This is a good book, a good read and interesting too. One gets a little of anthropology, and a little of functional brain imaging. All of it, of course, involving self-awareness. Keenan mantains that to be self-consicous one must pass the mirror test-in short- to be able to...
This is a good book, a good read and interesting too. One gets a little of anthropology, and a little of functional brain imaging. All of it, of course, involving self-awareness. Keenan mantains that to be self-consicous one must pass the mirror test-in short- to be able to recognize the image in a mirror as yourself and not as another individual. Most higher apes, it turns out pass the test. Children at about the age of 2 or 3 do too. Some autistic children do not, and autism is sometimes refered to as a problem with theory of mind or self-awareness. It seems then that self-consciousness is something some systems have and others do not. Keenan then reviews the literature on the functional imaging of several interesting tasks that seem to require self-awareness, and concludes that the right cerebral lobe is involved, possibly with the cingulate and prefrontal cortex more centrally related. So far so good.
But for Keenan to have entered into such an interdiciplinary debate, he seem to have forgotten that philosophically, his ideas would at most rest on shaky grounds. Let me elaborate. First, he seems to equate self-consicousness with self-recognition. Now the first thing I would ask is if self-recognition is sufficient for self-awareness}. That is, would a computer programmed to respond to internal signals in an appropiate way be self-awarë? I would say not. But Keenan tries to avoid these objections by holding that self-recognition is an ability one gains by vitrtue of being self-aware. (since self-recognition appears to be correlated with other self related cogniitve abilities). But then Keenan wrote a book about an ability one gains after being self-aware, not a book on self-awareness. Writing a book about visual discrimination is not the same as writinga book about vision, even when I can only discriminate between 2 visual stimuli if I can see in the first place. It is obvious that one can still see, but not discriminate between two stimuli (think of prosopagnosia- loss of face-recognition), and it is equally plausible that one can not recognize himself in a mirror but still be self-aware. This example is interesting, because Keenan would claim that there is a difference between not recognizing yourself because you are not self-aware that because you have a visual impairment. But the point is that although correlated-that is- self-awareness usually comes with self-recognition, it is only that, a correlation. It is then unclear why the mirror test should be so special. It may have positives, but I imagine it has many false negatives.
This can be applied to the neuroscience too: maybe the abilities that one gains by virtue of being self-aware are located on the right hemisphere, but this does not mean it is the location of self-consicousness too. Language is located on the left hemisphere, but the cognitive resources (whatever they are; conceptual information, grammar, memory, mental relations, ideas)and the anatomical resources (mouth, tounge, lips) do not have to be located there too. Of course Keenan simply argues that the right might be dominant for self-awareness, but not the only location of a self-awareness module. In that case, self-awareness seems to be a much more suubtle phenomenon that just the collection of all the self-related abilities.
Now it seems to me that Keenan missed the point from the beggining. He tries to separate self-awareness from awareness itself, when it is not clear this can be done. Maybe self-awareness is just regular awareness but with a self-content, instead of a visual-content or a object-content. In that case, what Keenan theorizes about are the properties, cerebral correlates, and species variations of self-contents, but not of self-awareness itself, just like vison research studies the location of object representations in the brain and not the awareness of objects itself. (For an alternative, check out Thomas Metzingers book, The self-model theory of subjectivity, where in order to write about the self, he first wrote 350 pages on a theory of what makes representations consicous. Now that is an investigation of self-AWARENESS)
Keenans speculations on the functions of self-awareness are quite interesting and plausible. In my opinion,at the end he only succeeds in studying cognitive self-processing, but not self-awareness itself. However meanly I reviewed his book, it still seems to me a good read, a good adition into a neuroscientists library, and a thought inspiring discussion of soome very interesting concepts.