The lack of the unity of the self & the soul

So we were introduced to the idea of the lack of the unity of the self in class.  This idea is really easy to see in online spaces.  We LOVE being other people, constructing who we are, “putting our best foot forward,” and role playing.  We can analyze all this using structuralism, see Joel Stein’s faux use of the concept etc.  It makes sense in an operational, analytical kind of way. Can, how, or should we try to reconcile this with other views of the self, notably religious views that hold to the view of an “eternal soul” something that is part of us, but not seen, that existed before we were born and will continue on after we die.

Well first of all we should say that poststructuralism doesn’t seem to make a lot of truth claims, normative claims, ontological claims, or epistemological claims.  In many instances it seems to say that those kinds of claims don’t exist.  I can’t claim to really know the my poststructuralism or postmodernism very well, so  I’m going to say I may be wrong here, but this is my reaction to my rudimentary understanding of this.

The sidestep: one can say that because poststructuralism doesn’t really have anything informative to say about ultimate reality or truth, that we should turn to other systems of thought or philosophy to inform us in those domains.  This seems rather reasonable to me, but it doesn’t really deal with the issue at hand.

The idea of a homunculus  seems to spring to mind.  This is the idea that inside each of us it a “little man” (which is what homunculus literally mean) that makes decisions.  Some have likened this to the soul.  Some people would look at the constructionist idea of the self and say, well what is doing the constructing?  There must ultimately be something doing all that.  Whatever that thing is, is the true self.  The counter argument to that seems to be that there is no homunculus, but simply the gestalt of brain matter and body that exists, there is no soul, no ultimate self, nothing foundational in a person.

While I dont’ think that poststructualism or postmodernism has a strong case for making ontological claims about the world (nor does it seem to me that such a way of looking at the world ultimately CAN make ontological claims, it seems that the whole point of it is that there is no ontology, no foundation, no ultimate anything) it is clear that these ways of thinking about the world can yield interesting insights into objects, whatever those objects may be: a conversation, a IT system, a book, or an organization.  In this way it is PRODUCTIVE, and operationalizable.  So let’s take this idea of the lack of the unity of the self and use it, let’s analyze online worlds using this kind of theory, it will yield something interesting.  Let’s leave out the kinds of things that talk about who we “really are” and the associated judgments.   When we want to talk about ultimate truth and who we really are, let’s leave that in the realm of metaphysics and religion.

So let’s get to a really interesting situation: you are designing some kind of interaction for a group of people who are religious, or spiritual and feel that there is a soul, a way that they should be, and an ultimate self.  Does this change the way we would analyze said system?  I say that given that case you design the interaction to support their worldview.


About Aaron H

PhD Student in Design & Innovation studying R&D teams.
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