On HumansOctober 18, 202200:47:5943.93 MB

4 | The Harmful Delusion of a Singular Self ~ Gregory Berns

We like to box things into neat categories. We like to box ourselves into a ‘Self’, a ‘Me’, an independent ‘Soul’, caged away from the rest of the world by the bags of our skin. When something goes wrong in our mental health, we like to box the issue into neat buckets of mental health disorders and search for an answer from within this individuated cage. On the other hand, we like to think of the ‘self’ as a solid, unified, and permanent ‘Me’, making any fundamental change to ourselves difficult.

What if this is all a mistake?

Today’s guest is Gregory Berns, a psychiatrist and a professor of neuroscience at Emory University. His most recent book, published today on the 18th of October, is titled Self Delusion: The Neuroscience of How We Invent – and Reinvent – Our Identities. (Order the book from Basic Books or Amazon. )

Ilari and professor Berns discuss topics such as:

  • Does Berns agree with Buddha and David Hume about the illusionary nature of self?
  • Why would a psychiatrist care about this issue?
  • The neuroscience of how fictional stories shape who we are
  • Dissociative identity disorder (DID, also known as multiple personality disorder, MPD)
  • Can social pressure change what we see?
  • Is it problematic to think of mental health problems as neat buckets? Or should we think of them on a continuum?
  • Bern’s answer to ‘what is missing from our biological approach to mental health?’
  • Why does it feel right to locate the soul in the heart, rather than the brain?
  • Internal family systems therapy (IFST)

Work mentioned and other references

Technical terms and names mentioned

  • David Hume
  • Resting-state fMRI (Wikipedia)
  • Dissociative Identity disorder DID (Wikipedia)
  • Conformity & Solomon Ash’s classic studies
  • DSM (a major diagnostic manual for mental health)
  • Internal family system therapy (IFST, in the episode, mistakenly called internal family dynamics therapy)
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy