The Self-Field : Mind, Body and Environment book cover
1st Edition

The Self-Field
Mind, Body and Environment

ISBN 9780367740726
Published March 16, 2021 by Routledge
346 Pages

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Book Description

In this incisive study of the biological and cultural origins of the human self, the author challenges readers to re-think ideas about the self and consciousness as being exclusive to humans. In their place, he expounds a metatheoretical approach to the self as a purposeful system of extended cognition common to animal life: the invisible medium maintaining mind, body and environment as an integrated ‘field of being’.

Supported by recent research in evolutionary and developmental studies together with related discoveries in animal behaviour and the neurosciences, the author examines the factors that have shaped the evolution of the animal self across widely different species and times, through to the modern, technologically enmeshed human self; the differences between which, he contends, are relations of degree rather than absolute differences. We are, he concludes, instinctive and ‘fuzzy individuals’ clinging to fragile identities in an artificial and volatile world of humanity’s own making, but which we now struggle to control.

This book, which restores the self to its fundamental place in identity formation, will be of great interest for students and academics in the fields of social, developmental and environmental psychology, together with readers from other disciplines in the humanities, especially cultural theory and philosophy.

Table of Contents



PART I: The background

1. The nature-nurture debate

Personality traits – Cognitive abilities – Epigenetic factors – Gene regulation – New terms of debate – Neural plasticity – Embodied development

2. Inheritance systems

Evo-Devo – Homological thinking – Niche construction – Sociocultural learning – Cooperative behavior – Gene-culture coevolution – Interacting dimensions – Novel behavior

PART II: The metatheory

3. Self-organization

Order of a complex sort – Hierarchical model – Emergentism - Strong versus weak emergence – Levels of description – Autopoiesis – Structure and organization - Diachronic emergence

4. The invisible self

Science and common sense – The self that won’t go away – Psychological connectedness – Field theory – Boundary conditions – Social dimensions - The self as a self-organizing system – Some propositions

5. Mapping the field

Brain-body schemas – Spatial extensions – Unity of perception and action – Social cues – Self-agency – Mirror images – Emotional signals – Self-regulation of emotions

6. The evolving self

Metamorphosis - Memory and consciousness – Knowing and feeling – The three-stage self – The core-self across species - Evolutionary continuity – Subjective experience – The cultural ratchet

7. Tacit nexus

Overlapping brain functions – Stringing things together – Rapid sequencing –Practical intelligence - Dexterous hands - Science and praxis – Artifactual knowledge

PART III: The self in the world

8. Technically extended selves

Nature’s home builders – Animal tool use – Knowledge in common – Cumulative technology - Artificial versus natural selection – Self-producing technologies – Promethean gifts

9. Self-images

Good impressions – Bodily idioms Reciprocal perspectives - Home-making as self-actualization - Attachments to things – Material culture matters - Fashion conscious - Automania

10. Self and group identity

Tribal ties – Discomfort with inconsistent beliefs - Self and the out-group other – Group dynamics – Sectarian conflict – Effects of spatial segregation

11. Occupational identity

Creation of a modern workforce – Class division and unionization - Fordism – Automation – The vanishing workplace – The encroachment of AI – Social groups most affected

12. Selves online

Cultivating the narcissistic personality – Bidirectional media - Hooked on the Internet – Games designed to keep players playing - The networked self – Promoting the self

13. Transformations

Turning points – Perpetual connectivity – Treating people as objects – Cultural shift – The threat to critical thinking - Rewiring the brain – Augmented reality

14. Loss of the private self

A cautionary tale of the digital age – Mining the data – Engineering social change – Winning tactics - Selves for sale – The fightback

Part IV: Summation

15. Instinctive and fuzzy selves

Resistance to change - Not just a collection of neurons – Relations of degree – Techno-cultural coevolution - The profligate species – Existential crisis

Pandemic postscript

Notes and references



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Chris Abel is an award-winning author of numerous interdisciplinary publications on the built environment and identity theory. He has taught at universities around the world, most recently at the University of Sydney and the University of Ulster, Belfast.