Who You Are
The Science of Connectedness
376 pp., 6 x 9 in,
- Published: April 28, 2020
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: April 3, 2020
- Publisher: The MIT Press
Why you are more than just a brain, more than just a brain-and-body, and more than all your assumptions about who you are.
Who are you? Are you just a brain? A brain and a body? All the things you have done and the friends you have made? Many of us assume that who we really are is something deep inside us, an inner sanctuary that contains our true selves. In Who You Are, Michael Spivey argues that the opposite is true: that you are more than a brain, more than a brain-and-body, and more than all your assumptions about who you are. Rather than peeling layers away to reveal the inner you, Spivey traces who you are outward. You may already feel in your heart that something outside your body is actually part of you—a child, a place, a favorite book. Spivey confirms this intuition with scientific findings.
With each chapter, Spivey incrementally expands a common definition of the self. After (gently) helping you to discard your assumptions about who you are, he draws on research in cognitive science and neuroscience to explain the back-and-forth among all the regions of the brain and the interaction between the brain and body. He then makes the case for understanding objects and locations in your environment as additional parts of who we are. Going even further, he shows that, just as interaction links brain, body, and environment, ever-expanding systems of interaction link humans to other humans, to nonhuman animals, and to nonliving matter. This may seem an interaction or two too far. But you don't have to take his word for it—just consider the evidence he presents.
Michael Spivey's new book offers an engaging, provocative exploration of who you are, which is often quite different from who you may think you are. He demonstrates how our minds, and our sense of who we are as persons, emerge from complex interactions between brains, bodies, and environments. Spivey describes many important scientific discoveries that collectively point to an expanded vision of who we are, full of humility and humanity. Reading this book will stretch your imagination. Who You Are comes across as twenty-first-century cognitive science at its very best.
Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr., author of Embodiment and Cognitive Science
Occasionally a book comes around that achieves something rare: it takes an age-old question like Who Am I? and teaches us something new. Spivey's book does just that—brilliantly, accessibly, originally, and convincingly. It is a modern, scientific view of the self and reading it will transform your sense of the person you think you know so well.
Mahzarin R. Banaji, Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, Department of Psychology, Harvard University
Spivey masterfully marshals evidence of an increasingly expanding notion of mind. Are you just the neural tissue in your skull? (Probably not.) In that case surely whoever you are is contained within your body? (Not according to the evidence.) Well, certainly every molecule that has ever existed in the universe can't be part of your mind? (You be the judge.) Who You Are is an invitation down the slippery slope of extended cognition, which in Spivey's able hands, is an exhilarating descent into connectedness.
Benjamin K. Bergen, Department of Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego
Who You Are pulls off a rare trick: it manages to be both profoundly subversive and great fun to read. Spivey will have you laughing out loud while he undermines your most deeply held beliefs about your self.
Anthony Chemero, Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy and Psychology, University of Cincinnati