Notes and comments by Vinod D Deshmukh on the article: Kiverstein J and Miller M (2015), the embodied brain: towards a radical embodied cognitive neuroscience. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 9.237.
The authors propose a new approach to cognitive neuroscience for a better understanding of the relationship between brain and mind (brain and mental activities). Instead of localizing all mental functions on to the cerebral cortex, the authors propose a broader perspective of considering the brain-body-environment (BBE) as a unitary system on the basis of dynamical ecological psychology.
Therefore, the mental activity is not strictly localized in specific parts of the brain but, it is a bio-psycho-physical manifestation of the whole BBE system. Then, the mental events become an intrinsic communication with signs and signal processing within the BBE system itself. After all, one of the definitions of consciousness is com (together) scire (to know) meaning knowing together. It is like a conversation between two individuals (or groups). So, consciousness is knowing together, between self and the other. The other may be another person, object, an image, an idea or just me. Knowing me or myself is truly our self-awareness.
The authors make two more specific arguments: 1) cognition and emotion are inseparable, and 2) emotion is a dynamic process involving the whole living body of an organism and the environment. They consider emotion as an action readiness on the part of an organism in response to the changing environment. The action readiness depends upon the context of organism-environment interaction, the organism’s level of vigilance and preparedness for the oncoming threat or an opportunity. The action readiness is guided by what matters to the organism and the context or the history of previous interactions.
Bodily arousal and valence (positive or negative core affect) both occur as part of the life-regulation, homeostatic and metabolic processes of an organism, a being that strives to resist disorder and disintegration in its interactions with the environment. An organism evaluates relevance of the surrounding situation. Determining situational relevance is a way of the organism to achieve behavioral equilibrium. It is coping smoothly with the environment. An organism never fully achieves equilibrium during its lifetime, as there is always room for improvement. As long as an organism has needs, desires and fears, it is always in a state of relative disequilibrium, a metastable state. All living systems try to reduce disequilibrium.
Action readiness improves an organism’s grip on the situation. Action readiness states can be positive or negative. They depend upon the spontaneously active, self-sustaining, interoceptive core affect network.
Basic emotions of rage, fear, lust, grief, disgust and care are associated with brainstem-diencephalon and limbic system connected to the autonomic, endocrine and immune systems. They are automatically regulated by the homeostatic and metabolic dynamic equilibrium. The intentional or voluntary self-control via frontal lobe happens in recursive loops between the cortical and subcortical systems. From the evolutionary perspective, the cortical-subcortical systems evolved together without any hierarchy.
Hypothalamus serves as a critical functional hub between the heavily connected cortical and subcortical neural networks. Hypothalamus is crucial for circadian rhythms as well as several neuroendocrine axis’ including the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis mediating behavioral distress and its relief and repose.
The authors argue another important point of pluripotency of cortical functional neurons. There is no one-to-one mapping of brain structure and function. It is usually many-to-many mapping. Therefore, we have to consider global variables, like composition of CSF and extracellular fluid, neurotransmitter levels, bodily arousal, slow wave potential and the current environment.
Behavior is context-dependent. What happens before is more likely to happen again, unless it is altered by intermediate variables including intentional action. There is magical membrane between brain and body and also between the body and the environment.
Vinod D Deshmukh, MD, PhD. March 10, 2016