According to Konrad Lorenz, animals and other living things evolved to more and more accurately learn about their environment and he classifies living things in terms of the way they gather information on their surroundings for different survival and mating purposes. In his book Behind the Mirror “he traces the physiological mechanisms that direct behavior and thought…from amoebas to humans.” Taking this approach, we can theoretically identify how we extract information from the environment and act on this information. Each way we identify as a self or an “I” can be looked at as an input-output system that must exist for humans to be able to think, feel, and act the way they do. These selves are not novel concepts, different ideas of what the self is have been postulated elsewhere, and even Descartes’ statement cogito ergo sum supposes the thought process is us; we know we exist because we can sense the existence of thoughts at least.
The difference here is that each of these selves, each way we can identify as a living thing is associated with its own brain area, its own type of information processing/learning, its own psychological concepts across the sub-disciplines of psychology, its own neurotransmitter class, its own emotion or thought type, its own stage of human development, its own stage of evolution, its own step in the creation of the cosmos, its own chakra etc. etc. Yes synthesism relates scientific concepts to spiritual ones and postulates all religions tell an analogously similar story about creation and morality.
So what are the seven or so components of a self-aware organism that can each be identified with. I will briefly describe them here and in subsequent posts detail them individually.
I. The on/off system. All living things with a nervous system may have consciousness; all living things are animate and can sense their environment in some way, even single-cell organisms. Though it cannot really be located, all living things expend energy to move and feed; they have something in them that powers them until they die. Even without emotions or thoughts, we represent the environment as best we can and this self could be considered the objective self as this system is merely aware that it is awake and located in physical space. It gathers information about space, contours, depth, etc., and in sighted people is our field of vision and in those who can hear is our audible environment; this is basic consciousness that any creature can have without the need for a self-concept. We identify as a point in space that is conscious, awake and we can direct our focus. Early on we develop this metaphor of the self as the visual field and as a point on which we can focus the eyes and ears. The “I” in this case is known to exist; I see therefore I am, I live, I am awake, therefore I am. This system is associated with instantaneous learning in that we update our image of the inanimate world constantly. Every self-aware humanoid machine would have to have an on/off switch.
II. The somatic self. Next is the easiest to explain; we identify with or as our physical body that can move through space-time and must protect itself from injury and sustain itself with food and water. This system is associated with harnessing reflexes to eventually control our bodies and the sense of touch as information gathering as well as hunger and thirst guiding behavior. Every humanoid machine needs a body to control and sustain.
III. The hierarchical self. Having to do with our fight or flight response and our place in social hierarchies. Pertaining to other living things in our environment and their implications for our well-being and access to resources. The type of information gathering and reactions have to do with almost reflexive expressions of behavior; non- conditioned behavior. This could also be called the relational self as it is the one that enters into romantic and other interactions relating to other living things one-on-one.
IV. The behavioral self. Conditioning of goal-directed behavior is the domain of the behavioral self that goes through life rewarded and punished for successful and not-so-successful implementations of goal-directed actions.
V. The cognitive self. The self that Descartes assumed existed.
VI. The existential self. This is the self-concept, the categorical self that can be described in terms of one’s personality and the social groups one belongs to. It is the self we imagine existing in the past and the foreseeable future.
VII. The left/right system. Rather than gender, synthesism tries to accommodate newer conceptions of sexuality by positing we do identify along some sort of spectrum but rather than say feminine or masculine we can say left-brained or right-brained, which is being redefined as well these days by neuroscience.
VIII. The group. A group of individuals acts differently than one person. We can de-individuate and feel a part of a group and act different than we usually do.
Every psychological concept or construct, for example conflict, mood, attribution (for those unfamiliar, stay tuned), trauma, creativity, problem-solving, falls in one of these domains and hence these different selves present a unifying concept at least within psychology and neuroscience.