The Origins of Self explores the role that selfhood plays in defining human society, and each human individual in that society. It considers the genetic and cultural origins of self, the role that self plays in socialisation and language, and the types of self we generate in our individual journeys to and through adulthood.
Edwardes argues that other awareness is a relatively early evolutionary development, present throughout the primate clade and perhaps beyond, but self-awareness is a product of the sharing of social models, something only humans appear to do. The self of which we are aware is not something innate within us, it is a model of our self produced as a response to the models of us offered to us by other people. Edwardes proposes that human construction of selfhood involves seven different types of self. All but one of them are internally generated models, and the only non-model, the actual self, is completely hidden from conscious awareness. We rely on others to tell us about our self, and even to let us know we are a self.
Developed in relation to a range of subject areas – linguistics, anthropology, genomics and cognition, as well as socio-cultural theory – The Origins of Self is of particular interest to students and researchers studying the origins of language, human origins in general, and the cognitive differences between human and other animal psychologies.
I am me and you are you: a banal statement that is hardly worth writing a book about. Yet, in the paraphrased form of I have me-ness and you have you-ness, it suddenly begins to raise interesting questions. What is the nature of the me that I can appreciate as being me? How does the me relate to the I that is recognising the me? Are me-ness and you-ness the same thing looked at from different angles, or is there an important difference between the two? How does the you relate to the I that is recognising the you? And what is the nature of the you that I identify as being you; is it the same as the me you identify as being you? All of the questions raised here are from the first-person perspective because, in the end, it is the only perspective each of us has; but is it the only perspective we use? And, if not, how do I incorporate the perspectives of others into my view of the Universe?
In fact, having a self of which I am aware is perhaps one of the most astounding and unexpected outcomes of being human. Current scientific evidence seems to indicate that it is unusual in nature for an organism to be able to recognise itself (although the number of species able to pass the mirror test of self-recognition is growing constantly – see Chapter 2); and we have no evidence that any individual of any species – apart from humans – is able to imagine how others might see them. Our personal relationship with our selves may even be the ‘holy grail’ that has been sought for centuries: the thing that makes us different from other animals. If such a difference really exists, selfhood would seem to be a good candidate.
We know our species is different from others in important ways: every species is a particular outcome of a series of challenges to its individuals, such that individuals with strategies to meet the challenges do better than those without such strategies. After enough time, the species consists of only those individuals with useful strategies; and it is those useful strategies that define the nature of the species. Charles Darwin (1859 ) formalised this understanding in his theory of descent with modification by means of natural selection, and Herbert Spencer (1864) summarised it, somewhat controversially, with the phrase survival of the fittest. You can identify the challenges that a species has met by looking at what its members are good at: for instance, the challenge of surviving predation has, in different species, resulted in climbing or running or hiding or fighting skills. Monkeys climb, ante- lope run, stick insects hide (in plain sight) and porcupines fight – or, at least, they are equipped with an effective active defence mechanism with which to discourage predators. So what are humans good at? And how does having self-awareness help us to be good at it?