Insight Conference
Dr. Anna Ciaunica
9:30am - 10:00am
Track 4: Rudolf Virchow Room


Whatever Next and Closer to my Self – The Transparent Senses and the ‘Second Skin’: Implications for the Case of Depersonalisation

In his seminal paper ‘Whatever next? Predictive brains, situated agents, and the future of cognitive science’ Andy Clark (2013) argued that the brain’s job is to predict whatever information is coming ‘next’ on the basis of prior inputs. This is because the organism’s survival is key to biological agents such as humans. Survival however crucially depends on rapid and accurate information processing of what is happening in the here and now. In this paper we suggest that term ‘next’ in Clark’s seminal formulation must include not only the temporal dimension (i.e. what is perceived now); but (ii) also the spatial dimension (i.e. what is perceived here or next-to-my-body). This is because ‘here’ and ‘now’ are like the two sides of the same coin when it comes to processing survival relevant perceptual information. We argue that perceptual processing of proximal sensory inputs has a key impact on the organism’s survival. Specifically, we focus on tactile experiences mediated by the skin and what we will call the ‘extended skin’ or ‘second skin’, that is immediate objects/materials that envelop closely our skin, namely clothes. One relatively overlooked aspect of our experiences is that humans in modern societies spend most of their lives having their bodies closely enveloped by materials/textile. Following the seminal ‘extended mind’ thesis (Clark & Chalmers 1998), we argue that these materials may be conceived as a ‘second skin’ or ‘extended skin’ that underwrite what we will call here ‘extended body-image’ and ‘extended body-schema’ (cf. Gallagher 2005). Contrary to the standard approach that views the skin (and tactile experiences) as a mere border separating the self and world, here we propose that the skin (and its extended version, ‘the second skin’, i.e. the clothes) simultaneously and inherently distinguish and connect the bodily self to its environment. Hence these proximal and pervasive tactile experiences should be viewed as a ‘transparent bridge’ intrinsically relating and facilitating exchanges between the self and the physical and social world. We conclude with potential implications of this observation for the case of Depersonalisation Disorder, a condition that makes people feel estranged and detached from their self, body and the world.


Research Associate

Dr. Anna Ciaunica

University of Porto, University College London
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