(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
The Portuguese neurologist Damasio thinks that
consciousness is an internal narrative.
The "I" is not telling the story: the "I" is created by stories told in the mind
("You are the music while the music lasts").
Damasio breaks the problem of consciousness into two parts: the "movie in the brain" kind of experience (how a number of sensory inputs are trasnformed into the continuous flow of sensations of the mind) and the self (how the sense of "owning" that movie comes to be).
The former is a purely non-verbal process: language is not a prerequisite for consciousness. Nonetheless, language is the source of the "I", a second order narrative capacity.
Neurological research has proven that distinct parts of the brain work in concert to represent reality. Brain cells represent events occurring somewhere else in the body Brain cells are "intentional", if you will. They are not only "maps" of the body: besides the topography, they also represent what is taking place in that topography.
Indirectly, the brain also represents whatever the organism is interacting with, since that interaction is affecting one or more organs (e.g., retina, tips of the fingers, ears), whose events are represented in brain cells.
The brain stem and hypothalamus are the organs that regulate "life", that control the balance of chemical activity required for living. Consequently, they also represent the continuity of the same organism. Damasio believes that the self originates from these biological processes: the brain has a representation of the body and has a representation of the objects the body is interacting with, and therefore can discriminate self and non-self and then generate a "second order narrative" in which the self is interacting with the non-self (the external world). This second-order representation occurs mainly in the thalamus.
From an evolutionary perspective, we can presume that the sense of the self is useful to induce purposeful action based from the "movie in the mind". The self provides a survival advantage because the "movie in the mind" acquires a first-person character, i.e. it acquires a meaning for that first person, i.e. it highlights what is good and bad for that first person, a first person which happens to be the body of the organism, disguised as a self.
This second-order narrative derives from the first-order narrative constructed from the sensory mappings. In other words, all of this is happening while the "movie" is playing. The sense of the self is created while the movie is playing by the movie itself. The thinker is created by the thought. The spectator of the movie is part of the movie.