This is the second in the series about major conscious and unconscious processes in the brain. The first part can be found here. This post tries to document a few more processes / functions in the brain and their neural substrates.
To recap, the major processes in brain (along with sample broad brain regions (grossly simplified) associated) are :
- Sensory (occipital)
- Motor (parietal)
- Learning (hippocampal formation in medial temporal)
- Affective (amygdalar and limbic system)
- Evaluative/decisional (frontal)
7. Communciation system/ perisylvian area/ mirror neurons?: Once an organism has discovered/ realized unconsciously that there are other agents/ con specifics in the world , a brain system that communicates (on an unconscious level) with the others can evolve. A system can evolve that signals the emotional/internal state to others and can also sense the emotional/ internal state of others. This can be used as an aid to predict how the agent will act – as the agent is similar to oneself, one can predict how the other will act based on its internal state by simulating how one would act himself , given the same internal state. Sensing the internal state of others is one side of the coin, the other part is signalling your own internal state honestly to others to aid communication and enhance fitness by group selection. Remember that none of these consdireations need to be conscious. Even unicellular bacteria that live in colonies/ cultures evolve communication systems based on sensing and emitting chemicals etc. In humans the mirror neuron system activated by others actions, the emotional expression and contagious unconscious empathy may all be the unconscious communciation system driven by non-verbal communication based on mirroring and mirror neurons.
8. Attention system : The last (for now!) system to evolve might be related to directing attention or selectivity processing relevant inputs, actions, affects, evaluations, associations, models and communciations while suppressing irrelevant ones. At any time , one is bombarded by many (all unconscious ) different stimuli, urges, activated associations, body states, values, models and communications from con specifics- these may or may not be relevant to current situation/ goal. Not everything can be processed equally as the brain has limited computational resources. This leads to a mechanism/system to gauze relevance and thus bias the other systems by selectively processing some aspects in detail while ignoring others. This attentional/orientational mechanism may be covert, may be unconscious and might be triggered by external events/ voluntarily directed; important thing to realize is that attention seems to integrate the output and inputs of other brain systems/ mechanisms by selectivity highlighting a few features that are relevant and coherent. This also ultimately leads to opening the doors to the next higher level of processing by brain – the conscious processing, which is computationally more demanding and thus requires attention to restrict the inputs that it can process. The attentional system opens the floodgates of heaven (consciousness) for the humans/ animals that are able to use it appropriately.
The spotlight of attention once created leads to conscious experiences of perception, agency, memory, feelings, thoughts, self-awareness, inner speech and identity. That of course is material for another post!