From ABC (Australia):
Who, or what, is ‘I’?
It’s a question that humans have obsessed over for millennia. Philosophers continue to debate whether or not the ‘self’ exists while scientists attempt to define the seemingly indefinable.
Well, isn’t it a bit like “pain”?
Suppose we said:
Philosophers continue to debate whether or not ‘pain’ exists while scientists attempt to define the seemingly indefinable.
There is nothing indefinable about pain as far as the sufferer is concerned.
But by definition one cannot objectively account for subjectivity – though one can certainly convey to other subjects what it is like. So, doubtless, with “the self.”
That said, “The strange science of self” (Olivia Willis and Lynne Malcolm) recounts the case of Graham, a man convinced that he was dead (later he recovered from the delusion). Neuroscientists learned some interesting things from researching the syndrome from which he suffered, Clotard syndrome:
‘What we know now is that there is a network of brain regions that we have that are responsible for internal awareness, awareness of our own body state, awareness of self-related thoughts,’ Ananathaswamy says. ‘When you are daydreaming and thinking about yourself, this internal awareness network is really active.’
In Graham’s case, the metabolic activity in this network was extremely low—’almost to the levels that have been seen in patients who are said to have been in a condition called unresponsive wakefulness’. More.
But Graham also suffered from problems in the frontal lobes, known to be involved with reasoning.
The double whammy helps us understand the problem: Most of us reason that if we act alive, we are alive, whether or not we feel that way. But our approach requires the consistent exercise of reason against emotion, which doesn’t always work at the best of times. 😉
See also: The human mind, the skinny
The conundrum of consciousness