Higher Ground


Carter: “The frontal lobes are where ideas are created, pans constructed, thoughts joined with their associations to form new memories; and fleeting perceptions held in mind until they are dispatched to long-term memory or oblivion.”


1.     What makes human beings unusual? Other animals can do many things far better.

a.      Pascal:  “Man is but a reed, weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed”. 

b.     Our capacity for conscious awareness and self-reflection.

                                                  i.      Frontal lobes are the region of consciousness.  Self-awareness emerges here, emotions are transformed from physical survival mechanism to subjective feelings. But . . .

2.     Consciousness and the brain:

a.      Consciousness seems to emerge from activities of the cerebral cortex, particularly the frontal lobes. 

b.     These regions are also associated with awareness of emotion, ability to concentrate and attend to specific things. Place involved in our giving the world meaning and a sense of purpose.  How?

3.     The Pre-Frontal cortex: free from constant labor of sensory processing.  Not concerned with mundane tasks in life.  When we actually think, this part of the brain gets active.

a.      It has many neural connections with all other cortical areas and with the limbic regions. 

b.     Thus, emotional overload can overwhelm the prefrontal operations and shut this part of the brain down.  (shut down in a moment of intense fear or terror) and thinking can temper emotion or desire (prolonging intercourse).

c.     Prefrontal cortex mushroomed during transition from hominid to human.

                                                  i.      Pre-motor cortex: place where actions are rehearsed and, if necessary, rejected.  Planning, predicting, choosing things for attention.

                                                ii.      Orbito-frontal cortex: lots of connections with the unconscious, limbic brain where drives and emotions are generated.  Signals from this area can allow of inhibit action based on these drives and emotions.

1.     Case of Phineas Gage (rail worker 19th C.) mis-timed explotion drives steel rod through his frontal lobe. The result: he loses self-control after brain injury – personal responsibility, meaning in life, self-awareness and control.

                                              iii.      Area related to our activities of willing something, and

                                             iv.      Making life meaningful: being able to integrate our perceptions into a unified whole.

1.     Intimately connected to emotion: coherence and satisfaction or elation

2.     Incoherence (meaninglessness) and depression, listlessness.  Life as a series of pointless events.


4.     But what is consciousness?  

a.      Two broad schools of thought:

                                                  i.      Cartesian dualism (spirit world separate from the material world), mind has no extension in space, transcendent of material world;

                                                ii.      Material Monism: mind and brain are the same, consciousness and mental activity are properties of the material world. Don’t need a concept of the supernatural.