Harvard researchers seek a scientific answer to a question posed by 16th century philosopher René Descartes: “What is this ‘I’ that I know?” “Understanding the brain essence of self-awareness helps us come closer to understanding what makes us conscious human beings,” says researcher Alvaro Pascual-Leone. “We are able to reflect on ourselves and our actions. We are able to project intentions into the actions of others. Without such knowledge we have an impaired relationship with our social surroundings.” That happens in some mental illnesses, like autism and schizophrenia. Autistic people, for example, lack an emotional response to self. “Understanding more about what goes on in the brains of such people is a first step to treating their illnesses, in bridging the gap between abnormal and normal,” Pascual-Leone says.