Evolution of representations and intersubjectivity as sources of the self. An introduction to the nature of self-consciousness (2006)

Dissertation, Oxford ASSC 10 (2006)
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Abstract
It is agreed by most people that self-consciousness is the result of an evolutionary process, and that representations may have played an important role in that process. We would like to propose here that some evolutionary stages can highlight links existing between representations and the notion of self, opening a possible path to the nature of self-consciousness. Our starting point is to focus on representations as usage oriented items for the subject that carries them. These representations are about elements of the environment including conspecifics, and can also represent parts of the subject without refering to a notion of self (we introduce the notion of "auto-representation" that does not carry the notion of self-representation). Next step uses the performance of intersubjectivity (mirror neurons level in evolution) where a subject has the capability to mentally simulate the observed action of a conspecific (Gallese 2001). We propose that this intersubjectivity allows the subject to identify his auto-representation with the representations of his conspecifics, and so to consider his auto-representation as existing in the environment. We show how this evolutionary stage can introduce a notion of self-representation for a subject, opening a road to self-conciousness and to self. This evolutionary approach to the self via self- representation is close to the current theory of the self linked to representations and simulations (Metzinger 2003). We use a scenario about how evolution has brought the performance of self-representation to self-consciousness. We develop a process describing how the anxiety increase resulting from identification with endangered or suffering conspecifics may have called for the development of tools to limit this anxiety (empathy, imitation, language), and how these tools have accelerated the evolutionary process through a positive feedback on intersubjectivity (Menant 2004, 2005). We finish by summarizing the points addressed, and propose some possible continuations.
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