On Dexter

On Becoming a Real Boy

Emergence and Evolution of Self in Dexter

By Stephen D Livingston

“GHOST” HARRY: You’re juggling too many people, Dexter.

DEXTER: I know. Arthur, Beaudry, Rita, now Batista . . .

“GHOST” HARRY: I’m not talking about them. I mean Dexter Morgan. Blood tech. Husband. Father. Serial killer. And now Kyle Butler, extortionist? Which one are you?

DEXTER (looking into multiple mirrors): All of them.

–“Hello, Dexter Morgan,” 4-11

Issues of self and identity have historically ranked among the most beguiling and bemusing of the topics studied by psychologists and philosophers. Self is such a tricky concept in part because it is so broadly used. Even a cursory peek at the psychological research literature reveals dozens of theories and concepts that employ the term: self-esteem, self-concept, self-discrepancy, self-regulation, self-awareness, etc. There are also everyday uses of the term: we often speak of “feeling self-conscious” or “acting selfishly.” In modern psychology, self is often defined as the mental apparatus that permits individuals to experience abstract, inwardly directed thoughts and feelings. Research in comparative psychology reveals that some non-human animals, including chimpanzees, gorillas, elephants, dolphins, parrots, and cephalopods (octopi and squid), have a demonstrable ability to recognize themselves. The fact that selfhood, like the lens-bearing eye, has independently emerged in numerous distinct evolutionary lineages suggests that it is very useful feature. It is also notable that the species with self-recognition abilities tend to be, like humans, highly social. However, it has typically been argued that such non-human selfhood is fairly rudimentary: the complex reflective self is thought to be unique to human beings, and core to our  …

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