The self awareness of the conscious mind

Cranach Adam EveLucas Cranach- The elder Adam and Eve. This was a popular subject in 16th century art and is an interesting painting in terms of self awareness. It is capturing the moment in the biblical story where Eve takes a bite from the apple from the tree of knowledge and is about to give the apple to Adam. Adam in doubt, she has been transformed by eating a piece. The animals around them lived in a semi aware blissful state, after there is more self awareness with Adam and Eve. It is a process we all go through as babies are born in a blissful state and don’t even know they exist having a continuous blissful state and acquire later on that we are separate from the world and within conflict within the world. We are thrown out of our own garden of Eden by consciousness. No body knows like humans of our own existence, our own minds and unique position we occupy. Humans are the only beings that can reflect on their own mind.

Within this painting, how do we know that Adam is confused and how do we know Eve knows more? We project our own minds and experiences to this piece. In order  to be able to appreciate the human drama we appreciate the thoughts and feelings of others. How to display paint on this way, what it looks like to feel these emotions, there must be an enormous amount of self awareness of us, the viewer and self awareness of the artist is needed. The plant covering their genitals is of modesty in Genesis 3:6- The tree of knowledge, make one wise, knew they were naked, biblical awareness of consciousness, self-aware humans are uniquely self conscious.

Locating the self aware mind

we can be conscious without being aware of it. Self consciousness is aware of the existence of self we can be self aware but self conscious.

Meta-self awareness-  Alain Morin 1995- The capacity to reflect on our own mind layered, Complex and integrated, not a monolithic unified state (mind)

The mirror test 

What makes something self aware?

the-mirror-testPutting a red blob of paint on the forehead of an infant or ape and telling them to look into the mirror, they will try to rub the red dot off on the mirror, thinks it is something else. After 18 months  the infant will rub the dot off its own head, developing self awareness as he or she knows that they are apart of the the world through self awareness. Other animals have passes this test like dolphins, humans. elephants and apes they all have an understanding that the reflection is itself and all have qualities of awareness of self however humans are the only one to have meta self awareness.

Robots ? Some robots have passed this test of being self aware, it worked out its self  awareness, artificial intelligence, self aware machine, desirable goal to create artificial consciousness.

What is the self that is aware of itself?

“I think therefore I am” -Pescartes

Western philosophy- self reflective thinker center. To think at all you must exist, to be a thinking being is to exist, self personal existence.

William James- The sum total of all that he can call his not only his body and his psychic powers. Spread out connections are a part of you e.g. clothes.

Antonio Damaso- Core self (immediate awareness of self and the world. Autobiographical self (knowledge of history, family, past, future events, social behaviour and rules).

David Rosenthal- Higher order of thoughts, (different) no part of the mind is in itself conscious or part of the self it is only that one part of the mind thinks it’s aware of the other parts.

Dan Zahavi- Denies Rosenthal saying that the consciousness lies within our thoughts, the mental state of consciousness.

Husserl’s -Inter-subjectivity, properties of the whole subject, we only have minds because others have. If we didn’t know you were thinking I wouldn’t know that I am a separate being or even existed. If we could get into someones  mind we would be able to distinguish that the minds have own self existence and would be able to distinguish boundaries.

Shaun Gallagher- Importance to physical body functions, mind isn’t phenomena meaning and purpose of our mental life is connected of the physical things that we interact with world around us.

Galen Strawson- Pearl theory of self- we have blobs of awareness loosely connected together, each blob can be a mental can move into the next, reacting to things that happen to us each is a mental self.

Thomas Metzinger- Fictious, imaginary of self awareness, illusion, no such things of self exists within the world, all you have is an illusion one “self” does not exist.

Something is happening but the explanation of why is a from an age of superstition. Rethink what we believe is self.

Logical problems with the self-conscious mind

Not possible of yourself thinknig about yourself. without simply thinking about yourself, can’t think about what you are thinking about.

Vicious circles and infinity by Patrick hughes illustrates that a camera cannot take a photo of its own self as a hammer cant nail itself you cannot turn the mind in on itself as it is the thing that thinks.

drawing_handsWhich hand is drawing the other?

The problem of where the mind exists- a single moment of thought, looking, printing developed, somewhere in the brain projected, there is people within the brain that analyse, metaphorically working. Self awareness, we are aware of the car, thinking about thinking, 1950 text book cinema theory illustrates the brain inside the brain.

HomunculusHomunculus- Has experience, represented how the nervous system, sensory parts of the brain devoted to the hands, something inside representing living inside of us. The numskulls give us the idea that something is controlling inside.

Dennet- this cannot happen- inner creature, infinite Cartesian theatre cannot happen and this infinite chain cannot happen as something needs to report back of what is being seen this link needs to be broken.numskulls_thumb

I am aware of myself- of referring of something, turning self into an object.

  • I have a toothache – can’t own a toothache it is part of what I am.
  • I have a bicycle- how to separate.

We should say I am a toothache, could we say this about a bicycle? Self awareness separating us.

Mallarme- Trying to think about his own thoughts thinking, this nearly sent him crazy. We are not used to thinking about what we think with, disorientated, disturbing. Paradox of introspection (Schooler and Schreiber)- what we believe we are thinking can be different from what we are actually thinking.

People do not realise that their minds have wandered or are not aware of mental responses that are given away by psychological behaviour. wondering- not aware of what you are thinking and can loose control.

Paradox of self consciousness- I in a sentence- pre-supposes what it means to be an I or a self is, this is an impossibility.

Paradox of explanation (McGinn) – we are limited to our own form. Can an object ( like a mind explain itself we will never understand how our mind works).

All explanations of the self conscious mind seem to end in logical paradox or infinite regression. e.g. a hammer cannot nail itself. We cannot understand what is going on in our own mind.

Rather being a dead end? Within that there is the solution to the problem telling us what is going on, mind must be paradoxical and there is a truth. Infinite regress- Regress to infinity. between two mirrors. There is two kinds of infinite regress.6iL6BP6

  • Conceptual Regress- Going to infinity.
  • Infinite Regress- an elephant or turtle is what is holding the earth up-  1.3333333333….. turtle-earth

All examples are conceptual, no one has counted in 3rds in 1.33333…. it is impossible to do.

  • Physical Regress- Two mirrors looking into infinity, physical system, physics sorts itself out , light is stable/ static orderly pattern grounded in solid physics of reality.

A video camera pointing into a projector at a precise angle, feeding back what the camera is seeing, video feedback, internal physical properties of the video camera, camera is not recording anything. Feedback gives rise to complex behaviour. It bursts into itself, enough of its own image works with digital, found patterns in nature as well within tribes, cellular division same patterns, organic process in the way matter behaves looking at itself.


Self consciousness us not part of the mind, but the result of different parts of the mind reflecting on each other. How will this might fit together? what gives us our self- conscious mind. Can we think like a massive feedback loop. Freud- What is consciousness, something that is sensing our own senses.

David Roserthal- higher order thoughts, higher order states, like what we do as children through self reflection, sound making, and looking into the mirror, children make a noise and the reflection of the sound back to them builds up a self awareness within the world.

Hofstadter 2007- works of Godel Escher; Back how they use self awareness to create. How the mind works, symbols, elements of mental processing memories. I am a strange loop of mind awareness. Self comes into being the moment it can reflect on itself.

Crick and Koch- It is not the brain that makes us conscious . It is a loop of the brain, results neuro-representation of the world, mental activities, not aware of our thoughts in the world.

Zen Buddhism- Sekida 1985- How the mind works, man thinks unconsciously, thinks without noticing, by reflecting this he finds consciousness.


  • ” It’s a nice day.”- not conscious, an unconscious reaction to the world.
  • ” I just thought it was a nice day.”
  • “I just noticed that I noticed it’s a nice day.”
  • “I’ll miss my bus.”

Every now and then you pick out you have a thought about a thought you think you thought, you have to have another thought about it.

In cinema, even digital cinema, every still, frame in the movie is a still, nothing is moving in each frame, if played fast we have a strong sense of motion.

Nothing moves in movies but you think it is moving.

Nen theory is like stills thinking of thought, appear to be conscious within sequence, mind reflecting on another, creating self.

Self awareness in Art

Man whose eyes have been turned inward from Bartisch. Something looking at self.bartisch-1583-eyesbackinhead

Paintings stated to become aware of themselves and not just a depiction of illustration process, paintings started to refer to it own existence.

johannes-gumpp-self-portrait-1646-1342563079_org (1)Johannes Gumpp – Self portrait. We don’t see the front of the artists head, however we see it twice. The artwork is referring to itself as an artwork it is referring to its own existence as a painting , paint on the physical surface of canvas, paint painting that is a painting, conceptual development. On the left it is real bit is also fabricated as it is a painting. All is evident, process of painting is in the painting , painting a process of painting. You looking at him looking at you, awareness looking on how painting becomes aware. Stoichitg- Stand where he stood where he was painting him over his own shoulder.

Gysbrechts_Reverse side of painting.pgCornelius Gijsbrechts-making painting that is illusion. National Gallery London dark space leaning on a podium, “that is the back of a painting” the front of a painting of the back of a painting, painting of fabric of the canvas, simple strongest, self referential, painting of what paintings are, paradoxical, true and false at the same time.

When artists realise they were making paintings- they recognised painting in its own right, absolute state , painting aware of itself, same period of self-reflection in philosophy.

Descartes optiks: turning the eye on itself paradox, trying to understand vision looking on itself, paradox, trying to understand vision looking into an eye. Cows eye cut, image comes through the eye upside down , looking at the back of the eye, inside there must be something looking. The seeing must be aware of self.

braque_still-life_with_violin_and_pitcher_1910Braque- Still life with violin- cubist, refer to themselves the act of being made nail sticking out not looking at a still life you are looking at a painting of a painting of the world, nail changing our understanding of the piece. paints its own condition of painting, reflective process of art.

au-bon-marche-1913Picasso- Au Bon Marche 1913- this is a college of itself of a piece of art, about Paris. This could be cafe scene with a woman at the table all contradictions within the picture which tells you it is deep/flat, flat wallpaper, contradiction between depth and flatness within painting. Sexual reference legs as well, newspaper- they where themselves inter- relationship essay about what painting is depth and space, everyday world self referential portrait.

clairvoyanceMagrette- Clairvoyance, painting pretending to be paint, paint pretending to be skin. Attempting the impossible, temperamental, reality appears logical, but is more paradoxical than first imagined.

21de946cKosuth- Clear square glass leaning, work of art which is purely about itself only nothing to them demonstrations of own existence try to avoid but bring references to memory place in art history, implications which can’t be kept out of circle of meaning. Art’s only claim for art.

cindy-sherman-untitled-film-still-56-1980Cindy Sherman- Untitled film 1980- looking at something which isn’t, could be a still from a movie, knowledge referred to it, she is looking at herself we only see the reflection, paradoxical, complex interrelated potential meaning.

Arthur Danto- what Sherman does, brings things in the back of our minds forward, common heritage brings to the surface, we come to the reflection of ourselves and our own conscious.

JennyHolzer-TimesSquareJenny Holzer- Protect me from what I want- personal declaration.

04057-(BK)Barbara Kurger- I shop therefore I am- subtle meaning, how art becomes , stand in for itself can become the artist themselves within the work.

Simple statements , when thinking with self aware minds, becomes complex than one might appear.

What would a self aware artwork be like?

Self aware machines, value of work of art that, how we can make a self aware work of art. Towards a self aware artwork, like a camera looking in on itself. Video mixer more than one signal in all went back into the television, not feedback from monitor to camera but have other sensory environments being effected, loop, how the mind might work.

Summary of the self aware mind

What is a self? It might be one thing, a collection of things or nothing.

Thinking about self consciousness leads to paradox and infinite regress.

Infinite regress can be a useful and productive process.

Paradox can be creative.

Artists have celebrated and exploited self-reference, paradox and regression.

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