Self Awareness and the Conscious Mind

In this lecture we discussed what it was to be self aware and how this relates to consciousness.

There is a particular step that children take in the development of self awareness, self awareness does not come from birth but tends to develop after 18 months. Before then, babies will not recognise themselves as themselves, but on seeing a reflection of themselves will look at it as though looking at a stranger.

As our awareness develops further, unlike all other animals, we begin to become aware of our own awareness. This poses the question – what is the self that is aware of itself?

For Descartes, his ability to doubt was proof that he could think, that his thinking was real and so he had a self. “I think, therefore I am”.

Antonio Damasio argues that there are 2 types of selves, a ‘core self’ and an ‘autobiographical’ self. Both of which are integrated to create one sense of self.

The theory of phenomenology asserts that consciousness is located within the thought that is active/or conscious at a given time.

Shaun Gallagher puts forward the theory of ’embodiment’, arguing that we should not be looking to locate the mind in a single a part of the brain, but rather our ‘selves’ is our embodiment, allowing us to interact with the world – through our bodies.

There are many theorist writing around the theory of the ‘self’ – ranging from those who believe that we do have an existing ‘self’, to those who believe that our understanding of self is purely illusionary.

Trying to understand the notion of ‘self’ poses the logical dilemma – can you really think about yourself, thinking about yourself? A camera can’t take a photograph of itself, and so do we really have the capacity to think about ourselves thinking about ourselves?

The questions about self awareness brought up during this lecture, were then taken into the context of art. We began to ask, can a piece of art be self aware?
During the 17th Century a change occurred in art, artists began to turn their attentions to art as a depiction and awareness of itself – rather than as a depiction of real/imaginary events.

This piece by Johannes Gumpp (1646), illustrates this self awareness. The painting opens up layers of dialogue between artist and audience. Gumpp uses his painting to show his awareness of the audiences awareness.

Another interesting piece was Cornelis Gijsbrecht’s ‘Reverse of a Framed Painting’. A painting of the back of the painting, a highly detailed and realistic depiction of the back of the canvas it is painting of creates a sense of the painting knowing about itself.

Cornelis Norbert Gijscrechts, Reverse of a Framed Canvas

In the painting ‘Still Life with Violin’ by Georges Braque, we again see painting that exists as a form of self reflection. The pin at the top of the painting creates a new level to how we view the whole painting, it exists as THE painting but also as a painting of a painting.

Conceptual artists saw that the main purpose of art ought to be this self reflection. Art should not depict anything other than itself. It should be its own definition. As seen in this piece by Joseph Kosuth, ‘Clear square glass leaning’



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