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Evolution of Representations. From Basic Life to Self-Representation and Self-Consciousness

By Christophe Menant


The notion of representation is at the foundation of cognitive sciences and is used in theories of mind and consciousness. Other notions like ‘embodiment’, 'intentionality‘, 'guidance theory' or ‘biosemantics’ have been associated to the notion of representation to introduce its functional aspect. We would like to propose here that a conception of 'usage related' representation eases its positioning in an evolutionary context, and opens new areas of investigation toward self-representation and self-consciousness. The subject is presented in five parts:Following an overall presentation, the first part introduces a usage related representation as being an information managed by a system submitted to a constraint that has to be satisfied. We consider that such a system can generate a meaningful information by comparing its constraint to a received information (Menant 2003). We define a representation as being made of the received information and of the meaningful information. Such approach allows groundings in and out for the representation relatively to the system. The second part introduces the two types of representations we want to focus on for living organisms: representations of conspecifics and auto-representation, the latter being defined without using a notion of self-representation. Both types of representations have existed for our pre-human ancestors which can be compared to today great apes.In the third part, we use the performance of intersubjectivity as identified in group life with the presence of mirror neurons in the organisms. Mirror neurons have been discovered in the 90‘s (Rizzolatti & al.1996, Gallese & al.1996). The level of intersubjectivity that can be attributed to non human primates as related to mirror neurons is currently a subject of debate (Decety 2003). We consider that a limited intersubjectivity between pre-human primates made possible a merger of both types of representations. The fourth part proposes that such a merger of representations feeds the auto-representation with the meanings associated to the representations of conspecifics, namely the meanings associated to an entity perceived as existing in the environment. We propose that auto-representation carrying these new meanings makes up the first elements of self-representation. Intersubjectivity has allowed auto-representation to evolve into self-representation, avoiding the homunculus risk. The fifth part is a continuation to other presentations (Menant 2004, 2005) about possible evolution of self-representation into self-consciousness. We propose that identification with suffering or endangered conspecifics has increased anxiety, and that the tools used to limit this anxiety (development of empathy, imitation, language and group life) have provided a positive feedback on intersubjectivity and created an evolutionary engine for the organism. Other outcomes have also been possible. Such approach roots consciousness in emotions. The evolutionary scenario proposed here does not introduce explicitly the question of phenomenal consciousness (Block 1995). This question is to be addressed later with the help of this scenario.The conclusion lists the points introduced here with their possible continuations

Topics: Animal Cognition, Computational Neuroscience, Primatology, Evolution, Cognitive Psychology, Philosophy of Mind, Artificial Intelligence, Evolutionary Psychology, Robotics, Epistemology
Year: 2006
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