Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ipseity revisited

Continuing the discussion on self-designation and semantic nominalism, here's a series of relevant, past IPS posts starting here:

Another interesting discussion in the meditation/neuroscience paper is on ipseity. On 45 it is described as "bare awareness" without an object. On 64 it is described as "the minimal subjective sense of ‘I-ness’ in experience, and as such, it is constitutive of a ‘minimal’ or ‘core self.’" It is also "a form of self-consciousness that is primitive inasmuch as: 1) it does not require any subsequent act of reflection or introspection, but occurs simultaneously with awareness of the object; 2) does not consist in forming a belief or making a judgment, and 3) is ‘passive’ in the sense of being spontaneous and involuntary." This is distinguished from our narrative self.

A couple of points for now. This bare awareness or ipseity is directly related to a sense of I-ness, ipseity itself referring to this autonomous individuality. So while it might be before the narrative self with its sense of egoic history, it is a self-awareness nonetheless, unique to its apperceiver and I-centric. It is even associated with "bodily processes of life regulation" (65), generally the most primitive brain. So in itself it is not enlightened consciousness but lizard survival awareness, and only through training is this self-regulatory attentional baseline modified and refined.

Another point is that during meditative state training the narrative self is quieted to focus on, or allow, this primitive state to arise. But as this state gains stability it moves from a series of temporary states to more of a permanent trait of consciousness that permeates other states like the narrative self. Hence at some point the narrative self and discursive thought are no longer impediments but expressions of this stable self awareness.

But one thing I find interesting is that per some traditions the process requires this temporary suspension of the narrative self during extended meditative training. Whereas for other traditions the narrative itself is the vehicle to reach our primitive ipseity through story and ritual. Story is the language of this state and can take us there just as surely as any of these more inner focused meditative techniques. In other words, the narrative self is not an obstruction or impediment to our 'true' selves.

On the other hand, or more aptly on but one of Cthulhu's other tentacles, it is also accurate to say that it is our stories that hold us down in metaphysical interpretations of said experiences. Both the traditional meditative paths and some of the more ritualistic narrative paths might reach similar states of Oneness or whatever but both still see this as some kind of heaven. And what gets us to go postmetaphysical turns out to be on the more emergent embodied cognitive enactments than on some primitive, "ever-present" origin.

Here are some more posts from my blog related to my last post above about ipseity and bare awareness. This one is from Churchland on Damasio:

"As Kant might have said to Hume, the brain will not produce awareness unless the nervous system also generates a representation of self -- a representation which carries what we would call 'a point of view.' And this is indeed precisely the hypothesis tendered by Antonio Damasio (1994). According to the Damasio perspective, the neurobiological mechanisms for visual awareness, for example, are essentially interconnected with the mechanisms for representing oneself as a thing that has experiences, that feels, remembers and plans; as a thing occupying space and enduring through time. To suppose that visual awareness can be understood independently of the self-representation is like supposing evolution can be understood independently of environment.

"Damasio's ideas on this score have emerged from many years of observing brain damaged patients, and reflecting on the ways in which awareness is related to self-representation and how that in turn is related to body-representation (For the details of his hypothesis, see his book, Descartes' Error 1994). Against a backdrop of basic neuroanatomy and neurophysiology, Damasio sees representational complexity and interdependence as key elements in explaining consciousness.... Damasio's central idea is both powerful and reasonable: body-representation, which systematically integrates bodily-stimulation and body-state information, provides a scaffolding for self-representation, and self-representation is the anchor point for awareness -- modality specific and otherwise."

And this one is from a review/analysis of Damasio's book Self Comes to Mind:

"On Page 8 he says, 'I believe that conscious minds arise when a self process is added to a basic mind process.' So, in Damasio's view the difference between mind and consciousness is all about the self. He defines 'mind' as the process by which the brain creates images based on its maps, both of the body and of the world. But he says that the mind is unconscious until it has a sense of self.

"Now, based on Damasio's definition, minds have existed for a long time, but they weren't conscious. He says, 'A mind unwitnessed is still a mind.' The key idea is that mind developed independently of consciousness—or at least before it. But they're both rooted in the physical processes of the brain, which itself evolved to maintain life.

"Damasio sees consciousness as being mind plus the self process. Thus consciousness is more than being awake; but of course, you have to be awake to be conscious.

"According to Damasio, consciousness requires that: 1. You are awake; 2. You have an operational mind, that is, one that makes images; and 3. You have what he calls an 'automatic, unprompted, unreduced sense of self.'

"He has what he calls 'core consciousness'—which he describes as having a sense of self in the here-and-now, without a sense of past or future—and 'autobiographical consciousness,' which includes both personhood and identity....this way of thinking about consciousness allows for consciousness to exist in many non-human species.... He emphasizes that 'core consciousness does not require language.'

"After acknowledging the importance of consciousness, Damasio returns to his evolutionary perspective and says we need to acknowledge what came before consciousness—that is to say, much of what the brain and the mind does is unconscious. He rejects the Freudian unconscious, but he refers to 'the large unconscious,' which he says is made up of two ingredients: an active ingredient, which is the maps and images that are constantly being formed and updated (most of which never reach consciousness), and then the dormant ingredient, which is 'the repository of coded records from which explicit images can be formed.'

"So, it's a good thing most of this never reaches consciousness, or we'd drown in the din. The brain takes the overabundance of inputs and tries to compose a coherent narrative. This is another aspect of our limited attentional spotlight—that magicians exploit.

"But despite the importance of consciousness, it is important to remember that it's built on unconscious processes that are in charge of life regulation. Damasio calls these processes 'blind dispositions,' and says that they deliver the rewards and punishments that promote drive, motivation, and emotions. The map-making process is also unconscious; so consciousness is what we would call 'a late-comer to life management.'

"Damasio says that his position is 'Consciousness offers a direct experience of mind, but the broker of the experience is a self, which is an internal and imperfectly instructed informer rather than an external reliable observer.'

"'The brain constructs consciousness by generating a self process within an awake mind;' the parts are the 'mind' and 'wakefulness— which are indispensable—and the 'self.'

"He also proposes that the self is built in stages. The first stage is the protoself. He says that the protoself is a neural description of relatively stable aspects of the organism. The main product of the protoself is spontaneous feelings of the living body, which he calls 'primordial feelings.'

"The second stage is the core self. According to Damasio a pulse of core self is generated when the protoself is modified by an interaction between the organism and an object, and then as a result the images of the object get modified. The modified images of the object and the organism are momentarily linked in a coherent pattern. This is described in a narrative sequence of images, some of which are feelings.

"The third stage, the autobiographical self, occurs when objects in one's biography generate pulses of core self that are subsequently momentarily linked in a largescale coherent pattern.

"Damasio points out that a lot of what's in the unconscious is stuff that has been put there through training—learning. And it allows us to do things, because if we had to concentrate on everything—for example, walking—we wouldn't be able to do anything more complicated. He emphasizes the importance of educating the unconscious so that we're going to respond the way we want. For example, he says moral behavior is a skill set."

A few points on Damasio above related to the previous meditation article on ipseity and awareness. Note that consciousness is not the same as basic mind awareness. The former requires a 'self' and the latter is bereft of one. Core consciousness pre-dates the narrative self and is focused in the present only. It seems this is the 'bare awareness' from the meditation article, which requires ipseity (self), and is not the same as the unconscious 'mind' process (awake awareness) that Damasio distinguishes.This is congruent with my earlier speculations that it requires an 'ego' to meditate, which goes down into the 'mind.' I didn't have Damasio's more refined definitions then, so the ego to which I referred might be more like the core consciousness than the narrative self?

And perhaps most significantly, at least in relation to the discussion of 'free will' here, is that consciousness trains the unconscious via skill learning, moral behavior being but one example. We have some control over our unconscious processes; we are not a complete slave to them. We can and must re-program them to some degree if we are to be human. I realize some of us would prefer to remain unconscious automatons concerned with survival of the fittest, thereby relieving us of any social responsibility, aka regressive Republicans. Good thing the rest of us take advantage of our prefrontal cortex and neuroscientifically grounded sense of 'self' consciousness lest we return to the jungle.

In the thread above I've also made the con
nection that the Witness of meditation fame is indeed the ego. Granted I have to re-frame the ego with more specificity in light of Damasio. In this regard the following is from p. 18 of Self Comes to Mind:

"Countless creatures for millions of years have had active minds happening in their brains, but only after those brains developed a protagonist capable of bearing witness did consciousness begin, in the strict sense, and only after those brains developed language did it become widely known that minds did exist. The witness is something extra that reveals the presence of implicit brain events we call mental."

Or as they say in the integral Navy: "I-I, Captain."

Also of note is that the proto-self is housed in the brainstem and is literally the body-mind, which communicates via image (schemas?) and primordial feelings connected to "sheer existence" (20-2).

In section 2.3.1 of the meditation paper it seems to indicate that the practice in general is through the core self, not the narrative self. They in fact use Damasio as a source for these parts of the self. Section 2.3.2 says that consciousness is the result of integration of various brain areas and is not relegated to any particular area, except the proto-self, according to Damasio. Section 2.3.3 notes that at least some forms of meditation are geared to the core self (ipseity) under the narrative self. Hence it gets close to our autonomous functions of life regulation and stabilize them in a more homeostatic balance, including emotional equanimity. This of course provides a more stable and healthy base for the narrative self, so that it is less twisted with neurosis etc.

I found this interesting article, which basically summarizes everything I've discussed recently. A few excerpts:

"Antonio Damasio (1995) distinguishes three kinds of self that constitute consciousness. At the neural level, there is the non-conscious proto-self. This represents the pattern of neural impulses that, from moment to moment, regulate the body-mind organism in reaction to external objects that perturb homeostasis.

"The core-self is the next level up, the lowest form of awareness that observes the proto-self in the process of being modified by an external object. This produces a basic reflexive sensation e.g. 'I can feel myself becoming irritated by something'. The idea of the core-self draws upon the concept of the transcendental 'I' by the German idealist Fichte (1796/2000), where consciousness is not a pre-existing phenomenon reacting to external obstacles, but rather the phenomenological subject arises in the very interaction between outside objects and the internal activity that deals with this disturbance. The core-self is this very activity (Zizek, 2006).

"Damasio’s third level of consciousness is the autobiographical-self. This is a more elaborated level of consciousness, relying on memories and past experiences, formulating imagined, anticipated futures; essentially our internal story-teller, rendering the first-order experiences of the core-self into personal narratives. This allows for a richer form of consciousness, featuring complex subjective emotions and beliefs.

"The existence of the proto- and core-selves has arguably been demonstrated in Libet’s early experiments using EEGto predict participants’ decisions before they reached subjective awareness (Libet et al., 1979). These experiments portray the core-self as a passive observer, becoming aware of the proto-self after the fact, and could appear to undermine free will, a foundational assumption of phenomenology. Libet himself actually defended free will throughout his life (1999), claiming that it exhibits itself in the ability of the core-self to veto the impulses of the proto-self. The core-self is thus characterised by intentionality, able to exert a degree of control over lower level impulses.

"Two principal forms of Buddhist meditation of interest to researchers are Open Presence (OP) and Focused Attention (FA).... [The latter] from a neurophenomenological perspective...could represent a parsimonious exercise in bolstering the intentional core-self, exerting willful veto power over the incoming impulses of the proto-self.

"Open Presence....refers back to the notion of stripping away the autobiographical 'interested' self to reveal the 'essence', the core-self, which does not engage with the oncoming thoughts and feelings. Its only minimal interest is in observing and describing what it 'sees' (Damasio, 1995), i.e. the proto-self. Hence as practitioners develop their skill in OP, their aim is to cultivate an awareness of the invariant nature of experience (Lutz et al., 2007).
"With regards to the intentional nature of consciousness, an early EEG study found that practicing FA may lead to a partial 'deautomatisation' of the mental processes that interpret perceptual stimuli (Kasamatsu & Hirai, 1966), like turning off our internal auto-pilot and switching to manual control, to use a garish analogy. This would imply that meditation trains the practitioner to have increased control of the core-self where not only is awareness of proto-self activity increased, but the power to inhibit the impulses of the proto-self is strengthened."

Also of interest from the last article is how in the beginning it compares what I've excerpted above with Descartes' dualism, the mind being an immaterial 'ghost in the machine.' At the end he comes full circle, noting this same dualism is inherent to not only Husserl's transcendent consciousness but also to traditional Buddhist notions of transcendent awareness.

This has been of course one of my own criticisms with various brands of shentong above and in other threads. I explained it as as aspect of the rational ego, the autobiographical  self or formal operations in MHC-speak. That's where the Cartesean split occurs, so that when we unwind in meditation to the core self, that first reflective 'I,' we misinterpret it as some form of world-transcendent, metaphysical entity.

Hence the next step beyond the autobiographical self, the centaur, takes us into postmetaphysics, once again grounding these natural states with neuroscience, validating the states but refuting the transcendent interpretations. And as I've said above and elsewhere, we can get more complex in our 'operations,' but until we re-embody and anchor those in our core and proto-selves via meditation or some similar methodology it's all just more complex, yet less integrated, psycho-babble still caught in Cartesian dualism. The real/false reason thread is a good place for review.

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