Abstracts are also available in a PDF file.
Marie Guillot – “I Me Mine: Three Notions for the Sense of Self”
Recent philosophical work on consciousness has brought fresh interest for the classical view that in experiencing the world, we experience ourselves doing so, too: a certain “sense of self” comes with being conscious at all. The current debate, however, suffers from a certain ambiguity regarding what this subjective aspect of experience might amount to. At least three different notions of subjectivity are regularly conflated. After disentangling the three notions in question, under the labels of “for-me-ness”, “me-ness” and “mineness”, I argue that they are not equivalent; in particular, there is no conceptual implication from for-me-ness to me-ness or mineness. Moreover, empirical cases of pathological consciousness (in particular the depersonalisation syndrome and schizophrenic thought insertion) suggest that the three notions may also correspond to different properties. The aim is clarificatory, cautionary but also critical: along the way, I examine a range of arguments in the literature that involve ambiguous notions of subjectivity, and accordingly fail to go through.
Aviva Berkovich-Ohana – “From self to selflessness: Insights from meditation research”
In this talk I show how the triangulation of contemplative practices, various neuroimaging tools and first person reports can inform the accumulating knowledge concerning the ‘sense of self’. I propose three modes of self: narrative-self, minimal-self and selflessness. By means of phenomenology during various forms of meditation as well as neuroimaging results, I first provide evidence supporting a contemplation-induced transition from narrative-self to minimal-self. Then, by demonstrating cases of uniquely advanced meditators which lack the regular minimal self-awareness, as well as volitionally reduce its underlying multi-sensory neural processing, I argue for a state called selflessness. This supports the view that minimal self-awareness can be reduced, and thus is a graded phenomenon. Moreover, I show that the transition from minimal self to selflessness can be identified in neuroimaging data; and that it can be altered through meditative training aimed at eliciting selflessness.
Frédérique de Vignemont – “Agency and Bodily Ownership: The Bodyguard Hypothesis”
I feel the hand that is typing as my own but what grounds such a feeling? Here I will defend a reductionist approach, according to which the sense of ownership can be reduced to some specific properties of bodily experiences. But which properties? One may suggest that the sense of bodily ownership is grounded in the sensorimotor representation of the body known as body schema. However, this agentive hypothesis faces a number of difficulties that cannot be solved without further refinements. In particular, I will argue that one needs to distinguish between two distinct kinds of body schema: the working body schema involved in instrumental actions, and the protective body schema involved in self-defence. I will then propose what may be conceived as an affective conception of the sense of bodily ownership, according to which the sense of bodily ownership consists in the awareness of the boundaries of one’s body as having a special significance for the self. This will lead me to define the phenomenology of ownership as a narcissistic feeling to file with other affective feelings such as the feeling of familiarity.
Shaun Gallagher – “Self-defense: Deflecting The Deflationary Critique”
I defend the phenomenological account of the sense of ownership as part of a minimal sense of self from those critics who defend a deflationary account but reject the phenomenological account. Specifically, I block the deflationary critique by showing that in fact the phenomenological account is itself a deflationary account insofar as it takes the sense of ownership to be implicit or intrinsic to experience and bodily action. I also show how the deflationary account of the sense of ownership is consistent with an enactivist (action-oriented, ecological) view of embodied cognition.
Manos Tsakiris – “Interoception: from homeostasis to self-awareness?”
Modern psychology has long focused on the importance of the body as the basis of the self. However, this focus concerned the exteroceptive body, that is, the body as perceived from the outside, as when we recognize ourselves in the mirror. This influential approach has neglected another important dimension of the body, namely the interoceptive body, that is, the body as perceived from within, as for example when one feels her racing heart. In psychology, research on interoception has focused mainly on its role in emotion. Recent research, however, has attempted to go beyond this approach, aiming instead to show how interoception and interoceptive awareness serve the unity and stability of the self, analogous to the role of interoception in maintaining physiological homeostasis. My talk will consider such findings from studies on infants and adults as a means of going beyond the division between interoception and exteroception to consider their integration in self-awareness. This approach provides an alternative to existing psychological theories of the self insofar it goes beyond the apparent antagonism between the awareness of the self from the outside and from within, to consider their dynamic integration and inform us on how humans navigate the challenging balance between inside and out, in terms of both the individual’s natural (interoception vs. exteroception) and social (self vs. others) embodiment in the world.
Anil Seth – “Being a Beast Machine”
Recent years have seen growing momentum behind the idea that emotional experience and aspects of conscious selfhood depend on predictive perception of interoceptive signals. In its most recent expressions, the notion of ‘interoceptive inference’ proposes that bodily states are allostatically regulated by autonomic reflexes that are enslaved by descending predictions from deep generative models of our internal and external milieu. In this talk I will introduce this general context, calling on Helmholtzian ideas of perception as inference, their generalization to principles of free energy minimization and active inference, and ‘cybernetic’ notions of predictive control and ultrastability. I will outline implications for understanding the functional neuroanatomy of the emotional brain, experiences of embodied selfhood, and the pathoaeitiology of psychiatric conditions such as autism and depression – where interesting new evidence is starting to emerge. Most generally, active interoceptive inference draws new connections between ‘life’ and ‘mind’ and suggests – contrary to the old Cartesian doctrine – that we experience conscious selfhood because of, and not in spite of, the fact that we are ‘beast machines’.
Olaf Blanke – “Experimenting with First-person Perspectives with Aviation Robotics and Neuroscience”
Self-consciousness has been linked to the processing of multisensory bodily signals (bodily self-consciousness, BSC) within a network of cortical regions, including superior parietal cortex, premotor cortex, insula, and posterior temporo-parietal regions. Summarizing research that investigated BSC by exposing subjects to ambiguous multisensory extero- and interoceptive information about the location and appearance of their own body, I will highlight key behavioral, neurophysiological, and neural mechanisms that subtend BSC. I will then discuss recent work that has investigated multisensory-vestibular contributions to spatial aspects of BSC: self-location and first-person perspective. Motivated by early work of GM Stratton our most recent engineering work has developed new experimental setups using immersive virtual reality, robotics, as well as drones and flight simulators to induce experimentally altered states of BSC characterized by abnormal self-location and first-person perspective. I will conclude by arguing that the cortical network processing trunk-centered multisensory signals in peripersonal space is of particular relevance for bodily self-consciousness, including our first-person perspective.
Jakub Limanowski – “The sense of self in hierarchical generative models”
One way to explain the experience of selfhood is that it emerges—in its minimal (non-conceptual, pre-reflective) form—as functionally beneficial in organisms that possess a phenomenally transparent self-model, through a process of identification of a specific part of the model with its content (Metzinger, MIT Press 2004). With its assumption that this phenomenal self-model is implemented by brain processes, such representationalist accounts call for an investigation of brain structure and function. Correspondingly, the active inference framework (Friston, Daunizeau, & Kiebel, PloS one 2009) postulates that a basic representation or model of the “self” necessarily emerges throughout the process of predicting statistical regularities of the world via hierarchical generative models, in which the brains of biological systems are constantly engaged in order to keep “their” organism within “unsurprising” states.
I will argue that active inference, in principle, offers an implementation of the phenomenal self-model in the brain. With its emphasis on the delicate balancing of model predictions versus sensory data across the model’s deep hierarchy, active inference makes exciting novel predictions about the functional role of attention and action for being a self in exchange with the world. Thereby one of the essential assumptions is that the brain’s model constantly tests or enforces its current “hypothesis” against the incoming sensory input—the “self” may, metaphorically, be conceived of as such a hypothesis. Active inference offers a convincing mechanistic scheme of minimal self-representation as predictive and distributed in the brain. I will argue that—although active inference yet remains relatively silent regarding the accompanying phenomenology, i.e., the experience of selfhood—its intuition fits with essential insights about embodiment and minimal self-awareness from philosophy and phenomenology, as well as from experimental research on body representation and action. I will discuss how, and under which necessary conceptual clarification, active inference’s specification of the mechanisms potentially implementing the phenomenal self-model can contribute to answering outstanding questions about minimal phenomenal selfhood, particularly regarding its unified experiential character despite its distributed representational underpinnings, and its situation within a causal world-model including lower- but also higher-level self-representations.
Thomas Metzinger – “MPS Reloaded”
In my contribution, I will take a fresh look at the original (2009) concept of “Minimal Phenomenal Selfhood”, discussing some noteworthy developments and open issues taken from the discussion that followed its publication. I also want to investigate if two more recent conceptual instrument – namely, the idea of an epistemic agent model (EAM) and of a phenomenal unit of identification (UI) – can help get a clearer perspective.
One noteworthy new development is the question if temporal self-location alone – as opposed to the original notion of transparent spatiotemporal self-location – could play the role of a sufficient phenomenological criterion for the ascription of MPS. Jennifer Windt (2015, 2016) has formulated this proposal, by drawing attention to the conceptual relevance of conscious experience during dreamless deep sleep. A second open issue directs attention to the issue of phenomenal indeterminacy: The original proposal would predict that phenomenally opaque spatiotemporal self-location leads to a selfless phenomenology of “This-Here-Now”, while transparent spatiotemporal self-location would reliably create what was termed MPS. But is there a robust phenomenological “fact of the matter” that allows us to determine the minimal level of complexity or introspective granularity at which the phenomenal self reliably “bottoms out” into selfless processes?
One of the implicit and more subversive goals behind the original conceptualization actually was to make people see that there is a fundamental quality of arbitrariness behind all such categorical cut-off points, because, as I would like to claim, if one takes the phenomenology seriously, there really is no such thing as a determinate subjective quality of “selfhood”. Interestingly, in the eight years following its publication, no one seems to have seen this implicit point.