Inventing the Self

Damasio and Blindness

September 17th, 2013 by John Giunta · 6 Comments

Hey, sorry, not supposed to comment this week but going ahead anyway because I wonder what people think and I haven’t seen it come up yet. Yanno how Lacan’s mirror stage of infancy gets somewhat undermined by children who are born blind? I’m starting to feel that same way about Damasio and his self-related-to-making-body-maps idea. Barring extreme disease or death, Damasio claims that the constant mapping and updating of the body (homeostasis and all that) is this static, stable, grounding point around which we can say the self bases itself on (forgive the weird wording of the last section of this sentence.) What happens to a self that has undergone some kind of bodily injury? Likewise, Damasio throws the term “image” around quite a bit, but what about selves that do not see, or never have seen? Is there an accounting for this somewhere?

Tags: Uncategorized

6 responses so far ↓

  • Jason Tougaw (he/him/his) // Sep 18th 2013 at 8:57 am

    Great question about bodily injury. V.S. Ramachandran has done some interesting work on phantom limb syndrome, and it does seem as though phantom limb syndrome emerges when the brain’s map of the body remains intact even when the body itself is changed. Make sense?

    In terms of images: Damasio is careful to define “images” as the experience of any sense, not just sight. It’s a point that’s easy to miss.

  • Lindsey Roth-Rosen // Sep 18th 2013 at 9:05 am


    Just saw your post (following Prof. Humphries) I wanted to add that I am a huge groupie of V.S. Ramachandran and I believe you can listen to his findings re: mirror box therapy on RadioLab here: .

    Just my 2 cents.


  • Shona Mari Sapphire // Sep 18th 2013 at 9:33 am

    John Giunta:
    The additive lens through which the existential experience of others, (deemed out of the “normal” realm of physiological, psychological or other function), holds value is so important in this investigation. This brings to mind your observation during Hustvedt’s work about the development of the “autobiographical self” without access to formal language – and the notion that this might take place in other self-expressive/interactive formats such as art. Within this realm of the tenuous understanding of human consciousness and self, there must be other channels through which the brain to body input enters information about “image” formation in the mind – other than the optic communication. Accounting for every variation in human function seems daunting, when the standing of theories is difficult enough to establish with a stable set of variables, however, examining the existence of the “outliers” would seem to add to the validity of the hypothesis in total.

  • John Giunta // Sep 18th 2013 at 11:20 am

    Damasio does touch on sound maps, and goes quite a bit on into the structure of the ear, which I found interesting, but even there it did seem to me that he never specifically addresses sound maps as fully replacing visual maps. See, I agree that an image doesn’t have to be visual, as we aren’t “seeing” the things we imagine, but I do think that his stance is based off a culture of seeing, and that even neural maps of physical sensations can be informed by sight (reductive example but: ever see a little kid fall, scrape their knee, be fine, but then notice the blood and begin to cry? As if there needs to be a conscious realization of the injury via seeing it to react to pain.) Likewise, Damasio doesn’t use blindness or true disability greater than minor injuries, tooth aches, burns, and pain in consideration to body mapping, unless these kinds of things are the rare diseases that he mentions earlier, the ones that greatly alter the brain’s ability to map the body?

  • John Giunta // Sep 18th 2013 at 11:22 am

    I think phantom limb syndrome is fascinating, but had never heard of Ramachandran, so thanks! Does Damasio account for this kind of false body map?

  • Jason Tougaw (he/him/his) // Sep 18th 2013 at 2:09 pm

    Damasio touches on the work of Ramachandran and others–and his “as-if-body-loop” is one way of explaining what you call here “false body maps,” but he doesn’t spend a lot of time on this. His focus is really on what we might think of as “normative” consciousness.

Skip to toolbar