Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Self and Noself

I think my main question about the reading is where Varela, Thompson and Rosch come down on the issue of the “self.” There seems to be a tension in the book between “the ongoing sense of self in ordinary experience” (61) and their assertion that the self cannot be identified through investigation. In other words, we all feel that we have a self, but we cannot say if it resides in our bodies in general, in our brain in particular or in any other place. This inability to locate a “self” is called by the authors “noself.” The reason I call this discontinuity a tension, rather than noting that it is merely a discontinuity, is that the authors use the lack of continuity between cognitivism with experience as a way to criticize it, but they seem to ignore this discontinuity when the posit their theory of noself. I’m not trying to say that this theory is wrong; on the contrary, I find their description of it very convincing. I do wonder, though, how we are to deal with the feeling that we do have a self. It is certainly correct to question the validity of this feeling (and, as the authors do, to note the manifold problems that result when selfhood is asserted), but I would guess that cognitive science would be deeply concerned with the source of the feeling of selfhood.

I half expect the authors to answer this question by the end of the book (I’ve only read part-way through the section on emergence), though I wonder if it is answerable. Did anyone else have similar questions (or do you have an answer for my question)?


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