An Anatomy of Consciousness

Israel Rosenfeld

New York, 1992.

This book begins with a few pages of rather unconvincing hectoring, but is soon on the trail of very far-reaching conceptions which, Rosenfeld argues, entail the re-thinking of psychology. The core idea is this:

"If all self-reference were destroyed, consciousness and understanding would not be possible.

"Meaning and understanding are parts of the structure of consciousness that emerge from self-reference; they cannot exist without a body-image." (p.55)

"Self-reference is not a hypothetical idea but a demonstrable part of the structure of consciousness; a partial breakdown in the physiological mechanisms that create it give us the phenomenon of phantom limbs." (p.56)

Rosenfeld has a chapter called "The Counterfeit Leg and the Bankruptcy of Classical Neurology", in which he criticizes a surprising unity: what he earlier (p.9) calls "the conventional wisdom that neurologists, psychologists, and even philosophers have advanced over the past century", namely that there are such things as specific memories that can be lost. He argues that this view is a static notion of brain organization, and offers a dynamic conception which invites comparison with Kelly's Personal Construct Psychology, as described in Inquiring Man.

"This is the very essence of memory: its self-referential base, its self-consciousness, ever evolving and ever changing, intrinsically dynamic and subjective." (p.8)

The extremely bizarre phenomenon of phantom limbs is accounted for in terms of the subject's sense of space, which is founded on body image. Rosenfeld suggests that there is a re-organization of self-reference which results in a distorted sense of space such that there is then no space for a disowned limb to exist in.

A man called Hull became blind at 24, thence losing "a mental image of space. It was not that a stored image of space was erased: the very concept of visual space disappeared, because Hull no longer had a visual frame of reference, a visual body image" (p.64)

Bateson's (1979) 4th presupposition - the processes of image formation are unconscious - applies here. Neuronal groups are combined in sheets (maps) which respond to particular kinds of stimuli. ("In neurobiological terms a map is an array of cells where a parameter changes systematically with movement across the array." Jubak (1992, p.162)) The interconnections of the maps enable a coherent response to a stimulus to emerge, which is not conscious.

"Conscious images are dynamic relations among a flow of constantly evolving coherent responses, at once different and yet derived from previous responses that are part of an individual's past." (p.85)

Rosenfeld repeatedly insists that body-image is the third component of consciousness, but each insistence is expressed as a bald assertion. Certainly this can be seen in the case of the maintenance of body posture, but is this true in general?

"When brain damage destroys specific aspects of self-reference, it alters the structure of consciousness, hence knowledge as well." (p.85)

It is conjectured that the limbic system may be the root (route?) of consciousness.



Paul Taylor 2001