Evolution and Mirror Neurons. An Introduction to the Nature of Self-Consciousness

Menant, Christophe (2005) Evolution and Mirror Neurons. An Introduction to the Nature of Self-Consciousness. [Conference Paper] (Unpublished)

Full text available as:



Self-consciousness is a product of evolution. Few people today disagree with the evolutionary history of humans. But the nature of self-consciousness is still to be explained, and the story of evolution has rarely been used as a framework for studies on consciousness during the 20th century. This last point may be due to the fact that modern study of consciousness came up at a time where dominant philosophical movements were not in favor of evolutionist theories (Cunningham 1996). Research on consciousness based on Phenomenology or on Analytic Philosophy has been mostly taking the characteristics of humans as starting points. Relatively little has been done with bottom-up approaches, using performances of animals as a simpler starting point to understand the generation of consciousness through evolution. But this status may be changing, thanks to new tools coming from recent discoveries in neurology. The discovery of mirror neurons about ten years ago (Gallese et al. 1996, Rizzolatti et al. 1996) has allowed the built up of new conceptual tools for the understanding of intersubjectivity within humans and non human primates (Gallese 2001, Hurley 2005). Studies in these fields are still in progress, with discussions on the level of applicability of this natural intersubjectivity to non human primates (Decety and Chaminade 2003). We think that these subject/conspecific mental relations made possible by mirror neurons can open new paths for the understanding of the nature of self-consciousness via an evolutionist bottom-up approach. We propose here a scenario for the build up of self-consciousness through evolution by a specific analysis of two steps of evolution: first step from simple living elements to non human primates comparable to chimpanzees, and second step from these non human primates to humans. We identify these two steps as representing the evolution from basic animal awareness to body self-awareness, and from body self-awareness to self-consciousness. (we consider that today non human primates are comparable to what were pre-human primates). We position body self-awareness as corresponding to the performance of mirror self recognition as identified with chimpanzees and orangutans (Gallup). We propose to detail and understand the content of this body self-awareness through a specific evolutionist build up process using the performances of mirror neurons and group life. We address the evolutionary step from body self-awareness to self-consciousness by complementing the recently proposed approach where self-consciousness is presented as a by-product of body self-awareness amplification via a positive feedback loop resulting of anxiety limitation (Menant 2004). The scenario introduced here for the build up of self-consciousness through evolution leaves open the question about the nature of phenomenal-consciousness (Block 2002). We plan to address this question later on with the help of the scenario made available here.

Item Type:Conference Paper
Keywords:self-awareness, self-consciousness, evolution, mirror neuron, non human primate, intersubjectivity
Subjects:Neuroscience > Computational Neuroscience
Biology > Primatology
Biology > Evolution
Philosophy > Philosophy of Mind
Psychology > Evolutionary Psychology
Psychology > Behavioral Analysis
Neuroscience > Behavioral Neuroscience
Biology > Animal Behavior
Biology > Animal Cognition
Computer Science > Artificial Intelligence
Psychology > Cognitive Psychology
Philosophy > Epistemology
ID Code:4533
Deposited By: Menant, Mr Christophe
Deposited On:18 Sep 2005
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:56

References in Article

Select the SEEK icon to attempt to find the referenced article. If it does not appear to be in cogprints you will be forwarded to the paracite service. Poorly formated references will probably not work.

- Block, N., (2002). "Concepts of Consciousness" in Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings, David Chalmers (ed). Oxford University press 2002.

- Cunningham, S. (1996). "Philosophy and the Darwinian Legacy". University of Rochester Press.

- Decety, J., Chaminade T., (2003): "When the self represents the other: A new cognitive neuroscience view on psychological identification". Consciousness and Cognition 12 (2003) 577-596.

- Gallese, V., Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L. and Rizzolatti, G. (1996): "Action recognition in the premotor cortex". Brain 119, 593-609.

- Gallese, V. (2001): "The 'Shared Manifold' Hypothesis. From Mirror neurons to Empathy". Journal of Consciousness Studies , 8, N° 5-87, 2001.

- Hurley, S.: "Active Perception and Perceiving Action; the Shared Circuits Hypothesis" in press in T. Gendler and J. Hawthorne, eds., Perceptual Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2005).

- Menant, C.: "Performances of Self Awareness used to explain the Evolutionary Advantages of Consciousness". Tucson 2004 TSC.

- Rizzolatti, G., Fadiga, L., Gallese, V. and Fogassi, L. (1996): "Premotor cortex and the recognition of motor actions". Cognitive Brain Research 3, 131-141.


Repository Staff Only: item control page