A Crisis of the Spirit
The neurobiological, as revealed in participant stories, is a way to imagine ourselves, with the aid of techniques and technologies, as truly disengaged, to think of and enact ourselves or crucial aspects of ourselves independently of our situatedness, and to author our own story, free of constraints. A self-mastery is the promise and the appeal. This self-mastery, rooted in a mechanistic view of ourselves, comes at a high cost. It subserves the aspiration of liberal selfhood, yet in a way that diminishes the person. We can see this propensity articulated in the mechanistic and disengaged perspective of the person eminating from various academic fields, including popular neuroscience and the postmodern humanities. The alternative languages they speak in do not offer a more penetrating account of our situation and move toward the de facto authorization of a solitary and empty conception of the will. This is one affect of imagining ourselves through the prism of the neurobiological. Other affects involve our relationship to social norms and ideals, our recourse to other evaluative frameworks, our self-understanding and relation to others, and our attitude to suffering. In these ways, the imaginary closes off and inhibits.
Keywords: disengaged perspective, self mastery, neuroscience, postmodernism, empty will, attitude to suffering, self authorship