Self Comes to Mind
Constructing the Conscious Brain
William Heinemann 2010
Consciousness: the phenomenal ability that consists of having a mind equipped with an owner, a protagonist for one's existence, a self inspecting the world inside and around, an agent seemingly ready for action.
Without consciousness - that is, a mind endowed with subjectivity - you would have no way of knowing that you exist, let alone know who you are and what you think. Had subjectivity not begun, even if very modestly at first, in living creatures far simpler than we are, memory and reasoning are not likely to have expanded in the prodigious way they did, and the evolutionary road for language and the elaborate human version of consciousness we now process would not have been paved.
A preview of main ideas: Of the ideas advanced in the book, none is more central than the notion that the body is the foundation of the conscious mind. We know that the most stable aspects of body function are represented in the brain, in the form of maps, thereby contributing images to the mind. This is the basis of the hypothesis that the special kind of mental images of the body produced in body mapping structures, constitutes the proto-self, which foreshadows the self to be. Of note, the critical body mapping and image making structures are located below the level of the cerebral cortex, in a region known as the upper brainstem. This is an old part of the brain shared with many other species.
I hypothesise that the first and most elementary product of the proto-self is primordial feelings, which occur spontaneously and continuously whenever one is awake. They provide a direct experience of one's own living body, wordless, unadorned, and connected to nothing but sheer existence. These primordial feelings reflect the current state of the body along varied dimentions, for example, along the scale that ranges from pleasure to pain, and they originate at the level of the brainstem rather than the cerebral cortex. All feelings of emotion are complex musical variations on primordial feelings.
Footnote: My previous accounts of the self did not include the primordial self. The elementary feeling of existence was part of the core self. I came to the conclusion that the process can work only if the brainstem component of the proto-self generates an elementary feeling, a primitive of sorts, independently of any object interacting with the organism and thus modifying the proto-self...The primitive feeling/primordial self is a spontaneous product of the proto-self. In theory, primordial feelings occur regardless of whether the proto-self is engaged by objects and events external to the brain. They need to be related to the living body and nothing else.
Keywords: reason - the traditional views on the nature of rationality could not be correct - the mechanisms of reason existed in a separate province of the mind, where emotion should not be allowed to intrude - Reason may not be as pure as most of us think it is or wish it were, emotions and feelings may not be intruders in the bastion of reason at all: they may be enmeshed in its networks - certain aspects of the process of emotion and feeling are indispensable for rationality -
Boe: vgl. Peirce quality - firstness
In the functional arrangement outlined here, pain and pleasure are body events. The events are also mapped in the brain that at no instant is separated from the body. Thus primordial feelings are a special kind of image generated thanks to the obligate body/brain interaction, to the characteristics of the circuitry accomplishing the connection, and possibly to a certain properties of neurones. It is not enough to say that feelings are felt because they map the body.
The topic of the mind: Before consciousness came to be regarded as the central problem in mind and brain research, the closely related issue, known as the mind-body problem, dominated the intellectual debate. In one form or another, it permeated the thinking philosophers and scientists from Descartes and Spinoza to the present. The functional arrangement described in chapter 3 makes my position on this problem clear: the brains map-making ability provides an essential element in its solution. In brief, complex brains such as ours naturally make explicit maps of the structures that compose the body proper, in more or less detail. Inevitably brains also map the functional states naturally assumed by those body, components. Because, as we have seen, brain maps are the substrate of mental images, map-making brains have the power of literally introducing the body as content into the mind process. Thanks to the brain, the body becomes a natural topic of the mind.
The body-minded brain: The situation that emerges from the preceding facts and reflections is strange and unexpected but quite liberating. We can all have our body and mind, at all times, providing us with a backdrop of feeling potentially available at every instant but noticeable only when it departs significantly from relatively balanced states and begins to register in the pleasantness or unpleasantness range.
We have our body and mind because it helps govern behaviour in all manner of situations that could threaten the integrity of the organism and compromise life. That particular functional draws on the oldest kind of life regulation based on the brain. It harks back to a simple body-to-brain signalling, two basic prompts for automated regulatory responses meant to assist with life management. But we simply have to marvel at what has been accomplished from such humble beginnings. Body mapping of the most refined order undergirds both the self process in conscious minds and the representations of the world external to the organism. The inner world has opened the way of our ability to know not only that very inner world but also the world around us.
The living body is the central locus. Life regulation is the need and the motivation. Brain mapping is the enabler, the engine that transforms plain life regulation into minded regulation and, eventually, into consciously minded regulation.
ANTONIO DAMASIO DESCARTES' ERROR
EMOTION, REASON, AND THE HUMAN BRAIN
Grosset / Putnam 1994
human reason depends on several brain systems, working in concert across many levels of neuronal organization - Emotion, feeling, and biological regulation all play a role in human reason - the lowly orders of our organism are in the loop of high reason - the qualifying body state, positive or negative, is accompanied and rounded up by a corresponding thinking mode: fastmoving and idea rich, when the body-state is in the positive and pleasant band of the spectrum -the mind exists in and for an integrated organism; our minds would not be the way they are if it were not for the interplay of body and brain during evolution, during individual development, and at the current moment - the mind had to be first about the body, or it could not have been - mental phenomena can be fully understood only in the context of an organism's interacting in an environment
Keywords: reasoning and decision making - broad-based knowledge and reasoning strategies - emotion and feeling are part and parcel of the neural machinery for biological regulation - Personal and social decisions are fraught with uncertainty and have an impact on survival, directly or indirectly. Thus they require a vast repertoire of knowledge concerning the external world and the world within the organism - The brain and the body are indissociably integrated by mutually targeted biochemical and neural circuits - neural substrate of those images - images - perceptual, recalled from real past, and recalled from plans of the future - are constructions of your organism's brain - We do not know, and it is improbable that we will ever know, what "absolute" reality is like