Thursday, October 19, 2017

682: The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity

“What is a self? I will try to answer this question by developing an analogy with something much simpler, 
something which is nowhere near as puzzling as a self, but has some properties in common with selves. 
What I have in mind is the center of gravity of an object. This is a well-behaved concept in Newtonian physics. 
But a center of gravity is not an atom or a subatomic particle or any other physical item in the world. 
It has no mass; it has no color; it has no physical properties at all, except for spatio-temporal location. 
It is a fine example of what Hans Reichenbach would call an abstractum. It is a purely abstract object. 
It is, if you like , a theorist's fiction. It is not one of the real things in the universe in addition to the atoms. 
But it is a fiction that has nicely defined, well delineated and well behaved role within physics.”
This is how Daniel Dennett begins his article “The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity” (1992).

We can manipulate centers of gravity. For instance, I change the  center of gravity of a water pitcher easily, by pouring some of the water out.

So, although a center of gravity is a purely abstract   object, it has a spatio-temporal career, which I can affect by my actions. 

It has a history, but its history can include some rather    strange episodes. As an abstractum, it is not bound by all the constraints of physical travel.
A self is also an abstract object, a theorist's fiction. 
The theory is not particle physics but what we might call a branch of people physics; 
it is more soberly known as a phenomenology or hermeneutics, or soul-science (Geisteswissenschaft). 
The physicist does an interpretation, if you like, of a chair and its behavior,
and comes up with the theoretical abstraction of a center of gravity, which is then very useful

in characterizing the behaviour of the chair in the future, under a wide variety of conditions. 
The hermeneuticist or phenomenologist, or anthropologist sees some rather more complicated things 
moving about in the world, human beings and animals, and is faced with a similar problem of  interpretation.
Dennett concludes that The Self can be considered as a Center of Narrative Gravity. On the question “Who are you”, we begin telling stories about ourselves,
as if it is about a character in a novel, we tell our history and adventures in life and the novelist is our brain.

Thank you for your attention again ….. ^_^

The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity
in F. Kessel, P. Cole and D. Johnson, eds, Self and Consciousness: Multiple Perspectives, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1992.