Whatever Next and Close to My Self—The Transparent Senses and the “Second Skin”: Implications for the Case of Depersonalization

Frontiers in Psychology 12 (2021)
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Abstract

In his paper “Whatever next? Predictive brains, situated agents, and the future of cognitive science,” Andy Clark seminally proposed that the brain's job is to predict whatever information is coming “next” on the basis of prior inputs and experiences. Perception fundamentally subserves survival and self-preservation in biological agents, such as humans. Survival however crucially depends on rapid and accurate information processing of what is happening in the here and now. Hence, the term “next” in Clark's seminal formulation must include not only the temporal dimension but also the spatial dimension. In this paper, we propose to focus on perceptual experiences that happen “next,” i.e., close-to-my-body. This is because perceptual processing of proximal sensory inputs has a key impact on the organism's survival. Specifically, we focus on tactile experiences mediated by the skin and what we will call the “extended skin” or “second skin,” that is, immediate objects/materials that envelop closely to our skin, namely, clothes. We propose that the skin and tactile experiences are not a mere border separating the self and world. Rather, they simultaneously and inherently distinguish and connect the bodily self to its environment. Hence, these proximal and pervasive tactile experiences can be viewed as a “transparent bridge” intrinsically relating and facilitating exchanges between the self and the physical and social world. We conclude with potential implications of this observation for the case of Depersonalization Disorder, a condition that makes people feel estranged and detached from their self, body, and the world.

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