Visceral Brain, Language and Thought
“Man enters the physical reality domain as a single cell, the zygote, nine months later, it emerges as the most complex and organized structure imaginable. Behind that structural and functional complexity there is a master plan whose execution is revealed by systematically observing the sequence of activities that precedes it.” (Human Biology, Vol. I, II Lulu.com).
Fig. 1 Newborn Brain, Coronal Section
The role played by the visceral brain in thought formation determines to a large extent the behavioral adaptive strategy adopted, yet it is usually down played and summarily dismissed as 'emotional content'. We will try to bring it into focus as the most important unconscious driving force shaping our social interactions as it safeguards in the process the biological integrity of our human species in a changing environment, from birth to death. Its physical integrity brings a genetic past of our human species to bear directly on the social present as a guarantee of species survival and reproductive viability. Its genetic influence starts to be unfolded and felt with the embryonic phase and continues after the third gestation month with the fetal stage. In a previous chapter we discussed briefly how external sense data gets coded, stored and retrieved into and from cortical strata. Now we are interested in identifying the equivalent cortical and sub-cortical structures involved when processing the internal (body) neuronal input to the brain. We will briefly try to describe some pertinent neuronal overlap accompanying the unfolding of the embryonic genetic memory in a pre-linguistic, intrauterine environment and its subsequent postnatal output modification with social experience. The inherited survival behavior is ego centered and is soon to be modified by post-natal environmental external objects or events in a sequential interactive exchange.
Neurobiology strongly suggests that man’s neuronal ‘wiring’, during this early period is genetically determined to cope with basic nutritional survival needs and it follows a substantially different general anatomical / physiological cortical game plan than the one we discussed for external data coding in Ch. 1. Notice the poorly developed, un-myelinated cortical structures in the new born brain (Fig. 1). We contend that this primitive cortical lay-out is shared by subsequent neo-cortical developments that follow during the process of cephalization of functions, including the acquisition of a public language.
In general, we can say that the newborn starts by adapting his inherited gastrointestinal system to the life-saving food event (sucking reflex) while acting on the external food ingested by activating an inherited digestive process to be outlined below. In ‘Review of Child Development Research’, FD Horowitz (University of Chicago Press, 1975) the author underlines the innate skills the newborn’s genetic memory is endowed with. We will first examine briefly the participation of various inherited sensorimotor reflex systems essential to the survival of the newborn during the first months of life.
The body internal receptors assess the physiological status of the infant’s internal milieu, then a conducting neural pathway transmits the information to a developing integrative neuronal pool (somatic or autonomic) which filters, sorts out and relays the information to a neuron motor pool that gets set to execute adaptive responses by stimulation of the appropriate somatic or autonomic effectors (muscles, glands). This way, elements of the internal and external environment begin to get simultaneously incorporated and commingled within the context of the pleasure / aversive emotions they generate, code for and store in the process. Originally the responses are stereotyped and become as efficient and sophisticated as the reflex structure complexity (as modified) allows it to be at a given moment.
Eventually, the ongoing interactive process slowly evolves a primitive psychological structure with elements of awareness. The driving force behind this development is both need (Freudian diminution or extinction of urge) and an instinctual infant curiosity or need for stimulation. Contingent upon the subsequent attainment of the relevant intellectual, emotional, pre-linguistic and psychological structures, the concept of an external object in the environment slowly emerges. At this stage such objects are no longer considered by the infant in association with the satisfaction of his primitive needs or as an extension of self, now the objects have an existence and permanence of their own. This awareness signals the culmination in the development of an input > output sensorimotor reflex system, one that arguably an idealized robotic structure can, in principle, achieve. But the intercalation and elaboration of an experiential abstract event between body / external input and brain output (i.e., a consciousness of thought) requires a linguistic structure in place as a necessary but not sufficient element for the generation of that quality of thought, as we will elaborate further in future chapters. Past the first year of existence, that ‘feeling’ event heralds the dawning of a primitive conscience of self.
Sensorimotor reflex integration.
Pre-natal and early post-natal stages. During the intra-uterine stage of development a complex visceral reflex system is genetically assembled and includes intestinal, peritoneal, renal, vesical and some somatic reflexes. Also included are the important protective entero-gastric, gastro-colic, duodeno-colic, gastro-ileal and defecation reflexes which can inhibit ongoing gastrointestinal activity in response to localized over-distention or irritation of the gut. The nociceptive disturbance is first monitored by an intestino-intestinal protective reflex whose receptors utilize a developing sympathetic pathway to and from the developing spinal chord.
Independent from the autonomic connections to the spinal chord there are adaptive reflex adjustments that are the result of local mechanisms, an intrinsic nervous system of the gut proper that extends along the walls of the tract from the esophagus to the anus.. A stimulation of the gut is detected by the activity of an inner sub-mucosal layer (Meissner plexus), where receptor elements monitor the gastrointestinal cavity. An outer layer of neurons (myenteric plexus of Auerbach), between the longitudinal and circular muscle layers of the digestive tract, are responsible for the appropriate muscle contraction and resultant motility integrated by interconnecting nerve fibers. In general these wall plexi motoneurons can be pharmacologically considered as cholinergic excitatory fibers controlling both tonic and rhythmic gastrointestinal contractions although some inhibitory purinergic fibers have also been described.
The intrinsic activity of these intramural plexi can be modified further from a secondary level of control, the peripheral autonomic nervous system. The excitatory myenteric plexus can be considered an extension of the craneo-sacral or parasympathetic division. The thoraco-lumbar or sympathetic division, provide the nociceptive sensory pathway, as already noted. Motor sympathetic pathways can also cause an inhibitory effect on the motility and glandular secretions of the gut.
There is also an important third level of neural control, the central autonomic nervous system providing, in addition, an automatic modification of the newborn food ingesta, along with the activation of pertinent subsidiary viscera participating in the process. It is found anatomically at various levels of the central nervous system: from visceral autonomic nuclei in the spinal chord and nerve trunk, including the solitary tract of the vagus nerve, the facial and gloso-pharyngeal nerve nuclei, oculomotor nuclei, and reticular formation to the hypothalamus. (See Fig. 2)
The hypothalamus can be considered a fourth level in that it is the principal center for control and integration of visceral activity and its liason to thalamic, olfactory, hippocampal, amygdaloid, limbic and neocortex sites. These are interconnected via medial forebrain bundle (mfb), dorsal longitudinal fasciculus, mammillary and habenular nuclei, among others like unspecific thalamic nuclei.
The hypothalamus, in addition, also controls the hormonal concommitants of digestion and motility of the gut by way of its supraoptic and hypophyseal components. After receiving and integrating important neural input connections from viscera, taste receptors, olfactory cortex, limbic system (medial forebrain bundle), amygdaloidal body, hippocampus and anterior / medial thalamus, the hypothalamus is able to play significant roles in the genesis of the motor correlates of the emotions associated with these digestive and other visceral functions. The ‘feeling’ of these emotions slowly evolves and needs other links and will be discussed elsewhere.
Taste and olfactory exteroceptive sensations associated with food digestion are handled in a significantly different way and provide additional evidence in support of a common storage where external sense data is commingled with internal body input data in the brain during the lay out of the speech-generating neuronal circuitry. Somehow, as the phylogeny of mammals evolved, the olfactory cortex (rhinencephalon) made room for a progressive increase in the cephalization of body functions. Olfactory digestive functions proper were pre-empted by new ones and incorporated into the hippocampus and dentate gyrus of the temporal lobes housing part of the limbic system. (See Fig. 3) In man, besides the digestive olfactory pleasures integrated at the olfactory cortex, its activity is still inseparably tied-up anatomically with loci for memories and emotions. For example, each of the olfactory bulbs -above the perforated ethmoid roof of nasal cavities- form a tract that runs along the ventral surface of the frontal cortex until it diverges at the trigone into a medial (septal area, under rostrum of corpus callosum), lateral (uncus and insula, temporal lobe) and an innominate intermediate perforated area. The neuroanatomy of these regions is most complicated but it suffices to say that during
Fig.2 Midsagital Section of Human Brain
the prelinguistic stage of development the olfactory digestive functions are reciprocally interactive with developing cortical areas associated with emotions (e.g., endorhinal > hippocampus > fornix, septum > cingulate gyrus). We had suspected all along that primeval 'meaning' meant biological species survival, whose coded information gets inherited and becomes in the newborn the reservoir of information on which a proto-semantic activity becomes regenerated, ready to incorporate environmental modifiers (including mother's baby talk) to fashion the appropriate syntax structure of the future public language. This way proto-semantics precedes a generative grammar. We develop this idea in another chapter ahead.
It should be noted that both taste and olfaction use chemical receptors and during lactation both send information centrally. At the reflex level, taste information travels via vagal, gloso-pharyngeal and facial nerves to the solitary fasciculus and tract, completing the autonomic reflex arc via the dorsal nucleus of the vagus and the hypoglossal nucleus. These are the very same neurons that will control, interestingly, all of the structures later on involved in phonation and articulation during speech activity. Olfactory neural pathways have been sketched above.
With the exception of olfaction, central pathways mediating visceral sensations are poorly defined polysynaptic reticular and medial lemniscal connections on their way to the postero-ventral,
Fig.3, Adult Coronal Section
intralaminar thalamic nuclei and hypothalamus. (Fig. 3) The latter relay to other sub-cortical autonomic nuclei while the thalamus relays to a diffuse gustatory cortex location in the parietal lobe (post central gyrus, deep into the Sylvian fissure coinciding with tongue somatic area I. Other fibers reach the opercular insular cortex nearby. Both of these locations develop projections to Wernicke’s tempo parietal location and Broca’s area where the motor image of speech will be formed. (Fig. 4) We find no evidence of any significant reticular activation of the cortex or 40 Hz intralaminar nuclei activity during visceral activity. (See below for Francis Crick and Rodolfo Llinas account of ‘consciousness')
Other than vision, none of the special senses discussed have a more credible relation to language generation than audition. It is generally believed that the newborn’s body language and babbling noises are an attempt to reach the mother and repeat the mother's cooing sounds. However, during lactation the newborn is essentially cortically blind as we have mentioned earlier and it has been demonstrated that children born deaf and / or blind are also capable of displaying this behavior (William Wang, The Emergence of Language, 1991 Freeman); it will disappear after the child starts talking. If we accept the reasonable premise that such behavior represents primitive attempts to communicate by body language movements and primitive speech, we have to conclude that body input (visceral, hypothalamic, etc.) into language generating neuronal circuitry have preceded any other subsequent coding for external sensory input into the same loci where inherited generative grammar processing (as championed by Chomsky) is developing. Any future codification into language structures during development will have to reckon with these permanent neuronal circuits daily reinforced by visceral and emotional parameters and consolidated into permanent memory in what may be considered a proto-linguistic organ (plo). More on this development in later chapters.
To continue with the elaboration of the visceral brain > language > thought connection we add now the auditory participation in this scheme. It should be clear to everyone the importance of vision and audition in the modification of the inherited language-generating neuronal circuitry (generative grammar?). So far we have established the genesis, presence and permanence of visceral body inputs into this ongoing modification. Now we will briefly summarize the participation of audition and try to identify the macro anatomical location where convergence of all sensory inputs likely influence the modification and its possible relation to the concomitance of thought, part of the so called “binding problem”.
Sound information about the external world travels through complicated pathways from the ears to the lateral lemniscus pathway to the medial geniculate nuclei of the thalamus leaving rootlets to connect with the 'alert' reticular activating pathways. Once in the thalamus, projections travel both caudad to the mesencephalic inferior colliculi (to mediate audio-motor reflexes) and cephalad to both sides of the temporal auditory cortex (Heschl gyrus, Area 41,42 , floor of Sylvian fissure). This auditory primary locus connects with the adjacent secondary association area, which relays to Wernicke’s area. The latter is a common integrative area receiving, in addition, visual input from the visual secondary association area. Wernicke’s area then connects to the supramarginal and angular gyrus (see Fig.4 and Diagram I).
Going back to the birth stage we find that, both at the arguably ‘conscious’ and unconscious levels, the hypothalamus is itself under the control of the developing cortex, specially the frontal orbital lobe that will also be developing ‘executive’ controls for psychic processes.
While the sucking reflex initiates an adaptation process of the inherited gastrointestinal tract to the external texture and composition of the lactating milk, the rest of the innate reflexes modify the external ingesta by moving it to be processed along the longitudinal axis of the tract where hormones control both the motility and the chemical cleavage of macromolecular milk components to absorbable molecular dimensions that can traverse across the infant’s gut inner linings.
In a nutshell, other viscera, (e.g., lungs and heart) serve a subsidiary support role to the lifesaving nutritional functions described. The ingested, digested and absorbed nutrients are used by the infant as replacement molecules, as components of more complex molecules or as energy fuel subject to oxidative metabolism by the newborn. During oxidation the body utilizes the oxidative energy released (directly as heat or as an intermediate high energy ATP complex molecule.) Besides the dehydrogenations of intermediary metabolism (indirect oxidations), the lung viscera provides the oxygen of oxyhemoglobin and the heart viscera transports the oxygen carrier molecule to cellular oxidative sites where oxygen participates in direct oxidations, as required.
Immediately before lactation, the mother’s breast had been readied by placental estrogens that stimulate ductal growth and branching, progesterone completes the preparation. The moment the newborn’s lips touch the mother’s breast, touch receptors in the nipple discharge nerve impulses to the mother’s hypothalamus causing it to release prolactin and oxytocin hormones into the blood. The function of the latter is to act on the myo-epithelium of her breast to cause ejection of her milk into the lactating newborn. As soon as the unlearned sucking reflex activity is released it effects the characteristic infant movements that suck and move the milk along the length of the digestive tract for further mechanical and enzyme processing. Subsidiary assistance in this flow of milk is provided by the sneeze and cough reflexes which, in reality, are protecting the upper respiratory passages from the presence of foreign bodies like milk. Vagal receptors in the laryngeal entrance to the lungs trigger a medullary cough reflex by first closing the glottis while inhaling followed by a forced exhalation to expel the foreign body. Irritation to nasal mucosa will cause receptors to send nociceptive messages via Cranial nerve V to activate same reflex response but producing a sneeze instead. Please note that these same mechanisms will be involved in the articulation of speech later on.
Fig. 4 Lateral view of Human Cortex
Psychological and Neurological Observations
It is important to keep in mind the anatomico-physiological correlates that are evidenced in this first encounter of the creature with the physical world. There is no doubt that the sucking reflex is part of the genetic endowment of the baby. It involves the activation of facial, masticatory, pharyngeal, laryngeal and GI musculature. We have discussed the gastro-intestinal musculature, the rest happens to be the same musculature involved in the articulation of the sound produced by expiratory air acting on the laryngeal vocal chords. Speech proper involves laryngeal phonation and the articulation of the sound achieved by the structures of the mouth. But vocalization is much more complex and besides the respiratory pathway, it also involves the brain stem respiratory center which controls it, and speech control centers in the cerebral cortex, to be discussed later. (Fig.4)
A closer look at the newborn activity during the first month of life will reveal that all of the inherited reflexes triggered into action during the first sucking experience continue to be executed in the absence of the original cutaneous (nipple) stimulation. It was Piaget, in his very careful observations (Ginsburg’s Theory of Intellectual Development, Prentice Hall, 1979) that first realized the importance of exercising a neuronal loop to establish it and make it function, he called it ‘assimilation.’ It suggests the transfer of the information to a more permanent memory storage where it can either be deleted by disuse self extinction or retrieved for further use or modification. The hippocampus is the preferred site for the development of memory at this stage. The sucking reflex neuronal afferents send collaterals into both the trunk reticular formation and the hypothalamic pleasure centers (for pain / anxiety reduction?). This way the inherited hunger and satiety centers (lateral and ventromedial nuclei, respectively, Figs. 2,3) are developed and modified. These centers, besides monitoring the blood contents of nutrients and the body’s state of hydration, are themselves connected to olfactory centers and receive afferent inputs from thalamic and cortical ‘emotion centers’. By way of the neuro secretory function of the hypothalamus it also links with the pertinent endocrine organs coordinating the digestive and nutritional activities of the lactating infant.
It is very important to keep in mind the importance of the hypothalamus as the principal integrator of visceral autonomic nervous activities of which the gastrointestinal control is paramount in this first month of life. By its multiple lateral afferent connections with the olfactory cortex and mesencephalic reticular areas (medial tract of telencephalon) it relates visceral function, olfaction and basic emotional impulses. A similar relation with the anterior hypothalamus is provided by the ‘stria terminalis’, which brings information from the uncus region of the temporal lobe (amygdala). The fornix, originating in the hippocampal area of the temporal lobe, connects with both hypothalamus and mammillary bodies. The latter connect with the thalamus (mamillothalamic tract) and the cingular cortex. Finally, the hypothalamus is connected to the prefrontal cortex directly and by way of medial thalamic nuclei, this way providing the pathway for the genesis of mental states associated with visceral functions. During all of this cephalization process the hippocampus sends connections to the parietal angular gyrus which itself receives information from the visual and auditory areas of Wernicke (Barr’s The Human Nervous System, Harper Row, 1975)
If we shift the focus now to the lactating infant in between meals we will notice some modifications in his relations to the mother and the rest of the external world. He continues his mouth movements (orbicularis oris, buccinator) with or without any physical objects stimulating his lips. It may be argued that it illustrates the first event of classical conditioning where the mouth movements represent an unconditioned self-stimulus, especially when touched by a neutral object like a blanket. Piaget prefers to cite this event as an example of a sucking reflex arc being reinforced by practice or ‘assimilation.’ However, this view considers the presence of the milk in the GI system as the exclusive reinforcer (reduces hunger pangs), ignoring the effect of the blanket or other surrogate nipple in activating pre-established brain pleasure areas, as Olds and Pribram have demonstrated in the conditioned rat trained using the Skinner box. Soon thereafter, the child will discriminate between a neutral stimulus and the breast when both are simultaneously presented. This fact also made Piaget to wrongly conclude, in our opinion, that eyesight was present during the first month of life.
We prefer to argue that during the first month extra uterine ontogenesis continues to recapitulate phylogenesis and the body postural, oculomotor and saccadic eye movements noticed in the newborn do not require the patency of the optic primary and associate cortex processing we find in adult humans; it is functioning at sub-conscious levels. The process of cephalization (see Fig.1) is still incomplete and the child is most likely cortically blind at this stage of development. Retinal ganglion cells carrying information from retinal photoreceptors will form the optic nerve fibers which, after synapsing with lateral geniculate nuclei of thalamus, do not radiate completely to the visual calcarine cortex of the occipital lobe (Figs.5,6). A small bundle of fibers can enter the mesencephalic brachium of the superior colliculus reaching also the pre-tectal nuclei, thus providing the sensory input for oculo-kinetic reflex responses (Fig.2). The motor arm of the reflex arc has an autonomic (Cranial III accessory nucleus distributing to the orbital ciliary ganglia and pupillary constrictor muscle of the iris) and a somatic component (Cranial III, traveling via tectospinal and reticulo spinal pathways to extraocular, neck and arm musculature involved in tracking the position of its target object (breast nipple). Cortico-collicular connections from the visual associative cortex in the occipital and motor frontal cortex are not developed yet, consequently accommodation, convergence, etc., are poorly developed, if at all. Pupillary dilatation resulting from strong emotions (hippocampus > hypothalamus > thalamus > reticulospinal > superior cervical sympathetic ganglia > papillary muscle) is also undeveloped. The newborn seems to be tracking the nipple while flailing its arms in the air and kicking (pre-verbal linguistic communication) but neither the tempo-parietal cortex of Wernicke nor the angular gyrus have established the required complete connections with the visual primary and associative cortex or hippocampus. The visual image that precedes the formation of a lexicon memory for speech (see Diagram 1) is absent. However, one can infer that the formation of the still primitive motor image of speech (by coordinating audiovisual motor images originating from Area 4,4s and Broca’s Area at the motor frontal cortex) is more advanced due to their prior limited involvement in the gastro-intestinal and bucal responses associated with nutrition , as discussed (see also Figs.4,5).
A neurological observation of the body postural movements during the first month are neither smooth, coordinated nor purposeful. They are not smooth because of the poorly developed postural involuntary control of future voluntary musculature as controlled by telencephalic, sub cortical basal ganglia (caudate, putamen, globus pallidus). We include the diencephalic sub thalamic nuclei. They are not coordinated because of the incomplete development of both cerebellar reciprocal connections with the cortex, voluntary muscle spindles and other propioceptive sensors of muscle tension and position of the body in space. These connections are poorly myelinated for efficient function. And they are not willed purposeful movements because the sensorimotor activities displayed are reflex, stereotyped responses, self directed exclusively for survival. External objects are not visually coded and when visible, they are considered (as argued before) an extension of self. The concept of an object has not been formed yet.
Auditory perception unrelated to feeding is not developed in the first month Newborns are essentially cortically deaf. In the subsequent months audio motor reflexes mediated by the mesencephalic inferior colliculi begin to be established to orient posture and other relevant movements to focus on the cooing-associated source of nutrition (only when the infant faces the source of sound does each ear receive an equal intensity of sound stimulation). The accompanying underdevelopment of the temporal auditory cortex and related tempo-parietal Wernicke areas retards the formation of the auditory image that links into Broca's area and other frontal lobe motor areas (Diagram 1). Thus the phonological route to the development of the auditory component of lexicon memory of speech lags behind even though the vocalization musculature has been exercised previously in association with the infant’s nutritional needs as discussed.
The first ‘language’ communication attempts are a mixture of inherited body movements and vocalization language associated with visceral functions, particularly nutritional in nature.
It is fair to say that even when the repertoire of oculomotor, audiomotor and both tactual and postural kinesthetic activity is limited, there is still some primitive perceptual learning during the first month, (E.Gibson, Principles of Perceptual Learning and Development Appleton, 1969). It allows the newborn to distinguish between different areas of the breast and the breast from other neutral objects. This occurs by a random trial and error, conditioning, assimilation, accommodation and inherent curiosity, all of which establishes a modifiable plasticity of neuronal circuitry connected to memory and psychomotor areas, a permanent reservoir of experience. The satisfaction of hunger is able to draw upon these primitive neuronal pools to implement the ‘need behavior.’
Assimilation rehearsal and innate curiosity exploration makes possible conditioned anticipation and recognition in the next stages of neuronal maturation. This development coincides with the beginning of cortical primary sensory areas to (myelinate?) interconnect with thalamic medial and lateral geniculate bodies (for audiovisual relays) and with the all-important reticular activating system (ras) and intralaminar thalamic nuclei, as Crick and Llinas have now established.
Fig.5 Human Parieto-occipital Cortex, Coronal Section
During the first month of life the diffuse reticular system at the medulla oblongata-pons level represents the most important neural survival ‘structure’ inherited. Cardiovascular, respiratory and important reticulo-spinal motor responses to visceral reflexes mentioned above are coordinated here after receiving hypothalamic input. This web of neurons originate in the spinal chord and travel polysynaptic adrenergic routes to the thalamus where they liaison with other nuclei. Among these other nuclei are the intralaminar and midline thalamic nuclei that utilize myelinated polysynaptic projections (e.g., medullary internal lamina from Centro median nucleus) to reach all areas of the cortex where they produce a general alert in anticipation of, or simultaneous with, the arrival at the cortex of sensory information, particularly visual and auditive information. They play a unique role in the coordination of the cycles of sleep-wakefulness, but more important in the context of our discussion, their role in concentration and attention behavior, the most important pre-requisite for a learning experience to occur. *More recently Crick and Llinas have claimed their unique role as the “search light” 40 Hz pulsations that effect the ‘binding’ prerequisite for consciousness. These unspecific pathways are to be distinguished from the medial lemniscus, spino-thalamic tract
Fig. 6 Thalamo-cortical neuronalcircuits.
*These have been proposed to subserve temporal binding. Diagram of two thalamocortical systems. Left, specific sensory or motor thalamic nuclei project to layer IV to the cortex, producing cortical oscillation by direct activation and feed-forward inhibition via 40-Hz inhibitory interneurons. Collaterals of these projections produce thalamic feedback inhibition via the reticular nucleus. The return pathway (circular arrow on the right) re-enters this oscillation to specific and reticularis thalamic nuclei via layer VI pyramidal cells. Right, second loop shows nonspecific intralaminary nuclei projecting to the most superficial layer of the cortex and giving collaterals to the reticular nucleus. Layer V pyramidal cells return oscillations to the reticular and the nonspecific thalamic nuclei, establishing a second resonating loop. The conjunction of the specific and nonspecific loops is proposed to generate temporal binding. (from Llinas et al, 1994, p. 260) (Taken from Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, Electronic Seminars.) See also: Crick, F. (1984) Function of the thalamic reticular complex: the searchlight hypothesis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 81, 4586-4590 and Crick F, Koch C (1990) Towards a neurobiological theory of consciousness. Seminar in Neuroscience, 2:263-275. Also, Llinas, R.R. and Pare, D. (1991) Commentary: Of dreaming and wakefulness. Neuroscience, 44:3, 521-535 and Llinas, Ribary, Joliot and Wang (1994) Content and context in temporal thalamocortical binding. In G. Buzsaki et al. (Eds.) Temporal Coding in the Brain. Berlin: Springer Verlag.
and trigemino-thalamic tract bringing specific sensory information to the postero-ventral nuclei of the thalamus to be relayed to the post-central gyrus, somesthesic area of the parietal lobe of the cortex. These specific pathways also send collaterals to the reticular activating system with the exception of the medial lemnisci. Once these sensory specific and unspecific reticular pathways begin to be established after the first month of life, sensory information traveling to the primary sensory cortex will be accompanied by a general alertness of relevant areas of the cortex to facilitate concentration in the processing of the information, especially audiovisual.
The continued rehearsal of established cortical neuron circuits brings in, through reinforcement, a consolidation of the elements of the experience into hippocampal and associate sensory cortices. The latter represent modifiable, temporary audiovisual or kinesthetic representations of the external world in close association with previously fixed representations of internal body parameters, as discussed. These external representations make it possible for the developing child to start recognizing external objects, but only in association with their relevance to the satisfaction of their basic survival needs; thus far a pure conditioned reflex response, but the beginning of an ability to recognize the specific absence of an object when it is suddenly hidden from view. The eyes remain momentarily fixed in the spot it disappeared from, something impossible during the first month. It can be speculated that the emerging cortical representation of the object substitutes for the physical object in its absence from that spot it just disappeared from. This cortical-aided perceptual learning is the beginning of a familiarization of the infant with external objects in the environment, independent of their mediate or immediate role in satisfying a primitive survival urge. The inborn novelty will continually reinforce this learning. The richer and varied the environment, the quicker and more extensive the experience as the initial cortical ‘icons’ data bank becomes modified and enriched in details by the experience.
As the number of external objects and events increases and the resolution of external receptors increases, the sooner it becomes important to allocate additional cortical space to accommodate the multimedia details of the incoming information into the cortical ‘hard drive’ , specially visual and auditory details. The need for solutions presses on but would have to be within the physical resources of the brain multi-neuronal ‘processor’. One obvious solution to these limitations was the massive proliferation that accommodated trillions of neurons in cortical columns and layers of strata. Fig.5 The next strategy was to modify preexisting brain circuit ‘wetware’ such that more information could be easily stored and retrieved into thoughts and / or motor-control neuron pools during the execution of adaptive motor response and associated relevant speech.
The pre-existing cyto-architecture provides for a stereotyped multimodal processing of visceral information as discussed which executes its appropriate responses (sucking, babbling, flailing of limbs, etc.) by tapping a genetic memory of the species (codified as neuronal DNA) as modified by early post-natal experiences. What is now necessary is to be able to develop further a parallel pathway cytoarchitecture in the neocortex to process external sensory perceptions and funnel the output through the preexisting neuronal circuitry to the appropriate motor pools controlling effectors for movement and speech. The ‘Cannon’ movement, to help approach or escape from the triggering stimulus, the speech, to recruit intraspecies (human) assistance when needed. The rudiments of a multi-layered parallel processing unit, as discussed in Ch.1 above, already in place at birth and the real challenge is the coupling of the old with the new. The resulting arrangement should be able to explain the emergence of language and thought, not necessarily a conscious state in all its stages for the reasons mentioned and others that will follow. The candidate ‘pre-binding’ structure should provide a rallying point for the reticular activating system and the different sensory modalities (internal or external, primary or associated) representations and be able to connect with the motor neuron pools controlling speech generation and motion. It should be able to “codify” the input event into condensed, space-efficient neuron assemblies (‘zip files’?) that can provide an infinite number of alternatives for storage and can be easily retrieved into the central rallying point or ‘binding’ structure. After Francis Crick’s “search light” failure to explain consciousness in 1984 he has allegedly identified a 40 Hz electric signal in thalamic nuclei able to ‘bind’ together the pertinent multimodal icons into a coherent ‘living thought’. Llinas has followed up on this evidence to identify the “search light” algorithm at the intralaminar thalamic nucleus. We are suggesting a 'language' algorithm that would require a sound or written clue to be identified (audio-visual pathway) as a prerequisite to generate (‘bind’ together the relevant stored information) an appropriate thought to control the subsequent adaptive motor responses. Every attempt has thus failed as we elaborate further on.
The rudiments of a language-producing solution have been also identified as the primitive social communication ‘hardware’ in every position in the phylogenetic scale. In humans this would be the structural equivalent of a generative grammar set up as predicted by Chomsky. In practically every animal species known sounds and body language movements have fulfilled this communication function. Man has apparently adopted this same game plan as demonstrated in newborn with inherited deafness and blindness as described earlier. Gross voluntary body movements controlled by frontal motor cortex circuits (area 4,4s) have been largely preceded in their development by another set of laryngeal, pharyngeal, masticatory and facial musculature to produce audible sounds comparable to the ones genetically and environmentally coded in the auditory temporal cortex. The apparatus had been already in place as demonstrated in children who would have, in theory, never being able to use it because they were born blind and deaf, as we have described above.
The best candidate for this central rallying point is the parietal angular gyrus (Figs. 7,8) because of its strategic gross anatomical location in the brain. Six layers of billions of granular, fusiform and pyramidal cells, few millimeter deep, reaching inside the intersection of the inferior intraparietal sulcus, the posterior branch of the lateral sulcus (that portion of the inferior parietal lobule surrounding the superior temporal sulcus) and the adjacent supramarginal gyrus, locates the angular gyrus. (Fig.8) Once a primary sensory area receives an internal sensory signal from the adult body proper or from special external senses, a few milliseconds later it reaches the association areas either directly or via sub cortical tracts from thalamic sensory relay nuclei and its own association areas. The angular gyrus brings together somatic, visual, auditory and autonomic information from their respective associate sensory cortex (parietal area 40, occipital area 18,19, temporal area 42 & insular area 41, respectfully] of the dominant hemisphere to bear upon the highest level of brain function, the elaboration of language and thought, sometimes called the tertiary association or Gnostic area of the brain.
These functions described (see Diagram 1) are experimentally established primarily by neurological and psychological observations of the effects of surgical ablation , stimulation, electronic measurements of specific portions of the cortex (EKG, evoked potentials, etc.), or autopsy reports. During the first month of life a primitive, undeveloped neuronal connectivity in these association areas or in adult lesions thereafter would render the subject semantically deaf, blind or dyslexic. The general interpretative area of Wernicke located in the postero-superior temporal lobe synapse with both the auditory and visual (continues below Diagram I)
Diagram 1 (Legend)
Phonological Routes. Tested by reading aloud, even words not understood (semantic deficiency) or not pronounceable (syntactic deficiency). Other deficiencies are: anomia where subjects can not find names for things, or can not match spoken words with pictures or produce speech spontaneously .
Tests (where vision and audition are normal):
A. Spontaneous talking (Route 8>>6)
Only with syntax (3>>6)
Only with meaning (2>>6)
B. Repeating sounds (1>>6)
Only with syntax (5>3>>6)
Only with meaning (2>>6)
C. Reading loud (4>>7)
Only with syntax (5’>3>>7)
Only with meaning (2>>7)
Lexical Routes. Requires prior convergence (8) in a putative frontal cortex where Motor image is assembled (Broca’s?)
A) Spontaneous writing (8>>7’)
Only with syntax (Memory>Visual image>5’>3’>>7’)
Only with meaning (Memory>Angular gyrus>>2’>>7’)
B) Copying from text (1’>>7’)
Only with syntax (5’>3’>>7’)
Only with meaning (2’>>7’)
A) Writing from dictation (4’>>7’)
Only with syntax (5>3’>>7’)
Only with meaning (2’>>7’)
counterparts. In so doing it elaborates the auditory and visual images of language which they can transmit directly to Broca’s speech area in the lower frontal lobe via the arcuate fibers (Fig. 8), representing the motor image of language, or transmit indirectly via the angular and supramarginal gyrus providing -->
Fig.7, Left Lateral View of Dominant Language Hemisphere.
The semantic image of language (see Diagram 1). Bear in mind also the emotional image (not graphed) provided due to the anatomical proximity of the autonomic insular cortex (lymen) to Wernicke’s area and the angular gyrus. The latter is also in close proximity to the somesthesic association cortex in the parietal lobe.
The lactating newborn still has a poorly developed spatial perception for location of any part of the body yet, except for postural adjustments associated with lactation that are handled by subcortical basal ganglia for the most part. Adult lesions at the angular gyrus, now controlled by autonomic input, causes dementia.
It is important to remember that at least during the first month of life all ‘voluntary’ movements and vocalization of the newborn are genetically programmed and have nothing to do in their evocation with environmental cues from the mother or elsewhere; this is corroborated by children born blind / deaf that present the same behavior, as previously stated. However, through the continued reinforcement of innate reflex responses, as explained above, neuronal development at the cortical level establishes new connections as detailed in the preceding paragraphs. The startling reflex is present early on as observed, proof of the patency of the reticular activating system and consequently of an alert system for incoming sensory data into the developing cortex. It is not clear when, past the first month, the baby has actually functional, primary visual or auditory cortical images because the orientation reflexes can also be triggered at the collicular mesencephalic level. However, at the end of first trimester the baby can see the mother’s lips moving and the first attempts to imitate her sounds and lips movements can be observed. At this moment, the primary visual and auditory cortex are connected to Wernicke’s area which relays to Broca’s area thus contributing in the further elaboration of a preexisting motor image of language. See this arcuate pathway in the adult, Fig.8
At this point in time neither the visual, auditory nor motor language images can produce speech or writing, something that may require the maturation and full participation of the angular gyrus in these connections. The evidence comes from adult lesions affecting the phonological route by disconnecting Wernicke’s auditory area from the angular gyrus where a patient can repeat sounds aloud (patent auditory image) with or without proper syntax (provided by a patent lexicon memory) but without comprehension (proto-semantics provided by angular gyrus?). Similarly, adult patients with lesions affecting only the lexical route by disconnecting Wernicke’s visual area from the angular gyrus can read aloud (patent visual image, See Diagram 1)
Fig. 8, Arcuate nerve pathway in deep L. hemisphere.
with or without proper syntax (provided by lexicon memory) but without comprehension (semantics provided by angular gyrus).
Other clinical data shows adult patients able to understand the meaning of words (patent angular gyrus) spoken (patent auditory image) or read (patent visual image) but, either reads aloud or writes with errors in syntax (damaged lexicon memory). Likewise we find patients reading aloud or writing with perfect syntax without understanding (damaged angular gyrus) of the written word. A patient that can spontaneously write or speak spontaneously has a patent audio-visual memory whose writing or speech syntax and / or meaning will be determined by the intervention of a lexicon memory and angular gyrus, respectively.
It is well known that a toddler can talk before he can write. As pointed out before, newborn babbling and associated body language during the first month can be observed in babies born blind and deaf (absence of the corresponding primary sensory cortical structures). As they grow older, normal babies unable to write yet can build upon these innate language structures by acquiring a particular language from their parents and refine the pertinent proto-syntax as time goes on. This fact supposes that the auditory component of the lexicon memory develops before the visual counterpart. It is most interesting though that the developing toddler’s first choice of syntax is attuned more to the functionality of their effort than the ‘syntactic correctness’ of their parent’s language, e.g., “baby eat”, subject and predicate. An understanding (semantic consideration) of the problem to be solved (hunger) brings forth a linguistic response more adequate to the peremptory solution (reduction or elimination of urge) than the elaborate syntactic ordering of response being acquired from the parent’s language. This can only happen if the semantic component development (angular gyrus) over-rides the controls for the linguistic production at this early stage. One can suppose that any acquired syntactic language corrections at this stage may be considered adaptively inefficient in the communication of basic biological needs to the mother. This preemption has survival value and its pervading influence and presence on future developments can not be extricated as acquired language syntax comes to control, modify and dominate the workings of the semantic neuronal circuits (angular gyrus). This primitive language structure can be recalled by hypnosis. There is no doubt that the child’s insistence on linguistic shortcuts before parental enforcement of a particular language structure responds to an inherited logic predisposition tied up with survival of the individual species. This implies that the multi-layered neocortical arrangement, ideal for the parallel processing of external sensory input later on, is now being used (along with paleocortical neuronal circuitry) to attend the survival-oriented, stereotyped requirements that precede the cephalization of human functions.
With the inauguration in the newborn of additional sources of information coming from the external world through the special senses, particularly visual and auditory sense input, new logic algorithms had to be imposed on the modified, inherited neuronal logic. The primitive language cyto-architecture could no longer integrate the audiovisual complexity of the external world into meaningful codes of instructions for the body effectors to execute adaptive responses beyond the primitive urge to survive biologically. The new challenge of environmental and cultural survival, individually and as a group, required the acquisition of a new master plan for coding the new environmental sense input, to harmonize it with the pre-existing plan, as described, and means to respond quickly and effectively to such challenges. Effective communication was of the essence and the most efficient solution was to utilize and modify further preexisting language-generating anatomical structures already in place for less sophisticated, albeit vital, solutions, as described before.
Interpretations and Conclusions
What is this pre-existing “language-generating structure?” For it to be preexisting one has to think of the genetic code, small enough to be passed on in a germ cell vehicle during fertilization. What specific brain macro-structure may result from reading the genetic code instructions at the pre and post-linguistic stages? At the pre-linguistic post-natal stage, judging from the behavioral data, disorganized babbling, startle responses and uncoordinated limb movements do not necessarily require a strategic command center, but rather an interactive cooperative effort between sensory and motor components of a very primitive reflex arc response incorporating visceral and emotional stereotyped responses to the internal threshold body physiology variations. Right after birth visual and auditory motor images are handled at mesencephalic levels (corpora quadrigemina) but ca. 12 months later the primary sensory cortex becomes actively involved, specially when the auditory or visual image of an external object is retained in memory as explained earlier. Based again on clinical data, adults are able to display visceral events seconds before suffering an epileptic seizure (aura) or narrate them while conscious during the surgical electrical stimulation of the affected brain areas. Patients experience and relate noises, odors, sights, etc. The hippocampal gyrus is a good candidate for a site for temporary storage and consolidation into longer term memory. It probably maintains memory events that can be recalled and re-enacted by appropriate stimulation; it demonstrates how visceral urges translates into baby body and speech language controlled by somatotopic motor representation of limbs and Broca’s area respectfully. A memory allows the introduction of meaning as an additional resource to classify the new experience (by comparing with previously coded encounters) as pleasurable or aversive (recruiting the cooperation of the pain / pleasure networks including the limbic cortex).
More complicated external sensory input requires leasing additional operational space to process the information into a simpler code that can utilize the previous tracks to the language motor area of Broca to communicate an adaptive response or other motor areas (limbs) to approach or avoid the sensory perception. It is not farfetched to assume that, considering the physical contiguity to primary sensory cortical areas, the best candidates for this new processing are the adjacent parietal associate cortex for visual and somesthetic inputs, but in particular the temporal associate cortex for auditory inputs which predate any other equivalent organization (we hear and talk before we read and talk). It then becomes understandable that a 12-month-old baby may repeat sounds (mother’s cooing) aloud without comprehension, let alone in a structured syntactic fashion. Thus by imitation of the sounds of a particular language the syntactic component of a lexicon memory is reinforced before its visual counterpart provides any input to the putative language-generating center. Please notice that the auditory cortex is already arranged for handling the complex phonotopic subtleties in sound. This way it prepares the lexicon language circuitry to receive multimodal inputs to accommodate the additional subtleties of the acquired language (inflections, intonations, timbre, phoneme order, etc.)
It is important to remember at this point that the angular gyrus is preset for it’s processing of visceral-emotional data and its projection to the future Broca’s area. Communication is so important for the human species that Broca’s area elaboration of a babble represents the first inherited language attempts to ‘reciprocate’ mothers’ cooing and body language, all this before receiving input from the lexicon and / or other association areas. This supposes a reordering of the inherited pre-existing neural circuitry to accommodate the new and complicated lexicon algorithm. As the angular gyrus integrates and processes the multimodal input, prior to relaying it for its transduction into effectual body and / or speech generation at Broca’s and motor cortex sites, the convergent, consolidated, multimodal circuit maintains the image (thought) during the completion of the transfer. It remains to be established if this step is associated with the 40 Hz oscillations Crick and Llinas described. The image, unless reinforced to stay longer, persists for the duration of the transfer. Babies repeat familiar sounds constantly. Executing the motor component of speech (talking) maintains the transfer pathways alive, (reciprocal connections along arcuate component of the superior longitudinal fasciculus) i.e., talking generates the image (thought) that produced it to begin with. We have a private communication from a member of a ‘HighQ’ society (ISPE) who showed symptoms of dyslexia after a nearly blinding infection with measles at the age of nine and learned to generate a thought image by writing the corresponding word or phrase.
Many important developments unfold at this critical stage; audio-visual and somesthetic perceptual input from the external world start being coordinated, they seem to go together more often than not; the chaotic kantian perceptions are now being ordered. We will see how adequately a sound (or its written equivalent) may be a common denominator that codes (‘binds’) for an assembly of multimodal contributions defining an object, an event and, at another stage, a thought. Familiar visual or somesthetic stimulation is accompanied by a speech sound, which gets more structured as associated language cues from the mother are unraveled. Once a multimodal neuronal circuit is reinforced through repetition, in the presence or absence of the physical objects that originated them, those objects become transferred to memory and an expectation of their presence is developed, now the external objects have an existence of their own for the observer, distinct and separate from the subject. When they disappear from perceptual reach, they are sought for in the baby’s surroundings. This awareness is still associated to the extinction of basic survival needs but a primitive retention in memory helps to generate primitive thoughts about their independent existence which provide a pleasurable substitute for the missing physical object. From the standpoint of the observer actor, the infant has achieved the enormous achievement of differentiating self from the empirical object, it is no longer tied up with his survival needs, it is not an extension of self, it has an objective, independent permanence and physical extension. It will take a long time before he can ascertain, if ever, the truth about how objective and independent can this object or event be from the observer. The persistence of the thought, independent from its link to an adaptive response, a ‘feeling or experience of the thought’, a conscious introspective experience is still absent.
As the external sensory receptors develop an increasing capacity for resolution more details in the viewed objects or events press for their coded accommodation into the associate sensory cortex. The parallel pathways strategy present in the multi-layered cortex allows a sorting-out processing (‘gating’) of multimodal input to develop. Thus, the primitive association of speech, sound and somesthetic components as individual, independent entities characterizing an external object or event launches their further differentiation into categories and subcategories. Cortical representations will no longer bear a pixel to pixel resemblance to the physical objects out there. The particularities of the intuition will have been segregated into their generalities of shape, color hue, etc. One may properly demand an explanation as to how will those differentiated and segregated components be integrated into a unit when answering a retrieval recall in a thought? This is the time when a language algorithm will code for the totality of the multi-modal image previously intuited. We find an analogous situation when recording music from an instrument or ensemble. One device differentiates and segregates into a data base the constitutive components like pitch (gradients), volume, duration, tambor, instrument, etc. which join an universality of all combinations and permutations of all chords, frequencies, etc. How are the very particular subtleties assembled when we play back the recorded music? We assign a symbol link or algorithm that identifies the particularities of the integrated piece originally recorded. Can a musician select from the data base any component or ensemble of components at will by using a different algorithm? That is how composers make their living by converting digitizing audio and processing the resultant with sound cyclers, sequencers or scalers! However, considering the quantum mechanical nature of nested network speed of signal propagation it is tempting to conceive all of an infinite number of possible connectivities being in operation simultaneously according to their present synaptic weights until a new input modifies them and a new set of priorities (synaptic 'weights') are established resulting in a selective neuronal population assembly being now in command and control.
This is a most valuable development in learning. From then on physical objects perceived will be identified by comparing its assigned encoded language algorithm with previously encoded and stored engrams (algorithms). Unmatched novel objects will be processed, differentiated and accommodated in the data base, but their survival as an engram will depend on further reinforcement. The sorting out of the empirical data into categories for a more efficient storage of additional information constitute the rudiments of thought recalls of the same object or of any object integrated from the stored categories, the beginnings of abstract thinking. The development of this capacity is intimately tied up with the simultaneous histological maturation of the frontal (executive) cortex guided by inputs traveling along both the superior longitudinal fasciculus and its inferior occipito-frontal equivalent. However, it is well known that frontal lobotomized patients can handle linguistic exchanges with ease. The cortical multimodal segregation into categories requires their posterior convergence to originate a thought which in itself requires the participation of an empirical language designation or algorithm (learned from the mother originally). To maintain this thought image, it must be reinforced by inaudible language reproduction originating at Broca’s area and a sustained cortical alert provided by the reticular activating system during alertness or during rem sleep (the genesis of dreams). This re-enactment is the neuro-physiological equivalent of Piaget’s “secondary circular reaction”.
It is fair to assume that thoughts or dreams of a physical object or event do not require the recall of the whole ‘picture’ of the object or event we observed when originally viewed, heard or otherwise sensed. It requires either the empirical perception (or thought recall) of a key word (or its sound equivalent), or both, or the concurrence of a minimum number of corresponding bits of information about that object or event to trigger a binding integration and assembly of relevant pieces stored as independent but correlated bits of information, i.e., categories. The assembled thought or dream will always contain an original address code in the form of the acquired language name tag of the object or event, its algorithm. The segregated components of the object or event will be coded generically when incorporated into a data base (the brain representation), e.g., a cat, or coded specifically (with a language algorithm) when originating empirically, e.g., this furry black mongrel cat. Either triggered from a thought, a key word (or sound) or an empirical perception, the new thought will require the integration of previously coded, differentiated (into categories) and stored neuronal information, which inseparably includes its relevant linguistic link. You can’t talk meaningful language (audible or not) without evoking the associated thought or even think without the accompaniment of the associated language link. The language neuronal link triggers the binding integration of categories into a thought in a reciprocal fashion. The language link (algorithm) maintains the image alive. The language link is part of the lexicon memory where auditory, visual, somesthetic and memory images converge in search of its complementary language link to complete the requirements for the elaboration of thought and action by the appropriate kinesthetic and / or Broca’s area. The angular gyrus plays a central role in the maturation of the lexicon memory by providing the semantic component of language, starting with the primitive subject-predicate duo. With an increase in the detail and sophistication of subject input (adjective modalities categories), more complexity in the adverbial embellishment of the predicate output will be present, in harmony with the acquired language dictates in syntax. We are not prepared for allocating an anatomical address for the location of the lexicon memory but it will have to provide the typical six-layered structure consistent with sorting out of input into general categories of language, all inside or in close association with the angular gyrus (supramarginal gyrus).
The real problem we will forever face is that the language we will generate to communicate the parameters of a situation we experience, whether in the form of an internal thought (ideal objects) or an external empirical object or event, whether communicated in speech or in writing, that communication will be ladened with irrelevant ‘non-sequiturs’ that will relate more to the initial impure cortical representation sense data we perceived (poor resolution of special sense data) and less to its true ontological identity. If to this lack of high fidelity resolution we add the layers of irrelevant visceral / emotional concomitants, inextricably associated, the resulting thought image generated (preceding the language generation), is far from representing that object we choose to portray. We are thus forever barred from knowing reality in itself. Absolute ontological truth will be in the ‘eyes’ of the beholder. A conscious or unconscious representation of the event, when it is physically absent, i.e., the thought or dream, represents the simultaneous binding or linked convergence (coded by the algorithm) of all pertinent encoded multimedia files as they reproduce and re-enact the previously perceived content, visual, auditive, somesthetic or kinesthetic and the inseparably linked internal body data files. That adulterated image will then be the best guide we can muster in the search for adaptive and efficient solutions to relevant pure problems, whether communicated to third parties or not.
But a “thought” is far from directly illustrating ‘self consciousness’, it is a mere awareness of how the icons retrieved and integrated in the thought processing are relevant to the solution searched for; any good computerized robot should be able to do that. We can program a robot to monitor the most complicated set of variables in a particular environment and provide for the most adaptive pre-programmed responses to all of the variables possibly to be encountered. The robot is not conscious or alive (in the classic biological sense), only humans are. A different story would be to have the robot have thoughts independent of any required solution, a feeling of what is happening devoid of any commitment to any effectual response and originating either in the presence or absence of the external or internal object or event that triggered the process. A super robot can be reflexly ‘aware’ but not more conscious than a submarine can ‘swim’, an airplane ‘fly’ , or IBM’s Big Blue can anticipate your particular improvised movements when playing chess, only humans can possibly do it.
We stressed in a previous communication elsewhere and adopt here by reference that: “Henceforth, the certainty of sensory phenomenology rests with the subject’s human mind, not with nature!!
While Newton stressed the capacity of the human mind to abstract conclusions about distant bodies, invisible forces, Locke stressed more its capacity to capture the general outlines of a physical nature and subject it to the combinatorial logical operatives of the human mind to find order and structure in its representations as our thoughts. As pointed out by Hume, causality it’s all in the mind., based on the brain’s habits of associating events.
Towards the end of the 18th century, this was the state of affairs, rationalists’ claim of having provided a scientific scaffolding on which to order nature as championed by Newton and the ‘tongue in cheek’ certainty of philosophers that such knowledge was beyond the reach of experience.”
We have also said elsewhere (Telicom 2000): “The philosophical or logico-mathematical language structures we adopt will never capture the realities they hope to represent. All thought processes, whether catalogued as a judgment, a reasoning, perception, introspection or awareness, all knowledge is clothed in language and inseparable from it. It is language that imposes, by best fitting, a structure in the way it categorizes.”
In closing, we feel we have added very little to what is already known about consciousness. At least we feel confident we have been able to help distinguish some related phenomena often confused with consciousness, like awareness, thoughts, hypnotic states and dreams. With the exception of dreams, they all have a motor component and essentially illustrate various degrees of super-complex reflex activity, something any expensive supercomputer can arguably perform. Whether a composite multimedia representation (with audio, video, and motion components) can be assembled from their individualized media component locations at different addresses of the hard drive is yet to be demonstrated but all the required technological know-how is already available. We have argued that a language code in the form of a word or sound, spoken or written, represents the intelligible algorithm whose neuronal structure we have yet to identify, possibly in the angular or supramarginal gyri.
Dreams are the closest equivalent to consciousness in that the usual absence of a motor response commitment makes of the operation a reflexive activity upon itself, something we and others have argued presents fundamental problems in ascribing to a physical brain. When we look closer at the dream components it is easy to see why the motor response is usually absent, it has been inhibited (see Rem sleep concomitants). But we also know that, a motor response may be present (a release from inhibition?, or non Rem sleep), that it may be elicited as a response adapted to the specific circumstances of the dream content, not the totality of circumstances that describes the subject experiencing its happening. The purposefulness of the response is limited to the ‘logic’ of the particular dream content, however illogical it may seem in the context of the totality of the subject’s reality. Can we postulate then that the semantic circuitry has been taken out of the connections being used during vigil? We are forced to consider that any multimodal representation (thought, acted dream) assembled from its components will include a particular semantic subcomponent algorithm that integrates the assembly. A feeling of consciousness will draw from the general semantic data-base pool what it needs until a best fit is obtained. Another interesting difference is that a dream in progress is totally independent of access to language generating structures to generate its representation, the non-dominant hemisphere is controlling. At this juncture, an explanation of self consciousness will have to part ways with a reductionist scientific approach to describe it, for an interaction of physical and non-physical reality is not envisioned inside the investigative methodology of the natural sciences. To advance our insight into what a feeling of consciousness really is research may be forced to take a step back and settle for the moment for whatever methodology is available and able to bring the observer closer to the mechanisms sought after. Hypnosis is a promising candidate.
To include hypnosis as a transitory tool in the study of consciousness we will need to adopt the Ericksonian assumptions of: (a) belief in an altered state of consciousness and (b) the existence of specific markers indicating an altered state. A recent article by FJ Evans (Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. describing the domain of hypnosis as a multi-factorial model warns about the limitations to be expected in adopting the conclusions to be obtained from hypnosis research. “A conceptual framework is presented to help the reader understand some controversies in the hypnosis literature and a means of understanding some important differences and disagreements in the field. It is this undersigned author's view that hypnotic behavior can be understood as a complex mix of four conceptual (and empirical) independent dimensions: expectations, akin to the placebo response in clinical technique; suggestion; a cognitive component including relaxation, imagery in all modalities, and trance logic; dissociation, which is seen as the key component of deep hypnosis, and which may involve individual differences in the flexible control of experience.” With these limitations in mind one can proceed to search for answers in both animal and human models.
The most important finding is related to a modification of the brain’s normal electrical activity in the form of asymmetries induced by the hypnotic state in both animals and humans. Hypnosis research of the last decades confirmed that some cortical regions show characteristic modification of spontaneous brain electrical activity as a function of hypnotic responsiveness. In experimental animals undergoing hypnosis (where language intervention plays no known role) it was possible to record an asymmetry in the spectral power of the hippocampal electrical activity due to an increase in the power of delta 1, delta 2, and theta 1 components in the left-hippocampus and decrease in the spectral power in the same ranges in the right-hippocampus. On the basis of these and other results in humans we can confirm the importance in humans of the right parieto-temporal associative area in the alteration of consciousness characterizing hypnotic state. Am J Clin Hypn 2000 Jul;43(1):1-16
In the opinion of this author, one of the most revealing pieces of experimental evidence on the role played by language in the generation of the imagery that usually accompanies thoughts, dreams and states of self consciousness, was an experiment visualizing and measuring the activity of the hypnotized brain. When human subjects were hypnotized, color areas of the left and right hemispheres were activated when they were asked to perceive color, whether they were actually shown the color or the gray-scale stimulus. These brain regions had decreased activation when subjects were told to see gray scale, whether they were actually shown the color or gray-scale stimuli.
It is very important to notice the controlling role a language code algorithm (e.g., spoken word color) plays in selecting the corresponding brain representation of ‘reality’ as opposed to the parameters of perceived reality itself. Perceived reality was denied!! There is enough neuro-pathological evidence on brain lesions to sustain the truth of this lack of correspondence where the brain representation is controlling in guiding the ‘adaptive’ response of the subject. Much more on this in later chapters.
The brain acts like a logical machine that codes, differentiates and compares the environmental energy perceived with previously stored parameters, including an associated language code. The language code (spoken, written or retrieved from memory), enables man to assemble the pertinent constituent bits (Kantian categories?) and reenact the object or event (have thoughts about his intuitions, external and body internal), communicate them and above all, to realize even against the dictates of his own rational will, that absolute reality must be different from its manifestations to us as observers, but it must be caused if the entire edifice of natural science investigation is to hold its own. Is reality individualized?, in the mind of the beholder? Under the circumstances here described, can we expect to ever acquire a ‘logical’, truthful knowledge about reality in itself, not to mention the ultimate reality? The ‘scientific realism’ group’s professional existence is predicated upon an affirmation of a causality concatenation of the physical events measured and ordered logically. The frustration of not being able to conceive physical reality as neutral to the human observer drives them to turn their backs to the ubiquitous signs and conceive ultimate reality as irrelevant. A first cause must logically exist, one that is uncaused, uncreated and intelligent.
The only serious complication with the cyto-architectural strategy, as we have described it, is that language development in the form of speech and writing are not fully developed when the same anatomical structures in their production had been in use to establish stereotyped responses to manage the emotional, hormonal and nutritional life-saving needs early on and these would now become inextricably commingled with their new use in speech and sound output. If language is anywhere involved in the generation of thought, as we have suggested here, this situation becomes a most fundamental limitation for man to ascertain the true reality in itself of objects externally perceived. This is so because their cortical representations in the associative sensory cortex is commingled with survival data previously coded in the same loci. Regardless of this limitation, future sensory encounters with objects in nature will result not in an identification of their true self, but as the matching image to its previously encoded mixed version containing visceral and emotional components linked to a language algorithm.
End Chapter 5