Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Originally published July 10, 2017
Here is an excerpt:
Following such considerations, the philosopher Daniel Dennett proposed that the self is simply a ‘centre of narrative gravity’ – just as the centre of gravity in a physical object is not a part of that object, but a useful concept we use to understand the relationship between that object and its environment, the centre of narrative gravity in us is not a part of our bodies, a soul inside of us, but a useful concept we use to make sense of the relationship between our bodies, complete with their own goals and intentions, and our environment. So, you, you, are a construct, albeit a useful one. Or so goes Dennett’s thinking on the self.
And it isn’t just Dennett. The idea that there is a substantive self is passé. When cognitive scientists aim to provide an empirical account of the self, it is simply an account of our sense of self – why it is that we think we have a self. What we don’t find is an account of a self with independent powers, responsible for directing attention and resolving conflicts of will.
There are many reasons for this. One is that many scientists think that the evidence counts in favour of our experience in general being epiphenomenal – something that does not influence our brain, but is influenced by it. In this view, when you experience making a tough decision, for instance, that decision was already made by your brain, and your experience is mere shadow of that decision. So for the very situations in which we might think the self is most active – in resolving difficult decisions – everything is in fact already achieved by the brain.
The article is here.