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Contemplating the Self Through the Brain

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posted on May, 2 2018 @ 08:01 PM
If you think your mental experience is complicated - having many different qualities and meanings, almost infinite; yet, each meaning is channeled down a specific set of patterns - happy, sad, fearful, shameful, playful, hateful, etc - it is.

The emotions set the patterns, whereas the cognizing mind, perceiving as the perceiver, is being constituted 'from below' by a feeling dimension within its body, constantly 'informing' and directing the conscious mind through what Antonio Damasio calls "somatic markers".

But it's more than homeostasis. We take the very act of "SEEKING" (capitalized, because it is based upon neuroscientific investigation of underlying neural fibers, so that emotions like playfulness become associated with certain brain areas that have been either activated or destroyed to guage the effect produced; it is through such methods - albeit, a tad unethical - that such significant knowledge of how we work has been obtained) for granted, even though it literally underlies everything the self does.

By correlation and association, neuroscientists have been able to discover which animals display individual seekung behavior, and which brain areas mediate this activity in every brain. The "meso-limbic" pathway emerged early on as a cross-species morphological system which worked in the same way in every animal; the lowest group of nuclei (a large grouping of neural cell bodies) in the system is called the 'ventral tegmental' system. It is in the so-called "medulla oblongata" area of the brainstem. It's from these cells that our sense of SEEKING emerges. These cells synthesize the dopamine that gets us moving; higher up in the brain, in a midbrain region called the striatum, lies the nucleus acumbens; these cells are implicated in the actual experience of 'desiring', whereas a little higher up, in the caudate nucleus, the 'habitual' component of the experience is mediated.

The terminus of the ascending mesolimbic dopamine pathway is the orbitofrontal cortex, which adds the 'finishing' touches - applying the social-knowledge of any situation (i.e. the results of any relationship to the environment) and regulating the flow of SEEKING towards that subtle attunement to the social world.

It is here, in these cell areas, where complex identity structures are mediated. The very ability to emotionally attune to what matters - to what, logically speaking, is more rational to pay attentinon to - that the orbitofrontal cortex proves its immense importance for healthy psychological functioning.

Neuroscientists are fond of tellling the story of Phineas Gage, an 19th century worker on the railroads who had a tempering iron shot through his eye, and right through a big chunk of his right orbitofrontal cortex.

The result was significant: Phineas was a "different person" to the people who used to know him. Intellectually, he could still function - he would have been able to pass many tests that test for Intelligence. But what he would not be able to do would be to know when he needs to control his emotions: his interpersonal sensibility, or sensitivity to other peoples needs (as well as his own) were noticeably absent. He would feel - be triggered into activity by mesocortical limbic system, but not have any insight as to how he is affecting the people around him, nor particularly caring to learn. Few injuries are as painful to observe in another, familiar person, than right orbitofrontal cortex injuries. The person is still there - and still able to do things; but how they used to be, how they use to connect: their spirit, as it were, has 'flew out', and what is left is a person who feels very different from the one you used to know.

Evidence like this has convinced many people - myself included - that the self is very much a function of the brain.

Deeper down, even lower than the ventral tegmental area, like the solitary nucleus, a group of cells that are immensely important for the translation of bodily dynamics, such as that implied by the activity of the sinoatrial node of the heart, the breathing of the lungs (via carotid body that measures co2) and gastric activity of the stomach and intestines, into 'feeling directions'. Outputs from this nucleus go to a very important feeling generator in the brain - the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus - and the central nucleus of the amygdala, a part of the brain which 'guides' affective-relations with the environment in terms of the body's general homeostasis.

So, lets say you worked out heavily in the morning, more or less ignoring that you were feeling a little 'down', and so, perhaps, on the verge of a cold. Now, five hours later, you feel awful, but it never occurs to you that your present feeling is related to a metabolic output in the form of the vigorous muscular activity you engaged in in the morning.

The solitary nucleus would detect events in the lymphatic (immune) system, and realizing that certain immune proteins are very very high (implying a pronounced defense response in action), will adjust its outputs to the forebrain by changing its relationship with the locus coeruleus, an important noradrenaline pathway that mediates feelings of anxiety and depression (or a general affective discomfort). In other words, the solitary nucleus literally PREVENTS the self from engaging its SEEKING system, because the immune system, a lower and more basic evolutionary need, takes precedence to the SEEKING system, and so, your sense of self. It does this by activating negative feelings in you, which, since we are more or less dictated by bodily processes, we either respond to (and thus recover) or ignorantly and arrogantly pretend we can 'transcend' our bodily weakness by 'forcing' it into activity.

Some people here have brain-minds that have self-organized in such a way that the locus coeruleus and solitary nucleus connection is 'cut off'. Negative feelings never seem to reach the forebrain (where conscious perception occurs) because the forebrain has self-organized to 'exclude' them in its information processes. No doubt, though, such a person will die early, and sometimes never really recognize 'why' they're leaving so soon - not getting that feelings exist for a reason.

That said, it is unlikely that the solitary nucleus and the central nucleus of the amygdala have been cut off, since the connection between homeostasis and emotional directionality is absolutely fundamental: the very fact that axons from this cell body enter the very center of the amygdala implies a very ancient connection.

Putting this all together, we can say the following: people who don't "feel" like being a moral person, because they "feel" differently about it, are likely the sorts of people with this sort of self-organization dynamic: we can still see and understand quite clearly, at a behavioristic level, that they respond emotionally to the events around them i.e. when someone says something intrinsically shame-inducing to them, they will respond in a defensive way, which implies that the connection with the lower brain is well intact; on the other hand, they may respond in a relatively calm and self-controlled way, making the 'defensive' response more occultic, as something to be inferred at a psychodynamic level, relating to the metacognitive role of 'self-regulation' by embodying self-states that are affectively relaxing or enlivening, and so 'doing', simply by being, what is required to 'restore coherency'

posted on May, 2 2018 @ 10:38 PM

originally posted by: Astrocyte

Evidence like this has convinced many people - myself included - that the self is very much a function of the brain.

If you break certain functions of the medium of control, and consequently see a loss in function, it doesn't prove that the medium of control is the cause of action. You would never say that the keyboard is responsible for the words I am typing, yet this is how you are perceiving the function of the brain.

Organic computers like our brains are useless without the user. Check any dead body for proof.
edit on 2-5-2018 by cooperton because: (no reason given)

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