This interview covers his latest book, Losing Ourselves: Learning to Live without a Self. It’s a long interview so you can listen the podcast or read the transcript. I found it a very interesting read.
From the interview:
A person is in some sense a substitute for the self. That is, it’s a more realistic way of thinking about our identity than the self is. So I’m urging people through reading this book to come to reject the notion that their identity is that of a self and to accept that it’s the identity of a person. The big differences are that those crucial components of the self that you mentioned a moment ago, unity, agency, priority, subject-object duality, none of those are present in a person. Persons are constantly evolving, constantly open sequences of psychophysical processes, interpreted as real through the social, political, and biological conventions and ways of behavior that we have.
The analogy that I run throughout the book is that if we think about an actor playing a role, persons are more like roles than they are like actors. That doesn’t make them unreal. Hamlet is a real role. But Hamlet can be played by Sir Laurence Olivier or by Benedict Cumberbatch, and we don’t suddenly have two different Hamlets except in some metaphorical sense. We’ve got the same role, and it’s a role that’s constituted by a whole set of conventions, conventions of the theater, by scripts that have been written, by ways Hamlet has been played in the past, and now by Tom Stoppard through Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. An actor is simply somebody who’s stepping in and playing that role for a while. But when we think about who we are, we’re roles. Our bodies are part of the actor that plays that role. Our minds might be part of the actor that plays that role. But as persons, we’re governed by complicated sets of conventions and interpretative practices. We only exist because those practices exist