The competence of humans to create and apply constructs of reality far exceeds that of any other animal species. Their ability to consciously manipulate such models seems unique, but it remains unknown how these abilities were initially acquired and then developed. Most individuals hold strong, culturally-anchored beliefs that their particular reality is true, a viewpoint challenged by the observation that all such constructs are different. They reflect not reality, but each individual’s life experiences. Collectively they facilitated the development of hominins to unprecedented cultural and cognitive complexity. However, it remains entirely unknown how the human brain manages to create a model of the external world from the signals provided by sensory equipment and proprioceptors. This paper examines the roles of exograms in this development, as they are considered to be the only tangible connection between the brain, the faculties of sentience and the external world. Competency in exogram use became a crucial natural selection factor for humans and even overcame the human brain atrophy of the final Pleistocene and the Holocene. Under favourable conditions, some forms of exograms are capable of surviving from the deep time of human evolution. The paper follows their trail back in time to gain some insights into the developments that gave rise to human awareness, self-consciousness and Theory of Mind as we understand them. Specific archaeological finds and notions about sentient capabilities of hominins are presented in a search for exogram use in the course of human evolution. It results in a model that explains with clarity not only the course of the human journey but also the underlying reasons for the human condition as such: why we are the way we are.
Excerpt: The Origin of Humanness, written in the early 1990s, brings together two strands of research: Maturana Romesin’s research into the origin of humanness and Verden-Zöller’s research into the rise of self-consciousness in the child during early mother-child play relations. The authors’ core claim is that the human species has evolved by conserving love as a fundamental domain of cooperation expressed through the basic emotions or moods of mutual respect, care, acceptance and trust (Homo sapiens-amans) rather than competition and aggression (Homo sapiens aggressans or arrogance). In this, they do not declare an ethical imperative, but rather situate ethics in biology, since, in their view, a responsible concern for the well-being of the other (human, species, biosphere, etc.) arises naturally from a manner of living in the biology of love. This is what they propose as a way for conserving the existence of social human beings (and what they call “social consciousness”) and for countering the dominant culture of domination, submission or indifference in Western society. Ethics, in this sense, is a choice of emotioning on an individual basis that in relation to a social community defines how a particular manner of living is to be conserved over the coming generations.
Butz M. V. (2008) How and Why the Brain Lays the Foundations for a Conscious Self. Constructivist Foundations 4(1): 1–14 & 32–37. https://constructivist.info/4/1/001
Purpose: Constructivism postulates that the perceived reality is a complex construct formed during development. Depending on the particular school, these inner constructs take on different forms and structures and affect cognition in different ways. The purpose of this article is to address the questions of how and, even more importantly, why we form such inner constructs. Approach: This article proposes that brain development is controlled by an inherent anticipatory drive, which biases learning towards the formation of forward predictive structures and inverse goal-oriented control structures. This drive, in combination with increasingly complex environmental interactions during cognitive development, enforces the structuring of our conscious self, which is embedded in a constructed inner reality. Essentially, the following questions are addressed: Which basic mechanisms lead us to the construction of inner realities? How are these emergent inner realities structured? How is the self represented within the inner realities? And consequently, which cognitive structures constitute the media for conscious thought and selfconsciousness? Findings: Due to the anticipatory drive, representations in the brain shape themselves predominantly purposefully or intentionally. Taking a developmental, evolutionary perspective, we show how the brain is forced to develop progressively complex and abstract representations of the self embedded in the constructed inner realities. These self representations can evoke different stages of self-consciousness. Implications: The anticipatory drive shapes brain structures and cognition during the development of progressively more complex, competent, and flexible goal-oriented bodyenvironment interactions. Self-consciousness develops because increasingly abstract, individualizing self representations are necessary to realize these progressively more challenging environmental interactions.
Several recently developed philosophical approaches to the self promise to enhance the exchange of ideas between the philosophy of the mind and the other cognitive sciences. This review examines two important concepts of self: the ‘minimal self’, a self devoid of temporal extension, and the ‘narrative self’, which involves personal identity and continuity across time. The notion of a minimal self is first clarified by drawing a distinction between the sense of self-agency and the sense of self-ownership for actions. This distinction is then explored within the neurological domain with specific reference to schizophrenia, in which the sense of self-agency may be disrupted. The convergence between the philosophical debate and empirical study is extended in a discussion of more primitive aspects of self and how these relate to neonatal experience and robotics. The second concept of self, the narrative self, is discussed in the light of Gazzaniga’s left-hemisphere ‘interpreter’ and episodic memory. Extensions of the idea of a narrative self that are consistent with neurological models are then considered. The review illustrates how the philosophical approach can inform cognitive science and suggests that a two-way collaboration may lead to a more fully developed account of the self.
Gärtner K. (2017) Conscious experience and experience externalization. In: Hipólito I., Gonçalves J. & Pereira J. G. (eds.) Schizophrenia and Common Sense: Explaining madness and social values. Springer, Cham: 97–112.
According to Sass and Parnas, schizophrenia is essentially a self-disorder which leads to the externalization or alienation of experience. This view is based on the phenomenological assumption that subjects suffering from schizophrenia manifest disturbances in the most basic presentation of the self, i.e. in the sense of being the experiential subject of experience. Interestingly, recent interpretations of the phenomenal character within the study of consciousness involve a similar claim. Just like Neo-Phenomenologists (including Sass and Parnas), proponents of such a view argue that, rather than overemphasizing the qualitative features of phenomenal properties, we need to turn to the most basic feature of experience, namely pre-reflective self-consciousness. In this paper, I will reflect on Sass and Parnas’s phenomenological account of schizophrenia and show how a particular model of conscious experience fits their claims. My aim is to give a road map to naturalizing phenomenal consciousness and present a way to ground the phenomenological view of schizophrenia.
Kenny V. (2009) “There’s Nothing Like the Real Thing”. Revisiting the Need for a Third-Order Cybernetics. Constructivist Foundations 4(2): 100–111. https://constructivist.info/4/2/100
Purpose: To argue for the need to generate a third-order cybernetics to deal with the problematics of second-order cybernetics. Problem: The recent exponential increase in the use of the internet and other “media” to influence and shape dominant cultural experiences via “virtual reality” exploits a core facility of human psychology - that of being able to accept “substitutions” for the “Real Thing.” In this paper, I want to raise some basic questions and dilemmas for our living in the space of a third-order contextualisation that uses “virtuality” in an ever-increasing manner for the configuring and homogenisation of human experiences. In doing so, I also raise the question of the need for us to develop an adequate model of a “third-order cybernetics” for dealing with the ways in which human experience is contextualised and configured by phenomena that constitute the third-order system. Solution: Ernst von Glasersfeld’s work makes it clear that psychologists and others enter into a great deal of confusion when they use terms like “self,” “consciousness,” “emotions,” “memory,” “the environment,” and even “experience,” because, as he points out, there is no convincing model for any of these commonly taken-for-granted phenomena of human living. His writings are taken as a unique source for the generation of an effective third-order cybernetics where the need for constant self-critical monitoring in regard to psychological praxis and third-order phenomena may take place. “Self-critical monitoring” means, in the first place, monitoring in a critical manner our tendencies to take for granted the notion of “self.” One of the main problematics to deal with in second-order cybernetics is the way that “subjectivity” is taken for granted. Benefits: The temptation to collapse back down from a second-order cybernetics to first-order cybernetics will be resolved by creating an effective platform for third-order cybernetics that problematises the issue of “subjectivity” of the observer in the second-order cybernetics framework. This involves putting into question many of the common assumptions held about “who” it is that makes the observations at the second-order cybernetics. In other words, I attempt to highlight what is problematic regarding the observer’s subjectivity and how this analysis of what is taken for granted by the second-order cybernetics framework creates the basis of a framework for a third-order cybernetics.
Purpose: This paper demonstrates the conceptual relevance of Maturana’s biology of cognition for the theoretical foundations of the language sciences. Approach: Stuck in rationalizing, rather than naturalizing, language, modern orthodox linguistics is incapable of offering a comprehensible account of language as a species-specific, biologically grounded human feature. This predicament can be overcome by using Maturana’s theory to stress that lived experience gives language an epistemological “lining.” Findings: The key concepts of Maturana’s biology of cognition provide a more coherent theoretical framework for the study of language that can give new life to the language sciences by stressing languaging and the importance of connotation. Conclusion: Maturana’s concept of “languaging” allows the language sciences to depart from the view of language as a system of symbols. Instead, focus should be placed on how the relational dynamics of linguistic interactions trigger changes in the dynamics of the nervous system and the organism as a whole, and how their reciprocal causality is distinguished and described by the languaging observer in terms of mind, intelligence, reason, and self-consciousness.
Despite the focus of cognitivism on mental processes the concept of thought remains largely undetermined. Neuroscience can hardly lead to a major breakthrough until neuronal processes continue to be viewed as the property of the brain as their material substrate; understanding how the brain functions does not answer the question about the nature of thought. At the start, a much simpler question should be asked: How are humans as a biological species so radically different from any other species, and is it not this difference that accounts for the origin of human mind? The epistemology of external realism construes the function of mind as the representation of the world in terms of mental images which are stored in the mind (brain) as knowledge about the world and thus allow humans to cognize the world in the course of adaptively adequate human-world interactions. Operations on such mental images, so it seems, constitute the core of mental processes which are further externalized via linguistic representation. It follows that knowledge is represented in linguistic form as an object in external reality (the world), which tempts us to think that knowledge is a thing ‘out there’. This is a naive world view woven into the very fabric of our everyday language, and because ‘language is the house of being’, we take it for granted that language is a system of signs used as a tool for the transfer of thought; such transfer is believed to be at the basis of linguistic communication. Thus we push ourselves into an epistemological trap which precludes further progress in understanding the nature of language and mind. Progress in this direction is possible with an understanding of the biosocial function of language as a cognitive domain of coordinated interactions in the course of which individual minds form and develop; mind does not exist and may not be viewed outside of languaging, nor can it be opposed to it. Leaning on the biology of language and cognition, researchers should focus on how the relational dynamics of linguistic interactions triggers changes in the nervous system and in the organism as a whole, and how their reciprocal causality is distinguished and described by the speaking observer in terms of mind, intelligence, consciousness, and self-consciousness. To that end, the agenda of language sciences must be radically revised, beginning with a scientific definition of their subject matter and an unbiased analysis of the metalanguage of traditional linguistics.
Longo M. R., Schüür F., Kammers M. P. M., Tsakiris M. & Haggard P. (2008) What is embodiment? A psychometric approach. Cognition 107(3): 978–998. https://cepa.info/5557
What is it like to have a body? The present study takes a psychometric approach to this question. We collected structured introspective reports of the rubber hand illusion, to systematically investigate the structure of bodily self-consciousness. Participants observed a rubber hand that was stroked either synchronously or asynchronously with their own hand and then made proprioceptive judgments of the location of their own hand and used Likert scales to rate their agreement or disagreement with 27 statements relating to their subjective experience of the illusion. Principal components analysis of this data revealed four major components of the experience across conditions, which we interpret as: embodiment of rubber hand, loss of own hand, movement, and affect. In the asynchronous condition, an additional fifth component, deafference, was found. Secondary analysis of the embodiment of runner hand component revealed three subcomponents in both conditions: ownership, location, and agency. The ownership and location components were independent significant predictors of proprioceptive biases induced by the illusion. These results suggest that psychometric tools may provide a rich method for studying the structure of conscious experience, and point the way towards an empirically rigorous phenomenology.