From New York mag:
In a new paper, “Humans As Superorganisms,” Peter Kramer and Paola Bressan of the University of Padua describe a typical human body as a teeming mass of what they call “selfish entities.” Picture a tree warped by fungus, wrapped with vines, dotted at the base with mushrooms and flowers, and marked, midway up, by what the tree thought the whole time was just a knot but turns out to be a parasitic twin. This is the human superorganism — not the tree, not the tangled mess of things doing battle with it, but the whole chunk of forest — and Kramer and Bressan would like to place it at the very center of the way we think about human behavior. They are psychologists, and their paper is a call to arms to their fellow shrinks, exhorting them to take seriously as a possible cause of an enormous buffet of behavioral phenomena — from quotidian quirks, to maddeningly opaque disorders like autism, to schizophrenia — the sheer volume and weird diversity of completely crazy alien shit going on in just about all of our bodies, just about all the time. …
Okay, so, the gut is weird. But what if you lived in the gut? What if you were the gut? Kramer and Bressan want us to stop looking at our stomachs like we’re hosts to some messy guests, or homeowners too disgusted by a particular closet to ever go poking around in it, because, they write, the human superorganism isn’t something to observe from the privileged perch of the self. Instead, they suggest, it envelops the self — the environment in which and against which genes give rise to who you are, an internal environment populated nevertheless by an entire orchestra of aliens, some of them fiddling away in the brain, and each with its own evolutionary interests at stake.
Kramer and Bressan write. “We argue that an incessant struggle among a very large number of ‘selfs’ — some human, some not — determines who we are.” Is it insane to say, at least as a metaphor for mosaic identity, that sounds sort of reasonable? More.
They offer some striking cases and interesting information, but the underlying message that there is no unified self is, of course, nonsense. What it all adds up to is a unified self, the one we consciously experience.
As with so many efforts to undermine the idea of the mind, the self, or what-have-you, one can only say: Another nice try.
Along those lines, check out Malcolm Gladwell and “Blink” here
See also: The human mind is reducible to itself.
Note: Pdf of Kramer and Bressan’s work.
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