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Bruce Hood on The Self Illusion: How the Brain Creates Identity

I think that both the “I” and the “me” are actually ever-changing narratives generated by our brain to provide a coherent framework to organize the output of all the factors that contribute to our thoughts and behaviors.

I think it helps to compare the experience of self to subjective contours – illusions such as the Kanizsa pattern where you see an invisible shape that is really defined entirely by the surrounding context. People understand that it is a trick of the mind but what they may not appreciate is that the brain is actually generating the neural activation as if the illusory shape was really there. In other words, the brain is hallucinating the experience. There are now many studies revealing that illusions generate brain activity as if they existed. They are not real but the brain treats them as if they were. (…)

Me is similarly constructed, though we may be more aware of the events that have shaped it over our lifetime. But neither is cast in stone and both are open to all manner of reinterpretation. As artists, illusionists, movie makers, and more recently experimental psychologists have repeatedly shown, conscious experience is highly manipulatable and context dependent. Our memories are also largely abstracted reinterpretations of events – we all hold distorted memories of past experiences. (…)

By rejecting the notion of a core self and considering how we are a multitude of competing urges and impulses, I think it is easier to understand why we suddenly go off the rails. It explains why we act, often unconsciously, in a way that is inconsistent with our self image – or the image of our self as we believe others see us.

That said, the self illusion is probably an inescapable experience we need for interacting with others and the world, and indeed we cannot readily abandon or ignore its influence, but we should be skeptical that each of us is the coherent, integrated entity we assume we are. (…)

There’s nothing at the center. We’re the product of the emergent property, I would argue, of the multitude of these processes that generate us.” “
Bruce Hood Canadian-born experimental psychologist who specialises in developmental cognitive neuroscience, Director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre, based at the University of Bristol, cited in ☞ The Self Illusion: How the Brain Creates Identity, Lapidarium notes, May, 2012. (Illustration source)
Paul King on what is the best explanation for identity

From the perspective of neuroscience, personal identity is what happens when the brain forms of a model of the environment that includes a first-person perspective and narrative history.

Eric Kandel, lead editor of the textbook Principles of Neural Science, and winner of a Nobel Prize for work on the neural basis of memory, calls memory the “neural basis of individuation.” And it is. For without memory, we could not each carry around a unique sense of self, formed from a differentiated life history.

If everyone on the planet woke up one day with amnesia, human beings would be a herd of mostly undifferentiated people. Without the ability to distinguish one person from another, or remember unique histories or events, everyone becomes a vague blur of humanity.

In addition to our sense of unique personal history, the brain also maintains a model of other people. “Theory of mind" in cognitive science refers to the brain’s ability to model and track the goals, beliefs, and behavior patterns of other human beings around us in a social context. With a little introspection, this model of others can extend to ourself. As one comedian quipped: "How can I know what I think until I hear what I say?"

Because everyone in society carries around a model of themselves and the others they know, all the brains in human society collectively comprise a substrate for the distributed representation of human identity. Our identity is shaped not only by our own beliefs about ourselves, but by what others think of us as well. Social roles are collectively determined, and personality is shaped by how others treat us as well as are predisposition to a certain character and temperament.

And lastly, while personal identity feels unique, unified, and permanent, it is not. Identical twins are often confused. In institutions, people are identified by role (e.g. sales representative for the western region) while the actual person may change. And someone’s personality can change with mood. In children, we see personal identity form, and in senior dementia, we see it unravel.” “
Paul King, visiting scholar at the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience at University of California, Berkeley, working on computational models of vision, What is the best explanation for identity (in a philosophical, neuroscientific, or psychological sense)?, Quora, Jan 18, 2012. (tnx wildcat2030)
Consciousness: The Black Hole of Neuroscience

“The simplest description of a black hole is a region of space-time from which no light is reflected and nothing escapes. The simplest description of consciousness is a mind that absorbs many things and attends to a few of them. Neither of these concepts can be captured quantitatively. Together they suggest the appealing possibility that endlessness surrounds us and infinity is within.” “
— Megan Erickson, Consciousness: The Black Hole of Neuroscience, Big Think, Nov 6, 2011.
Our separation from each other is an optical illusion of consciousness.
Albert Einstein, German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, Nobel Prize laureate, (1879-1955), cited in Brent Marchant, Get the Picture: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies, Conari Press, 2007, p.245.
I believe that the mycelium operates at a level of complexity that exceeds the computational powers of our most advanced supercomputers. I see the mycelium as the Earth’s natural Internet, a consciousness with which we might be able to communicate.
Paul Stamets, American mycologist, author, Mycelium Running, cited in ☞ Google and the Myceliation of Consciousness
What is the self?

“Within the brain, it seems, the self is both everywhere and nowhere. “If you make a list [for what’s needed for a sense of self], there is hardly a brain region untouched,” says cognitive philosopher Thomas Metzinger of Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. Metzinger interprets this as meaning the self is an illusion. We are, he says, fooled by our brains into believing that we are substantial and unchanging. (…)

Studies have shown that each time we recall an episode from our past, we remember the details differently, thus altering ourselves.

So the self
, despite its seeming constancy and solidity, is constantly changing. We are not the same person we were a year ago and we will be different tomorrow or a year from now. And the only reason we believe otherwise is because the brain does such a stellar job of pulling the wool over our eyes.” “
Anil Ananthaswamy, a consultant editor of New Scientist in London, Existence: What is the self?, New Scientist, 04 August 2011
Daniel Dennett: ‘The thing about brains is that when you look in them, you discover that there’s nobody home.’

“According to Daniel Dennett, there is no place that controls behavior, no place that creates “walking,” no place where the soul of being resides. Dennett: “The thing about brains is that when you look in them, you discover that there’s nobody home.” Dennett is slowly persuading many psychologists that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon arising from the distributed network of many feeble, unconscious circuits. (…)

“The old model says there is this central place, an inner sanctum, a theater somewhere in the brain where consciousness comes together. That is, everything must feed into a privileged representation in order for the brain to be conscious. When you make a conscious decision, it is done in the summit of the brain. And reflexes are just tunnels through the mountain that avoid the summit of consciousness.
Daniel Dennett, American philosopher, writer and cognitive scientist, cited in Kevin Kelly, Out of Control The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World, (2004), Illustrated Edition 2008, p. 42-43. See also: Daniel Dennett on consciousness

The Neurobiology of “We”.  Relationship is the flow of energy and information between people

"Relationship [is] “the flow of energy and information between people.” Mind is “an embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information, consciousness included. Mind is shared between people. It isn’t something you own; we are profoundly interconnected. We need to make maps of we because we is what me is!” (…) The mechanism is the brain; subjective impressions and consciousness are mind. The regulation of energy and information flow is a function of mind as an emergent process emanating from both relationships and brain. Relationships are the way we share this flow. (…) “Everything we experience, memory or emotion or thought, is part of a process, not a place in the brain! Energy is the capacity to do stuff. (…)

Information is literally a swirl of energy in a certain pattern that has a symbolic meaning; it stands for something other than itself. Information should be a verb; mind, too—as in minding or informationing. And the mind is an embodied and relational emergent process that regulates the flow of energy and information.” (…)

[Mirror neurons] dissolve the border between you and others. These mirror neurons are a hardwired system designed for us to see the mind-state of another person. (…)  They automatically and spontaneously pick up information about the intentions and feelings of those around us, creating emotional resonance and behavioral imitation as they connect our internal state with those around us, even without the participation of our conscious mind.” (…)

Right hemisphere signals (are those) the mirror neuron system uses to simulate the other within ourselves and to construct a neural map of our interdependent sense of a ‘self.’ It’s how we can be both an ‘I’ and part of an ‘us.’” (…)

“You can take an adult brain in whatever state it’s in and change a person’s life by creating new pathways,” (…) “Since the cortex is extremely adaptable and many parts of the brain are plastic, we can unmask dormant pathways we don’t much use and develop them. A neural stem cell is a blob, an undifferentiated cell in the brain that divides into two every twenty-four hours. In eight–ten weeks, it will become established as a specialized neural cell and exist as a part of an interconnected network. How we learn has everything to do with linking wide areas of the brain with each other.” (…)

The brain is exquisitely social, and emotions are its fundamental language. Through them we become integrated and develop an emergent resonance with the internal state of the other.” (…) “Relationship is key,” (…) “When we work with relationship, we work with brain structure. Relationship stimulates us and is essential in our development.”

— Patty de Llosa, author, ☞ The Neurobiology of “We”, Parabola Magazine, 2011, Daniel Siegel, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center.
Nicholas Humphrey on consciousness

“We have been seeking evidence of how, for you as a conscious creature, phenomenal consciousness changes your worldview, so as to change the direction of your life. We have seen first how it makes you care about pure being and promotes your will to live, and next how it makes you attribute value and meaning to things in the external world. I would say these effects, between them, are quite sufficient to explain why natural selection would have redesigned sensation to give it phenomenal qualities, probably quite early on in evolution, and at any rate long before our ancestors became human. (…)

Indeed, what a strange state of affairs.
Nothing else in the world is private in the same way that conscious experience is. Everything else in the world joins up in the four-dimensional space-time manifold that basic physics says is sufficient to describe the universe. But consciousness, it seems, is essentially different. Each individual’s consciousness is as much a world apart, on its own plane of existence, as is each separate universe in the “multiverse” that cosmologists sometimes fantasize about. Forget the open doors between one conscious self and another; it seems there is not even the possibility of tunneling through a wormhole.” “
Nicholas Humphrey, English psychologist, former professor at the London School of Economics, Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness , Princeton University Press, 2011 (tnx johnsparker)
Carl G. Jung on archetypes and “collective unconscious”

“A more or less superficial layer of the unconscious is undoubtedly personal. I call it the personal unconscious”. But this personal layer rests upon a deeper layer, which does not derive from personal experience and is not a personal acquisition but is inborn. This deeper layer I call the “collective unconscious”. I have chosen the term “collective” because this part of the unconscious is not individual but universal; in contrast to the personal psyche, it has contents and modes of behaviour that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals. (…)

Whereas the personal unconscious consists for the most part of “complexes”, the content of the collective unconscious is made up essentially of “archetypes”. The concept of the archetype, which is an indispensable correlate of the idea of the collective unconscious, indicates the existence of definite forms in the psyche which seem to be present always and everywhere. Mythological research calls them ‘motifs’; in the psychology of primitives they correspond to Levy-Bruhl's concept of “representations collectives,” and in the field of comparative religion they have been defined by Hubert and Mauss as ‘categories of the imagination’. (…)

My thesis, then, is as follows: In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. (…)

We must now turn to the question of how the existence of archetypes can be proved. Since archetypes are supposed to produce certain psychic forms, we must discuss how and where one can get hold of the material demonstrating these forms. The main source, then, is dreams, which have the advantage of being involuntary, spontaneous products of nature not falsified by any conscious purpose. By questioning the individual one can ascertain which of the motifs appearing in the dream are known to him. (…) Consequently, we must look for motifs which could not possibly be known to the dreamer and yet behave functionally of the archetype known from historical sources.” “
Carl G. Jung, Swiss psychiatrist, an influential thinker and the founder of Analytical Psychology (1875-1961), The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 1934, p.3-4, 42-43, 48.
David Eagleman: Your brain creates your sense of self, incognito

“Who can blame you for thinking you deserve the credit? The brain works its machinations in secret, conjuring ideas like tremendous magic. It does not allow its colossal operating system to be probed by conscious cognition. The brain runs its show incognito.” “
David Eagleman, neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, where he directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action and the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, Pantheon Books, 2011. See also: ☞ Your brain creates your sense of self, incognito, CultureLab, Apr 19, 2011.
David Eagleman on the conscious mind

David Eagleman on the conscious mind

"What Freud intuited and neuroscience has confirmed is that the vast majority of your neural activity occurs at levels for which the conscious you, “the ‘I’ that flickers to life when you wake up in the morning”, just doesn’t have security clearance.

"The conscious mind is not at the centre of the action in the brain; instead, it is far out on a distant edge, hearing but whispers of the activity. (…) A mere 400 years after our fall from the centre of the universe, we have experienced the fall from the centre of ourselves."

Things which seem to come naturally to you, such as instincts, appetites, perceptions, desires and motor functions, seem so, not because they don’t require much brain activity, but because they’re the product of neural sub-routines that run more efficiently when the conscious mind isn’t invited to get involved. (…)

Consciousness was needed in order to manage an increasing number of complex and competing neural sub-populations. This explains our impulse for coherent narratives, and why we’re able to argue with ourselves, or talk ourselves into something.”

David Eagleman's Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain reviewed by Laurence Phelan in The Independent, 17 April 2011.

“Who can blame you for thinking you deserve the credit? The brain works its machinations in secret, conjuring ideas like tremendous magic. It does not allow its colossal operating system to be probed by conscious cognition. The brain runs its show incognito.”

David Eagleman, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, Pantheon Books, 2011.
“Ours is an incredible story. As far as anyone can tell, we’re the only system on the planet so complex that we’ve thrown ourselves headlong into the game of deciphering our own programming language. Imagine that your desktop computer began to control its own peripheral devices, removed its own cover and pointed its webcam at its own circuitry. That’s us.

And what we’ve discovered by peering under the hood ranks among the most significant intellectual developments of our species: the recognition that the innumerable facets of our behavior, thoughts, and experience are inseparably yoked to a vast, wet, chemical-electrical network called the nervous system. The machinery is utterly alien to us, and yet, somehow, it is us. (…)

Brains are in the business of gathering information and steering behavior appropriately. It doesn’t matter whether consciousness is involved in the decision making. And most of the time it’s not. Whether we’re talking about dilated eyes, jealousy, attraction, the love of fatty foods, or the great idea you had last week, consciousness is the smallest player in the operations of the brain. (…) Most of what we do and think and feel is not under conscious control. Our brains run mostly on autopilot, and the conscious mind has little access to the giant and mysterious factory that runs below it. (…)

The brain is a complex system, but that doesn’t mean it’s incomprehensible. Our neural circuits were carved by natural selection to solve problems that our ancestors faced during our species’ evolutionary history. Your brain is carved by evolutionary pressures just as your spleen and eyes are. And so is your consciousness. Consciousness developed because it was advantageous, but advantageous only in limited amounts. Our conscious minds are limited representations of the activity in our heads. Consciousness is the lowest man on the totem pole in the power structure of the brain. Most of what we do and think and feel is not under conscious control. (…)

Your conscious mind is [like] newspaper. Your brain is buzzing with activity around the clock, and, just like the nation, almost everything transpires locally: small groups are constantly making decisions and sending out messages to other groups. Out of these local interactions emerge larger coalitions. By the time you read a mental headline, the important action has already transpired, the deals are done. You have surprisingly little access to what happened behind the scenes. Entire political movements gain ground-up support and become unstoppable movements before you ever catch wind of them as a feeling or intuition or thought that strikes you. You’re the last one on the chain of command to hear the information.

However, you’re an odd kind of newspaper reader, reading the headline and taking credit for the idea as though you thought of it first. You intuitively say, “I just thought of something,” when in fact your brain is doing enormous amounts of work before the moment of genius strikes. When an idea is served up from behind the scenes, the neural circuitry has been working on the problems for hours or days or years, consolidating information and trying out new combinations. But you merely take credit without further wonderment at the vast, hidden political machinery behind the scenes. (…)

Almost the entirety of what happens in your mental life is not under your conscious control. The truth is that it’s better this way. Consciousness can take all the credit it wants, but it is best left at the sidelines for most of the decision-making that cranks along in your brain. When it meddles in details it doesn’t understand, the operation runs less effectively. Once you start thinking about where your fingers are jumping on the piano keyboard, you can no longer pull off the piece.

To demonstrate the interference of consciousness as a party trick, hand a friend two dry erase markers – one in each hand – and ask him to sign his name with his right hand at the same time that he’s signing it backward (mirror reversed) with his left hand. He will quickly discover that there is only one way he can do it: by not thinking about it. By excluding conscious interference, his hands can do the complex mirror movements with no problem—but if he thinks about his actions, the job gets quickly tangled in a bramble of stuttering strokes. (…)

So consciousness is best left uninvited from most of the parties. When it does get included, it’s usually the last one to hear the information.”

See also:

David Eagleman on how we constructs reality, time perception, and The Secret Lives of the Brain
David Eagleman on Being Yourselves, lecture at Conway Hall, London, 10 April 2011.
Your brain creates your sense of self, incognito, CultureLab, Apr 19, 2011.
☞ David Eagleman, Your Brain Knows a Lot More Than You Realize, DISCOVER Magazine, Oct 27, 2011
Antonio Damasio on consciousness
☞ David Eagleman, Henry Markram, Will We Ever Understand the Brain?, California Academy of Sciences San Francisco, CA, video, 11.02.2011
☞ Consciousness tag on Lapidarium
David Eagleman, neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, where he directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action and the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, Pantheon Books, 2011, p.6, 12. (Illustration source)
Our conscious motivations, ideas, and beliefs are a blend of false information, biases, irrational passions, rationalizations, prejudices, in which morsels of truth swim around and give the reassurance albeit false, that the whole mixture is real and true. The thinking processes attempt to organize this whole cesspool of illusions according to the laws of plausibility. This level of consciousness is supposed to reflect reality; it is the map we use for organizing our life.
Erich Fromm, social psychologist, psychoanalyst, humanistic philosopher (1900-1980), The Art of Being, Continuum, 1994.
Christopher Bray on individual consciousness

“The idea of man, of the individual consciousness struggling to get a hold on a world external to itself, was just that – an idea. And like all ideas it was a product of language, or, more precisely, language’s ability to run rings around its putative users.

Because, so the theory goes, you don’t speak language. Language speaks you. You might think of speech or writing as ways of expressing what’s on your mind or in your heart but all you’re really doing is mouthing the cliches that linguistic structures (and strictures) permit. Marx said man was alienated from his nature. Freud said man was alienated from his desires. But for the post-structuralists, the very idea of man was itself alienating. Had Descartes really had a self, he’d have been kidding it when he said, “I think, therefore I am”. "I think, therefore I am being thought" is nearer to the deconstructionist mark. Or as Derrida more famously put it, “There is nothing outside the text”.” “
— Christopher Bray (is working on a history of 1960s culture and politics), Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy Since 1960 by Gary Gutting – review, The Observer, 20 March 2011. See also: Jeff Meyerhoff, Individual Consciousness