Self and Consciousness: Multiple Perspectives

Self and Consciousness: Multiple Perspectives

Self and Consciousness: Multiple Perspectives

Self and Consciousness: Multiple Perspectives


This volume contains an array of essays that reflect, and reflect upon, the recent revival of scholarly interest in the self and consciousness. Various relevant issues are addressed in conceptually challenging ways, such as how consciousness and different forms of self-relevant experience develop in infancy and childhood and are related to the acquisition of skill; the role of the self in social development; the phenomenology of being conscious and its metapsychological implications; and the cultural foundations of conceptualizations of consciousness. Written by notable scholars in several areas of psychology, philosophy, cognitive neuroscience, and anthropology, the essays are of interest to readers from a variety of disciplines concerned with central, substantive questions in contemporary social science, and the humanities.


The human sciences are back to the ineluctable fundamentals, including the foundation issues of consciousness and self. That is the most significant good news to come out of this anthology. No longer is it possible to maintain, as behaviorists did for much of this century, that humans can be understood in grossly simplistic terms. No longer can we say that the brain is nothing but a remarkably clever biological information processor, without addressing two basic puzzles that take us beyond that useful metaphor, namely the question of conscious experience and the many levels of self. Finally, we can no longer reject as utterly "unscientific" the great treasury of ideas about human experience amassed in two millenia of systematic thought in the Asian, Middle Eastern, and European traditions.

We are now seeing a renewed and properly cautious exploration of consciousness, self, and the consciousness of self. This anthology presents a half dozen small masterpieces of exploratory cognitive science, including several by some of the brightest lights in the field. Provocative ideas are balanced by a respect for evidence, so that we learn what kinds of observations count for or against each hypothesis. We are not yet in the domain of fixed and well-established theory, but we are entering perhaps an even more intriguing borderland of thoughtful exploration and observation.

This mix of interesting ideas and responsible empiricism is critical. It provides hope that today's ideas will not be purged from serious science as were the classic contributions of William James, Wilhelm Wundt, and Pierre Janet for so many years. This is important in a larger sense. When higher education in much of the world teaches that human consciousness (or unconsciousness) and the many aspects of self are mere fictions, to be disdained and rejected, something precious is lost for generations of students -- for what we believe about humanity inevitably shapes how we feel about ourselves. Ideas have consequences, and selfalienating ideas have dehumanizing consequences.

The human sciences occupy a position somewhere between history, philosophy, and literature on the one hand, and the physical sciences on the other. If psychology looks only to physics and chemistry for models, the connection between science and human experience is lost. The much-discussued dichotomy between the "two cultures" of science and the humanities is a false dichotomy, nurtured by an impoverished view of the . . .

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