Glossary


The use of some technical words and expressions is unavoidable in a book of this type. Sometimes scientists use them unnecessarily, just to show off, or hide behind them, but in some cases they really do encapsulate a meaning that can only otherwise be realized by using a lot of other words instead. There follows a list of those that are likely to be unfamiliar to a general reader, with brief explanations of their meaning and usage. Included in the list are some common words that have particular meanings in consciousness studies, and some terms used by other authors which are so useful that they are employed in this book, with grateful appreciation, and permission where it was possible to obtain it. Some specific brain vocabulary is included below, but these terms are set in their anatomical context more thoroughly by Appendix One.

affective: relating to, arising from, or influencing feelings or emotions; affective drives in the brain are non-cognitive influences on behaviour arising from emotional or autonomic or endocrinal states.

amniote: an animal whose eggs have waterproof linings; all vertebrates after amphibians have amniotic eggs, allowing them to develop on land.

amygdala: a fairly recently-evolved part of the brain which specializes in housing emotional agendas (see limbic system).

attention: the cognitive mechanism that allows consciousness (awareness) to focus on one thing at a time.

autobiographical self: a term introduced by Damasio to describe the individual's moment-to-moment experience of awareness of what is and has lately been happening to it. It is quite similar in meaning to Edelman's term 'remembered present', and the title of one of his books. These two terms will be used more or less equivalently throughout the book. NB: Neither term necessarily implies self-awareness as defined above; many animals have and use knowledge about their current and recently experienced states in an unconscious way.

awareness: often used to mean 'consciousness' in the sense of awakeness and alertness; in this book it will normally be used only in 'self-awareness' and 'social awareness', to avoid confusion.

basal ganglia: part of the fore-brain which in higher animals is much involved along with the cortex in the neural events associated with the initiation of motor activity; a major component of the basal ganglia is the striatum.

cerebellum: an early-evolving part of the brain which controls fine movement.

cerebrum: the 'fore-brain', including the cortex and other later-evolving parts of the brain, including the amygdala and the hippocampus (qv).

conspecific: a member of your own species; a member of another species is a heterospecific.

declarative memory: part of long-term memory, further divided into 'semantic' memory, which covers data such as the name of a type of flower, and 'episodic' memory, which covers the individual's past experiences. The other type of long-term memory is procedural memory, (qv).

dorsal: on top – the opposite of ventral, meaning underneath, both terms relating to 'flat' animals, so quite confusing when applied to 'standing up' animals.

epigenetic: a factor is epigenetic if it alters the activity (expression) of genes without changing their structure.

exteroceptive: applied to sensory input, and meaning received from outside the body, for instance visual images; the opposite of interoceptive.

ganglion: a conglomeration of nerve cells.

haptic: to do with touch; tactile.

hedonic: concerned with pleasure-seeking and related emotional or pre-cognitive and autonomic drives.

hind-brain: the brain stem and the cerebellum.

hippocampus: a fairly late-evolving structure associated with the cortex and which is crucial to memory formation.

homeostasis: the maintenance by an animal of its internal state, whether in terms of temperature, chemical balance or otherwise, achieved by neural or chemical feedback mechanisms.

hypothalamus: the seat of the endocrine funtion, ie the body's chemical messenger system.

intentionality: the capacity of an animal to recognize purpose and intention in another animal, not necessarily consciously.

interoceptive: applied to sensory input, and meaning received from inside the body, for instance information about the position of limbs; the opposite of exteroceptive.

limbic system: A group of interconnected structures of the brain including the hypothalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus that are located beneath the cortex, are common to all mammals, and are associated with emotions such as fear and pleasure, memory, motivation, and various autonomic functions.

mid-brain: the thalamus, hypothalamus, and tectum (qv).

NCC: the neural correlates of consciousness, ie the anatomical events in the brain that underly or cause consciousness.

ontogeny: ontogeny, as opposed to phylogeny, refers to the developmental history of an organism from fertilization onwards, as opposed to its genetic makeup.

pallium: the structure in many early types of animal which had functions that are now specifically associated with the cortex; the term is still used, confusingly, when calling it a cortex would really be more understandable.

parsimony: the principle that says the simplest satisfactory explanation should always be chosen as against a more complicated one.

phylogeny: the study of the 'family tree' of animal life forms.

procedural memory: long-term memory of learned skills, such as riding a bicycle. The other type of long-term memory is declarative memory, (qv).

proprioceptive: the proprioceptive nerves carry information about the positions of parts of the body to the brain stem.

qualia: sensory perceptions in the brain – thus, colours are qualia when you see them.

reticular formation: a part of the brain stem which is crucial to awakeness (including consciousness).

tectum: a general-purpose part of early brains which eventually developed into the cortex and other specialized regions of the brain.

thalamus: in higher mammals, at least, the thalamus acts mostly as a kind of telephone exchange connecting the cortex with more deep-seated and evolutionarily more ancient parts of the brain.

Theory of Mind: a grand way of describing intentionality, (qv).

ventral: underneath – the opposite of dorsal, meaning on top, both terms relating to 'flat' animals, so quite confusing when applied to 'standing up' animals.

 

 
 

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