The death of the narrator

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The death of the narrator

About three thousand years ago, when man’s advancement had reached such a stage as to enable him a relatively high degree of security and protection from outside threats, conscious awareness evolved. The narrator is the voice of consciousness. According to Julian Jaymes1, the voice was heard from outside rather than originating from the mind.

According to Daniel Dennet, we all can tacitly reckon the centre of gravity of objects by sight. But the centre of gravity just like the concept of self is fictional. And like fiction, we do not like contradictions when we try to interpret a character, so we typically bifurcate the character to resolve the conflict.

We are all, at times, confabulators, telling and retelling ourselves the story of our own lives, with scant attention to the question of truth.

According to Gazzaniga, the normal mind is not beautifully unified, but rather a problematically yoked-together bundle of partly autonomous systems.

Conscious thinking seems to be a variation, though a particularly efficient one, of talking to yourself. Actual vocalization was found to be inefficient and might lead you to disclose more information than you might want to to those around you. So want developed was the habit of subvocalization, and this in turn could be streamlined into conscious, verbal thought.

Moments of consciousness were meant to be “intermittent, brief, and hopefully self-eliminating”. Putting the body into fight-or-flight mode is costly. “It takes energy to make and stock-pile the reserves of adrenaline that are released every time the alarm goes off. “

There is a difference between consciousness and conscious awareness. The latter is the complete absorption in an experience: the sights, sounds, smells of the the inner and outer experience, as they happen. The former is the mess of “sensations, fantasy, inner talk, images, memories of images, shifting in and our, foreground to background.” The fabric of the body is worn down each time the alarm goes off; “fired up for action, and then ‘stood down’ without any action having taken place to release the tension.”2

For some people, the injunctions dictated by the narrator are only weak and “mercifully ineffective”. They can be themselves without needing to apologise or cover up.

We are a swarm of multiple, different ‘selves’. “The sense of identity that society and his upbringing have throat upon him does not square with what he feels to be his instincts, his gut-level needs, and his deepest aspirations.”

Beneath the fragile sense of personal identity, the individual is actually an innumerable swarm of disconnected impulses, thoughts, reactions, opinions and sensations, which are triggered into activity by causes of which he is totally unaware. Yet at each moment the individual identifies himself with whichever of this swarm of impulses and reactions happens to be active, automatically affirming each as ‘himself’, and then taking a stand either for or against this ‘self’, de‘self’, de- on the particular pressures that the social environment has brought to bear upon him since his childhood. Jacob Needleman3

But the concept of the centre of narrative gravity has a useful function in locating the source of the voice. Once the narrator is located, we can set about disentangling “the different strands of self.” The question to ask according to the NLP guys is “where is the voice coming from?”

  1. Dennett, Daniel C. (1992) The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity. 

  2. Hans Selye, The Stress of Life, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1956. 

  3. Jacob Needleman, Psychiatry and the Sacred, in the book Awakening the Heart, John Welwood, editor. 

Tagged: language.

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