The ‘I’ of the beholder: studying the ‘self’ across the humanities and neuroscience

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Abstract

Long debated within the humanistic tradition, the concept of ‘self’ has recently been embraced as a subject of investigation by cognitive neuroscience. Tracing parallels between ancient philosophical ideas and current-day scientific research on the ‘self’, the author proposes that contemporary knowledge based on empirical neuroscientific evidence may inform novel perspectives on—and draw inspiration from—notions grounded in ancient intuitions and traditionally falling within humanistic fields of enquiry. Further, the author suggests that the ‘self’, as a major object of philosophical and psychological enquiry, as well as a central component of human motivation, cognition, affect and social identity, is an inherently cross-disciplinary research topic, which, by virtue of its pervasive and defining presence in human existence, lends itself—and demands—to be approached both from scientific (objective) and phenomenological (subjective) vantage points. On this premise, the author proposes that the study of the ‘self’ provides both neuroscientists and humanists with a fertile ground for cross-disciplinary research, and with the challenge and the opportunity to rethink the relationship of science to knowledge.

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