January 10, 2013

Brain Creates Self, Self Becomes An Emergent Agent That Connects Brain To World

Art by Mark David Dietz, used with permission

If the self is a delusion, as many tell us, who or what is it that is being deluded? The self is produced by the brain based on inherited biological potentials and the brain's interactions with the environment via the senses. It is maintained and projected socially by the brain throughout our lives. It is that which the brain creates and imposes on the local and global community of minds we are born into, a community that also provides access to the thoughts of minds from the past. It is not a stand-alone dualistic soul, homunculus, or ghost in the machine. Nor is it solely a collection of impulse discharging nerve cells in the brain. It begins at birth and ends at death. Look for the self in what a person says and does in between. ... As for changing or improving one's self, here's a great, somewhat tongue-in-cheek article by journalist Kathryn Schulz on the self-help industry: http://nymag.com/health/self-help/2013/schulz-self-searching/.

Also, there is this:  the archaic mammalian SELF at the sub-cortical level - http://www.academia.edu/1312559/Affective_Neuroscience_and_the_Philosophy_of_Self.  One cannot help after observing the individual and social behavior of reptiles and birds that there must also be a reptilian and avian SELF, and a SELF at work in all sentient beings.  When a bird, for example, flees at the approach of what might be danger to its well-being and continued existence it appears to be doing so as a deliberative response to a remembered experience of one or a number of characteristics the danger possesses.  The bird appears to have "decided" this particular danger is a threat and responded in a manner it believes is in its best interest.  This postulation and its resulting decision is made with reference to its remembered individual experience and its remembered observation of other animals' fleeing or making referent calls in reference to the same danger.  We've all seen birds and other animals respond to danger and non-dangerous others and situations - most times appropriately, sometimes inappropriately, and sometimes in a confused, undecided manner.  The fact that they don't always respond appropriately seems to me to support the idea that their deliberative sometimes breaks down from the lack of full information about the threat or a misinterpretation of full information.  Stealth, camouflage, mimicry, and other traits and tactics on the part of dangerous others, such as predators, are used to confuse the deliberative process in their prey.  Predator animals likewise engage in deliberative processes in their decisions to pursue or not pursue prey, and in what manner they will do so.

In light of the research and thinking presented in the above paper by Stephen T. Asma and Thomas Greif, a synthesis of neuroscience, philosophy, and social science regarding the human self could be expressed as follows:

The self, at the cortical level in humans, is an evolutionary emergent elaboration along the continuum of the mammalian self. What we humans have is a mammalian self at the level of the mid-brain that is augmented and elaborated by the cortex using language. It is this enhanced self we create and use to engage the global community of minds, past and present - a self that is both biological and social.

Perhaps the most important question for which Humankind remains in search of an answer, after why there is something rather than nothing in the universe, is how, exactly, the brain creates a self at the sub-cortical and cortical level?  This will require a detailed accounting of how the neural matter of the brain gives meaning to the sensory experiences of the individual, including the individual's experience of the meanings of others' sensory experiences as found in their speech, writing, and behavior.  Studying the formulation and projection of a self by other sentient animals may help lead to a breakthrough among neuroscientists who are at an impasse in explaining human consciousness.  An explanation my very well lie outside the human brain.  It may be a more common experience than we are at present willing to admit.  A form of consciousness and the continual creation and projection of a self appear to be characteristics of all sentient life on Earth.

Consciousness, to one degree or another, and self creation and projection appear to be far older and more widespread than their manifestations in the human brain and in the relatively brief experience of Humankind.

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