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Mental and bodily awareness in infancy: consciousness of self-existence

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In this article, I will draw on my own work and related publications to present some intuitions and hypotheses about the nature of the self and the mechanisms that lead to the development of consciousness or self awareness in human infants during the first 6 months of life. My main purpose is to show that the origins of a concept of self include the physical and the mental selves. I believe that it is essential when trying to understand what a mental state is, that one identifies the social and physical aspects of the person to whom the mental state belongs. How can one identify a mental state or thought without making reference to a subject who experiences it (Hobson, 1990)? The other important feature of the self is that it is distinguished from other people and inanimate objects. ‘One's concept of self is a concept of a person; one's concept of persons cannot be a concept applicable only to a single individual (oneself), for the reason that in this case it would no longer constitute a concept'(Hobson, 1990, p. 165). I would like to argue that infants must be able to represent their physical and social selves in order to recognize that they are similar and different from other people, and to develop expectations and predictions about the behaviour of others (theory of mind). Unlike Strawson, I do not believe that the social and physical aspects of the self are, or become redundant to the nature of the self. I posit that the mature conscious self is a unique mythical and constantly changing entity, the formation of which is created not by the individual alone, but through continuous dialectical inquiry with other people.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, York University, Toronto, Canada .

Publication date: May 1, 1998

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