PHENOSELF concluding conference
The Concept of Self
LOGOS, University of Barcelona
I’ll present the central aspects of a view on the nature of the self concept that I have defended in recent work, elaborating on previous proposals by Perry and Peacocke. It is a “two-tiered” view, assuming self-knowledge by acquaintance with one’s own conscious states, and a token-reflexive rule of reference for the self-notion.
Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London
Sense of agency and sense of self
In adult life, people normally know what they are doing. This experience of control-ling one’s own actions and, through them, the course of events in the outside world is called the ‘sense of agency’. It forms a central feature of human experience; however, the brain mechanisms that produce the sense of agency have only recently begun to be investigated systematically. This recent progress has been driven by the development of better measures of the experience of agency, improved design of cognitive and behavioral experiments and a growing understanding of the brain circuits that generate this distinctive but elusive experience. The sense of agency is a mental and neural state of cardinal importance for human civilization because it is frequently altered in psychopathology and because it underpins the concept of responsibility in human societies.
Philosophy Department, University College London
Russell and McTaggart on acquaintance and the self
Russell’s Theory of Knowledge manuscript (1913) marks a change in his view of first person judgement. He abandons his earlier endorsement of the thesis that we are acquainted with ourselves in favour of a descriptivist approach to ‘I’. McTaggart’s posthumously published second volume of The Nature of Existence (1927) contains an intriguing and sustained critique of descriptivism, which recommends reversion to Russell’s earlier acquaintance-based theory of ‘I’. I will explain and to some extent arbitrate this dispute between Russell and McTaggart.
Philosophy Department, University College London
That something will happen to me is a reason to care about it in a particular way. Suppose I took part in a randomised trial where one of ten participants was given a tablet containing a new drug against migraine, and the others a placebo. Unfortunately, halfway through the trial, the scientists discover that the drug has unwanted side-effects: the person who took it is at risk of getting a permanent headache for the rest of her life. Learning this is a reason for me to feel sorry for the unlucky participant who took the active substance. Learning that I took the active substance, however, provokes a reaction that is not just likely to be stronger, but also of a different kind; shock, fear, perhaps anger. This is what we may call “self-concern”: representing a future or possible event as involving me makes it matter in a special way. As Setiya (2015) puts it, it might seem as though there are reasons, in the practical realm, whose force turns on their first-person character. Setiya goes on to reject the self-concern thesis, based on the argument that if we look at how the first-person concept works, we find no grounds for caring particularly about its referent. Our goal, in this talk, is to try and rescue the self-concern intuition. We will challenge Setiya’s argument, calling into question his conception of reasons, his understanding of the self-concept and his interpretation of self-concern itself.
I will analyse indexical thoughts (e.g. first person thoughts, or demonstrative thoughts) in terms of functional properties of the vehicles through which we think such thoughts. These vehicles I will describe as ‘mental files’, whose role is to store information derived through certain types of contextual relation to objects in the environment. Mental files, I will argue, are typed by the type of contextual relation they exploit, and in this respect they are like indexicals. In the last part of the talk, if time permits, I will discuss various attempts to account for indexical thinking purely at the level of content, without bringing the vehicles into the picture.
Royal Holloway University of London and the Warburg Institute
Interoception : from homeostasis to self-awareness
Modern psychology has long focused on the importance of the body as the basis of the self. However, this focus concerned the exteroceptive body, that is, the body as perceived from the outside, as when we recognize ourselves in the mirror. This influential approach has neglected another important dimension of the body, namely the interoceptive body, that is, the body as perceived from within, as for example when one feels her racing heart. In psychology, research on interoception has focused mainly on its role in emotion. Recent research, however, has attempted to go beyond this approach, aiming instead to show how interoception and interoceptive awareness serve the unity and stability of the self, analogous to the role of interoception in maintaining physiological homeostasis. My talk will consider such findings from studies on infants and adults as a means of going beyond the division between interoception and exteroception to consider their integration in self-awareness. This approach provides an alternative to existing psychological theories of the self insofar it goes beyond the apparent antagonism between the awareness of the self from the outside and from within, to consider their dynamic integration and inform us on how humans navigate the challenging balance between inside and out, in terms of both the individual’s natural (interoception vs. exteroception) and social (self vs. others) embodiment in the world.