The Selection of Images from the Stream of Consciousness

The geneticist R. C. Lewontin asks, What is the "I" that selects and brings thoughts and images to one's conscious attention? Here is an excerpt from his review of Changeux's Neuronal Man (1997), which appeared in the New York Review of Books:

The heart of the problem of mind and brain is the shift of consciousness by what appears to us to be a willful act. As I tire of writing, I think first of the impending visit of a friend, then I strain to hear which Scarlatti sonata my wife is practicing, and then I return again to think about the relation of ego and mental images. I have passed among three very different mental states all under the control of the willful "I." Some kind of information about all these states must all the while have been resident in my brain, but only one at a time was in my mind. What chooses among them? "I" [do]. The central problem remains for neurobiology: What is "I"? (Lewontin 1985)

This self-selection of images that Lewontin illustrates could be described as a defining characteristic of consciousness. In the two chapters that follow, I will examine this selective process and its relation to feelings.

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