SOCIAL MIRROR THEORY

 


Charles Whitehead
Social Mirrors and Shared Experiential  Worlds

In summary, human play and performance supports an elaborate networking of internal states, from physiology to fantasy, and from unconscious to conscious mentation. Our unique ability to live in shared imagined and imaginary worlds depends on play and the skills we learn in play. Such communization of experience, which both generates and depends on social trust, is essential to modern human culture, and has obvious implications for human 'mindreading' abilities. As we shall see, research in this area suggests that, if we could not share inner experience, we would not know we were having it.
 
III: Play and Display as the Basis of Consciousness

Social mirror theory
'Social mirror theory' holds that we cannot have mirrors in the mind unless there are mirrors in society. The idea that public display and private experience are inseparably bound together was first proposed by Wilhelm Dilthey (1883-1911 :in Turner, 1982). Dilthey argued that it is 'thought's work' to draw out the structural system or meaning implicit in every distinguishable unit of experience (Erlebnis), and that the process of drawing out meaning is not complete until it has been expressed in performative terms intelligible to others. Introspection depends on public performance, for we can discover our own 'subjective depths' by interpreting the 'meaningfnl objectifications' expressed by others. In a world of objects, we become aware of ourselves as an object among objects, of our bodies in contradistinction to other bodies (Gregory, 1970). There is no logical reason why the same process should not apply equally to other levels of self-awareness: why, for example, we should not learn to perceive our own thoughts and feelings by living in a public world of thoughts and feelings.

Social psychologist George Herbert Mead (1934) made role-play the central pivot of his theory of selfhood and self-awareness. He argued that, through role-play, we learn to put ourselves in the shoes of what he called 'the generalized other', and from that third-person perspective we can look back and observe our own thoughts. According to Mead, we first acquire selfhood and reflective consciousness (the awareness that we are aware) when we form the simultaneous concepts of 'I' (as active subject) and 'me' (as object acted-upon by others). He rejects solipsism and the notion that self-awareness is our sole bedrock certainty: we cannot become self-aware without simultaneously knowing that others are aware. He thus denies the first-person subjectivity of self-awareness: since it depends on a third-person perspective, self-awareness belongs to the public
domain, and has no 'special epistemological status'. Mead's theory equally disposes of the 'other minds' problem: we know that others are aware because we can get inside their skins, through role-modelling, and we know that their social behaviour, like our own, would be impossible without a shared experiential world. No matter how we may philosophize, in our social lives we behave with unswerving faith in the consciousness of others, and this faith, in Mead's view, has the surest possible epistemological foundation.

 
.....Biologists who study dominance hierarchies in primates have difficulty under-standing why so many human societies are egalitarian (Erdal & Whiten, 1994). But the problem is solved if the perception of the self as value creates a need for respect from others (and we certainly have such a need). The same need can account for distinctively human aspects of ambition, which in changed social circumstances (e.g. sedentary lifestyle and accumulation of immovable property: Hayden, 1993) can no longer be held in check by egalitarian mechanisms - ranging from good-natured ribbing to vociferous public indignation (Erdal & Whiten, 1994). We might further note that the egalitarian mechanism of ridicule could not work on individuals for whom self-value was not an issue.

The proliferation of needs generated by human self-consciousness adds to the theoretical difficulties of economists, who find themselves at a loss to define the difference between 'needs' and 'wants', or to explain why economic appetites, in contrast to bodily ones, are so curiously insatiable. Certain religious beliefs suggest an appreciation of this problem, such as the Theravadin Buddhist notion of dukha - 'unsatisfactoriness' (gratifying ego-centric desires never brings satisfaction: Novak, 1996) - or why our self-concept - our sense of 'I' - is held to be the source of all human unhappiness. Human beings, according to Novak, are preoccupied by a 'self-project', which he seems to regard as entirely inborn, rather than partially the result of enculturation and economico-moral self-awareness.

The so-called 'higher' religions, originating along the Old World civilization belt (defined by the valleys of the Nile, Tigris, Euphrates, Ganges, Indus, and Yel-low River: Parkinson, 1963), teach ego-surrender in one form or another. This may represent an attempt, in a species sensitive to issues of respect, justice, and moral worth, to resolve the problems of moral self-consciousness in the first bru-tally hierarchic States. A point I would stress, however, is that 'self-surrender', in some sense, must be a feature of all emergent processes, in which 'short-sighted' selfish individuals are constrained to engage in 'long-sighted' cooperation (Maynard Smith & Szäthmary, 1995).



Shaun Gallagher
Hermeneutics and the Cognitive Sciences

Journal ofConsciousness Studies, 11, no 10-11, 2004 pg 162-74
To move away from strict and narrowly conceived computational models to the more dynamic models found in neuroscience is a challenge for the cognitive sciences. But if there are forms of cognition or understanding that belong to a realm that is simply not reducible to a sub-personal, computational lovel, and that involve personal and interpersonal processes, then new models that incorporate the effects of social interaction are required. In this regard, Gadamer suggests that understanding is dialogical. Here one can go back to Aristotle's idea that phronesis is gained in informal social and interactive contexts. There is something in second-person human social interaction that is irreducible to subpersonal computations. Second-person interactions cannot be adequately characterized as the interactions of two or more computational systems, or even as the interaction of two brains.
Understanding Others: I suggested that second-person interactions cannot be characterized as simply the interaction of two brains - or the presence of shared representations in two brains. I do not mean that we should ignore neuroscience. Indeed, if there were not at least two brains involved, there would be no second-person interaction. Cognitive social neuroscience can contribute to our understanding of how we understand each other, as persons, and how empathy is possible.







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