Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The Self Illusion

Originally posted on March 7, 2013

Recently I was pleased to discover a book with this title written by Bruce Hood, a professor of Developmental Psychology in Society at the University of Bristol, England. Subtitled “how the social brain creates identity,” (Oxford University Press, 2012) this book brings forth a good many aspects of psychology that are evaluated from the viewpoint of how people feel about themselves. It also notes the power of the new medium of computer games wherein people present their avatars and enjoy—or suffer from—the reactions of others to them. All this lends depth to a paper “On Self-ing” (as a process) I wrote and posted on my website in 2006.

I made the point that what we call the “self” is really an aggregate experience that seems like it’s one “thing.” I used the word “self” as a verb—to self, to create a composite figure based on many elements (some mentioned on the website). Hood notes yet other inputs, and these strengthen the case: In a good illustration on page 293 he writes, “The self illusion is an emergent property from the cluster of external influences.” I’d agree with the first part of the sentence, but instead of external influences, I’d use the term “roles.” 03-07-2013 04;39;10PM

It’s a good enough book, a contribution to the field, but I didn’t feel he addressed what we should do about it, so I’ll say it again here: We should teach psychology and talk about it as if we are a mixture of a single individual (not divided) and also pluralistic. (A paper about “role dynamics” is on my website, with links to an extensive bibliography.) We are individual insofar as we are responsible for how we play our roles, and we can learn how to play them better. We are pluralistic in that our “self” is an aggregate of many parts. The dramaturgical metaphor works here: We are the director and playwright of an ongoing improvisational show—sometimes a circus, sometimes a strikingly non-dramatic, quiet evening at home. We can learn to become more sharply aware of our roles and our tendency to continue to play them as we have in the past. We can learn to modify the way we play those roles, and in this way, we can become more creative and effective.

This all fits with a plan I have to promote psychological literacy—a way of becoming more psychologically-minded in a user-friendly way, based on the way we play our roles. I suspect I may have to explain this a lot before it catches on. So anyway, this book gets added to what I may write some day about role theory or how people can be more creative in their everyday life.

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