About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Friday, March 01, 2013

More Truly and More Strange: Thoughts on the Self

by Steve Neumann

Not less because in purple I descended
The western day through what you called
The loneliest air, not less was I myself.

What was the ointment sprinkled on my beard?
What were the hymns that buzzed beside my ears?
What was the sea whose tide swept through me there?

Out of my mind the golden ointment rained,
And my ears made the blowing hymns they heard.
I was myself the compass of that sea:

I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.

Wallace Stevens, Tea at the Palaz of Hoon

What are we? We know we are an intelligent and confoundingly complex species of primate, but what are we at bottom? More specifically, what is this thing we call our “self”? Is it even a single thing? Is it even a thing, much less one and whole? 

The combined evidence of our various neurosciences — biological, pathological, psychological, cognitive, etc. — convincingly demonstrate that there is no traditional self as postulated by the diverse religious imaginations of our species throughout the millennia. And even our own experience often lends itself to a denial of a monadic seed implanted deep within our existential soil, whether we practice various types of meditation, succumb to brain injury or disease (including mental illness), or simply reflect on our life over relatively long spans of time. 

And while neuroscientists like David Eagleman provide pragmatic arguments in support of the Obama Administration’s plan to invest up to $3 billion in studying the human brain, perhaps that investment will pay off in philosophical dividends as well. In the meantime, I’d like to take a look at how our understanding of the self can change under various scenarios. 

I. The Solipsistic Self 

Working intimately with dogs for the past decade has confirmed for me a suspicion also held by George Santayana in his 1923 book Scepticism and Animal Faith:

So far is solipsism of the present moment from being self-contradictory that it might, under other circumstances, be the normal and invincible attitude of the spirit; and I suspect it may be that of many animals.

I have a unique opportunity in my career as a guide dog mobility instructor: I get to delve beyond what the average pet owner experiences with her dog at home. The dogs I train are exposed to situations and environments no pet dog will likely encounter. 

What I’m really doing when I’m training, essentially, is trying to understand how dogs experience the world. I need to be aware of how they react, both cognitively and emotionally, to various stimuli so I can tailor my methods and my approach. Like human learners, each dog is different; each dog has it’s own “style” of learning and of responding to the world of experience. But unlike humans, dogs don’t seem to lament the past or fret about the future. 

For example, if one of my dogs has anxiety about riding on an escalator in a department store, I’m fairly certain he isn’t ruminating about it on our walk back to the training facility. He’s engaged in his perceptions of the moment. Likewise, the next time we walk to the department store, it’s equally clear that he isn’t anticipating the appearance of the abominable Moving Stair Monster, even though we are walking the same exact route to it. In fact, he doesn’t react until he sees or hears it. 

Using Santayana’s conception of “animal faith” we can say that dogs have an innate, arational belief in the world. He goes on to say that

[A creature] might keenly enjoy the momentary scene, never conceiving himself as a separate body or as anything but the unity of that scene ... nor would he harbor the least suspicion that it would change or perish, nor any objection to its doing so if it chose. Solipsism would then be selflessness and scepticism simplicity.

So while a dog certainly has a “personality” and can engage in seemingly voluntary actions much the way people do (though certainly not to the same degree), it’s very likely that it doesn’t have a “self” as we conceive it. 

We all tend to anthropomorphize our pet dogs; and we do this, I think, because it’s easy to do so: dogs are very expressive, and they are social pack animals like us. And though they lack the voluminous repertoire of facial expressions we possess, we can nevertheless detect when our dogs are happy, sad, frustrated or scared. And, just as most of us find it impossible to believe that we lack a metaphysical free will, we find it almost as difficult to believe that dogs don’t have selves, commonly conceived. 

Now, it probably isn’t lost on you that some humans have desired to achieve just this state of selflessness, in an attempt to be free from the vicissitudes of life. The first Buddha is a case in point. Many people want to “live in the moment” without the shadow of the past or the specter of the future. Though there is some disagreement about Buddhism’s conception of the self, I think it’s safe to say that it denies that there is a permanent, immutable entity behind the flux of existence. 

Anyone, with enough persistent practice, can experience being a “no-self”, in addition to intellectually accepting that there is no self. The primary vehicle for this phenomenon is mindfulness meditation. I used to be a regular meditator, though now I find myself distracted by many personal projects. And while my motivation for a long time was just this type of existential exploration, I actually began meditating as a way to combat an episode of clinical depression.

II. The Depressed Self

I’ve experienced three episodes of clinical depression in my forty-one years of life. The most striking thing about it, at least to me, is the feeling of total powerlessness that accompanies it. It’s something that overtakes you, that sneaks up on you, and you’re in it before you really know what hit you. There are two common remedies for it: a palliative like an antidepressant, and talk therapy of various stripes — and there seems to be a consensus that a combination of the two is most effective. 

Being already philosophically-inclined, I began mindfulness meditation as a way to separate what I thought was my depressed self from my real self, to separate my thoughts from my self. I can’t say that meditating in this way was a quick fix or even a permanent one. And it certainly wasn’t easy: under “normal” circumstances the mind is flooded with thoughts and sense impressions when you try to focus on one thing only. And when you’re depressed, these thoughts and sense impressions are of an exclusively negative nature; there are no pleasant reveries of fond memories or future expectations. But it became clear to me that my depressed self is also my real self, just in a different state; and fortunately a passing one. 

The Venerable Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche, in a 2003 article for Shambhala Sun, says that when we’re in a “normal” dispositional state of mind, we are “charmed by the world, under the spell of samsaric entertainment.” The idea here is that we normally don’t see things, including or even especially our self, as they are. It’s when we’re in a depressed state, he says, that we can see through the troubling illusions of life. 

While I believe Rinpoche’s conception of depression, especially severe depression, is somewhat inaccurate, I think there is a type of depressed or enervated state where one does consider existence in a different, and perhaps even helpful, light. As Rinpoche says

We are talking about the kind of depression that makes us stop and think and re-evaluate our lives ... For all these years we may have been thinking, “I'm this kind of person,” “I'm that kind of person,” “I'm a mother,” “I'm an engineer,” or whatever.

In other words, in these types of states we begin to question who or what we are: we begin to question the very nature of our self. We begin to transform a little bit into Santayana’s sceptic. And whether we do that through an informal self-reflection (no pun intended) or a more disciplined mindfulness meditation, we can also choose to pursue this line of inquiry beyond our typical social categories of “mother,” “engineer,” “dog trainer,” etc.  But, of course, if we carry our skepticism too far, we may end up finding nothing at all.

For the wayward sceptic...it accustoms him to discard the dogma which an introspective critic might be tempted to think self-evident, namely, that he himself lives and thinks. That he does so is true; but to establish that truth he must appeal to animal faith. If he is too proud for that, and simply stares at the datum, the last thing he will see is himself.


III. The Nietzschean Self

In the spirit of finding a “middle way” à la Siddhartha Gotama, somewhere between a self being all there is and there being no self at all, I think Nietzsche’s conception of the self is an adequate model. Mark Alfano, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Oregon, has published a draft of a forthcoming paper on Nietzsche at his blog. His aim is to show empirical support for some of Nietzsche’s thought; and the most relevant part for my purposes relates to the fragmentation of the self: 

Is the Nietzschean self merely a congeries of desires, drives, and affects that inhere in a given body, or is there something more to it? The correct response, I contend, is that both answers capture an aspect of Nietzsche’s full position. He thinks of the self as minimally the collection of desires, affects, and drives inherent in a given body, but he reserves a special, honorific status for selves that exhibit wholeheartedness.

The idea of wholeheartedness has to do with one’s approach to organizing or constructing one’s self, or one’s will. For Nietzsche, it’s not a matter of a free will or an unfree will, but of a strong will or weak will, a healthy will or a sick will. I realize I seem to be switching from “self” to “will” here, but in Nietzsche-speak it makes sense because one’s self is comprised of various drives or wills. 

As Alfano says, “the extent to which one is a self is a matter of degree, not an all-or-nothing affair.” And for Nietzsche, the extent to which one can harness and arrange one’s multiplicity is related to the strength of one’s self, the “quantum of power” one is: 

The great synthetic man is lacking, in whom the various forces are unhesitatingly harnessed for the attainment of one goal. What we possess is the multifarious man, perhaps the most interesting chaos there has ever been, but not the chaos before the creation of a world, but that after.

In a previous post, I reviewed Julian Baggini’s investigation and summation of the philosophical and empirical evidence that shows our selves to be “bundles of psychosomatic activity, albeit highly organized and remarkably stable ones.” Alfano draws primarily on Daniel Kahneman’s work stretching over decades, with special interest  in his notion of human thought operating on two systems: a “fast” one that aids our survival but is beset by a potentially destructive impulsiveness, and a “slow” one that is more rational and considered but can be easily overwhelmed in the heat of the moment. In addition to this, Kahneman presents us with the idea of two selves, an experiencing self and a remembering self. Whereas Ian Pollack considered the ethical implications of Kahneman’s hypothesis here, Alfano focuses on the significance for empirical confirmation of Nietzsche’s conception of a disunited self over 125 years ago. And what Kahneman’s work clearly shows, according to Alfano, is the disunity of the self. 

IV. The Path of the One (Self) 

In The Matrix Trilogy, our reluctant hero Neo starts out believing he knows who he is, but it turns out everything he thought he knew about himself and the world is wrong: he’s been living inside a massive computer simulation created by a race of sentient machines who need to enslave humanity in order to provide themselves with an endless power source. 

Neo starts out as a kind of solipsist: his entire life has been lived inside his own head, in a sense; so he can say with the eponymous Hoon of Stevens’ poem that “I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw/Or heard or felt came not but from myself.” Then, however, with the help of some rebels from the last human city, Zion, Neo undergoes a type of Buddhist “awakening” where he realizes the fictive nature of his existence and the world in which he lives. Unfortunately, realizing that one has been living a lie — and a big one at that! — one’s entire life is depressing. When Neo asks Morpheus, the leader of the rebels against the machines, if he can go back to living inside the Matrix, Morpheus replies:

No. But if you could, would you really want to? I feel I owe you an apology. We have a rule. We never free a mind once it's reached a certain age. It’s dangerous, the mind has trouble letting go.

But after Morpheus takes Neo to see the Oracle, Neo has a new lease on life; he’s found what he believes is his true purpose: he is the One who will end the war between humans and the machines. However, in the second movie, it turns out that the whole idea of the One was just another ruse by the machines to further placate the humans: Neo’s entire life has been manipulated — or, more charitably, guided — by the Oracle to fulfill his role as the One. The Architect, the father of the Matrix, puts it to Neo this way:

The Architect: The function of the One is now to return to the Source, allowing a temporary dissemination of the code you carry, reinserting the prime program. After which you will be required to select from the matrix 23 individuals — 16 female, 7 male — to rebuild Zion. Failure to comply with this process will result in a cataclysmic system crash killing everyone connected to the matrix which, coupled with the extermination of Zion, will ultimately result in the extinction of the entire human race.

Fortunately for the human race, this turns out not to be entirely true — the system crash isn’t immediate. Neo, in defiance of his role as the One, chooses not to return to the Source but to continue fighting. 

So not only does he reject his first illusory self that was thoroughly ensconced in the Matrix, he also rejects his second self that was chosen for him by the machines. By the end of the trilogy, we see that Neo, as a result of being human but with apparently some computer programming inside him, truly is a “congeries of desires, drives, and affects that inhere in a given body,” as Nietzsche suggests. And, just as in Nietzsche’s conception, Neo discovers that he can direct his fate to some degree, that he can harness his multifarious nature and create himself. And by doing so he finds himself more truly and more strange. 

And this is all my creating and striving, that I create and carry together into One what is fragment and riddle and dreadful accident. 

Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra


  1. Me and the Sea
    One day I was fortunate enough to find myself walking down a road to the sea. The trees along the road were overgrown blocking any view or reflection of what was to come. Finally I stepped onto the beach and looked up and found the ocean so astounding it took my breath away. The water, the blue sky, the power of the waves, the sea breeze, the tanned sand, the birds, the beauty I beheld made my heart sing. The ocean view I saw that day was even more profound than beauty, it was the day I saw me.
    Oneders, Oneders,


  2. That our concept of self reflects an ever evolving unification of fragments (including wills and drives) seems apparent (should I say self-evident). The wills and drives can be further fragmented in many ways including those suggested (system1/system2, experiencing self/narrative self etc....).

    This may dovetail nicely with Massimo's emergence discussion. The unification is dynamic, relational and ungrounded. It is when we think of a static unified self that I think we get into trouble. All unification's move us forward. They make what used to be familiar, unfamiliar. New uncertainties are revealed with the unfolding discoveries.

  3. Steve,

    I really enjoy your fine writing and the new flavor you bring to the RS blog. There's something in your writing however - and this might be said of many who write here - that betrays what I think is a dubious model of skepticism (critical thinking). This model might be characterized as the attitude the skepticism is a just a matter of being on the side of science against non-science. This attitude manifests in your writing less in overt statements than in your sense of what needs to be defended and what does not. The follow statement from your OP may serve to illustrate my point:

    >The combined evidence of our various neurosciences — biological, pathological, psychological, cognitive, etc. — convincingly demonstrate that there is no traditional self as postulated by the diverse religious imaginations of our species throughout the millennia.<

    That a (far from obvious and likely false) statement like this can pass with little or no defense in this context (RS) bespeaks the pro-science orthodoxy that I think is (to some extent) here conflated with skepticism. When someone like myself - i.e. someone who believes that even scientific or pro-scientific claims should be viewed critically - reads this there's a palpable sense that one is less hearing a critical inquiry than a sermon in the tabernacle of scientism.

    While I'm sure there's a market for scientistic sermonizing what I want is genuine rigorous critical inquiry where not even science is safe, something Massimo has delivered enough of for me to keep RS in my blogger feed these years, and for me to have enough of a the sense of loyalty to complain when critical standards seem to wane a bit.

    Moving more to the topic of the OP, while I find most of it interesting on a piecemeal level, I find its general posture to a kind of deflated deference to science. You write:

    >In the meantime, I’d like to take a look at how our understanding of the self can change under various scenarios. <

    The suggestion here is that the body of essay is as much as can be legitimately done: a little light fiddling with the notion of self while we wait for the Obama-funded science to come in. To me this suggests a rather low opinion of extra-scientific thought: let's twiddle our thumbs in the airport lounge while we wait for the jet of science to land. To me this attitude borders on being a depressing, disempowered anti-intellectualism.

    I think a more interesting posture for the OP would have been to address a fascinating question that for me at least was lurking at the bottom of it: what are the limits of science in determining our conception of self? While we might gratify our prejudices by assuming that scientific progress will eventually univocally circumscribe our concept of self, this in fact is an open philosophical question. My view on this is that conceptions of self have more to do with cultural construction and personal choices than neurology: i.e., it's a cultural construction or artifact that is vastly underdetermined by our neurology, which is why different cultures may have different conceptions of self. It may be that however much we learn about the self neurologically, conceptions of self will be shaped by broader cultural forces, including metaphysical beliefs. Now if anyone were to argue with this view, we'd actually be doing philosophy.

    1. 'what are the limits of science in determining our conception of self?'

      I think standing alone, science, introspection, philosophy, etc... are all limited and limiting with respect to self-awareness. I think the better question is how best to continually engage these complimentary ways of knowing. I think the answer will be unique for each of us.

      When a new insight, experience, or understanding unifies what previously seemed distinct we see the world and our place in it differently. Our sense of self in relation to the world has changed in some small way. Some previously unconsidered assumption becomes uncertain and new questions emerge. I think recptivity to this process is useful.

    2. Richard -

      Thanks for your kind words about my writing.

      Regarding the charge of scientism, though, I have to say I disagree. Generally speaking, I hope I try to combat scientistic thinking. As an example, I've explicitly said that science can't tell us what is right and wrong, good or bad. I have, however, stated that science can and should inform and guide our ethical and value discussions.

      While I think the methods of science are our best route to understanding how the natural world hangs together, I don't think it has much to say in the "spiritual" realm of art, philosophy, etc.

      My philosophical affinity is more with thinkers like Nietzsche, Santayana and Flanagan, who are thoroughly naturalistic in their worldviews but who also take a more or less non-reductive physicalist approach to the phenomena of existence and experience. For example, I can offer my assent to this claim from Flanagan in "The Problem of the Soul":

      "Scientism is the brash and overreaching doctrine that says that everything worth saying or expressing can be said or expressed in a scientific idiom...The claim that not everything can be expressed scientifically is not a claim that art, music, poetry, literature, and religious experiences cannot in principle be accounted for scientifically, or that these productions involve magical or mysterious powers. Whatever they express, it is something perfectly human, but the appropriate idiom of expression is not a scientific one."

      I also don't agree that the first line of mine you quoted is "far from obvious and likely false". I didn't offer a defense for it because a defense seems unnecessary. The traditional theist's view of the self/soul, even though he can't tell us what kind of 'stuff' the self/soul is made of, is of an indivisible, supernatural, immortal 'personality' created by a divine being. While you might be able to say that the scientific disciplines I cited can't *disprove* the theist's self/soul, they certainly don't provide evidence *for* it; nor can the theist provide a naturalistic account of it. Can they provide a 'supernaturalistic' account of it? I don't know; at any rate we humans would have no way of knowing if it's veridical. If this self/soul interacts with the physical brain and the natural environment, the methods of science should, at least in principle, be able to detect it. But I wouldn't call that position 'scientism.'


    3. You said:

      "While I'm sure there's a market for scientistic sermonizing what I want is genuine rigorous critical inquiry where not even science is safe..."

      I agree with you wholeheartedly. Again, this is why I'm drawn to the skepticism and perspectivism of Nietzsche; and it's something I find to a lesser degree in the writing of Santayana.

      To me, 'science' is a human pragmatic discipline that consistently delivers reliable strategies/schemas, etc., that allow a certain species of animal to navigate its world. Does science discover Truth? What is Truth? Is it merely veridicality? If so, then how can we be sure that our concepts track reality? Here is where I like Santayana's distinction between truth-as-correspondence and pragmatic-truth: Truth may be veridicality, but science can't discover it (or at least we have no way of really knowing if it does); whereas if our scientific explanations bear pragmatic fruit for us over the long term, then that is 'truth' for us. Importantly for our discussion here, if a *better* explanation comes along, then the previous scientific 'truth' is usurped; though, given the nature of the method, this is never a simple or easy coup d'état - nor should it be.

      You write:

      "The suggestion here is that the body of essay is as much as can be legitimately done: a little light fiddling with the notion of self while we wait for the Obama-funded science to come in. To me this suggests a rather low opinion of extra-scientific thought: let's twiddle our thumbs in the airport lounge while we wait for the jet of science to land. To me this attitude borders on being a depressing, disempowered anti-intellectualism."

      I enjoyed the airport metaphor; though my 'office' is actually Starbucks on the weekends ;)

      But a couple of points: first, a blog post by its nature is not conducive to an extended monograph of a subject; second, I can't speak for Massimo and others, but my personal goal in writing these posts is to highlight some salient aspects of issues that are important to me or that interest me, and this includes (most of the time) linking to articles, posts, books or papers of various thinkers for RS readers to pursue. Also, I think (and I hope!) that my posts generate enough interest in RS readers to pursue questions and criticisms here in the comments. I suppose our exchange here is a proof of principle ;)

      Lastly, you say :

      "I think a more interesting posture for the OP would have been to address a fascinating question that for me at least was lurking at the bottom of it: what are the limits of science in determining our conception of self?"

      I think that's an interesting question as well, and it's something I'd like to investigate in a future post. Briefly, however, my own lay-opinion on the matter is that science already is very successful in *describing* the self. But I would draw a distinction between the self and consciousness. With regard to consciousness, I personally tend toward the 'mysterian' camp: I'm not as confident that science will be able to fully explain or describe consciousness (Dan Dennett's "Consciousness Explained" be damned, so to speak) - or at least we humans simply might not have the requisite cognitive capability to truly appreciate the explanation, should we eve arrive at it.

      Or are you asking what role science has in determining how we *should* view ourselves?

    4. Sorry, I wrote 'Richard' when I really meant to write 'Paul'....apparently the coffee hasn't kicked in yet.

    5. Steve,

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I look forward to your post regarding the limits of science in determining our conception of self. The version of the question I find interesting is whether selfhood is a notion that could ever be pinned down as a univocal scientific concept. Generally there is a large class of concepts that science tries to talk about, such as art, morality, love, happiness, and personality, but which seem to remain in the domain of cultural creativity. It seems a limit to science then is that many of the concepts that science might consider really belong to cultural and philosophical forces to define. If we consider that science is not the only source of conceptual definition in culture, it becomes legitimate to ask whether science is in a sense out of bounds in trying to treat 'self' as a scientific concept.

    6. I don't think science is ever out of bounds... Anthropology and psychology as well as the biological sciences have already said much and will say more about "the self." Using science, we have found that even the ability to see certain colors is culturally and linguistically influenced. Culture can inform our biology, and so perhaps inform our ability to conceptualize the self.

      You can't separate the truth of scientific discovery from the truth of philosophical rumination. Science informs philosophy. In processing information, in thinking, we are limited by our biology, so it's impossible to leave science out of the question.

      Who knows if science could ever pin down all of what constitutes selfhood as a univocal scientific concept? We're finding out more and more about how values are connected to our genetics.

      I find science adds philosophical questions to the quest to understand the self, rather than reduces them.

  4. Nicely said Steve.

    The limits of science are measurable whereas Nature as is the Self infinite. One day soon science will find the box of laws they've built themselves into have only kept them from what really is; truth, the self-evident truth, the simple truth that will set them free.
    Equal is the Way,


  5. Very nice post.

    Appreciate the nods to solipsism and the arational. Agreed that depression owns a person (in my case it is really social disconnection, whereby the times I feel alive and social are the times that I may appear either happy or sad, and be labeled by others as such). But do think while depression contributes to one seeing the world differently, it inhibits one's ability to create and produce.

    I see monads differently than what they may seem to be in your post. While we may be connected to some ethereal One, we are still individuals in that I cannot feel your pain. Or can I? I am sure there is a scientific explanation as to why a rash broke out in the same place on my forehead just before both my kids were born. If we all lived to be 10,000 years instead of 100, I'm sure we would learn some astonishing things about our individual and combined selves. For instance, if the effects of aging were kept to a minimum, I do not think you would be able to tell one person's face from another if they lived together for 10,000 years. And domestic pets would probably acquire speaking skills within one lifespan. Just speculation, I know, but in this world the way things seem to be are only that way because of time constraints or lifespans.

    The idea of teamwork, two or more people working together to achieve something, can border on the mystical, and indeed is something of a religion for people who manage others for a living or are members of successful teams

  6. Sorry, I still think there is no "self." Whether the latest issue of New Scientist or David Hume or Dan Dennett or some other version of "why," I simply don't see adequate grounds for postulating a unitary conscious self.

    1. Craniopagus conjoined twins illustrate medically another, graphic, reason why I question ideas of a unitary self: http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2013/03/two-twins-1-plus-brains-how-many-minds.html

  7. I think that the anthropomorphising of animals is almost unavoidable, even deeper models of animal psychology usually refer to human emotions as reference points (they may even be fairly accurate for animals more closely related to us). The only alternative I can see is huge, complex behaviourist algorithms. And who's going to waste their time studying those to understand their pet dog?

  8. Richard Rorty: "[We] are just Turing machines made out of protoplasm."

    A question then is "What part of the code is the 'self'?", or maybe that's not a useful question.

    1. >Richard Rorty: "[We] are just Turing machines made out of protoplasm."

      I object to the unjustified-value-laden "just" in that sentence.

    2. It may not be a useful question. To analogize, the "self" may be something that emerged when two different software programs "leaked" into each other. There's many other analogies along that line.

      I'm not saying your question isn't useful, just that it may not be. I'm not saying any of these analogies is correct, just that they get us outside the box.

  9. Very interesting stuff. Also followed the link to Alfano's blog and read that piece. I'm currently in the middle of The Ego Trick. Something keeps popping into my mind that perhaps someone could help with. As a special educator, folks in my realm tend to talk a lot about executive functioning. This isn't a term that I see being used in these discussions either by philosophers or the neuroscientists, but perhaps executive functions is another term to describe the same concept. To my way of thinking, it's easy to lay the concept of the fragmented "self" on top of notions of executive function / executive control.

    The central executive is thought to be that organizing cognitive element that can - temporarily at least - inhibit some thoughts and give precedent to others. Executive functioning is not equal in all of us. Those with ADHD and ASD, for example, generally have incredibly compromised executive functioning. The rest of us are plus/minus along the path of the usual distributions. But its the central executive that marshals attention, sets a plan, monitors the plan, and so on, while inhibiting competing thoughts and environmental stimuli. Once the plan is carried through...mental cacophony can resume.

    Conceivably, for a person with ADHD, mental cacophony is the normal state of things, even when that person is trying to focus attention. Perhaps this is a stronger expression of "fragmented self."

    I doubt that the originators of this terminology had the purpose of accounting for the apparent fragmentation of the mind, but it does seem to fit within this model. Yeah?

    I'm wondering what other's make of this.

  10. Nice article, thanks!

    >But after Morpheus takes Neo to see the Oracle, Neo has a new lease on life; he’s found what he believes is his true purpose: he is the One who will end the war between humans and the machines.

    It's been a long time since I've seen the Matrix, but the way I remember it, the Oracle tells Neo that he is *not* the one... although he later interprets it as "what he needed to hear."

    For a really great fictional take on selfhood (and for many other reasons) I highly recommend the scifi novel "A Fire Upon the Deep" by Vernor Vinge. ROT13'd slight spoiler regarding this below:

    Gur abiry vaibyirf nf znwbe cebgntbavfgf & nagntbavfgf n fcrpvrf bs fncvrag perngherf xvaq bs yvxr terlubhaq qbtf (gur Gvarf). N fvatyr bar bs gurz vf fragvrag ohg abg fncvrag; ubjrire, jura gurl pbzr gbtrgure va tebhcf bs 4 naq nobir, gur zrzoref ner noyr gb sbez n pbyyrpgvir zvaq yvaxrq gbtrgure ol uvtu-onaqjvqgu nhqvb yvaxf orgjrra zrzoref. Ivatr vf n ernyyl tbbq uneq fpv-sv nhgube & ur qenjf bhg gur vzcyvpngvbaf bs guvf irel jryy. Naq vg'f whfg trarenyyl n fznfuvat obbx.


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