Review

Who Am I? Locating the neural correlate of the self

Sean Webber

Keele University

Received:

31 Aug 2010

Accepted:

1 Mar 2011

Published:

3 May 2011

Volume:

4

Issue:

2

Keywords:

medial prefrontal cortex, consciousness, ownership, self

Abstract:

Exploration into the domain of consciousness and ‘self’ originated within the realm of philosophical thought. However, neuroscientific research facilitates the transition from conceptualization to empiricism, allowing scientists to locate the underlying neural mechanisms behind this phenomenon. Binding the multiplicity of conscious modalities, including the sense of ownership over one's experiences, agency over actions and first-person perspective relating to memory, emotion, spatial and environmental awareness, involves a specific integrative mechanism. It is suggested that the predominant candidate for this faculty lies with synchronous firing between distal assemblies of neurones. However, each cell assembly relates to a specific cognitive capacity, the majority of which is circumstantially recruited as and when necessary, and remains transient in nature. The pervasive and underlying aspect of the conscious self comes from the sensation of ownership over phenomenal experience. This remains omnipresent during waking consciousness and can be correlated with activity within the medial prefrontal cortex. This paper reviews evidence from fMRI and PET data, along with investigations involving lesions, neurological dysfunction and meditation providing a map of cooperative neurological regions associated with the various categories of the conscious self. These regions have been located predominantly within the parietal and prefrontal cortices.

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