Scientific Understanding of Consciousness
Sense-of-self is the basis of consciousness. The self is a neuronal network pattern of memory established by genetics together with embryonic and early childhood environmental experience.
Without a sense of self and without the feelings that integrate it, large-scale mental integration of information (thalamocortical system mediates integration of information) would not be oriented to the problems of life, survival and the achievement of well-being. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 208)
The interaction of the neural network activity of a current mental image together with the neural network activity representing the self constitutes what Edelman calls the “remembered present” of consciousness.
What gives the brain a natural means to generate the singular and stable reference we call self? The functionality in the brain representing the self is, biologically speaking, based on a collection of nonconscious neural patterns representing the body proper. (Damasio; Feeling of What Happens, 134)
Right somatosensory cortices -- insula, S2, and S1 regions of the right cerebral hemisphere -- this is the set of regions that accomplish the highest level of integrated mapping of body state. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 117)
Sense of self is represented by (1) each brain’s uniquely individual pattern of synapses, along with (2) the ever-ongoing neural activity of the autonomic nervous system monitoring the momentary state of the body.
· Hypothalamus and associated connections of the autonomic nervous system monitor and maintain the homeostasis of the body.
· Autonomic nervous system provides pain signals to alert for any damage to the organism.
· Amygdala and associated connections express fear alerts and responses for self-preservation protection of the body.
· VTM, nucleus accumbens and associated connections provide signals for anticipation of pleasure, including the desire for food and sex.
· Several neurotransmitters including oxytocin are involved in the experience of pleasure by the organism such as the enjoyment of sex and the enjoyment of food.
· Orientation in time, place, person, etc.. (What year?, What season?, Where am I?, Sexual orientation)
· A generalized neural sub-network in the parietal cortex represents the integrated sense of self. This neural sub-network is not fixed but is continually changing as the organism experiences the environment. Declarative memory is continually updated with new memories forming and old memories fading.
· Consciousness is an emergence property of the (convolution/conflagration) of a momentary mental image with declarative memory and the sense of self.
· Consciousness is mediated primarily by the dynamic core sub-network of the thalamocortical system.