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Mirror neurons and the 8 parallel consciousnesses


Department of General Psychology and Center for Cognitive Science, University of Padua, Italy












Progress in Neuroscience 2013; 1 (1-4): 71-82.

doi: 10.14588/PiN.2013.Frigato.71







To understand the mechanisms that shape consciousness and the evolutionary advantages it confers, identification of the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) is considered to be of fundamental importance. Hence, by reviewing neglect pathology, I set out to identify the brain areas whose damage causes the loss of consciousness without preventing unconscious perception. Once these areas had been identified, by analysis of the resulting neglect I sought to define a distinction between areas responsible for access to consciousness and those responsible for consciousness itself. This approach led to the identification of the anterior cingulate and the precuneus-posterior cingulate as components of access to consciousness, while the medial-superior temporal lobe, the superior parietal lobe, the anterior insula, the posterior insula, the lateral motor cortices BA 8 and BA 6, the inferior frontal lobe and the inferior parietal lobe appeared to correspond to 8 distinct and autonomous parallel real consciousnesses. Acting simultaneously, these areas give us 8 contemporaneous conscious sensations, respectively, namely 1) image perception, 2) spatial image positioning, 3) emotions related to these images, 4) presence on the scene, 5) possibility to move oneself in the scene, 6) possibility to move single objects, 7) possibility to move more than one object, and 8) feeling of being subject spectator in the theatre of consciousness. The evolutionary advantages provided by the conscious process are the ability to learn rapidly (without long training/trial and error) and a problem-solving approach mediated by mental images. All the 8 consciousnesses detailed above are thought only to be present in humans, developing as we climbed the evolutionary ladder, bringing new memory and reasoning skills, from the primitive consciousnesses that first appeared in reptiles. The neural correlates of these consciousnesses bear a striking anatomical and physiological resemblance to mirror neurons. Like the mirror neurons, the NCCs are active when we perceive both external and mental images. The seductive hypothesis that mirror neurons are in fact the NCCs is therefore also discussed.

KEY WORDS: Attention, Brain evolution, Function of consciousness, Mirror neurons, Perception.










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