When Actions Feel Alien—an Explanatory Model

  • Timothy LaneEmail author
Conference paper


It is not necessarily the case that we ever have experiences of self, but human beings do regularly report instances for which self is experienced as absent. That is, there are times when body parts, mental states, or actions are felt to be alien. Here, I sketch an explanatory framework for explaining these alienation experiences, a framework that also attempts to explain the “mental glue” whereby self is bound to body, mind, or action. The framework is a multidimensional model that integrates personal and sub-personal components, psychological and neural processes. I then proceed to show how this model can be applied to explain the action-related passivity experiences of persons suffering from schizophrenia. I argue that a distinctive phenomenological mark of these experiences is that they are vividly felt, unlike ordinary actions (those taken to belong to self), and I seek to explain these heightened sensory experiences from within the proposed framework. I also propose hypotheses concerning such phenomena as thought insertion and anarchic hand syndrome that are motivated by this framework. Finally, I argue that the proposed model and view of self-experiences is consistent with several aspects of and theories of consciousness, especially theories which indicate that consciousness is more likely to be engaged when we are dealing with novelty or error—e.g., when self seems to have gone missing. I conclude by recommending that if we wish to learn about self, we would be well advised to attend closely to those times when it seems absent.


Conscious Experience Rubber Hand Illusion Posterior Insula Passivity Experience Intentional Binding 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I express my heartfelt gratitude to Ellie Hua Wang and to Tzu-Wei Hung for their constructive comments on previous versions of this manuscript. For much useful discussion, I am also grateful to the many other participants in Academia Sinica’s International Conference on Language and Action, Taipei, Taiwan (September 17–18, 2013). Funding for this research was, in part, provided by National Science Council of Taiwan research grants, 100-2410-H-038-009-MY3 and 102-2420-H-038-001-MY3.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate Institute of Humanities in MedicineTaipei Medical UniversityTaipeiTaiwan

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