Self Consciousness, Representations, Anxiety Management. Past, Present and Future (ISPSM 2023 Web conference)


We all agree that our human minds are results of primate evolution. We humans are self conscious. The separation of our human lineage from the chimpanzee one began about 7MY ago (pan homo split). Specificities of human self consciousness have been created during that time. Besides interesting approaches differing from the one proposed here [1], little is known about how these specificities came up [2, 3]. We propose here to address that subject with an evolutionary scenario using meaningful representations, identifications with conspecifics and anxiety management. Taking the beginning of the pan-homo split as a starting point we look at how an evolutionary scenario could have led to our present human self consciousness as object and as subject. An evolutionary anxiety is highlighted as having been a key contributor to the evolutionary scenario with perspectives on a possible future of self consciousness. Human self consciousness is defined here as the meaningful representation of one’s own entity, with the capability to think and talk about it. The evolutionary scenario proposed here is an extension of a previous version [11] that uses an evolution of meaningful representations introduced in previous works [8]. The scenario starts with two types of meaningful representations carried by our non self-conscious pre-human ancestors: representations of parts of themselves (seen hands, heard shouting, actions, …) and representations of conspecifics as entities existing in the environment. The next step uses elementary versions of inter-subjectivity and of identifications with conspecifics that our primate ancestors were capable of. It is proposed that these performances have brought the two types of representations to merge and bring our ancestors to progressively represent their own entity as existing in the environment like conspecifics were represented. We consider such evolutionary approach as introducing an elementary form of self consciousness as object and a s subject, both coming in together. We group them into an “ancestral self consciousness” which was to evolve into our human self consciousness [4]. Such approach avoids the need of a pre-reflective self consciousness [7]. The scenario considers that such identifications took place also with suffering or dying conspecifics. These identifications were sources of specific new fears and anxieties that the scenario groups in an “evolutionary anxiety”, source of important mental sufferings that our ancestors had to limit. Different possibilities were available for that. The scenario proposes that the chimpanzee lineage may have limited what was an unbearable mental suffering by stopping the development of identifications with conspecifics, and by this also stopping a possible evolution toward self-consciousness. This would have led to today chimpanzees. On the other side, our human lineage may have developed anxiety limitation tools like caring, pleasure, anticipation, communication and imitation; such tools also favoring the evolution of our lineage toward human minds . This is illustrated in the scenario by the introduction of an ”evolutionary engine”. In addition, the capacity for anticipation attached to self consciousness has amplified the evolutionary anxiety, leading it to become an overall “ancestral anxiety” which is still present and active in our human minds (with anxiety limitations as a key constraints to satisfy). The many anxiety limitation processes introduced in our lineage during the pan homo split were interrelated. Many came up in addition to the few ones listed here above. Most remain in our human minds at an unconscious level and are active in our everyday lives, much more than assumed so far. Considering a possible future of human self consciousness, nothing tells that human evolution is terminated. Also, the evolutionary scenario introduces the possibility for some anxiety limitation processes to be sources of evil behaviors, more precisely related to a possible pleasure procured by the suffering of others [9]. That (disturbing) background could introduce a better understanding of human mind, and so be an entry point to its future in terms of potential improvements of human nature. The scenario also introduces an evolutionary nature of reflectivity [10] which can question the philosophical need for a pre-reflective self consciousness. Such perspective can also introduce a naturalization of introspection, and then allow to consciously question the nature and content of our mental states. This could open a path for a tentative naturalization of the “what it is like” question for humans and make available an evolutionary link between self consciousness and phenomenal consciousness. A last point to highlight is that the proposed evolutionary scenario uses performances of life like intersubjectivity. This brings to note that a full understanding of the proposed scenario needs an understanding about the nature of life which is not available today. A lot remains to be done on these subjects. Continuations are introduced.



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In Defence of Pre-Reflective Self-Consciousness: The Heidelberg View.Manfred Frank - 2022 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 13 (2):277-293.


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