Henrik Röhr, University of Groningen

Exploring the embodied self in meditation and dissociative seizures – A neurophenomenological approach

A central aspect of most people’s conscious experience is that of being a self as the subject or reference point of experience. The concept of the “embodied self” emphasizes that this self-experience is primarily a bodily experience and shaped through the body’s interaction with the physical and social environment. Researching how embodied self-experience emerges from this interaction is important to understand human disease as well as human flourishing. This question will be approached by assessing the relationship between the conscious experience of the embodied self and its corresponding neural activity. More precisely, I would like to investigate alterations in the embodied self during meditation as well as during dissociative seizures in the framework of neurophenomenology. My thesis is that alterations in the embodied self during meditation form a relation of mutual constraint with distinct patterns of neural activity, and that these patterns overlap with the neural activity during psychopathological changes in the embodied self during dissociative seizures. In the first step of my project, a machine learning classifier will be trained with existing magnetoencephalography (MEG) data of meditators who alternated between maintaining and dissolving their sense of self, which has been termed as self-boundary maintenance and dissolution, respectively. This classifier will be able to decode the multivariate neural patterns characterizing these states.

In step 2, the classifier will be used to provide neurofeedback to meditators about their self-boundary state. This will verify the correspondence between conscious experience and neural activity and establish a relationship of mutual constraint between them. In a final third step, it will be explored whether the neural correlates of self-boundary dissolution during meditation overlap with the neural patterns of patients whose self-experience is altered during dissociative seizures. If such an overlap exists, this would be an important step towards a better understanding and potential treatments of dissociative seizures and possibly other mental disorders related to the self.

Key words:
Embodied self, meditation, dissociative seizures, machine learning, neurofeedback