The Homunculus Effect
Is the Inner Self an Illusion?
(Francis Steen; revised August 8, 1997)
of self-knowledge (Neisser
The ecological self and episodic memory
the ecological self: the self "as perceived with respect
to the physical environment"
the interpersonal self is "specified by species-specific
signals of emotional rapport and communication"
the extended self is "based primarily on our personal memories
the private self "appears when children first notice that
their experiences are not directly shared with other people"
the conceptual self "draws its meaning from the network of
assumptions and theories in which it is embedded"
the ecological is inferred from sensations: "the existence
of of perceiving entity at a particular location is most clearly specified
by the optical flow field", including sensations of looming and streaming
episodic memories are formed of this field-events and objects
from a specific series of points of view: "the information of episodic
memory could be said to concern the self's experiences in subjective space
and time" (Tulving, "What is Episodic Memory?" in Current Directions
2:67), permitting the inference of an observer following a trajectory
on recall, episodic memories retain this sense of an ecological
self: "The act of remembering a personally experienced event, that is,
consciously recollecting it, is characterized by a distinctive, unique
awareness of reexperiencing here and now something that happened before,
at another time and in another place" (Tulving, p. 68)
The inferred self of simulations
consciousness supports only a 2½D format of visual
representation, but the visual system generates and stores a full 3D representation
the neural circuits that are utilized for the distribution
of visual imagery can take input both from the visual perception system
and from memory (the circuits that mediate perceptual or presentational
consciousness also mediate simulations or representational consciousness)
simulations increase the quality or usefulness of collected
information by utilizing aspects of the 3D representation that may not
have been present in the original episodic memory
this results in images viewed from novel perspectives-close-ups,
bird's-eye views, and views devoid of perceptual obstacles
rapid changes in perspective are permitted that are not possible
we have evolved specfic functional adaptations for making
inferences about what kind of a creature we are on the basis of information
from the optical flow field (the 'ecological self')
if these inferences are applied to simulations, we derive
notions of an inner self
the inner self is defined by the perspective assumed by simulations;
it is the observer that watches the simulated scenes
since the perspective in simulations is often high above
the ground, and is unencumbered by kinaesthetic cues, it cannot essentially
belong to a body
since perspective can be changed at will, the inner self
is in control, and not subject to any obvious limitations
since it is an observer and an agent, all inferences relevant
to agents and minds apply to it
the sensations of the body can be attributed to it
© 1997 Francis
F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California, Los Angeles
The ecological self contains information about an actual
Is there a real agent that perceives simulations?
An agent with a history, a mind, interests, a future?
A mental entity analogous to the whole person-a homunculus?
Hypothesis: No, this is an illusion, and it may in part be traced
to a series of mistaken inferences made about the role of agent and observer
in simulations. For a further discussion on this, see my "The
Time of Unrememberable Being: Wordsworth's Autobiography of the Imagination"
and Marcia Johnson on reality
monitoring and the self.