Can I Think of Me?
In his book “The Birth of Meaning” Ernest Becker informs me that Kant informed the world two centuries ago that an infant “becomes conscious of himself first as “me”, and then only as an “I”…It means, simply, that the child begins to establish himself as an object of others before he becomes an executive subject…He becomes, in a word, an object to himself; he discovers his body as something in the outside world, as an instrument that belongs to him.”
Recently, while studying the works of Antonia Damasio, I have discovered that in his book The Feeling of what Happens Damasio explains in some detail how the individual discovers the self in the process of experiencing the world.
Core consciousness—“occurs when the brain’s representation devices generate an imaged, nonverbal account of how the organism’s own state is affected by the organism’s processing of an object, and when this process enhances the image of the causative object, thus placing it saliently in a spatial and temporal context”
First, there is emotion, then comes feeling, then comes consciousness of feeling. There is no evidence that we are conscious of all our feelings, in fact evidence indicates that we are not conscious of all feelings.
Proto-self—“a coherent collection of neural patterns which map, moment by moment, the state of the physical structure of the organism in its many dimensions”
How can we begin to be conscious thereby having a sense of self while in the act of knowing?
We develop a nonverbal narrative in time that has a beginning, middle, and ending. The beginning is the neural mapping of the proto-self, the middle is when an external object is perceived, and the ending is a series of reactions resulting from the modification of the proto-self caused by the external object.
In its simplest form, the sense of knowing emerges in the feeling of knowing. The organism’s proto-self, mapped in the brain together with the neural mapping of the object, is modified by the object’s mapping. These transient mental images resulting from the modified proto-self’s neural modification are feelings.
The organism is represented by the proto-self, which originates in the internal milieu, i.e. the viscera, vestibular system, and musculoskeletal frame of the organism. The nonverbal narrative “describes the relationship between the changing proto-self and the sensorimotor maps of the object that causes those changes”. In other words, the brain image of the toothache of which I am bothered affects the static state of the organism’s proto-self.
The organism knows itself in this ‘self relating to object milieu’; the proto-self is being created in the process of knowing.
This wordless narrative, which we identify as thought, is constantly repeated without stop for every object that the brain represents. “It is not possible to run out of “actual” objects or “thought” object, and it is thus not possible to run out of the abundant commodity called core consciousness”.
Knowing is a process that results in a feeling of the proto-self in conjunction with the image of an external object, which causes an integration of the proto-self and the changes therein caused by the object. “Attention is driven to focus on an object and the result is saliency of the images of that object in mind. The object is set out from less-fortunate objects.” This is the birth of meaning.
Knowing springs to life in the narrative of the self interacting with the object. This is perhaps what T.S. Eliot means when he wrote in Four Quartets “music heard so deeply that it is not heard at all…you are the music while the music lasts”.
Quotes from “The Feeling of What Happens” by Antonio Damasio