Cyborgs and scanners

Giovanni Stanghellini

in Disembodied Spirits and Deanimated Bodies

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print September 2004 | ISBN: 9780198520894
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754302 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Cyborgs and scanners

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The Eighth study does with schizophrenic basic depersonalization what the seventh study did with the manic-depressive's. Schizophrenic persons experience a world in which sensory self-consciousness is disrupted. The sense of aliveness, the feeling of being embedded in oneself, the unity of self-experience is disrupted. This involves the experiencing of a dualistic Cartesian form of existence in which embodied sensory self-awareness is substituted by incorporeal noetic self-consciousness. Schizophrenic persons experience a world similar to that portrayed in modern objective psychology, as described by Erwin Straus in his timely criticism of early objectifying psychological approaches and polemically epitomized in the sentence ‘Persons think, not the brain’ (mereological fallacy in neuroscience research). Both in the experience of schizophrenic persons and in cognitive theories of the mind the immediate sensory awareness of one's perceptions, actions, and thinking as one's own is replaced by a second-order noetic awareness of something which perceives that one is perceiving, acting or thinking. Literally, as a schizophrenic person once told me: The world is unreal because it is seen through a brain.

Schizophrenic persons often describe their condition as that of a deanimated body or a disembodied spirit. Lack of sensory (or pre-reflexive) self-awareness entails the feeling of being a lifeless body. This state is often misdiagnosed as melancholic depersonalization, but whereas melancholic patients complain about their feeling of the loss of feelings (‘I feel that I don't feel’), schizophrenic ones report two apparently contrasting experiences: loss of self-awareness (‘I don't’ feel that I feel’) and a special kind of objectified awareness (‘It is not me who feels – It feels’). This existence as a cyborg or deanimated body comes to its apotheosis in the state of a scanner or dis-embodied spirit which lives as a mere spectator of one's own perceptions, actions, and thoughts. If sensory self-consciousness – the unity of perception and self-perception – breaks down, then the ‘I’ breaks down into an experiencing I-subject contemplating an experienced I-object while the latter is performing the act of perception. The act of perception itself is no more experienced from within, but from without (‘through a brain’). It becomes an object of noetic awareness. The phenomenality of this experience is no more implicitly embedded in itself; the act of perception turns out to be an explicit intelligible object.

Can we say then that schizophrenic persons, in virtue of the abnormality of the structure of their self-consciousness, can thus become aware of usually unnoticed conditions of normal daily experience? If with ‘usually unnoticed conditions’ we refer to the normal structure of self-consciousness the answer must be no, since what they become aware of – ex hypothesi – are not normal experiences embedded in normal self-consciousness, but experiences set in an abnormal state of self-consciousness, i.e. in the position of a disembodied spirit: a state characterized by the shift from sensing one's own experiences as one's own to examining their constitution after the subject–object split has occurred. Schizophrenic persons are not in this respect like Ubermenschetu, as Cutting recently seems to suggest, who have a privileged knowledge on the enigma of self-consciousness: they certainly have a privileged insight into the problem, but not into the solution of such enigma.

Chapter.  3953 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Psychiatry

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