The Interrupted Self

In a series of experiments described in articles published in Science in mid 2007, British and Swiss researchers concluded that "their experiments reinforce the idea that the 'self' is closely tied to a 'within-body' position, which is dependent on information from the senses. 'We look at 'self' with regard to spatial characteristics, and maybe they form the basis upon which self-consciousness has evolved'", one of them told the New Scientist ("Out-of-body experiences are 'all in the mind'", news service, 23 August 2007).

The fundament of our mind and of our self is the mental map we create of our body ("Body Image", or "Body Map"). It is a detailed, psychic, rendition of our corporeal self, based on sensa (sensory input) and above all on proprioception and other kinaesthetic senses. It incorporates representations of other objects and results, at a higher level, in a "World Map" or "World Image". This World Map often does not react to actual changes in the body itself (such as amputation - the "phantom" phenomenon). It is also exclusionary of facts that contradict the paradigm at the basis of the World Map.

This detailed and ever-changing (dynamic) map constitutes the set of outer constraints and threshold conditions for the brain's operations. The triple processes of interaction (endogenous and exogenous), integration (assimilation) and accommodation reconcile the brain's "programmes" (sets of instructions) to these constraints and conditions.

In other words, these are processes of solving dynamic, though always partial, equations. The set of all the solutions to all these equations constitutes the "Personal Narrative", or "Personality". Thus, "organic" and "mental" disorders (a dubious distinction at best) have many characteristics in common (confabulation, antisocial behaviour, emotional absence or flatness, indifference, psychotic episodes and so on).

The brain's "Functional Set" is hierarchical and consists of feedback loops. It aspires to equilibrium and homeostasis. The most basic level is mechanical: hardware (neurones, glia, etc.) and operating system software. This software consists of a group of sensory-motor applications. It is separated from the next level by exegetic instructions (the feedback loops and their interpretation). This is the cerebral equivalent of a compiler. Each level of instructions is separated from the next (and connected to it meaningfully and operationally) by such a compiler.

Next follow the "functional instructions" ("How to" type of commands): how to see, how to place visuals in context, how to hear, how to collate and correlate sensory input and so on. Yet, these commands should not be confused with the "real thing", the "final product". "How-to-see" is NOT "seeing". Seeing is a much more complex, multilayered, interactive and versatile "activity" than the simple act of light penetration and its conveyance to the brain.

Thus - separated by another compiler which generates meanings (a "dictionary") - we reach the realm of "meta-instructions". This is a gigantic classificatory (taxonomic) system. It contains and applies rules of symmetry (left vs. right), physics (light vs. dark, colours), social codes (face recognition, behaviour) and synergetic or correlated activity ("seeing", "music", etc.).

Design principles would yield the application of the following principles:

  1. Areas of specialization (dedicated to hearing, reading, smelling, etc.);
  2. Redundancy (unutilized over capacity);
  3. Holography and Fractalness (replication of same mechanisms, sets of instructions and some critical content in various locations in the brain);
  4. Interchangeability - Higher functions can replace damaged lower ones (seeing can replace damaged proprioception, for instance).
  5. Two types of processes:
    1. Rational - discrete, atomistic, syllogistic, theory-constructing, falsifying;
    2. Emotional - continuous, fractal, holographic.

By "fractal and holographic", we mean:

  1. That each part contains the total information about the whole;
  2. That each unit or part contain a "connector" to all others with sufficient information in such a connector to reconstruct the other units if lost or unavailable.

Only some brain processes are "conscious". Others, though equally complex (e.g., semantic interpretation of spoken texts), may be unconscious. The same brain processes can be conscious at one time and unconscious at another. Consciousness, in other words, is the privileged tip of a submerged mental iceberg.

One hypothesis is that an uncounted number of unconscious processes "yield" conscious processes. This is the emergent phenomenal (epiphenomenal) "wave-particle" duality. Unconscious brain processes are like a wave function which collapses into the "particle" of consciousness.

Another hypothesis, more closely aligned with tests and experiments, is that consciousness is like a searchlight. It focuses on a few "privileged processes" at a time and thus makes them conscious. As the light of consciousness moves on, new privileged processes (hitherto unconscious) become conscious and the old ones recede into unconsciousness.


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APA Reference
Vaknin, S. (2009, September 16). The Interrupted Self, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 14 from

Last Updated: July 5, 2018

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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