**DAMASIO ON LANGUAGE AND CONSCIOUSNESS

6/17/2007

The Feeling of What Happens:  Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness

Harcourt Brace & Company

1999

Antonio Damasio

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Language and Consciousness

Chapter 4 of this book

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Importantly, removal of knowing and self without removal  of wakefulness places the organism in grave danger – one is then capable of acting without knowing the consequences of one’s acts.  It is as if, without the sense of self in the act of knowing, the thoughts one generates go unclaimed because their rightful owner is missing.  The self-impoverished organism is at a loss as to whom those thoughts belong.  (Damasio/FWH/130)”

Well, here we have it – a core and central point to consider.

This condition can not only place the organism in grave danger, but in situations like with my mother, her not knowing placed me in grave danger.

I suspect that this is an accurate description of what happens when unresolved trauma takes over the stage of a person’s life through trauma memory reenactments!!

This, to me, describes some form of DISSOCIATION, where the person is “cut off” from the knowing of their self, therefore cut off from their self.

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“Language — that is, words and sentences — is a translation of something else, a conversion from nonlinguistic images which stand for entities, events, relationships, and inferences.  If language operates for (Damasio/FWH/107) the self and for consciousness in the same way that it operates for everything else, that is, by symbolizing in words and sentences what exists first in a nonverbal form, then there must be a nonverbal self and a nonverbal knowing for which the worlds “I” or “me” or the phrase “I know” are the appropriate translations, in any language.  I believe it is legitimate to take the phrase “I know” and deduce from it the presence of a nonverbal image of knowing centered on a self that precedes and motivates that verbal phrase.  (Damasio/FWH/108)”

“The idea that the self and consciousness would emerge after language, and would be a direct construction of language, is not likely to be correct.  Language does not come out of nothing.  Language gives us names for things.  If self and consciousness were born de novo from language, they would constitute the sole instance of words without an underlying concept.  (Damasio/FWH/108)”

“Language is a major contributor to the high-level form of consciousness which we are using at this very moment, and which I call extended consciousness.  (Damasio/FWH/108)”

“The contribution of language to the mind was, to say the least, astounding, but its contribution to core consciousness was nowhere to be found.  (Damasio/FWH/108)”

“…background, primary, and secondary emotions….  (Damasio/FWH/109)”

“Just as language can be exonerated from an role in the creation of core consciousness, so can conventional memory.  Core consciousness is not founded on extensive memory.  It is not founded on working memory, either, which is, however, required for extended conscous- (Damasio/FWH/112)” ness.  In terms of memory, all that core consciousness requires is a very brief, short-term memory.  We do not require access to vast stores of past personal memories to have core consciousness, although such vast autobiographical reservoirs contribute to the advanced levels of consciousness I designate as extended consciousness.  (Damasio/FWH/113)”

Core consciousness check list:

Wakefulness, attentiveness to stimuli, focused and sustained over substantial periods of time, background emotions flow continuously, purposeful spontaneous behavior

“Nor can he articulate how that object does or does not relate to his anticipated future, for the simple reason that David has no memory of a planned, potential future, as you and I have.  David has not been able to plan ahead because planning ahead requires the intelligent manipulation of specific images of the past and David cannot evoke any specific images.  Everything indicates that he has a normal sense of self, in the here and how, but his autobiographical self that can be constructed at any moment is severely impoverished.  (Damasio/FWH/119)”

I am looking specifically at this example Damasio is using because I do believe that I had an impairment in biographical memory, and still do.  Like the example he used above, where things just float around, disconnected in the mind (in the consciousness file).

“The sheer lack of specific content does compromise his ability to relate the apprehension of a given object to the comprehensive sweep of his historical person.  He can sense the factual meaning of an object and develop a feeling of pleasure for it, but he cannot articulate how he developed the factual meaning of the feeling, he cannot recall which specific instances in his autobiography may have led to the images he conjures up.  (Damasio/FWH/119)”

I think I could have done this if anybody had ever asked.

“As a result of this paucity of specifics, David’s extended consciousness is impaired.  It is possible that if he were able to conjure up the specific contents he no longer holds in his autobiographical memory, some of the mechanisms which permit extended consciousness might actually be in place.  (Damasio/FWH/120)”

I am wondering that about myself – did I have the mechanisms even though I did not, as a child, have the abilities?

“Because David lacks the specifics required to define unique items, he also lacks the aspects of extended consciousness concerned with social cognition and behavior.  High-level awareness of social situa- (Damasio/FWH/120) tions is built on a vast knowledge of specific social situations and David cannot evoke such knowledge…..the comprehensive knowledge of the operations of a social collective eludes him. (Damasio/FWH/121)”

I certainly had a paucity of experiences, even with my own siblings through the forced isolation.  But I did not solicit interactions at school, either.  Now they are mostly irrelevant and without meaning to me, holding no particular or lasting pleasure – and often as if I cannot retain the EMOTION of interactions once they are in my past – like my emotional memory doesn’t work right, either.

“David provides evidence to support wo conclusions.  The first is that factual knowledge at a unique and specific level is not a prerequisite for core consciousness.  The second:  David has extensive damage to both temporal regions, including the hippocampus, the medial cortices overlying it, the polar temporal region, a sizable sector of the lateral and inferior temporal regions, and the amygdala.  We thus learn that core consciousness cannot depend on those vast brain regions at all.  (Damasio/FWH/121)”

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“It is reasonable to distinguish kinds of consciousness – there is at least one natural break between the simple, foundational kind and the complex, extended kind – and it is also reasonable to distinguish levels or grades within extended consciousness.  (Damasio/FWH/121)”

“The foundational kind of consciousness, core consciousness….when core consciousness fails, extended consciousness fails as well.  On the other hand, when extended consciousness is disrupted, as exemplified by patients with profound disturbances of autobiographical (Damasio/FWH/121) memory, core consciousness remains intact.  (Damasio/FWH/122)”

“Second, it is possible to separate consciousness in general from functions such as wakefulness, low-level attention, working memory, conventional memory, language, and reasoning.  Core consciousness is not the same as wakefulness or low-level attention, although it requires both to operate normally.  (Damasio/FWH/122)”

Core consciousness is also not the same as holding an image over time, a process known as working memory – the sense of self and of knowing is so brief and so abundantly produced that there is no need to hold it over time in order for it to be effective.  On the other hand, working memory is vital for the process of extended consciousness.  (Damasio/FWH/122)”

I still do not think I had any sense of self!  I never reflected on my self – that’s why the voice that said “It is not humanly possible to be as bad as your mother says you are,” so impacted me.  I am only now, at almost 56, realizing that was my self talking to my self, and not some voice of an angel outside of me that caught my attention and gave me that message.

“…core consciousness does not depend on making a stable memory of an image or recalling it, that is, it does not depend on the processes of conventional learning and memory; core consciousness is not based on language; lastly, core consciousness is not equal to manipulating an image intelligently in processes such as planning, problem solving, and creativity.  Patients with profound defects of reasoning and planning exhibit perfectly normal core consciousness although the top reaches of extended consciousness are then defective.  (Damasio/FWH/122)”

“Third, emotion and core consciousness are clearly associated.  Patients whose core consciousness is impaired do not reveal emotion by facial expression, body expression, or vocalization.  The entire range of (Damasio/FWH/122) emotion, from background emotions to secondary emotions, is usually missing in these patients….  (Damasio/FWH/123)”

“By contrast….patients with preserved core consciousness but impaired extended consciousness have normal background and primary emotions.  This association suggests, in the very least, that some of the neural devices on which both emotion and core consciousness depend are located within the same region.  It is also plausible, however, that the connection between emotion and core consciousness goes beyond a mere contiguity of the neural devices on which they depend.  (Damasio/FWH/123)”

“Fourth, disturbances of core consciousness target the entire realm of mental activity as well as the full range of sensory modalities….the impairment of core consciousness leaves no island of preserved consciousness.  The impairment extends to all sensory modalities.  Core consciousness serves the entire compass of thoughts that can be made conscious, the full scope of things to be known.  Core consciousness is a central resource.  (Damasio/FWH/123)”

Naturally, an impairment of all image-making capability abolishes consciousness altogether because consciousness operates on images.  (Damasio/FWH/123)”

“…a substantial part of a process may be disrupted, as when patients become unable to recognize familiar faces in the condition known as prosopagnosia.  In my framework, the patients so affected have a disturbance of the “something-to-be-known.”  But they have normal core consciousness for all the images formed in other sensory modalities, and, no less importantly, they have normal core consciousness for the specific stimuli they fail to process normally.  In other words, patients who cannot recognize a previously familiar face have normal core consciousness for the stimulus that confronts them, are fully aware that they do not know the face even if they should.  They know that, in fact, it is a human face and that it is their sense of self in the act of knowing that is failing to know.  Those patients have normal core consciousness, and a normal extended consciousness outside of the island of defective knowledge.  Their circumscribed plight underscores the fact that core consciousness, and its resulting sense of self, is a central resource.  (Damasio/FWH/124)”

I still, after reading all this so far, do not think that I had a “resulting sense of self.”  I am confused.  Can a person have core consciousness without this sense of self?

I was interested in the above paragraph, wondering how it connects to limbic brain developmental damage in regard to not being able to tell a safe person from one who is not.  Also in empathy difficulties in not being able to read faces “correctly.”

How is this tied to attachment disorders?

“…first of the two problems of consciousness…the problem of the movie-in-the-brain….problem number two – the problem of the sense of self in the act of knowing…. (Damasio/FWH/124)”

  1. (Damasio/FWH/124)”

“…I am proposing that core consciousness can be distinguished from the inferences that we may draw regarding the contents of core consciousness.  We can infer that the thoughts in our minds are created in our individual perspective; tat we own them; that we can act on them; that the apparent protagonist of the relationship with the object is our organism.  As I see it, however, core consciousness begins before those inferences:  it is the very evidence, the unvarnished sense of our individual organism in the act of knowing.  (Damasio/FWH/125)”

Nope, I don’t think that I had this ability.

“All the cognitive properties discussed above have been potentiated by core consciousness and have, in turn, helped build extended consciousness on the foundation of core consciousness.  The umbilical cord has never been severed, however.  Behind extended consciousness, at each and every moment, lies the pulse of core consciousness.  This may sound surprising, but it should not be.  We still need digestion in order to enjoy Bach.  (Damasio/FWH/125)”

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“…core consciousness includes an inner sense based on images…the particular images are those of a feeling.  That inner sense conveys a powerful nonverbal message regarding the relationship between the organism and the object:  that there is an individual subject in the relationship, a transiently constructed entity to which the knowledge of the moment is seemingly attributed.  Implicit in the message is the idea that the images of a given object that are now being processed are formed in our individual perspective, that we are the owners of the thought process, and that we can act on the contents of the thought process.  The tail end of the core consciousness process includes the enhancement of the object that initiated it, so (Damasio/FWH/125) that object becomes salient as part of the relationship it holds with the knower organism.  (Damasio/FWH/126)”

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Core consciousness is generated in pulselike fashion, for each content of which we are to be conscious.  It is the knowledge that materializes when you confront an object, construct a neural pattern for it, and discover automatically that the now-salient image of the object is formed in our perspective, belongs to you, and that you can act on it.  You come by this knowledge, this discovery as I prefer to call it, instantly:  there is no noticeable process of inference, no out-in-the-daylight logical process that leads you there, and no words at all – there is the image of the thing and, right next to I, is the sensing of its possession by you.  (Damasio/FWH/126)”

“…core consciousness of an object’s image to arise and make the image yours.  (Damasio/FWH/126)”

“As you look at this page and see these words, whether you wish for it or not, automatically and relentlessly, you sense that you are doing the reading.  I am not doing it, nor is anyone else.  You are.  You sense that the objects you are perceiving now – the book, the room around you, the street outside the window – are being apprehended in your perspective, and that the thoughts formed in your mind are yours, not anyone else’s.  You also sense that you can act on the scene if you so wish – stop reading, start reflecting, get up and take a walk.  Consciousness is the umbrella term for the mental phenomena that permit the strange confection of you as observer or knower of the things observed, of you as owner of thoughts formed in your perspective, of you as potential agent on the scene.  Consciousness is a part of your mental process rather than external to it. (Damasio/FWH/127)”

“Individual perspective, individual ownership of thought, and individual agency are the critical riches that core consciousness contributes to the mental process now unfolding in your organism.  The essence of core consciousness is the very thought of you – the very feeling of you – as an individual being involved in the process of knowing of your own existence and of the existence of others. (Damasio/FWH/127)”

“Never mind, for the moment, that knowing and (Damasio/FWH/127) self, which are real mental entities, will turn out to be, biologically speaking, perfectly real but quite different from what our intuitions might lead us to imagine.  (Damasio/FWH/128)”

“The words and sentences on the page, which are the translation of my concepts, become translated in turn, in your mind, by nonverbal images.  The collection of those images defines the concepts that were originally in my mind.  The collection of those images defines the concepts that were originally in my mind.  But in parallel with perceiving the printed words and displaying the corresponding conceptual knowledge required to understand them, your mind also represents you doing the reading and the understanding, moment by moment.  The full scope of your mind is not confined to images of what is being perceived externally or of what is recalled relative to what is perceived.  It also includes you.  (Damasio/FWH/128)”

The images that constitute knowing and sense of self – the feelings of knowing – do not command center stage in your mind.  They influence mind most powerfully and yet they generally remain to the side; they use discretion.  More often than not, knowing and sense of self are in subtle rather than assertive mode.  It is the destiny of subtle mental contents to be missed, and not just those that constitute knowing and self.  (Damasio/FWH/128)”

This is the area that really makes me wonder about the reality of dissociation and its connection to core consciousness – or rather, to its disconnection with core consciousness!

“”Only a fraction of what goes on mentally is really clean enough and well lit enough to be noticed, and yet it is there, not far at all, and perhaps available if only you try.  Curiously, one’s context does influence how much one notices in the fringes of the mind.  (Damasio/FWH/129)”

“If you were to argue that you never notice yourself knowing, I would say, pay closer attention and you will.  I would also add that it is advantageous not to notice yourself knowing.  Come to think of it, unless the particular purpose of the mental moment was to reflect on a particular state of your organism, there would be little point in (Damasio/FWH/129) allocating attention to the part of mental contents which constitute the you of the moment, no need to waste processing capacity on you alone.  Just let you be.  (Damasio/FWH/130)”

“You can, to a certain extent, willfully control the activity of the more elaborate sense of you that I call the autobiographical self; you can allow it to dominate the panorama of your mind, or be minimal.  But you cannot do much about the presence of the core you; you cannot make it vanish entirely — a substantial presence als\ways remains and a good thing, too….the removal of core consciousness, except for those situations in which it is caused by sleep or anesthesia, is a sign of disease.  If the removal is only partial, it causes an anomalous state which others will easily recognize as abnormal but which you will not know about — when there is no knowing, you do not know.  (Damasio/FWH/130)”

Importantly, removal of knowing and self without removal  of wakefulness places the organism in grave danger – one is then capable of acting without knowing the consequences of one’s acts.  It is as if, without the sense of self in the act of knowing, the thoughts one generates go unclaimed because their rightful owner is missing.  The self-impoverished organism is at a loss as to whom those thoughts belong.  (Damasio/FWH/130)”

Well, here we have it – a core and central point to consider.

This condition can not only place the organism in grave danger, but in situations like with my mother, her not knowing placed me in grave danger.

I suspect that this is an accurate description of what happens when unresolved trauma takes over the stage of a person’s life through trauma memory reenactments!!

This, to me, describes some form of DISSOCIATION, where the person is “cut off” from the knowing of their self, therefore cut off from their self.

++++

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