Somatoparaphrenia, Anosognosia, and Higher-Order Thoughts

In Disturbed Consciousness: New Essays on Psychopathology and Theories of Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pp. 55-74 (2015)
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Somatoparaphrenia is a pathology of self characterized by the sense of alienaton from parts of one’s body. It is usually construed as a kind of delusional disorder caused by extensive right hemisphere lesions. Lesions in the temporoparietal junction are common in somatoparaphrenia but deep cortical regions (for example, the posterior insula) and subcortical regions (for example, the basal ganglia) are also sometimes implicated (Valler and Ronschi 2009). Patients are often described as feeling that a limb belongs to another person and thus attribute ownership of the limb and bodily sensation to someone else. There is also some question as to whether or not the higher-order thought (HOT) theory of consciousness can plausibly account for the depersonalization psychopathology of somatoparaphrenia (Liang and Lane 2009, Rosenthal 2010, Lane and Liang 2010). Liang and Lane argue that it cannot. The HOT theory of consciousness says that what makes a mental state a conscious mental state is that it is the target of a HOT to the effect that “I am in mental state M” (Rosenthal 2005, Gennaro 2012). When the HOT is itself is unconscious, the conscious state is still outer-directed. When the HOT is conscious, we have introspection and so the conscious thought is directed at the mental state. In section I, I briefly review the previous exchange between Lane and Liang and David Rosenthal. In section II, I further explore somatoparaphrenia and the nature of delusion while offering a number of additional replies to Lane and Liang. In section III, I examine the central notions of “mental state ownership” and “self-concepts” in an effort to account especially for the depersonalization aspect of somatoparaphrenia against the background of HOT theory. In section IV, I argue that to the extent that somatoparaphrenia casts doubt on the notion that some thoughts are “immune to error through misidentification” (IEM), the most fundamental aspect of IEM is still consistent with HOT theory. Overall, I argue that HOT theory is left unscathed by the pheneomenon of somatoparaphrenia and can even help to explain what happens in these cases.

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Rocco J. Gennaro
University of Southern Indiana


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