Inventing the Self

Option #2

September 23rd, 2013 by John Giunta · 3 Comments

I liked the format of this week’s video lecture, as it wasn’t a lecture at all, but a kind of interview-conversation-debate between Noë and the neurophysiologist, and it lead right into Out of Our Heads, with Noë even utilizing the same metaphors and examples. Since last class, I’ve been thinking about this video lecture project in relation to a ph.d. course I’m taking at the GC: Adaptations, taught by Prof. Greetham. It’s basically a survey of the different ways in which novels are transformed into films, comic books, music-pieces, and more, but its relevance to this class, in my mind, is in the relationship between the video-lectures we watch and the books we later read. At a foundational level, Noë and Damasio’s talks are really performances of their books; adaptations for a wider audience. But even the most accessible of these video talks, so far, is greatly amplified by the inevitably larger space for expounding evidence the book contains, to the point that I believe many of the videos are unnecessary. The questions generated by gaps or ideas left unexplained make a more in-depth reading crucial, so these lectures, in a way, behave more like commercials than anything else. We discussed in class briefly the social currency being plundered from these digestible videos, but really, I feel like, outside of radical unsubstantiated suggestions or personal inferences, these videos are neutered of anything truly enlightening. I don’t think we can get the full picture from these videos alone (there’s a seeing pun in there, somewhere.).

Anyway, returning to Noë, this video was helpful in that it can encapsulate his “astonishing” hypothesis exceedingly well (skip to the 10-min. mark, for what I would argue is his main argument, diluted and devoid of backing up ((which he will do, or attempt, in the book)).). It seems like he is picking up where we left off with Damasio – the core self changes and is changed by the objects it perceives, and the autobiographical self creates patterns or narratives around these relational occurrences. What Noë is arguing, I’d hazard, is that these objects, separate from the body/brain, are central in the process of consciousness. For Damasio, consciousness is impossible without the brain, and Noë agrees, but without a greater environment – complete with other organisms and objects and thought structures – the brain is not enough to generate consciousness all on its own. I thought Alva’s (tired of finding the umlaut e symbol) analysis of the relationship between infants and mothers and kin-systems in monkeys was especially helpful in making this not-so-astonishing hypothesis stick; no man is an island, the growth and development of most any organism takes place within a community of similar organisms and definitely within a physical setting or environment, and that these extra-bodily relations could account for the inability of science to fully explain self-ness through physiological means.

I couldn’t help think about possibilities for human growth, or development, or existence outside of normal social bounds (orphans and the homeless, Sam Rockwell’s character from Moon, test-tube babies), or about how it seems that so-far the disabled or stigmatized viewpoint has only appeared in the forms of medical curio-examples used to reinforce some theory to explain normative human experience, but I feel like I’ve been beating that drum in all of my blog posts and I don’t wanna become one-note. I like Noë’s Blade Runner shout-out, as both a fan and someone interested in studying posthumanism, and how unnatural (read artificial) methods of creating and propagating life call our “normal” or “biological” lives into sharp question, and potentially rendering this self-searching useless. Nothin’ worse than havin’ an itch you can never scratch.


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3 responses so far ↓

  • John Giunta // Sep 23rd 2013 at 6:04 pm

    Wait, can we just assign “Blade Runner” as required viewing? Replicant-hunter “Rick Deckard” is a homophone for “Rene Descartes”, and there’s tons more we can relate from what we’ve read so far to this!!!

  • Shona Mari Sapphire // Sep 24th 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Response to John Guinta:

    Your notation of Noe’s central hypotheses that consciousness is not a state but an action brings to mind the question of disciplinary lens here. Because consciousness is so mysterious and as of yet not explicated through any definitive scientific/empirical claim, some of these conversations undertaken by neuroscientist and philosopher alike seem to craft an unavoidable yet evasive inclusion of other disciplinary vehicles such as sociology.
    Much of Noe’s hypothesis reminds me of early to mid 19th century Sociological perspectives on the formation of the “self” based on the social processes with the environment. In discussing the study of how the “mind” is formed, Noe mentions the notion of understanding the minds of others as a pertinent point in the development of the mind. The marker in childhood development when children are aware of the consciousness or personal presence of others is brought up in his discussion. This sounds rather similar to George H. Meade’s theory on the cultivation of the ‘self’ which arises in children through the developmental stages of “game” and “play” in which the ability to position oneself subjectively, in the perceptual view of others is experimented with through strategy and role-playing. The “crucial developmental milestone is when they come to appreciate that they can predict and explain the actions of others; actions are vectors with belief and desire components.” (29).
    Especially in the video interview of Noe, his disciplinary standpoint seems even less clear and more of a purely casual postulating stance. I would like to ask how these scholars delineate their intellectual framework? Meaning, both Damasio and Noe include what read to me as tenets of sociological theory, at some point in their theory unpacking; the significance of the human organism’s interaction within a social construct, whether environmental, human or nature is integral to both theories on how and where consciousness arises. I ask in preparation for thinking about how to present ideas and hypothesis in a way which conveys disciplinary integrity- or is this not an issue?

    Also, the question of whether humans can develop consciousness and ‘self’ in an isolated environment where social interaction encompasses the natural, external environment, not necessarily inclusive of other humans, is a great point. From an entirely different vantage point, where does the validity of solitude as a (perhaps spiritual), but cognitive, emotional and psychological exercise in consciousness building fit in within these discussions? Adopting the awareness of one’s self as an existential spec within the grand spectrum of all other living beings on the planet, through purposeful retreat from all human social realms, is viewed in some frameworks as the vehicle through which to achieve a paragon state of heightened consciousness. This would seem to have no logical fit with the theories on consciousness and self presented thus far. The confusion over disciplinary lens again motivates this inquiry.

  • Jason Scaglione // Sep 24th 2013 at 4:00 pm

    Perfect connection with Damasio, thanks John—it does seem like Noë is ‘extending’ consciousness into these objects and the environment in a way. Which seems to work ok conceptually, but there are many practical hurdles to really dealing with this broadly.

    As you conclude, the social potential is huge. But where does the transformation of such embedded structure begin in earnest?

    [In and around the classroom, it seems].

    Shona: I believe solitude as a technique for heightened awareness is about the stark confrontation with one’s own consciousness as an object for awareness. It is on one hand as you say: the experience of “one’s self as an existential spec within the grand spectrum of all other living beings on the planet.” But the experience is also relational in that same way, namely we are part of that grand spectrum. We plumb our own subjectivity to find the ground in our experience of consciousness. Maybe this is a common ground—one truly shared.

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