Thursday, October 25, 2012

You Are Not a Self . . . Maybe

Over at Facebook, a bunch of us have been having a very interesting and bias-challenging (at least my biases are being challenged, which is a good thing) conversation on the nature of the self, realism vs. idealism, spiritual notions of self as proposed by Wilber, Cohen, Gafni, and Adyashanti, and the challenges of subjective vs. objective proof/disproof of the notion of a separate self.

I have been arguing essentially a realist (Buddhism and neuroscience) perspective, which claims self is illusory in any real sense. Buddhism has always maintained that the self (or ego) is an illusion that disappears the deeper into it we delve. Likewise, neuroscience has failed to find a "self" in the brain (see in particular Thomas Metzinger for the most convincing argument [see below, and here and here] - he was the one who changed my views), although it has identified a series of "modules" that together produce several forms of self.

For example: Daniel Stern's research with infants has identified an emergent self, a core self, a subjective self, a verbal self, and a narrative self; Antonio Damasio has identified a proto self, a core self, an autobiographical self, and a reflective self.

I had mentioned a few authors in that discussion, so I thought it might helpful to offer up some podcasts featuring some of the authors, as well as other related authors. All of these come from the fabulous Brain Science Podcast series hosted by Dr. Ginger Campbell (except the Terrance Deacon interview that comes from her Books and Ideas Podcast series). In reverse chronological order (oldest to newest) - for each of these, there are links and other resources at the original post.

Thomas Metzinger explores Consciousness (BSP 67)


Ginger Campbell, MD



The free podcast version of Brain Science Podcast 67 is now available. It is an interview with German philosopher Thomas Metzinger, author of The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self and Being No One. Dr. Metzinger argues that any credible model for how the brain generates the mind must incorporate unusual human experiences, such as so-called out of body experiences (OBE), and psychiatric conditions. In this interview we explore how OBE and virtual reality experiments shed light on how the brain generates the sense of self that characterizes normal human experience.




Episode Transcript (Download PDF)

Lawrence Shapiro

In his new book Embodied Cognition, Dr. Lawrence Shapiro provides a balanced introduction to embodied cognition's attempts to challenge standard cognitive science. His interview in Episode 73 of the Brain Science Podcast is a discussion of a few of his book's key ideas. It also continues our ongoing exploration of the role of embodiment. 



Episode Transcript (Download PDF)

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How Mind Emerges from Brain (BSP 82)


Ginger Campbell, MD



In his latest book Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain respected neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga explores how the discoveries of neuroscience impact how we see ourselves as human beings. After providing a brief review of 20th century neuroscience, and even some of the work from the past decade, Dr. Gazzaniga concludes that nothing neuroscience has discovered changes the fact that "we are personally responsible agents and are to be held accountable for our actions."

Gazzaniga's position contrasts with those who think that recent discoveries show that the brain creates the mind in solely "upwardly causal" way, and who argue that since much of what our brain does is outside our conscious awareness or control, we should not be held responsible for our actions. Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain presents what I think is a convincing argument against this common position.

In the latest episode of the Brain Science Podcast (BSP 82) I present a detailed discussion of Dr. Gazzaniga's book.



Episode Transcript (Download Free PDF)

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It's worth mentioning that Deacon has been accused of using other people's ideas without attribution in this book, amounting to a form of plagiarism to some people.

"Incomplete Nature" with Terrence Deacon (podcast interview)


Ginger Campbell, MD

 

Terrence Deacon, PhD

 In his new book Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter Terrence Deacon writes that his goal is “demonstrate how a form of causality depending specifically on absent features and unrealized potential can be compatible with our best science.” (page 16). But in a recent interview (Books and Ideas #47) he also contends that his book "grew out of a dissatisfaction with the systems theory approach." He feels strongly that "to understand the origin of end-directed phenomena, representational phenomena, or mental phenomena, you need to take one further step; you need to figure out what’s beyond self-organization that needs to be explained to account for these things." Thus, his ambitious goal is to find a place for meaning within in science.

Incomplete Nature is a dense but compelling book, and the goal of this interview is to introduce listeners to the idea that life and meaning are compatible with a scientific world view.



Free Episode Transcript (Download PDF)
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"The Self Illusion" with Bruce Hood (BSP 88)


Ginger Campbell, MD
 
 Bruce Hood, PhD

The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity by Bruce Hood is a fascinating look at how our brains create both our experience of the world and our sense of being a single, coherent self. As the word "illusion" in the title indicates, neither is exactly what it seems. When I interviewed Dr. Hood (for BSP 88) he explained that The Self Illusion is a broad introduction to this somewhat surprising idea. The  Self Illusion was written with a general audience in mind. For those already familiar with the topic he also puts a new emphasis on the role of development. All readers should come away with a new appreciation for the critical role social interactions play through out human life.


Free Episode Transcript (Download PDF)

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"Mind in Life" with Evan Thompson (BSP 89)


Ginger Campbell, MD
Evan Thompson, PhD

Embodied Cognition is a movement within cognitive science that argues that the mind is inseparable from the fact that the brain is embedded in a physical body. This means that everything that the brain does, from the simplest perception to complex decision-making, relies on the interaction of the body with its environment.  Evan Thompson's book Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind is an in depth look at what he calls the "enactive" approach to embodied cognition. The enactive approach was pioneered by Thompson's mentor Francisco Varela and it emphasizes the importance of the body's active engagement with its environment.

In a recent interview (BSP 89) I talked with Thompson about some of the key ideas in Mind in Life. Unlike most episodes of the Brain Science Podcast, this is not really a stand-alone episode. It is part of my ongoing exploration of both embodied cognition and the controverial topic of emergence. It is also intended as a follow-up to my recent interview with Terrence Deacon.


Episode Transcript (Free PDF)


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