restricted access 8. The Touched Self: Psychological and Philosophical Perspectives on Proximal Intersubjectivity and the Self
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8 The Touched Self: Psychological and Philosophical Perspectives on Proximal Intersubjectivity and the Self Introduction: The Mentalization of the Body and Minimal Selfhood Whenever I perceive something or feel an emotion, these perceptions and feelings are somehow given to me as mine. The idea that our everyday experiences are characterized by a prereflective sense of self, referred to as the “minimal” self, has been highlighted by a longstanding phenomenological tradition (Husserl, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty), as well as more recent authors (Gallagher 2000; Metzinger 2003; Zahavi 2005; Hohwy 2007; Blanke and Metzinger 2009; Blanke 2012). There is wide agreement about the importance of examining the bodily foundations of such prereflective forms of self-awareness, in the sense that one needs to view the mind as a support system that facilitates the functioning of the body and not the other way round. Crucially, bodily self-awareness is not an awareness of the body in passive isolation from the physical and social world. Indeed, both classic phenomenologists such as Husserl and Merleau-Ponty and, more recently, researchers working within the embodied and enactive cognition paradigm (Varela, Thompson, and Rosch 1991) insist on the idea that prereflective self-awareness ought to be understood primarily by taking into account the larger brain-body-environment dynamics (De Jaegher and Di Paolo 2007; Menary 2007). This emphasis has also been adopted by influential recent models of brain function in theoretical neuroscience (Friston 2010; see also Clark 2013), as we briefly outline later. The development of the mind, and selfhood more specifically, can therefore be viewed as the consequence of embodiment within its environment. The question of what, if anything, makes the “self” a unifying phenomenon has attracted a considerable number of empirical studies and theoretical accounts. A detailed review of the literature dedicated to clarifying the notion of the self lies beyond the scope of this chapter. Rather, for our limited purposes here, it is important to note that despite disagreements on crucial questions about whether there is a self, to what degree it is prereflective, and what exactly constitutes this prereflective sense of self, most of the contemporary accounts share the important assumption that minimal selfhood is not to be conceived as a static internal snapshot of some mysterious substance called the “self.” Instead, minimal selfhood is Anna Ciaunica and Aikaterini Fotopoulou 174 A. Ciaunica and A. Fotopoulou conceived as an ongoing process of tracking and controlling bodily properties as a whole (Blanke and Metzinger 2009). If this is so, then one of the main challenges for both theoretical and empirical accounts of minimal forms of self-awareness consists in characterizing the nature of the relational components of selfhood by taking into account the role of worldly engagements in shaping its different facets. Indeed, while there is wide agreement over the idea that prereflective self-awareness is a dynamic and more primitive form of awareness, it is still unclear whether the “ongoing” dynamic and “primitive” aspects refer exclusively to a self-centered continuity or encompass self–other relatedness, as well. For example, Zahavi (2014, 2015a, 2015b) has recently drawn a careful analysis of minimal forms of selfhood and self–other relatedness by distinguishing between (1) “experiential minimalism” (EM) and (2) “social constructivism” (SC), which can be seen as two opposing poles of the debate (Zahavi 2015a). On the one hand, experiential minimalism claims that our experiential life is characterized by a prereflective sense of self or mineness that can and should be understood without any contrasting others. On the other hand, according to social constructivism, the minimal self is not innate but a later socioculturally determined acquisition, emerging in the process of social exchanges and mutual interactions.1 Against this background, we aim to argue in favor of a reconceptualization of minimal selfhood that transcends such debates and instead traces the relational origins of the self to fundamental principles and regularities of the human embodied condition, which includes social, embodied interactions and practices. Specifically, our position is motivated by the following five theoretical and empirical observations: (1) The progressive integration and organization of sensory and motor signals constitute the foundations of the minimal self, a process that we have elsewhere named “mentalization” of the body (Fotopoulou 2015). (2) Minimal selfhood is best understood by a conceptualization that takes into account all sensory and motor modalities, along with their distinct properties and rules of integration, instead of relying mostly on a “detached” visuospatial model of perceptual experience, and by extension a model of “detached” social understanding. (3...