I've read some definitions of these two and I believe that they are fundamentally the same thing. Introspection is examining one's own thoughts. If the thought is of yourself then that clearly leads to self-awareness.

In any case, can anyone point me to sources discussing the differences between these two definitions? And are there any rigorous and almost mathematical definitions of these two?

  • 5
    No. Introspection is a deliberate focused self-examination. One can be self-aware without such examination just as one can be aware of their surroundings without deliberately focusing on them.
    – Conifold
    Jan 30 at 20:51
  • @Conifold So self-awareness is the capability of introspection? Jan 30 at 20:56
  • Still no. Animals are often considered self-aware at some level, but their capability of introspection is very questionable. Self-awareness is a low-level capability while introspection requires higher mental faculties, like reason.
    – Conifold
    Jan 30 at 21:02
  • 1
    The difference is akin to the difference between "to see" and "to look at". While both are linked to your sense of vision, you can see something without paying much attention, but to look at is a deliberate mobilization of your senses and attention.
    – armand
    Jan 31 at 0:35
  • 2
    Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.
    – Community Bot
    Jan 31 at 9:14

3 Answers 3


Antonio Damasio: The quest to understand consciousness (TED Talk 18 minutes):


The biological model of consciousness is that a biological structure performs a function. Stated differently consciousness is the product of a biological process. In this talk Damasio argues that the mind is a flow of mental images generated as the cognitive or sensory product of the biological process. Damasio argues that self comes to mind as a product of the biological process but mind does not automatically or necessarily have a self in it. Consciousness is proportional to the sense of self in the mind according to Damasio.

  1. a mind, which is a flow of mental images;
  2. a self

A conscious mind is a mind with a self in it. A self introduces a subjective perspective in the mind. We are only fully conscious when self comes to mind.

I think introspection with a self in the mind would map to the term self-awareness. I seem to associate introspection with the attributes of self and not with the attributes of not-self.


The Buddha taught that all phenomena, including thoughts, emotions, and experiences, are marked by three characteristics, or “three marks of existence”: impermanence (anicca), suffering or dissatisfaction (dukkha), and not-self (anatta).

If I form a belief that not-self is a mark of existence then it would be my self that introspects and is aware of my own belief.

Sometime between 1994 and early 1995 I heard a Zen talk given at the Zen Center of Los Angeles by Taizan Maezumi Roshi.


Maezumi died on May 15, 1995, while visiting his family in Japan, drowning in bath while being drunk.

The title of the talk was: I and not-I are one! This talk blew my mind! I don't recall much of the content, but, for example, when I am angry; not-I is not-angry! What I learned specifically is the distinction between I and not-I arises in my mind and it is fuzzy or vague distinction not a distinct distinction!

In the one flow of mental images (the one mind) there arise distinctions between I and not-I. Introspection or self-awareness as an adult does not enable me to recall whether the sense of self emerged from earliest life or was inherent in the flow of mental images. Evidence derived from my adult introspection and self-awareness causes me to believe or conclude strongly that all mammals have the social capacity for self-other recognition from the earliest age (birth) but what we call self-awareness seems to have further human characteristics and probably a more developed or somewhat exclusive capacity for introspection. Animals and humans during early life probably have self-awareness with less capacity for introspection than a typical human adult.

  • Self learns that self does not exist - lol! One of the best moments of 'my' life.
    – Scott Rowe
    Mar 14 at 23:28
  • @Scott Rowe - I would say that the self learns that the self does-and-does-not exist! The Buddha holds that not-self is an attribute or mark of existence but then so is self! Mar 15 at 2:09

The two words overlap but have different centres. Self-awareness can be a passive quality or an unexercised ability. I can be aware of different aspects of myself without having to make a conscious effort. Introspection would normally be used to describe a more deliberate activity or focus. If you like, self-awareness can be thought of as knowledge of oneself, whereas introspection would be the study, or the process of gaining knowledge about oneself. You might increase your self-awareness through introspection.


I would say that introspection is a disposition, whereas self-awareness is - well, that's a bigger question around the nature of consciousness, but awareness is a feature of the organism, how ever we might like to model that. Introspection can only be a feature or characteristic of self-awareness, but is not the same. We might want to say that all self aware beings are introspective to some degree, but still that is not the same as saying they are analogous only that introspection is a property of self awareness. Introspection requires a certain notion of self that is unlikely to be a universal feature of self aware beings. Perhaps a weaker proposition might have a little more mileage, such as; Is human consciousness the same as introspection, but even here I think it would be a difficult one to argue out. Introspection denotes a very particular state of self awareness whereby one's own experience of things are interrogated via one's emotional disposition towards the thing, rather like seeing everything via the lens of self. Self awareness is recognition of self in relation to other things, but not necessarily as central or in a particularly meaningful way. Indeed it is entirely possible to deny the importance of one's emotion response in some or all situations.

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