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Town Hall Seattle: Science Series

Town Hall’s Science series is dedicated to understanding the world around us. Whether we’re hearing from a legendary physicist or a UW graduate student, the Science series explores math, biology, chemistry, the environment, and so much more.

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May 9, 2023

There’s nothing we spend more time with, but understand less, than ourselves. You’ve been with yourself every waking moment of your life. But who — or, rather, what — are you?

In Selfless, Social psychologist and Stanford professor Brian Lowery argues for the radical idea that the “self” as we know it — that “voice in your head” — is a social construct, created in our relationships and social interactions. We are unique because our individual pattern of relationships is unique. We change because our relationships change. Your self isn’t just you, it’s all around you.

Lowery uses this research-driven perspective of selfhood to explore questions of inequity, race, gender, politics, and power structures, transforming our perceptions of how the world is and how it could be. His theory offers insight into how powerful people manage their environment in sophisticated, often unconscious, ways to maintain the status quo; explains our competing drives for deep social connection and personal freedom; and answers profound, personal questions such as: Why has my sense of self-evolved over time? Why do I sometimes stop short of changes that I want to make in life?

Brian Lowery is the Walter Kenneth Kilpatrick professor of organizational behavior and senior associate dean for academic affairs at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He is also the Co-Director of Stanford’s new Institute on Race, dedicated to finding real-world solutions to address racial injustice. A social psychologist by training, he studies how individuals perceive inequality and the steps they take, if any, to reduce it.