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The Neural-Cognitive Basis of the Jamesian Stream of Thought

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William James described the stream of thought as having two components: (1) a nucleus of highly conscious, often perceptual material; and (2) a fringe of dimly felt contextual information that controls the entry of information into the nucleus and guides the progression of internally directed thought. Here I examine the neural and cognitive correlates of this phenomenology. A survey of the cognitive neuroscience literature suggests that the nucleus corresponds to a dynamic global buffer formed by interactions between different regions of the brain, while the fringe corresponds to a set of mechanisms in the frontal and medial temporal lobes that control the contents of this global buffer. A consequence of this account is that there might be conscious imagistic representations that are not part of the nucleus. I argue that phenomenology can be linked to psychology and neuroscience and a meaningful way that illuminates both.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Medical Research Council, Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, 15 Chaucer Rd., Cambridge, CB2 2EF, United Kingdom

Publication date: December 1, 2000

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