Space, self, and the theater of consciousness

Over a decade ago, I introduced a large-scale theory of the cognitive brain which explained for the first time how the human brain is able to create internal models of its intimate world and invent models of a wider universe. An essential part of the theoretical model is an organization of neuronal mechanisms which I have named the Retinoid Model [Trehub, A.(1977). Neuronal models for cognitive processes: Networks for learning, perception and imagination. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 65, 141–169; Trehub, A. (1991). The Cognitive Brain: MIT Press].
This hypothesized brain system has structural and dynamic properties enabling it to register and appropriately integrate disparate foveal stimuli into a perspectival, egocentric representation of an extended 3D world scene including a neuronally tokened locus of the self which, in this theory, is the neuronal origin of retinoid space. As an integral part of the larger neuro-cognitive model, the retinoid system is able to perform many other useful perceptual and higher cognitive functions. In this paper, I draw on the hypothesized properties of this system to argue that neuronal activity within the retinoid structure constitutes the phenomenal content of consciousness and the unique sense of self that each of us experiences. 
Arnold Trehub
Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, USA
What happens on the stage of retinoid space is never a finished production. Metaphorically, it is always a work in progress with constantly changing scenes and cast, directed partly by the current environment and partly by the sensory and evaluative neuronal mechanisms in the ‘‘dark’’ of the theater as they respond to the brain’s changing motives and tactics in its encounters with the natural world. There are, however, two constant aspects to the production on the stage of consciousness—one is the space-time envelope of the retinoid stage itself, and the other is the ubiquitous participating self. So, in a metaphorical sense, the retinoid system is the ‘‘illuminated’’ stage of consciousness, the evaluative/executive neuronal mechanisms (the audience) are off-stage. The other supporting adaptive processes of the brain and its body might be loosely thought of as the stage hands. I resist the temptation to propose a counterpart to the metaphorical playwrite 
This theoretical model builds on the assumption that our experiences of space, self, belief, and all that we can possibly say about consciousness are absolutely limited by the biophysical structure and dynamics of their embodiment in each cognitive brain. I have given an overview of some key mechanisms which, I hypothesize, account for these phenomena.
To sum up: the retinoid system embodies our raw conscious experience of egocentric space with the self as its neuronal origin. The I-token enables the brain to evoke current, retrospective, and prospective neuronal stages of our sensible self as situated within the egocentric retinoid space of our sensible world. It also provides a neuronal flag of personal belief, enriching self identity and attaching a biological marker to those internal propositions which we must treat most seriously. In order to have a self, we must have an I-token with intact synaptic coupling to the self-locus neurons in the retinoid system. If our synaptic connections to some of the mechanisms shown below the dashed line in Fig. 8 were damaged, we would suffer cognitive impairment but we would still have an I!—conserving our sense of a unitary self. But if the supporting excitatory link with the self locus were interrupted,I! could not serve its proper functional role and we would no longer experience our self as a localized entity centered in our phenomenal world.
As a final thought, I believe it is worth noting that it was possible to draw this causal account of conscious content only after the development of a detailed large-scale theoretical model of neuronal mechanisms and systems underlying human cognition (Trehub, 1991), in particular the specification of the retinoid system.

About basicrulesoflife

Year 1935. Interests: Contemporary society problems, quality of life, happiness, understanding and changing ourselves - everything based on scientific evidence.
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