Our Selves, Alone. Extract 2. Nthposition, 2010

Full story here. and Extract 1 here.

I recall my efforts to construct a linguistic expression of the contention that our selves are simply bundles of momentary, instantaneous responses, rather than something settled. The reader can judge the success of otherwise of this effort. I meant the occasional lapses as indicative of the impossibility of this effort. And I do think that the internet has become more and more of a “TotalWeb” in the years since this was written.


Our selves, alone.


“So a particular position cannot be articulated by your now self, with regard to the writings published under the names of Osmond and Ball?”

“Well, to be honest, deary, I can hardly understand what you mean, but I think I do. Why didn’t we just get with the programme, to use an old phrase? Do you know what that means, by the way?”

“Yes, I do. But what my now self means to say is that your past and now selves were and are a qualified medical professional, your past self had a training in biomedical science, and medical practice was practiced by your past self, yet you did not embrace the FPEP?”

“I wish you would stop talking like that. It’s obviously such a strain. Do you know, when I was young anthropologists barely saw themselves as scientists at all, they talked about cultural relativism and how things depended on your own cultural point of view – sorry, I mean one’s own cultural point of view. Sorry.”

“It is OK. I must say, Dr Gallagher, my now self can follow the speech you are making very well. And my now self admits that sometimes expression is easier in the old person-centred speech, although it does embody a host of philosophical errors.”

“Call me Bert. And life, in my experience, embodies a series of philosophical errors.”


A few weeks before this trip, Professor Murtlock had called her into the office. He always stood when you met him in the office. At most he would lean back onto his high desk, holding himself up with both hands supported on the surface.


“Professor Murtlock,” she began. It was Joe in the field, in the bars, in the bedroom. It was Professor Murtlock in any academic encounter. He made that clear to all his students, male and female, early in their careers under him.

“Kelly, for your current ongoing self and your current ongoing self’s career progression, pursuing some of the Donegal material further would be a suggestion.”

“In what way could it be progressed?”

“A focus on this man could be the progression” He turned around, and picked up a copy of the Democrat that had been on his desk. He opened it about halfway in. “Dr Bert Gallagher, MRCPsych, answers all your emotional queries. Has this been read by yourself?”

“I have to say it hasn’t”. On her initial visits, Kelly had had no interest in the actual content of the Donegal Democrat. She had seen it purely as the vehicle for anthropological curiosity. While in Donegal, she began to read it. The parish notes, the barely comprehensible accounts of meetings of the various administrative bodies tasked with running Donegal, all were an alien world to her. She had noted Dr Gallagher’s piece along with a fashion and children’s section, but had never brought herself to read them. She had been too busy writing up the results of the focus group into the PhD.

“This, Kelly, is an example of something even more interesting than a multitheoretical set of paradigms approaching the issue why people still would buy a newspaper. This is folk psychology. Has this been read by your now or recent past self?”

“No, it hasn’t, ” she said again. Joe often seemed to repeat himself of late.

“Folk psychology. Pure and simple… It is hard to assert belief in the proposition that folk psychology is in existence at this moment, but Donegal is the gift that keeps on giving. My past, current and future selves don’t think folk psychology is found anywhere now.”

“Wow. Is it certain that your now self is right? That seems extreme.”

“Sure my now self is right. Here, let me read it.

Dear Dr Gallagher,
I am a 27 year old woman who is going out with a lovely man who is six years younger than me. He is kind, funny, and very good to me. He is not working at the moment and we are thinking of leaving. My friends and family say he is too young for me and I should break up. However I could not do that. What do you suggest?

“See? ‘He is kind’, ‘he is funny’, he is ‘good to me,’ “I could not do that” “we are thinking of leaving”, “what do you suggest?’ Can those phrases be described as anything other than classic folk psychology? Also this man’s academic title, ‘MRCPsych’. Does your now self recognize what that stands for?

“No, it doesn’t.”

“Member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Psychiatry! This thirty years after Osmond and Ball, after the Neural Net Convergence Project! And here we have, in this newspaper, a psychiatrist!”

“That is impressive.”

“Yes. My self recollection as a child was that there were features like this on the early TotalWeb. However they were very different, and to verify my self-recollection TotalArchive was asked by my then self a few hours before this time about this. These columns were based on an ancient format called agony aunt, and in the early TotalWeb version there would be problems posited to an imaginary adviser written very much in the terms of this one. However, the adviser would point out the many errors of thought and of science in this worldview. It really brought the eliminativist programme into the mainstream. In fact, the TotalWeb agony aunts were described by the Folk Psychology Eradication Programme as being key in this regard”

“So what is the suggestion.”

“The suggestion is a return by your now self and a meeting with his ongoing future self in the near future.”

“The suggestion seems good to me at this moment. And it is a good suggestion, it is sure. My now self is grateful to you, Professor Murtlock.”

“Kelly.” He placed his arms on the very top of her shoulders. “Call me Joe.”


When she had been doing the focus groups on the Democrat, Kelly recalled one group in particular, in Rannafast; She brought Manus, a local man who worked in Letterkenny with the Donegal Democrat, to act as something between a guide and translator. While the Irish language was officially extinct, in Donegal every so often single native speakers would emerge, and it was not uncommon for random Gaelic phrases to unself-consciously litter conversation.

Manus had been one of the few Donegal people she met who seemed to easily, almost instinctively (if using the term wasn’t an error of thought) to grasp what she was doing, without suspicion or rancour. Professor Murtlock has impressed upon his students the need not to appear condescending, or to regard the local culture as primitive. This was hard to achieve in practice, and indeed Kelly couldn’t help feeling that Joe himself did not quite practice what he preached.

Manus was quiet, unobtrusive, and most helpful. He alerted Kelly to the local enthusiasm not merely for passive watches, but passive watches in the most outdated format of all – cassette. There was still a cassette-based passive rental operation. For Kelly, this took several leaps. She had been aware of public passive watching before, in cinemas. There was something comprehensible about that, with its matching of the social needs of individuals and whatever needs exactly were filled by the passive approach to entertainment. But that individuals or individual family units would obtain a physical object – temporarily – to experience in their own places of living, and this at a time when the technology behind TotalWeb was reasonably well developed, was hard for herself to understand. Manus has understood that she would find it hard to understand, and was good at bringing her attention to bear on similar phenomena.

After her meeting with Joe, she sent Manus a message on TotalWeb.

Manus – my now self is hoping that your now self is healthy and satisfied. A conversation between my now self and Professor Joseph Murtlock has just occurred. It consisted of a review of a printed issue of the Donegal Democrat, which the Professor’s self observed to contain a feature entitled Dr Bert Gallagher, MRCPsych, answers all your emotional queries. The conversation highlighted that Professor Murtlock’s self has ascertained that this is a potential fascinating example of Folk Psychology still being practiced and conceptualized. This would be of great interest as a project. Does this man Bert Gallagher still live, and could a meeting between my ongoing self and his ongoing self, and if possible the ongoing selves of the correspondents with the feature, be arranged?

It would be enjoyable to see your self again amongst those hills in Donegal, which are green and rocky.

Not long afterwards came the reply

Kelly – thanks to your now self for the email. My now self is good. The hills are indeed green and indeed rocky. It would be enjoyable for your ongoing self to be among them again. My now self recalls this man Bert Gallagher. He is still alive.

He used to come into the Donegal Democrat office to get the letters. He would go and my now self thinks visit the public library (it is a building where once people would temporarily obtain written passives and return them, my future self must tell you more about it) and his self would compose the replies. He would walk in my self thinks from Kilmacrenan where he lived. His shoes were dusty and worn. His then self was always in the same suit, that once must have been a good Magee tailored thing, now worn threadbare. Now I think one of the boys we have doing some work for us cycles out to him and returns with the replies.

He used to come to the office with his copy handwritten, in very poor handwriting. Once, devices for writing were called pens were made by the billion. Called ballpoint pens, before TotalWeb they were used to scribble notes, for schoolchildren to do their homework and for many other uses.

My immediate future self will ask the boy who goes to him about arranging a meeting. Perhaps your future self could go to KIlmacrenan with the boy.

Kelly began to realise that Donegal truly was a treasure trove. Another neglected, old technology that seemed still to have a niche here! In one way it was too much, really. And these public libraries!

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