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Looking for why the competence for self-reflection evolved in human minds, one may wonder whether those reasons, qua selection pressures, can be found among those that also explain the evolution of the mental capabilities running several practices that are widely credited to have made the human difference – most notably, tool making and use, an intense sociopolitics, cultural creation and transmission, and of course language learning and use. Section 5.1 reviews this evolutionary avenue but does not find it promising. Section 5.2 returns briefly to memory for clues about the kinds of environments that may have stimulated the evolution of autobiographical memory as a platform for self-reflection. Section 5.3 finds confirmation of those clues in the competitive and dynamic sociopolitical and cultural environments, and their challenges, that children encounter and to which they must adapt after the age of four. Children’s adaptation to these new environments depend on how they regulate their mental and behavioral responses, according to section 5.4.
I begin with some disclaimers. A famous painting by René Magritte shows a pipe yet is mischievously titled (in French) “This is not a pipe.” (Magritte was a communist and a consistently humorous contrarian; I am just a contrarian and rarely humorous here.) The present book has the word “me” in the title and a good part of the text, and it has the word “self” and its various hyphenated combinations on almost every page, yet (no mischief intended) it is not actually, not centrally and not elaborately a book about the self, at least not in the analytic sense explored by philosophers or the empirical sense explored by neuroscientists, psychologists and social scientists. Nor, despite many and often detailed discussions of memory, particularly autobiographical memory, should the book be taken as a fresh contribution to memory research; the memory part is just a prop – albeit an important one – for the overall argument of the book. Nor, finally, despite its subtitle and frequent references and at times extended discussions, is the book really and centrally an analytically detailed and lavishly illustrated account of self-reflection as a mental practice – that is, an account of when and how people self-reflect, through what conceptual and linguistic means, in what concrete contexts, for what specific reasons and in pursuit of what particular goals.
The work of autobiographical memory can be described as mental travel with self explicitly in mind. This self is a nonactual, virtual and distant self, most likely and most often projected and envisaged narratively from a third-person or observer perspective. This is also the self of self-reflection. To get a proper understanding of the notion of the self of self-reflection, it will take some elaboration to extricate it from other self-determining mechanisms as well as from established concepts and views of selfhood in general. Section 3.1 distinguishes between selves and senses of selves and explains why only the latter matter in this inquiry into self-reflection. Section 3.2 discusses some important experiments investigating children’s developing sense of their past bodily and mental conditions, associated with their selves, and notes some critical differences between the minds of children before and after the age of four. Section 3.3 elaborates the central notion of a projective sense of a virtual and displaced self.
This chapter focuses on the mental resources that handle the executive, cognitive and autobiographical tasks of reflection. Relying on neuropsychological and developmental theories and data, the chapter aims to show that the executive, cognitive and autobiographical capacities for reflection develop significantly or even entirely or become operational only after the age of four, in tandem with a sense-of-virtual-self capacity, initially in its autobiographical format. Section 2.1 surveys the key executive capacities for reflection – offline projections and intramental attention, their decoupling from ongoing perception-action circuits and deployment on a capacious working memory. Section 2.2 turns to the cognitive capacities that handle the metamental and conceptual processing of our own mental states. Taking sides in a disputed territory of memory research, Section 2.3 examines the autobiographical memory system that manages the sense-of-projected-self task involved in self-reflection.
Under the pressures of sociocultural self-regulation, the projective and autobiographical sense of a virtual and displaced self develops initially in a public format that emulates and internalizes an outside perspective, that of an external observer, under publicly shared concepts and terms. Section 7.1 elaborates the notion of a public construction of an autobiographical sense of me-self. Section 7.2 examines the perspectival mechanisms, mainly mental imagery and narrativity, that internalize a regulatorily external observer angle on one’s self-strategizing. Finally, according to Section 7.3, self-strategizing would not be adaptive and effective, and the other requirements (examined in this and the previous chapter) would not be met, unless the reflective mind is also able to represent its own states and attitudes in the same public concepts and terms in which it represents the states and attitudes of other minds, which is another facet of an initially internalized public regulation of one’s self-strategic mind.
The adaptive response to the external pressures and mental challenges encountered by older children takes the form of self-strategizing, as the operational core of a variety of mental activities, such as self-centered planning, plotting one’s actions in a social setting, deliberation concerning self and others, and so on. Self-strategizing consists in factoring and integrating representations of the goals, actions and mental states of others into those of one’s own goals, mental states and attitudes. To be adaptive and effective, self-strategizing must regulate its reflective initiatives relative to the norms, rules and practices of the surrounding culture as well as the attitudes and reactions of others toward self. This regulatory dimension of self-strategizing is manifested as conscience. The evolution of conscience-regulated self-strategizing assembled and scaffolded the mental architecture of self-reflection for its central role of regulatory supervisor. Section 6.1 introduces the working notion of scaffolding. Section 6.2 is about self-strategizing, and Section 6.3 about conscience.
What could explain the evolution of the architecture of self-reflection, as outlined so far? According to Section 4.1, any such explanation faces a variety of formidable puzzles, such as the human uniqueness of self-reflection, the absence of a specialized DNA basis, the absence of a dedicated brain location, the inward turn of the self-reflective mind, and the apparent recency and speed of its evolution. To handle these puzzles and explain why and how young human minds respond in unprecedented ways to the selection pressures they face in mid-childhood and later, the remaining sections of the chapter assemble an evolutionary paradigm that finds revealing and fruitful explanatory connections among recent and independently elaborated approaches in three distinct research areas – genetics (Section 4.2), brain organization (Section 4.3) and, most importantly, developmental evolution (Section 4.4).
This introductory chapter outlines the main themes of the book. The first section places the self-reflective mind within a larger classification of kinds of minds, animal as well as human. The second section provides a working analytic profile of self-reflection, focused on the main executive, cognitive and sense-of-selfhood tasks involved in self-reflection, which guide the present inquiry into the mental architecture and its component abilities that run self-reflections. The third section previews the general direction and spirit of this inquiry.
This book explores the evolution of the mental competence for self-reflection: why it evolved, under what selection pressures, in what environments, out of what precursors, and with what mental resources. Integrating evolutionary, psychological, and philosophical perspectives, Radu J. Bogdan argues that the competence for self-reflection, uniquely human and initially autobiographical, evolved under strong and persistent sociocultural and political (collaborative and competitive) pressures on the developing minds of older children and later adults. Self-reflection originated in a basic propensity of the human brain to rehearse anticipatively mental states, speech acts, actions, and states of the world in order to service one's elaborate goal policies. These goal policies integrate offline representations of one's own mental states and actions and those of others in order to handle the challenges of a complex and dynamic sociopolitical and sociocultural life, calling for an adaptive intramental self-regulation: that intramental adaptation is self-reflection.