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new book – ‘Stranger in the Mirror: The Scientific Search for the Self’ by Robert V. Levine

April 30, 2016

Stranger in the Mirror

Stranger in the Mirror: The Scientific Search for the Self by Robert V. Levine (Princeton University Press, 2016)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

In Stranger in the Mirror, Robert Levine offers a provocative and entertaining scientific exploration of the most personal and important of all landscapes: the physical and psychological entity we call our self. Who are we? Where is the boundary between us and everything else? Are we all multiple personalities? And how can we control who we become?

Levine tackles these and other questions with a combination of surprising stories, case studies, and cutting-edge research—from psychology, biology, neuroscience, virtual reality, and many other fields. The result challenges cherished beliefs about the unity and stability of the self—but also suggests that we are more capable of change than we know.

Transformation, Levine shows, is the human condition at virtually every level. Physically, our cells are unrecognizable from one moment to the next. Cognitively, our self-perceptions are equally changeable: A single glitch can make us lose track of a body part or our entire body—or to confuse our very self with that of another person. Psychologically, we switch back and forth like quicksilver between incongruent, sometimes adversarial subselves. Socially, we appear to be little more than an ever-changing troupe of actors. And, culturally, the boundaries of the self vary wildly around the world—from the confines of one’s body to an entire village.

The self, in short, is a fiction—vague, arbitrary, and utterly intangible. But it is also interminably fluid. And this, Levine argues, unleashes a world of potential. Fluidity creates malleability. And malleability creates possibilities.

Engaging, informative, and ultimately liberating, Stranger in the Mirror will change forever how you think about your self—and what you might become.

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new book – ‘Puzzling Identities’ by Vincent Descombes

January 29, 2016

Puzzling Identities

Puzzling Identities (Institute for Human Sciences Vienna Lecture Series) by Vincent Descombes, tr. Stephen Adam Schwartz (Harvard University Press, 2016)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

As a logical concept, identity refers to one and the same thing. So why, Vincent Descombes asks, do we routinely use “identity” to describe the feelings associated with membership in a number of different communities, as when we speak of our ethnic identity and religious identity? And how can we ascribe the same “identity” to more than one individual in a group? In Puzzling Identities, one of the leading figures in French philosophy seeks to bridge the abyss between the logical meaning of identity and the psychological sense of “being oneself.”

Bringing together an analytic conception of identity derived from Gottlob Frege with a psychosocial understanding stemming from Erik Erikson, Descombes contrasts a rigorously philosophical notion of identity with ideas of collective identity that have become crucial in contemporary cultural and political discourse. He returns to an argument of ancient Greek philosophy about the impossibility of change for a material individual. Distinguishing between reflexive and expressive views of “being oneself,” he shows the connections between subjective identity and one’s life and achievements. We form profound attachments to the particular communities by which we define ourselves. At the same time, becoming oneself as a modern individual requires a process of disembedding oneself from one’s social milieu. This is how undergoing a crisis of identity while coming of age has become for us a normal stage in human life.

Puzzling Identities demonstrates why a person has more than one answer to the essential question “Who am I?”

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new book on consciousness – ‘Men of Action’ by Howard Akler

November 17, 2015

Men of Action

Men of Action (Exploded Views) by Howard Akler (Coach House Books, 2015)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

The problem of consciousness may just be a semantic one. The brain absorbs a sea of sensory input, the tiniest fraction of which reaches the shore of our awareness. We pay attention to what is most novel, most necessary at the time. At its most reductive, the word consciousness refers to the synchronized firing of neurons across multiple areas of the brain, the mental experience of attending.

But should consciousness be summed up simply by its subsconscious mechanism? I would prefer a more imaginative answer.

After his father undergoes brain surgery and slips into a coma, Howard Akler begins to reflect on the complicated texture of consciousness. During the long months that follow, Akler confronts the unknowable nature of another person’s life, as well as the struggles within his own unpredictable mind. With echoes of Paul Auster’s The Invention of Solitude and Philip Roth’s Patrimony, Men of Action treads the line between memoir and meditation, and is at once elegiac, spare and profoundly intimate.

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new book – ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There: Investigations into the Strange New Science of the Self’ by Anil Ananthaswamy

August 4, 2015

The Man Who Wasn't There

The Man Who Wasn’t There: Investigations into the Strange New Science of the Self by Anil Ananthaswamy (Dutton, 2015)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

In the tradition of Oliver Sacks, a tour of the latest neuroscience of schizophrenia, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, ecstatic epilepsy, Cotard’s syndrome, out-of-body experiences, and other disorders—revealing the awesome power of the human sense of self from a master of science journalism

Anil Ananthaswamy’s extensive in-depth interviews venture into the lives of individuals who offer perspectives that will change how you think about who you are. These individuals all lost some part of what we think of as our self, but they then offer remarkable, sometimes heart-wrenching insights into what remains. One man cut off his own leg. Another became one with the universe.

We are learning about the self at a level of detail that Descartes (“I think therefore I am”) could never have imagined. Recent research into Alzheimer’s illuminates how memory creates your narrative self by using the same part of your brain for your past as for your future. But wait, those afflicted with Cotard’s syndrome think they are already dead; in a way, they believe that “I think therefore I am not.” Who—or what—can say that? Neuroscience has identified specific regions of the brain that, when they misfire, can cause the self to move back and forth between the body and a doppelgänger, or to leave the body entirely. So where in the brain, or mind, or body, is the self actually located? As Ananthaswamy elegantly reports, neuroscientists themselves now see that the elusive sense of self is both everywhere and nowhere in the human brain.

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See also: Author’s website

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new book – ‘Thinking About Oneself: From Nonconceptual Content to the Concept of a Self’ by Kristina Musholt

July 31, 2015

Thinking About Oneself

Thinking about Oneself: From Nonconceptual Content to the Concept of a Self by Kristina Musholt (MIT Press. 2015)


Book description from the publisher:

In this book, Kristina Musholt offers a novel theory of self-consciousness, understood as the ability to think about oneself. Traditionally, self-consciousness has been central to many philosophical theories. More recently, it has become the focus of empirical investigation in psychology and neuroscience. Musholt draws both on philosophical considerations and on insights from the empirical sciences to offer a new account of self-consciousness — the ability to think about ourselves that is at the core of what makes us human.

Examining theories of nonconceptual content developed in recent work in the philosophy of cognition, Musholt proposes a model for the gradual transition from self-related information implicit in the nonconceptual content of perception and other forms of experience to the explicit representation of the self in conceptual thought. A crucial part of this model is an analysis of the relationship between self-consciousness and intersubjectivity. Self-consciousness and awareness of others, Musholt argues, are two sides of the same coin.

After surveying the philosophical problem of self-consciousness, the notion of nonconceptual content, and various proposals for the existence of nonconceptual self-consciousness, Musholt argues for a non-self-representationalist theory, according to which the self is not part of the representational content of perception and bodily awareness but part of the mode of presentation. She distinguishes between implicitly self-related information and explicit self-representation, and describes the transitions from the former to the latter as arising from a complex process of self–other differentiation. By this account, both self-consciousness and intersubjectivity develop in parallel.

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