The layers of presence

In 2004 an amazing article was written, 'The Layers of Presence: A Bio-cultural Approach to Understanding Presence in Natural and Mediated Environments' by Giuseppe Riva, John A. Waterworth and Eva L. Waterworth (Riva, Waterworth & Waterworth 2004). Being part of the Presence Research community the authors were well aware of the fact that in Presence Research a deeper understanding of presence as a human characteristic was lacking. In this article a connection is made between human evolution and the sense of presence as part of human evolution. To be able to do this, the authors studied the work of Antonio Damasio and colleagues at the Department of Neurology at the University of Iowa College of Medicine and the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California (Damasio 1999). While working with psychiatric patients, Damasio and his colleagues studied emotions, consciousness and the brain. They developed a neuropsychological understanding of the 'self' that is widely appreciated. The drive for survival in every organism, from the level of the cell to the level of the human being as a whole, is a key concept in Damasio's work (Damasio 2004).

Damasio distinguishes three levels of consciousness of the self (Damasio, 2000). The 'proto-consciousness' maps the physical state of our body continuously. It is an inner experience of the self, which happens mostly unconsciously. The second layer of 'core-consciousness' is an experience of self that is generated in the confrontation between the self and its environment in the Here and Now. A human being becomes aware of the 'self', because an object outside the self is in the environment at the same place and at the same time. The third layer of consciousness is formulated by Damasio as the 'extended-consciousness'. This layer includes all memories of the experience of self (proto, core and previous extended) and its cognitive understanding of it as well. It is the layer that helps a person to interact with the world, it is where we learn, where we speak languages, and where we are capable of planning. It is in this layer that the distinction between internal and external, between experienced and imagined worlds is used for the advantage of the human being.