Tag Archives: history

Bibliography 1.0: Can I escape the judgment of psychology?

da-vinci-the-selfI decided to make a list of the books I’ve recently read, browsed, or added to my reading list. This turned out to be a thought-provoking process. Although this may sound naïve, when I first imagined this blog, I didn’t anticipate that psychology would be such a major category in my bibliography. My main interest, after all, was the social and cultural history of the self. But of course the self is a subject of considerable interest to academic psychologists these days. The ‘psy’ disciplines – psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, psychoanalysis — have been incredibly influential in how we think of ourselves. That’s something I’m now beginning to appreciate more fully.

Recurring questions from my Chinese horoscope

The actual process of making the list was probably more valuable for me than the list itself. And the list may not be particularly valuable for anyone else, since I can’t recommend these books the way I recommended books on the history of self-help. That’s because I’m not sufficiently familiar with most of them. Plus, the categories turned out to be imprecise and unsatisfying: Should Jerrold Seigel’s The Idea of the Self: Thought and experience in Western Europe since the 17th century go under Self, Philosophy, or History? Read more


The social and cultural history of the self

ConfuciusHave human beings always had a self? Has there always been an “I” who reflects on a “me”? We’ll never know what it was like to be alive at the origins of self-consciousness, but that doesn’t keep us from speculating.

Charles Taylor imagines the following scenario in Paleolithic times: As a hunting group is closing in on a fierce woolly mammoth, the beast suddenly charges at Hunter A. In that moment, Hunter A thinks something like “Oh no, I’m really in for it now.” At the last moment, however, the beast changes course and kills Hunter B. Hunter A then experiences a mixture of relief for himself and grief for his companion.

Julian Jaynes, author of The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, would have a somewhat different take on the situation. For Jaynes, Hunter A would not have thought “I’d better run for it.” He would have heard a voice from the left side of his brain saying “run for it,” and his right brain would have interpreted this as a message from the gods. Read more