Evolution as connecting first-person and third-person perspectives of consciousness (ASSC12 2008)

Abstract

First-person and third-person perspectives are different items of human consciousness. Feeling the taste of a fruit or being consciously part of a group eating fruits call for different perspectives of consciousness. The latter is about objective reality (third-person data). The former is about subjective experience (first-person data) and cannot be described entirely by objective reality. We propose to look at how these two perspectives could be rooted in an evolutionary origin of human consciousness, and somehow be connected. Our starting point is a scenario describing how evolution could have transformed a non self-conscious auto-representation into a conscious self-representation (Menant 2006). The scenario is based on the performance of inter-subjectivity existing among non human primates (Gardenfors 2006). A key item of the scenario is the identification of the auto-representation of a subject with the representations that the subject has of her conspecifics, the latter feeding the former with the meaning: “existing in the environment”. So during evolution, pre-human primates were brought to perceive their auto-representation as existing in the environment. Such process could have generated the initial elements of a conscious self-representation. We take this scenario as providing a possible rooting of human consciousness in evolution. We develop here a part of this scenario by expliciting the inward and outward components of the non self-conscious auto-representation. Inward components are about proprioception and interoception (thirst, pain, …). Outward components cover the sensory information relative to the perception of the body (seen feet, … ) and of its effects on the environment. We consider that the initial elements of a conscious self-representation have been applied to both inward and outward components of the auto-representation. We propose that the application to inward components made possible some first-person information, and that the application to outward components brought up third-person information. Relations between the two perspectives are highlighted. Such approach can root first-person and third-person perspectives in the same slot of human evolution. We conclude by a summary of the above and introduce a possible application of this approach to the concepts of bodily self and of pre-reflexive self-consciousness (Legrand, 2006).

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