The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

The Narrative Self

The US psychologist Jerome Bruner believed that narratives were important for the creation of the self.

We have a strong feeling that we are a particular "i" (our identity): where does it come from? At the same time, we are capable of turning sensory input into a "narrative": we not only catalog all the images, sounds, etc that we perceive, we also organize them in "stories". It appears that there is a biological need to "make sense" of our experience, and to structure that sense into "narratives". Narratives seem to link our current status to past events and future actions.

One particular case of narrative is the "autobiography": the story about myself. Is that the cause or the effect of the "self"?

Another particular case of narratives is constituted by the narratives about others: as we organize their actions in stories, we construct theories of their minds, of why they do what they do. This separates the self from the non-self, and places the self in relationship with other selves.

Narratives are, inevitably, subjective. They do not, and do not intend to, "duplicate" reality: they internalize reality, they interpret reality from the vantage point of the self. In a sense, therefore, our narratives "falsify" experience. In fact, the self is a "perpetually rewritten story". The self that we remember is the one we need to survive today. If that self does not "work" anymore, we introduce a turning point in the narrative that changes our self.

Bruner believes in a multiplicity of narratives. The only way that one can fuse the different chronological selves of a life (from childhood to present) is by telling a story: all those selves become characters of the story, the same way a novelist uses several characters to create a plot. At the same time, the story that one fabricates is heavily influenced by the stories that one has heard. One's culture creates the templates that one uses in creating new stories. There is no single, static remembered self. What we remember is influenced by social and cultural factors. Self-narratives do not even depend so much on memory as on thinking.

Bruner thinks that narratives are not only an accident of nature but play an important role in creating our understanding of the community and of ourselves. In other words, Bruner believes that "making sense" (i.e., constructing meaning) is the fundamental characteristic of our self-conscious life.


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