Conference Theme

Where do I end, where do you begin? Understanding the human self remains one of the greatest research challenges of our time. One of the most vexing issues in this respect has to do with the boundaries of the self. Recent developments in embodied and enactive cognition suggest that the self, like the mind, is no longer confined to our heads, but rather embodied and grounded in the sensorimotor and social activity of the organism. Being a self requires a body and self-experience arises through action and movement. From our own everyday experience we also know that boundaries of the self are quite flexible. The self is not a rigid entity, but plastic, subject to change, both in the face of temporality and of new situations and environments. We change as we grow older and we change because we are continuously affected and influenced by the world. These changes over time are commonly associated with the narrative self, and the stories we tell about our self, but the new developments in embodied cognitive science suggest that even the prereflective self, our basic embodied level of human identity, is plastic and adaptive. Humans are not islands but interconnected bodily beings, who extend and change their boundaries through social interactions and also through technology.

This interdisciplinary conference brings together experts from philosophy, psychology, neuroscience and robotics to investigate the challenges and opportunities of an open perspective on the self.  The background assumption behind this notion of openness is that the self is a distributed phenomenon whose mechanisms include neural, bodily and environmental components. Selves leak out into the world. What models, methods and outlooks are available to account for the self in its versatile relations to the social and technological world? How do we initially develop boundaries, and how can we account for change and adaptivity over time? If selves “include” the world, then how can we conceive of their boundaries? A distributed view of the self runs into a dilemma: how can the self be open and yet not get lost or immersed in the world it is connected to?

We are also interested in understanding the open self from a phenomenological and subjective viewpoint. If selves are open to others, and bodies are not merely means of setting up boundaries but also social interfaces, how does this affect our sense of self? What non-individualistic conceptions of subjectivity and the sense of self can complement the study of the open self? How do interactions with technologies and digital media enhance or limit our sense of self? What are experiences of the self at the border, in limit situations or moments of change?

It seems clear that the path towards a satisfying account of the open self needs to be interdisciplinary and pluralistic, yet it also requires clarification and integration. The conference encourages a fruitful dialogue between the different disciplines and seeks to achieve both goals: an understanding of the open self from a multi-level and interdisciplinary viewpoint and finding common ground by defining steps for a unifying, cross-disciplinary theoretical framework.

Topics of the Conference include:

  1. Philosophy, Phenomenology and Cognitive Science:
    • Theoretical, phenomenological and formal perspectives that emphasize an open and distributed outlook on the self, especially at the prereflective, bodily level (minimal, relational or dialogical accounts of self, extended self, distributed, or intersubjective self).
  2. (Life-Span) Developmental Psychology:
    • Development of the self and role of relational and contextual (both technological and social) processes.
    • Dynamics of stability and change of the human self at later stages of development.
  3. Robotics:
    • Synthetic approaches to the bodily and relational self (Can we build an artificial self? Can we develop a Turing Test for artificial selves and the sense of agency?)
    • How can robotics account for the dynamics of stability and change at later stages of development and help to model the mechanisms of self development?
  4. Neuroscience:
    • Neuroscientific accounts of self experience in social and technological interaction.
    • Neuroscientific accounts of stability and change of the self (e.g. in terms of predictive coding and self-organisation)
  5. Experimental Psychology:
    • Empirical research on bodily processes, human behavior and social interaction. The effect of sensorimotor and intersubjective factors on self-experience and agency.
    • Effect of (wearable) technology and VR on the sense of self and agency.