More Me, Myself and I

If you are, as Richard Dawkins says of himself in The God Delusion (2006), a monist, you may not agree with the definition of dualism above. Monists – or those who do not distinguish the two-part nature of our characters will say they are happy within themselves. A monist may be self-aware but may not recognise a disassociation between outer and inner self, between ‘ego’ and ‘true self’ (Freud’s super ego and ego). A monist might comment “I hurt” while a dualist might say “my body hurts”. A monist will live life day-to-day like anybody else immersed in routine, in thought, in creativity. In fact, they won’t be recognised by others as monists. A monist still manages with what I will call the ego, though. We all need one to survive!

Here I disassociate monism from its philosophical or religious connotations. For the purpose of this essay I consider monism as relating only to our recognition and judgment of ourselves or who we are. A monist recognises only what s/he considers to be her/himself in the mirror where a dualist (maybe even Eleanor Rigby wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door) will see either the inner ‘self’ or the projected ‘self’ that others would see (including the make-up and hairdo!) depending on their psychological disposition at the time.

Who are we looking at when we look in the mirror? Chimpanzees may not experience an inner self in the same way that a dualist might but they certainly recognise the image of their selves looking back at them. Gallup’s (1970) experiments with chimpanzees and mirrors highlight the chimps’ ability to recognise their own image:

In its most rudimentary form self-awareness is the ability to become the object of your own attention.

While higher primates and other higher social animals, such as dolphins (Mirror self-recognition in the bottlenose dolphin: A case of cognitive convergence, Diana Reiss and Lori Marino, October, 2000) have the ability to recognise their own image (their selves, themselves) in a mirror, they might also recognise the fact that their fellows also have an image of self. With this assumption they may project their own image of self onto their fellows. Here we enter the field of ‘Theory of Mind’ (ToM). I will leave a more thorough explanation of ToM to later posts. Suffice to say here that with an image of self individuals are able, through ToM, to project their own feelings, intimations or desires onto their fellows or to empathise with their fellows’ predicaments, actioning appropriate responses.

Through these conjectures you might think that the issue of monism and dualism is black and white. Of course, it is not. There must be a spectrum of differentiation from monism through to dualism such that there are extremes at both ends with various degrees of separation through the middle. How does an autistic person ‘see’ him/herself or do they see a distinction at all? Do they only act through pure ego and driven impulses (their id) without reference to an inner self? And what about a person who is schizoid? By the same token does the ego in this case present various different ‘personalities’, none of which represent the true self? Is the true self completely suppressed in schizophrenics (see here for reference)? These questions must, in some way or another refer to how the ego, self and the driven impulses (super ego, ego and id) interact within an individual. I don’t think there can be a clear resolution.

Suffice to say here that we have a tale of two psychological states – dualist and monist – not a black and white distinction but a rainbow spectrum with one colour merging into the other. The dualist recognises a two-part nature in how we see ourselves. A dualist might see the ego’s obsessive, internal preoccupations, with its psychosomatic complexes as the part of themselves they project onto their fellows while an inner self is kept out of the public limelight. The monist, on the other hand makes no such distinction. More soon but first, onto ToM.

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About johnderonde

UK-based charity worker in Tanzania
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