Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain
Antonio R. Damasio
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From one of the most significant neuroscientists at work today, a pathbreaking investigation of a question that has confounded philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists for centuries: how is consciousness created?
Antonio Damasio has spent the past thirty years studying and writing about how the brain operates, and his work has garnered acclaim for its singular melding of the scientific and the humanistic. In Self Comes to Mind, he goes against the long-standing idea that consciousness is somehow separate from the body, presenting compelling new scientific evidence that consciousness—what we think of as a mind with a self—is to begin with a biological process created by a living organism. Besides the three traditional perspectives used to study the mind (the introspective, the behavioral, and the neurological), Damasio introduces an evolutionary perspective that entails a radical change in the way the history of conscious minds is viewed and told. He also advances a radical hypothesis regarding the origins and varieties of feelings, which is central to his framework for the biological construction of consciousness: feelings are grounded in a near fusion of body and brain networks, and first emerge from the historically old and humble brain stem rather than from the modern cerebral cortex.
Damasio suggests that the brain’s development of a human self becomes a challenge to nature’s indifference and opens the way for the appearance of culture, a radical break in the course of evolution and the source of a new level of life regulation—sociocultural homeostasis. He leaves no doubt that the blueprint for the work-in-progress he calls sociocultural homeostasis is the genetically well-established basic homeostasis, the curator of value that has been present in simple life-forms for billions of years. Self Comes to Mind is a groundbreaking journey into the neurobiological foundations of mind and self.
with feeling states. It is compelling for me to assume that the delight they exhibit is real felt delight, even if they cannot report it in so many words. That being so, they would achieve the bottom riser of a stepwise mechanism leading to consciousness, namely, feelings connected to an integrated representation of the organism (a protoself), possibly modified by object engagement, constituting an elementary experience. The possibility that they do have a conscious mind, albeit an extremely
structures that are now responsible for simulating it. I suggest that the as-if system applied to others would not have developed had there not first been an as-if system applied to the brain’s own organism. The nature of the brain structures involved in the process reinforces the suggestive functional resemblance between the as-if body loop and the operation of mirror neurons. For the as-if body loop, I hypothesized that neurons in areas engaging emotion, such as the premotor-prefrontal cortex
the appropriate mapping sites. As an emotion unfolds, a specific set of changes occurs, and the feeling of emotion maps are the result of registering a variation superposed on the ongoing maps generated in the brain stem and in the insula. The maps constitute the substrate of a composite, multisite image. 8 For the feeling state to be connected to the emotion, the causative object and the temporal relation between its appearance and the emotional response must be properly attended to. This is
the fact that our experiences of such emotions are deeply marked by body events. Jonathan Haidt’s behavioral work on the processing of comparable social emotions reveals quite clearly how the body is engaged in such situations. 13 The second hypothesis we tested concerned the central theme of this book: self and consciousness. We found that feeling these emotions engaged the posteromedial cortices (PMCs), a region we believe plays a role in constructing the self. This is in keeping with the fact
functionally by some sort of integrating mechanism. One last note is in order regarding the exceptional situation of somatosensory cortices. These cortices convey signals from the external world, touch maps being the prime example, and from the body, as in the case of interoception, and the sensory portals. The sensory portal component rightfully belongs to organism structure and thus to the protoself. There is a remarkable contrast between two distinct sets of patterns, then. On the one hand,