The Brain’s Subconscious Perceptual/Conceptual Content and its Conscious (Epistemological) Linguistic Representation.
An intelligent engineering design of a thermostat only requires it to become electronically aware of changes in local environmental temperature in relation to a standard, preprogrammed reference scale and report the fluctuations with visible warnings (digitally or otherwise) to an observer. More complex industrial ones may, in addition to the standard ‘inherited’ scale, include access to a ‘memory’ database coding for comparisons with previously recorded variations for that season in that geographical location, the basis for the activation of sophisticated preprogrammed audio-visual alerting signals when a match is found. Should there be unexpected temperatures outside the range designed for the unit, the thermostat ‘brain’ will either freeze or burn with no recourse to articulate adjustments not previously programmed and choose from among probable alternatives the best adaptive solution to preserve its structural/functional integrity. This scenario would be the equivalent of an adaptive decision-making process, triggered by either external or body-proper sensory organs (like the smart thermostat) rooted exclusively on unconscious genetic and subconscious memetic pre-programmed input resources for subhuman species to efficiently deal with the real time quotidian existential reality contingencies in their ecosystem that may threaten their biological integrity. Subhuman species evolve by completing a life cycle until eventual entropy-guided, genetically programmed extinction ensues, so recorded history tells us. The human species would share a similar evolutionary cyclic path were it not for its exclusive ability to introspectively discover self as distinct from its surroundings, a significant advantage over completing our life cycle by reflexly executing whatever adaptive responses inherited genes and environmentally acquired memes have programmed us for. This introspective ability makes it possible to search for the meaning of the novel survival threats and the danger it represents to the species ‘in general’ and to the ‘individualized’ existential reality circumstance in particular. The results will make possible a response with novel adaptive survival solutions not previously scripted/anticipated in the genetic/memetic data bases. We have discussed in detail elsewhere the mechanisms involving inherited unconscious reflex responses to familiar environmental objects/events involving amygdaloidal complex and acquired subconscious responses involving hippocampus memory context analysis. We have also discussed how, when the potentially threatening object/event was novel, we had to access the Wernicke-Broca complex language faculty to co-generate silent language and thought and thereby code and improvise the novel adaptive solutions that resulted in strategies to be consciously willed into execution, those with the highest probability of adaptive success. See Vol. I, II “Neurophilosophy of Consciousness”.
We now speculate further on the details of the possible brain mechanisms involved in the cooperation between the phenomenal ontological and the conceptual epistemological (first and second order) neural network representations in the generation of the consciously willed hybrid decision-making alternative. We also need to expand further on the neuro-humoral underpinnings of the emotional participation/influence on co-participating logic processes and some of the controversial premises and predictions involved.
We need not, at this juncture, to consider the important difference between the crucial transit from the ‘subconscious state of awareness’ we share with subhuman species to the exclusively human introspective state of ‘self consciousness’. In fact we believe there may not be a general state but an ‘as needed’ individualized mental state of either ‘self consciousness’ or subconscious awareness in humans. Unless novel threatening object/events enter our phenomenal threshold of sensory awareness detection we continue to operate on subconscious mode, like when traveling along a familiar but dangerous mountain roads when driving to work or the market while concentrating on radio news from, e.g., the ‘awakening’ Middle East militia turbulence. We thus assume the premise of a previous attainment of the ‘general’ self conscious mental state prior to the focusing on the individualized existential circumstance of being challenged by the potential danger of a sudden, novel, ongoing, real time, ontological, sense-phenomenal object/event or the sudden epistemological, memory-derived but transitory presence of its (first or second order) mental abstract representation. To narrow the scope of this brief analysis we need be concerned only on the search for an adaptive, logically-based, conceptually universal, abstract model to interact and influence this second order abstract representation (of the preceding first order phenomenal representation of existential, sensory or memory based experience of real-time reality.
Pure phenomenal awareness of familiar sensory objects or events is transitory (working memory) and need not reach consciousness of their physical brain network presence or their causal influence in any response; same for transitory, memory-based flashes. However, when unfamiliar, as determined by the subconscious amygdale/hippocampus preceding ‘context’ scrutiny, the next step requires enabling the access to the language faculty to extract its conscious meaning to the body economy. The language faculty will mobilize the organism’s decision-making processes (see Dretske, Block 1995) which includes the rationalization of the event to the extent possible based on the subject’s previous personal ethical/moral experiences or beliefs, acquired or ‘revealed’? At this stage, the subject’s subconscious awareness is reductively analyzed and represented with the appropriate logic symbols/sentence with the help of the language faculty. This will cogenerate thought and an inner, silent proto language explanation of meaning in terms of a causal role, intentional content and biopsychosocial well being parameters before being stored as a probable solution to consciously free will from among other alternatives present in the pre motor cortical attractor phase space.
To illustrate, the sequence starts with a phenomenal unconscious awareness of e.g., the red attribution of an novel object when chatting while driving in the mountain road. The blind sight equivalent of the red object is first subjected to a safety scrutiny by the amygdaloid complex, followed by a subconscious road environment context analysis (memory) by the hippocampus system. We have witnessed the transition from the unconscious genetic domain to the subconscious genetic and memetic domain. Absent previous information about such new red object it is then subjected to a conscious analysis to establish its meaning to the subject’s body biopsychosocial economy. We are now witnessing the transition from the subconscious awareness domain to the self-conscious domain. This new mental stage consists, among other things, in thoughts about, e.g., redness of previous actions that are guided by redness. This phenomenal consciousness of the new object and its meaning to the subject may vary in its degree of elaboration into silent but reportable language depending on its circumstantial context to the extent that its explanation may become ineffable, or indescribable because it does not match any fitting, indexically precise conceptual or perceptual analog, e.g., the sudden appearance of a strange red object in the skies as opposed to watching it holding my hand. The red color in abstract is different from that indexically precise ‘That red object I am viewing now’. When indexically imprecise redness may be associated with ethical or moral standards/codes, e.g., red traffic lights, red blood, red underwear, etc., the richness of the content -acquired or revealed(?) experience- will have an impact on the ‘righteousness’ content in the decision-making process. This underscores the importance of moral theological or ethics secular education during the early formative years.
In the cortical attractor phase space we find the convergence of mental-state types consisting of both conscious and unconscious varieties. We find it hard to believe that phenomenal attributes in abstract, like beliefs and desires can be exclusively activated unconsciously. Attributes, phenomenal or qualia, of physical objects or subjects do not have an independent existence. What we are trying to question is, can we linguistically conceptualize from a previous first order abstraction in memory based on a previous, e.g., visual phenomenal object, thus creating a second order abstraction? The brain can only have first order representations of physical, sensory detected objects or events which are unconsciously subjected to an amygdaloid, genetically-based analysis as explained. The moment we perform the second ‘context’ analysis by the hippocampus, memory-based complex we have completed a second order representation at the subconscious stage. Only when dealing with unfamiliar, novel objects/events do we access the language faculty to provide a transitory meaning to the body economy in a third order representation.
If we ignore for the moment the first order creative activity of imagined phenomenal colored objects by creative artists like, e.g., Tina York, let’s consider the different case when the first order representation was exclusively a non-phenomenal abstract figment of her imagination, like the poems that frequently follow her paintings? Usually, these conceptual representations are based on second order distortions (willed or pathological) of memory data. Here is what we can learn from experimental clinical observations.
Can a person ‘see’ an ‘invisible’ micro object shown (or ‘revealed’?) to him? Or, what type of a mental representation, if any, can a subject make of an existing physical object yet invisible to him, e.g., when he had a portion of his primary visual cortex damaged and cannot see/describe the essential or attributive elements of any physical object placed in the visual field of the damaged region? The latter is the condition of ‘blind sight’ discovered by Carruthers in 1996. However, these same subjects can accurately and consistently distinguish horizontal from vertical lines placed in the same visual field! Yet, they cannot verbally report this occurrence. This to us is the difference between their subconscious ‘awareness’ potential and a normal subject’s reportable ‘consciousness’ of self and the same object which he is able to conceptualize and verbally report even in the object’s absence. We dare not guess on the details of what kind of first or second order conceptualization was possible, if any. Likewise, there are other patients with visual agnosia (no conscious visual experience) yet their perceptual capacities to describe attributive colors and textures (of what?) are preserved. It suggests that the perceptual temporal lobe locus is spared and distinguished from the damaged conceptual parietal lobe locus. This data makes us believe in the existence of cooperating but independent second order representations of the perceptual and the conceptual and the importance of consciousness to activate the language faculty in elaborating a third order conceptual representation of the preceding novel second order sense-phenomenal input whereas the familiar perceptual representation (first or second order), however transitory, is present at subconscious levels. We dare not guess the detailed features of the temporal lobe perceptual representation or the presumed absence of the conceptual representation at the parietal lobe locus associated with consciousness and the language faculty. The only clue we have is that the brain’s parietal angular gyrus locus receives information inputs from primary sensory areas before relaying the information to Wernicke and Brocas areas, both associated with proto language elaboration. The parietal lobes influence the control of ongoing, real time sense phenomenal perceptual responses to ontological/existential contingencies; whereas the temporal lobes are primarily concerned with epistemological considerations of the meanings of preceding or simultaneous object/event perceptual recognition/learning. Only the perceptual representations generated by the temporal-lobe system we are phenomenally conscious of and reportable. On the other hand the temporal-lobe is supposed to have access both to property information and to spatial information. This is an important distinction between an ontological ‘what-where-when’ locus in the temporal lobes and a decision-making ‘how-to’, ‘action-guiding’ locus originating in the parietal lobes. Yet, all things considered, why is it that having arrived at the most logical conclusion about an adequate response to a novel situation, most people will compromise and, depending on real time, existential and ongoing biopsychosocial circumstances, a neurohumoral-instantiated emotion will control the decision making process? See Vol. III, “Neurophilosophy of Consciousness.” for a more detailed analysis. We will now summarize the salient points that may suggest a lateralization of hemispheric controls of decision-making processes which may explain why a background of formally acquired ethical/moral early experiences resist better the emotional hijacking in the last stages of the decisional process. This is also characteristic of the epistemological, universals-centered control of decision-making showed and recorded for the historical prophets long before the existence of the Abrahamic theologies. How did they acquire that guidance and orientation, by revelation?
With the advent of FMRI technology and the data from brain lesion studies we have been able to document that while Emotions are complex and involve a variety of adaptive physical and cognitive responses to environmental stimulus, the study has provided good evidence for the asymmetric nature of brain hemispheric functions in humans. We can at least generalize and say that most language production and processing occur in the left hemisphere and most of the emotional production and processing occurs in the right hemisphere. There is some confusion in the literature because of the non-specific, liberal use of terms. Subjective qualia depends on the conscious third order conceptualization of emotions requiring the introspective identification of self as the subject of that feeling. As explained above, a novel object, event or delusional thought are groups belonging to the same class of unfamiliar entities and share an initial first order brain representation and a subsequent second order representation when processed for its contextual background. Conscious processing to extract their meaning and their subsequent language representation in terms of logical symbols and sentential equivalents represents the third order stage. The processing and production of physical facial expressions of emotions may be subconscious and also appear to be asymmetric in nature, the left side (right hemisphere-dominant) showing better effector responses. Here is some of what medical research has shown to substantiate the possible independent existence of perceptual and conceptual interacting brain data bases.
A person lacking his right, prefrontal lobe because of a surgical excision or otherwise also lacked decision-making skills especially when confronted with immediate BPS well being vs. future consequences of reward or punishment. He would always settle for immediate results (usually reward), like subjects lacking early ethical/moral experiences at an early age. Researchers were able to use conditioning based on verbal stimuli containing emotional meaning where non-verbal strategies failed.
Schizophrenics show an increase in right hemispheric lateralization and an increase in left handedness. The loss of left hemispheric control is evidenced by their difficulty in processing many of aspects of language and speech, including prosody.
Besides its known role in the unconscious genetic-based processing of stimulus threatening the biological integrity of the human species by the right amygdala, the left counterpart also participates in the self conscious presence of emotional qualia. There may be a neurohumoral control of emotional Valence asymmetry where cholinergic and dopaminergic neurohormones exercise control of the left hemisphere and noradrenergics control the right hemisphere counterpart.
It is also noteworthy that the reliable skin conductance response (SCR) to emotional qualia is significantly diminished by right hemispheric damage to brain’s anterior supramarginal gyrus and posterior angular gyrus regions while damage to the opposite hemispheric parietal counterpart did not. Likewise, fMRI clearly showed an activation of the temporal lobe right superior temporal gyrus during the processing of happiness-producing stimulation while the left pulvinar showing increases only when responding to fearful stimuli. It is not clear the right pulvinar activation during aversive conditioning. It is fair to say that emotions are processed in many parts of the brain and that emotions are very complex entities.
Summary and Conclusions.
We hope to have partially answered the ‘what’ is it about a conscious phenomenal perception that makes it worth the attention that triggers the conceptual data base into activity, something that a blindsight perceptual state would correspondingly lack. A phenomenally aware subconscious state is different from a self-conscious phenomenal state in that the former are second order representations of perceptual data and the latter are third order representations when novel and in need of further elaboration to find their existential meaning with the assistance of the language faculty.
We reserve the unconscious states, or first order representations thereof, to genetically inherited patterns of adaptive responses to situations (sensory or imagined objects/events) potentially challenging the integrity of the biological structure and function of the species, regardless of their fineness of grain and richness of content. When it becomes necessary to identify the contextual background behind the object an additional memory resource, (memetic) is added as the culmination of the subconscious state, or second order representations thereof.
If the situation is unfamiliar or novel, a meaning to the BPS economy is searched for by accessing the language faculty and thereby attaining the conscious state, or third order representation thereof. Depending on the perceptual or conceptual content and its fineness of grain, the perceptual can be further conceptualized and/or the conceptual can be further refined using in both cases symbolic or sentential fourth order representations when preparing explanatory models. Relevant meanings derived from the cooperation of perceptual and conceptual databases converge and gradually evolve into an option as a belief-like alternative of either a theological or scientific adaptive response.
This explanation may explain how the subconscious perceptual awareness guides movement in the agnosia patient and is substantially different from the conceptual counterpart during the generation of belief and thought as aided by the silent language elaboration. (see also Lau and Rosenthal 2011). There are circumstances in which people’s subjective, self conscious reports of visual experiences, are impaired while their unconscious first-order and/or subconscious discrimination abilities remain fully intact. Interestingly, their visual consciousness in these conditions is specifically associated with activity in a region of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex where we have posited as the anatomical location of the attractor phase space. (See Rounis et al. 2010) describing how the transcranial magnetic stimulation directed at that cortical area disrupts its functioning without impairing unconscious first-order or subconscious second order task performance.
A final decision is a phenomenally conscious mental state, when freely consented to, among alternatives in cortical attractor spaces, i.e., a meaningful fourth order mental state that resulted from the preceding conscious third order language representation scrutiny in search for an alternate or new adaptive response to a relevant and significant new contingency. In the absence of novelty, needless to say, a purely conceptual belief or a virtual image representation of a perceptual , fleeting past object or event in working memory gives rise to second order subconscious representations without there ever being any concurrent phenomenally perceptual event physically present. We feel it is necessary that third order states include perceptual states, mental images, bodily sensations, and emotional feelings that are all phenomenally conscious because they are now emerging adaptive alternatives blending and comparing the subconscious content with their corresponding analog or conceptual equivalent in memory. It does not matter much whether the final consented to higher-order perception is experienced as an ‘inner-sense’ quale or a higher-order thought or belief, they both, ultimately are accompanied by a feeling of BPS well being unless we are describing the historical prophets and their recorded acts contra self interest and well being. Both perceptual and conceptual states of second order subconscious awareness functionally become the third order self conscious state by virtue of their dynamic interaction, i.e., the higher-order thought/mental state evolves by virtue of the conceptual state being the actual target of the perceptual state to form an adaptive viable hybrid alternative for free will to choose from. It is important to remember that cortical attractor probable solutions, higher order representations are dynamic and interactive until one is finally chosen for execution.
In our human existential reality we may experience vague first-order non-conceptual qualia unrelated to any meaningful causal relation to perceptions from our environments and bodies. But we may also have second-order non-conceptual qualia based on incorporation of additional content, learned experience related to the first-order state. This may take the form of a non conscious scanning of the environment/body (inner sense) to produce fine-grained representations that can then serve to ground thoughts for subsequent integration with the conceptual data base in the conscious third order elaboration of an adaptive action-plan, a higher-order representation of those integrated inputs. See John Locke 1690.
The question remains, can it be falsifiably established how the influence of early childhood theological indoctrination on ethical and moral value systems establishes an eventual reservoir for consciously accessible, metaphysical logic, coded source of left-hemispheric universal values to mediate and positively influence the real time, ongoing decision-making process of existential reality? For those historical prophets who lacked the experience of ethical and moral indoctrination, what was their source of righteousness? Revelations? If so, we have already outlined the neural pathways to reciprocally transfer information from the transfinity source to the relevant left hemispheric locus. See Vol. III, “Neurophilosophy of Consciousness.” at http://delaSierra-Sheffer.net and https://angelldls.wordpress.com/.
Dr. Angell O. de la Sierra, Esq. In Deltona, Florida Winter 2012.