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The periconscious substrates of consciousness: affective states and the evolutionary origins of the self

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An adequate understanding of ‘the self’ and/or ‘primary-process consciousness’ should allow us to explain how affective experiences are created within the brain. Primitive emotional feelings appear to lie at the core of our beings, and the neural mechanisms that generate such states may constitute an essential foundation process for the evolution of higher, more rational, forms of consciousness. At present, abundant evidence indicates that affective states arise from the intrinsic neurodynamics of primitive self-centred emotional and motivational systems situated in subcortical regions of the brain. Accordingly, a neural understanding of ‘the self’ may arise from a study of how various biological value-coding systems (emotional circuits) converge and interact with coherent brainstem representations of the body and nearby attentional/waking systems of the brain. Affective feelings may be caused by the neurodynamics of basic emotional circuits interacting with the neural schema of bodily action plans. One key brain area where such interactions occur is found within centromedial diencephalic midbrain areas such as the periventricular and periaqueductal gray (PAG) and nearby tectal and tegmental zones. Here I will envision that a Simple Ego-type Life Form (a primitive SELF structure) is instantiated in those circuits The ability of this ’primal SELF’ to resonate with primitive emotional values may help yield the raw subjectively experienced feelings of pleasure, lust, anger, hunger, desire, fear, loneliness and so forth. A study of such systems is a reasonable starting point for the neurological analysis of affective feelings, which may lie at the periconscious core of all other forms of animal consciousness. If such a neurodynamic process was an essential neural preadaptation for the emergence of higher levels of consciousness, it may help us close the explanatory gap between brain circuit states and the psychological nature of affective feelings. Thereby, it may also help us conceptualize the nature of psychological binding within higher forms of consciousness in new ways.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH 43403, USA .

Publication date: 1998-05-01

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