The aim Bruce Hood set himself is to demonstrate that the Self does not exist independently of the person having the experience, and it is certainly not what it seems. The emphasis on self-illusion found in Hood explains at the very least why it has been proved well impossible for autistic people to interact with others in the world. (I refer, of course, to people with classic autism. Not with a diagnosis of Asperger which I would not describe as autism.)
The self illusion, he asserts, is probably an inescapable experience we need for interacting with others and the world, and “indeed we cannot readily abandon or ignore its influence, but we should be skeptical that each of us is the coherent, integrated entity we assume we are.”
The great difficulty in my particular case is that if the self is more a form of hallucination than a reality, and autistic people think in pictures, with pictures, and through pictures, how then can I obtain a pictorial representation of the self-generated activity in somebody else’s brain? That is the question.
It is true that, when talking about the Self, I’ve never had an experience of a self as an autonomous individual with a coherent identity and sense of free will. We do not have conscious awareness of the present moment that neurotypical people call the “I” But in fact I’ve experienced a self of a different kind that reflects upon who I am in terms of history (both personal, in the memories of my grandma Irma and general in a cosmological context), my current activities and my future plans.
William James called this aspect of the self, “me” which most of us would recognize as our personal identity as part of the whole. In my case, this self has been defined entirely by the author whose book I’ve previously chosen to read. It is the only expression of “free-will” I’ve never known.
I don't think the feeling of self-hood is a hallucination - the perception of something that isn't there, or as Wiki has it "a hallucination, in the broadest sense of the word, is a perception in the absence of a stimulus."
That it is an illusion, I agree. But it's a very useful one, a working assumption that carries us through all the moments of existence. It is how we handle the convergence of stimuli.
I can't quite comprehend how the self can be a self-illusion; obvously I haven't read the book, do you think you can expand a bit on this ?
Antonio Damasio refers to the self as the historical self, meaning the continuity of consciousness that allows each one of us to feel that we are indeed, an individual. In this sense, I think Claudia has a sense of self like neurotypicals do. Here is an interesting interview with Damasio, by Jonah Lehrer, about Damasio's book's Self Comes to Mind (which I read and highly recommend, even though it can be difficult to read for lay people, I imagine).
I have not read Bruce Hood's book but it seems very interesting, I'll put it on my reading list. Thanks, Claudia, for the recommendation. I'm intrigued by the "subtitle", that the social brain creates identity. We are such a highly social species , it would not be surprising if our sense of self depended in part, on our interactions with other humans. Jonah Lehrer interviews Bruce hood, too. You can read the interview here.
Here's an excerpt:
LEHRER: The title of The Self Illusion is literal. You argue that the self – this entity at the center of our personal universe – is actually just a story, a “constructed narrative.” Could you explain what you mean?
HOOD: The best stories make sense. They follow a logical path where one thing leads to another and provide the most relevant details and signposts along the way so that you get a sense of continuity and cohesion. This is what writers refer to as the narrative arc – a beginning, middle and an end. If a sequence of events does not follow a narrative, then it is incoherent and fragmented so does not have meaning. Our brains think in stories. The same is true for the self and I use a distinction that William James drew between the self as “I” and “me.” Our consciousness of the self in the here and now is the “I” and most of the time, we experience this as being an integrated and coherent individual – a bit like the character in the story. The self which we tell others about, is autobiographical or the “me” which again is a coherent account of who we think we are based on past experiences, current events and aspirations for the future.
The neuroscience supports the claim that self is constructed. For example, Michael Gazzaniga demonstrated that spilt-brain patients presented with inconsistent visual information, would readily confabulate an explanation to reconcile information unconsciously processed with information that was conscious. They would make up a story. Likewise, Oliver Sacks famously reported various patients who could confabulate accounts to make sense of their impairments. Ramachandran describes patients who are paralyzed but deny they have a problem. These are all extreme clinical cases but the same is true of normal people. We can easily spot the inconsistencies in other people’s accounts of their self but we are less able to spot our own, and when those inconsistencies are made apparent by the consequences of our actions, we make the excuse, “I wasn’t myself last night” or “It was the wine talking!” Well, wine doesn’t talk and if you were not your self, then who were you and who was being you?
Hi Adriana, On May 26, you wrote:
Antonio Damasio refers to the self as the historical self, meaning the continuity of consciousness that allows each one of us to feel that we are indeed, an individual. In this sense, I think Claudia has a sense of self like neurotypicals do.
And what that “sense of self" would be? Because, really I don’t have the slightest idea what are you talking about. I mean, what this self is. To be sure, any reductive attempt to reduce the self to methodology is not possible for me to understand. Can you represent the self in a metaphor of art?
Art is not my thing. But here is an attempt:
Venus recognizes herself in the mirror. If in addition to that, she also remembers that she has enjoyed hanging out with little angels ever since she was 6 years old, then she has a sense of self. She recognizes not only her present self, but recognizes that that specific little girl, aged 6, was herself, Venus.
I was trying to convey a simple "definition" of self, as historical self, as, "the narrative of our lives". I do not intend to define precisely what the "self" is. It means different things in different contexts.
It is not therefore really the case that I experience this sense of self. The picture is beautiful – thanks for posting it, and thanks for the reply – but what is it supposed to happen when someone looks at his image in the mirror?
When you look in the mirror, do you know that the image you're seeing is you?
Are you surprised in the morning, when you wake up, to find that you are the same person you were yesterday?
Hi Michel & Adraina,
I’ve never asked myself these questions. There is no thought that my mind could produce that it does not start inside a book.
Specifically, when I wake up in the morning, the mind is chaos. Indeed, quite probably at a very early age, I should have been subjected to a threatening stimulus of being not myself. But my grandma Irma, who has been the only human being whose presence I was able to feel, made the channel to a book available.
My perceptions of the world are not organized until the book is opened. That is why I learned to sleep with a book near to me, and I don’t go any place without a book.
Thanks for sharing your perspective, Claudia. I can now clearly picture how different it is from that of everyone else I know. Is your grandma Irma alive?
No, my grandma Irma died in February 1998.
So sorry to hear that. You must miss her a lot.