Year : 2023 | Volume
: 11 | Issue : 2 | Page : 77--78
Conscious experience of self: An ever enchanting phenomenon
Bindu M Kutty, PN Ravindra
Department of Neurophysiology, Center for Consciousness Studies, NIMHANS, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
Prof. Bindu M Kutty
Department of Neurophysiology, Center for Consciousness Studies, NIMHANS, Bengaluru, Karnataka
|How to cite this article:|
Kutty BM, Ravindra P N. Conscious experience of self: An ever enchanting phenomenon.J Appl Conscious Stud 2023;11:77-78
|How to cite this URL:|
Kutty BM, Ravindra P N. Conscious experience of self: An ever enchanting phenomenon. J Appl Conscious Stud [serial online] 2023 [cited 2023 Dec 1 ];11:77-78
Available from: http://www.jacsonline.in/text.asp?2023/11/2/77/384457
We often ponder over many insightful queries such as “What is the nature of my existence?” or “Who am I?” or What exactly is consciousness and Where does it arise. Such inquiries have intrigued philosophers and psychologists for a long time. Consciousness refers to the state of being conscious, i.e. the qualitative feeling of our subjective awareness and experience that is emerged out of our perceptions, thoughts, feelings, etc., However, deciphering the underlying scientific basis of consciousness or subjective - first-person experience or “David Chalmer's” hard problem of consciousness (relationship between the physical phenomena such as brain activity and experience) is still an enigma.
To delineate the concept of consciousness, it is important to delineate the concept of self and its illusory nature. William James concept of “I”– is essential for experiencing the current moment with an awareness of having a body with boundaries and the concept of “me” to generate a coherent and integrated idea of self, essential to shape a person over time. Similarly, Damasio's concepts such as proto-self (the basic self, generated by the brain), core self or core consciousness (thoughts and feelings of first-person perspective), and autobiographical self or extended consciousness (continuous stream of memories), and Gallagher's minimal self (consciousness of oneself or I ness in the present moment) and narrative self (perception of a coherent, unified self, to create a sense of personal identity, or “me” feeling) provide immense insight on the multidimensional facets of the concept of self. It is also important to keep in mind that a sense of self-though essential for proper social functioning, various schools, especially the Indian philosophical schools, including yoga, reject the existence of a coherent, integrated, individual self (or “I” ness) and consider that such an illusory self is the creation of our brain. Further, these schools provide methods to experience the existence of a content-free universal self or pure awareness, referred to as “Consciousness.”
Going deep, the phenomenology of self is distinguished between bodily self-experience and mental self-experience. Bodily self-experience is associated with alterations in bodily boundaries, sense of bodily ownership, and self-awareness, whereas mental self-awareness is related to autobiographical self and sense of thought ownership. From a psychological perspective, yogic experiences help in the dissolution of the sense of self itself or diminishing the distinction between “self and other” and increasing the sense of oneness. Despite such alterations, the fundamental property of selfhood – “I” ness persists. This aspect of experiencing “minimal selfhood” is the core of experience and needs deeper exploration to understand how this aspect is embedded in the physiological/neural system. Neuroscientific studies have delineated the distinctions in experiencing different aspects of self. Structures such as default mode network are associated with self-referential processing, medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) in social understanding of others, anterior mPFC and posterior cingulate cortex in making self-and-other distinctions, and temporoparietal junction to delineate the mental process linked with the theory of mind. Integration of all helps in experiencing body ownership and generating a model of self in the brain.
India, being the land of mystics and enlightened ones, has an enormous amount of narrative literature on mystical experiences. Such mystical experiences, irrespective of the school of philosophy and meditation/religious practice, ultimately do lead towards an experiential defusion and dereification. The commonly mentioned mystical experiences include the sense of oneness with all, intense altruism, extreme clarity in thoughts and thinking, transcending the sense of individual “self,” the experience of timelessness and spacelessness, and revelations of new perspective (new insights) of the world. Thus, the trait characteristic of meditation/religious practices – is being more altruistic and the sense of oneness that gets embedded in the personality. It is essential to delineate the underlying common mechanism that generates such mystical experiences. The mystical experiences of meditation/religious practices have a potential transformative capability and therefore, the transformative potential of altered states of consciousness through meditation needs to be explored more and to be distinguished with that brought by psychedelic drugs.
Scientific studies on meditation carried out in the past helped us to understand how such holistic practices enhance our capabilities in physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions. Long-term proficient meditation practices enhance brain resilience, cognitive capabilities, and emotion regulation, heightened sense of well-being and altruism, and the neural correlates of such transformations are recognized. In recent years, much emphasis is given to neurophenomenological studies to delineate both the neural phenomena and the subjective experience associated with meditation practice. Such approaches help to decipher the neural mechanisms of experiential defusion and cognitive dereification and identify how the sense of an individual self is reduced to experience a nondual, pure awareness. With the advancement of scientific studies and technology together with approaches such as machine learning, it is important to design studies on the neural pattern of experience, track the journey, or transformation toward experiencing a state of “ego dissolution,” thereby, cultivating a sense of oneness and altruism! We need to have a more productive interdisciplinary program to study consciousness that would benefit society at large. Such approaches will also help us to look at neuropsychiatric disorders from the perspective of disorders of consciousness. Science of consciousness would be considered a nidus or a focus point of academic venture for harnessing human potential and integral evolution that enables us to create a better world.