Reply To: Ego(s)?

  • Gary

    March 7, 2024 at 9:39 pm

    This is a great question. I approach this from the Jungian perspective of differentiating the egoic ‘self’–with a little ‘s’–from the holistic ‘Self’ which I view from the semiotic perspective as the person as a ‘sign’–in its broadest sense–as used in the triadic semiotics of Charles Sanders Peirce, which can be traced back, as a concept, to the Greeks–for example, its use in the ‘medical semiotics’ of Hippocrates. The egoic ‘self’ is language-dependent and, as such, is a left-hemispheric phenomenon. It is the ‘I’ in the famous Cartesian quotation, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ It is the ‘I’ that sees itself as a thinking being exclusively. Of course, it is pretty clear that a person is far more than an ‘ego’, so defined. And this is the argument that the late John Deely makes when arguing for the ‘recovery of person’ through understanding a person as the totality of a sign–ie. as a source of signification, not as a Cartesian ‘thinker’. Signification is more than what language can convey. It is experiential including both action and perception, in addition to ‘speaking’ and ‘listening’ in the context of the dialogical. In fact, one of the ways to recognize this is through the commonly recognized disjunction between what a person says and what they do, and the idea that ‘actions’ speak louder than ‘words’. The right hemisphere does not have the capacity to speak or to think in words, but does this imply that it cannot ‘think’? We know from split-brain patient behavior that the right brain and the left brain can manifest ‘disagreement’ through the phenomenon of ‘intermanual conflict’ after the corpus callosum has been cut. I have seen this in patients and it is striking! In one particular instance, a patient I was caring for pulled out a cigarette with their right hand and was about to light it using a lighter with their right hand, when their left hand reached up, grabbed the cigarette and tossed it, much to their chagrin. So, using overt action, one can infer a conflict in motivation between what the left hemisphere wanted to do–‘smoke’ and what the right hemisphere wanted to do–‘not smoke’. Does that represent an ‘egoic conflict’? Well, if you actually asked the patient what they wanted to do, they would SAY that they wanted to smoke. Which would demonstrate that their egoic ‘self’ which is associated with the language basis in the left hemisphere (in most but not all people!), is TELLING you want they are intending to do. The thing is that their right hemisphere won’t tell you, but sure will be able to show you. I would want to suggest reserving the term ‘ego’ for what one SAYS, not necessarily what one DOES. The ego is basically who we explicitly THINK we are–ie. who we tell ourselves we are. How we would describe ourselves using language. But that is not who we are as a totality, as an embodied being. I think this is something that is easiest to understand when you look at the research that has been done with patients who have undergone a ‘callosotomy’–cutting of the corpus callosum. The ego can ‘tell’ you something that the right hemisphere ‘knows’ but cannot speak. So, if I put a key in the left hand of a blindfolded right-handed person who is intact, they can immediately tell me what it is. But if I put the key in left hand of a right-handed person with a callosotomy, they cannot tell me what it is until they put it into their right hand. The person ‘knows’ what it is–but their ego cannot convey evidence that they know using language until the left hemisphere has access to the information. The ego is a construction of language-based thought. Because language is so important to us, the ego and its base in the left hemisphere (in most people) has important but limited significance. A pre-lingual baby does not have an ‘ego’–they cannot tell you anything about themselves. They are obviously a behaving and communicating person. They clearly have a communicative Self despite not having languaged communication. They will develop an ego as they begin to acquire language and a languaged sense of self. I hope that makes some sense…