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Hardcover | $11.75 Short | £8.95 | ISBN: 9780262194372 | 212 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | June 2000
Paperback | Out of Print | ISBN: 9780262692847 | 212 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | January 2003

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When Self-Consciousness Breaks

Alien Voices and Inserted Thoughts


In this book, G. Lynn Stephens and George Graham examine verbal hallucinations and thought insertion as examples of what they call "alienated self-consciousness." In such cases, a subject is directly or introspectively aware of an episode in her mental life but experiences it as alien, as somehow attributable to another person.

Stephens and Graham explore two sorts of questions about verbal hallucinations and thought insertion. The first is their phenomenology—what the experience is like for the subject. The second concerns the implications of alien episodes for our general understanding of self-consciousness. Psychopathologists look at alien episodes for what they reveal about the underlying pathology of mental illness. As philosophers, the authors ask what they reveal about the underlying psychological structure and processes of human self-consciousness.

The authors suggest that alien episodes are caused by a disturbed sense of agency, a condition in which the subject no longer has the sense of being the agent who thinks or carries out the thought. Distinguishing the sense of subjectivity from that of agency, they make the case that the sense of agency is a key element in self-consciousness.

About the Author

George Graham is a Professor of Philosophy and Neuroscience at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia.


“An admirable contribution ... one that demonstrates the ways in which philosophy can inform the interdisciplinary study of consciousness.”—Choice


“Stephens and Graham are unique among the new-wave of philosophical psychopathologists in combining cutting-edge research in modern philosophy of mind with an authroitative command of the cognitive science literature and a finely nuanced understanding of clinical psychopathology. Their 'break down of agency' model of the remarkable symptom of schizophrenic thought insertion is a truly seminal contribution to the philosophy of psychiatry.”
Professor K. W. M. Fulford, Department of Philosophy, University of Warwick; Honorary consultant Psychiatrist, University of Oxford

When Self-Consciousness Breaks is a brilliant contribution to the field of philosophical psychopathology. In analyzing and linking the philosophically and psychologically puzzling phenomena of hallucination and delusions of thought insertion, Stephens and Graham have focused on some of the defining symptoms of major mental disorder. These authors offer a discussion which unites adjacent research programs: philosophers concerned with the nature of consciousness and researchers trying to characterize the symptoms of abnormal psychology. With a sensitivity to phenomenological nuance and an impressive grasp of the literature from each of these two research fields, Stephens and Graham have written a lucid, informed, and original book, offering their own explanation of these psychopathological symptoms. As an illustration of the way abnormal psychology helps us understand normal psychology, When Self-Consciousness Breaks is a tour de force.”
Jennifer Radden, Department of Philosophy, University of Massachusetts

“This book is philosophically subtle and thorough, empirically sophisticated, and sensitive to the complex phenomenology of both normal and abnormal experience.”
Stephen E. Braude, University of Maryland Baltimore County