Where am I? What Daniel Dennett theorizes here is a seemingly simple question. He uses a fictional first person story to thoroughly make problematic our understanding of objective experiences and realities. In his story, he tells us that his brain has been put in and sustained by a vat, and by means of advanced technology, the "connections" between the brain and his body are maintained. This allows him to function "normally", save for the fact that his brain is no longer within his body. He spends a great deal of time pondering on the significance of this.
Where is he? Is "he", the I that is so easily bestowed upon us, in the nutrient-filled vat? There was no way for him to "see" himself as the brain in the vat, as all of experiences are mediated through his body, and interpreted in his brain. How does he know what "here" means? To him, this means that there are fundemental problems with how we orientate ourselves in the world.
I was doomed by sheer force of mental habit to thinking systematically false indexical thoughts, or where a person is (and hence where his thoughts are tokened for purposes of semantic analysis) is not necessarily where his brain, the physical seat of his soul, resides.
He goes so far as to name the different aspects of himself: Yorick is his brain, Hamlet is his body, and "he", the "I", is Dennett to work through philosophical problems he postulates with his experience. The story continues further to make even more problematic his situation, where by his body is no longer functioning and his mind is connected to a completely new one, and even further to point of having a "spare" brain.
At what point are we "real"? Of what value are "objective" claims if there is no true way to "prove" anything?
This is a scene from the film adapted from the play of the same name, Bent (1997). Max, played by Clive Owen, is gay and as such is sent to Dachau concentration camp under the Nazi regime. He tries to deny he is gay and gets a yellow label (the one for Jews) instead of pink (the one for gays). In camp he falls in love with his fellow prisoner Horst, played by Lothaire Bluteau, who wears his pink label with pride.
The Nazi regime, through its false convictions and manipulations, destroys the lives of thousands of people. This is a very "real" thing that happened, and I find no value in denying it. The experience shown in this clip illustrates the possibilities for destruction of selves by the concentration camp, but also the capacity for "real", physical, intimacy, without actually touching...anything. The imagined experience overtook the material one, showing the ability of our mind, to alter or perception of space and time. What is real in this instance? The orgasm they experience? The guards possibly off to the side watching? The piles of corpses not shown in the image?
This annotated bibliography concludes with Donna Haraway's seminal piece "Situated Knowledges".
Through her piece, she discusses the disembodied "I", and the value of acknowledging only partial perspective. Is politically and scientifically motivating the notion of interconnectedness and value across racial, gender, ability, education, religious, etc lines.
As creatures, we are born without choice onto this world, and with this birth, imparted onto us is the I. The idea of I as separate from the non-I is cemented as we become "civilized". By queering and critically analyzing our relationships between each other, the "natural", "nonnatural", "contaminated", "human", and "nonhuman", we can challenge the very structures that perpetuate undemocratic practices, institutions, sciences that privilege capital (and social signifies of it), while marginalizing others. What is left? A sense of wholeness, belonging, and a commitment to community building.