The Illusion of Self

“The study of haptic intelligence leads to even deeper questions about the somatic self. Our skin is us because it draws a line around our existence: we experience the world as ourself. We can separate ourself from our eyes and ears, recognize the information they give us as information, but our tactile and proprioceptive halos supply us with the sense that we are constant selves.

“There are rare conditions in which you come to believe that while, say, the right half of your body is you being yourself, the left half of your body is someone else’s—some uncomfortably close-talking, peering stranger you would like to get away from. Out-of-body experiences are related to these illusions, and they are probably key both to religious experience and to tales of alien abductions. The possibility of such illusions suggests that their opposite—our agreed-on coherent sense of a continuous self—may be a convenient fiction, an organized cognitive heuristic that we impose on experience to let us go on having it.” (bold added)

—Adam Gopnik, “Feel Me: What the Science of Touch Says About Us” in The New Yorker


Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

One thought on “The Illusion of Self”

  1. There is a major problem with the word “illusion”. It frequently seems to imply something that does not exist instead of, perhaps, something that does exist but is misinterpreted. I have no doubts that my self exists but the illusion that perplexes me is the entire outer world targeting my skin and all the other parts of my sensory system. As an animal designed by evolution to survive and procreate my nervous system retains sensitivities only related to those primary demands. Each living creature must have sensitivities directed towards the specific environment which favors its existence. My sensitivities are quite different from those of a clam, giraffe, bat, paramecium, chicken hawk or toadstool and is configured quite differently and therefore the complex array of nervous stimulations I receive to be constructed into what I call the universe is rather individual. I cannot speak for anybody else’s sense of self but mine is an organism adjunct to my general nervous system that operates within the construction that my nervous complex manufactures out of the relationships of the nervous inputs from all my sensitivities. There is a massive amount of input that is discarded in this processing as irrelevant but sufficient stuff remains to keep me alive and laughing at the insanities of my species.

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