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Understanding Body Ownership and Agency

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The human brain typically handles these phenomena by comparing neural signals encoding the intended action with those signals carrying sensory feedback. When we are born, we make erratic reaching and kicking movements to map our body and to calibrate our sensorimotor system. During infancy, these movements solidify our self-awareness, and around the time we first walk, we are quick to investigate a sticker placed on our forehead when looking in a mirror, recognizing the foreign object as abnormal. By the age of four, our brains are proficient at distinguishing self and other. In the amputee, the brain lesion patient, and the defendant on trial, the sense of self is disrupted due to discordance between sensory feedback from the limb and the brain’s expectations of how a movement should feel.
Instead of investigating ownership and agency as two distinct concepts, recent research has sought to understand how body ownership might have developed through the sum of agency experiences that we accrue throughout our life. What we perceive as our body is not only what looks like our body, but what we typically have conscious control over. This control is asserted by learned associations between our muscular movements and the sensory feedback we perceive when performing an action—the so-called “action effects.” What remains unclear, however, is just how multiple selves—including our bodily, social, and autobiographical selves—are integrated, and what kind of agency experiences drive the perception of having a single, stable self.
Bodily illusions

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1937, French scientist J. Tastevin was testing perception of touch and finger position when he noticed that people often mistook a plastic finger protruding from underneath a cloth near their hand as their real finger. In the 1960s, French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty described the way the body feels as “my hereness” and noted that perceiving oneself in a mirror extends this to a visually perceived self that is part of the external world, which Merleau-Ponty called “my thereness.” In doing so, he anticipated that self-recognition may be more than the immediate experience of the feeling of our bodies, that it may also involve the visual perception of our bodily self, which is quite similar to the way we perceive others. Over the next 40 years, research focused on the senses of touch and limb position, but little, if any, focus was given to mental representations of the body other than case studies of neurological disorders.
Being in control

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Beyond ownership, the sense of agency is a conviction that we have control over the events we initiate. We have control when we reach for a glass of water, when we kick a football, and when we put pen to paper.
Based on theoretical ideas of 19th century physician and physicist Hermann von Helmholtz, German scientists Erich von Holst and Horst Mittelstaedt demonstrated the reafference principle in 1950 to distinguish between self-generated movements and external perturbations. Any time we move, we generate a motor command (efference) to control the muscles. At the same time, we also generate a prediction—based on prior experience of the sensation resulting from the movement—termed the efference copy. The actual movement-related sensory input, which comes from receptors in the muscle and skin, is referred to as reafference. Any difference between the two signals (reafference and efference copy) is the result of environmental input, which is termed exafference. Understanding errors that may occur within this system is probably central to understanding problems in agency and ownership perception.
                                           By Ali Sher

 

Britain´s May vows EU citizens can stay after Brexit

BRUSSELS: British Prime Minister Theresa May promised Thursday to let EU citizens stay after Brexit as she met sceptical European leaders for the first time since her disastrous election gamble.

Under pressure from all sides since losing her parliamentary majority in the June 8 vote, May held out an apparent olive branch on the uncertain fate of three million Europeans living in Britain.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the plans were a “good start”, but added that “there are still many, many other questions” to be dealt with over Brexit.

Merkel had earlier made clear that Britain´s exit was not at the top of the agenda for the remaining 27 EU members, as they try to capitalise on a renewed sense of optimism to put the bloc back on track after years of austerity and crisis.

The EU sought instead to show its unity by pressing ahead with plans on counter-terrorism, defence and by renewing damaging economic sanctions against Russia over the war in eastern Ukraine.

“For me the shaping of the future of the 27 is a priority coming before the issue of the negotiations with Britain on the exit,” said Merkel, Europe´s most powerful leader.

New French President Emmanuel Macron, attending his first summit, added that the EU had to “establish our own strategy based on our own interests”.

May makes ´clear commitment´

A year after its shock referendum vote to leave the EU, Britain is mired in crisis. May´s weakened position has raised fresh questions about whether her plan to leave the European single market will proceed.

Over dinner at the summit, May addressed the issue of citizens´ rights, one of the key three priorities for the opening stage of Brexit negotiations that began on Monday.

No EU citizen currently in Britain would be asked to leave on Brexit day, she said, while EU citizens living in Britain for more than five years will get “settled status”.

“The UK´s position represents a fair and serious offer and one aimed at giving as much certainty as possible to citizens who have settled in the UK,” May told her colleagues.

The prime minister said she expected any offer by Britain to be matched by the EU for the one million Britons living on the continent, a government source said.

But her proposal sets up a clash with the EU after she rejected Brussels´s demand that the European Court of Justice oversee and resolve any dispute over citizens´ rights post-Brexit.

May said the pledge on EU citizens would instead “be enshrined in UK law and enforceable through our highly respected courts”.

She also drew criticism from a campaign group of EU citizens, the3million, which called her offer “pathetic”.

“It fails on several points which would enable EU citizens in the UK to continue to live normally after Brexit,” it said.

Other crunch Brexit issues are Britain´s estimated 100 billion euro (88 billion pounds, $112 billion) divorce bill, and Northern Ireland, which will be on Britain´s only land border with the EU after Brexit.

Imagine there´s no Brexit

Earlier, EU President Donald Tusk had channelled John Lennon´s “Imagine” as he said he hoped Brexit could be reversed — though others immediately poured cold water on the idea.

“Who knows? You may say I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one,” the former Polish premier said with a broad smile, quoting Lennon´s iconic song.

But Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel — who has strongly argued for EU unity on Brexit — said Tusk should let it be.

“I am not a dreamer and I am not the only one,” Michel told reporters, saying he thought it was “British humour” by Tusk.

Tusk said the EU had turned a corner in the year since the Brexit vote, adding: “Never before have I had such a strong belief that things are going in a better direction.”

But the stage was later set for a possible row over the future of the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which will be relocated from Britain after Brexit.

The 27 EU leaders without May agreed to decide the future of the regulatory bodies, which bring both money and prestige, by November.