Is basic consciousness in early animal forms?
Antonio Damasio is a scientist who has set out to organize a scientific study of human consciousness. Damasio utilizes a rather unique method that involves careful observation of individuals who have been deprived of some aspects of consciousness because of brain lesions caused by accidents. He studies brain dysfunction caused by such things as strokes and accidents.
Damasio finds that “nearly all the sites of brain damage associated with a significant disruption of core consciousness share one important trait…these structures are of old evolutionary vintage, they are present in numerous nonhuman species, and they mature early in individual human development.”
That is to say that his evidence indicates that core consciousness is centered about the brain’s physical areas that developed very early in the evolution of life on our planet, i.e. human core consciousness is directly evolved from early animal forms.
The basic facts made available for analysis give testimony to the hypothesis that consciousness is not a monolith. Most importantly there is an abrupt division between what is identified as core consciousness and extended consciousness. There are also distinguishing levels within extended consciousness it self. When core consciousness fails then extended consciousness follows.
Many non human creatures have emotions—“human emotions however have evolved to making connections to complex ideas, values, principles, and judgments”—thus human emotion is special—the impact of feelings on humans is the result of consciousness—a distinct difference between feeling and knowing a feeling—“neither the emotion or the feeling caused by the emotion is conscious”—these things happen in a biological state—there are three stages here; emotion, feeling, and consciousness of feeling—consciousness must be present if feelings have an influence beyond the here and the now—consciousness is tooted in the representation of the body.
We need not be conscious of the emotion or the inducer of the emotion—we are about as effective in stopping an emotion as in stopping a sneeze.
“Emotions are about the life of an organism, its body to be precise, and their role is to assist the organism in maintaining life…emotions are biologically determined processes, depending upon innately set brain devices, laid down by long evolutionary history…The devices that produce emotions…are part of a set of structures that both regulate and represent body states…All devices can be engaged automatically, without conscious deliberation…The variety of the emotional responses is responsible for profound changes in both the body landscape and the brain landscape. The collection of these changes constitutes the substrate for the neural patterns which eventually become feelings of emotion.”
The biological function of emotions is to produce an automatic action in certain situations and to regulate the internal processes so that the creature is able to support the action dictated by the situation. The biological purpose of emotions are clear, they are not a luxury but a necessity for survival.
“It is through feelings, which are inwardly directed and private, that emotions, which are outwardly directed and public, begin their impact on the mind; but the full and lasting impact of feelings requires consciousness, because only along with the advent of a sense of self do feelings become known to the individual having them.”
Damasio proposes “that the term feeling should be reserve for the private, mental experience of an emotion, while the term emotion should be used to designate the collection of responses, many of which are publicly observable.” This means that while we can observe our own private feelings we cannot observe these same feelings in others.
Core consciousness—“occurs when the brain’s representation devices generate an imaged, nonverbal account of how the organism’s own state is affected by the organism’s processing of an object, and when this process enhances the image of the causative object, thus placing it saliently in a spatial and temporal context”
First, there is emotion, then comes feeling, then comes core consciousness of feeling. There is no evidence that we are conscious of all our feelings, in fact evidence indicates that we are not conscious of all feelings.
Humans have extended consciousness, which takes core consciousness to the level of self consciousness and the awareness of mortality.
Quotes from The Feeling of what Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness by Antonio Damasio