The Multitudinous Self

We need to say more about the concept of the person as a narrative self-interpreting being. The specific narrative conception we advocate is not a simple linear one, but what we call the picture of the self as multiplex (Flanagan 1991), even multitudinous (Tekin 2014b). We’ll explain what it means to say that a person, the self, is multiplex and multitudinous, and how this conception is an empirically and philosophically plausible conception of personhood that captures the complexities of “real people,” (Wilkes 1988) including those with psychopathologies.[1] Much like other scientific models of other sorts of phenomena, the model of the multitudinous self represents a complex real-world system and can be used for many different purposes by scientists and clinicians. Model builders in science use abstractions and idealizations to make a complex real-world system subject to manipulation, so that particular questions about complex phenomena can be answered. For example, in weather forecasting, scientists create models based on their interests, i.e., the weather forecast for tomorrow vs. the weather forecast for next summer. In a similar vein, the multitudinous self-model sorts out various dimensions of selves or persons, which scientists and clinicians can use as abstractions and idealizations as they make the resulting model fit their interests and purposes. So, we can understand, scientifically study, and intervene on addiction through the multitudinous self.

Here briefly is how the model may be described.

Assume that self, the person, is dynamic, complex, relational, and multiaspectual, a more or less integrated configuration of capacities, processes, states, and traits supporting a degree of agential capacity subjected to various psychopathologies (Neisser 1988; Jopling 2000; Tekin 2014a, b, c). The multitudinous selfmodel is built around Ulric Neisser’s (1988) account of the self as a complex configuration specified by various kinds of information originating from the subject and her social and physical environment. Neisser argues that the various forms of information individuating the self are quite different, making it plausible to suggest that each establishes a different “self.” He tracks five distinguishable if ultimately inseparable selves:

The ecological self, or the embodied self in the physical world, which perceives, acts, and

interacts with the physical environment cognition consists in. It refers to persons playing multiple roles simultaneously; i.e., the self is multiplex because the person represents and exhibits different parts of themselves to different audiences in different environments. For instance, “my philosopher self, my baseball-coach self, my religious self, my parental self—are played for different audiences. Different audiences see who we are differently” (Flanagan 1996: 71). Suggesting that the self is multiplex means that identity exists despite chronic transformations and synchronic conflicts between these different facets of a person, since there is a narrative connectedness between them. This narrative connectedness is due to the authorial work of the agent, who tells the story of her life and thus holds different strains together. If this unifying authorship falls apart, we end up with atypical cognition: we no longer deal with a multiplex self, but rather with multiple selves. The concept of multitudinous self, introduced by Tekin, on the other hand, considers the self to be complex matrix, individuated and constituted by five dimensions: ecological, interpersonal, temporal, private, and conceptual (following the Neisserian selves). Unlike the multiplex self, multitudinous self considers psychopathology or atypical cognition to be a possible feature of the self. Multiplex self, in so far as it is a conceptual representation of the self to the self, and others, can be situated within the conceptual dimension of the multitudinous self. The model of multitudinous self aims to (i) get at the complexity of “real people,” (ii) provide opportunities for scientists to use abstractions and idealizations and study it scientifically, and (iii) encourage a wholesome approach to psychopathology without sidestepping the complexity of persons. The inspiration for the name of this model is the poem “Song of Myself’ by Walt Whitman, in which he proclaims, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; (I am large—I contain multitudes).” Special thanks to Flanagan, who steered Tekin in the direction of these lines, hence the word “multitudinous.”

The interpersonal self, or the self embedded in the social world, which constitutes and is constituted by intersubjective relationships with others

The temporally extended self, or the self in time, which is grounded in memories of the past and anticipation of the future

The private self which is exposed to experiences available only to the first person and not to others

The conceptual self, which represents the self to that individual by drawing on the properties or characteristics of the person and the social and cultural context to which she belongs

Neisser’s individual and collaborative work empirically tracks these five selves or aspects of multiplexity in cognitive sciences, including developmental psychology, social psychology, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience, making it a methodology which we believe to be useful for research on psychopathology.

The multitudinous self represents all five dimensions as features of a single person, instead of construing them as separate aspects. This self-organizing and selfinterpreting system or person is a locus of agency that remains more or less integrated through time. Each aspect is experienced from the first-person point of view, but can be empirically traced from the second- and third-person points of view, making them instrumental in connecting the subject to herself and to the physical, social, and cultural environment in which she is situated.

The ecological dimension of the multitudinous self represents embodiment in the physical world: brain mechanisms, genetic makeup, and the body’s shape and structure enable an individual to perceive and be shaped by the immediate physical environment, to act on and be acted on by it, and to respond to it. Through the ecological dimension, a person enters the physical world and participates in and manipulates it. In the process, she molds and is molded by the physical world. In this sense, the ecological aspect of the self is specified by the body, the physical conditions of a particular environment, and the active perceptual exploration of and response to these conditions. It is present from birth and continues over time, across varying physical and social conditions (Jopling 1997, 2000).

The ecological aspect of the multitudinous self might help track addictive behavior in a number of ways. For instance, there is something going on in the body—in the brain cells, brain’s reward system, hormones, genes, etc.—of an individual when he becomes addicted to a certain DoC. Evidence suggests that addiction involves an impaired psychobiology, for example, imprudent desire for the DoC and “eventually a malfunctioning ‘off-switch,’ such that once one starts drinking there is no telling when (days, weeks, years) one stops” (Flanagan 2013b). The physical basis for addiction is manifested in a series of engagements observable through the ecological dimension of the self. Consider the following examples. During intense craving in the absence of a DoC, the addict’s hands may shake. She may get restless and irritable. She may experience sleep disturbances and anxiety, waking up in the middle of the night with nausea or with a desire to consume the DoC. The focus is such that in some cases, it may be “the only tune or story in the addict’s head, and nothing else drives it out” (Graham 2013: 178). At times during craving, individuals may even experience life-threatening symptoms such as delirium and hallucinations. This continues until the individual gives in and takes the DoC.

The alcoholic is restless, irritable, and discontented if her required and planned behavior is delayed. This mood lifts, or, perhaps, the awfulness settles, with the first drink. The first drink leads normally to other drinks and drunkenness. The next day she hates himself again. The cycle repeats (Flanagan 2013a, b).

The manifestation of addictive behavior in the ecological dimension of the self is not only experienced by the addict herself but observed by her loved ones; scientists who study her brain, hormones, genes, etc.; and her medical practitioners. The addict experiences the craving and her body’s transformation. People around her may observe her restlessness, anger, frustration, and perhaps even hostility toward her loved ones. They may see her neglecting her responsibilities. From the third- person perspective, the doctor may notice she is more tense and quieter than normal, while scientists may gather evidence about the level of the DoC in her blood.

Another possible way of individuating addictive behavior in terms of the ecological dimension of the self comes from animal studies. One neural basis for addiction, according to certain animal studies, lies in the mesolimbic dopamine and brain reward system. It may be possible to investigate whether this area is equally compromised in human addicts. Although scientists may find that a compromised meso- limbic reward system is a necessary condition for human addiction, it does not follow that it is the only necessary condition (see Graham 2013: 191-193). Remember, we are self-interpreting normative beings. Nonhuman animals are not, at least not in the way we are.

Both humans and animals harbor short-term brain pleasure centers, but we, full- on multiplex persons, know what life spans are and engage in long-term planning and reason-responsiveness. Nonhuman animals do not. Our impulses can get us into trouble, and we will know it and regret it and wish to do something about it. A rat will lack any such self-interpretative spin.

The intersubjective aspect of the self is individuated by “species-specific signals of emotional rapport and communication” between the self and other people (Neisser 1988: 387). From earliest infancy, a person enters a social world through interaction with her caregivers (See Trevarthen 1980; Neisser 1988; Fogel 1993; Bowlby 1969; Stern 1993). Through the intersubjective dimension of the self, the person begins the “I-Thou” or interpersonal relationships of care and concern, through which her identity is formed, enriched, or (when care and concern is absent) sometimes impoverished and through which she contributes to others’ own identity formation, enrichment, and impoverishment.

Most humans have natural desires for companionship, and most of us recognize, even if only inchoately, that we cannot survive, develop ourselves as persons, or live good lives, that is, lives which are happy as well as meaningful and fulfilling, without situating ourselves in complex socio-moral relationships with others. And despite wide cultural variation in the exact norms governing social practices, we all typically engage in normatively governed practices of “lending and borrowing, promising and consenting, buying and selling, making friends, entering into marriage, establishing a family, offering and accepting aid, and so forth” (Flanagan 2013a: 2 within the single quotes, Deigh 2010: 20).

The intersubjective dimension of the self also tracks or follows addictive behavior patterns in multiple ways. First, forms of addictive behavior and practices in the consumption of DoC progress in a particular kind of social environment. Consider one familiar kind of alcoholic lifestyle, i.e., “the male life of public and gregarious heavy drinking” (Flanagan 2013b: 870). Flanagan writes:

Because social drinking, especially among males, is widely endorsed, involves a host of

well-known social scripts, and because alcoholism takes time to develop, it is uncommon

for there to be male alcoholic individuals who become addicted. (Flanagan 2013b: 871)

Here, DoC use becomes the context through which individuals socialize in their professional lives. They go for a drink after a conference and talk about business using DoC. Intoxication seems secondary in these socializations, but for an addict, it eventually becomes the first goal.

Next, addictive behavior not only results in harm to the self, the person, but it also harms others, as the addict engages within a social world (Graham 2013). Recurrent use of the DoC may result in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home. Recurrent social or interpersonal problems may be exacerbated by the effects of the DoC. Typically, significant problems start or get worse in the family. For instance, under the influence of the DoC, the addict may be violent toward her loved ones or give up important social, occupational, or recreational activities.

The temporally extended aspect of the self consists of the person in time and memories of the individual’s past and anticipation for the future. It relies on autobiographical memory and other stored information. What the individual recalls depends on what she now believes, as well as what she stored. Addictive behavior is manifest in the temporally extended self in a variety of ways. Consider the common situation of an addict’s preoccupation with planning the next DoC intake. In her memoir Drinking: A Love Story, Caroline Knapp says while she was doing her job at the office, she would be planning that moment in the afternoon when she could go for a drink with her colleagues (Knapp 1997). That moment of reward would be in the back of her mind, giving structure to the rest of her actions. The minute the clock hits 4, she would ask if anyone wanted a “quick” drink at the bar. It had to be called a “quick” drink, she writes, as she sought to create the illusion of a busy life to which she would shortly return. In reality, her life was planned around changing locations to continue drinking; for example, she might be planning to go home to open a bottle of cognac. If getting to the “happy hour” was delayed, Knapp writes, she would feel restless and uncomfortable overcome with the desire to drink. Addicts often talk about how their perception of the world is tainted by planning the next substance intake or that they cannot focus on anything but the anticipation of the next “high.”

The private aspect of the multitudinous self traces the individual’s felt experiences that are not phenomenologically available to anyone else (such as feelings of pain or disappointment). This first developmentally appears when children notice that some of their experiences are unique to them. Addiction is manifest in the private aspect of the self. Caroline Knapp describes drinking alone (addicts increasingly do this to hide their drinking from others) as entering into a room of one’s own and closing the blinds, turning inward. The DoC becomes the only company she enjoys.

Finally, let us turn to the conceptual aspect of the multitudinous self. Selfconcepts selectively represent the self to the self, to the person. They are the products of the dynamic interaction between the four aspects of the self and the features of the social and cultural environment. In turn, self-concepts inform and shape the aspects of the self, as well as some features of the social and cultural environment. They are thus informed by the features of the four aspects of the multitudinous self and by the individual’s embodied experiences in the world, for example, illness (Neisser 1988; Jopling 1997; Tekin 2011). Consider each in turn.

Self-concepts include ideas about and evaluations of our physical bodies (ecological aspect), interpersonal experiences (intersubjective aspect), the kinds of things we have done in the past and are likely to do in the future (temporally extended aspect), and the quality and meaning of our thoughts and feelings (private aspect) (see Jopling 1997, 2000; Neisser 1988). For instance, an individual’s selfconcept as a “friendly person” is the product of the intersubjective aspect of her selfhood and also of the norms of friendliness in the culture of which she is a part. Self-regarding feelings and attitudes, such as self-confidence, security, self-esteem, self-respect, and social trust, emerge as we develop self-concepts and as the different dimensions of the self interact with the social and cultural world, through an exchange between the self and others.

Self-concepts are also informed by pathologies to which the individual is subjected. This influence is mediated by the changes that occur in the ecological, intersubjective, temporally extended, and private aspects of the self owing to pathology, by the scientifically based or folk-psychological knowledge available to the individual about her illness, and by her self-narratives in making sense of her condition (Tekin 2010, Tekin 2011, 2014a, b, c, 2015). For example, alcohol addiction affects an individual’s intersubjective dimension by, say, making it difficult for her to keep promises, such as picking up her son from school at the time she promised or meeting with her client at the specified time. Failing to follow through on promises and breaching others’ trust over time may alter her self-image as a reliable person. She may develop feelings of frustration or even hatred toward herself. She may decide to stop making promises or even taking on responsibilities that require keeping promises. In addition, the addict may develop “self-regarding reactive attitudes of bewilderment, disappointment, and shame” about her addiction (Flanagan 2013a: 6).

Consider relapse as another example. The addict refrains from the addictive behavior during certain periods; however, cessation ultimately proves unsuccessful:

They “fall back” into the detrimental behavior after a period of temporary stoppage. After the relapse, the individual self-interprets himself as a failure, relapse becomes a source of shame, regret, self-blame, and embarrassment or as grounds for diminished self-confidence or self-esteem. (Graham 2013: 179)

These experiences influence one’s self-concept: for example, the individual may think he lacks self-discipline. What an addict learns about the course of his condition from various scientific and popular media may also lead him to alter his selfconcepts. For example, memoirs may offer sources of better self-understanding and motivation. Or learning more about the scientific research on the link between the anomalies in brain’s reward system and addiction may cause the addict to consider himself a victim, inhibiting his motivation to improve his condition.

Self-concepts are not only representations of the self to the self; they are also action-guiding (Tekin 2014a, b, c, 2015). Our ideas about ourselves inform how we behave. Generally speaking, a person’s self-concept of her physical strength affects her physical activities. She may or may not try to lift a suitcase, depending on how strong she feels and how heavy she perceives the suitcase to be. Similarly, her concept of her intelligence and ability to learn new philosophical material will influence what she can actually learn or how well she does in a job interview. In the context of addiction, the self-concepts formed or altered in this vein influence future actions. Hopelessness in the face of repeated relapses and self-concepts such as being weak- willed may diminish an addict’s ability to quit the addictive behavior. Alternatively, after a few months’ success at staying away from the DoC, the individual may be heartened and continue to try hard. In addition, perceiving herself as someone who needs help, an addict may reach out to the communities of other individuals with addiction who have experienced a similar condition. The success of Alcoholics Anonymous programs partially owe to this.

In sum, self-concepts motivate the person to think, act, and behave in certain ways, restricting or expanding his or her possibilities for action (Tekin 2011, 2014a, b, c, 2015; Jopling 1997).

  • [1] It is worth noting the distinction between multiplex self and multitudinous self. The multiplexself, a concept introduced by Flanagan, explains what the personal identity of those with typical
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