Emotional sentience and the nature of phenomenal experience

Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2015 Dec;119(3):545-62. doi: 10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2015.08.003. Epub 2015 Aug 10.


When phenomenal experience is examined through the lens of physics, several conundrums come to light including: Specificity of mind-body interactions, feelings of free will in a deterministic universe, and the relativity of subjective perception. The new biology of "emotion" can shed direct light upon these issues, via a broadened categorical definition that includes both affective feelings and their coupled (yet often subconscious) hedonic motivations. In this new view, evaluative (good/bad) feelings that trigger approach/avoid behaviors emerged with life itself, a crude stimulus-response information loop between organism and its environment, a semiotic signaling system embodying the first crude form of "mind". Emotion serves the ancient function of sensory-motor self-regulation and affords organisms - at every level of complexity - an active, adaptive, role in evolution. A careful examination of the biophysics involved in emotional "self-regulatory" signaling, however, acknowledges constituents that are incompatible with classical physics. This requires a further investigation, proposed herein, of the fundamental nature of "the self" as the subjective observer central to the measurement process in quantum mechanics, and ultimately as an active, unified, self-awareness with a centrally creative role in "self-organizing" processes and physical forces of the classical world. In this deeper investigation, a new phenomenological dualism is proposed: The flow of complex human experience is instantiated by both a classically embodied mind and a deeper form of quantum consciousness that is inherent in the universe itself, implying much deeper - more Whiteheadian - interpretations of the "self-regulatory" and "self-relevant" nature of emotional stimulus. A broad stroke, speculative, intuitive sketch of this new territory is then set forth, loosely mapped to several theoretical models of consciousness, potentially relevant mathematical devices and pertinent philosophical themes, in an attempt to acknowledge the myriad questions - and limitations - implicit in the quest to understand "sentience" in any ontologically pansentient universe.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Consciousness
  • Emotions*
  • Humans
  • Philosophy*