We human beings experience a sense of identity, an inner personality. I assume Machines and computers do not. Animals also seem to possess consciousness and some sort of sense of self.

Where does this sense of self come from? It seems very difficult to explain in terms of physical law.

  • 1
    Why animals but not computers? We have no inside view in either case (strictly speaking, we do not have it even in the case of other humans). Even simpler issue of having "what it is like" experiences is known as the "hard problem of consciousness" and there is no agreed upon explanation. The issue is controversial and an active topic of research in both neuroscience and philosophy of mind.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jul 26, 2018 at 21:23
  • "I assume Machines and computers do not." Because they are not programmed to. Or, at least, they don't tell us. And, probably, they can't run such a software that would make them experience a sense of identity. But that does not mean artificially created structure can't have personality.
    – rus9384
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 0:55
  • Sometimes you all go away. But I'm always right here.
    – user34017
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 13:52
  • Well for one thing it comes from our experience with "the other". We bump up against the other, primarily the human other. This can be a jarring experience. It sets our limit, and we get a sense of self from our experience. But we see ourselves being "objectified" by the other. The gaze of the other upon us, didn't Sartre say this? Something like that.
    – Gordon
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 15:41
  • This is a difficult question for sure. Those who research consciousness 'empirically' as it were deny the existence of the self. It would arise from a false identification with body and mind. It would be an illusion that once seen as such would evaporate. Those who merely speculate tend to see the self as real so cannot explain it, or have to propose it arises from inert matter by some inexplicable miracle.
    – user20253
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 13:37

1 Answer 1


At present, it seems that physicalism [1] is true, and the evidence that the mind and its mental processes are totally dependent on the brain and its neural processes is very strong [2]. No one has ever been able to definitely show that the former entities can occur, change, disappear independently of the latter entities. This includes the sense of the sense of self, sense identity, inner personality, etc. too – these senses must occur from some neural processes in the brain, they cannot just occur alone by themselves [3]. Presently, there is a lot of evidence where these neural processes of self are in the brain. For example,

  • different levels of self and world representation rely upon (i) a “basal” subcortical system that may underpin the primary (or anoetic) consciousness includes brainstem, hypothalamus and central thalamic nuclei and (ii) a forebrain system that include the medial and lateral structures of the cerebral hemispheres may sustain the most sophisticated forms of consciousness [e.g., noetic (knowledge-based) and autonoetic, reflective knowledge [4]

  • self-related processing involves an area in the brain called the cortical midline structures (CMSs) [5] or the complex interactions between the default mode network and multiple large-scale networks, especially the frontoparietal control networks [6]

  • self-face recognition involves areas in the cuneus, the right temporal, parietal, frontal regions, and insular cortices. [7]

  • bodily self-consciousness (body ownership, self-location, and first-person perspective) involves premotor, frontoparietal, temporoparietal, posterior parietal, and extrastriate cortices [8,9].

So, the sense of self and self-related phenomena occur from the functioning of the neural processes in these brain areas.

But, why are there neural processes for the sense of self? If we examine animals that have or seem to have the sense of self (human, mammals, birds, etc.), they are all in the latest evolved groups of animals. This is in contrast to animals that do not have or seem not to have the sense of self (sponges, jellyfish, corals, etc.), they are all in the evolutionary primitive groups of animals. Also, theoretically, comparing two types of animals, one with the sense of self and the other without the sense of self, with all other things identical, the one with the sense of self obviously has more drive (from the sense of self) to avoid danger, to seek happiness, to stay alive, and to procreate than the one without the sense of self. So, it is logical to conclude that the sense of self is just the evolved function to help increase the survival chance of the being and the species that possess it.

Similarly, it can be argued that consciousness is the results of some neural process [10] – it cannot just occur out of nothing by itself. And, with the same line of arguments as in the preceding paragraph, it can be logically argued that consciousness is just the evolved function to help increase the survival chance of the being and the species that possess it. That is, you (the consciousness of you and the sense of yourself) exist to increase the chance of your own survival.[11]


  1. Physicalism
  2. The Mind is Part of the Brain
  3. Neural representations of the sense of self

  4. Evolutionary aspects of self- and world consciousness in vertebrates

  5. A Philosophical Perspective on the Relation between Cortical Midline Structures and the Self

  6. That’s me in the spotlight: neural basis of individual differences in self-consciousness

  7. Neural Mechanism for Mirrored Self-face Recognition

  8. Behavioral, Neural, and Computational Principles of Bodily Self-Consciousness

  9. Multisensory brain mechanisms of bodily self-consciousness.

  10. An extended theory of global workspace of consciousness

  11. The Basic Theory of the Mind
  • we don't fully understand the brain by any means. so this is just belief
    – michael
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 13:07
  • 1
    @michael The fact that we don't "fully understand" something does not mean that it is "just belief." The gaps are not excuses to ignore the parts we do understand. I don't know every detail of the back streets of rural France, but that does not mean I should doubt that Paris is the capital.
    – user34017
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 13:52
  • my point is no one argues that the brain plays some role in our thought process. mind altering drugs can verify that. but the question is whether there is something else involved.
    – michael
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 15:13
  • @michael I believe that's what sources 1 and 2 are meant to address. To argue that there is nothing else, just the physical system of our brain and related processes.
    – Harabeck
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 20:42
  • Thank you for every comment. Every idea is as good as its predictions. Whether the brain and its processes can account for all the phenomena of the mind and its processes can be experimentally verified. There are experimentally viable predictions related to this matter at the end of reference 2. We shall see how they will be borne out.
    – user287279
    Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 4:03

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