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The Man Who Wasn't There: Investigations into the Strange New Science of the Self

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In the tradition of Oliver Sacks, a tour of the latest neuroscience of schizophrenia, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, ecstatic epilepsy, Cotard’s syndrome, out-of-body experiences, and other disorders—revealing the awesome power of the human sense of self from a master of science journalism.

Anil Ananthaswamy’s extensive in-depth interviews venture into the lives of individuals who offer perspectives that will change how you think about who you are. These individuals all lost some part of what we think of as our self, but they then offer remarkable, sometimes heart-wrenching insights into what remains. One man cut off his own leg. Another became one with the universe.

We are learning about the self at a level of detail that Descartes (“I think therefore I am”) could never have imagined. Recent research into Alzheimer’s illuminates how memory creates your narrative self by using the same part of your brain for your past as for your future. But wait, those afflicted with Cotard’s syndrome think they are already dead; in a way, they believe that “I think therefore I am not.” Who—or what—can say that? Neuroscience has identified specific regions of the brain that, when they misfire, can cause the self to move back and forth between the body and a doppelgänger, or to leave the body entirely. So where in the brain, or mind, or body, is the self actually located? As Ananthaswamy elegantly reports, neuroscientists themselves now see that the elusive sense of self is both everywhere and nowhere in the human brain.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published August 4, 2015

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About the author

Anil Ananthaswamy

8 books76 followers
ANIL ANANTHASWAMY is former deputy news editor and current consultant for New Scientist. He is a guest editor at UC Santa Cruz’s renowned science-writing program and teaches an annual science journalism workshop at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India. He is a freelance feature editor for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science’s “Front Matter” and has written for National Geographic News, Discover, and Matter. He has been a columnist for PBS NOVA’s The Nature of Reality blog. He won the UK Institute of Physics’ Physics Journalism award and the British Association of Science Writers’ award for Best Investigative Journalism. His first book, The Edge of Physics, was voted book of the year in 2010 by Physics World. He lives in Bangalore, India, and Berkeley, California.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 195 reviews
April 28, 2019
What was most interesting about this book was the exploration of phantom limb pain after an amputation and BIID (people who want limbs amputated because they feel the limb doesn't 'belong' to them). People with BIID do not get phantom limb pain. I have read explanations of phantom limb pain before but never quite so clearly.

We have a map of our bodies on our brains, physically. Areas with a lot of feeling, like fingers or lips, are bigger than those with less feeling, say an elbow. If a limb is amputated the brain might not adjust leaving a map of the limb on the brain. If anything causes that area of the brain to be interpretated as pain, that's what the person will feel.

With BIID, it seems that the are areas of the body map missing. Therefore a leg that is real but has no brain map feels like a foreign object, an unwanted one. Imagine having a very large and disgusting crab stuck to your body 24/7, wouldn't you want rid of it, even if it meant scarring or loss of function? Could this be treated better by psychiatric means? A lot of sufferers have tried this, so far nothing has worked except amputation.

What was the ah-ha moment for me was reading about the lady who could feel all four limbs although she was born without any. The brain map of her body had developed before her body did, and since it never did, she was left with limbs she could feel in her head although they didn't exist. It was then I understood. And then I began to wonder if there is a connection to the various gender issues that have recently come to the forefront in discussion of personhood.

Modifying genitals, taking hormones, getting plastic surgery, dressing as the opposite sex does not in fact transform the person into the sex they want to be because their genes are unalterable. But do they then really feel they are of their chosen sex? Is their body now in line with a brain map of who they say they are? There is a lot of vociferousness, especially in mtf competing in female sports and with feminism by mtf transgenders. To me they are acting exactly as men trying to dominate and tell women what's what, and in fact the few transgender friends I have are still men when they are relaxed and not acting their best in public. So to me, their personalities were always that of men, maybe it is just a body thing and personality is in no way affected?


There is an alternate view of autism put forward that is quite different from the conventional one, and also a treatment, cold wrapping, that is standard in France and unheard of in the USA. It is too complex to sum up briefly, but if you have a major interest in autism then it is really worth reading the book.
Profile Image for Anita.
1,760 reviews37 followers
December 7, 2018
I picked this up because it was compared to Oliver Sach's great, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. This is similar in that he uses some case histories of schizophrenia, autism, BID (body image disorder) to discuss what is our self. There were some really interesting discussions on what it is that schizophrenics actually hear (themselves, but they don't recognize it as themselves), what BID patients suffer when they don't recognize a part of their body as themselves, etc. Unfortunately he was light on human interest and very heavy into brain topography and philosophy of self. All in all, way too deep and specialized for a layperson such as myself. His writing was textbookish and difficult as opposed to Sach's, difficult, but fascinating, and absolutely worth the effort.
Profile Image for Nathan "N.R." Gaddis.
1,342 reviews1,331 followers
Shelved as 'goldfinch-in-juice'
August 27, 2016
 photo van-gogh-a-pair-of-shoes_zpsjvqubq4b.jpg

One can no more get from neurons and brain tissue to something nebulously chanted as ‘sense of self’ than one can arrive from a chemical analysis of the paint slapped onto van Gogh’s canvas “A Pair of Shoes” to what Heidegger rigorously calls ‘the world of the peasant’. Naturally, it is of value to perform chemical analyses of van Gogh’s paint ; and valuable to map the neuronal structures of various brain=regions. And of course some people may say that the world of the peasant, and with it, the self itself, is an illusion, but we should lock those people up. And treat as a bit looney the folks that think that the only thing that matters is matter as taken in a certain way by certain people with certain degrees.

But too, it’s not so much that philosophers worry about what the ‘self’ is as they worry about what ‘sense of’ means in the phrase ‘sense of self’. Since Hume it is quite certain that what we talk about when we talk about self is only sometimes an empirical self, a self as something which can be experienced ; the self we refer to when we check off all those demographic qualities by which we would like other people to identify us or not identify us. What philosophers since Kant (going especially through Husserl, who was no Kantian, quite) have worried about is the transcendental self, the self which makes experience itself possible. No neurologist worth her salt, ie no neurologist knowledgable of the limits of her science, is going to even pretend to touch the question of the transcendental self. Why? Because it is non-empirical. [of course you can therefore say it doesn’t exist, but you’d be a looney.]

“Science of self”? Sounds trivial.

Also, you ever try to arrive at Fur Elise by analyzing the paper and ink or the wood and wire?

[this review made possible by this reviewer having overheard a portion of an interview with the book’s author in which said author meaninglessly repeated the phrase ‘sense of self’]
Profile Image for Atila Iamarino.
411 reviews4,360 followers
March 18, 2017
Achei que fosse só mais um livro sobre mente tratando do que já havia lido e fico feliz por ter errado. Conheci Ananthaswamy por sua reportagem/livro "Do no harm", onde ele fala sobre pessoas com distúrbio de imagem que sentem que partes do seu corpo não deveriam estar lá e têm um forte desejo por amputação – caso que é explorado mais profundamente aqui.

Neste livro, Ananthaswamy as situações onde as pessoas não "estão em si". Situações onde a sensação de quem somos some e similares. Passando por pessoas que sentem que estão mortas, como a memória define quem somos e o que acontece quando não fixamos memórias, o que acontece com quem tem distúrbios de auto-imagem e outros casos. Sempre passando por histórias pessoais de quem passa por aquela situação, em uma linha bem Oliver Sacks de explicar neurociência.

Aliás, a neurociência aparece o livro todo, os casos são sempre apresentados com explicações e estudos sobre o que está se passando com o cérebro, o que torna o livro muito rico. Destaque para a porção do meio para o final, onde ele explica o que acontece com quem perde a sensação de agência sobre as próprias ações e esquizofrenia. Um bom livro sobre o cérebro como poucos que li.
Profile Image for Chris Roberts.
Author 1 book46 followers
October 14, 2015
I, Madness

And I will be the first to acknowledge that I am mad. And too I am supreme dementia. And every form and diagnosis and every schizophrenic disassociation of the cognitive mind and every outburst of flame in the words of a schizophrenic and every grandiose height of soprano song of this beautifully wracking affliction. And I am bi-polar and the impossible heightened sensation of being alive and the non-stop imagination and the lunatic rush of rapid thoughts and action and I am the empty shell of feelings and the desperate candle that flickers low and in constant danger of the fatal wind of suicide that in its joy howls relentless and is successful in turning off the light in its greed. And I am always in this and all anorexic and a sociopath and hyperkinetic attention deficit disorder and every possible mood disorder and a-typical and affective and psychotic and amnesia and post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder and night terror. And developmentally disabled, I am inertia. And every known psychiatric condition and running in my veins every psychopharmacology. And every Thorazine and every Lithium and every Haldol and every Ritalin and every Valium and every and always Paxil. And every therapy. And every cold sheet pack and every sensory depravation and every electric shock treatment and every insulin shock. And every psychotherapy and every counting back to the cradle. And remember this in the history of the cosmos and its equally small universal universe and the planets like pins and on this earth there has never been nor will there ever be delirium absolute none but mine. And in the history of mankind no one living before me who has trodden ancient dust barefoot then sandaled then clattering in heavy armor then booted in leather and then in patent sole has been certifiable they the whole lot are pretenders they are fakirs. And I alone am seriously disturbed. And no one now who walks on concrete walks on asphalt streets on steel bridges is unhinged. And the hectic pace and the hustle are nothing of the bedlamite they are poseurs. And the acts of the non compos mentis I claim also. And no one in the future in the furtherance of humankind as they will walk absent flesh and organs and walk skeletal feet in the age of ages through cemeteries scalding mounds will ever be a lunatic. And the land that is earth's one-quarter surface I name AND every continent every mountain range every valley every cave every city every state every country every province every hill and every tunnel. And nothing nobody no beast no insect no bird no plant no microorganism no grain of sand escapes my crazed sight. And I crumble in ecstasy with my bare hands all. And then to the other three quarters of this planet's surface the ocean the rivers the creeks the lakes the streams all forms of aquatic life every reef the surface of the sea's floor I gather up in my arms and swallow it whole. And I am a non existent planet and it is glory and it is emptiness and without it all I am gladly mad.

Chris Roberts
Profile Image for Kristine.
3,244 reviews
January 17, 2016
The Man Who Wasn't There by Anil Annthaswamy is a free NetGalley ebook that I read throughout early July. Intrigued by the subtitle 'New Science of the Self,' I knew that I had to read this book.

This book sits in the perfect sweet spot between social theory and abnormal psychology with its inclusion of philosophical concepts, important professional opinion, and patient input. It's easy to tuck into during a relaxed moment, yet intensely transportive with its topics.
Profile Image for Jimmy.
Author 6 books205 followers
February 19, 2019
Before I begin, I thought I'd let you know: You don't exist. Hope you don't mind me telling you that. Just thought it might be helpful in your dealings with the world . . . which in its own way, I guess, also does not exist. Oh . . . and by the way, I'm not joking. You really don't exist. But don't feel bad because either do I. And like you, I sure feel like I exist.

"It seems outlandish that the centerless universe, in all its spatio-temporal immensity, should have produced me, of all people . . . There was no such thing as me for ages, but with the formation of a particular physical organism at a particular place and time, suddenly there is me, for as long as the organism survives. . . . How can the existence of one member of one species have this remarkable consequence?"--Thomas Nagel.

The author Ani Ananthaswamy uses different real individuals to discuss the belief in self. He includes among others: epilepsy, alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, and so on.

"Men ought to know that from the brain, and from the brain only, arise our pleasures, joys, laughters, and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, griefs, and tears. . . . These things that we suffer all come from the brain. . . . Madness comes from its moistness."--Hippocrates.

I try to avoid using the word "mind" and instead refer to the "brain." I'm a total monist. There is only a brain. The mind is only a function of the brain.

"If I try to seize this self of which I feel sure, if I try to define and to summarize it, it is nothing but water slipping through my fingers."--Albert Camus.

"All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain."--Replicant Roy Batty in Blade Runner.

"The leg suddenly assumed an eerie character--or more precisely, if less evocatively, lost all its character--and became a foreign, inconceivable thing, which I looked at, and touched, without any sense whatever of recognition or relation. . . . I gazed at it, and felt, I don't know you, you're not part of me."--Oliver Sacks.

"Theoretically you can have a phantom of almost any part of the body, except of course the brain; you can't have a phantom brain, by definition, because that's where we think it's all happening."--V. S. Ramachandran.

The most interesting chapter was about the man who didn't want his leg. He tried to amputate it because it didn't feel like a part of him. He was obsessed by it. And he knew if he didn't do it, his life would never be okay. This illness is called body integrity identity disorder (BIID). Some have called it xenomelia, from the Greek for "foreign limb." Some freeze the limb until doctors have no choice but to amputate. What is also amazing is that sufferers can point to the exact spot where they want the cut to be made.

The condition was first referred to in 1977 as "apotemnophilia" or the desire to be an amputee. It was listed as a paraphilia, a catchall term for deviant sexual desires. The term has long been a convenient label for misunderstanding. Although it is true that most people who desire such amputations are sexually attracted to amputees.

There are surgeons now who will perform the amputation in secret. The patients always want the surgery and are happy afterwards.

Neuroscience has shown over the past decade that this sense of ownership over our body parts is strangely malleable, even among normal healthy people. Cognitive scientists at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1998 performed an ingenious experiment. You rest your left hand on a table. A rubber hand is placed next to it. A screen between the two allows you only to see the rubber hand. Two brushes are used to stroke both hands, the rubber one and the real one, at the same time. The subjects claim they feel the brush on the rubber hand. Many feel like that it is their hand.

Of course, there is the "phantom limb" sensation. Amputees still feel like they have a limb. Maybe this explains BIID. A part of the brain is not developed enough to claim the limb. It is not adequately represented in the brain.

"What gives me the right to speak of an 'I,' and even of an 'I' as cause, and finally of an 'I' as cause of thought? . . . A thought comes when 'it' wants, not when 'I' want.--Friedrich Nietzsche.

Depersonalization can be a defense against danger. Our brain protects us. Thus we can go into shock in a terrible situation.

"How far do our feelings take their colour from the dive underground? I mean, what is the reality of any feeling?--Virginia Woolf.

"Forever I shall be a stranger to myself."--Albert Camus.

Some people are not sure if they are alive. They could order a pizza and worry it never happened. They think they are actually dead. The arrival of the pizza fills them with a bit of relief.

Eventually, as the brain developed, the next stage was an autobiographical self. We group memories to produce subjectivity.

Another test. Subjects were given a placebo and told it was a drug. An actor in the group would act in a certain way. Others follow suit. Emotions have a cognitive factor.

"Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It's that you're destroying the peg."--Paul Collins.

"I myself am opaque, for some reason. Their eyes cannot see me. Yes, that's it: The world is autistic with respect to me."--Anne Nesbet.

"I am an Asperger, pure and simple--I do not have or suffer from any artificially constructed syndrome, disorder, disease, or flaw."--James Fahey.

"The proposition that . . . I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time that I pronounce it. . . . But I do not yet know clearly enough what I am."--Rene Descartes.

"'Owning' your body, its sensations, and its various parts is fundamental to the feeling of being someone."--Thomas Metzinger.

With the doppelganger effect, people feel they have a double. Poe's story "William Wilson" expresses that idea. As does Maupassant's "Le Horla." In "The Wasteland," T. S. Eliot spoke of an extra person walking with others. He got the idea from the explorer Shackleton.

Then there is Out of Body Experience. I knew a man who believed he could travel out of his body. It is not an uncommon belief.

"One bright May morning, I swallowed four-tenths of a gram of mescalin dissolved in half a glass of water and sat down to wait for the results."--Aldous Huxley. First sentence of The Doors of Perception.

"I feel then as if I understood those amazing words--There shall be no more time"--Spoken by Prince Myshkin in Dostoevsky's The Idiot.

"When I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception."--David Hume.

"Each normal individual of this species makes a self. Out of its brain it spins a web of words and deeds and, like other creatures, it doesn't have to know what it's doing; it just does it. . . . Our tales are spun, but for the most part we don't spin them; they spin us."--Daniel C. Dennett.

"The self is a fiction, posited in order to unify and make sense of an otherwise bafflingly complex collection of actions, utterances, fidgets, complaints, promises, and so forth, that make up a person."--Daniel C. Dennett.
Profile Image for Erin.
2,078 reviews71 followers
July 8, 2015
ARC from NetGalley for review.

Who am I? Is there really a "self"? If so, does it exist in the brain? Or does the Buddhist notion of "no-self" win out?

Generally questions for philosophers, but Ananthaswamy explores what neuroscientists can add the equation, specifically through certain disorders and illnesses which, by necessity, impact an individual's view of "self" and he spends a chapter exploring each one, Cotard's syndrome (when a person believes he or she is dead), Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, body integrity identity disorder (when one feels that one or more of one's limbs is not meant to be part of his/her body), depersonalization (one's own body and and the space around feels unreal), autism and Asperger's, out of body experiences/the doppelganger effect and ecstatic epilepsy. This sounds interesting.....let's go!

But. What Ananthaswamy is looking for is an Oliver Sacks way to explain difficult philosophical issues through both medicine and anecdote, but, unfortunately, he either doesn't possess the skill of Sacks to make the material pop culture friendly (my guess) or it's simply too difficult to accomplish with these topics. I took many, many notes while reading, but they look more like notes I took in college while reading a textbook versus thoughts on what I was reading, "The two key factors to strong delusions are....." In addition, the author goes into far too much detail regarding specific areas of the brain...pages and pages, then more pages, than are worthwhile for a layperson who is generally interested in the topic, but doesn't possess an MD. I would have preferred more anecdotes, less brain mapping, because with the maladies listed above I can't help but feel that Ananthaswamy likely had a fair amount of interesting material from which to choose, but, I don't know, perhaps he wanted to be taken more seriously?

A novel concept, and perhaps a nice addition to a college level course on neuroscience or philosophy, but there's too much hard science here to make this a truly enjoyable read unless the reader already has a particular interest in the topic and is in possession of more than just the vaguest ideas about the theories presented. It's not that I didn't learn anything, it's just that it was often a real slog to get there. Prepare to become very well acquainted with the insula. Trust me. You'll be tight.

(And if we're voting, I read all the arguments, some quite good (big props to philosopher Daniel Dennett and his "any physical system has a center of gravity - but it's not a thing, but a property of the system." - that one had the best chance of swaying me, but I'm still firmly on the "self" side.)
Profile Image for Paul.
815 reviews44 followers
September 6, 2016
I expected this book to be about interesting brain anomalies in the fashion of Oliver Sacks. The first part of it did indeed fill that bill, but by the end of the book, the author was discussing whether we have a self or don't, and it took me an hour to read the epilogue (of course, I fell asleep twice).

The first part of the book kept underlining how amazing it was that any given emotion could be found in a particular area of the brain. This was not of much interest to me, because if you know that your caudate nucleus can be affected by one slight neurological change in the form of a different synapse firing, it doesn't do you much good in everyday life. I have a raging amygdala, but I don't care what synapses cause it; I would just like it to be fixed.

The discussion of some of the cases the author cites strike me as extremely mechanistic definitions of the brain. I value more of the holistic approaches rather than the neuroscientific ones: the parts of the brain that define meaning rather than electrical signals.

The author is a brilliant thinker and excellent writer, but the discussion of whether there is a self or unself led to the conclusion that, by gosh, we just don't know.
Profile Image for Carrie Poppy.
305 reviews1,088 followers
October 18, 2021
Bought this at the Harvard Coop on a whim and glad I did. Very useful insights on atypical experiences of selfhood, such as depersonalization. The writing is a bit plain and dry, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t already have a foundational understanding of and interest in these anomalous human experiences. But it was useful to my research and my increased understanding. It also has an underlying theme of treating philosophy not as a fun game but as an important way to engage with science and psychology.
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,216 reviews44 followers
September 28, 2015
I was 20 pages from the end, but didn't finish the book before I returned it to the library. I skipped through hoping to get engaged but never did. The author somehow seemed to be reporting on people and their issues about self from a distance. Something about this book is quite different from the Oliver Sacks books I enjoyed.
Profile Image for Sue Smith.
1,185 reviews54 followers
March 29, 2018
Who am I?

What makes the self in myself?

You think you know the answer to this question but it’s a lot more complicated than what you think it is. How did you become you? When did you start identifying yourself? When did you realize that your consciousness and experiences and perceptions are only your own and no one elses?

Once you start the flood of questions, the dam unleashes and there is no end of dizzying thought. It’s almost inconceivable in it’s complexity and the combinations and permutations that arise from such contemplations, such is the complexity of the brain and it’s functioning. It’s almost frightening to realize you’re an island in your thoughts and this book but sheds a small light on it. And a light in the dark is better and more comforting than none at all.

Essentially we see ourselves as a ‘narrative’ of our experiences. They ‘make’ us who we are and how we see the world. They explain the self. Our minds are our being, our existence. At least that’s the way our Western ideologies have us see the concept of self. But is it solely just our minds, that narrative, that define the self in myself? Certainly we see that there is more to it than just your mind alone. Especially when we see the diseases of the mind like Alzheimers, that rob the person of who we know them as and yet someone else remains who is familiar but not.

It’s a fascinating subject and quite a relevant one with an aging population where we see that loss of cognitive narrative more and more often as we live to be older and older than the preceding generations.

This book also delves into people who have an incomplete ‘mind map’ that makes them reject their leg or arm and where they often seek the opportunity to amputate them so they ‘feel’ correct. As well as talking about religions that revolve around having no self at all and disorders that contribute to memory loss. It was absolutely fascinating and I highly recommend it to the reader who is faced with any of it. It never hurts to understand and it certainly helps to give empathy to those who experience it first hand.
Profile Image for Srividya.
61 reviews6 followers
November 18, 2017
An exceptional book, this is the first book I have read which explores the SELF through neuroscience, psychology, religion and philosophy . I have no similar books on my list to compare it to.It helped me understand the nuanced nature of this narrative called SELF .
A perfectly functioning body,mind,brain alludes very little information on how each of us perceives the world differently , has a unique personality and the inner workings of course which are barely perceptible even to ourselves sometimes.The author tries to explain it with the 'maladies of self' where there is a break in the facade of this self.Through interviews with people experiencing schizoprenia ,autism ,alzheimer's ,Depersonalization, Doppelganger effect, he explains how any problem in the brain is seamlessly connected to how we perceive the self and inspite of the break in narrative how they all have a capability that still allows them to relate to the external world.There is an awareness that is centered in the body regardless of the condition.While the condition in itself reveals more about the self as object,to understand the knower/constructor of the experience the author points to the Buddhist philosophy of no-self and Advaita philosophy .Our sufferings are because of our attachment to this self and losing one's attachment is the end of suffering."The malady is self".
Like the author mentions I have always had a fear of illnesses related to the mind and the book does alleviate it to a good extent.We will never be able to perceive something that is not in our experience,what we can do is to be more open to our experiences and work towards diminishing self centeredness.
I have to add , ‘The Ego tunnel’ by Thomas Metzinger seems to be the original take on this subject and the no self theory ...anyway both these books have been fascinating reads.
Profile Image for Holly.
1,007 reviews220 followers
November 27, 2015
Profound ontological case studies. Confluences of applied brain research and philosophical theories of mind/brain. The chapters on autism and out-of-body experiences were particularly interesting. This provided my second literary encounter this month with BIID (body identity integrity disorder) - something I previously knew nothing about (and don't wish to hear about again for a long time) - but Ananthawamy's explanation helped me understand the neurological causes for wishing to have a limb amputated, so I wish I'd read this before Rowling/Galbraith's mystery. The audiobook was very good.
Author 41 books54 followers
February 21, 2017
In my grandparents' day, a family kept quiet about anyone who was regarded as different. If a son had schizophrenia or any other malady, he was quietly moved away to an asylum. Fortunately, that is no longer the case. As a result, all of us are more likely to be familiar with the varied ways the brain chooses to function outside what is considered the norm. We are more likely to be familiar with epilepsy, BIID (body integrity identify disorder), severe depression, schizophrenia, and other serious forms of what we regard as mental illness or inexplicable behavior.

In this fascinating book, the author reviews the current scientific investigations into how the brain works. He is in search of the elusive spot where the self is defined or created or found (no one's sure what's happening but we're getting close) and scientists are moving closer through investigating other topics. With the ability to map the brain (and see how the brain maps the world) and stimulate certain parts to create specific feelings or actions, we are gaining an understanding of a world hitherto closed to us.

The author interviews numerous individuals suffering from various states, but he is always kind, attentive, and an astute listener. The individuals share their stories, letting us learn from their experiences even when the work is painful or difficult.

The author does his best to ease into and out of the scientific descriptions, making the material much more accessible to general readers. This is when I mourn the lack of a more rigorous scientific education, but I thank people like Anil Ananthaswamy for writing with people like me in mind.
Profile Image for Hillary.
310 reviews6 followers
September 23, 2015
Yes. I finished this book at 6 am on Yom Kippur. What of it? Apparently it took me unusually long to read this one, & I must extend my apologies to those who were awaiting this update (you know who you are). You see, this is a well-researched, broad AND deep look at the construct of the self, through the lens of neuroscience, philosophy, mysticism, psychology, and religion. Not only does it require a lot of thought and reflection, but it also triggered in me a massive physical reaction that required me to put it down for a while and then tiptoe back to it a few days later (tl;dr: I had a vagal episode while reading about the impending leg amputation of the man with body identity integration disorder!)

I started this book with very high hopes, as the author had been compared to Oliver Sacks. I quickly realized that was an unfair comparison as this author lacks the spirited, sympathetic voice Sacks had, and fails to draw the reader in at the same level. Plus, no footnotes! But once I got over my disappointment I did appreciate the material. The cases presented are interesting and there is plenty of related material presented alongside them. It's just nowhere near as engaging and fun to read as Sacks' work.

The neurobiological underpinnings of self, highlighted via the neuropathology of Alzheimer's, autism, BIID, ecstatic epilepsy, depersonalization... I'm very impressed with the state of the research into self and I think in another hundred years it is possible the neuroscientists will put the philosophers out of their jobs.
Profile Image for Jafar.
728 reviews234 followers
October 5, 2015
It's quite depressing that the only way to prove that something is a product of the brain is to show how that thing gets messed up when some part of the brain is damaged. That shows how little we understand of the brain. I can't quite explain how it is possible that a collection of neurons give rise to the sense of self, but if you go and muck with the brain you get all these weird neurological conditions in which the idea of the self is altered or entirely disappears. That's essentially all neuroscience can tell you.
Profile Image for Katryne.
87 reviews1 follower
April 21, 2016
Like I sad before, it's a bit heavy on the research side so if you're looking for more of a narrative experience I wouldn't paricularly recommend this unless you're fine with having bits of narrative in between research and jargin then I would DEFINITELY recommend this book.

The human mind is fascinating.
Is there an independant self outside of the brain and body? This book makes me seriously question that notion.
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58 reviews1 follower
August 11, 2015
The book presented interesting examples and intriguing ideas, but I didn't like the author's style of writing (I thought he was often unclear).
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140 reviews1 follower
September 4, 2015
A bit like dissecting a frog in high school biology class to bring your understanding of anatomy to life. Self as pathology warrants a mister yuk sticker from me.
Profile Image for Steven.
Author 2 books10 followers
March 27, 2019
This was an excellent overview of the current state of the 'hard problem' of consciousness.

For me, the only downsides were some minor editing glitches (using a term like 'grand mal' seizure without first defining it for a non-technical audience) and some omissions, such as:

- he never really explores/fully defines the 'hard problem' of consciousness in any detail, and

- I found the lack of a discussion of will/willpower strangely absent in a book that ostensibly promotes the idea of the brain as a Bayesian prediction machine (BPM).

That line of the BPM argument is very compelling, but if the goal of the brain is homeostasis, then what accounts for feats of endurance and will far beyond the 'normal' limits? Like, just as a small example: when I feel hungry, if I don't eat, the hunger pangs worsen. But, if I wait long enough (e.g., an hour), those pangs subside to, at most, a dull, barely-noticeable ache. How? Why? If I've never fasted longer than the time between my brain telling me to eat, then how could I have 'forced' my brain to succumb to such a potentially-devastating lack of nutrition (for all it 'knows,' I may never eat again!) without I or it knowing the outcome? Did the brain somehow know ahead of time that missing one meal wasn't such a danger to itself? What about missing two? What if I'm hypoglycemic? At what point can the brain 'decide' to start shutting down, say, organs, even if I 'will' myself on, and what relationship do those thoughts/emotions (e.g., thinking about stressful things releasing adrenaline) outweigh the physical limitations of my body/brain? Can I will myself to such a degree that I hurt myself (that seems absolutely to be the case, notwithstanding athletes who, say, over-hydrate and 'trick' the brain into thinking things are actually OK when they're not ... and for that matter, that syndrome itself is interesting).

While I know the book's focus is on mental illnesses and the insights those give into the nature of consciousness/self, addressing these more-normal scenarios would have provided some additional context and insight that I felt were warranted. Especially given that he promotes the idea that meditation could assist with people suffering from mild forms of illnesses in the Epilogue. Therefore, I thought a chapter about 'healthy will' (if you will) would've greatly enhanced the meaningfulness of the entire work and the thoroughness of its examination of the problem and its theses.

And the book's current length (270 sparsely-printed pages, quite a fast read) certainly would've allowed for at least a solid chapter on the above types of questions/issues that I feel have direct bearing on its topic and theses. So 4/5.
26 reviews1 follower
March 12, 2019
Wow, I really liked this. I was already familiar with the writings of Anil Ananthaswamy in "New Scientist" (London based weekly science magazine). This book reminded me how I felt so long ago when I read the works of Oliver Sacks - excited and motivated to learn more. Who is the "I" who suffers from Body Integrity Identity Disorder, schizophrenia, alzheimer's, the doppelganger effect, etc?

Ananthaswamy does an excellent job of weaving the personalized and often emotional case study with the known science. I came to care about each of these people, and almost unbelievably, I now accept and support the sufferers of BIID and their decision to remove the part of their body that "does not belong to them."
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432 reviews1 follower
September 7, 2020
I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5 because there were some sections I struggled to follow, but I think for anyone with a background in science or who has studied philosophy this would not be an issue. The book explores the meaning and existence of the self, and in the process takes the reader through the brain science behind various maladies of the self such as voices heard by schizophrenics, phantom limb syndrome, autism, and more, all of which was new to me and which I found fascinating.
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714 reviews6 followers
June 2, 2018

瓦拉纳西市得名于瓦拉纳河和阿西河这两条河流。这两条河都注入了 印度最长也是最神圣的河流——恒河。瓦拉纳西市有一条著名的山脉,沿 着一片新月地带伸展,一直下降到河岸边。就在这个新月地带,瓦拉纳河 在它的最北端汇入了恒河,阿西河则要再往南一些才流入恒河。瓦拉纳西 市坐落在恒河边上,朝圣者和普通的民众顺着山路的石阶就来到了这条圣 河的边上。
在瓦拉纳河与恒河的交汇处是一个叫拉吉卡德的地方。过去几十年, 印度的考古发掘工作已经让拉吉卡德这个地方的古代城市重见天日,其中 有些遗迹可以追溯到公元前6世纪。据传说大约在那个时候,有一个僧侣, 他出家以前是一个王子。他穿过恒河,来到拉吉卡德,接着又走了大约9.5 千米,到了鹿野苑,在这里他第一次传法。在他30多岁的时候,人们开始 称他为佛陀。
在佛陀的时代,从拉吉卡德到鹿野苑的道路一定是一派田园景象。我 在雨季的时候前去探访。当地的村民建议我不要走泥泞的小路。印度专门 规划了从拉吉卡德到鹿野苑的道路。我坐了一辆自动黄包车,沿途是各种 商店,卖手编柳条筐的,卖赤褐色的坛坛罐罐的,卖瓷砖的,还有政府特 许经营的酒铺。一个三四岁的孩子正在学着放风筝,但是风筝的线太短, 飞不上天。在过了一座老桥,走到路程大约一半的地方,路面就从柏油变 成了石子,石子铺得不太密,自动黄包车每走一步都会陷入石子间的缝隙 里,整个车子颠簸得人骨头都要散架了。沿路都是积雨形成的散发着臭味 的小水坑,汽车和公交车从这些小水坑上通过,到处都是稀泥。我不禁觉 得走路或许还要好一些。
到了鹿野苑,喧嚷沉寂了下来。道路又重回到更平坦的柏油路面,路 边是老树,记录着鹿野苑的历史。我觉得自己正在通往一个神圣的地方, 但是目光所及并非如此:俗丽的寺庙,装饰��鲜艳的旗子,比真身还大的 佛陀和他的众弟子相对而坐的塑像。黑色花岗岩的匾额围着这些塑像,匾 额上凿刻着用各个佛教国家的语言写下的佛陀开示的话语。
那天下午稍晚的时候,我前往鹿野苑附近安静的郊区,坐在达麦克塔 (Dhamekh Stupa)旁边。这是一座令人惊叹的佛教圣迹,它的地基将近30 米宽,塔身45米高,底座包裹着刻有碑文的石头。佛塔的上半部分是层状 的砖块。词语“达麦克”来自巴利语,是佛陀时代的语言,意味着“对法的领 悟”,其本质就是佛陀在鹿野苑初转法轮时开示的东西。
佛塔为我遮挡了午后的阳光,它的阴影仿佛使心安静下来。我让自己 去想象2500年前,那时一个35岁的僧人传布着他的激进的讯息:无我。 ●●● 回想一下序言寓言故事里的那个人——他身体的各部分被一具尸体的 各部分所取代。当这个人问一群僧侣他是否��存在时,他们反问他:你是 谁?男子回答说,他甚至不确定自己是一个人。
僧侣们向他指出,他开始意识到了“我”(他的自我)并不是实在的。 诚然,他已经开始怀疑自己存在与否了,但是真相是他向来缺乏一个自 我。他们告诉他,新旧身体并无不同。“这是我的身体”的感受是由构成身 体的要素聚合所造成的。男子看到了自我的真相,获得了解脱,就佛教来 说,就是他从对虚幻事物的一切执着中摆脱了出来。
我必须承认,在2011年探访鹿野苑时,对佛教无我观念的思索让我的 思想如坠云雾。那时我对“自我”这个词语的大部分看法仍停留在一种直觉 上,即那种我们都有的关于自我的直觉。当面对一个人在自我上的牢固直 觉时,“无我”是什么意思呢?当谈到自我的各种理论时,探寻的目标就是 这样一个自我,它被感知为一个统一体。一切都被统一起来,一个人就是 这种统一性,他也随时都能够感知到这种统一性。感觉在一具身体中,感 觉拥有这具身体,感觉好像我就是自己行动的施行者,感觉我感知的一切 都被我感知着——所有这些都有一种连贯性的感受。存在着一个单一的实 体,它是经验的主体,所有经验都是我的经验。这就是哲学家们所谓的共 时性统一(synchronic unity)。
还有另外一种感受:这个实体在时间中延续。当你回想儿时的记忆, 它们就好像是你的记忆,它们所引起的情绪和感知好像是属于你的。如果 你想象未来的自己,同样如此。虽说我们长大了,知道我们在时间中变化 着,但我们仍会感觉到:所有这一切之下是相同的某个人或某个东西,它 也许在变化着、演进着。哲学家们称之为历时性统一(diachronic unity)。 共时性和历时性统一都被印度正理派(Nyaya)哲学家们非常有效地 运用在了论证自我的存在上(nyaya的意思是“逻辑”),正理派最早的文献 记载可追溯至公元前200年。提到共时性统一,他们认为必须存在一个自 我,它能够整合各种感觉(例如触觉、视觉和听觉)并创造出统一的知 觉。
他们在历时性统一上的立场更具说服力。他们认为,记忆要是连贯 的,也就是说,当我在任何时候回忆,所回忆的都像是我的记忆,就必定 存在着一个自我。这一主张依赖的是这样一个论证:我无法回忆你的记 忆,而你也不能回忆我的。所以,如果没有自我,那么就不可能对过去事 件进行回忆,好像它们属于任何在进行着回忆的人或事物。按照他们的论 证,记忆要想向它实际上那样运转,就必须存在一个自我。“我并不坚信自 我,但是我认为以上说法是针对自我所能做出的最牢靠的论证,”乔治·德 雷弗斯(Georges Dreyfus)告诉我,他是马萨诸塞州威廉斯敦市威廉姆斯 学院的哲学家和藏传佛教学者。
因此,宽泛地说,哲学家和神经科学家们分为两大阵营:一派声称自 我是实存的,另一派则反对这种说法。对于他们而言,一个大问题就是: 是否存在一个可以被称作自我的实体,它产生了这种共时性和历时性的统 一?一种思考自我的顽固方法就是探寻自我是否能够独立于其他一切而存 在,也就是作为实在的一个基础部分,在构成实在事物的基础分类或本体 论中占据独特的位置;自我不能通过“作为构成更为基本的本位论地位的事 物”这种解释消除。通常情况下,这种本体论意义上的独特自我就是被无我 阵营的人否定的东西,而且否定起来一点儿都不难。���怪支持自我的阵营 认为无我阵营只是在进行一个稻草人论证[1]。
本书中人物(他们所罹患的可以被称为自我的疾病)的经历以及对这 些经历做出解释的神经科学在某种程度上为我们提供了一些答案。那些看 起来给予我们共时性和历时性统一的自由有诸多方面:我们的叙述;我们 是自己行动的施行者和自己思想的发起者的感受;对身体各部分的拥有 感;我们就是我们的情绪的感受;在空间中的位置感,这个位置就是我们 的身体;以及拥有一个几何学的视角来观察的感受。自我所有的这些方面 构成了作为客体的自我。这些特征可以被看作是由建构而获得的。问题在 于,这里是否存在一个构建者,或者有的仅仅是一个建构者现象。
很明显,即使当这些方面都开始分崩离析,也仍然存在着一个被有意 识经验到的、作为主体的自我,哲学家们会称其为现象主体。仍然有一 个“我”,是它患有精神分裂症、人格解体、自闭症、狂喜癫痫、否认拥有 身体部分、经历离体体验、丧失它的叙述,甚至否认它自身的存在。那 么,那个“我”究竟是谁?它是什么呢? 8世纪的印度哲学家,主张不二论(Advaita)的神学家商羯罗 (Shankara)诗意地展示了一种理解自我本质的类似途径。他的诗名叫 《自我之歌》(Nirvana Shaktam,是一首六节的解脱之歌),是这样开始 的:
每节诗都是以对“我是谁”这个问题的回答结束的。这个答案变成了叠 句,层层递进,推向强有力的最后一节诗。不二论的答案先放下不谈,这 首诗的力量来自它对我不是什么的主张——我不是我的心、我的智、我的 身体、我的感觉、我的情绪,我既不是美德也不是仇恨,我不是我的财 富,也不是我的关系,我甚至还未出生。
坐落于有关自我与无我争论核心位置的正是这个“我”。我们要如何理 解这个作为主体的自我、这个作为认知者的自我,如何理解我们对主体性 的体验呢?这种体验来自哪里呢?自我是否存在?
无论你向佛教众多传统中的哪一个提出这个问题,回答都是否定的, 并不存在像自我这样的东西。在佛教看来,如果你要去寻找自我(通过内 省与冥想),你得到的将是这样一个洞见:自我是暂时的、起伏的,那个 被感知到的统一只是一个现象。
在西方的哲学传统中,18世纪苏格兰哲学家大卫·休谟(David Hume) 的一段话常被引用:“当我最亲密地进入我自己时,我发现的总是各种各样 的知觉,热或冷、明或暗、爱或恨、痛苦或喜悦。我从来没有抓住没有知 觉的我自己,除了知觉也从未观察到任何东西。”人们普遍认为,休谟属于 无我阵营[尽管哲学家盖伦·史卓森(Galen Strawson)不赞同,就像他在 《明显的联结:休谟论人格同一性》(The Evident Connexion:Hume on Personal Identity)一书中所论证的那样]。 哲学家丹尼尔·丹尼特(Daniel Dennett)也属于无我阵营:“我们这个 物种中的每个正常个体都会制造一个自我。凭借它的大脑,结出一张词语 和行为的网,就像其他生物一样,它并不一定知道自己正在做什么,它需 要的只是去做……我们的故事被编织出来,但就绝大部分而言并不是我们 在编织它们,而是它们在编织我们。”丹尼特说自我“与(物理学上的)重 心是同一种事物,重心尽管是一个抽象,但这个抽象与物理世界紧紧地结 合在一起。”任何物理系统都有一个重心,但它不是一个东西,而是系统的 一种属性。并没有任何一个用于构成重心的原子或分子,但是这种数学的 抽象具有实际的结果。丹尼特说,自我是叙事的中心:是一个“虚构,它的 存在是为了整合并理解行动、话语、烦躁、抱怨、承诺等形成的一个复杂 的聚集,这个聚集构成了一个人,如果没有这个虚构,这个复杂的聚集就
从一种意义上讲,佛教徒、休谟、丹尼特还有其他许多人都可以被归 为束理论家(bundle theorist):那个在任何给定的时刻,并且随着时间的 推移,都被感知为一个统一体的自我是“完全由一束束离散的精神现象编织 而成的。” 托马斯·梅青格尔也是一个无我理论家。我们已经见识过他的观点。他 假定,一个深植于体内的持续的生物过程会在脑中产生对生物体的表征, 即一个自我模型。这个动态自我模型的内容囊括了从身体及其情绪状态到 感觉和思想的一切东西。你的自我模型的内容构成了你能够有意识经验到 的关于你自己的一切。关键在于,有意识的自我模型是透明的,这意味着 我们不会将自我经验为一个表征,即使在智识(intellectual)上我们相信 (或许有一天有人能够证明)是如此这般的。“它是一个非常坚实的、呈现 实在的机制。”梅青格尔告诉我。对他而言,是一个现象自我的这个经验, 也就是主观上经验到一个自我,来自意识到了自我模型与世界模型之间的 互动。梅青格尔的观点取消了这样一个自我,这个自我作为一个实体或事 物在活着的脑之外持存。但究竟是怎样的神经过程产生了符合梅青格尔模 型的主观性,这一点尚不清楚。
安东尼奥·达马西奥则提供了另外一个视角。回想一下他的原型自我、 核心自我和自传式自我这个框架:这些成分构成了作为客体的自我。此 外,他又增加了一个作为认知者(knower)的自我,或者说作为主体的自 我。在脑中有一些神经过程,它们让我们将自我经验为某种认知它自己的 东西,它们赋予心智以主观性:“当脑设法在心智中引入一个认知者,主观 性便如影随形地出现了。”简单地说,作为认知者的自我让我们有意识。哲 学家约翰·塞尔(John Searle)在对达马西奥的《自我到心智》的批判中认 为这是一个循环论证:“引入自我来解释意识,但如果它要解释意识,我们 就不能够假定自我已经有了意识。”
这一批判凸显了神经科学家和哲学家在解释自我意识的主观性上所遇 到的挑战。这也就难怪一些哲学家只是简单地把主观性归属于意识本身 (而至今也不去触及这个难问题)。他们认为,有意识的状态奠定了我们 全部经验的基础,而有意识的状态具有自我觉知的属性。请注意,他们不 是在说这里存在着一个正在经验着的主体或某个人。他们说的是意识具有 主观性的特性。用哲学行话来说,意识是反身性的(ref?lexive)。“反身 性是某种自动的、普遍的、被动的东西,这种东西从一开始就是意识的特 征。”哥本哈根大学的哲学家丹·扎哈维告诉我。
因此,按照这种思维方式,脑必定以某种方式呈现出自我觉知或者反 身性意识,并构建了一个看似单一而坚实的自我。但神经科学还远远不能 解释意识的反身性是如何出现的。然而,如果你把意识的这种特征当成是 既定的,有些无我理论家就会说并不存在自我,有的只是各个时刻的反身 性意识。
纽约大学的心智哲学家约纳顿·加纳利(Jonardon Ganeri)认为,如果 你接受意识内在的就是反身性的,这就无异于说存在一个自我。“你会好奇 为什么要去否定这样一个自我。”他告诉我,“为什么不说意识的反身性构 成了自我。对我来说,这似乎像是一个对自我的很不错的解释。”但加纳利 也承认,即使意识是反身性的,它也并没有反驳或否定这样一种自我,它 自成一体,与反身意识并存。
扎哈维支持这样一种自我:极小自我。在他看来,这种极小自我提供 了心智结构,使得一种经验仿佛是我的,并且赋予经验以第一人称视角。 这样的一种极小自我必须超越任何给定的主观性时刻,或者说比它们持续 更久,如此一来,许多这样的时刻才能够被经验为属于同一个主体。
就以精神分裂症患者为例。他们有时不会感到拥有他们自己的思 想。“即使在疾病的状态中,那个最小的东西也势必会保存下来。”扎哈维 说。我们遇到的所有那些经历过自我的扰乱的人都感到有一个最小的东西 始终存在着,对此是很难置若罔闻的。无论是什么经验,是人格分裂的经 验也好,离体经验也好,与这些经验相联系的属我感始终存在。“真的很难 设想这样一种情形,这种情况会潜在地让我们的经验完全没有任何一种最 小属我性。”扎哈维对我说,“这样的经验甚至要如何以第一人称来报道 呢?”
为了回答后面这个问题,扎哈维设置了一个最小自我。但这随后就会 带来其他问题。解释最小自我的主观特征并不比解释意识如何出现来得容 易。(事实上,扎哈维反对“自我是与意识分离并独立于意识的东西”这种 想法。他对我说:“没有最小自我概念的参与,我们无法理解意识,并对它 做出恰当的处理”。)
因此,这个保证了共时统一性的最小自我如何扩展形成了一个人具有 历时统一性的完整的自我呢?扎哈维认为,在最小自我与充分扩展的叙述 自我这两个极端之间需要一些东西:一种形式的人际自我(interpersonal self),它是在幼年时期从最小自我中生成出来的,在这个时期,婴儿与他 的母亲以及其他人互动,他还没有充分形成叙述自我,但正在与其他人的 关系中发展一个自我。
在理论家光谱的另一端是印度的不二论思想家。他们认为存在一个根 本的非个体的意识,它是所有经验的主体,不只是你的或我的经验,而是 所有经验的主体,是一种观照万有的意识。一个非人的经验者。商羯罗的 六节诗就是以它结束的。
所以,尽管不二论哲学家同意无我这个思想,认为个体自我是不实在 的,但他们最终和他们的佛教兄弟分道扬镳了。佛教的束理论观认为我们 的“错误在于,当实际上有很多东西的时候却认为只有一个东西”,或者在 实际上只有许多相互作用的心理-物理成分的时候错误地将这个束看作是实 在的。不二论哲学家认为:“我们的错误在于当严格来说仅有一个(那个经 验万有的意识)的时候却认为有许多。”
很难不产生这样一种感觉,那就是神经科学家和哲学家(无论是以前 的,还是现在的)在他们对自我是否存在这个问题的论证上正在走向一个 阵营,如若不然,我敢说那就是在鸡蛋里挑骨头。在这个问题上他们很少 意见不一。笛卡儿的二元论已是明日黄花。如今不会有人还主张这样一个 自我,它具有独立的本体论实在,能够在脑和身体死亡以后存在。也不会 有人主张在脑中有一个独立的具有特权的位置,自我可以在这里发号施 令。的确,对于我们的自我感,有些脑区要比其他脑区更重要,比如岛叶 皮层、颞顶联合区,以及内侧前额叶皮层,但没有任何一个区域可以说是 自我独有的区域。也很少有论证主张我们的叙述自我是一个虚构,是一个 没有讲故事人的故事。事实上,能够构成作为客体的自我的任何东西,包 括身体拥有感,都可以说成是被建构出来的,但并没有一个建构者。笛卡 儿的二元论将身体降低到只是一个管道的地位,如今我们已经取代了笛卡 儿的二元论。在我们的图景中,自我感是神经过程的结果。这些神经过程 紧密地整合了身体,它将脑、身体、心智,甚至是文化结合起来,让我们 成为我们所是的人。作为主体的自我或者作为认知者的自我仍旧需要获得 满意的解释,因为这里就是各种理论的差异之所在。对于经验的主观性, 我们要回答它是如何出现的。主观性是由于扎哈维称为最小自我的某些神 经过程造成的吗,或者是由于意识内在的反身性,又或者主观性是因为心 理-物理成分(按照束理论家或者丹尼特或者梅青格尔的方式)相互作用才 如此显现出来的吗。自我的神秘感就在于此。要让这个神秘感消失,最有 可能的是要理解意识本身。 ●●●
自我的本质不只关乎智识与哲学的争论,还关乎人的痛苦。我们在本 书中遇到的那些人,如果从他们经验的视角看去,理解自我的本性是至关 重要的。如果像佛教徒所���张的那样,造成苦的东西正是我们虚幻地执着
于一个看似稳固的自我,那么意识到它的真实的性质就能够缓解苦(而且 就像我们已经看到的,构成作为客体自我的各个方面实际上是由于脑的动 态状况而出现的,而一个人是有可能与这些状态分离的)。加纳利指出, 对于那些患有自我疾病的个体所遭受的苦,佛教徒的看法是,我们在一开 始就为自我设置了过高的标准。这样一来扰乱就好像是缺陷,于是随着这 种理解就应运而生了五花八门的东西,各种应对机制、各种治疗都出现 了。但是如果不把这些扰乱看作是自我的缺陷的结果,而是沉迷和执着于 一种自我的观念的结果,会是怎样一种状况呢?放下(letting go)可能会 有治疗上的益处。
这让我想起了我和杰夫·阿布格尔的交谈。我们在第5章曾简短地提到 过阿布格尔,从青春期快要结束的时候,阿布格尔就周期性地出现人格解 体。他告诉我们,他的整个生活就是在未曾停歇地试图搞清楚他出了什么 问题,为什么他强烈地感到与自己疏远。药物治疗有所帮助,但也有一个 限度。“药物治疗只是缓解了我分裂的思维方式,这种思维方式非常不舒 服,就是因为我感觉不到我是一个整体,我感到一种分离,感到一种破 碎。”他对我说,“药物有助于整合我的自我感,但是它并没有恢复我在18 岁时所拥有的那种自我感。”为了理解这种分裂状态,他去哲学家的著作中 寻找答案,这些哲学家提出,自我的分解与自我被感知到的统一性的瓦解 造成了一种新的存在状态。“在我们如此这般经验到的人格解体和其他人所 想要去探索、需求、感受,并既而尝试理解的东西之间很容易发现一种类 似之处,我觉得在那些非常古老的文明中也存在这样的类似之处。”阿布格 尔说。在某种意义上,他已经放下了以前的自我的某些方面,或者至少不 再努力想要回到过去。“从患者的视角来看,你真的面临着选择:你可以继 续尝试各种药物和治疗,直到重获在这一切开始之前所拥有的自我感,或 者你可以说,‘好吧,我已经恢复了一半,就让我来看一看另外一半会怎么 样。让我来看一看有什么大不了的。’” 这是一种有益的经历��“对我来说,重要的问题在于你要将人格解体看 作是一种疾病,还是一种不同的心智状态。你要将它看作一条通往某种觉 醒道路的开端吗?”阿布格尔对我说,“我开始将人格解体看作只是一次感 知上的改变,这很及时。人格解体改变了我的世界观,与所有的存在相 比,它其实是那么短暂与渺小。”
当然,能够做到像杰夫这样是需要一定认知能力的。那些罹患严重精 神分裂症或自闭症的人,或者经受着科塔尔综合征的人不能够从他们的现 象自我中摆脱出来,这是很不幸的。对于他们的实实在在的痛苦来说,所 有那些“自我是一个没有建构者的建构”的讨论都毫无用处。期待着一个阿 尔茨海默症患者通过抓住“并不存在一个叙述者”这个事实来对付他的叙述
但是对那些程度并不严重的精神分裂、人格解体或BIID的患者来说, 他们也许会发现对自我本质的洞见会对治疗有所帮助。然而,并不只是那 些患有自我疾病的人才会从这样的洞见中受益。 ●●●
在我们演化的历史上,一定有过这样一个时刻,在这个时候,作为认 知者的自我的第一缕微光出现了。这必定是一个至关重要的生物学事件。 它为我们的祖先带来了生存优势。觉知到自己的身体,拥有将注意力指向 身体的能力一定有演化上的益处。各种脑区活动的复杂互动是一个形成自 我的过程,这个过程旨在对身体施加控制。随着演化的进一步展开,我们 发展出了各种形式的长期记忆,发展出了一个叙述自我。我们能够从错误 中学习,能够描绘和计划我们的未来。关于自己的过去和未来的那些想法 都扩充进了我们的那个作为客体的自我中。我们从只能生活在此时此地的 生物变成了生活在自己的心智时间中的生物。然而,无论我们的想法有多 么微妙,有关这些想法对一个人的自我概念是好还是坏的反馈却仍旧是由 身体作为中介来进行的。我们会感到得意扬扬,或者内心深处涌起不祥的 预感,或者会经历从狂喜到抑郁的各种各样的状况。这些情绪或感受会驱 使我们行动起来,趋乐避苦。我们过去感受到这些情绪,是因为我们在森 林中找到了食物或者是要逃避捕食者,而如今我们会因为自己思想的内容 就感受到这些情绪,尽管这些内容与生存并没有直接的关系。也正是因为 这样,我们才成为了这样一个物种,有社会、有文化、有艺术、有技术、 有一切因人而美好的东西。但它也让我们成为一个永不餍足的物种。我们 绝大多数人都想象着拥有更多,让我们感觉更好更安全,想象着不要陷入 相反的境地,我们为这些感受而展开行动。我们不只要让我们的身体自我 生存下去,还要维系我们的概念自我,这个想象的自我可不会受什么束 缚。所以,尽管自我令人困扰的本性让一些人禁欲苦修,成为僧侣,他们 倾其所有来探求自我的本性,这种避世修行也造就了他们对自我的陶醉与 过度沉迷。我们可以将社会的诸多病状归因于不受控制的概念自我,这样 说并不夸张。不受控制的概念自我索求无度,或者相互倾轧来保持被物化 的身份:宗教在意识形态上的顽固,贫富差距日益的悬殊,强大的军事化 国家以其霸权蹂躏小国,或者对自然资源的持续掠夺皆是由此而起。
尽管自我的本性是主观性尚未解决的问题,但与自我的这种基本上是 虚构的性质达成妥协或许有助于我们控制自己。然而单纯只是智力上的理 解是否会达成这种妥协呢?人们对此还并不清楚。实际上,佛教徒发展无 我观并不是为了给出一种智力上的论证,而是要赋予一种由静思获得的体
验在哲学的重要性。“不用说,无我是一种重要的观点,”属于无我阵营的 乔治·德雷弗斯说,“但是无我观是要尝试着捕获这样一种体验,人们往往 会通过静思获得这种体验。通过消除自我中心,向他人更加开放等,这种 体验会带来深刻的转化效果。”
在佛教和不二论哲学中,无我观来自对人所遭受的苦的关注。他们 说,苦的根源在于错误地认为“我”与“我的”是等同的。意识到这一点,并 放下对自我的执着就是解脱,就是苦的终结。“佛教的核心思想是,对自我 在认知上的执着本身就是一种病态,是导致功能失调的一种来源。”约纳顿 ·加纳利说。
[1] 稻草人论证是一种论证上的非形式谬误,意指在对一个论证做出批评或 反驳时,有意无意地曲解了这个论证,因此批评或反驳所针对的并不是这 个论证实际的面貌。也称稻草人谬误。——译者注
3,777 reviews78 followers
January 10, 2022
The Man Who Wasn’t There: Investigations Into the Strange New Science of the Self by Anil Ananthaswamy (Dutton 2015) (616.80092) (3604).

This is author Anil Ananthaswamy’s report on the latest research and newest theories about the operation of the human mind and brain. He presents detailed evidence about the most current developments in mapping the functions of specific areas of the brain. Schizophrenia, autism, out-of-body experiences, and BIID (“Body Integrity Identity Disorder”) aka xenomelia (“foreign limb”) are topics the author discusses at length.

Wait…what? Body Integrity Identity Disorder? BIID hypothesizes that a normal function, which is your comfort in how your body fits together, has gone wrong. Research indicates that people with BIID have an error in the mental map of their body - that something has gone wrong with the patient’s map. Some BIID patients fully believe that they are missing body parts - an arm, say - when a quick glance at the patient reveals without a doubt that the patient’s arm is still attached, functional, and healthy. These patients reject any suggestion that the limb is part of their body. The patient’s mental map has been compromised.

Patients with BIID sometimes seek rogue surgeons to amputate their “missing” body parts. Indeed, the author interviewed an outlaw surgeon who amputates healthy limbs in a regular hospital surgical suite for the right price. If discovered, the surgeon would be barred from practice and criminally prosecuted. Either way, a mentally ill human being has been crippled for life.

As part of the discussion about BIID, the author wrote at length about the phenomena of “phantom limb sensation,” or “phantom limb pain.” Phantom limb sensation - sensing the presence of a lost limb even years after the surgery - is, according to the author, “an artifact of body representation in the brain gone wrong.” (p 75-6).

Amazingly, even someone born without limbs - someone whose body parts have been absent since birth - can still feel pain and sensation in those limbs. These phantoms of congenitally absent limbs represent “animation without incarnation.” The author posits that the brain contained the maps for the missing body parts even though the actual limbs had failed to develop.

The author cites research that argues that BIID is the converse of phantom limb sensation. Whereas phantoms of absent limbs represent “animation without incarnation,” BIID is instead an “incarnation without animation” in which the body has developed fully, but somehow its representation (mental map) in the brain for a limb or limbs is incomplete.

Is phantom limb sensation real? To me it is. I feel it every day.

I am an amputee. My left leg was removed below the knee about five years ago, but my brain apparently doesn't know it. I can still wiggle every single toe on my missing foot. No question about it. If I close my eyes, my left (missing) leg and my right (healthy and attached) leg feel exactly the same. It’s a weird sensation.

Sometimes phantom limb pain is inconvenient. Imagine that you have a painful crick in your foot and ankle. You know, the kind where you have to rotate your foot to crack the joint? You ought to try rotating your foot when it’s not there. It cannot be done, and the inability to crack it is uncomfortable if not downright painful. It’s a lot like a failed sneeze (“Ah-ah-ah…crap!”)

The author presents more bizarre info than I can wrap my head around.

My rating: 7.25/10, finished 1/8/22 (3604).

633 reviews35 followers
March 3, 2016
You had me at "In the tradition of Oliver Sacks..."

I love listening to scientific books, but not being a scientist myself, need a particular type of science writing. I want to go in depth into whatever subject is being explored, but I need the author to perform that particularly impressive feat of giving me some basic background without boring me or making me feel talked down to. Sacks, in his psychological case studies, mastered this talent, covering many of the fascinating, horrifying, sad and beautiful cases he had encountered over his long career as a doctor and writer. Sacks sadly passed away in 2015 and I had resigned myself to no new books from my favorite psychology writer. But then I stumbled across the above mentioned opening line of the synopsis for The Man Who Wasn't There. And this book did not disappoint!

I listened to this as a downloadable eAudiobook, and the narrator's voice was pleasant and it is a quality recording. The book itself is separated into sections on various disorders that help us discuss the idea of "self." Since there are many theories and many mysteries surrounding the topic of "self," our author posits that it can be illuminating to explore this idea by looking at what happens when various things go wrong in the brain. Alzheimer disease, depersonalization disorder, epilepsy, body integrity identity disorder, schizophrenia and more are all explored with a thoughtful and gracious hand, all with a focus on how the self is perceived, and sometimes mis-perceived. Many questions are posed, and few are answered along this journey. Is the self a collection of episodic memories? Is it a biological process interpreted by our neurons in a certain way? What about the dichotomy of self-as-subject and self-as-observer? If you need any more convincing about whether or not you should read this fascinating book, check out this list of awards it has won.

Nominated for the 2016 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award
An NBC News Notable Science Book of 2015
Named one of Publishers Weekly 's Best Books of 2015
A Book of the Month for Brain HQ/Posit Science
Selected by Forbes as a Must Read Brain Book of 2015
On Life Changes Network 's list of the Top 10 Books That Could Change Your Life of 2015

So fascinating and well written, I'm excited to try Ananthaswamy's other book in the Library catalog: The Edge of Physics. Oliver Sack's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is another must-read for fans of this type of book.
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5,131 reviews187 followers
September 11, 2016
If you are like me and like to read true stories regarding psychological and neurological disorders then you will want to check out this book. I found this book to be an very thought-provoking, intriguing read. I was had heard of and was kind of familiar with BIID (body integrity identity disorder) but if asked I could not really describe to you what this disorder is all about. This disorder really fascinated me. The way that sufferers experience depression towards their healthy limbs because they feel that the limbs are foreign objects that need to be removed. The fact that there are surgeons out there that will remove these limbs for BIID patients is what shocked me the most. Well that and the transformation that these people have after the surgery of being a "normal" person with an happy outcome for life as if they had just been born for the first time.

Mr. Ananthaswamy also explorers in this book Alzheimer's, Schizophrenia, Depersonalization, Out-of-body experiences, and Ecstatic epilepsy. Again, some of these disorders I am not familiar about. So I learned a lot about these disorders while reading this book. I found the stories sad but at the same time I am glad that more and more people are bring to light these disorders and the people suffering from them are not the exception. Therefore, the need to help is greater. Although, as I was reading this book there were times when Mr. Ananthaswamy would get to explaining the disorder or quote a reference that seemed to be over my head with words that I had never heard of. I would have to re-read sections. Overall, this book is well edited and could be a table top book or one for a book club discussion.
8 reviews5 followers
January 26, 2020
This is a remarkable exploration of the definition of selfhood: loss of memories and the narrative self in Alzheimer’s, identification with one’s own body in body integrity identity disorder, questions of agency in schizophrenia, a disconnect with one’s subjective experience in depersonalization syndrome, different frames of reference and prediction error in autism, misconceptions of bodily boundaries in out-of-body experiences and experiments such as the rubber hand illusion, and subjective feelings of body states and emotions in ecstatic epilepsy.

The author also talks about “embodied selfhood”, a pre-reflective ability to engage with the world versus a cognitive or narrative self (page 56), and raises the question as to whether or not the self-as-subject is more fundamental than the narrative self (page 56). This raises questions of who is experiencing, perceiving, authoring, or owning.

In the chapter about agency, after efference copy (corollary discharge) is described, Feinberg is quoted: “The subjective experience of these discharges [or signals] should correspond to nothing less than the experience of will or intention.” (page 111)
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707 reviews16 followers
September 2, 2016
The Man Who Wasn’t There explores neuroscience of the most fascinating and mind-bending sort. Ananthaswamy does begin with the most dramatic of the conditions he is exploring, Cotard’s syndrome, in which the patient believes herself to be dead. But in general this is a very sober and analytic investigation. Ananthaswamy is delving deep, and his explanations are detailed; he is willing to dig into nuance rather than oversimplifying matters. He has a tendency to interleave explanations and examples, which can make for some circular reading, since the science is often best understood once the example is in hand. read more
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