Inventing the Self

A scary proposition…

November 19th, 2013 · 2 Comments

The arguments presented by this week’s readings are compelling.  Ito embraces the advances of the technology, and his arguments seem more neutral and methodical that Turkle’s. Ito’s observations are surprisingly  simple: (Ex.) Gaming represents the central form of early computer experience for kids….

The dominant approach to studies of gaming and learning has been the relationship between the gamer and the text.. The game has not directly or explicitly taught them technical skills, but game play has embedded young people in a set of practices…

Gaming has gradually become established as one of the dominant forms of entertainment of our time, there has been widespread debate over the merits of the medium… (Echoes Newton Minnow’s comments about television in the early 1960s in Abandoned in Wasteland)

But while I am impressed with Ito’s study, my own feelings about technology are closer to Turkle’s: “The devices in our pockets are so psychologically powerful they not only change what we do, but who we are.” (Although I’m not sure it’s a bad thing)

Perhaps the virtual world does pose a danger for young children or developing adolescents. I remember reading Erikson’s Identity: Youth and crisis, in which he calls identity formation is the chief concern of the adolescent. At the time writing (1968), Erikson named peers as having the most impact on a person’s sense identity. How might  the advent of technology influence this fundamental cornerstone of human development? A child who spends all their time playing computer games might not develop important social skills; an adolescent who actually believes that their online persona is real may later develop identity issues.

Turkle says that “The virtual environments were most compelling because they offered opportunities for a social life, for performing as the self you wanted to be… So what kind of identity does a 16 year old develop with so much time spent in websites like Facebook as opposed to just hanging out with friends?  Is an online “performed self” less genuine than a real time authentic self?

The other dangerous idea I think is that people feel their technology to be an extension of themselves.  If an adolescent grows up believing this, how might their self image be impaired? Did people see television in the same way in the 1950’s, or radio in the 1920’s? Are those forms of technology so embedded in our experience that their effects are no longer noticed? That is a scary proposition.

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A mosaic of anecdotes…

November 5th, 2013 · 2 Comments

I agree with John’s post that 2500 Random things About Me Too was “amazing fun to read.” I was so taken by this text that I brought it to my high school English class. After a quick reading of several lists, the kids excitedly cobbled together their own lists of 25 random things on the first day and set about on a second set today. It was not really surprising how quickly this group of 15 and 16 year olds took to the project, or how quickly they fell into the groove of writing in this style, breaking up anecdotes over several lines, engaging in witty word play, adding decidedly non-school-appropriate bits, but rather how eager they were to read their pieces aloud. The project was as much a game, as it was a writing exercise, as much forum as an act of memoir, and I took this eagerness to share their work as an indication of what Miller says memoir is about, namely “a rendezvous with others.” (2)

Viegener’s book taps into something that’s very much floating the social network ethos and fashions into art.  It is a collection of self-affirming statements, some memoir, some vaguely philosophical, some straight forward and humorous, even meta-textual:

1.When you list things everyday you create both a ritual and a vacuum. Every day you fill the vacuum and every next day it’s back. (liv pg. 139)

It is a mosaic of anecdotes from which Veigener fashions a portrait of self and takes what Miller calls “the well-worn culture of “me,” given an expansive new currency by the infamous baby boomers who can think of nothing else,” (12) to a different level.    Miller also says “if there is a lesson in the memoir genre, it’s that we all have flashes. Precious as they are, those flashes only take on meaning within a story.” (22) Flashes seem an apt descriptor for Viegener’s entries, but what we can make of his story, I’m not quite sure…

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Meaning making from psychosis…

October 29th, 2013 · Comments Off on Meaning making from psychosis…

Rufus May suggests we consider voices “a meaningful expression of distress”. He encourages recovery through a combination of mindfulness, self-expression and socialization, this approach, in contrast to medication and hospitalization is both hopeful and humane.

It occurs to me that the lived experience of the his patients of must be something akin to living with any disease. the symptoms persist to greater or lesser degrees while the hearers learn to endure. I imagine that if hearing voices was accompanied by physical pain, it might be different.

The overarching premise that guides May as well as McCarthy-Jones (chapter 5) is the idea that the “important transition is not from voice-hearer to non-voice hearer, but from patient voice-hearer to healthy voice-hearer.”

The way May talked to voice of his Top Dog, he engaged in a compassionate dialogue, so rather than  dismissing the voices as a symptom, he is actively engaging the “whole”patient in a sort of group therapy. Through Top Dog, Rufus engaged the patient and the patient achieved a degree integration… This is encouraging.

The stories of voice-hearers are stories of transformation, stories of victory over adversity which ultimately become part of their autobiographical narrative and hence their identities. The self may be shattered by schizophrenia but can be reconstituted and enhanced by recovery.

It strikes me that these ideas are really new and cutting edge, like those of Alvin Noe and dare I say, Susan Blackmore…

Throughout these readings I have been to wondering about the relationship of language to voice-hearing: If a patient did not have the capacity for language, how might the condition be manifest? Is language an integral part of the illness?

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The fragility of the self….

October 16th, 2013 · Comments Off on The fragility of the self….

The McCarthy-Adams chapter provided a very clear analysis of the experiences of voice-hearing individuals. I thought the breakdown humanized them and rendered them ordinary people struggling with mental illness. While reading this it occurred to me that we are all voice-hearers, in as much as we all have an ongoing verbal narrative in our heads, but I suppose the difference with schizophrenics is that they feel the voices are not their own, and that ideas and/or commands are visited upon them from without against their will, and further those thoughts may be irrational or illogical….

I never felt that Heller was humanized in Lowboy , from the beginning of the story he was lost to his illness, and because his thoughts were so disordered, I found it difficult to sympathize with his character. I was however, struck by the contrast between the very familiar setting, New York City, and Heller’s very unfamiliar, subjective experience. As with Benji in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, I felt distanced from him and frustrated by the logic of his world. Still, in the context of all our readings, I think the story illustrates the fragility and vulnerability of this thing called self, and that an identity can be radically and permanently altered by mental illness

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October 1st, 2013 · 2 Comments

While I agree that there is disjuncture between neuroscience and philosophical/psychological  approaches to questions of self, I did see some connection with Damasio’s autobiographical self – “the systematized memories of situations in which core consciousness was involved in the knowing of the most invariant characteristics of one’s life.”  Could not this autobiographical self be termed an Imago (imagoes give voice to traits and recurrent behaviors – McAdams 129)   In addition I see a connection between Laszlo’s core self, “which includes a sense of agency, coherence, continuity and affectivity” and Damasio’s core consciousness, that which “provides the organism with a sense of self about one moment (now) and one place (here) and does not illuminate the future…” (The Feeling of What Happens 16) It seems that a creative thinker could connect and perhaps “crossbreed” (Gaipa) these theories. Of course there would be some inconsistencies, but it seems that there is some crossover. The brain may indeed be where the processes that enable consciousness coalesce, and that brain as part of body interacting with the environment gives rise to an apprehension of experience (Noe), that gives rise to the narrative self.  Not as much a conscious construction, as an organic process of the organism  – “human experience is storied because of the way most of us comprehend such human actions as being organized in time.” (McAdams 30)

One passage in Laszlo, from Barclay and Smith (1992) I found particulary interesting: “Infants learn about their own subjectivity in relation to their caretaker. This is where infants experience their relation to their mother, their physical and emotional dependence on her. The self is created through detachment from the mother. (122) The notion that the self is a consequence of separation is fascinating and relates to Noe’s brain, body, environment argument.  As a father of a four year old I have observed first hand how aspects of my son’s personality have slowly emerged, both as he has separated from his mother and engaged with the environment. Interesting too in Laszlo, is the  subjective sense of self that emerges with language and concept formation. When my son was one he stubbed his toe, his subjective experience was only pain, which resulted in a screech and tears, both of which faded with the pain. Later when he learned to speak he began to articulate such experiences and in doing so, began to consolidate his memories. “Do you remember when I stubbed my toe? I cried, I was a baby then,”  He differentiates himself now from the baby he was then and thus perpetuates a developing sense of self enabled and facilitated by language.


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What we think about when we think about ourselves….

September 16th, 2013 · 2 Comments

Whereas Siri Hustvedt surveyed multiple theories of self, Damasio’s focus seems concise and clear. “I believe conscious minds arise when a self process is added onto a basic mind process” ( 8) and later, “There is indeed a self, but it is a process, not a thing, and the process is present at all times when we are presumed to be conscious.” (8)  He is assertive, but not arrogant; he prefaces many of his ideas which expressions like, “As I see it” and “I am ready to believe.” Equally his creative phrases like “the netherlands of the nonconcious processing” – “the tragedy of plants” – the “aboutness” of neurons are humorous, clever and apt. His arguments are linear and logical.

In The Feeling of What Happens Damasio ventures that neurological observations and neuropsychological experiments have connected some aspects of consciousness to specific brain regions, a seemingly plausible premise, and further, that neurological evidence makes a duality of consciousness “transparent”. (16)  He goes on to describe the core consciousness which provides the organism with a sense of self about the here and now. The extended consciousness which provides the organism with an elaborate sense of self, and places that self at a point in individual, historical time, richly aware of the lived past and of the anticipated future….(16) These are lucid and understandable concepts make for very strong arguments, and give this reader a sense of security and conviction in the face of an elusive, abstract concept. This is Damasio’s style, smooth, assured, and articulate. This idea in particular reminded me of Sartre’s Being-in-itself and Being-for-itself from Being and Nothingness, the concept of the self that is and a self that watches, although Sartre’s argument was not based on neuroscience. (as far as I can remember)

Damasio’s work has a efficient structure, he clearly outlines his goals, with each chapter is neatly divided into topics and then each topic is broken down, thoroughly and methodically. Like Hustvedt, I get the feeling that he is using the act of writing to consolidate and clarify, to explore connections and to solidify his ideas.  Earlier this year I read ”  Metaphors we live by” by Lakeoff and Johnson, which examines the degree to which we explain many of the abstract concepts of our living experience via conceptual metaphors, which leads me to the following question:  Is self a metaphor, or metonymy for what Demasio calls the “dynamic collection of integrated neural processes, centered on the representationof the living body, that finds expression in a dynamic collection of integrated mental processes.” (10)?

Susan Blackmore’s lecture was also illuminating. I have read much Zen literature (D.T.Suzuki and Alan Watts), and can understand the concept  of the self as an illusion, albeit from a philosophical rather than neuroscientific perspective. Her ideas like “The idea that we are having a stream of experiences is so compelling that we get wrapped up in it, but it makes no sense at all to what’s happening in the brain…” and her assertion that the self only “seems to be” 1.unified 2.continuing 3.the experiencer of experience 4.the initiator of action. The implications are truly exciting in that they challenge the way we think about ourselves, and isn’t that the point….

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