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The Death and Life of the Self

Post-Wittgensteinian Investigations


Silvia Gáliková

What is a self? What is the relation between phenomenal consciousness and the self? What are we talking about when we speak of conscious experience, the self, an inner mental world? In order to answer these questions the author reconsiders the «turn to the self» in contemporary philosophy of mind. The human self is considered as a natural phenomenon open to careful theoretical analysis, empirical and experimental research. The loss of everyday intuitions on the nature of self plays a significantly liberating role in self-understanding and explaining man’s behaviour.
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IV. The Self in experimental settings


IV    The Self in experimental settings

Keywords: introspection, rubber-hand illusion, out-of-body experience, self-deception

Neurocognitive research supports the idea of asymmetry between introspectively experienced conscious states and a theoretically founded explanation of ongoing causal processes. As recent findings show, the experienced priority of thoughts before the act and the consistency of thoughts about the planned act feature more magical than causal relations in explaining a person’s behaviour.

David Wegner puts it concisely in the following remark: “the experience of will is like magic” (Wegner 2002, 289). The study of normal and impaired consciousness indicates that the experience of conscious volitional activity can occur: a) before the act, b) right after the act, and c) during the act. A person may feel conscious will in an action he/she has not anticipated (a confabulation of intentions), or he/she does not feel ← 39 | 40 → responsibility for a performed action (the “alien-hand syndrome“). Besides this point, when actions are caused unconsciously, people tend to explain their behaviour in terms of mysterious forces (automatisms) or they just “make up” stories (cognitive dissonance). People feel a need to justify their attitudes and actions. An “ideal model” is that of a rational, conscious, responsible and free agent. Scholars have demonstrated in a number of experiments several ways of separation of action from the experience of will. People feel a conscious will in an action they did not anticipate, e.g. in the confabulation of intentions they revise what they think they intended to...

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