Awareness of the internal

There is obviously a difference between the access that I have to my own body and the access that I have to other people’s bodies. So, when I perform an action I get privileged access to the sensory consequences of this action from proprioception, from the nerves on the interior of the body. But I pay very little attention to these signals from my insides.

The brain clearly uses this information; it is very important for making our actions smooth, accurate, fast and so on, but it doesn’t seem to be very important for our consciousness. In essence, we do not need to be continually aware of our posture, muscle tone, stomach movements or the pressure of an arm against a table; and so, hours can go by without conscious awareness of any internal ‘feelings’ of our body. There is even a homeostatic system that registers things like blood sugar level, body temperature, blood oxygen levels and other important indications of our body’s biochemical health. We do not call this a ‘sense’ because it simply does not enter our awareness at all, ever. It is important though as is felt in the extreme panic and all consuming drives that result from something like lack of air.

Touch is different and any little change in touch that is at all, in the tiniest way, unexpected comes into conscious awareness. It resembles sight and hearing. The result of this difference between external and internal senses is that the spotlight of consciousness is much more likely to fall on the world outside our skins than on the events inside the skin. Touch is usually about the outside not the inside. We have a model of the world and ourselves in it. But as far as consciousness is concerned, our own bodies are just sketched in with far less detail than is available.

What is the exception to this ignoring of the internal – why, pain of course, the body’s alarm bell to ‘pay attention to me’. If I want to get pain out of my consciousness without drugs, it takes real skill and effort, a sort of self hypnosis. And with pain comes all the little internal ‘feelings’ from places near the source of the pain.

Although the brain has a good deal of information about the rest of the body and presumably uses this information in predictive modeling of the body in the world, this internal part of the predictive model is not often an important part of the our conscious awareness. It can be otherwise of course, an athlete or a dancer or a tight-rope walker probably has a lot more awareness of their internal workings than the rest of us – because it has become important.

2 thoughts on “Awareness of the internal

  1. I think there are several therapeutic techniques that are based in increasing the awarenes of our internal sensation. One of them if the following:
    Biofeedback is a treatment technique in which people are trained to improve their health by using signals from their own bodies. Physical therapists use biofeedback to help stroke victims regain movement in paralyzed muscles. Psychologists use it to help tense and anxious clients learn to relax. Specialists in many different fields use biofeedback to help their patients cope with pain.

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