Intentionality and the Self

An "intent" is the directing of an action toward some future goal that is defined and chosen by the actor.

Thomas Aquinas

Every organism has a world of its own because it has an experience of its own.

Ernst Cassirer

Intentionality is implicitly an ecological concept in that action in the environment alters that environment, and in turn the environment alters the self. Intentionality, whether conscious or unconscious, can be thought of as a value-driven selection directed towards some future goal. Intentionality therefore includes the self, emotions, and the anticipation of the future, a form of imagination.

William James (1890), whose account of the phenomenology of self remains unsurpassed, observed that the body is the innermost core of the self. This central nucleus of the self, what he described as this "palpitating inward life," consists of feelings. Freud also believed that the ego (self) "is first and foremost a bodily ego" (1923a). In 1923 the neuropsychiatrist Paul Schilder published Korperschema (schema of the body), which was later incorporated into The Image and Appearance of the Human Body (Schilder 1935). There he stated that the schema of the body develops and is maintained within the ever changing alternation and continual interplay of the body and the environment, thus developing an early ecological theory of the self.

As the self is known to be embodied, it was inevitable that the origins of the self would be examined in the context of the evolution of the brain. One would then ask what is the function of the self and how does consciousness of the self enhance the individual's fitness. Among the first to propose an evolutionary theory of the self was Gerald Edelman in The Remembered Present (1989). He linked the self to a more evolved and complex consciousness. In Edelman's view, the evolution of a self requires a neural apparatus capable of providing the individual with a schema of past, present, and future. Such a schema would enable internal reflection, a consciousness of consciousness. This in turn would free the individual of the necessity of an immediate response to environmental inputs; it would in effect enable one to go offline. Such a self-reflective capacity requires what Edel-man called "higher-order consciousness," in contrast to primary consciousness, which we share with many other species. Primary consciousness creates an immediate scene, in which long-term affect-laden memory is salient. In addition, it is assumed that conscious animals can differentiate self from nonself, but this capacity is not to be confused with a sense of personhood. Edelman suggested that there are specific neural structures that enable this self/nonself distinction. He wrote, "Self is fundamentally determined by the signaling activity of areas mediating homeostatic—au-

tonomic, hedonic, neuroendocrine—brain functions. Such areas include brain stem and pontine nuclei, mesencephalic reticular formation, hypothalamus, amygdala, septum and fornix, and their various connections to prelimbic forebrain areas. In contrast, nonself signals are composed of cortico-thalamic inputs and of cerebellar and hippocampal loops other than those in the fornical path" (Edelman 1989, p. 98).

But, as I noted, the biological self that can differentiate self from nonself, which we share with other species, is by no means the same as the self-reflective self that we equate with a sense of personhood.

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