Validity of the Extended Self

Celina Bussolaro

Following my reading of Marya Schectman’s article The Story of my (Second) Life: Virtual Worlds and Narrative Identity, and my attendance of the lecture conducted by Professor Samantha Brennon Boundaries of Personhood, I have been thinking about the validity of the extended self. In the lecture, we questioned what defines personal identity, looking at multiple theories to explain this: we looked at a psychological view, a biological view, a narrative view, and a “no deep fact” explanation. When we think about the extended self from these multiple points of view we get multiple explanations and further lines of questioning, as I am not an expert on these views I will explain my perspective on this topic of personal identity and the extension of the self. I believe what I am about to talk about is relevant to the public as I am going to question when, how, and if, we are expected to validate other’s extension of the self even if we do not agree with another person’s definition of “the self”.

I argue that every individual defines themselves and their personhood differently, and beyond that, differently at various stages of their lives. For example, infants and children may develop a connection to a certain object (for example a teddy bear, or even a pacifier) and their extreme unhappiness or discomfort when that object is taken away could possibly be attributed to the idea that they have come to think of that object as an extension of themselves. In another example, as teens or adults we may feel an unwarranted connection to our cell phones, feeling “off”, or in more extreme cases unable to function, without the direct connection to our phones. My first reaction in both of these scenarios would be to say that both the child’s object and the adult’s cell phone is not a true extension of the self, and instead we have simply built it in our minds to be so, we have created a dependence. However, when turning our attention to the world of Second Life, as discussed in Schectman’s article, we see another example of where people have formed a personal attachment to an object or virtual animation that is beyond their physical person. In class we discussed the many ways in which Second Life can and does have very real effects on “real life”, although this is only for a small group of people that allow it to be that way; the Second Life avatar only becomes an extension of a person’s self if they allow it to. With this understanding, it would be wrong to say that Second Life is equivalent to real life, or avatars are an extension of the self, because that is not the case to everyone that is involved in the simulated world. Can it then be said that “the self” and what is encapsulated within “the self” (i.e. the extensions, which can be argued to have very real effects) do not have any strict definition, and instead differ from person to person? My idea of what makes me “myself” might be very different from what someone else defines as their “self”. For example, I may define myself by the personal and physical relationships in my life, while the next person may feel that they have a deeper connection to the relationships they have formed in an online space.

I then come back to my original question: are we expected to validate other’s extension of their selves, even if we may believe those extensions to be “ridiculous” or otherwise “incorrect”? I believe the class discussion during Professor Brennan’s lecture really showcased this issue; people were arguing about how it was “ridiculous” to believe an avatar to be an extension of one’s self, however who are we to judge what is “ridiculous”, or even what is “true” and “real” when defining the self? As much as we can speculate about our definitions of personhood, we will never truly have a definitive answer that can be agreed upon by all. This is why it is my opinion that, unless it brings harm to another individual, the definition of one’s self and what they believe to be extensions of themselves, should be respected by others. Who am I to tell you your version of reality is invalid? Who are you to tell me the same? I believe in the interest of the public we should understand that definitions of the self vary from person to person, and in order to maintain a happy and healthy society we need to RESPECT other’s sense of self and personal identity.

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