Other Selves

The idea that everyone (sort of) carries around multiple selves doesn’t seem to be getting as much of a surprised reaction as you’d think it would. If anything, people are shrugging their shoulders, then pointing out some stuff worth pointing out

A less-smart phone.

When the pump was invented, the brain was like a pump. When plumbing was the new thing on the block, the brain was a series of pipes. When telephones came into their own, the brain was a giant switchboard. When electronics became mainstream, the brain was a a circuit board, and then a computer. Now the brain is a smartphone. Go figure.

Or, as the writer of this excellent New Yorker article puts it,

When there were telephone exchanges, the mind was like a telephone exchange, and, in the same period, since the nickelodeon reigned, moving pictures were making us dumb. When mainframe computers arrived and television was what kids liked, the mind was like a mainframe and television was the engine of our idiocy. Some machine is always showing us Mind; some entertainment derived from the machine is always showing us Non-Mind.

Somewhere I read that in the Middle Ages, a philosopher compared the brain to a catapult.

But I think the analogy about self-apps is less meant to describe the mind than to make a point about a connectome’s overall organization: the “self” isn’t one solitary dude who rides around in your head. It’s more like a school of fish, or a swarm of bees – a whole bunch of individual motivations running around, constantly scrabbling for attention.

Whose attention?

Good question. That’s where the global workspace theory comes in. The basic idea is that a “self” isn’t so much a thing (like an app or a fish) but a point of view. I picture it kinda like a theater with one seat, and a huge wraparound stage. The self isn’t a person sitting in the chair – selfhood is the experience of sitting in the chair. And the chair doesn’t always have the same occupant.

It’s funny – I remember fights I had with girlfriends like ten years ago where they’d say, “If you have multiple selves, how can I know I’m getting close to the real you?” I still don’t know how to answer that.

One thought on “Other Selves

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