This post is by Raphaël Millière (University of Oxford), reporting from the interdisciplinary conference The Sense of Self hosted by the Ertegun Scholarship Programme and held from 29th-31st of May at the University of Oxford.
The idea that a sense of self pervades ordinary conscious experience appears to have at least an intuitive appeal for a number of authors in philosophy, psychology and cognitive neuroscience. The aim of this conference was to investigate the very notion of sense of self, which is notoriously elusive and polysemous. In order to bring some clarity to these discussions and to bridge the gap between conceptual and experimental approaches to the notion, philosophers and scientists were invited to present their work and participate in this interdisciplinary exchange over the course of three days.
The first morning was dedicated to conceptual issues regarding the sense of self. The philosopher Marie Guillot (University of Essex, UK) and the neuroscientist and meditation researcher Aviva Berkovich-Ohana (University of Haifa, Israel) discussed important distinctions between several notions of the sense of self. Guillot stressed the conceptual difference between being aware of oneself and being aware of one’s conscious mental states as one’s own (“mineness”).
Meanwhile, Berkovich-Ohana’s research on various styles of meditation illustrates another distinction between the “narrative self” (the network of autobiographic memories and beliefs that constitute personal identity) and the “minimal self” (the low-level experience of being a self, rooted in sensorimotor processes). Guillot and Berkovich-Ohana agreed that there is no obvious overlap between these two distinctions, although the “minimal self” might be conceived as form of awareness of oneself.