Scientific Understanding of Consciousness
Consciousness as an Emergent Property of Thalamocortical Activity



Always keep in mind that consciousness is an emergent property of the "convolution" of an instantaneous synaptic pattern of a mental image with a synaptic pattern (memory) comprising the self.

Feelings are the conscious experiences of emotions. (LeDoux; Emotional Brain, 82)

Higher order consciousness leads to a rich cognitive, affective, and imaginative domain -- feelings (qualia), thought, emotions, self-awareness, will, and imagination. (Edelman; Bright Air, 198)

We may think that the most important aspect of emotions is feelings and that their neural basis has not been accounted for. (Rolls; Emotion Explained, 400)

Signals related to the body's interior comes to constitute feelings. (Damasio; Self Comes to Mind, 93)

Normal consciousness can take stock of emotions in the form of feelings, feelings can generate a new line of emotions that confers behavior. (Damasio; Feeling of What Happens, 101)

Conscious experiences, like sensations and feelings, evolved because they dictated a dynamic organization of the nervous system that could prioritize experiences and distinguish between environmental events or circumstances that had a real influence on biological survival. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 127)

Hard problems of consciousness cover the perceived world with all of its qualities (visual, auditory, olfactory, etc.), but also bodily sensations, proprioception, emotional feelings, dreams, hallucinations, mental images, and internal speech. (Gray; Hard Question of Consciousness, 280)

Neural Patterns of Feelings

The neural patterns that constitute the substrate of a feeling arise in two classes of biological changes: changes related to body state and changes related to cognitive state. (Damasio; Feeling of What Happens, 79)

The changes related to body state involve both humoral signals (chemical messages conveyed via the bloodstream) and neural signals (electrochemical messages conveyed via nerve pathways). (Damasio; Feeling of What Happens, 80)

The changes related to cognitive state occur when the process of emotion leads to the secretion of neuromodulators in nuclei of the basal forebrain, hypothalamus, and brain stem, and to the subsequent delivery of those modulatory neurotransmitters to several other brain regions. (Damasio; Feeling of What Happens, 80)


What Is a Feeling?

 Feelings -- emergent properties of the nervous system. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 64)

 A feeling is the perception of a certain state of the body along with the perception of a certain mode of thinking and of thoughts with certain themes. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 86)

 The essential content of feelings is the mapping of a particular body state.  The substrate of feelings is a set of neural patterns from which a mental image of the body state can emerge.  A feeling in essence is an idea. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 88)

 Two Types of Feelings

Two types of feelings; affects and emotions. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 61)

Affects -- directly evoked by specific inputs from the internal or external environment and include such experiences as (pain, hunger, thirst). (Johnston; Why We Feel, 61)

Emotions -- internally produced by a complex cognitive process (anger, love). (Johnston; Why We Feel, 61)

Feelings -- emotions as well as affects -- two different hedonic tones, positive and negative, pleasantness or unpleasantness. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 61)

Affects and emotions will prove to be integral to our survival, not the irrelevant epiphenomena that many cognitive scientists believe them to be. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 65)

Musical competence depends not upon cortical analytical mechanisms alone, but also upon subcortical structures deemed central to feeling and to motivation. Individuals with damage to the subcortical areas, or with disconnection between cortical and subcortical areas, are often described is being flat and devoid of affect. (Gardner; Frames of Mind, 124)

 Hedonic tone

Every feeling has a specific subjective quality, a hedonic tone, and an intensity. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 106)

Hedonic tone, positive or negative, facilitates or inhibits the behavioral act it follows: a reward facilitates and a deterrent inhibits motor patterns. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 106)

Like bodily affects, the positive or negative hedonic tone of an emotion provides the necessary value system for learning to adapt to rapidly changing aspects of the environment. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 86)

Primary emotions may be common to many species; secondary feelings appear to be a consequence of the unique history of humans. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 100)

 Function of Feelings

Evolution of feelings led to the emergence of foresight and the possibility of creating novel, non-stereotypical responses. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 80)

Feelings open the door for some measure of willful control of the automated emotions. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 80)

Feelings introduced a mental alert for good or bad circumstances and prolonged the impact of emotions by affecting attention and memory lastingly. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 80)

Importance of feelings - emotions as well as affects - regulating how, what, and when we learn and in determining how we reason about the world around us. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 82)

Feelings are like perceptions; they qualitatively distinguish between relevant and irrelevant. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 104)

Intensity of a feeling modulates the degree of arousal that is required for learning. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 106)

Events that elicit feeling continue to generate arousal and support creative learning throughout a lifetime. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 104)


Qualia, philosophical term for conscious experience, such as the particular readiness of a rose. (Baddeley; Working Memory, 315)

Qualia are simply one feature of the biological environment. (Baddeley; Working Memory, 339)

Qualia, secondary qualities of our senses such as colors, identified smells, tastes, and sounds are but inventions/constructs of an intrinsic CNS (central nervous system) semantic. (Llinás; I of the Vortex, 128)


Feelings are at the very top of the innate automated life governance machine -- the homeostasis machine. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 34)

Feelings are a mental expression of all other levels of homeostatic regulation. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 37)

 Background Feelings

Background feelings -- a part of the neural signaling that goes on in the brainstem and hypothalamus is continually made conscious. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 126)

Prominent background feelings include: fatigue; energy; excitement; wellness; sickness; tension; relaxation; surging; dragging; stability; instability; balance; imbalance; harmony; discord. (Damasio; Feeling of What Happens, 286)

Moods are made up of modulated and sustained background feelings. (Damasio; Feeling of What Happens, 286)


Feelings become possible because there are brain maps available to represent body states. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 110)

Somatosensory regions appear to be a critical substrate for feelings, and the insular cortex appears to be the pivotal region of the set. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 106)

‘Gut feelings' - entire pattern of somatic and visceral feedback from the body. (LeDoux; Emotional Brain, 293)

 Pain or Pleasure

Feelings of pain or pleasure or some quality in between are the bedrock of our minds. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 3)

Evolution has provided humans with a primary value system of pleasant and unpleasant feelings. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 106)

Hedonic dimensions of feelings can be envisaged as ranging from extremely pleasant to extremely unpleasant. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 96)

 Sense of self

Machinery of feelings is a contributor to the process of consciousness, namely to the creation of self. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 110)

Sense of self orientation is only possible because feelings are integral to the cluster of operations that constitutes the sense of self, and because feelings are continuously generating, within the mind, a concern for the organism. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 208)

Capacity to have feelings is directly tied to the capacity to be consciously aware of one's self and the relations of oneself to the rest of the world. (LeDoux; Emotional Brain, 125)

Formation of the sense of self is a process in which an individual must come to terms with his own personal feelings, motivations, and desires, including powerful sexual ones. (Gardner; Frames of Mind, 251)

 Neurobiology of Feelings

Feelings are related to neural mappings of body state. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 96)

Brain areas that map the ongoing state of the organism include the cingulate cortex, two of the somatosensory cortices (insular and S2), the hypothalamus, and several nuclei in the brainstem tegmentum (the back part of the brain stem). (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 96)

The insular cortex is an important substrate of feelings -- from those that are associated with emotions to those that correspond to any shade of pleasure or pain, induced by a wide ranges stimuli -- hearing music one likes or hates; viewing pictures one loves, including erotic material, or pictures that can cause disgust; drinking wine; having sex; being high on drugs; being low own drugs and experiencing withdrawal; etc. (Damasio; Self Comes to Mind, 118)

The neural correlates of feelings are not confined to the insula.  The anterior cingulate cortex tends to become active in parallel with the insula when we experience feelings. (Damasio; Self Comes to Mind, 118)

Neurophysiology of feelings, major neural pathways, medial forebrain bundle, underlie hedonic tone, the shared components of all feelings. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 109)

Release of dopamine onto the nucleus accumbens appears to underlie all reward feelings. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 116)

The dopamine pathway to the nucleus accumbens is closely associated with the control of motor behavior and is correlated with hedonic tone that is a fundamental aspect of all feeling states. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 119)

Specific portions of the limbic system project to different areas of the cingulate gyrus, allowing different patterns of limbic activity to generate qualitatively different emotional feelings and bias cognitive processes. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 119)

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with positive emotions and feelings; it is essential for activation of the reward system because it sets in motion the neural circuits involved in motivation. (Cardoso; Hardwired for Happiness, 173)

Pleasurable feelings that accompany actions such as eating chocolate, laughing, smiling, touching, meditating, singing, listening to good music, and even orgasm are partially attributed to the brains release of endorphins. (Cardoso; Hardwired for Happiness, 174)

"Joggers high"  (Squire; Fundamental Neuroscience, 1124)

Amygdala with its projections in part by the stria terminalis give the adversive feelings. (Eccles; Evolution of Brain, 102)

Opioid binding sites on the limbic nuclei are related to drug addiction. Electrical stimulation of the septum, medial longitudinal bundle, and lateral amygdala give pleasurable feelings with sexual overtones. (Eccles; Evolution of Brain, 104)

Conscious Experience of Emotion

LeDoux as hypothesized three distinct neural systems to be involved in the conscious experience of emotion: (1)  inputs from the amygdala to the cortex, (2) inputs from the amygdala to nonspecific brainstem arousal systems (which then broadcast diffusely to the cortex), (3) feedback to the amygdala and cortical areas from the bodily expressions (e.g., facial muscle movement, autonomically mediated  visceral changes) of emotion. (Kaszniak; Emotion and Frontal Lobe Damage, 202)


 Struggle for Survival

Feelings are based on composite representations of the state of life in the process of being adjusted for survival. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 130)

Sensory feelings evolved in response to those environmental events that have consistently presented opportunities or threats to biological survival in ancestral environments. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 67)

Feelings can only occur when a survival system is present in a brain that also has the capacity for consciousness. (LeDoux; Emotional Brain, 125)

 Emotion and Feelings

Emotional states come first and feelings after. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 101)

Conscious experiences of emotions -- the feelings. (LeDoux; Emotional Brain, 82)

Feelings come about when the activity of specialized emotion systems gets represented in the system that gives rise to consciousness; working memory. (LeDoux; Emotional Brain, 282)

Complex feelings such as empathy, respect and compassion. (Greenspan; First Idea, 255)

Decision Making and Feelings

Human feelings appear to provide the important value system that underlies all human decisions. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 179)

Consciousness, in the form of working memory, has become an important part of the way LeDoux thinks about emotions, especially feelings. (LeDoux; Synaptic Self, 199)

The shared element of feelings -- hedonic tone -- allows many different feelings to be combined and hence supply an overall assessment of the value associated with the various possible outcomes of a decision problem. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 179)

‘Gut feelings’ in making decisions. (LeDoux; Emotional Brain, 36)

Language and Feelings

Feelings will be different in a brain that can classify the world linguistically and categorize experiences in words. (LeDoux; Emotional Brain, 302)

Music and Feelings

Music can serve as a way of capturing feelings, communicating them from the performer or the creator to the attentive listener. The neurology that permits or facilitates this association has by no means been worked out. (Gardner; Frames of Mind, 124)

Social Feelings

Although you can't actually feel another person's feelings, you infer them through perceptions, the observation of their actions, and facial expressions. (Gazzaniga; Human, 258)

Secondary or self-conscious social feelings - guilt, pride, envy - develop somewhat later than the primary emotions. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 100)

In its most primitive form, interpersonal intelligence is a capacity to distinguish in another person a feeling of pleasure from one of pain.  At its most advanced level, interpersonal knowledge allows one to detect and to symbolize complex and highly differentiated sense of feelings. (Gardner; Frames of Mind, 239)

We see highly developed forms of interpersonal intelligence in political and religious leaders (Mahatma Gandhi or Lyndon Johnson), in skilled parents and teachers, and in individuals in the helping professions, be they therapists, counselors, or shamans. (Gardner - Frames of Mind, 239)

 Adverse Feelings

Negative beliefs shape a depressed persons interpretations, and these negative interpretations (or cognitions) lead to the sad feelings, social withdrawal, and suicidal wishes. (Lasley; Cognitive Therapy, 35)

Antidepressant treatment affected many of the same areas but in mirror-image ways -- decreased activity in the memory and attention serving areas such as the hippocampus and cingulate, and increased activity in the frontal regions that help bring thoughts, and possibly feelings under conscious control. (Lasley; Cognitive Therapy, 39)

Excessive attention to physical feelings, and exaggerated interpretation of their significance, can play a role in chronic fatigue syndrome. (Lasley; Cognitive Therapy, 41)

 Mood-Altering Drugs

Mood-altering drugs turn feelings of sadness or inadequacy into those of contentment and confidence. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 119)

Long before the days of Prozac, however, alcohol, narcotics, analgesics, and hormones such as estrogens and testosterone had shown that feelings can be altered by chemical substances. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 119)



Link to — Emotion

Link to — Fear ---- Pleasure

Link to — Consciousness Subject Outline

Further discussion -- Covington Theory of Consciousness