Back to square one: the bodily roots of conscious experiences in early life

Anna Ciaunica, Adam Safron, Jonathan Delafield-Butt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most theoretical and empirical discussions about the nature of consciousness are typically couched in a way that endorses a tacit adult-centric and vision-based perspective. This paper defends the idea that consciousness science may be put on a fruitful track for its next phase by examining the nature of subjective experiences through a bottom-up developmental lens. We draw attention to the intrinsic link between consciousness, experiences and experiencing subjects, which are first and foremost embodied and situated organisms essentially concerned with self-preservation within a precarious environment. Our paper suggests that in order to understand what consciousness is, one should first tackle the fundamental question: how do embodied experiences arise from square one? We then highlight one key yet overlooked aspect of human consciousness studies, namely that the earliest and closest environment of an embodied experiencing subject is the body of another human experiencing subject. We present evidence speaking in favour of fairly sophisticated forms of early sensorimotor integration of bodily signals and self-generated actions already being established in utero. We conclude that these primitive and fundamentally relational and co-embodied roots of our early experiences may have crucial impact on the way human beings consciously experience the self, body and the world across their lifespan.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberniab037
Number of pages10
JournalNeuroscience of Consciousness
Issue number2
Early online date20 Nov 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Nov 2021


  • self
  • consciousness
  • embodiment
  • predictive processing
  • in utero perception


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