Segments in this Video

Meet the Panelists (02:03)


Debate moderator Robert Rowland Smith frames the topic of understanding the self and introduces British Medical Research Council former chief executive Colin Blakewell, philosopher and neo-Humean Simon Blackburn, and "Are You an Illusion?" author Mary Midgley.

Colin Blakemore: The Pitch (04:36)

Blakemore distinguishes between the physical self and the idea that there is an agent operating within ourselves. We feel sensation inside differently than external stimuli; hear neurological reasons why it is difficult to tickle ourselves. He discusses logical issues with using "I" intentional language and the concept of action predisposition.

Mary Midgley: The Pitch (02:50)

Midgley disagrees with the idea that physical events cause mental events but mental events have no effect, and argues that we possess free will that is necessary to performing operations. She says that society is attending more to specialized scientific enterprises than to self-knowledge.

Simon Blackburn: The Pitch (03:30)

Blackburn discusses the difficulty of reconciling a purely scientific view of the self with freedom, agency, and moral responsibility. He compares humans to computers running programs; education, culture and environment "program" us to have knowledge and abilities.

Theme One: What is the Self? - Part One (06:13)

Blakemore argues that seeing the self as an independent agent makes it easier to communicate in terms of intentionality, but we are essentially animals reacting to our environments. Midgley states that language of agency and the self was developed before we knew about brain science. Blackburn argues that we can abandon the noun "self."

What is the Self? - Part Two (05:45)

Blakemore uses the analogy of computer icons to explain how our notion of self does not reflect the brain's inner workings. The language of agency developed for communication. Midgley argues that our brains have evolved for social interaction, but not to think about their inner working. Smith summarizes panelist arguments.

Theme Two: Can we be Human without the Self? (08:55)

Blackburn says there illusory ways of thinking about the self; for instance, imagining being Napoleon. However, thinking of the self as an agent is real. Blakemore argues that the "agent" model is necessary for being human, but our self-perception is inaccurate. Midgley argues that all animals have some consciousness of acting on purpose; we can be aware of other people's thoughts and actions.

Theme Three: How should We Seek Answers? (06:26)

Blackburn cites Strawson's personal and objective ways to think about people and cautions against dehumanizing others. Blakemore says that neuroscience has improved our understanding of the brain, and suggests that it can be reconciled with philosophical understandings of the self. Midgley lauds neuroscience for diagnosing and treating mental disorders, but says it cannot explain what thinking is.

Credits: In Search of the Self: Who are we? (00:07)

Credits: In Search of the Self: Who are we?

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In Search of the Self: Who are We?

Part of the Series : Institute of Art and Ideas: Cutting Edge Debates and Talks from the World's Leading Thinkers
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There is no self, no "I," only a flickering illusion. So claim many neuroscientists and philosophers. Yet for the rest of us, the denial of the self feels like a bitter pill to swallow. Is the self a fantasy? Or is it essential to our being and consciousness?

The Panel

Cambridge and NCH philosopher Simon Blackburn, neuroscientist Colin Blakemore, philosopher and author of Are You an Illusion? Mary Midgley seek out the all seeing I. In association with New College Humanities.

Length: 41 minutes

Item#: BVL115747

ISBN: 978-1-63521-200-6

Copyright date: ©2015

Closed Captioned

Performance Rights

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Only available in USA and Canada.