Identity Narrative as an Unconscious Scaffold for Human Autobiography

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Abstract

Over the past years, a multi-disciplinary literature on the significance of personal narratives in autobiography and identity has emerged. This subject has been of interest to authors in the fields of humanities, psychology, and medicine alike. In this paper, we are proposing the term Identity Narrative (IdN) to define a cognitive and emotional framework that serves as an implicit (unconscious) scaffolding of memory on which to build human autobiography. The authors first classify narratives into external (universal history, the humanities, culture) and internal (autobiography, based on personal experiences, both directly and indirectly, through identification and education). All philosophy and social commentary has utilized history for the purposes of prediction and meaning-making. Personalities including Aristotle, St. Augustine, Rousseau, Freud, Marx, Spengler, and Benjamin Franklin have reread history to gain insight about human nature. History has inspired the enlightenment and renaissance of a new reality for humanity. It is widely known that history can also be misused to justify aggression and human suffering. The use of history to create deep convictions that annihilate moral imperatives is only possible because of unconsciously consolidated internal narratives, the IdN. IdN is reshaped through life, both by “bottom-up” acquisition of information, as well as a “top-down” learning model, which includes the following circumstances: (a) sudden insight and awareness; (b) experiences with high emotional valence; (c) high frequency of repetition; and (d) prolonged duration of exposure. In this way, IdN, a form of relatively stable unconscious, anoetic memory, provides a “first-person” experience to autobiography. Autobiography then, becomes part of auto-noetic consciousness, the human ability to mentally time travel and have self-knowledge. IdN parallels lifelong growth and development, language acquisition, and maturing of attachment. The extensive brain activation during communication and speech, revealed by neuroimaging studies, will be referred to as the “communication beltway.” We hypothesize that the alternation in activation between the default mode (midline structures) of the brain (previously associated with the Self) and the language brain creates a platform that encodes crucial components of IdN throughout life. In this way, IdN, autobiographical memory, and the language brain are parts of a larger biological substrate of social affiliations.

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