Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Controversies about the subject
Is there a lasting subject or are there just bundles of emotions/thoughts/feelings which we erroneously call "subject"? If the latter, WHO makes the erroneous superimposition of a subject (if not a subject)? Whence our feeling of "mineness"?
In fact, I agree with many Neuroscientist (and Buddhist authors) showing that the subject is not a primitive concept. It is, for instance, absent or very different in psychopathological patients and in young children. BUT I do not think that this means that there is no subject, nor that this can apply also to the feeling of mineness. I think that there is something primitive in the concept that something "refers to /me/" (however imprecise this /me/ can be), which may apply also to children and perhaps even to people disturbed by a psychopathology. Out of this sense of "mineness", one can gradually build the concept of an "I" (as agent and not just recipient). Later again come the philosophically structured concepts of psyché, or subject, or self, etc. The fact that no one/not everyone is aware of their complexity is no evidence, I think, of their non-existence (no one is aware of molecules or neurones either).
Within this framework of questions, I started reading Thomas Metzinger's Being No One and the volume Exploring the Self, edited by Dan Zahavi. Although the latter author does not mention the former, he is explicitly polemical with his theses. The former, on the other hand, is quite polemical with all theses which either do not take into account neuroscientific evidences or take these evidences as all we need, without building a theory around them. In short, Metzinger thinks that there is no "solid" subject apart from perceptions, feelings, etc. What we perceive as subject is a sort of virtual reality model, which Natural Evolution has found to be the best device to make a human organism work properly. Hence, we simulate with ourselves, at every second, a fictional ego. Unfortunately, Metzinger has no neural evidence for the latter claim.
Zahavi, on the other hand, favours a philosophical approach to psychological sciences (and, vice versa, the insertion of psychopathological reflections within philosophy). Neurosciences are not the ultimate judge of his theory and his much more interested in phenomonology of our feeling "one".
Who is right? At stake is not just our identity as subject, but also the humanistic vs. neuroscientific domain over investigation on the human psyche.