The Cognitive Architecture of the Self: An Exploration of Form and Substance

Gabriel Berzescu
3 min readMay 31, 2023

Introduction

Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary field that seeks to understand the complexities of the human mind and the way it processes information. A critical question that has intrigued philosophers, cognitive scientists, and psychologists throughout history is the nature of the self. What are the key components that contribute to the formation of the self, and how do they interact? We will delve into this question, exploring the role of form and substance when it comes to the development and understanding of the self.

The Union of Form and Substance

In cognitive science, flowing inputs can be considered the substance of the mind, the raw data that we experience throughout our lifetime. This data may take various forms, with one person’s experiences differing vastly from another’s due to its own nature or the context in which it occurs.

In contrast, the form represents the relatively stable parameters by which we process this data, such as synaptic weights — the strengths of connections between neurons in the brain. The form shapes our experiences or inputs, leading them to create distinct, individualized perceptions.

The union of form and substance is what ultimately gives rise to the activations, which can be considered the self. The self is, therefore, a dynamic entity that emerges from the interplay of form and substance — a product of the brain’s architecture and the present experiences it engages with.

Fluidity and Adaptability of the Self

The self, while born from the union of form and substance, is not a fixed entity. Cognitive flexibility and adaptability are critical features of the human mind. This adaptability can manifest in our ability to adopt different roles.

I can be Gabriel, Obi-Wan Kenobi, or plunge into complete unconsciousness during the deepest phases of sleep. This fluidity of the self underscores the adaptability of the mind, which persists as its ability to change with new experiences, information or social roles.

Memory, Environment, and the Self

We also touch upon the role of memories — such as semantic and episodic memories — in the formation of the self. Contrary to popular belief, memories are not necessarily regarded as intrinsic components of one’s self.

Instead, memories are part of the environment, encoded in the synaptic weights that shape our activations, our perception of the world. This encoding suggests that our memories play a pivotal role in the way we interact with the environment, as they inform our interpretation of experiences and guide our behavior. While memories are not part of the self, they act as relatively stable factors that influence the development and perception of our self in relation to the world around us.

Conclusions

The concept of the self proves to be a nuanced and intricate construct, born of the intersection between form and substance, and continually adapting to our changing lives. Although the self remains fluid, it is shaped and stabilized by memories that provide context and meaning to our experiences.

As we continue to delve deeper into understanding the human mind, we must acknowledge the dynamic nature of the self, its relationship with memories and the environment, and its foundation in the union of form and substance. Only by embracing this complexity can we begin to comprehend the true essence of what it means to be human.

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