by Thomas Metzinger
How can a conscious self emerge from the physical dynamics unfolding within an embodied brain? And how exactly is the appearance of such a conscious self related to the subjectivity of our target phenomenon – to the fact that it seems to be tied to individual first-person perspectives? Self-consciousness is not just another form phenomenal content, and the conscious experience of selfhood is not just one detail problem among many others. If we aim at a comprehensive theory of consciousness which is conceptually coherent and firmly grounded in empirical data, then the phenomenal self will have to be right at the center of our efforts. Why?
Many anti-reductionist arguments take the epistemical asymmetry between first-person and third-person access to consciousness as their starting point. Philosophically, I will argue that it is a mistake to accept the vague metaphor of a “first-person perspective” as a conceptual primitive, and offer a naturalistic successor concept. I will also show that, metaphysically, no such things as selves actually exist and briefly sketch a theory of the phenomenal self. In support of this claim I will also present new empirical data from an interdisciplinary project in which we try to experimentally generate whole-body illusions and artificial out-of-body experiences in a virtual reality setting. Empirically, I will propose a scientific research program for “minimal phenomenal selfhood”, i.e., a strategy that attempts to isolate the neurofunctional correlates of the simplest form of self-awareness.
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