IF YOU were to point to the place where consciousness emerges, you would probably point your finger directly at your head. That’s the easy part. Exactly where the brain circuits for consciousness are located, or how the physical properties of them apparently translate into the subjective feeling of being, are questions that have puzzled us for centuries. And it turns out that we might have been looking in the wrong place all along.
The brain alone is not enough to generate subjective experience, he says Catherine Tallon Baudry, neuroscientist at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France. Without the body, the self would simply not exist. “Just as the notion of ‘car’ exists only if a certain number of components are present and interacting with each other,” he says.
Instead, researchers have come to recognize that our sense of interoception, which monitors internal body signals such as heart rate, pain, thirst, and pleasure, plays an important role in creating our thoughts and emotions. Now many consider interoception to be a fundamental feature of consciousness as well.
Our internal organs, particularly the heart and intestine, are key players in the construction of our conscious experience, Tallon-Baudry says. Both have their own self-generated rhythm, separate from the brain, and this, Tallon-Baudry believes, provides a handy hook on which the brain can hang its sense of self.
Taking the idea a step further, Antonio Damasio at the University of Southern California says that internal body signals are not just involved in consciousness, they are consciousness. “People keep talking about consciousness as the great mystery that will be revealed by understanding the brain, and that is wrong”,…