underlined the end of the autonomous self as René Descartes described it.
The French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty tried to think the bodily dimensions of the self in a philosophy that includes the body of a subject. Perception of reality with this body was central in his thinking. But Heidegger en Merleau-Ponty understand the subject in the philosophical tradition of autonomy and heteronomy without realizing that something was going to change in a fundamental way: we have become parts of networks and the existence of a digital world. They couldn’t have foreseen it because the digital world and the cybernetic implications are completely new. Understanding consciousness will also change in a digital world. Especially when this consciousness doesn’t depend anymore on a human brain. One of the arguments of Transhumanists to create a physical connection with a computer is the fact that the amount of data is excessive growing. To get some grip on it we need new possibilities in thinking and acting in combination with a computer. Maybe this is some kind of a romantic feeling to want everything in your grip in an new society. Manipulation of all this information is in future beyond our possibilities, so we shouldn’t want this. And maybe the digital world will be replaced by a trigital world with totally new possibilities we now can’t imagine? We will see.

John Hacking
12 of November 2012