Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hey, Is That Me over There?: Scientific American

Buddhism, as well as other world religions hold that a separate self is illusory. Yet our normal experience seems to be one of separation, that we experience the world from a stable location and are separate from others. However, both scientific work in psychology and neuroscience is beginning to show how "self" is a fully constructed phenomenon. Scientific American recently published an interesting article describing several studies that show how the sense of self can be manipulated through various procedures, thereby demonstrating its malleability. Here's a excerpt from the article:
If there is anything about your “self” of which you can be sure, it is that it is anchored in your own body and yours alone. The person you experience as “you” is here and now and nowhere else.
But even this axiomatic foundation of your existence can be called into question under certain circumstances. Your sense of inhabiting your body, it turns out, is just as tenuous an internal construct as any of your other perceptions—and just as vulnerable to illusion and distortion. Even your sense of “owning” your own arm is not fundamentally different—in evolutionary and neurological terms—from owning your car (if you are Californian) or your shotgun (if you are Sarah Palin). Outlandish as such a notion may seem, what you think of as your self is not the monolithic entity that you—and it—believe it to be. In fact, it is possible to pharmacologically manipulate body ownership.

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