In a recent post about the definition of knowledge, I discussed how knowledge manifests from relational maps in the nervous system, mainly within the brain. In this article, I aim to answer the question “How does self awareness emerge?” within the context of those same relational maps.
How Does Self Awareness Emerge?
As mentioned in the article cited above, neural networks serve as the physical substrate for relational maps, and physical stimuli shape their configuration. The informational relationships between brain regions and stimuli give rise to experience. This interpretation is adapted from a scholarly article on the mathematics of qualia.
Think of your relational map as a wireframe grid, like the one pictured below. Each node is a piece of information and each wire is its relationship to another piece of information. This grid is built as you acquire new knowledge, and, of interest within the context of self awareness, can be churned and manipulated to produce stimuli containing information about the whole.
Acquiring New Knowledge
As you mull things over during study or contemplation, you are testing the strength and flexibility of each wire. Weak links are identified and removed, and you discover new, previously overlooked connections, effectively reinforcing your grid with stronger wires. This process increases your confidence that you do in fact know what you think you know, and allows you to make corrections if needed.
Knowing What You Know
Furthermore, the informational output of this process is rich with insight about the global structure of your relational map. In analyzing relationships between elements, a bird’s eye view of the map itself is produced. Through this mechanism, as you integrate and analyze the information stored in distant corners of your mind, your experience becomes one of self-awareness, or, more precisely, knowledge of your own body of knowledge. Indeed, it leads to knowing what you know.
Why Understanding Self Awareness Matters
Self awareness is important because it is, hierarchically speaking, a higher order thought process (it constitutes thinking about thought). Furthermore, understanding self awareness is important because it is an even higher order thought process (it constitutes thinking about thinking about thought). If that’s not worth thinking about, I don’t know what is!