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Self-awareness vs. Sensory awareness

(Paul Cézanne’s “Orgy," 1880)

What is being asserted?

Axiom 1: Self-awareness & Sensory-awareness are segregated activities in the brain - "There is a complete segregation between self-related cortical regions, revealed through introspection-related activity, and sensorimotor cortex, revealed through rapid categorization-related activity."

Axiom 2: Self-awareness & Sensory-awareness are mutually antagonistic processes - "Rather than showing coactivation, self-related cortex was inhibited during the rapid categorization task below the rest condition, indicating that sensory processing and self-related representations are actually mutually antagonistic processes."

(based on findings from: I. Goldberg, M. Harel, R. Malach. "When the Brain Loses Its Self: Prefrontal Inactivation during Sensorimotor Processing." Neuron (2006), Volume 50, Issue 2, Pages 329-3395)

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What is being contested here?

The common notion that a self-aware observer or 'subject' is needed for subjective awareness - "that subjective awareness involves a kind of interplay between sensory cortex and self-related prefrontal cortex" - is contested by showing that not only are self-awareness and sensory awareness separate, but they are mutually antagonistic processes.

This essentially calls into question the degree that self-representations are engaged and necessary during sensory perception (or "sensory awareness"). "These results argue that... self-representations are not a necessary element in the emergence of sensory perception. Indeed, it appears that self-related activity is actually shut off during highly demanding sensory tasks." (Ibid)

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What are the implications?

i) People are usually functioning with a balance of both self-related and sensory processing tasks.

ii) It is possible for people to lose their sense of self by intense (that is, most divergent from the original equilibrium) sensory processing activity

iii) The specific sensory processing activity conducive to loss of self-awareness may be classed as 'excitatory sensory processes,' which includesall activities that increase sensory processing.

iv) Excitatory sensory processes may be classed further into
--a) Diffused - where all excitatory forms are encouraged (e.g. dance, "sensory overload")
--b) Concentrated - where all excitatory forms are discouraged/inhibited except for one specific form which is focused on most intensely (e.g. meditation, playing music, "losing yourself" in an activity)

v) There may be a correlation between diffused excitatory processes and passivity; also between concentrated excitatory processes and activity (there is volition/will-power involved).

vi) The result of an intense excitatory is the disrupting of the functional balance between self-related and sensory processing tasks (c.f. line i), based on their mutually antagonistic relationship (c.f. Axiom 2)

vii) This disrupted balance consequently disrupts the self-related cortical activities and therefore one's self-representations - essentially, one's sense of self diminishes in direct relation with the intensity of one's level of sensory processing

NOTE: Meditation is classed under 'concentrated excitatory' sensory processes instead of being viewed as inhibitory because it aims at the maximum focused or concentrated excitatory processing on a particular object of meditation. This excitatory concentration is aided by inhibiting all other distracting influences and thoughts but the ultimate aim is absorption into a sensory object, external or imagined (the brain processes imaginary imagery as it does normal sensory stimuli or, "visual perception and imagination share a similar visuotopic organisation" [source 1] [source 2]).
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