Cognitive neuroscience investigations of self-experience have mainly focused on the mental attribution of features to the self (self-related processing). In this paper, we highlight another fundamental, yet neglected, aspect of self-experience, that of being an agent. We propose that this aspect of self-experience depends on self-specifying processes, ones that implicitly specify the self by implementing a functional self/non-self distinction in perception, action, cognition and emotion. We describe two paradigmatic cases – sensorimotor integration and homeostatic regulation – and use the principles from these cases to show how cognitive control, including emotion regulation, is also self-specifying. We argue that externally directed, attention-demanding tasks, rather than suppressing self-experience, give rise to the self-experience of being a cognitive-affective agent. We conclude with directions for experimental work based on our framework.
For many years emotion theory has been characterized by a dichotomy between the head and the body. In the golden years of cognitivism, during the nineteen-sixties and seventies, emotion theory focused on the cognitive antecedents of emotion, the so-called “appraisal processes.” Bodily events were seen largely as byproducts of cognition, and as too unspecific to contribute to the variety of emotion experience. Cognition was conceptualized as an abstract, intellectual, “heady” process separate from bodily events. Although current emotion theory has moved beyond this disembodied stance by conceiving of emotions as involving both cognitive processes (perception, attention, and evaluation) and bodily events (arousal, behavior, and facial expressions), the legacy of cognitivism persists in the tendency to treat cognitive and bodily events as separate constituents of emotion. Thus the cognitive aspects of emotion are supposedly distinct and separate from the bodily ones. This separation indicates that cognitivism’s disembodied conception of cognition continues to shape the way emotion theorists conceptualize emotion.
Our aim in this chapter is to bring emotion theory and the embodied view of cognition closer to each other. We first present an overview of classical (pre-Jamesian) theories of emotion and show that they were all psychosomatic. We then turn to the disembodied stance of cognitivism and trace how and why emotion theory came to lose the body. We argue that cognitivism not only neglected the body, but also tended to classify previous theories of emotion as either cognitive or physiological. This tendency has fostered a tension between these two features of emotion that exists to this day. The main manifestation of this tension in current emotion theory is the tendency to see cognitive and bodily processes as separate aspects or constituents of emotions. Finally, in the remainder of the article, we sketch an embodied approach to emotion, drawing especially on the “enactive approach” in cognitive science. Relevance: It develops ideas for an enactive approach to emotion.
Binocular rivalry provides a useful situation for studying the relation between the temporal flow of conscious experience and the temporal dynamics of neural activity. After proposing a phenomenological framework for understanding temporal aspects of consciousness, we review experimental research on multistable perception and binocular rivalry, singling out various methodological, theoretical, and empirical aspects of this research relevant to studying the flow of experience. We then review an experimental study from our group explicitly concerned with relating the temporal dynamics of rivalrous experience to the temporal dynamics of cortical activity. Drawing attention to the importance of dealing with ongoing activity and its inherent changing nature at both phenomenological and neurodynamical levels, we argue that the notions of recurrence and variability are pertinent to understanding rivalry in particular and the flow of experience in general.
This chapter discusses the brain-in-a-vat thought experiment and attempts to determine what needs to be specified so that one can properly imagine a brain in a vat. Daniel Dennett notes that philosophers often fail to set up their intuition pumps properly by failing to think carefully about the requirements and implications of their imagined scenarios. His suggestion is considered here and a careful look at the brain-in-a-vat thought experiment is proposed. The chapter puts the thought experiment to new use, namely, to address the biology of consciousness and to develop some new considerations in support of the enactive approach in cognitive science. Its main argument is that the brain-in-vat thought experiment, when spelled out with the requisite detail, suggests precisely that the body is not merely causally enabling for consciousness, but also constitutive.
One of the outstanding problems in the cognitive sciences is to understand how ongoing conscious experience is related to the workings of the brain and nervous system. Neurodynamics offers a powerful approach to this problem because it provides a coherent framework for investigating change, variability, complex spatiotemporal patterns of activity, and multiscale processes (among others). In this chapter, we advocate a neurodynamical approach to consciousness that integrates mathematical tools of analysis and modeling, sophisticated physiological data recordings, and detailed phenomenological descriptions. We begin by stating the basic intuition: Consciousness is an intrinsically dynamic phenomenon and must therefore be studied within a framework that is capable of rendering its dynamics intelligible. We then discuss some of the formal, analytical features of dynamical systems theory, with particular reference to neurodynamics. We then review several neuroscientific proposals that make use of dynamical systems theory in characterizing the neurophysiological basis of consciousness. We continue by discussing the relation between spatiotemporal patterns of brain activity and consciousness, with particular attention to processes in the gamma frequency band. We then adopt a critical perspective and highlight a number of issues demanding further treatment. Finally, we close the chapter by discussing how phenomenological data can relate to and ultimately constrain neurodynamical descriptions, with the long-term aim being to go beyond a purely correlational strategy of research.
Buddhism originated and developed in an Indian cultural context that featured many first-person practices for producing and exploring states of consciousness through the systematic training of attention. In contrast, the dominant methods of investigating the mind in Western cognitive science have emphasized third-person observation of the brain and behavior. In this chapter, we explore how these two different projects might prove mutually beneficial. We lay the groundwork for a cross-cultural cognitive science by using one traditional Buddhist model of the mind – that of the five aggregates – as a lens for examining contemporary cognitive science conceptions of consciousness.