The neuro-evolutionary cusp between emotions and cognitions: Implications for understanding consciousness and the emergence of a unified mind science
The neurobiological systems that mediate the basic emotions are beginning to be understood. They appear to be constituted of genetically coded, but experientially refined executive circuits situated in subcortical areas of the brain which can coordinate the behavioral, physiological and psychological processes that need to be recruited to cope with a variety of primal survival needs (i.e., they signal evolutionary fitness issues). These birthrights allow newborn organisms to begin navigating the complexities of the world and to learn about the values and contingencies of the environment. Some of these systems have been identified and characterized using modern neuroscientific and psychobiological tools. The fundamental emotional systems can now be defined by the functional psychobiological characteristics of the underlying circuitries — characteristics which help coordinate behavioral, physiological and psychological aspects of emotionality, including the valenced affective feeling states that provide fundamental values for the guidance of behavior. The various emotional circuits are coordinated by different neuropeptides, and the arousal of each system may generate distinct affective/neurodynamic states and imbalances may lead to various psychiatric disorders. The aim of this essay is to discuss the underlying conceptual issues that must be addressed for additional progress in understanding the nature of primary process affective consciousness.