The self and its brain

Social Cognition 30 (4):474-518 (2012)
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Abstract

In this paper I argue that much of the confusion and mystery surrounding the concept of "self" can be traced to a failure to appreciate the distinction between the self as a collection of diverse neural components that provide us with our beliefs, memories, desires, personality, emotions, etc (the epistemological self) and the self that is best conceived as subjective, unified awareness, a point of view in the first person (ontological self). While the former can, and indeed has, been extensively studied by researchers of various disciplines in the human sciences, the latter most often has been ignored -- treated more as a place holder attached to a particular predicate of interest (e.g., concept, reference, deception, esteem, image, regulation, etc). These two aspects of the self, I contend, are not reducible -- one being an object (the epistemological self) and the other a subject (the ontological self). Until we appreciate the difficulties of applying scientific methods and analysis to what cannot be reduced to an object of inquiry without stripping it of its essential aspect (its status as subject), progress on the "self", taken as a pluralistic construct, will continue to address only one part of the problems we face in understanding this most fundamental aspect of human experience.

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Stanely Bernard Klein
University of California at Santa Barbara