The idea of an autonomous self that is governed solely by the brain is a relatively novel, western cultural and philosophical development. The most recent incarnation of this distinctly western idea is the construction of the ‘neurobiological self’, an intensely technological enterprise. Philosopher Evan Thompson, refers to this materialist and reductive enterprise as ‘neuro-nihilism’. These notions have reinforced reductive western thinking and further alienated the individual from the self as a whole organism, its socio-cultural context and a sense of being environmentally embedded.
With this background in mind it is reasonable to suggest that distinct socio-cultural trends (e.g. neuro-imaging) and conceptual frameworks shape our experience of the self and relationship to our own senses. Contrary to these trends and reductionist thinking, our experience of the self is not exclusively informed by dispassionate neurobiological ‘realities’.
The term interoception was first used by Sir Charles Sherrington in 1906 in his influential book ‘The Integrative Action of the Nervous System’. Sherrington differentiated the following seven senses:
1. interoception – sensation from inside the body, particularly the organs
2. exteroception – sensory inputs from outside the body
3. proprioception – sensory inputs that relate to limb position and movements
4. teloreception – vision and audition
5. chemoreception – taste and smell
6. thermoreception – temperature
7. nociception – sensory input activated by damaging or threatening stimuli
Sherrington situated thermoreception and nociception with exteroception because he regarded these as ‘discriminative cutaneous sensations triggered by external stimuli’. Sherrington’s classification gained traction because both thermoreception and nociception have the capacity for fine grained spatial discrimination. This perspective has informed all modern neuroscience at the exclusion of the more integrated notion of ‘Gemeingefuhl’ (which translates from German as ‘common sensation’). Gemeingefuhl preceded Sherrington’s schema and was the prevailing notion at that time.
Interoception is integral to the quality of Integrated Embodiment and further explored conceptually and through specific practices in MESHWORK Fundamentals.
Organisational map of the homeostatic afferent system and its extension into the forebrain of primates. The afferent limb is shown in the top row and the efferent limb in the bottom row. The hierarchy consists of input-output loops at several levels, all of which are modulated by the hypothalamus (black lines) as well as the limbic sensory (insula) and limbic motor (cingulate) cortices (not shown). The red lines indicate the phylogenetically new pathways in primates that provide a direct thalamocortical input reflecting the physiological condition of the body. In humans, re-representations of the interoceptive cortex lead to a meta-representation of the state of the body in the right anterior insula that is associated with the subjective awareness of the ‘feeling self’. B Craig (2003)