Brain


The autobiographical self places the transient core self into a longer time frame.

Objects which the transient core self are able to relate to organism changes are now associated with past instances. The transient core self is also able to formulate longer range plans because it now has access to memory. As those associated memories themselves are treated as objects, the self is constantly re-created and contextualised into the past, into notions of self and identity.

Damasio postulates that the autobiographical self is also pre-language. Animals are likely to have autobiographical selves. He also postulates that the complexity of the autobiographical self depends on the richness of association the organism’s brain is capable of. Humans for example are not only able to process many objects at the same time but are also be able to hold deeper and more complexly linked associations with each of those objects.

As far as describing the neuroanatomical basis for the autobiographical self, Damasio becomes sketchier. He describes convergence and disposition zones which hold implicit records of knowledge and which are activated, placing them in higher order cortices (effectively the majority of the cerebral cortex that are not the early sensory cortices).

At this point, in spite of an interesting description of transient global amnesia where a patient effectively appears to loose its capacity to create the associations for autobiographical memory, it seemed to me that Damasio was beginning to hit the barrier between scienctific hypothesis and informed speculation.

Nevertheless, his description of a conscious self as being created at every moment due to interactions between the state of the body, the effect of external stimuli and automatically associated dispositions, made a lot of sense to me.

The other thing I got from the book was the extent to which emotions are felt after they’ve occured. That consciousness or awareness of emotions as we know it is actually an overlay, a kind of post-factor diagnosis based on signals from the body. Damasio summarises this process into five steps:
1) engagement of object with emotion inducer resulting in early internal representations of the object
2) Processing of the early representation activates neural sites preset to respond to that particular class of inducer
3) Emotion inducer sites trigger a number of responses in the body and other brain sites.
4) First-order neural maps in subcortical and cortical regions represent change in body state. Feelings emerge.
5) Pattern of emotion inducer site activity is mapped to second-order neural maps relating changes to the proto-self with the emotion inducing object. The beginnings of causal knowledge emerges.

It’s only after stage 5 that we become conscious of what is happening. This is quite in line with LeDoux’s detailed examination of fear.

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