Self Comes to Mind

Finished jotting notes on Antonio Damasio’s Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. Hoping it’ll lend insight into the nature of consciousness. It does.

In providing a plausible account of the origins and development of mental states in brain-bearing creatures, the book goes a long way towards demystifying consciousness. And does so without getting bogged down in speculation. Barely touched on are questions like: “What is this private reality we call self?” and “Who’s experiencing these feelings if we ourselves are those feelings?”

Nevertheless Damasio’s narrative takes you tantalizingly close to answering those questions. As if with one good metaphor you could heave yourself over the top.

Damasio’s key is the concept of life regulation or homeostasis. Life prospects are governed by the ability to adapt in order to maintain or restore equilibrium. This ability relies on signalling within the organism about internal and external conditions. Evolution selects for improved governance so nerve systems and brains develop. Sources of perturbation and non-perturbation are mapped within those brains. Images are generated from the maps. There is now a mind or protoself.

As complexity multiplies the mind protagonizes and a core self arises. The wakeful mind becomes the subject of its own mapping operations. With memory, language and reasoning comes the autobiographical self.   

Mental states begin with “massive recursive signalling involving multiple regions of the brain.” With sufficient brain capacity and the right architecture those mental states feed back into the image-making process. Feedback loops within feedback loops.

The result, somewhere down the line is the material — though not yet materially measurable — product that is consciousness. All in the cause of better life regulation.

Or so you think.


For Didi

aged two, it’s all about being

Lightning McQueen!

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