Inventing the Self

Self as Personal Narrative

September 30th, 2013 by Kristina Bodetti · 2 Comments

Finally we are presented with a theory of self and identity that I can get behind. While this weeks articles don’t deal exactly with the same question as before, the theory of self as story holds a lot more credibility to me then self as brain chemistry. Granted, the neuroscientists and other authors we’ve previously read were all trying to answer WHERE is self and HOW is it created (in the brain, the whole body, the environment) this weeks reading looked more at the question WHAT is self. To me, this is the far more interesting and important question. I’m sure the other authors consider their work to answer ‘what’ as well as ‘where’ and ‘how’ but they all fall short. Brain chemistry can’t explain the phenomenon of self-hood and identity and everything that entails. Not even Noe’s poorly developed theory of body, brain, environment really encompasses all the intricacies of the self.

This description of self as a narrative on the other hand does the best job yet of explaining what self and identity are, why its such an important part of humanity and explaining how experiences translate into this identity. We are the stories we tell in a sense. We are our autobiographies, even in the parts where we omit, or embellish, or forget. We are the sum of our experiences, not as they occurred but rather, as we experienced them. No definition I’ve heard comes closer to fully describing that sense one gets when they ponder who they are. We are, as McAdams describes on page 28, a Narrating Mind, we are telling our own story as we live it. Our thoughts are constant, the mind always working, narrating daily life.

This idea doesn’t tell us where the self is stored or how it comes to be. The answer to this still might be in the brain, or something like the idea of a soul. How is it that human beings have this narrating mind that other animals seem to lack? What makes us into storytellers rather then mere experiencers? What is it that gives us this faculty to tell our own story, to describe ourselves and our lives, to narrate our experiences and even to ask these questions? All these questions remain after this weeks reading and I am inclined to agree with philosophers like Hume and Plato in asserting that such answers are simply beyond the realm of human comprehension. Trying to explain how the self comes to be is a lot like explaining what makes the sky blue to someone who is blind. You can get all the science exactly right but it won’t make them see blue. Well, you can describe the sense of self, you can describe what happens in the brain and the body but you won’t ever SEE the self. You’ll never be able to reach out and touch it, to pin point it and say “There it is!!!” Self is not a corporeal thing and as such can’t be ‘found’ in that way. I suppose that makes it more of a metaphysical thing, and the metaphysical is something, I believe, can only be speculated about but never truly understood by a human being.

The lack of an attempt to explain self in those kind of terms is actually part of what I most enjoyed about this reading. No pretentious sermonizing by people claiming to have the answer to an unanswerable question. Just a perfect analogy to describe a thing we can’t define with science.

Consciousness, self, identity are all things that are a bit difficult to define and describe in any meaningful way. This idea of that description being a story works so well I’m not sure a better analogy could be made. The self is strongly associated with the mind, the mind is a constant stream of thoughts (also known as a stream of consciousness) and those thoughts come together to describe our lives moment to moment. If we are more then simply bodies then we are our thoughts and what are our thoughts if not the constant narration of our experience?

Tags: Uncategorized

2 responses so far ↓

  • Yitian Liao // Oct 2nd 2013 at 10:28 am

    McAdam’s first chapter reminded me of the reading from first week, Eakin’s autobiographical consciousness. The personal myth is constructed with personal history, which is like a autobiography. And because of this, different people have different approach of it, but at least, one thing most people would agree is “self” remains in the mind and conducts “itself” via thoughts. Because it’s not something hand-made and touchable by fingers, the image of “self” is very hard to draw. So, yes, as you said, everyone is blind, and how can we know the sky is blue if we can’t see? and what is blue?

    I think everyone can be a storyteller but not everyone is good at making the transition from experiencer to storyteller. The self can be simply a string of “what I did” in the story, or can be created in different functions such as thoughts spreading along with the story.

  • Samantha Gamble // Oct 2nd 2013 at 2:28 pm

    I am a psychology major so I also enjoyed this week readings because it was more focused on the psychology of self that actually trying to figure out what the self is exactly, but I feel that the exploring how the brain is involved in the creating of self is also very important. I think that combining neuroscience with narrative psychology would bring us closer in finding out what the self is.

Skip to toolbar