“The Man Who Wasn’t there” book review by Alun Anderson

Review of “The Man Who Wasn’t There: Exploring the science of the self” by Anil Ananthaswamy.

“For ordinary folk, a unified sense of self is taken for granted. We sit comfortably inside a body we feel is ours, seeing, hearing, touching and smelling. Gloomy or happy, our feelings plainly belong to us.(…) This self appears to us seamlessly and effortlessly as a whole.

The Man Who Wasn’t There could be described as a dedication to a different group – those whose unity of self has fragmented – and to the way they have helped us understand the self through their cooperation with scientists and philosophers, and their long hours in brain scanners.

(…) It is to the author’s credit that he never depicts his subjects as “patients” or “sufferers”, but as people who can describe a phenomenal self that is simply different.

(…) A fundamental point is how the sense of self is grounded in the body, its feelings and our brain’s maps of them. Mismatches between inputs or wrongly constructed maps can leave the brain struggling for the right answer.

(…)  much emerges about the brain regions involved, the emphasis returning repeatedly to the anterior insula’s key role in the moment-to-moment sense of self as a feeling entity. Under-activation here correlates with the fog of depersonalisation, over-activation to a unifying ecstasy.

By the book’s close, you will see the unified self as an unnervingly fluid construction, and perhaps be able to argue with Buddhist, Hindu and Western philosophers on the very existence of “self”.(…) ”  Read full review