The multiplicity of consciousness and the emergence of the self

In A. S. David & T. T. J. Kircher (eds.), The Self and Schizophrenia: A Neuropsychological Perspective. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 107-120 (2003)
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Abstract

One of the most striking manifestations of schizophrenia is thought insertion. People suffering from this delusion believe they are not the author of thoughts which they nevertheless own as experiences. It seems that a person’s sense of agency and their sense of the boundary between mind and world can come apart. Schizophrenia thus vividly demonstrates that self awareness is a complex construction of the brain. This point is widely appreciated. What is not so widely appreciated is how radically schizophrenia challenges our assumptions about the nature of the self. Most theorists endorse the traditional doctrine of the unity of consciousness, according to which a normal human brain generates a single consciousness at any instant in time. In this paper we argue that phenomenal consciousness at each instant is actually a multiplicity: an aggregate of phenomenal elements, each of which is the product of a distinct consciousness-making mechanism in the brain. We then consider how certain aspects of self might emerge from this manifold substrate, and speculate about the origin of thought insertion.

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Gerard O'Brien
University of Adelaide
Jonathan Opie
University of Adelaide

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