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Qualia and the Ventral Prefrontal Cortical Function 'Neurophenomenological' Hypothesis

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The exact relationship between qualia and the function of the brain remains elusive. The present approach focuses on the linkage between the neural mechanisms of the brain and the phenomenological and epistemological mechanisms of qualia. It is hypothesized that distinct characteristics of the ventral prefrontal cortical function may be crucial for the generation of these phenomenological and epistemological mechanisms this is reflected in the so-called 'neurophenomenological hypothesis'. The 'phenomenological—qualitative' character of qualia may be related with an early activation in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC). The experience of 'presence' in qualia may be accounted for by a co-activation in both VMPFC and hippocampus and a concurrent deactivation in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) and posterior cingulate. Past and future temporal dimensions may therefore be integrated within the experience of events, which in turn may account for the phenomenal characteristics of 'presence' and thus 'phenomenal time'. 'Non-structural homogeneity' in the experience of qualia may be accounted for by either 'supramodal character' or 'modality unspecifity' of >the VMPFC. The 'heterogenous' stimuli can therefore be included and integrated within one 'homogenous' event as experienced in qualia. Finally, 'transparency' in the experience of qualia may be related with the 'reciprocal suppression' between VMPFC and VLPFC. Simultaneous cognitive processing during the experience of qualia may be suppressed and may consequently account for their transparent character. Due to several methodological limitations, these 'neurophenomenological hypotheses' must be considered as preliminary. However, they may nevertheless serve as a starting point for the development of a more elaborate neuroscientific hypothesis of qualia in the future.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Kirstein Building KS 454, 330 Brookline Ave, Boston, MA 02215, USA ., Email:

Publication date: 2003-01-01

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