Narrative self, split brain

If you liked our recent post on what the stories of our lives say about us, Philosophy Now has an article on how the self might be based on our ability to create narratives.

The article looks at how the self has been related to our ability to make narratives out of the disconnected events in our lives, and particularly focuses on the theories of philosophers Alasdair MacIntyre and Paul Ricoeur.

MacIntyre emphasises that the concept of personal identity is not only logically dependent upon the concept of a narrative, but it’s also the other way round. In other words it is meaningless to talk about a character biography unless one presupposes that its subject has a personal identity. The biography must be about a continually-existing thing. Conversely, it is pointless, meaningless, to state that some being has a personal identity through time, and at the same time deny that this being has a possible biography.

[In Ricoeur's theory] narratives, or more precisely plots, synthesise reality. A plot fuses together intentions, causal relations, and chance occurrences in a unified sequence of actions and events. Ricoeur seems to think that the plot creates a unified pattern in a chaotic series of events, ties them together, making them meaningful wholes.

This idea has also been taken up by more cognitive science-oriented philosophers, most notably, Daniel Dennett.

In his paper ‘The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity’, Dennett argues that the main function of consciousness is to generate a sense of narrative for our experiences.

He references experiments on ‘split-brain‘ patients, whose cortical hemisphere’s cannot directly communicate because their main link, the corpus callosum, has been severed.

In some situations, these patients seem to show a self which isn’t a unified whole, where some knowledge and experience is accessible to some parts (like perception) but not others (like speech).

Despite these obvious divisions, the patients report that they still feel like an apparently unified “sole inhabitant” of the body, as if their narrative is maintained.

Link to Philosophy Now article ‘Don Quixote and The Narrative Self’.
Link to Dennett’s article ‘The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity’.

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