NRL News

Root of Self Awareness Eludes Researchers

by | Aug 24, 2012

By Wesley J. Smith

Wesley J. Smith

Consciousness.  True self-aware consciousness: It is one of the exceptional attributes of human nature, present in all of us barring immaturity or injury.  And scientists still can’t figure out what it is all about.

An interesting study has recently found that even the areas of the brain in which we experience (or express) consciousness, do not appear to be all there is to the phenomenon.  From the Iowa Now {University of Iowa} story:

“Self-awareness is defined as being aware of oneself, including one’s traits, feelings, and behaviors. Neuroscientists have believed that three brain regions are critical for self-awareness: the insular cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the medial prefrontal cortex. However, a research team led by the University of Iowa has challenged this theory by showing that self-awareness is more a product of a diffuse patchwork of pathways in the brain—including other regions—rather than confined to specific areas.”

Researchers studied “Patient R” who had experienced extensive brain damage in the parts of the brain that believed give rise to self awareness.  But he remained self aware, describing himself as a “normal” person with a “bad memory.”  I like that.

At least scientists have been able to identify what they can’t identify:

“’Here, we have a patient who is missing all the areas in the brain that are typically thought to be needed for self-awareness yet he remains self-aware,’ says co-corresponding author Justin Feinstein, who earned his doctorate at the UI in February. ‘Clearly, neuroscience is only beginning to understand how the human brain can generate a phenomenon as complex as self-awareness.’”

Editor’s note. This appeared on Wesley’s terrific blog.

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