Who You Are


Why you are more than just a brain, more than just a brain-and-body, and more than all your assumptions about who you are.

Who You Are pulls off a rare trick: it manages to be both profoundly subversive and great fun to read. Spivey will have you laughing out loud while he undermines your most deeply held beliefs about your self.
—Anthony Chemero, Professor of Philosophy and Psychology, University of Cincinnati

Occasionally a book comes around that achieves something rare: it takes an age-old question like Who Am I? and teaches us something new. Spivey’s book does just that–brilliantly, accessibly, originally, and convincingly. It is a modern, scientific view of the self and reading it will transform your sense of the person you think you know so well.
—Mahzarin R. Banaji, Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, Department of Psychology, Harvard University

Who are you? Are you just a brain? A brain and a body? All the things you have done and the friends you have made? Many of us assume that who we really are is something deep inside us, an inner sanctuary that contains our true selves. In Who You Are, Michael Spivey argues that the opposite is true: that you are more than a brain, more than a brain-and-body, and more than all your assumptions about who you are. Rather than peeling layers away to reveal the inner you, Spivey traces who you are outward. You may already feel in your heart that something outside your body is actually part of you—a child, a place, a favorite book. Spivey confirms this intuition with scientific findings.

With each chapter, Spivey incrementally expands a common definition of the self. After (gently) helping you to discard your assumptions about who you are, he draws on research in cognitive science and neuroscience to explain the back-and-forth among all the regions of the brain and the interaction between the brain and body. He then makes the case for understanding objects and locations in your environment as additional parts of who we are. Going even further, he shows that, just as interaction links brain, body, and environment, ever-expanding systems of interaction link humans to other humans, to nonhuman animals, and to nonliving matter. This may seem an interaction or two too far. But you don’t have to take his word for it—just consider the evidence he presents.

From MIT Press | Hardcover | 376 pages | April 2020

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