The Rest is Silence
selfhood has a narrative structure. We think of ourselves as unified and continuous beings journeying from a remembered past to an anticipated future; beings possessed of free will and a capacity for self-reflection. We work, play, succeed, fail, laugh, cry, love and lose. It seems natural to think of life as a story which has a beginning, middle and end, and in which we are the main protagonist. This ‘autobiographical’ self is juxtaposed with a ‘core’ self which is the self of present moment consciousness: you, right here, right now. The core self (in Damasio’s terms) is “a transient entity, re-created for each and every object with which the brain interacts”. Whereas the brain’s language and long-term memory networks are the main platforms for the autobiographical self, the self of the present moment is bound to perceptual and working memory circuits and to brain systems involved in mapping and regulating body states. But even at this level, the level of ‘in the moment’ consciousness, self-awareness has a narrative structure, which is to say that we inhabit a story.
I offer an impressionistic overview of the phenomenology and neuropsychology of self- awareness, some speculations about pathologies of consciousness involving a breakdown of the distinctions between external and internal (focusing on psychosis), and a word or two in praise of stoic insights into the grand human narrative: we are born; shit happens; we die. The rest is silence.