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A SENSE OF SELF SETH PINCUS* Ifan individual is to successfully function within the environment, one ofhis primary tasks must be to organize the environmental input into an orderly system. One of the simplest and most useful classifications to make is to divide the world into two portions: self and non-self. The former refers to the characteristics and physical matter that uniquely define the individual, while die latter refers to everything else. Although the division of the environment into self and non-self is of primary importance, it has so far proved to be quite difficult to determine accurately that boundary where self ends and non-self begins. This essay is concerned with the problems encountered and the answers obtained when biologists attempt to define self. The science of transplantation biology was born out of a practical need—to transplant healthy organs in place of diseased ones. In the attempt to answer this need, tools have been developed that have allowed researchers to discover a complex set of self-markers and receptors for these markers that regulate cellular interactions and communication [I]. It is very possible that the same genes controlling the expression of these interactipnal structures also determine whether an animal can mount an immune response to a given antigen [2]. In humans , an ever-increasing number of diseases are being associated widi certain of these self-markers [3]. The more we learn about this system of self-recognition, the less apparent the reason for it becomes [4, pp. 521-536]. An incredibly complex system exists: one that is highly conserved among the higher animals [5] as well as being present in plants [6] and invertebrates [7]. We can think of no obvious biologic need that requires such elaborate heterogeneity of self-markers as exists, but the evolution of this system must be accounted for. Our first concern, however, is the need to define terms. This paper was submitted in die first DwightJ. Ingle Memorial Young Writers' competition for authors under 35. "¦College of Medicine, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84132.© 1982 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0031-5982/83/2601-0319$01.00 30 I Seth Pineas · A Sense ofSelf If one spends much time considering experimental design in immunology and transplantation biology, it soon becomes apparent that it is necessary to decide upon an operational definition of self. Unfortunately , it seems that no matter how carefully one is chosen, a situation occurs outside the limits of the definition. Although this may seem disturbing at first, one realizes that, no matter what discipline attempts to define self, no matter what techniques are used—philosophical inquiry, scientific experimentation, or phenomenology—any solid definition remains elusive. The initial problem one encounters when defining self is that it is impossible to say beyond any doubt that anydiing outside of self exists. To avoid this seemingly ridiculous, but unresolvable, philosophical problem, we have to assume that there is an objective external reality beyond self. This is where difficulties begin, because die more science probes the nature of reality, the less objective it seems. Let me explain. Over the past several centuries mankind, undoubtedly influenced by the triumphs of an objective science, has more or less accepted the empiricist belief that true knowledge can be obtained only through the senses—"seeing is believing" [8]. We have no other way of gathering information regarding the outside world. AU scientific instruments are merely extensions of our senses. But our senses are an intrinsic part of ourselves, and what we see is influenced as much by our brains as it is by the light waves falling on our retina. Assembly of sensual input does not always accurately reflect reality: for example, consider phantom limb pain. Thus, any knowledge we have ofan external reality comes through an extraordinary filtering process, a process that is entirely selfdetermined . To further confuse matters, the fields of science closest to testing the nature of reality—particle physics and quantum mechanics—are based upon a surprising number of observations and theories that may be interpreted as undermining the objective nature of reality [9, 10]. If reality is not entirely objective and external, then we have no...


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