The Feeling of What Happens:  Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness

Harcourt Brace & Company


Antonio Damasio


Chapter six The Making of Core Consciousness


The consequence of that complex learning operation is the development of autobiographical memory, an aggregate of dispositional records of who we have been physically and of who we have usually been behaviorally, along with records of who we plan to be in the future.  (Damasio/FWH/173)”


So when my mind says “I” or “me,” it is translating, easily and effortlessly, the nonlanguage concept of the organism that is mine, of the self that is mine.  If a perpetually activated construct of core self were not in place, the mind could not possibly translate it as “I,” or as “me,” or as whatever literary paraphrase it might apply, in whatever language it might know.  The core self must be in place for its translation into a suitable word to occur.  (Damasio/FWH/186)”

OK, this might be part of what I experienced – because I did not have the word to put into my thoughts, either!


“…how do we ever have a sense of self in the act of knowing?  We begin with a first trick.  The trick consists of constructing an account of what happens within the organism when the organism interacts with an object, be it actually perceived or recalled, be it within body boundaries (e.g., pain) or outside of them (e.g., a landscape).  This account is a simple narrative without words.  It does have characters (the organism, the object).  It unfolds in time.  And it has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The beginning corresponds to the initial state of the organism.  The middle is the arrival of the object.  The end is made up of reactions that result in a modified state of the organism.  (Damasio/FWH/168)”

“We become conscious, then, when our organisms internally construct and internally exhibit a specific kind of wordless knowledge – that our organism has been changed by an object – and when such (Damasio/FWH/168) knowledge occurs along with the salient internal exhibit of an object.  The simplest form in which this knowledge emerges in the feeling of knowing, and the enigma before us is summed up in the following question:  By what sleight of hand is such knowledge gathered, and why does the knowledge first arise in the form of a feeling?  (Damasio/FWH/169)”

“The specific answer I deduced is presented in the following hypothesis:  core consciousness occurs when the brain’s representation devices generate an imaged, nonverbal account of how the organism’s own state is affected by the organism’s processing of an object, and when this process enhances the image of the causative object, thus placing it saliently in a spatial and temporal context. {sic italics from the colon here].  (Damasio/FWH/169)”

“The hypothesis outlines two component mechanisms:  the generation of the imaged nonverbal account of the object-organism relationship – which is the source of the sense of self in the act of knowing – and the enhancement of the images of an object.  (Damasio/FWH/169)”

“As far as the sense-of-self component is concerned, the hypothesis is grounded on the following premises:

[] “1.  Consciousness depends on the internal construction and exhibition of new knowledge concerning an interaction between that organism and an object.

[] “2.  The organism, as a unit, is mapped I the organism’s brain, within structures that regulate the organism’s life and signal its internal states continuously; the object is also mapped within the brain, in the sensory and motor structures activated by the interaction of the organism with the object; both organism and object are mapped as neural patterns, in first-order maps; all of these neural patterns can become images.

[] “3.  The sensorimotor maps pertaining to the object cause changes in the maps pertaining to the organism.

[] “4.  The changes described in 3 can be re-represented in yet other maps (second-order maps) which thus represent the relationship of object and organism.

[] “5.  The neural patterns transiently formed in second-order maps can become mental images, no less so than the neural patterns in first-order maps.  (Damasio/FWH/169)”

[] “6.  Because of the body-related nature of both organism maps and second-order maps, the mental images that describe the relationship are feelings.  (Damasio/FWH/170)”

“I note, again, that the focus of our inquiry here is not the matter of how neural patterns in any map become mental patterns or images…. (Damasio/FWH/170)”

“As far as the brain is concerned, the organism in the hypothesis is represented by the proto-self.  They key aspects of the organism…as provided in the proto-self:  the state of the internal milieu, viscera, vestibular system, and muscoskeletal frame…..  As the brain forms images of an object – and as the images of the object affect the state of the organism, yet another level of brain structure creates a swift nonverbal account of the events that are taking place in the varied brain regions activated as a consequence of the object-organism interaction.  (Damasio/FWH/170)”

“The mapping of the object-related consequences occurs in first-order neural maps representing proto-self and object; the account of the causal relationship between object and organism can only be captured in second-order neural maps.  Looking back, with the license of metaphor, one might say that the swift, second-order nonverbal account narrates a story:  that of the organism caught in the act of representing its own changing state as it foes account representing something else. [sic these italics since colon]  But the astonishing fact is that the knowable entity of the catcher has just been created in the narrative of the catching process.  (Damasio/FWH/170)”

This makes me think of mirror neurons, are they active in this process?  And of feedback loops – like an echo is picked up and amplified somehow in this process, creates a certain kind of “noise” that the brain can detect – and utilize.

This plot is incessantly repeated for every object the brain represents, and it does not matter whether the object is present and interacting with the organism or is being brought back from past memory.  It also makes no difference what the object really is.  In healthy individuals, as long as the brain is awake, the machines of image making and consciousness are “on,” and we are not manipulating our mental (Damasio/FWH/170) state by doing something like meditation, it is not possible to run out of “actual” objects or “thought” objects, and it is thus not possible to run out of the abundant commodity called core consciousness….and often there is more than one object at about the same time.  The same imaged plot is supplied in abundance to the flowing process we call thought.  [1 ch 6]  (Damasio/FWH/171)”

Then how come as a child I had so little thought going on, as if I was not there at all?  Only when specifically directed at a task I wanted to accomplish, looking through a cracker hole, preparing my room for the queen’s visit, looking into the mirrors, or making some form of art – and even those activities were done as if sterile, without emotion (that I could notice).

“The wordless narrative I propose is based on neural patterns which become images, images being the same fundamental currency in which the description of the consciousness-causing object is also carried out.  Most importantly, the images that constitute this narrative are incorporated in the stream of thoughts.  The images in the consciousness narrative flow like shadows along with the images of the object for which they are providing an unwitting, unsolicited comment….they are within the movie.  There is no external spectator.  [2 ch 6] (Damasio/FWH/171)”

“The process which generates…the imaged nonverbal account of the relationship between object and organism – has two clear consequences.  One consequence…is the subtle image of knowing, the feeling essence of our sense of self; the other is the enhancement of the image of the causative object, which dominates core consciousness.  (Damasio/FWH/171)”

So does that mean from birth that we “know” ourselves and the “causative object,” which in my case was a very mean mother?

“Attention is driven to focus on an object and the result is saliency of the images of that object in mind.  The object is set out from less-fortunate objects – selected as a particular occation….  It becomes fact, following the preceding events which lead to its becoming, and it is part of a relationship with the organism to which all this is happening.  (Damasio/FWH/171)”

“You know that you are conscious, you feel that you are in the act of knowing, because the subtle imaged account that is now flowing in the stream of your organism’s thoughts exhibits the knowledge that your proto-self has been changed by an object that has just become (Damasio/FWH/171) salient in the mind.  You know you exist because the narrative exhibits you as protagonist in the act of knowing.  You rise above the sea level of knowing, transiently but incessantly, as a felt core self, renewed again and again, thanks to anything that comes from outside the brain into its sensory machinery or anything that comes from the brain’s memory stores toward sensory, motor, or autonomic recall.  (Damasio/FWH/172)”

This makes me think of all the isolated hours in corners and in bed –of sensory deprivation where listening was all I had….that my mind did not wander anywhere, that I imagined nothing, that I wondered nothing, and possibly that I felt nothing – unless directly in mother’s presence.

This also reminds me of the sensory deprivation van der Kolk talks about with PTSD.

Not that I know what any of this MEANS yet, but I am looking!

“You know it is ou seeing because the story depicts a character – you – doing the seeing.  The first basis for the conscious you is a feeling which arises in the re-representation of the nonconscious proto-self in the process of being modified within an account which establishes the cause of the modification.  The first trick behind consciousness is the creation of this account, and its first result is the feeling of knowing.  (Damasio/FWH/172)”

  1. [3 ch 6]  (Damasio/FWH/172)”



“In complex organisms such as ours, equipped with vast memory capacities, (Damasio/FWH/172) the fleeting moments of knowledge in which we discover our existence are facts that can be committed to memory, be properly categorized, and be related to other memories that pertain both to the past and to the anticipated future.  (Damasio/FWH/173)”

The consequence of that complex learning operation is the development of autobiographical memory, an aggregate of dispositional records of who we have been physically and of who we have usually been behaviorally, along with records of who we plan to be in the future.  (Damasio/FWH/173)”

IMPAIRED, I would say.  Something went terribly wrong for me in this regard.  How did that actually happen?  Did it have something to do with the extremities between mother’s “nice” and “evil” selves, how she related to me?

Were the bad experiences with her simply fried as a result of the action of the stress chemical cortisol so that I HAD no memories to link together in this fashion?

PTSD consists of nonintegrated memories.  If our experiences are predominantly traumatic, then the “dispositional records” are not stored.  There was no me for the future.  There wasn’t even a me for the present, and there wasn’t a me from the past.  There just plain wasn’t a me at all!

Did I just have this transient core consciousness, then?

“We can enlarge this aggregate memory and refashion it as we go through a lifetime.  When certain personal records are made explicit in reconstructed images, as needed, in smaller or greater quantities, they become the autobiographical self.  The real marvel, as I see it, is that autobiographical memory is architecturally connected, neurally and cognitively speaking, to the nonconscious proto-self and to the emergent and conscious core self of each lived instant. This connection forms a bridge between the ongoing process of core consciousness, condemned to sisyphal transiency, and a progressively larger array of established, rock-solid memories pertaining to unique historical facts and consistent characteristics of an individual.  (Damasio/FWH/173)”

“In other words, the body-based, dynamic-range stability of the nonconscious proto-self, which is reconstructed live at each instant, and the conscious core self, which emerges from it in the second-order nonverbal account when an object modifies it, are enriched by the accompanying display of memorized and invariant facts – for instance, where you were born, and to whom; critical events in your autobiography; what you like and dislike; your name; and so on.  Although the basis for the autobiographical self is stable and invariant, its scope changes continuously as a result of experience.  The display of autobiographical self is thus more open to refashioning than the core self, which is reproduced time and again in essentially the same form across a lifetime.  (Damasio/FWH/173)”

Somewhere this process goes awry in anyone who has an attachment disorder that robs one of the ability to tell a coherent life story!

How is it possible that a person does not have a future self?  Is that directly related, as I think it probably is, to PTSD?  And if the PTSD happened originally (infancy) then the brain never built the neural patterns for that self into the brain at all.

It pisses me off!  The body, then, is not allowing it.  Like a computer “error” message or a does not compute one.  “Not allowed, there is no future for you!”  This is not a rational, intellectual process, either.  It happens in some other way….  Having one’s memories fried that are supposed to connect us in our past through our present into the future sucks!

But there is no vacuum, so the body just uses the body route for automatic PTSD reactions….automatic versus manual transmission thing?

Unlike the core self, which inheres as a protagonist of the primordial account, and unlike the proto-self, which is a current representation of the state of the organism, the autobiographical self is based on a concept in the true cognitive and neurobiological sense of the term.  (Damasio/FWH/173)”


Table 6.1 Kinds of Self

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL SELF:  The autobiographical self is based on autobiographical memory which is constituted by implicit memories of multiple instances of individual experience of the past and of the anticipated future.  The invariant aspects of an individual’s biography form the basis for autobiographical memory.  Autobiographical memory grows continuously with life experience but can be partly remodeled to reflect new experiences.  Sets of memories which describe identity and person can be reactivated as a neural pattern and make explicit as images whenever needed.  Each reactivated memory operates as a “something-to-be-known” and generates its own pulse of core consciousness.  The result is the autobiographical self of which we are conscious.  (Damasio/FWH/174)”

Seems to me if memories are missing from PTSD, this process cannot work correctly.

He also says “whenever needed.”  Perhaps, and most probably, I never needed as a child in this sense.  So it didn’t happen.

CORE SELF:  The core self inheres in the second-order nonverbal account that occurs whenever an object modifies the proto-self.  The core self can be triggered by any object.  The mechanism of production of core self undergoes minimal changes across a lifetime.  We are conscious of the core self.  (Damasio/FWH/174)”


PROTO-SELF:  The proto-self is an interconnected and temporarily coherent collection of neural patterns which represent the state of the organism, moment by moment, at multiple levels of the brain.  We are not conscious of the proto-self.  (Damasio/FWH/174)”

Here I still wonder if PTSD affects this proto-self in such a way that it operates fundamentally and centrally and primarily to run the show because the body and the brain were built under conditions where safety was nonexistent and there were to be “no extras” allowed.”  They only slow things down.  It therefore would override any other self manifestation as soon as the body determined that danger was present – which it is trained to recognize in nearly every event – chronic anxiety of PTSD –

“The concept exists in the form of dispositional, implicit memories contained in certain interconnected brain networks, and many of these implicit memories can be made explicit at any time, simultaneously.  [4 ch 6]  (Damasio/FWH/174)”

Not the infant ones, and not the PTSD ones, I don’t think.  A few PTSD missing memories are not going to destroy a “self,” but a preponderance of them will.  Also, like sexual abuse ones, those ones that jeopardize the integrity of the self – and major shame memories of all kinds – must disrupt this process significantly.

“Their activation in mage form constitutes a backdrop to each moment of a healthy mental life, usually unattended, often just hinted and half guessed, just like the core self and like knowing, and yet there, ready to be made more central if the need arises to confirm that we are who we are. (Damasio/FWH/174)”

Yes, but when there is damage here, how do we ever get to “confirm that we are who we are?”

And, as per this next sentence, mother described FOR ME my personality and the characteristics of my mode of being – trouble, EVIL.

”That is the material we use when we describe our personality or the individual characteristics of another person’s mode of being.  (Damasio/FWH/174)”

So maybe that voice broke through and allowed me to describe an alternative perspective on myself from hers – that it wasn’t humanly possible to be as bad as she said I was.



“In a developmental perspective, I expect that in the early stages of our being, there is little more than reiterated states of core self.  As experience accrues, however, autobiographical memory grows and the autobiographical self can be deployed.  The milestones that have been identified in child development are possibly a result of the uneven expansion of the autobiographical memory and the uneven deployment of the autobiographical self.  [3 ch 6]  (Damasio/FWH/175)”

And what does he mean by “uneven?”

“Regardless of how well autobiographical memory grows and how robust the autobiographical self becomes, it should be clear that they require a continued supply of core consciousness for them to be of any consequence to their owner organism.  The contents of the autobiographical self can only be known when there is a fresh construction of (Damasio/FWH/175) core self and knowing for each of those contents to be known.  (Damasio/FWH/176)”

“…although the contents of the autobiographical self pertain to the individual in a most unique way, they depend on the gift of core consciousness to come alive just as any other something-to-be-known.  A bit unfair, perhaps, but that is how it must be.  (Damasio/FWH/176)”

“Yet it is not difficult to imagine what a possessor of only core consciousness probably experiences.  Just consider what it may be like inside the mind of a one-year-old infant.  I suspect objects come to the mind’s stage, are attributed to a core self, and exit as quickly as they enter.  Each object is known by a simple self and clear on its own, but there is no large-scale relation among objects in space or time and no sensible connection between the object and either past or anticipated experiences.  (Damasio/FWH/202)”


Table 6.2.  Distinguishing Core Self from Autobiographical Self

[he has these two beside one another, but I don’t know how to accomplish that – top one on left, lower one on right]


“The transient protagonist of consciousness, generated for any object that provokes the core-consciousness mechanism.  Because of the permanent availability of provoking objects, it is continuously generated and thus appears continuous in time.

The mechanism of core self requires the presence of proto-self.  The biological essence of the core self is the representation in a second-order map of the proto-self being modified.  (Damasio/FWH/175)”

Lack of stimulation must affect this – the consequences of neglect.  Sensory deprivation from PTSD – for me, from being stashed in corners or in bed – as I understand myself looking back, it is like either the “switch” for ME was turned off, or like a dimmer switch turned to very low – perhaps listening – but not thinking – once the pain of whatever beating I had experienced had diminished.

There was no wishing I was with the other kids, no anger or resentment – like I was a “one thing,” my mother’s punching doll.


“Based on permanent but dispositional records of core-self experiences.  Those records can be activated as neural patterns and turned into explicit images.  The records are partially modifiable with further experience.

“The autobiographical self requires the presence of a core self to begin its gradual development.

“The autobiographical self also requires the mechanism of core consciousness so that activation of its memories can generate core consciousness.  (Damasio/FWH/175)”

I would think that the issue of competency would arise here – abilities to master the environment – those are dispositional records that contain an included feeling core!?

Also, these “permanent but dispositional records of core-self experiences” are damaged during trauma, and thus are not permanent at all – well, I guess the ones that ARE formed are permanent, but we must realize that a whole lot of them may be missing entirely – and the automatic body-reactions take their place!?



“I see core consciousness as created in pulses, each pulse triggered by each object that we interact with or that we recall.  Let’s say that a consciousness pulse begins at the instant just before a new object triggers the process of changing the proto-self and terminates when a new object begins triggering its own set of changes.  The proto-self modified by the first object then becomes the inaugural proto-self for the new object.  A new pulse of core consciousness begins.  (Damasio/FWH/176)”

The continuity of consciousness is based on the steady generation of consciousness pulses which correspond to the endless processing of myriad objects, whose interaction, actual or recalled constantly, modifies the proto-self.  The continuity of consciousness comes from the abundant flow of nonverbal narratives of core consciousness.  (Damasio/FWH/176)”

Continuity has to be related somehow to telling a contingent, continuous, cohesive life story – and to having that quality of experience in the first place.

This makes me think of dissociative disorders – and like my thoughts last summer about my experiences seeming to be a series of islands, disconnected, or a series of lakes, or a bunch of unconnected bubbles in the air.

Like the pulses themselves are not connected – like some are erased and NOT THERE, so there are holes in the continuity of consciousness – so therefore, it is not continuous at all.

PTSD prevents “the endless processing of myriad objects” even though the proto-self will have certainly been affected and modified.

I don’t understand “nonverbal narratives of core consciousness.”  PTSD has no words – is this where it lies, in this area, then?  Yet another connection to proto-self.

What would it look like from the outside at the instant that a memory was fried by cortisol?  Like “dissociation?”  It is more like a cigarette burn in a piece of polyester cloth – more of a marvel that the whole darn piece of fabric does not dissolve at the same time those memories are being fried.  Poof! Goes the person right along with the memories.

Interruption of this process in the beginning, as the brain is forming along with the individual, could easily result in a “disorganized/disoriented” pattern within the developing brain itself.

What happens if there is peritrauma, and then PTSD – probably at THE SAME TIME?  Talk about reverberation and amplification of consequences?  Traumatic experiences ARE traumatic because they DON’T FIT ANYWHERE – they are overwhelming.  So they would not fit into this “chain” of experiences needed for core consciousness.  There would just be individual links of a chain not connected together.  Or little segments of “like” experiences, similar ones, that could be put together – like when you do a puzzle and find some pieces, three, four or five, and can see that those match so you put those together, but then cannot figure out how these groupings fit into the larger picture.

Now this is interesting, thinking about dissociative identity disorder….

“It is probable that more than one narrative is created simultaneously.  This is because more than one object can be engaged at about the same time, although not many can be engaged simultaneously, and more than one object can thus induce a modification in the state of the proto-self.  (Damasio/FWH/176)”

“When we talk about a “stream of consciousness,” a metaphor that suggests a single track and a single sequence of thoughts, the part of the stream that carries consciousness is likely to arise not in just one object but in several.  Moreover, it is also probably that each object interaction generates more than one narrative, since several brain levels can be involved.  Again, such a situation seems beneficial because it would pro- (Damasio/FWH/176) duce an overabundance of core consciousness and ensure the continuity of the state of “knowing.”  (Damasio/FWH/177)”



“Telling the story of the changes caused on the inaugural proto-self by the organism’s interaction with any object requires its own process and its own neural base…..beyond the many neural structures in which the causative object and the proto-self changes are separately represented, there is at least one other structure which re-represents both proto-self and object in their temporal relationship and can thus represent what is actually happening to the organism:  proto-self at the inaugural instant; object coming into sensory representation; changing of inaugural proto-self into proto-self modified by object. I suspect, however, that there are several structures in the human brain with the ability to generate a second-order neural pattern which re-represents first-order occurrences.  The second-order neural pattern which subtends the nonverbal imaged account of the organism-object relationship is probably based on intricate cross-signaling among several “second-order” structures.  The likelihood is low that one brain region holds the supreme second-order neural pattern.  (Damasio/FWH/177)”

“The main characteristics of the second-order structures whose interaction generates the second-order map are as follows:  A second-order structure must (1) be able to receive signals via axon pathways signals from sites involved in representing the proto-self and from sites that can potentially represent an object; (2) be able to generate a neural pattern that “describes,” in a temporally ordered manner, the events occurring in the first-order maps; (3) be able, directly or indirectly, to introduce the image resulting from the neural pattern in the overall flow of images we call thought; and (4) be able, directly or indirectly, to signal back to the structures processing the object so that the object image can be enhanced.  (Damasio/FWH/177)”

“In all likelihood, because there are several second-order structures, the neural (Damasio/FWH/178) pattern and the image of the relationship will result from the cross-signaling among those second-order structures.  Also note that…the process of core consciousness is not confined to generating this imaged account.  The presence of the account pattern in a second-order neural pattern has important consequences:  it influences the neural maps of the object my modulating their activity and thus enhances the saliency of those patterns for a brief period.  (Damasio/FWH/179)”



“…possible anatomical sources for the second-order pattern.  My best guess is that the second-order neural pattern arises transiently out of interactions among a select few regions.  It is not to be found within a single brain region….but neither is it everywhere or anywhere.  The fact that the second-order neural pattern is implemented in more than one site may sound surprising at first, but it should not.  I believe it conforms to a general brain rule rather than to an exception.  (Damasio/FWH/180)”

“I am suggesting that there are multiple consciousness generators, at several brain levels, and yet the process appears smooth, concerned with one knower and one object.  It is reasonable to assume that under normal circumstances several second-order maps relative to different aspects of the processing of an object would be created in parallel, roughly within the same time interval.  Core consciousness for that object would result from a composite of second-order maps, an integrated neural pattern which would give rise to the imaged account I proposed earlier and also lead to the enhancement of the object.  I do not know how the fusing, blending, and smoothing are achieved, but it is important to note that the mystery is not particular to consciousness; it pertains to other functions such as motion.  Perhaps when we solve the latter, we also solve the former.  (Damasio/FWH/180)”


“There are several brain structures capable of receiving converging signals from varied sources and thus seemingly capable of second-order mapping.  In the context of the hypothesis, the second-order structures I have in mind must achieve a specific conjoining of signals from “whole-organism maps” and “objects maps.”  Respecting such demands relative to the source of the signals to be conjoined eliminates several candidates, e.g., higher-order cortices in the parietal and temporal regions, the hippocampus, and the cerebellum, whose roles fall under first-order mapping.  Moreover, the second-order structures required by the hypothesis must be capable of exerting an influence on first-order maps so that enhancement and coherence of object images can occur.  Once this other demand is also taken into account, the real contenders for second-order structure are the superior colliculi (the twin hill-like structures in the back part of the midbrain known as the tectum); the entire region of the cingulate cortex; the thalamus; and some prefrontal cortices.  I suspect that all of these contenders play  (Damasio/FWH/180) role in consciousness; that none of them acts alone; and that the scope of their contributions is varied.  For example, I doubt the superior colliculi are especially important in human consciousness, and I suspect the prefrontal cortices probably participate only in extended consciousness.  (Damasio/FWH/181)”

“The notion of interaction among such structures is critical to the hypothesis.  For example, as regards core consciousness, I believe that both superior colliculi and cingulate cortices independently assemble a second-order map.  Yet, the second-order neural pattern I envision in my hypothesis as the basis for our feeling of knowing is supraregional.  It would result from the ensemble playing of the superior colliculi and the cingulate under the coordination of the thalamus, and it is sensible to assume that the cingulate and thalamic components would have the lion’s share in the ensemble.  (Damasio/FWH/181)”

“The subsequent influence of second-order neural patterns on the enhancement of the object image is achieved by several means, including thalamocortical modulation and the activation of acetylcholine and monoamine nuclei in the basal forebrain and brain stem, all of which subsequently affect cortical processing.  It is interesting to note that the second-order structures I propose would indeed have the means to exert such influences.  (Damasio/FWH/181)”

“The list of neuroanatomical devices required to implement consciousness…includes the select number of structures needed to implement the proto-self (some brain-stem nuclei, the hypothalamus and basal forebrain, some somatosensory cortices) as well as the structures enumerated here as possible second-order mapping sites.  (Damasio/FWH/182)”

“The neuroanatomical structures required by the hypothesis encompass those that support the proto-self; those needed to process the object; and those needed to generate the imaged account of the relationship and to produce its consequences.  (Damasio/FWH/193)”

“The neuroanatomy underlying the processes behind proto-self and object…includes brain-stem nuclei, the hypothalamus, and somatosensory cortices.  The neuroanatomy underlying the imaged account of the relationship and the enhancement of object image…includes the cingulate cortices, the thalamus, and the superior colliculi.  The subsequent (Damasio/FWH/193) image enhancement is achieved via modulation from basal forebrain/brain-stem acetylcholine and monoamine nuclei as well as from thalamocortical modulation.  (Damasio/FWH/194)”



“When the properly equipped brain of a wakeful organism generates core consciousness, the first result is more wakefulness – note that some wakefulness was available already and was necessary to start the ball rolling.  The second result is more-focused attention to the causative object – again some attention was available already.  Both results are achieved by means of enhancing the first-order maps which represent the object.  (Damasio/FWH/182)”

“To some degree, the message implied in the conscious state is:  “Focused attention must be paid to X.”  Consciousness results in enhanced wakefulness and focused attention, both of which improve image processing for certain contents and can thus help optimize immediate and planned responses.  The organism’s engagement with an object (Damasio/FWH/182) intensifies its ability to process that object sensorily and also increases the opportunity to be engaged by other objects – the organism gets ready for more encounters and for more-detailed interactions.  The overall result is greater alertness, sharper focus, higher quality of image processing.  (Damasio/FWH/183)”

This reminds me of how Siegel describes the “Pay attention” messages related to the fight-flight response.

I did not have focused attention except on mother – she was the source of danger.

“Beyond providing a feeling of knowing and an enhancement of the object, the images of knowing, assisted by memory and reasoning, form the basis for simple nonverbal inferences which strengthen the process of core consciousness.  These inferences reveal, for instance, the close linkage between the regulation of life and the processing of images which is implicit in the sense of individual perspective.  Ownership is hidden, as it were, within the sense of perspective, ready to be made clear when the following inference can be made:  if these images have the perspective of this body I now feel, then these images are in my body – they are mind.  As for the sense of action, it is contained in the fact that certain images are tightly associated with certain options for motor response.  Therein our sense of agency – these images are mine and I can act on the object that caused them.  (Damasio/FWH/183)”

sense of agency



“…recall of an object and deployment of its image in mind is accompanied by the reconstruction of at least some of the images which represent those pertinent aspects.  [“aspects of our organism’s motor involvement in the process of apprehending the object” – “we store in memory not just aspects of an object’s physical structure – the potential to reconstruct its form, or color, or sound, or typical motion, or smell….”  (Damasio/FWH/183)”]  Reconstructing (Damasio/FWH/183) that collection of organism accommodations for the object you recall generates a situation similar to the one that occurs when you perceive an external object directly.  [6 ch 6]  (Damasio/FWH/184)”

“In all likelihood, even the plans for future perceptuo-motor accommodations are effective modifiers of the proto-self and thus originators of second-order accounts.  If both the actions themselves as well as the plans for actions can be the source of second-order maps, then core consciousness can arise even earlier since plans for movement necessarily occur before movements, just as the responses that eventually cause emotions occur before those emotions are enacted.  (Damasio/FWH/184)”

Plans for the future:  His study of consciousness is teaching me ideas about the self because I guess you cannot have one without the other.  Almost like being able to see what is reflected in the front of a mirror by being able to see through the back of it?  Yet is it possible that humans actually have a “future self,” some sort of projection of themselves into the future – that I don’t have?  It seems to take an act of imagining – what they call this ability to plan for the self I the future.

“Because our brain has the possibility of representing, in somatosensory maps, both plans of action and actions themselves, and because such plans can be made available to second-order maps, the brain would have available a double mechanism for constructing the primordial narratives of consciousness.  (Damasio/FWH/184)”



“…making a narrative or telling a story….I must ask you again not to think of them in terms of words.  I do not mean narrative or story in the sense of putting together words or signs in phrases and sentence.  I do mean telling a narrative or story in the sense of creat- (Damasio/FWH/184) ing a nonlanguaged map of logically related events.  Better to think of film (although the film medium does not give the perfect idea, either) or of mime….  A line from a poem by John Ashbery captures the idea:  “This is the tune but there are no words, the words are only speculation (from the Latin speculum).” [7 ch 6]  (Damasio/FWH/185)”

This reminds me of how trauma memories make themselves known!

“In the case of humans the second-order nonverbal narrative of consciousness can be converted into language immediately.  (Damasio/FWH/185)”

This is not true for children before they have language.  He doesn’t talk about that.

It is also not true for PTSD and trauma events that do not have language assigned…

“One might call it the third-order.  In addition to the story that signifies the act of knowing and attributes it to the newly minted core self, the human brain also generates an automatic verbal version of the story.  I have no way of stopping that verbal translation, neither do you.  Whatever plays in the nonverbal tracks of our minds is rapidly translated in words and sentences.  That is in the nature of the human, languaged creature.  This uninhabitable verbal translation, the fact that knowing and core self also become verbally present in our minds by the time we usually focus on them, is probably the source of the notion that consciousness might be explainable by language alone.  It has been thought that consciousness occurred when, and only when, language commented on the mental situation for us….the view of consciousness required by this notion suggests that only humans with substantial mastery of the language instrument would have conscious states.  Nonlanguaged animals and human babies would be just out of luck, forever unconscious.  (Damasio/FWH/185)”

Well, if this is supposedly normal, and something we cannot stop, then there is something REALLY wrong with trauma-PTSD experiencing!

“Curiously, the very nature of language argues against it having a primary role in consciousness.  Words and sentences denote entities, actions, events, and relationships.  Words and sentences translate concepts, and concepts consist of the nonlanguage idea of what things, actions, events, and relationships are.  Of necessity, concepts precede words and sentences in both the evolution of the species and the daily experience of each and every one of us.  The words and sentences of healthy and sane humans do not come out of nowhere, (Damasio/FWH/185) cannot be the de novo translation of nothing before them.  (Damasio/FWH/186)”

So when my mind says “I” or “me,” it is translating, easily and effortlessly, the nonlanguage concept of the organism that is mine, of the self that is mine.  If a perpetually activated construct of core self were not in place, the mind could not possibly translate it as “I,” or as “me,” or as whatever literary paraphrase it might apply, in whatever language it might know.  The core self must be in place for its translation into a suitable word to occur.  (Damasio/FWH/186)”

OK, this might be part of what I experienced – because I did not have the word to put into my thoughts, either!

One could argue, in fact, that the consistent content of the verbal narrative of consciousness – regardless of the vagaries of its form – permits one to deduce the presence of the equally consistent nonverbal, imaged narrative that I am proposing as the foundation of consciousness.  (Damasio/FWH/186)”

So one could also say, then, that the absence of the content of verbal narrative would indicate that there was no consistent nonverbal, imaged narrative, and therefore there was no consciousness.

That was the basketball playing star, me.


This is what I need to confront and understand before I try to go back and tell the story of my childhood, because there was no child there, and no story.


The narrative of the state of the proto-self being changed by the interaction with an object must first occur in its nonlanguage form if it is ever to be translated by suitable words.  (Damasio/FWH/186)”

How in the world with PTSD can this ever happen?

If half of the memories are fried, and the other half are not integrated?

“In the sentence “I see a car coming,” the word see stands for a particular act of perceptual possession perpetrated by my organism and involving my self.  And the word see is there, properly moored to the word I, to translate the wordless play unfolding in my mind.  (Damasio/FWH/186)”

I cannot really even imagine myself as a child making this simple a statement.  Not out loud, not in my head.

“If consciousness depends on verbal translations for its existence, changes are one would have varying kinds of consciousness, some truthful, some not; varied levels and intensity of consciousness, some effective, some not; and, worst of all, lapses of consciousness.  Yet this is not what happens in healthy and sane humansThe primordial story of self and knowing is told with consistency.  Your degree of focused attention to an object does vary, but your level of general consciousness does not drop below threshold when you are distracted from an object and focus on another – you do not become stuporous and it does not look like you are having a seizure; you are just conscious of other things rather than conscious of nothing.  The threshold of consciousness is met when you wake up, and after that, consciousness stays on until it is turned off.  When you run out of words and sentences, you do not fall asleep:  you just listen and watch.  (Damasio/FWH/187)”

The primordial story of self and knowing is told with consistency:  This is not true with attachment disorders!  Are we then not healthy and sane humans?

“I believe the imaged, nonverbal narrative of core consciousness is swift, that its unexamined details have eluded us for a long time, that the narrative is barely explicit, so half hinted that its expression is almost like the emanation of a belief.  But some aspects of the narrative filter into our minds to create the beginning of the knowing mind and the beginnings of the self.  Those aspects, captured in the feeling of self and knowing, are the first above the sea level of consciousness and precede the corresponding verbal translation.  (Damasio/FWH/187)”

“…in my proposal, extended consciousness rides on top of the foundational core consciousness which we and other species have long had and continue to have.  (Damasio/FWH/188)”


“Wordless storytelling is natural.  The imagetic representation of sequences of brain events, which occurs in brains simpler than ours, is the stuff of which stories are made.  A natural preverbal occurrence of storytelling may well be the reason why we ended up creating drama and eventually books, and why a good part of humanity is currently hooked on movie theaters and television screens.  Movies are the closest external representation of the prevailing storytelling that goes on in our minds.  What goes on within each shot, the different framing of a subject that the movement of the camera can accomplish, what goes on in the transition of shots achieved by editing, and what goes on in the narrative constructed by a particular juxtaposition of shots is comparable in some respects to what is going on in the mind, thanks to the machinery in charge of making visual and auditory images, and to devices such as the many levels of attention and working memory.  (Damasio/FWH/188)”

“…the marvel is to think that the very first brains that constructed the story of consciousness were answering questions that no living being had yet posed:  Who is making these images that have just been happening?  Who owns these images?  “Who’s there?,” as in the (Damasio/FWH/188) stirring first line of Hamlet….The answers had to come first, by which I mean that the organism had to construct first the kind of knowledge that looks like answers.  The organism had to be able to produce that primordial knowledge, unsolicited, so that a process of knowing could be founded.  (Damasio/FWH/189)”

This makes me think about the fact that I did not question my condition!  I did not wonder Why Me, or Why is she treating me like this, etc.

“The entire construction of knowledge, from simple to complex, from nonverbal imagetic to verbal literary, depends on the ability to map what happens over time, inside our organism, around our organism, to and with our organism, one thing followed by another thing, causing another thing, endlessly.  (Damasio/FWH/189)”

Cause and effect – this implies that the organism’s brain forms in an environment where prediction is possible!  Hope and trust, some degree of safety.

“Telling stories, in the sense of registering what happens in the form of brain maps, is probably a brain obsession and probably begins relatively early both in terms of evolution and in terms of the complexity of the neural structures required to create narratives.  Telling stories precedes language, since it is, in fact, a condition for language, and it is based not just in the cerebral cortex but elsewhere in the brain and in the right hemisphere as well as the left. [11 ch 6]  (Damasio/FWH/189)”

Most of the image information he presents sounds right brain to me – verbal lexicon of the right brain, and certainly metaphor and image.

“I believe that the mind’s pervasive “aboutness” is rooted in the brain’s storytelling attitude.  The brain inherently represents the structures and states of the organism, and in the course of regulating the organism as it is mandated to do, the brain naturally weaves wordless stories about what happens to an organism immersed in an environment. (Damasio/FWH/189)”

Maybe not with trauma from birth – that the brain changes the story and leaves out the main character?!  Because things are intolerable and outside the range of what the organism is anticipated to be able to survive.

“Nor is the story really told by you as a self because the core you is only born as the story is told, within the story itself. You exist as a mental being when primordial stories are being told, and only then; as long as primordial stories are being told, and only then.  Yu are the music while the music lasts. (Damasio/FWH/191)”

“In my proposal there is no need to interrogate any agency, any knower.  Moment by moment, the answer is being presented to the organism, as represented by the proto-self, placed before it in the form of a nonverbal narrative which can be subsequently translated in a language.  The explanation is presented prior to any request for it.  (Damasio/FWH/191)”

“The proto-self is a reference rather than a storehouse of knowledge or an intelligent perceiver.  It participates in the process of knowing, waiting patiently for a most generous brain to explain what is happening by answering questions that were never posed:  Who does?  Who knows?  When the answer first arrives, the sense of self emerges, and to (Damasio/FWH/191)us now, creatures endowed with rich knowledge and an autobiographical self, millions of years after the first instances of primordial storytelling ever occurred, it does appear as if the question was posed, and that the self is a knower who knows.  (Damasio/FWH/192)”

“No questions asked then.  There is no need to interrogate the core self about the situation and the core self does not interpret anything.  Knowing is generously offered free of charge.  (Damasio/FWH/192)”

To most, but perhaps not to all.  Those with attachment disorders that cannot tell a coherent life story have had their story removed from them.  Quite a theft.

I feel that, trying to understand all of this so I can go back and write my story that is not a story unless I reconstruct it from someone else’s point of view!?

How do you tell the coherent story of a person who was there and then gone again?  Now you see them, now you don’t?  Fade in, fade out.  Lost between the scene changes.


“I have been proposing that core consciousness depends on a ceaselessly generated image of the act of knowing, first expressed as a feeling of knowing relative to the mental images of the object to be known; and I also proposed that the feeling of knowing results in, and is accompanied by, an enhancement of the images of the object.  (Damasio/FWH/192)”

”The hypothesis states that core consciousness occurs when the brain forms an imaged, nonverbal, second-order account of how the organism is causally affected by the processing of an object.  The imaged account is based on second-order neural patterns generated from structures capable of receiving signals from other maps which represent both the organism (the proto-self) and the object. {12 ch 6]  (Damasio/FWH/192)”

I would be proposing that under peritraumatic brain-growing conditions something about this process is changed or not completed or occurs in an altered fashion.

From that process we get these different brains that Teicher refers to.  It is correlated with insecure attachments, most certainly to the disorganized/disoriented style.

“The assembly of the second-order neural pattern describing the object-organism relationship modulates the neural patterns which describe the object and leads to the enhancement of the image of the object.  The comprehensive sense of self in the act of knowing an object emerges from the contents of the imaged account, and from the (Damasio/FWH/192) enhancement of the object, presumably in the form of a large-scale pattern that combines both components in a coherent manner.  (Damasio/FWH/193)”

This also makes me think of the preschoolers with preoccupied attachments that cannot tell who is experiencing the distress!!

“In conclusion, in its normal and optimal operation, core consciousness is the process of achieving a neural and mental pattern which brings together, in about the same instant, the pattern for the object, the pattern for the organism, and the pattern for the relationship between the two.  The emergence of each of those patterns and their conjoining in time depends on the contributions of individual brain sites working in close cooperation….  (Damasio/FWH/194)”

“By the time the grand pattern of core consciousness emerges, a few local brain regions have succeeded in recruiting into action a sizable amount of brain tissue.  If you find that the scale of the operation is impressive, now consider that the grand pattern of core consciousness is nothing if not humble by comparison with the even grander pattern of extended consciousness….[where] nearly the whole brain is engaged in the conscious state.  (Damasio/FWH/194)”


The neural pattern which underlies core consciousness for an object – the sense of self in the act of knowing a particular thing – is thus a large-scale neural pattern involving activity in two interrelated sets of structures:  the set whose cross-regional activity generates proto-self and second-order maps, and the set whose cross-regional activity generates the representation of the object.  (Damasio/FWH/272)”



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s