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Self Awareness Description

* This article is updated daily from Wikipedia. It may contain minor formatting errors.
For the original content and references, click here. Last update: 8/18/2013.

Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection and the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals.

The basis of personal identity

A philosophical view

While reading Descartes, Locke began to relish the great ideas of philosophy and the scientific method. On one occasion, while in a meeting with friends, the question of the "limits of human understanding" arose. He spent almost twenty years of his life on the subject until the publication of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, a great chapter in the History of Philosophy.*John Locke's chapter XXVII "On Identity and Diversity" in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) has been said to be one of the first modern conceptualizations of consciousness as the repeated self-identification of self (philosophy)|oneself, through which moral responsibility could be attributed to the subject (philosophy)|subject—and therefore punishment and guilt (emotion)|guiltiness justified, as critics such as Nietzsche would point out, affirming "...the psychology of conscience is not 'the voice of God in man'; it is the instinct of cruelty ... expressed, for the first time, as one of the oldest and most indispensable elements in the foundation of culture."* John Locke does not use the terms self-awareness or self-consciousness though.*According to Locke, personal identity (the self) "depends on consciousness, not on substance theory|substance" nor on the soul. We are the same person to the extent that we are conscious of our past and future thoughts and actions in the same way as we are conscious of our present thoughts and actions. If consciousness is this "thought" which doubles all thoughts, then personal identity is only founded on the repeated act of consciousness: "This may show us wherein personal identity consists: not in the identity of substance, but ... in the identity of consciousness". For example, one may claim to be a reincarnation of Plato, therefore having the same soul. However, one would be the same person as Plato only if one had the same consciousness of Plato's thoughts and actions that he himself did. Therefore, self-identity is not based on the soul. One soul may have various personalities.

Self-identity is not founded either on the body or the substance, argues Locke, as the substance may change while the person remains the same: "animal identity is preserved in identity of life, and not of substance", as the body of the animal grows and changes during its life. Take for example a prince's soul which enters the body of a cobbler: to all exterior eyes, the cobbler would remain a cobbler. But to the prince himself, the cobbler would be himself, as he would be conscious of the prince's thoughts and acts, and not of the cobbler's life. A prince's consciousness in a cobbler body: thus the cobbler is, in fact, a prince. But this interesting border-case leads to this problematic thought that since personal identity is based on consciousness, and that only oneself can be aware of his consciousness, exterior human judges may never know if they really are judging—and punishing—the same person, or simply the same body. In other words, Locke argues that you may be judged only for the acts of your body, as this is what is apparent to all but God; however, you are in truth only responsible for the acts for which you are conscious. This forms the basis of the insanity defense: one can't be held accountable for acts in which one was unconsciousness|unconsciously irrational, mentally ill*—and therefore leads to interesting philosophical questions: }

Or again: }

Henceforth, Locke's conception of personal identity found it not on the substance or the body, but in the "same continued consciousness", which is also distinct from the soul. He creates a third term between the soul and the body—and Locke's thought may certainly be meditated by those who, following a scientist ideology, would identify too quickly the brain to consciousness. For the brain, as the body and as any substance, may change, while consciousness remains the same. Therefore personal identity is not in the brain, but in consciousness. However, Locke's theory also reveals his debt to theology and to Apocalypse|Apocalyptic "great day", which by advance excuse any failings of human justice and therefore humanity's miserable state.

A modern scientific view

Self-Awareness Theory

Self-Awareness Theory states that when we focus our attention on ourselves, we evaluate and compare our current behavior to our internal standards and values. We become self-conscious as objective evaluators of ourselves. However self-awareness is not to be confused with self-consciousness.* Various emotional states are intensified by self-awareness. However, some people may seek to increase their self-awareness through these outlets. People are more likely to align their behavior with their standards when made self-aware. People will be negatively affected if they don't live up to their personal standards. Various environmental cues and situations induce awareness of the self, such as mirrors, an audience, or being videotaped or recorded. These cues also increase accuracy of personal memory.* In Demetriou's theory, one of the neo-Piagetian theories of cognitive development, self-awareness develops systematically from birth through the life span and it is a major factor for the development of general inferential processes.* Moreover, a series of recent studies showed that self-awareness about cognitive processes participates in general intelligence on a par with processing efficiency functions, such as working memory, processing speed, and reasoning.*

In theater

Theater also concerns itself with other awareness besides self-awareness. There is a possible correlation between the experience of the theater audience and individual self-awareness. As actors and audiences must not "break" the fourth wall in order to maintain context, so individuals must not be aware of the artificial, or the constructed perception of his or her reality. This suggests that both self-awareness and the social constructs applied to others are artificial continuums just as theater is. Theatrical efforts such as Six Characters in Search of an Author, or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, construct yet another layer of the fourth wall, but they do not destroy the primary illusion. Refer to Erving Goffman's Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience.

In animals

Thus far, there is evidence that bottlenose dolphins, some apes,* and elephants may have the capacity to be self-aware.* Recent studies from the Goethe University Frankfurt show that magpies may also possess self-awareness.* Common speculation suggests that some other animals may be self-aware.*

In science fiction

In science fiction, self-awareness describes an essentialism|essential human property that often (depending on the circumstances of the story) bestows "personhood" onto a non-human. If a artificial intelligence|computer, extraterrestrial life|alien or other object is described as "self-aware", the reader may assume that it will be treated as a completely human character, with similar rights, capabilities and desires to a normal human being.* The words "sentience", "sapience" and "consciousness" are used in similar ways in science fiction.

In psychology

In psychology, the concept of "self-awareness" is used in different ways:
  • As a form of intelligence, self-awareness can be an understanding of one's own knowledge, attitudes, and opinions. Alfred Binet's first attempts to create an intelligence test included items for "auto-critique" – a critical understanding of oneself.* Their inaccuracy comes from the absence of a clear definable measure of driving ability and their own limited self-awareness; and this of course underlines the importance of objective standards to inform our subjective self-awareness in all domains. Inaccuracy in our opinion seems particularly disturbing, for what is more personal than opinions. Yet, inconsistency in our opinion is as strong as in our knowledge of facts. For instance, people who call themselves opposite extremes in political views often hold not just overlapping political views, but views that are central to the opposite extreme. Reconciling such differences proves difficult and gave rise to Leon Festinger's theory of Cognitive Dissonance.*
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    * This article is updated daily from Wikipedia. It may contain minor formatting errors.
    For the original content and references, click here. Last update: 8/18/2013.

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