Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Final Activity Report Summary - DISCOS (Disorders and Coherence of the Embodied Self)

During the last decade, philosophical, psychological and neurobiological approaches to the self and - in particular - the embodied self-have increasingly overcome their disciplinary constraints and entered into a productive dialogue. Theories of the embodied and enactive mind refer to the embedding of cognitive processes in brain circuitry, as well as to the origin of these processes in an organism's sensory-motor experience in relation to its environment. Thus, intention, action and perception are no longer interpreted in terms of the classic physical-mental dichotomy, but rather as closely interlinked. Moreover, leading neuroscientists have emphasized the close connection between brain physiology, whole-bodily functions and aspects of the mind such as consciousness, emotion and self-awareness. These approaches to embodiment are usually opposed to simple mind-brain identity models. They regard both subjective experience and brain processes as being dynamically linked with the organism and the environment.

From birth on, it is mainly through our embodied interactions with the world and with others that the brain matures and develops. And it is only as part of embodied interactions that neuronal activities can serve as carrier processes of conscious experience. In this way, it is the living body itself that unites mind and brain.

DISCOS integrated these research strands regarding the self, its coherence and its disorders. The network started in 2007 to create an interdisciplinary forum for research on embodiment, self-awareness and its disorders. Special emphasis was placed on:
Conceptual aspects of self-awareness and embodiment, focussing on non-reductionist approaches to self and brain.
The interplay of biological and social factors for establishing self-coherence.
The relevance of intersubjectivity and intercorporeality for the development of the self.
Neuropsychiatric disorders of the embodied self.
Therapeutic and ethical consequences.

Based on the common ground of embodiment, DISCOS investigated these major issues and generated innovative findings:
(1) Phenomenology and neurophilosophy projects demonstrated that former distinctions of the levels of self-awareness, in particular the relation between the core self and the narrative self should be redefined, and the role of embodiment in the relation of self and intersubjectivity should be given more weight.
(2) Neuroscience projects could determine distinct neural correlates of particular components of the self in terms of consciousness, basic self-awareness, agency and self-other distinction. However, these findings do not support "one way" explanations of embodiment and intersubjectivity. Social intersubjectivity seems to a greater extent created by the actors during their encounter than determined by their biological subsystems.
(3) Developmental psychology projects demonstrated how basic structures of the social self-develop in early childhood. This underlines the importance of successful early social interactions and attachment relationships in the first years of life. Results also showed that newborns and toddlers bring along more competences to start and maintain these interactions than is usually expected. These results demonstrate as well that interactive deficiencies potentially undermine a successful development of social cognition and "self-with-others".
(4) Projects in neuropsychiatry, neurology and psychosomatics investigated a broad range of bodily self-disorders, e.g. in sequel of stroke, schizophrenia, severe personality disorders and somatoform disorders. The inclusion of the embodied self will improve the psychopathological assessment as well as the differentiation and outcome of treatment in these conditions.

In sum, the interdisciplinary research approaches applied in DISCOS significantly contributed to novel state of the art knowledge in the involved disciplines. Moreover, it implemented a new structure of interdisciplinary postgraduate education. On could well imagine that future medical residents will receive philosophy lessons, while philosophers will study schizophrenia, or dementia as models for disorders and coherence of self.

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