A neurocognitive theory of higher mental emergence: from anoetic affective experiences to noetic knowledge and autonoetic awareness

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2011 Oct;35(9):2017-25. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.04.001. Epub 2011 Apr 19.


This essay provides an overview of evolutionary levels of consciousness, with a focus on a continuum of consciousness: from primarily affective to more advanced cognitive forms of neural processing-from anoetic (without knowledge) consciousness based on affective feelings, elaborated by brain networks that are subcortical- and can function without neocortical involvement, to noetic (knowledge based) and autonoetic (higher reflective mental) processes that permits conscious awareness. An abundance of such mind-brain linkages have been established using standard neuropsychological and brain-imaging procedures. Much of the characterization of human mental landscapes has been achieved with long accepted psychometric procedures that often do not adequately tap the lived anoetic experiential phenomenological aspects of mind. Without an understanding of affective based anoetic forms of consciousness, an adequate characterization of the human mind may never be achieved. A full synthesis will require us to view mental-experiential processes concurrently at several distinct neurophysiological levels, including foundational affective-emotional issues that are best probed with cross-species affective neuroscience strategies. This essay attempts to relate these levels of analysis to the neural systems that constitute lived experience in the human mind.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology*
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cognitive Science*
  • Consciousness / physiology
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology
  • Humans
  • Knowledge*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology
  • Thalamus / physiology
  • Theory of Mind*