Chapter 8: Theories of Self
Thought Experiments With the Self
- The cobbler or the prince? Thought experiments
- brain swap: the prince's brain is put in the cobbler's body
- intuition: it's the prince
- mind swap (Locke's version): just the personality (software)
not the brain (hardware)
- the prince's mind -- dispositions, memories, etc. -- are put
in the cobbler's brain
- Locke's intuition: he's the prince
- Ego v. Bundle Theoretic Takes
- Ego theory: "there has to be an answer"
- "Ego theorists may try to find that answer by investigating
the relationships between the conscious self and memory, personality,
attention, or other brain functions." (110)
- Bundle theory: there's "no answer ... because there is no such
thing as the "real me." (110)
- "there is no continuous experiencing self so there is no
problem with any of these strange imaginary tales" (110)
- Activity: Parfit's
- Like Star Trek's teleporter:Doc
Bone's worry: Is it really me that
is reconstituted on the other end?
- am I transported
- or am I killed and a "clone" (not me!) born
- Yes volunteer(s): explain why
- No volunteer(s): explain why
- Bundle theory: "it is an empty question whether you are about
to live or die" (Parfit 1987)
- The universal conscious fact is not "feelings and thoughts
exist," but "I think" and "I feel." No psychology, at any rate,
can question the existence of
personal selves. The worst a psychology can do is so to interpret
the nature of these selves as to rob them of their worth. (James, 1890,
- James' theory of the self
- "me" the empirical self or objective person
- "material self": body & accouterments
- "social self": reputation, etc.
- "spiritual self"
- including subjective experiences
- including an "active element"
- that receives sensations & perceptions
- and emanates effort and attention
- "I" the pure ego or subjective knowing thought
- identical with the 'active element' we seem to discern in our
- "the most puzzling puzzle with which psychology has to deal"
(James 1890, i:298)
- "Some would say that it is a simple active substance, the
soul, of which they are thus conscious;
- others, that it is nothing but a fiction, the imaginary
being denoted by the pronoun I;
- and between these two extremes of opinion all sorts of
intermediaries would be found." (James 1890, i:298)
- James criticism of both extremes
- Kantian Egoism: "The Egoists themselves, let them say
what they will, believe in the bundle, an in their own system merely tie it up, with their special
transcendental string, invented for that use alone. (James, 1890, i:370)
- Humean Bundle Theory is "against the common sense of all
mankind" (SB: 114)
- James: "thought is itself
the thinker" (1890, i:401)
- "the passing Thought itself is the only verifiable thinker"
- The Thought (with a capital "T") = "a passing thought that
incessantly remembers previous thoughts and appropriates some of them
to itself" (SB:114)
- "This judging Thought identifies and owns some parts of the
stream of consciousness while disowning others." (SB:114)
- "The next moment another Thought takes up the expiring
Thought and appropriates it. It binds the individual past facts
with each other and with itself." (SB:114)
- "In this way, what holds the thoughts together is not a
separate spirit or ego but only another thought of a special kind."
- "In this way, the passing thought seems to be the thinker."
Neuroscientific Models of Self
- Tend to "equate the self with one particular brain process or
functional area of the brain"
- Ramachandran: executive brain processes
- Damasio: proto-, core, and autobiographical selves
- Baars: GWT: "You are the
perceiver, the actor and narrator of your experience, although
precisely what that means is an ongoing question." (Baars, 1997a:143)
Sesmets and Pearls on a String
- "the Pearl view, because it suggests that many mental selves
exist, one at a time and one after another, like pearls on a string"
- "The pearl-self is somewhat similar to James's idea that each
moment entails a new Thought"
- Shortcomings (LH): is there a string
- string: ego-theory with ego-theoretic worries
- it there's no string: bundle theoretic worries about explaining
the unity and continuity of self-consciousness
No Audience in the Cartesian Theater
- Dennett: the self is a narrative center of gravity
- "Our tales are spun, but for the most part we don't spin them;
they spin us. The human consciousness, and our narrative
selfhood, is the product, not their source." (Dennett 1991:418)
- our brains host narration forming memes
- these memes imbue or brains and weave our narrative-selves
- Some self-weaving expressions
- "my house"
- "my wife"
- "my body"
- the abstract (imaginary?) nature of the self thus "woven"
- N.B.: "this is my body" "this body owns itself"
- "This self is an abstraction, like the physicists' center of
gravity, it is a wonderfully useful and simplifying abstraction.
This is why we have it." (120)
- "Both self and consciousness appear to be continuous but are in
fact gappy." (121)
- "Abandoning the idea of the audience in the Cartesian theater"
allows us to accept as not less real than the usual "one-to-a-body
type" (Humphrey and Dennett, 1989) (SB:121-2)
- fragmentary selves [as in split brains]
- narratives that cover only part of a given body's life story
[as in split brains an MPD]
- and multiple selves that are just as much real selves as the
more common one-to-a-body type [as in split brains and MPD]
- SB's summary: "Dennett's is a bundle theory in which the string
is a web of narratives. ... This is how he manages to explain
consciousness -- or, alternatively, as some critics prefer to say, he
explains it away." (122)