How does integration of sensory-substitution-devices (SSDs) into the body-schema provide information to generate a theory of the mechanics of the ‘self’ and its role in consciousness?
thesisposted on 2022-03-29, 03:17 authored by Hugo Rodriguez
The main purpose of this thesis is to offer grounds for a possible theory of the self and consciousness based on research on sensory-substitution-devices (SSDs) – devices that convert signals from one bodily sense, vision for example, into signals that can be read in a different modality, such as tactile vibrations. A main problem of traditional views of the self has been conflating the experiencer with the experienced and I propose, as a possible solution, the existence of two selves, an observer-self that emerges from the synergetic sum total of brain/body functioning, and an observed-self, the unconscious house of our perceptions, personal identity and history. I suggest that this is possible because the selves can be thought of as essentially processing-sensors with the former being the ontological first-person ‘I’, converting biological information into phenomenology, and the latter converting sensorial inputs into biological information. The research method I adopted is philosophical. It comprises literature review to critically deduce how incorporation of SSDs into the body-schema transforms the observed-self of the user. The process involves four main factors, which when viewed together indicate that SSDs generate a novel sense. I differentiate the body-schema and the body-model and I identify four stages of SSDs integration, which changes the feeling of body ownership. Integration creates the separateness of ‘attributions to oneself’, that is, our observed-self, from ‘distal attributions’, which we perceive as non-self. I then propose a schematic representation of consciousness that shows consciousness as a full-spectrum (including unconsciousness) and how brain activity generates our field-of-conscious-awareness, with effectors marking the boundaries of the observed-self. The schema depicts information as travelling unidirectionally; afferent downward signals from the environment (global-to-local), and efferent local-to-global upward output generated by our thoughts and intentions. SSDs modify the observed-self because they act as sensoria inputs as part of the downward process. I close the thesis by suggesting that further research should explore how theories such as autopoiesis and emergentism can assist in explaining and completing the model of consciousness outlined here.