For Mona, and Identity
MindHacks post: Is this the end of the mystery of self-awareness?: pointing to an essay by V.S. Ramachandran on consciousness and self: SELF AWARENESS: THE LAST FRONTIER.
His arguments use cases of various anomalies in the brain to point to how ‘self’ and ‘consciousness’ is constructed. For him (and this is me oversimplifying) it seems to come down to mirror neurons
I also suggest that although these [mirror] neurons initially emerged in our ancestors to adopt another’s allocentric visual point of view, they evolved further in humans to enable the adoption of another’s metaphorical point of view. (“I see it from his point of view” etc.) …
There are also: “touch mirror neurons” that fire not only when your skin is touched but when you watch someone else touched. This raises an interesting question; how does the neuron know what the stimulus is? Why doesn’t the activity of these neurons lead you to literally experience the touch delivered to another person? … It is a sobering thought that the only barrier between you and others is your skin receptors!
… despite all the pride that your self takes in its individuality and privacy, the only thing that separates you from me is a small subset of neural circuits in your frontal lobes interacting with mirror neurons. Damage these and you “lose your identity”—your sensory system starts blending with those of others…
… there may be dysfunctional interaction between the mirror neurons and frontal inhibitory structures leading to a dissolution of the sense of self as being distinct from others (or indeed from the world ). Lose the world and lose yourself—and it’s as close to death as you can get.
… these same circuits [might] become hyperactive … The result would be an intense heightening of the patient’s sensory appreciation of the world and intense empathy for all beings to the extent of seeing no barriers between himself and the cosmos—the basis of religious and mystical experiences.
The skandas are empty. Form, feeling, perception, mental formations, consciousness are not self, are not identity. Body is just a filter for sensation. We are only our relationship with the world, not fixed, always changing, only this moment.
Update Wednesday, December 31, 2008: