Hierarchical Brain

An explanation of the human brain

First published 1st February 2024. This is version 1.5 published 2nd March 2024.
Three pages are not yet published: sleep, memory and an index.
Copyright © 2024 Email info@hierarchicalbrain.com

Warning - the conclusions of this website may be disturbing for some people without a stable mental disposition or with a religious conviction.

Self symbol schema

The self symbol schema is my term for the large symbol schema in the brain that represents the self; it is a model within the brain of both the body and the brain, so is a self-referential entity. This enables us to think of ourselves and what we are thinking about and is a requirement for creating our sense of self-awareness.

The self symbol schema is at level 4 in my hierarchical structure of levels of description, along with all other symbol schemas, although it perhaps seems as though it should be higher because it takes longer to develop and become useful than most other symbol schemas. Once self-awareness is in place, at level 6, it becomes clear that I am my self symbol schema.

I have deliberately not used a hyphen in the name because there is a double meaning as both a self-symbol schema (a schema for the self-symbol), but also a self symbol-schema (a symbol schema for the self).

Contents of this page
Overview - a high level description of the self symbol schema.
Details - details of my proposals.
References - references and footnotes.


Details of my proposals

References For information on references, see structure of this website - references

  1. ^ Consciousness: An overview of the phenomenon and of its possible neural basis - Damasio and Meyer 2009
    Chapter 1 in the book “The Neurology of Consciousness: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropathology” - ed. Laureys and Tononi 2009
    downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    Page 8, right-hand column, third paragraph: “The brain represents varied aspects of the structure and current state of the organism in a large number of neural maps from the level of the brainstem and hypothalamus to that of the primary and association somatosensory cortices (e.g., SI, S2, insular cortex, parietal cortex), and, for example, the cingulate cortex. The state of the internal milieu, the viscera, the vestibular apparatus, and the musculoskeletal system are thus continuously represented as a set of activities we call the 'proto-self'.”
  2. ^ Ibid. Consciousness: An overview of the phenomenon and of its possible neural basis
    Page 6, under the heading “Varieties of consciousness”, second paragraph: “The sense of self which emerges in core consciousness is the 'core self', a transient form of knowledge, recreated for each and every object with which the organism interacts.”
    Page 7, third paragraph: “...core consciousness is a prerequisite for the focusing and enhancement of attention and working memory; enables the establishment of explicit memories; is indispensable for language and normal communication; and renders possible the intelligent manipulations of images (e.g., planning, problem solving, and creativity).”
  3. ^ Ibid. Consciousness: An overview of the phenomenon and of its possible neural basis
    Abstract, third sentence: “'Extended consciousness' occurs when objects are related to the organism not only in the 'here and now' but in a broader context encompassing the organism’s past and its anticipated future.”
    Page 6, under the heading “Varieties of consciousness”, fifth sentence: “Extended consciousness is a complex biological phenomenon and is mentally layered across levels of information; it evolves during the lifetime of the organism; it depends on memory; and it is enhanced by language.”
  4. ^ The strange order of things: Life, feeling and the making of cultures - Antonio Damasio Pantheon Books USA 2018
    See page 151, second paragraph “... part of the process of subjectivity is made from the same kind of material with which we construct the manifest contents held in subjectivity, specifically, images. But while the kind of material is the same, the source is different. Rather than corresponding to the objects, actions, or events, which normally dominate consciousness, these particular images correspond to general images of our own bodies, as a whole, caught in the act of producing those other images. This new set of images constitutes a partial revelation of the process of making the manifest contents of mind deftly and quietly inserted along those other images [sic].... The new set of images helps describe nothing less than the owner’s body in the process of acquiring other images, but unless you pay close attention, you hardly notice them.”
    This seems to be saying, in rather imprecise language, that the brain creates 'images' (which are what I call symbol schemas) that represent the making of other images, i.e. the process of perception. So this is very similar to my cognoception.
  5. ^ The Cognitive Neurosciences ed. Gazzaniga Fourth Edition MIT Press USA 2009
    Chapter 9 “Memory”, Page 390, under the heading “Declarative Memory”, first column: “Episodic memories always include the self as the agent or recipient of some action.”
    And second column, second paragraph : “Episodic and semantic memory appear at different ages. Babies who are 2 years old have been able to demonstrate recall of things they had witnessed at age 13 months. It isn’t until children are at least 18 months, however, that they actually seem to include themselves as part of the memory, although this ability tends to be more reliably present in 3- to 4-year olds.”
  6. ^ ^ The Head Bone's Connected to the Neck Bone - When do Toddlers Represent Their Own Body Topography - Brownell, Nichols, Svetlova, Zerwas and Ramani 2010
    doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01434.x downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    Page 1, end of abstract: “It is concluded that children possess an explicit, if rudimentary, topographic representation of their own body’s shape, structure, and size by 30 months of age.”
    Page 1, beginning of main text: “Children begin learning about their own bodies as newborns. Within a few hours of birth neonates can tell if the hand caressing their cheek belongs to someone else or is their own. As infants use their bodies to engage the world - moving through space, watching their own hands and feet, playing with objects and people - they discover how their bodies move, what their bodies are capable of, and how their bodies and body parts relate to other things in the world. Thus, infants differentiate their bodies and actions from the physical and social world very early, developing a pre-reflective, 'tactile, auditory, and kinesthetic ...bodily self' over the course of the first year. This implicit, perceptually specified bodily self becomes explicit and available to conscious awareness beginning in the second year of life as toddlers become able to take their own bodies and actions as objects of reflective thought. Recent studies have shown that children become consciously aware of the size of their own bodies and of their bodies as potential obstacles or impediments late in the second year of life, with development continuing into at least the third year.”
  7. ^ The Development of Body Self-Awareness - Moore, Mealiea, Garon, Povinelli 2010
    doi: 10.1111/j.1532-7078.2007.tb00220.x downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    Page 158, first paragraph: “For example, Bahrick and Watson demonstrated that infants from 3 to 5 months were able to detect the correspondence between visual and proprioceptive information of their own movements in the sense that they could extract an amodal [relating not to only one sense] temporal invariance when presented with live video of their own leg movements. There is also evidence that such young infants can also extract spatial invariances across visual and proprioceptive information.”
  8. ^ Ibid. The Development of Body Self-Awareness
    Page 158, second paragraph: “Amsterdam reported that late in the first year and early in the second, children’s most common response was to show a combination of social behavior to the mirror image, searching for the image in or behind the mirror, and observing the effects of their own movement in the mirror. Only after 18 months did children start to show evidence of recognizing the image as the self by touching the mark on their own faces.”
  9. ^ “So Big”: The Development of Body Self-Awareness in Toddlers - Brownell, Zerwas and Ramani 2007
    doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01075.x downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    First page, first paragraph of main text: “In the latter half of the second year of life, children first exhibit clear evidence of reflective self-awareness, that is, that they represent and reflect on themselves as independent, objective entities. This is manifested in their ability to recognize themselves in mirrors, refer to themselves by name, point to themselves referentially, and express self-conscious emotions.”
  10. ^ Understanding Self and Others in the Second Year - Moore 2007
    downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    Page 2, end of first paragraph: “...by the end of the second year, toddlers have acquired a level of social understanding that recognizes self and others as similar yet separate individuals who have different psychological orientations to objects or situations in the world.”
  11. ^ Being no one: the self-model theory of subjectivity - Metzinger 2003 MIT Press or see GoogleScholar.
    Page 299, second paragraph, under the heading “What Is a Phenomenal Self-Model? [(PSM)]”: “The content of the PSM is the content of the conscious self: your current bodily sensations, your present emotional situation, plus all the contents of your phenomenally experienced cognitive processing. They are constituents of your PSM. ... All those properties of yourself, to which you can now direct your attention, form the content of your current PSM.”
    Page 303, second paragraph, in the chapter entitled “The Representational Deep Structure of the Phenomenal First-Person Perspective”: “It is important to note that a self-model is an entity spanning many different levels of description. In beings like ourselves, a PSM [Phenomenal Self-Model] will have a true neurobiological description, for example, as a complex neural activation pattern with a specific temporal fine structure, undergoing kaleidoscopic changes from instant to instant. There will also be functional and computational descriptions of the self-model on different levels of granularity. Creating a computational model of the human PSM is one of the most fascinating research goals conceivable. For instance, we might describe it as an activation vector or as a trajectory through some suitable state space. One might even take on a classical cognitivist perspective. Then the self-model could be described as a transient computational module, episodically activated by the system in order to regulate its interaction with the environment. Then there will be the representational level of description, in which the content of the PSM will appear as a complex integration of globally available self-representational, self-simulational, and self-presentational information. ... In introducing the working concept of a PSM I claim that it constitutes a distinct theoretical entity. That is, I claim that it is not only something that can meaningfully be described on a number of different levels of description mirroring each other in a heuristically fruitful manner but that it is something that can be found by suitable empirical research programs. And it can be found on every level of description.”
  12. ^ Godel, Escher, Bach - Douglas Hofstadter Penguin Books UK 1979 or see GoogleScholar.
    This fascinating book, despite its title, is mostly about the functioning of the brain, although it covers many other subjects as well.
    Pages 385 to 387 under the heading “Subsystems”:
    “There is no reason to expect that 'I', or 'the self', should not be represented by a symbol. In fact, the symbol for the self is probably the most complex of all symbols in the brain. ...it functions almost as an independent 'subbrain', equipped with its own repertoire of symbols which can trigger each other internally. ...'Subsystem' is just another name for an overgrown symbol, one which has gotten so complicated that it has many subsymbols which interact among themselves. Thus, there is no strict level distinction between symbols and subsystems. ...the border is fuzzy.
  13. ^ Ibid. Godel, Escher, Bach
    Page 387 to 388 under the heading “The self-system and consciousness”, first paragraph: “A very important side effect of the self-subsystem is that it can play the role of 'soul', in the following sense: in communicating constantly with the rest of the subsystems and systems in the brain, it keep track of what symbols are active, and in what way. This means that it has to have symbols for mental activity - in other words, symbols for symbols, and symbols for the actions of symbols. ...this way of describing awareness - as the monitoring of brain activity by a subsystem of the brain itself - seems to resemble the nearly indescribable sensation which we know and call 'consciousness'. ...it seems that the only way one could make sense of the world surrounding a localized animate object is to understand the role of that object in relation to the other objects around it. This necessitates the existence of a self-symbol;”
  14. ^ I am a strange loop - Douglas Hofstadter Basic Books 2007 or see GoogleScholar.
    Page 95, under the heading “Where the Buck Seems to Stop”: “The thesis of this book is that in a non-embryonic, non-infantile human brain, there is a special type of abstract structure or pattern... that gives rise to what feels like a self.”
    Page 181, under the heading “I Am My Brain’s Most Complex Symbol”: “Accordingly, the 'I' symbol, like all symbols in our brain, starts out pretty small and simple, but it grows and grows and grows, eventually becoming the most important abstract structure residing in our brains. But where is it in our brains? It is not in some small localized spot; it is spread out all over, because it has to include so much about so much.”
    Pages 182-3, under the heading “The Slow Buildup of a Self”: “We begin life with the most elementary sorts of feedback about ourselves, which stimulate us to formulate categories for our most obvious body parts, and building on this basic pedestal, we soon develop a sense for our bodies as flexible physical objects.”

Page last uploaded Mon Mar 4 08:50:05 2024 MST