Nivedita Gangopadhyay

University of Copenhagen

The Self in Action: Unity of consciousness, experiential self and the sense of agency

Abstract: The philosophical literature discusses the unity of consciousness as a compound of the following two problems. First, there is the problem of co-consciousness of experiential states at any given time. For example, I am simultaneously having a visual experience of the computer screen in front of me, the tactile experience of typing on the keypad and the auditory experience of hearing a piece of music. What enables mental states to be co-conscious at any given time? Second, there is the problem of the unity of consciousness over time. What is it that allows a subject of experience to assert a sense of ownership over various episodes of experience over time? In this paper I shall discuss the unity of consciousness in terms of a pre-reflective, first-personal, self-givenness of experience and the relation of such a form of self-awareness to one’s awareness of being a situated embodied agent in the world. I shall follow Zahavi (2011) in referring to the pre-reflective, first-personal, self-givenness of experience as the “experiential self” and I shall also refer to it as “minimal form of self-awareness”.  I shall focus on an emerging research trend of explaining the unifying pre-reflective sense of “mineness” of experience as a matter of a particular type of cognitive processing underlying the experiencing subject’s sense of agency (e.g. Hohwy, 2007). The trend, in a nutshell, is to describe the experiential self as one’s awareness of being an embodied agent, and identify cognitive processing which enables one’s sense of agency and thereby enables the unity of consciousness.  My aim is to raise some philosophical issues that need to be addressed in order for this emerging research trend to adequately contribute to our conceptual understanding of the unity of consciousness and a basic form of self-awareness.

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