When actions feel alien: An explanatory model

In Tzu-Wei Hung (ed.), Communicative Action. Springer Science+Business. pp. 53-74 (2014)
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It is not necessarily the case that we ever have experiences of self, but human beings do regularly report instances for which self is experienced as absent. That is there are times when body parts, mental states, or actions are felt to be alien. Here I sketch an explanatory framework for explaining these alienation experiences, a framework that also attempts to explain the “mental glue” whereby self is bound to body, mind, or action. The framework is a multi-dimensional model that integrates personal and sub-personal components, psychological and neural processes. I then proceed to show how this model can be applied to explain the action-related passivity experiences of persons suffering from schizophrenia. I argue that a distinctive phenomenological mark of these experiences is that they are vividly felt, unlike ordinary actions (those taken to belong to self), and I seek to explain these heightened sensory experiences from within the proposed framework. I also propose hypotheses concerning such phenomena as thought insertion and anarchic hand syndrome that are motivated by this framework. Finally, I argue that the proposed model and view of self-experiences is consistent with several aspects of and theories of consciousness, especially theories which indicate that consciousness is more likely to be engaged when we are dealing with novelty or error—e.g. when self seems to have gone missing. I conclude by recommending that if we wish to learn about self, we would be well advised to attend closely to those times when it seems absent.

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Timothy Joseph Lane
Academia Sinica


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