The trajectory of self

Trends in Cognitive Sciences 20 (7):481-482 (2016)
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In a recent Opinion article, Sui and Humphreys [1] argue that experimental findings suggest self is ‘special’, in that self-reference serves a binding function within human cognitive economy. Contrasting their view with other functionalist positions, chiefly Dennett's [2], they deny that self is a convenient fiction and adduce findings to show that a ‘core self representation’ serves as an ‘integrative glue’ helping to bind distinct types of information as well as distinct stages of psycho- logical processing. In other words, where Dennett regards self as analogous to a center of gravity, a simplification posited by observers, Sui and Humphreys regard self as a function that modulates mental processes. In practice, however, the concept of ‘self’ they employ is not unlike Dennett's. We side with Sui and Humphreys in hold- ing that self-reference modulates mental processes: reference to self during a task can bind memory to source, increase perceptual integration, and link attention to decision making, among other things. What is more, these functions are not reducible to other factors such as semantic coding, familiarity, or reward [3]. But whereas Sui and Humphreys contribute important empirical detail, the binding functions they describe are compatible with Dennett's version of functionalism, which treats self as an artifact of social process.

Author Profiles

Tony Cheng
University College London
Georg Northoff
University of Ottawa
Timothy Joseph Lane
Academia Sinica


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