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Connecting the self and the brain:

“A neural understanding of human nature broadens rather than constricts our sense of who we are…”, says neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux:

Recently, there has been a growing interest in a more partitioned view of the self. One partition is between the minimum and the narrative self. The former is an immediate consciousness of one’s self; the latter a coherent self-consciousness that extends into the past and future. But these conscious partitions, which themselves may be based on different mechanisms, are, as Freud noted, only the tip of the iceberg. Terms such as the primitive, core, ecological and non-conceptual self, refer to unconscious aspects of personal identity that define who we are. The study of implicit or unconscious aspects of the self are now major themes in social psychology. In contrast to the narrative and minimal self notions, which depend on language to encode our awareness of who we are in consciousness, these implicit aspects of the self are not accessible for verbal self-reflection.


Although the self has not been a major research interest for neuroscientists, some have ventured into the territory. Michael Gazzaniga and Antonio Damasio, for example, emphasise – as I do – the importance of understanding the conscious self in the context of the unconscious workings of the brain. But unlike Damasio and Gazzaniga, whose ideas are about the organisation of the mind and experience, I have been attempting to develop a theory that links the self to the detailed understanding of the cellular basis of brain function that is emerging in neuroscience. Before I can explain this, though, I need to discuss the relation of the self to consciousness in more detail.

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The hunting of the ‘snark’:
Warblogger Jeff Jarvis, at whose self-professed genius in developing “vlogs” (video blogs) I recently scoffed, now reminds us (although he won’t link to the post; probably a wise idea if he wants to keep self-promoting so assiduously) that I’d scoffed at him before:

“When I started this blog, the first snarky anti-me post online came from Follow Me Here. And now he’s snarking at vlogging. I must be onto something.”

The lesson for me is to remember at whom I’ve snarked (thanks Jeff, I’m flattered you apply the term to me, and that you delegate to me a role as an arbiter of fatuity) before. Now the inanity of his vlogging concept makes more sense, and I get a boost of renewed confidence in my own consistency.

But I agree with him on one thing. As I’ve written in my sidebar from the beginning (except that I credited its source and used quotation marks),

As Steve Baum says at Ethel, “If anyone’s offended by anything on this site then please do notify me immediately. I like to keep track of those times when I get something right.”

So even Jarvis’ smarmy comment is less brilliant than derivative, n’est-ce pas? If the snark’s shoe fits, wear it…


But take heart, Jeff, recall what la Rochefoucauld (1613-80) said:

“He who lives without folly isn’t so wise as he thinks.”

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‘Militarization of Grief’:

Brooke, at The Bitter Shack, comments:

Ploughshares Into Swords: “…Turning the girders from the World Trade Center into raw materials for a warship — the USS New York — is obscene, and an affront to the memory of the people who died Sept. 11. Did anyone consider if the people who died there would like the scene of their murders turned into an instrument of war? How about the families? Again, a tragedy is being cynically coopted by an administration with a preexisting agenda which is handily advanced by the global spread of war around the world. They are militarizing our grief.”

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When self-image takes a blow, many turn to television as a distraction

‘Whether you fancy yourself a jet-setting sophisticate or a down-to-earth outdoorsy type, a fast-track corporate star or an all-around nice guy, new research indicates that you probably tune out information that challenges your self-image by tuning in to television

“We each have ways in which we like to perceive ourselves,” said Moskalenko, a doctoral student in psychology at Penn. “In many cases self-image is carefully constructed and zealously guarded, and it’s difficult to experience a conflict between who we are and who we would like to be. Television appears to be an effective means of reducing awareness of how we are falling short of our own standards.” In a study of undergraduates’ viewing habits after receiving either positive or negative results on an intelligence test, subjects who received poor scores watched television longer and waited longer before averting their eyes from the screen.’ EurekAlert

Me? I turn to FmH at those times… [grin].

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The Tortured Logic of Self-Defense —

Christopher Hitchens: Prevention and Pre-Emption – When is starting a war not aggression?: “In the present case of Iraq, a pre-emptive war is justified by its advocates on the grounds of past Iraqi aggressions and the logical presumption of future ones—which would make it partly retaliatory and partly preventive. This is fraught with the danger of casuistry since if no sinister weaponry is found before the war begins, then the war is re-justified on the grounds that it prevented such weapons from being developed. (And if the weapons are found, as one suspects they will be, after the intervention has taken place, then they could be retrospectively justified as needful for defense against an attack that was obviously coming.)” Slate

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After the Storm:

Thomas Friedman: “Here’s a prediction: In the end, 9/11 will have a much bigger impact on the Arab and Muslim worlds than it does on America… For Arabs and Muslims, the shock has been that this act was perpetrated by 19 of their sons in the name of their faith. As a result their religious texts, political systems, schoolbooks, chronic unemployment, media and even their right to visit America have all been spotlighted and questioned – sometimes fairly and sometimes unfairly.” NY Times op-ed