Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Self is a Community

Very interesting post here from Peter Freed's blog Neuroself. His argument (the argument of his blog as well as of his article) is one I've forwarded here from a couple of other sources, including Hofstadter--there is no such thing as the unitary self (which many Buddhists have understood for quite some time). We appear to be composed of many selves, and our selves work in a kind of network (Borg, anyone?) both to produce the experience of individuality and the experience of community.

A question for my students: what would this theory suggest about the notion of artistic "voice"?


  1. Interesting post, Brian. I remember when that NYT article about the twins came out, it is exciting to see how they operate.

    To your question -- Freed's ideas make complete sense for the way I think about voice; not as something inherent in us that flows forth in recognizable form, but as something developed with intention, whether completely conscious or not. Freed writes about all our different selves that are working cyclicly to make themselves unnecessary. Isn't that sometimes how it feels to write? Especially in the beginning when it's largely about urge and response?

    I'm not sure that developing artistic voice is much different from managing the selves that want to eat chocolate cake at bedtime (to use Freed's example) and wear skinny jeans in the morning. In fact, I think a lot of of us write to help with that process... I know I do. Who am I? How do I assemble all these random urges and beliefs and responses into something coherent?

    As Freed's thought experiment illustrates, creating a coherent single self can be problematic. But artistic voice can be a wonderful proxy for it.


    On a related note, I wanted to check that you had read the recent New Yorker article about the philosopher Derek Parfit… I think you'd find him interesting and relevant. I'll be bringing my old New Yorkers for Dave tonight so if you haven't seen it, I'll flag it for you.

  2. Thanks, Alexis. Yes, I did read the Parfit article. In fact, I was planning on posting about it, but haven't gotten a round tuit. And I empathize with you completely about writing as a quest for identity--I'm coming to realize, partially through this semester's discussions in the online multigenre, that I care more about answering (or at least investigating) the question "what am I" than about courting acceptance in a wide audience of readers.