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Forgive me for lacking rigor, but if what I know is correct, it is established that consciousness and other higher functions characteristic of humans are a consequence of our cortex, specifically neocortex. However, what has always puzzled me is the neurobiological basis that gives rise to the phenomenon that we associate our bodies with ourselves – i.e., why does my brain think of my physical body as "me" and make me care for it? In other words, why is me me at this particular point in time and not some other body living e.g. centuries ago? Why do I not associate "me" with multiple bodies living at the same time, or have identity at all?

A naive, materialist answer would perhaps be that given our nervous system etc., "me" is only a sort of an illusion created by the brain which acts as a kind of "least thinkable unit" that has no neural connections to other physical bodies. Still, what is the process that "picks" precisely my brain and my body to become "me" – why have I not sensed reality from the viewpoint of e.g. Albert Einstein or Brad Pitt?

I wonder if any empirical answers to such questions can be given, or at least if these questions have been reformulated to a set of more well-defined questions in the light of modern neuroscience.


UPDATE: A better way to form this question would be: if two bodies come to exist at the same time, and consciousness is an emergent, materialistic phenomenon of the body, why do I experience the emergence of consciousness in one specific body (i.e. the one I call my own) and not in another?

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    $\begingroup$ Surely it counts for something that my body now is the only one over which I have direct control and the only one from which I receive direct perceptual input. Why would you sense reality from the viewpoint of Einstein given the acknowledged physical disconnection? How would you? $\endgroup$ – Nick Stauner Aug 24 '14 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ You wouldn't, but how does a disconnect between Einstein and me even arise? Why is "I" an attribute of this volume of matter that is my body and not his? Suppose both of us would be born at exactly the same time (i.e. two bodies consisting of atoms, molecules etc. spawning at the same moment) - now why will one set of matter see the world as Einstein and the other set as me? That is to say, how is consciousness "assigned" to a specific body, if this is even the correct way to put it? $\endgroup$ – w128 Aug 24 '14 at 21:35
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    $\begingroup$ Seems more straightforward to consider consciousness an emergent property of a body rather than a separate entity that is assigned to a body. The latter theory necessitates a lot of unscientific assumptions, whereas there's relatively little that needs assuming without evidence in the monist, materialist theory. $\endgroup$ – Nick Stauner Aug 24 '14 at 21:41
  • $\begingroup$ @NickStauner agreed, but the question still stands - why do I experience this emergence within some specific body? $\endgroup$ – w128 Aug 26 '14 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ That's how emergence works: the property emerges as a new characteristic or function of a complex, organized system that is otherwise composed of simpler parts. I may not have a more satisfying answer than this, personally (that's partly why I'm just commenting)...I don't see how consciousness could emerge anywhere other than within the system upon which it depends. $\endgroup$ – Nick Stauner Aug 26 '14 at 16:32
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This is partially an aspect of the binding problem.

Sensory information arrives in parallel as a variety of heterogeneous hints, (shapes, colors, motions, smells and sounds) encoded in partly modular systems. Typically many objects are present at once. The result is an urgent case of what has been labelled the binding problem. We must collect the hints, bind them into the right spatial and temporal bundles, and then interpret them to specify their real world origins. (2003, 97)

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/attention/

The bottom line is that our senses are integrated and some of our most important senses (smell, sight, hearing) all have their organs located very close together. Spatial perception is (at least partially) stored in the parietal lobes. The parietal lobes integrate information from somatosensors like muscle spindles to relay the body's position in space as well as the eyes (and ears), which help form a perspective of the environment.

You might also consider Tononi's framework for consciousness: integrated information theory which presumes:

(i) the quantity of consciousness corresponds to the amount of integrated information generated by a complex of elements; (ii) the quality of experience is specified by the set of informational relationships generated within that complex. Integrated information (Phi) is defined as the amount of information generated by a complex of elements, above and beyond the information generated by its parts. Qualia space (Q) is a space where each axis represents a possible state of the complex, each point is a probability distribution of its states, and arrows between points represent the informational relationships among its elements generated by causal mechanisms (connections). Together, the set of informational relationships within a complex constitute a shape in Q that completely and univocally specifies a particular experience.

I think the deeper question we need answered before we get to your specific question is "how does a subjective experience arise from matter in the first place?". Other than that, your question is no different than "why did that rock not get this rock's blemish?". It was mostly likely just a matter of chance in initial conditions.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you - I agree with your remark that the question is fundamentally about subjective experience arising from matter. I have edited the title accordingly. $\endgroup$ – w128 Aug 30 '14 at 1:11
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what has always puzzled me is the neurobiological basis that gives rise to the phenomenon that we associate our bodies with ourselves – i.e., why does my brain think of my physical body as "me" and make me care for it? In other words, why is me me at this particular point in time and not some other body living e.g. centuries ago? Why do I not associate "me" with multiple bodies living at the same time, or have identity at all?

Because your brain is connected, via nerves, to your body, in both directions, sensory and motor. Every time your body's sensory apparati sense something, only your brain is alerted to this, and no other. Every time your brain activates its motor centers, it observes only your body moving as a result, and no other. And it constantly receives reinforcement of this tight mapping every waking moment of your life.

What is the process that "picks" precisely my brain and my body to become "me" – why have I not sensed reality from the viewpoint of e.g. Albert Einstein or Brad Pitt?

Because your brain is not wired to the bodies of those people. If it were, you would. You would see through their eyes, like in Being John Malkovich.

I wonder if any empirical answers to such questions can be given, or at least if these questions have been reformulated to a set of more well-defined questions in the light of modern neuroscience.

People have reported that their sense of the extent of their bodies can change depending on if they are using tools. The tips of the tools can seem to be part of them. For example:

Neurophysiological evidence indicates that after repeatedly using a tool, changes in the body representation (of humans and trained monkeys) occur, and over time the tool is perceived as if being an integral part of the body. The phenomenon describing the extension of the body representation to include non-corporeal objects in the peripersonal space, such as tools or prosthetic devices, has been extensively reported in the literature (PDF of "Adaptive Body Schema for Robotic Tool-Use" found here.)

The point is, one's body schema is flexible based on the nature of the inputs the brain receives. The map is plastic. But it also may shed light on your question, since it suggests that correlation of brain activity and body function is what gives rise to the matching between your body consciousness and your particular body.

UPDATE: A better way to form this question would be: if two bodies come to exist at the same time, and consciousness is an emergent, materialistic phenomenon of the body, why do I experience the emergence of consciousness in one specific body (i.e. the one I call my own) and not in another?

Because consciousness of the body is not divorced from facts about the body; it is conscious of some body schema, and that requires "facts" in the cortex that register your body as the one it is conscious about.

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