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Experimental and relational authenticity: how neurotechnologies impact narrative identities

Abstract

The debate about how neurotechnologies impact authenticity has focused on two inter-related dimensions: self-discovery and self-creation. In this paper, we develop a broader framework that includes the experimental and relational dimensions of authenticity, both understood as decisive for shaping one’s narrative identity. In our view, neurointerventions that alter someone’s personality traits will also impact her very own self-understanding across time. We argue that experimental authenticity only needs a minimum conception of narrative coherence of the self and that reversibility should remain a key feature in the ethical assessment of neurotechnologies. The relational dimension of authenticity derives from the fact that a process of self-constitution is never a solitary business. The significant others act not just as subsequent judges of one’s life decisions, but as real co-authors of one’s self. We discuss relevant cases in which others are actively contributing to the meaning-making process, as to the direction one’s life is taking. We also claim that the experimental and the relational dimensions of authenticity should aim to correct each other. The relational dimension introduces socially approved standards as well as limitations to the array of available possibilities of self-fashioning or human enhancement. The experimental side enables us to avoid confusing one’s personal identity with a social and narrative construct that only bears the mark of social pressure and conformism.

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Notes

  1. Our assumption here is that relational authenticity is irreducible to the notion of autonomy (broadly understood as self-governance).

  2. Their compelling example is the one of a patient undergoing DBS treatment for Anorexia Nervosa and shifting between a mindset where she values extreme thinness above everything else and one where she does not prefer thinness over personal health. It is easy to see which mindset would be regarded as ‘tolerable’ by the patient’s family and close ones, but Nyholm & O’Neill (2017, p. 665) also claim that the tolerable mindset should always be regarded as “representative of the patient’s true self.”

  3. We depicted only one brief passage where Pugh et al., (2017, p. 647) recognize this crucial fact about our dynamic and fluid personal identities: “Although we may come to change many or even all of our values over time, such changes are only authentic if our decision to do so is made intelligible by some other reason implying value that we maintain over the course of that change.”

  4. This is not just the stance of young ‘Sartre-Roquentin’: in the unfinished manuscript Notebooks for an Ethics, the same belief that searching for narrative coherence is something inauthentic makes Sartre dwell upon the distinction between ‘pure’ and ‘impure’ reflection, clearly stating that “the decision of pure reflection (…) renounces the attempt at a synthetic unification of the self by the self, which leads necessarily to realizing this unification outside itself and to sacrificing lived consciousness” (Sartre, 1992, pp. 478–479).

  5. See, for example, this testimonial of a person talking about her Anorexia Nervosa, reported in Hope et al., (2011, p. 25): “I’ve gone through it, so I feel like it kind of belongs to me now, and that even though I don’t want it, it’s still part of me in a way.”

  6. So we are not defending “an experimentalist model” of authenticity regarded as an alternative to both essentialist and existentialist views (Nica, 2019).

  7. This possible objection was brought to our attention by an anonymous reviewer.

  8. We should also note that reaching ‘practical necessity’, that is a sense of inescapability resistant to any calculation of ends, or a sense of wholehearted commitment, might very well require a diachronic process of ‘crystallization’ of the self (Varga, 2012, p. 111).

  9. Such statement would be based upon an “inference to the best explanation” that starts by making a list of all the things or normal features of her life until now that a person “is used to but feels troubled by as well” and recognizes here a pattern that hopefully would highlight a particular alternative of oneself as being more valuable for her than some other (Bransen, 2002, p. 91).

  10. We were made aware of the importance of this discussion for our topic by an anonymous reviewer.

  11. Christman (2004) in his analysis of relational autonomy draws this type of distinction. We are borrowing this pattern, without approving the recent attempts to reduce the idea of (relational) authenticity to the concept of (relational) autonomy (see for example Walker & Mackenzie 2020).

  12. It is true that the model Schechtaman finally defends in her later book is a broader account than The Narrative Self-Constitution View, entitled The Person Life View (PLV). To put it briefly, the latter “holds that persons are defined in terms of the characteristic lives they lead” (Schechtman, 2014, p. 110). PLV maintains that “the typical mature person is sentient, reflectively self-consciousness, a self-narrator in the sense described by the Narrative Self-Constitution View”, but it “also allows that after maturity some of the capacities of the mature person may be lost or attenuated as happens, for instance, in cases of dementia or at an extreme in a PVS [Persistent Vegetative State]” (Schechtman, 2014, p. 112).

  13. Ranging from witnesses to the actual abuse to people who heard stories from her about it, there will be people who still have narratives about her as being a victim.

  14. For instance, a girl born and raised in a misogynistic society will know once she grows up that she cannot ever be as good in her profession as the men she will be competing with.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Muriel Leuenberger, Cristina Voinea, Mihaela Constantinescu, Daniel Nica, Anda Zahiu, and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on previous drafts of this paper.

Funding

This work was supported by a grant of the Romanian Ministery of Education and Research, CNCS – UEFISCDI, project number PN-III-P4-ID-PCE-2020-0521, within PNCDI III. The authors have no other interests to declare that are relevant to the content of this article.

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Correspondence to Cristian IFTODE.

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IFTODE, C., ZORILĂ, A., VICĂ, C. et al. Experimental and relational authenticity: how neurotechnologies impact narrative identities. Phenom Cogn Sci (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11097-022-09825-7

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Keywords

  • Relational authenticity
  • Experimental authenticity
  • Neurotechnologies
  • Narrative identity
  • Co-authorship