Inventing the Self

Whistling Chimpanzees in baggy overalls

December 3rd, 2013 · 2 Comments

I ended up enjoying Dennis Cooper’s tumultuous tale of a father’s post-traumatic life experience. His rhetorical style engaged me towards what felt like a slow downward spiral into an ever more viscous, weed-smoke-filled fog. The themes of embodied sensations, both physiological and emotional, mental-escapism courtesy of marijuana and virtual video-game landscapes, and secrecy and shame were present throughout. The father’s emotions of hidden grief and shame over the accident that killed his son seem enmeshed within his physical habitus – in the status of his post-accident legs,  “I like to sit around our deserted house wishing things were different. That’s how I found out I could walk. I wished my legs could support me and they did.” (23) The fact that he conceals his returning ability to walk from his wife for some time, serves almost as a barrier from her permeating gaze. He notes his difficulty, as a former athletic person, in keeping his legs limp- as a means of de-sexualizing himself before his wife. Later, returning the site of the monument, he refers again to the function of his legs in relation to his emotion tied to the accident, “When your legs have amnesia, you have only two choices. You either torture them until they pretend they remember you, or you show them the world and hope they magically ignite like an infant’s” (117). The father tragically recalls the last thing his son said to him before the crash- “I wish you were my dad” – a humorous quip which was actually drenched in meaning. The self-alienating vehicle (or my interpretation as such), of video games and smoking weed engulfed the father’s existence and made it seem like the hope of emerging with any sort of clean-conscience or emotional catharsis was entirely implausible.

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November 11th, 2013 · 1 Comment

The discussion this week on deploying technology to understand selfhood and experience make for an interesting comparison with the facebook manifesto from last week. Could Viegner’s seemingly tedious list-based work be conceived as quasi qualitative/quantitative data that tracks selfhood? After this week’s readings the truncated, segmented compositional structure of 2500 Things might be re-interpreted as less of an autobiography and more a series of points measured along a personal graph of experience – plotted during an HCI of one sort or another.

In their study of the human-technology relationship, McCarthy and Wright seek to discover meaningful applications in terms of various aspects of selfhood and experience.  They appraise facets of the people and technology interplay that include social and emotional experience without having to “reject the intellectual.” (McCarthy, Wright, 190). Their investigation of HCI, (Human Computer Interaction), questions the use of a cognitive approach which situates people in different contexts of thinking without regard for the qualitative aspects of both the person and the setting.  Their approach towards openness and “unfinalizability” seeks to expand upon social-theoretical work that centralizes identity and selfhood in the relationship between people and technology. These methods lean to “an orientation toward felt experience that emphasizes the ways in which people deal with routines.” (McCarthy, Wright, 191).

This way of using the routine of everyday life relates in some way with the motivation for quantitative self-knowledge. Gary Wolf said something like “the self is our operation center” and therefore tracking it can lead to more effective action in the world.  McCarthy and Wright talk about the need for technological design to be “dialogical” in order to deal with the ongoing becoming of the world- or a processual account of being. Designing technology in this manner is “an act of reframing experience in a way that points beyond the reframing” (196). In creating a mechanism for generating “self-knowledge” the Quantified Self movement attempts something similar. QS uses technology  “to weave together self-tracking tools with social networks and gaming, using the lessons of behavioral economics to keep users motivated enough to meet any health goals they’ve set for themselves” (Singer).

One other thing that I thought was interesting about the Quantified Self movement was the emergence of things like CureTogether, and other medical applications of gathering individual personal data to better understand maladies, on an experiential and perhaps practical level. I am not sure if this actually would make a difference in any sort of accurate way, given the likely unreliability of data aggregated from individual accounts.

In a cultural landscape of personal-detachment, something as basic as quantitative monitoring of everyday activities sounds like a logical tool for self-understanding. It has to start somewhere.

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Confident Team Manager

October 28th, 2013 · Comments Off on Confident Team Manager

McCarthy Jones sets the tone for his report on the series of neuroscientfic tests being done to study brains of voice-hearers in the very beginning when he points out the terminology being used is meant to decipher the type of patients participating in the studies, and not to make an assertion about the existence of a so-called voice-hearer’s brain, as he says “brains do not hear voices, people do” (191). Although the studies are densely discipline specific, there seemed to be an overall trajectory towards building a better model of the voice hearer’s neurobiological and neurocognitive brain which might reveal the “neural underpinnings” of this condition. All of which requires far more research. What is the interaction between the neuroscientific (versus psychiatric) and the Voice Hearing Network’s approach to voice-hearing?  What is the distinction between psychiatric versus neuroscientific approaches to this condition?

I noted last week in Agnes’ Jacket, Hornstein’s mention of the accomplishments of Dr. Rufus May, as a former schizophrenic patient turned psychiatrist: “Mental health professionals may think they’r the only ones capable of making sense of psychological experience, but Rufus May gives new meaning to the idea of patients taking over the asylum” (17). It was really amazing to place an embodied representation of May with what we read about him in Hornstein’s account of the Hearing Voices Movement.

In the video lecture, May makes several important assertions on the relationship of mindfulness with mental health, for voice hearers, mental disorders or people in general. He makes a correlation between pain management and the acceptance that is the key outcome of mindfulness. Pain is thought to be experienced more acutely when the mind “resists” it, by building up thoughts about the pain itself. Alleviating resistance to the pain allows it to be more manageable. This pain may be likened to the resistance voice hearers feel as targets of society’s intolerance for their condition. So being able to find acceptance internally might make society’s (and as a result, their own) judgment less combatant and therefore less damaging.

May points out the need to become a“confident team manager”with one’s voices allows for all to be heard. His interpretation of one voice becoming dominant or acting as a bully and making others its victims, rather than its friends, seems to carry logic that would be applicable for anyone’s personality in general. May mentions forming a dialogue with distraction when it persistently arises, (as a  worry or stressful thought), as a way of acknowledging it and therefore alleviating the anxiety it is causing. These two concepts remind me of the Major/Minor multiplicity of personality assessment and the need to build awareness of the multi-dimensionality of one’s persona. By managing the multiplicity of one’s personality, a more coherent or peaceful self-narrative might emerge.

I wonder if the idea of the mindful walking; one step forward inhale, one step forward exhale, is stepping outside of oneself to find awareness, as he puts it, or if it is stepping INto oneself, on a physiological level? He remarks the often detrimental misuse of mindfulness to suppress feelings, thoughts, voices, which inevitably erupt in a destructive manner. Could understanding the story of one’s voices also be felt physiologically? It seems the theme of understanding and acceptance is present in the hearing voices movement and I wondered about the embodied component of establishing such integration.


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Climate Crisis

October 14th, 2013 · 4 Comments

I found McCarthy-Jones’ comparative outline of qualitative research literature with Romme’s emancipation approach provided a framework from which to absorb the significance of Wray’s work of fiction. McCarthy Jones’ analysis acted as somewhat of an anchor for navigating the sometimes winding, wobbly road of Lowboy’s fictional narrative.  To me, McCarthy-Jones’ discussion of some of the outcomes of voice-hearing or psychotic person’s becoming patients in the mental health system revealed details for understanding further what might have been experienced by the fictional characters Lowboy and his mother.

In Lowboy, I found it less dizzying to stay in tune with the chapters delivered through the perspective of Lateef and Violet/Yda’s journey than those composed through the lens of Lowboy/William himself. The sections portraying Lowboy’s condition during his subterranean psychotic spree seemed to effectively envelope the reader into the non-stop disarray of his consciousness, as I often felt a headache coming on during certain sections.

Lowboy’s relationship with his voices was one of importance to his identity, (or what he knew of his identity as an adolescent), and certainly did not seem to be rejected by him as a way of “trying to maintain a sense of self”, (McCarthy,135). Skull and Bones were pivotal keepers of Lowboy’s understanding of his purpose in solving the global temperature crisis. I read Covington/Rafa as a heard voice, but also the Sikh man and the Dutchman (?) Although voice-hearing is not detailed in  Yda’s experience with her illness, it would seem that she rejected her voices as much as possible in order to keep a semblance of agency in her role as caregiver; and in her desire to be viewed as a “whole person” (McCarthy,140), without abdicating autonomy.

McCarthy Jones documents the de-humanizing often debilitating affect of the mental healthcare system on voice-hearers. Similarly, Wray’s depiction certainly conveys the tragedy of unmanaged or mismanaged schizophrenia. One can imagine how Romme’s emancipation approach might have provided a path of alleviation for characters such as Lowboy and perhaps his mother. The ability to harness the individual’s capacity for transforming voice-hearing into a functional facet of self-understanding rather than an impediment to such seems logical and perhaps feasible. While McCarthy points out this approach still requires more empirical research to create solid and broad psychiatric application, it would seem to make a lot more sense than the de-dismantling of selfhood which occurs in treatment commonly administered in the mental health system.

Voice-hearing represents an important aspect of selfhood, for those diagnosed with this condition, which despite its functional flaws in “normal” reality, needs to be embraced and re-worked in a way that allows for the ill patient to preserve and further nourish their sense of self and identity. Where in the voice-hearer’s consciousness lies the autobiographical self? Or might they perhaps benefit from a concert of autobiographical accounts of the world housed within one mind, brain and body?

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Self in Identity; Meaningful Personal Integration or Self in Consciousness; Sociocultural Homeostasis

September 30th, 2013 · Comments Off on Self in Identity; Meaningful Personal Integration or Self in Consciousness; Sociocultural Homeostasis

This week’s readings enter into an entirely different examination on the possibilities for understanding the self from a psychological, sociological and philosophical perspective inclusive of the concepts of identity and emotion. This way of understanding self is a slightly more familiar lens through which I may have had more exposure on this topic and I am struck by the stark contrast between this week’s conversation and the previous neuroscience and philosophy accounts. As we have discussed in class, it seems incredible that these fields do not analyze this topic from a multidisciplinary approach. After reading on concepts of personal narrative, autobiography and identity in the formation of the self, it appears some or all of these notions were ostensibly absent from Damasio and Noe’s discourse; almost as if two entirely different subject matters have been distinguished which I supposed may be the point. It would be interesting to know how concepts of self linked with identity and notions of self tied to consciousness intersect within these two paradigms. How are the two reliably demarcated?

Laszlo articulates this differentiation when introducing the emergence of psychological postmodern-  narrative therapies which focus on a collection of factors emanating from an individual’s account of experience rather than forming determinations based in biologically instinctual responses. In this field, the study of autobiographical narratives of life stories serves as the foundation for studying the formation and health of the self. His chapter neatly summarizes several constructs of inquiry in the field of identity and narrative.

Attaining an empirically based account of something as abstract or variable as personal narrative is addressed within several of the theories presented by Laszlo.  In order to create a structure within which to collect data and form conclusions, some generalizations are made in terms of categories of personality, identity, storyline or narrative. Such as McAdams delineation of four main identity components involved in ascertaining “crucial motives of power and intimacy.” (118). A well integrated index of personal experience indicates a well developed “meaningful” self identity. Laszlo notes McAdams’ categories may be excessively abstract and I also believe they may be subjective or ethnocentrically biased.

Barclay’s method of evaluation of “the subjective experience of the narrator concerning the emotional value of the narrated event along a positive-negative continuum” (120) seems to offer a slightly more (objective) specific range of categories which can be measured qualitatively. This method, Laszlo points out, is supported by the availability of advanced information technology which makes content analysis in this qualitative research format more reliable (though not necessarily more accurate?).

In McAdams’ own chapters he outlines a category chart for character types or “imagoes” which seem to be based in value systems to which I personally do not relate and which would not fit a host of personal scenarios of individuals living in non-western societies. McAdams asserts that what he listed is a merely a “guide” and that much variation exists. I appreciate the construction of McAdams’ theory on personal myth creation and our understanding of self and his discussion of their being dual or disparate selves which conjoin into the characters of personal myths, appearing in varying degrees or intensity at various points in one’s life. This seems to accurately depict human development on a continuum throughout the life-span. I thought it was somewhat humorous that the two examples (or more?), McAdams used for a dual or “juggling” of self identity involved some variation of a “woman in her twenties or thirties” dealing with the identity of career and family – this seemed rather limited. I understand his theory needs to culminate around a central construct, but much of the underlying components which build his theory seem based partially in a narrow social, class or gendered valued standpoint. Perhaps I am overanalyzing through personal interest, but some of the concepts of character creation, personal myth and identity formation would seem not to apply to persons of an entirely other situational standpoint.

Another question concerning the correlation between language and the cultivation of self seems apparent here. If narrative theory requires the evaluation of an individual’s re-telling of their life-stories, as a foundational component in appraising how coherent, well-integrated or well-developed their self-identity is, how can this be done if an individual’s language (reading/writing) skills are limited? “…subjective perspective, meaning based on experience and the ability to reflect on it consciously are expressed by specific linguistic patterns in stories about the self” (123 Laszlo). If the individual was not formally educated in language to reveal such detailed articulations whether verbally or in writing, does this preclude the possibility that a well-formed self-identity is present? Or perhaps the analyst would need to be trained in colloquial or other literacy formats?

The concept of narrative self not “belonging” to the individual self, but rather arising through socially constructed means, through interaction with others and the external environment was rather interesting. Laszlo points out that this theory of understanding self and identity through social representation could make a valuable contribution sociologically, in understanding an individual and relation with groups of individuals.

Overall Laszlo presents the goal of narrative psychology materializing into a “real” science which can be applied to better understand the formation of self and identity. To me, these methodologies appear as viable and perhaps even more elucidating, in a different plane of information, than the neuroscience and quasi neuroscience/philosophical viewpoints of Damasio, Noe, Blackmore, Bolte-Taylor. I suppose it depends upon the goal of the inquiry, but I cannot help but think of Damasio’s claim that better understanding where the self is located within the biological organism would ultimately lead to an improved sociocultural homeostasis or advancement of humanity as a whole; how could this be accomplished without including some analysis of identity formation within an understanding of the self?  Exposure to this information construct makes visible the missing parts of the previous analyses we have examined thus far.

Perhaps an entirely different topic but one question also would be how diseased brains, ie; schizophrenic (or other severe mentally ill) minds create autobiographical narrative? Are the schizophrenic voices differentiated from the core self voices in writing the personal myth of identity? The preponderance of untreated schizophrenics who make up an estimated half of all untreated mental illness in the U.S. is of particular interest given the correlation with the perpetrators of many of the recent mass shootings- the last one being at the military compound in D.C. area.

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Consciously Minded Regulation

September 15th, 2013 · 6 Comments

Firstly, I am not certain which portion of my consciousness to thank, but I find myself reading Damasio’s work in a semblance of his voice, or what I may have interpreted from viewing prior class videos. His cadence, tone and soothing dialect seem to infuse conviction for an unproblematic adoption of his highly complex theories on consciousness and the body, brain, mind relationship   – as effortlessly logical and perhaps even, in the best interest of humanity. After reading these five chapters of his work, I may be persuaded to reconsider the future of humanity with perhaps more optimism given the productive possibilities for apprehending its unfolding course and yet undiscovered potential through the vehicle of studying consciousness; “Armed with reflexive deliberation and scientific tools, and understanding of the neural construction of conscious minds also adds a welcome dimension to the task of investigating the development and shaping of cultures, the ultimate product of collective conscious minds” (31).

Damasio’s composition of an engaging format for such voluminous concepts and ideas provides remarkable access for the reader. A journey through the biological evolution of neural cells, creation of the mind in the brain and eruption of self within the mind is charted with great explanatory and interpretive detail. Correlations between the internal world of individual cells and the nature and composition of the human mind and consciousness are particularly fascinating. Damasio makes several references to similarities between the processes of single and mutli cellular organisms with the universe contained in the human mind and with humanity in general; in terms of design, structure and coagulation into an enchanted landscape of synapses, communication and interdependent actions in multidimensional planes of co-existence; “The economy of a mulitcellular organism has many sectors, and the cells within those sectors cooperate. If this sounds familiar and makes you think of human societies it should. The resemblances are staggering” (37).  Damasio elucidates the evolution of neural cells’ organizational structure; from foundational cells of consciousness through “scaling up” of their intelligence to form what amounts to feelings and reflexive thought. He also validates the importance of non-conscious intelligence as the “blueprint” for the making of conscious minds and beautifully poses the question of whether human consciousness is actually a, “collective voice set free in a song of affirmation”(37), unifying the will for survival imbued in the organism’s community of cells.

Damasio  discusses life regulation or homeostasis; a term referring to an internal mechanism occurring in all living beings through which various systems undergo ongoing adjustment and malleability of function to ensure the continuation of the life-process or survival. He expands the notion of this process within humans beyond the borders of the individual organism to include the deliberate attainment of well-being in a social and cultural context, or “sociocultural homeostasis”. This aspect of human consciousness evolution is associated with the unfolding of human history in his observation of a steady decline in “violence and an increase in tolerance that has become so apparent in recent centuries would not have occurred without sociocultural homestasis” (28). Meaning, we can attribute our evolution beyond barbarism and human perpetrated destruction to the evolution of a part of our consciousness which positively relates us with our external environment- a seemingly useful attribute and one which seems counter to beliefs concerning the inherent deterioration of modern humanity at our own life- devouring hands.

Brain mapping is presented as another key principle for understanding how the self is constructed by the mind and how the brain, mind and body interrelate within the task of life-management. The brain as a “mimic of irrepressible variety” (68), lays tracks and pathways in its networks which emulate external forms and structures. The adaptability of the brain in making life management more feasible within ever changing environments is made clear in its ability to map neural patterns which account for interactions with certain objects or experiences outside the body – he sites research in monkeys and humans on observable brain patterns which occur as a result of contact with specific objects (74).  The body, Damasio states, is the critical platform for the development of the mind via the brain. It is the receptacle of the external environment, providing information and context to the brain. This seems an obvious concept but one which may be observed as out of reach to many, (non-brain injured), for whom this relationship seems to become occluded; where the link between bodily/physiological health and the mind state is forgotten or loses potency in the course of day to day existence. The crucial body to brain segue is mapped, “in an integrated manner, the brain manages to create the critical component of what will become the self” (98).  This is why Damasio’s articulation of brain mapping is central to uncovering his analysis on the formulation of consciousness and the self.  The importance of the brain’s agency over the entire being or organism is mentioned in The Feeling of What Happens as the centrally important fact in understanding the development of consciousness; where the brain’s management of life process is  directly tied to the self portion of consciousness (22).

In his discussion of the body to brain relationship the concept of the “as-if body loop” is introduced; the brain’s ability to simulate certain body states in somatosensing, or body sensing, regions as though they were actually occurring, thereby producing “as-if”, physiological responses. This extraordinary mechanism is made possible by mapping in the brain drafted through communication between brain structures which trigger specific emotions and the areas in the body to which they correspond. Damasio’s section on brain mapping ties together the examination of the development of our core consciousness as integrated biological organisms, mediating the external world though our physical embodiment and advancing into a self-producing mind; “The living body is the central locus. Life regulation is the need and the motivation. Brain mapping is the enabler, the engine that transforms plain life relegation into minded regulation and, eventually, into consciously minded regulation” (114).

This brief introduction to Damasio’s theories on consciousness certainly spurs my attention to consciously minded regulation – and sparks inquiry into how well we may be able to effectively facilitate management of our individual body, mind, brain relationship within both internal and social contexts of our day to day existence?

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