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Keywords:

  • blindsight;
  • Buddhist psychology;
  • consciousness;
  • implicit memory;
  • mind-brain;
  • self

Abstract. The nature of self is examined in relation to psychological observations which reveal some form of dissociation of knowledge from consciousness. Such dissociations are apparent in cases of blindsight, and amnesic patients displaying implicit memory effects, among others. While amnesic patients, for example, are unable consciously to recall material previously presented, such material does influence subsequent physiological and psychological processes. Thus, it is not the memories themselves that have been lost, but the ability to make conscious connection to them. In attempting to account for such observations, theoreticians generally have posited some kind of “consciousness system” that may become dissociated from brain modules dealing with specific processing.

It is argued here that a view of self along the lines of the Buddhist concepts of no-self and the conditioned nature of “I” introduces a more parsimonious perspective on the neuropsychological data. A theory of the nature of self is presented that constitutes a synthesis between key ideas drawn from Buddhist and other mainly mystical traditions and the scientific observations in psychology. Central to this theory is the role that the left hemisphere's interpreter (Gazzaniga 1985; 1988a; 1988b) plays in constructing a unified “I.” This “I” is, in effect, a hypothesis that the mind generates to introduce some coherence into otherwise fragmentary mental elements. Although it appears to be the causal focus of the individual's behavior and experience, it is in fact a retrospective construction and not a true causal structure of the mind. This theoretical view is discussed in relation to various meanings of the term consciousness and also in relation to the relevant neuropsychological cases.