What Functions Do Ideas About Selves Serve?

One must not mistake defining things for knowing what they are. You can know what a tiger is without defining it. You may define a tiger, yet know scarcely anything about it.

“Self” is a term used to talk about a sense of identity. Instead of asking, “What are selves?” we can ask, instead, “What are our ideas about Selves?” – and then we can ask, “What psychological functions do those ideas serve?”

Our ideas about our Selves include beliefs about what we are – both what we are capable of doing and what we may be disposed to do. We may refer to such beliefs as self-images, as opposed to self-ideals, that is, ideas about what we’d like to be or about what we ought to be.

When dealing with digital resources – datasets, models, workflows, schema – there are subtle semiotics at play in representing and communicating these selves and their identities:1


There are real things that occupy a given domain and scope of inquiry that are, unfortunately, neither understandable nor transmittable as fully correct messages (in the Shannon information sense).

Consider a dynamic digital object that represents the total information theoretic potential of – that is, all that one might say about – a real object. In representing our dynamic objects, we can only convey them as somewhat incomplete immediate objects – there is information loss.

So too is there loss in how these immediate objects are pointed to or signified – as something iconic like an image, described in words, etc. Our signification, our message, is imperfect.

And there is information loss at the response level by the interpreter that must decode the message that had to be encoded.

Finally, this may be the case not just for real things, but for ideal things - not just what is, but what ought to be.

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  1. M. K. Bergman, A Knowledge Representation Practionary: Guidelines Based on Charles Sanders Peirce. Springer International Publishing, 2018. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-98092-8↩︎