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Cultural Neuroscience of Consciousness: From Visual Perception to Self-Awareness

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Abstract:

Philosophical inquiries into the nature of consciousness have long been intrinsically tied to questions regarding the nature of the self. Although philosophers of mind seldom make reference to the role of cultural context in shaping consciousness, since antiquity culture has played a notable role in philosophical conceptions of the self. Western philosophers, from Plato to Locke, have emphasized an individualistic view of the self that is autonomous and consistent across situations, while Eastern philosophers, such as Lao Tzu and Confucius, have argued for a collectivistic view of the self, one that is interconnected to others and embedded within specific social contexts and situations. Here we argue that a comprehensive theory of consciousness needs to account for the role of cultural context and its bidirectional interaction with neural and genetic mechanisms in shaping a variety of conscious phenomena, from visual perception to self- awareness. We review recent evidence of cultural variation in neurobiological mechanisms underlying these phenomena and discuss the implications of these cultural neuroscience findings for the study of consciousness.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, Email: jchiao@northwestern.edu

Publication date: January 1, 2008

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