Skip to main content

How Is Our Self Related to Its Brain? Neurophilosophical Concepts

  • Chapter
  • First Online:
Neuroscience and Social Science

Abstract

The present chapter aims to target yet another central feature of the mind: the self as the subject of all our experience and hence of consciousness. More specifically, the focus is on different concepts of the self and how they are related to recent findings about neural mechanisms related to the self-reference of stimuli. I first introduce different basic concepts of the self as they are currently discussed in philosophy. The first concept of self is the self as mental substance, which was introduced originally by Descartes. This is rejected by current and more empirically oriented concepts of the self where the idea of a mental substance is replaced by assuming specific self-representational capacities. These self-representational capacities represent the body’s and brain’s physical, neuronal states in a summarized, coordinated, and integrated way. As such, the self-representational concept of the self must be distinguished from the phenomenological concept of self that is supposed to be an integral part of the experience and thus of consciousness. This phenomenal self resurfaces in the current debate as the “minimal self”—a basic sense of self in our experience that is supposed to be closely related to both the brain and body. Current neuroscience investigates the spatial and temporal neural mechanisms underlying those stimuli that are closely related to the self when compared to the stimuli that show no relation or reference to the self. This is described as the self-reference effect. When comparing self- versus non-self-specific stimuli, neural activity in the middle regions of the brain, the so-called cortical midline structures, is increased. Moreover, increased neuronal synchronization in the gamma frequency domain can be observed. The question is how specific these findings are for the concept of self as discussed in philosophy. Neuronal specificity describes the specific and exclusive association of the midline regions with the self. This is not the case since the same regions are also associated with a variety of other functions. This goes along with the quest for the psychological and experimental specificity of psychological functions and experimental paradigms and measures used to test for the self. One may also raise the issue of phenomenal specificity: the concept of phenomenal specificity refers to whether the phenomenal features of the self, that is, minessness and belongingness, are distinguished from other phenomenal features like intentionality or qualia. Finally, one may discuss the question of conceptual specificity that targets the distinction between the concepts of self-reference and self.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or eBook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Chapter
USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
eBook
USD 129.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD 169.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info
Hardcover Book
USD 169.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Similar content being viewed by others

References

  1. Northoff G, Heinzel A, de Greck M, Bermpohl F, Dobrowolny H, Panksepp J. Self-referential processing in our brain – a meta-analysis of imaging studies on the self. NeuroImage. 2006;31(1):440–57.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Klein SB. Self, memory, and the self-reference effect: an examination of conceptual and methodological issues. Personal Soc Psychol Rev. 2012;16(3):283–300. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088868311434214.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Klein SB, Gangi CE. The multiplicity of self: neuropsychological evidence and its implications for the self as a construct in psychological research. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010;1191:1–15. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05441.x.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Metzinger T. Being no one: the self-model theory of subjectivity. Cambridge: MIT Press; 2004.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Churchland PS. Self-representation in nervous systems. Science. 2002;296(5566):308–10. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1070564.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Northoff G. Immanuel Kant’s mind and the brain’s resting state. Trends Cogn Sci. 2012;16(7):356–9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2012.06.001.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Zahavi D. Subjectivity and selfhood: investigating the first-person perspective. Cambridge: MIT Press; 2005.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Tsuchiya N, Wilke M, Frässle S, Lamme V. No-report paradigms: extracting the true neural correlates of consciousness. Trends Cogn Sci. 2015;19(12):757–70. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2015.10.002. Epub 2015 Nov 13.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Gallagher II. Philosophical conceptions of the self: implications for cognitive science. Trends Cogn Sci. 2000;4(1):14–21.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Northoff G. Unlocking the brain. Volume I. Coding. New York: Oxford University Press; 2014.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Northoff G. Unlocking the brain. Volume II. Consciousness. New York: Oxford University Press; 2014.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Damasio A. Self comes to mind: constructing the conscious mind. New York: Pantheon; 2010.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Damasio AR. How the brain creates the mind. Sci Am. 1999;281(6):112–7.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Schilbach L, Eickhoff SB, Schultze T, Mojzisch A, Vogeley K. To you I am listening: perceived competence of advisors influences judgment and decision-making via recruitment of the amygdala. Soc Neurosci. 2013;8(3):189–202. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470919.2013.775967.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Pfeiffer UJ, Timmermans B, Vogeley K, Frith CD, Schilbach L. Towards a neuroscience of social interaction. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013;7:22. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00022.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  16. Schilbach L, Bzdok D, Timmermans B, Fox PT, Laird AR, Vogeley K, Eickhoff SB. Introspective minds: using ALE meta-analyses to study commonalities in the neural correlates of emotional processing, social & unconstrained cognition. PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e30920. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0030920.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  17. Nakao T, Ohira H, Northoff G. Distinction between externally vs. internally guided decision-making: operational differences, meta-analytical comparisons and their theoretical implications. Front Neurosci. 2012;6:31. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2012.00031.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  18. de Greck M, Rotte M, Paus R, Moritz D, Thiemann R, Proesch U, Bruer U, Moerth S, Tempelmann C, Bogerts B, Northoff G. Is our self based on reward? Self-relatedness recruits neural activity in the reward system. NeuroImage. 2008;39(4):2066–75. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.11.006.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. de Greck M, Enzi B, Prosch U, Gantman A, Tempelmann C, Northoff G. Decreased neuronal activity in reward circuitry of pathological gamblers during processing of personal relevant stimuli. Hum Brain Mapp. 2010;31(11):1802–12.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. de Greck M, Supady A, Thiemann R, Tempelmann C, Bogerts B, Forschner L, Ploetz KV, Northoff G. Decreased neural activity in reward circuitry during personal reference in abstinent alcoholics – a fMRI study. Hum Brain Mapp. 2009;30(5):1691–704.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. Northoff G (2014) Unlocking the brain. Vol II Consciousness. Oxford University Press, oxford, New Yrk, Oxford.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Georg Northoff .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2017 Springer International Publishing Switzerland

About this chapter

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Northoff, G. (2017). How Is Our Self Related to Its Brain? Neurophilosophical Concepts. In: Ibáñez, A., Sedeño, L., García, A. (eds) Neuroscience and Social Science. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-68421-5_19

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics