The role of primordial emotions in the evolutionary origin of consciousness

Conscious Cogn. 2009 Jun;18(2):500-14. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2008.06.009. Epub 2008 Aug 12.


Primordial emotions are the subjective element of the instincts which are the genetically programmed behaviour patterns which contrive homeostasis. They include thirst, hunger for air, hunger for food, pain and hunger for specific minerals etc. There are two constituents of a primordial emotion--the specific sensation which when severe may be imperious, and the compelling intention for gratification by a consummatory act. They may dominate the stream of consciousness, and can have plenipotentiary power over behaviour. It is hypothesized that early in animal evolution complex reflex mechanisms in the basal brain subserving homeostatic responses, in concert with elements of the reticular activating system subserving arousal, melded functionally with regions embodied in the progressive rostral development of the telencephalon. This included the emergent limbic and paralimbic areas, and the insula. This phylogenetically ancient organization subserved the origin of consciousness as the primordial emotion, which signalled that the organisms existence was immediately threatened. Neuroimaging confirms major activations in regions of the basal brain during primordial emotions in humans. The behaviour of decorticate humans and animals is discussed in relation to the possible existence of primitive awareness. Neuroimaging of the primordial emotions reveals that rapid gratification of intention by a consummatory act such as ingestion causes precipitate decline of both the initiating sensation and the intention. There is contemporaneous rapid disappearance of particular regions of brain activation which suggests they may be part of the jointly sufficient and severally necessary activations and deactivations which correlate with consciousness [Crick, F. & Koch, C. (2003). A framework for consciousness. NatureNeuroscience,6, 119-126].

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Awareness / physiology
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Corpus Callosum / physiology
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Drive*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Homeostasis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Instinct*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Personal Construct Theory
  • Reflex / physiology
  • Satiety Response / physiology
  • Thirst / physiology