Cognitive anthropology, Cognitive neuroscience, Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology

Course date

25 June - 5 July, 2012
Application deadline
15 February, 2012
The application process is closed; no more applications will be reviewed.
Course Director(s): 

Natalie Sebanz

Cognitive Science Department, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary

Hong Yu Wong

CIN, Philosophy of Neuroscience Group, University of Tübingen, Germany
Course Faculty: 

Peter Callero

Department of Sociology, Western Oregon University, Monmouth, USA

Guenther Knoblich

Department of Cognitive Science, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary

Beatrice Longuenesse

Department of Philosophy, New York University, USA

Christopher Ab Peacocke

Department of Philosophy, Columbia University, New York, USA

Phillipe Rochat

Department of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, USA

Paul Snowdon

Department of Philosophy, University College London, UK

Manos Tsakiris

Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK
Guest Speaker(s): 

Maurice Bloch

Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics, UK

The course aims to present the state of the art in research on the self from philosophy, psychology, cognitive neuroscience, sociology, and cognitive anthropology. Themes revolve around the nature of the self, as revealed through self-consciousness, body perception, action and joint action, and its embedding in society and culture. Historical and developmental perspectives provide other angles on the self. The course presents a unique opportunity for interdisciplinary discussion on the self from multiple perspectives. It is directed at advanced graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty working in philosophy, psychology, cognitive neuroscience and cognate disciplines.

The course will provide a tour de force through major questions on the nature of the self and its embedding in its environment. In particular, we are hoping to bring together researchers – both faculty and students – working on the self who would not ordinarily interact in their usual professional settings – even though their work has great relevance for each other. The aim is to facilitate the pursuit of interdisciplinary discourse, research and learning that will enrich our understanding of the self.

The course is divided into eight segments:

Mind the Body: The Sensorimotor Basis of the Self. The recent distinction between sense of agency and sense of body-ownership has attracted considerable empirical and theoretical interest. The respective contributions of motor efferent signals and sensory afferent signals to these two senses of embodiment remain unknown. In this segment of the course, led by Dr. Manos Tsakiris (Royal Holloway), we will consider the methodological problems encountered in the empirical study of agency and body-ownership, and then review recent psychological and neuroscientific experiments that study how the sense of body-ownership and agency are generated through the processing of sensory and motor information. In particular, the experiments presented will focus on (1) how multisensory signals interact with body representations to generate the sense of body-ownership, (2) how the sense of agency modulates the sense of body-ownership, (3) on their respective neural correlates, and (4) how the sensorimotor basis of the bodily self can interact with psychological dimensions of self-awareness, such as the sense of one's identity.

The Embodied Self? This segment of the course, led by Dr. Hong Yu Wong (Tübingen), bridges one theme in the philosophical and scientific discussions on the self: embodiment. Recent empirical work (to be discussed by Dr. Manos Tsakiris) highlights a distinctive aspect of our ordinary lived experience: we feel our bodies ‘from the inside’ and have a sense of ownership over our bodies. What are the ramifications of this distinctive form of awareness of our bodies for a philosophical understanding of the kinds of things that we are? We will examine recent attempts to argue that we are embodied subjects based on distinctive aspects of bodily awareness and how it shapes action, and in particular, what metaphysical consequences we are entitled to draw about our own nature and how we can come to be acquainted with ourselves.

The Origins of the Self. No account of the self can be complete without an understanding of its ontogenesis.This segment of the course, led by Prof PhillipeRochat (Emory), will explore the emergence of self-consciousness from a developmental perspective. What is the earliest evidence for the experience of a self? What can be learnt from studies on contingency detection? What does the rouge test really measure? When do guilt and embarrassment develop, and why are we so prone to these feelings? A broad range of theories will be covered, focusing on social factors in the emergence of the self.

The Self: from Kant and Freud to Today. Any treatment of the nature of the self must be sensitive to the development of the concept of the self and its metamorphosis over different epochs. In this segment of the course, led by Prof Beatrice Longuenesse (NYU),we will examine conceptions of self-consciousness and self-reference in their development from Kant to contemporary philosophy of mind and language. Issues presented and discussed will include the following. What is the meaning of Kant's distinction between consciousness of oneself "as subject" and consciousness of oneself "as an object"? What is the relation between Kant's distinction and Wittgenstein's later distinction between "use of 'I' as subject" and "use of 'I' as object"? Unlike Wittgenstein's "use of 'I' as subject," Kant's analysis of what he calls consciousness of oneself "as subject" is not primarily meant to account for a particular way we might use the pronoun "I". Nor is it directed at the question: does the pronoun "I" have a referent? Rather, Kant's question is: what role is played, in the ordering of our mental contents, by the fact that we ascribe those contents to ourselves when using the pronoun "I" in "I think" (or "I think p")?  Kant calls that ordering the  "transcendental unity of apperception." There are striking similarities between the role Kant assigns to that unity and the role Freud assigns to the organization of mental events he calls "ego." How far can we take this connection?  What can we make of it in light of contemporary philosophical and scientific accounts of the unity of consciousness?

Culture and the Self. We are embodied creatures, acting creatures, exploring creatures, introspective creatures, but also essentially social and cultural creatures. This segment of the course, led by Prof Peter Callero (Western Oregon University), will provide (1) a general overview of different sociological analyses of self and identity with particular emphasis on how social and cultural forces shape the self, (2) a more focused examination of the self under conditions of modernity, including issues related to gender and technology, and (3) an examination of the relationship between self, identity and forces associated with cultural and economic globalization.

Consciousness and Self-Consciousness. The notion of the self is embedded in a web of related notions such as consciousness, self-consciousness, and the first person perspective. In this segment of the course, led by Prof Christopher Peacocke (Columbia/UCL), we will focus on the metaphysics of subjects of experience and thought, and the relation of this metaphysics to various forms of first-person representation in perception and thought. Topics to be discussed will include: the ontology of subjects; its relation to subject-reflexive contents and their significance; the nature of self-consciousness, its representational and social significance; the varieties of self-consciousness, and connections to developmental and animal research; applications of Peacocke’s account of subjects to the positions of Descartes, Kant, Wittgenstein and Strawson.

Jointly Acting Selves. In this segment of the course, led by Prof GüntherKnoblich (CEU/Raboud University) and Prof Natalie Sebanz (CEU/Raboud University), we will provide an overview of recent psychological work on joint action and discuss implications for the understanding of the self. We will (1) review how social interaction shapes basic processes of perception, action, and cognition that have traditionally been studied in single individuals, (2) discuss whether the unit of analysis in psychological work should be shifted from individuals to groups, (3) discuss how joint action might shape the experience of agency, and (4) consider the possibility that particular experiences only arise during joint action, such as group flow.

What are we? The starting point for much reflection on the self is the question: What are we? Or in the first person singular: What am I?In this segment of the course, led by Prof Paul Snowdon (UCL), we shall take this question as the point of departure for thinking about our own persistence conditions and for exploring the kind things that we are. It will be argued that we are animals of a certain sort, in particular, that we are human animals. This contrasts with different classical philosophical theories of what we are, such as Lockean accounts on which we are psychological continuants (Locke, Shoemaker, Parfit), dualist accounts on which we are non-physical substances, and brain-identity accounts on which we are brains (Wiggins). A major question to be discussed is how work on the metaphysics of the self connects with empirical work on the nature of the self.

Course format: The course will begin with introductory lectures to build common ground between the researchers from different disciplines. After the introductions, all segments will be held in a seminar format, with faculty members leading the seminar, and responses/commentaries delivered by teams of students. Each day of the course will feature seminars in two themes from two different disciplines. There will be specific time devoted to smaller group discussions, also led by a member of the faculty, and also opportunities for selected students to give talks and poster presentations. Alongside the regular program of the course there will be talks and discussions aimed at the general public held by invited speakers, including the cognitive anthropologist, Prof Maurice Bloch, LSE.