Could moving ourselves be the link between emotion and consciousness?

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The idea that emotion is an indispensable ingredient of consciousness in all modalities is not new. Panksepp and Damasio, for example, show that we can gradually eliminate cortical areas without eliminating “core consciousness,” whereas knocking out emotional areas renders all types of consciousness impossible. However, opponents insist that “emotional” areas also release neurotransmitters to the cortex having nothing to do with emotion, and are merely necessary in the way that electrical current is necessary for a radio. They insist that the radio (the cortex) is what makes the music (consciousness). The subcortex is only a way to get power to the radio. What is needed is a coherent story about the specific way in which emotion grounds other conscious states. We suggest that the brain activities involved in self-initiated action subserve consciousness, and that these action-initiating circuits are crucially dependent on motivational processes. The emotional system sets up a three-way connection between motivation, action, and consciousness. To elucidate this connection, we focus here on evidence from event related potential (ERP) studies, perceptual priming studies (e.g. inattentional blindness), motor imagery research, the role of the “mirror neuron” system in understanding others’ actions, and electrodes that access action commands in the brains of animals, allowing them to move computer cursors with their minds. Thus, we argue that consciousness can occur only in beings that can initiate motivated action, that action commands create action imagery covertly as well as overtly, and that action imagery allows conscious representation of action affordances of objects. Keywords: Enactive; emotion; consciousness; action; event related potential; perceptual priming; inattentional blindness; motor imagery; mirror neurons


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